If there is a lesson to be learned from William Conrad’s Brainstorm, screening on Saturday, November 5 at the San Francisco’s Roxie Theater as part of the Elliot Lavine-programmed Not Necessarily Noir II, it’s this: If you spy an unconscious beautiful woman locked in her car, and that car is parked on railroad tracks with a train approaching, don’t think about saving her life. Save your own and run far, far away. Rocket scientist Jim Grayam (Jeffrey Hunter) saves the pretty lady and pays a high price for his good deed in this twisted crime drama from 1965.
The woman Jim rescues is Lorrie Benson (Anne Francis) and she is the unhappy wife of Jim’s wealthy, jealous, and uber-vindicative boss Cort Benson (Dana Andrews). Greystone Mansion, the Beverly Hills estate that became a real-life crime scene in 1928 when oil heir Ned Doheny and his friend and assistant Hugh Plunkett died in a murder-suicide serves Brainstorm as the Benson’s home. The location with its dark history is appropriate as Jim – against his better judgment – falls for Lorrie. Her husband reacts with a frame job meant to portray the high-strung scientist as a a man losing his mind, which only inspires Jim to hatch an even more diabolical plot of his own. As Jim explains it to Lorrie and to comely psychiatrist Dr. Elizabeth Larstadt (Viveca Lindfors) he’s being crazy like a fox. But is he or is he a simply a deeply disturbed lunatic with a genius mind and homicidal tendencies?
As an actor, Conrad made his film debut in noir, portraying a gunsel in Robert Siodmak’s The Killers (1946) and he is probably most famous for his roles on TV’s Cannon and Jake and the Fatman. His directing career consisted mainly of episodic television and a handful of features. Brainstorm is the last of these and he retired from the field on a gloriously maniacal note. He sets a mood from that first scene of Lorrie in a deep sleep in the passenger seat of her car, catching a few winks while waiting for oblivion. Her world is off-kilter and so, soon enough, is Jim’s. That feeling only grows along with Jim’s paranoia as mad love pushes him beyond all reason. Hunter, who played Jesus in King of Kings, is better here playing an altogether different kind of martyr, sacrificing himself at the altar of his own madness.
There are other treats in store during the five-day Not Necessarily Noir II festival, including a double bill of Donald Siegel’s terrific 1964 remake of The Killers and Clint Eastwood’s tense, twisted 1971 directorial debut Play Misty for Me; a Joan Crawford double feature of Nicholas Ray’s flamboyant Western Johnny Guitar and the little-scene (and unavailable on DVD) 1955 melodrama Woman on the Beach; and an Edward D. Wood, Jr. triple bill hosted by Johnny Legend that will also include “Johnny Legend Presents WOODworld,” a special, 45-minute tribute to the grand master of irresistible schlock. – Pam Grady
Not Necessarily Noir II run Friday, November 4 through Tuesday, November 8 at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater. For further info, visit http://www.roxie.com.