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I Wake Up Dreaming: Hot Summer Noir 

Wednesday, Aug 5 2015
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Longtime local programmer and noir nerd Elliot Lavine is said to have come to San Francisco from Detroit in 1975, and I like to picture him stepping off a bus like Robert Montgomery at the start of Ride the Pink Horse: reedy, wary, well-dressed, evidently on a mission, possibly packing heat in his briefcase. This is one cool customer, but not too cool — and, as is the noir-hero way, surely not ready for the world he's stepping into. Arriving during an annual fiesta for burning an effigy of the God of Bad Luck, Montgomery's mystery man invades a New Mexico border town to settle a score. "You're like the rest of the boys," a sly federal agent (Art Smith) tells him. "All cussed up because you fought a war for three years and got nothing out of it but a dangle of ribbons." That backstory, a modification of Dorothy B. Hughes' original novel, speaks to the noir ethos directly, and maybe also to its endurance nowadays. Lavine, for his part, seems not to have been swallowed up by any particular underworld, but instead to have navigated many of them with great agility. Ride the Pink Horse officially launches his latest I Wake Up Dreaming series, and it's a fine start to a month's worth of nearly forgotten noir treasures. Montgomery, who directed himself, comports himself well with his supporting performers — particularly an adolescent naif-nymph played with radiant intensity by Wanda Hendrix, and a plump drunkard played with cliché-transcending warmth by Thomas Gomez, who thus became history's first Oscar-nominated Hispanic actor. Like Lavine's whole series, this film is full of surprises.

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Jonathan Kiefer

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SF Weekly movie critic Jonathan Kiefer is on Twitter: @kieferama and of course @sfweeklyfilm.

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