Remembering Address Unknown At Noir City, D.C.
I was reminded of this 1944 film, by reading a friend's book review of the novel on which it was based: "Address Unknown" (1938) by the American author Kathrine Kressmann Taylor (1903 -- 1996). I hadn't read the novel but remembered seeing the film at the 2018 Noir City D.C. Festival held every October at the A.F.I. Silver in Silver Spring, Maryland. The Noir Festival has been cancelled for 2020 due to the pandemic. I took the opportunity afforded by the book review to watch "Address Unknown" again.
It probably was fortunate that I didn't review the movie immediately after seeing it at the 2018 Noir Festival. It is a short work, of about 75 minutes. but dense and compact. It needs to be seen more than once and to be watched carefully. "Address Unknown" offers a chilling portrayal of the rise of Nazism in Germany prior to the outbreak of WW II. The celebrated designer William Cameron Menzies directed this film which starred Paul Lukas as its doomed protagonist, Martin Schultz.
The film is set in San Francisco and Germany. Schultz runs a prestigious San Francisco art gallery with his long time fellow-immigrant friend Max Eisenstein, who is Jewish. When Schultz goes to Germany in search of paintings, he is accompanied by Eisenstein's daughter, who is in love with Schutz' son but who wants to pursue her acting career before marrying. Schultz is drawn into the ambit of the Nazis by the Baron von Freische (Carl Esmond) and he throws over his old friend and business partner. Things soon go terribly wrong for Herr Schultz with the murder of his friends' daughter and with mysterious letters arriving from the United States that appear to implicate him in a plot.
It is notoriously difficult to define film noir, but "Address Unknown" is outside the genre. Still, it was appropriate to feature this movie at a Film Noir Festival. In addition to the dark story, the cinematography has strong resemblances to film noir with its angular black and white, its use of shadows and darkness, and its scenes of flight and of rainy nights. The film shows fear in the faces of its characters and works to a chilling climax as the unfortunate Schultz with fright in his eyes walks down a curved staircase to meet his doom.
I look forward to the annual Noir City, D.C. Festival and will miss it this year. But I am glad I had the opportunity to think about past Festivals and to remember this excellent, little-known film which I saw in 2018 and didn't fully appreciate at the time.