Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Savage Luck

In an interesting piece of noir-related news, The University of Texas at Austin recently acquired the personal archives of Ann Savage. This is fascinating to me because a) I love Ann Savage, and b) it goes to show you the brutal, beautiful irony at the heart of the noir phenomenon.

In short: Ann Savage was a B movie actress for about five minutes back in the forties. Hell, for most of her career she was a Z movie actress. When she left Hollywood, the town didn't blink.

And then, years later, people started seeing Detour, a grimy little 68-minute crime flick she'd made at a bottom-of-the-barrel studio called PRC. The "studio" had been a shoestring operation run by a couple of brothers who usually churned out films that had all the life expectancy of toilet paper. Like most of their work, Detour was shot for about ten cents in about ten minutes. It might very well have been forgotten (like 95% of PRC's output) except that in the fifties and sixties television stations needed a cheap way to fill out their night schedules before they played the national anthem and signed off for the night. They plundered the vaults of the studios and drug out a lot of crap. They also pulled out Detour.

The rest is history. The film became a cult item among pasty nightcrawlers with good taste. Ann Savage became a goddess to these people. She'd gone to Hollywood like a million other pretty girls, armed with nothing but a nice body and a dream of being a big star. It never happened, but then somehow she woke up one day decades later and she was a star. Not just a star. She was an icon.

And now a university has collected her things to preserve. It's an odd bit of luck, to leapfrog over the part of fame where the whole world knows your name, to jump from being an obscure no-name actress in the boilerroom of the Dream Factory to being an object of worship by geeks and the subject of study by scholars. But there you go. Film noir can't save everyone; it didn't save the other million pretty girls with broken dreams. But it saved Ann Savage. We can all be thankful for that.


I've written before about Savage and Detour.

I've also written before on the peculiar life after death of certain noir goddesses.

And finally, I did a piece on Sam Newfield, the man behind PRC.

I've never done a piece on Edgar G. Ulmer, the director of Detour, though he's certainly an interesting director. Here's an excellent piece from Senses of Cinema.


Cullen Gallagher said...

Now I know what my plans are if I ever visit Austin.

Ben Rylan said...

This is brilliant news! And I love your angle on Ann's leaping over the part of fame where everyone knows your name. It's true! She's a legend! Even if the Academy left her off their "in memoriam" thingo (I wrote to them about that, the shameful snakes!), there will be plenty of people now who will remember her literally forever.