Burt Reynolds, noir master?
Well, let's not go that far. He's not exactly Fritz Lang. But his 1985 film "Stick," based on an Elmore Leonard novel, is the surprise highlight of the Pacific Film Archive's intriguing series "One-Two Punch," which features film adaptations of pulp writers Dorothy B. Hughes, Mickey Spillane and Leonard.
Hopefully, this is becoming a summer tradition. Last year the PFA had a nifty eight-film series of American noirs set in Mexico. This year the corrupt, sun-drenched noir style moves within U.S. borders for six films.
The Hughes adaptations are up first with Saturday's double feature of Nicholas Ray's "In a Lonely Place" with Humphrey Bogart, and the Nazi-spy-themed "Fallen Sparrow" starring John Garfield. "In a Lonely Place" is a masterpiece, and the best film in the series, but it screens often. For those who like their noirs so bad they're sorta kinda good, the Spillane films ("My Gun Is Quick" stars 1957 Los Angeles; "The Girl Hunters" stars a 1963 Spillane as Mike Hammer) show next Thursday.
More interesting is "Stick" (June 30, on a double bill with the very worthy Leonard Western "Valdez Is Coming"), which belongs to a subgenre of 1980s neo noir. That was a decade that produced underappreciated films such as "Against All Odds," the "Breathless" remake, Brian De Palma's "Body Double," and Reynolds' Atlanta-set "Sharky's Machine." Especially strong is Florida noir, headlined by Lawrence Kasdan's sweaty masterpiece "Body Heat" and including the Miami-set "Stick," George Armitage's "Miami Blues" and Michael Mann's TV series "Miami Vice."
"Stick" is based on Leonard's 1983 novel about an ex-con, Ernest Stickley. (Like the actor who portrays him, he's a little older than he'd like and has seen better days.) Just out after serving a stint for armed robbery, he just wants to stay clean and reconnect with his daughter. Instead, he's forced into action when two friends from his past are gunned down, and he feels honor-bound to get revenge.
Maybe he should have taken his own advice: "You don't miss people in that life," Stickley tells millionaire's accountant Candice Bergen when she asks about his past. "You just remember them."
Memorably over the top is a ridiculously blond-wigged Charles Durning as a villain, and George Segal as a millionaire who hires Stickley.
"Stick" works because Reynolds, a man of the South (born in Georgia, raised in Florida), knows the vibe. Florida noir features sticky humidity and the alligator-infested Everglades. It's sunny in Los Angeles and San Francisco noirs, too, but at least people have big dreams, are busy doing things like making movies or running corporations. In Florida noirs, your deal goes through - and what? You lie sweating on a houseboat near your stash of cash?
Saturday-June 30. Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft Way, Berkeley. (510) 642-1124. www.bampfa.berkeley.edu.
This article appeared on page HG - 18 of the San*Francisco*Chronicle