The legendary maestro of post-German-Expressionist grade-Z noir, ethnic indies, and cheap sci-fi flicks turns 100 this Friday (or maybe 104) and hardcore cineastes are invited to take a break from Film Forum’s Murnau fest for TCM’s birthday tribute to Murnau’s onetime set-builder and aesthetic heir, Edgar G. Ulmer.
The 24-hour Ulmerthon begins Friday at 6 a.m. and proceeds from the all-black Moon Over Harlem (1939) through 13 Poverty Row whatsits to the Yiddish shtetl opera The Light Ahead (1939). Ulmer’s acknowledged masterpieces, The Black Cat (1934) and Detour (1945), are reserved for prime time. But if there was ever an artist meant to be appreciated on mid-morning or late-night TV, it is Ulmer. For a.m. degenerates, the wonderfully self-reflexive Bluebeard (1944), with John Carradine as a murderous Parisian puppeteer, segues admirably into The Amazing Transparent Man (1960), an impressively crazy late Ulmer, shot in Dallas, that uses a “futuristic” art exhibit at the Texas State Fairgrounds for his post-apocalyptic locations. Kultur comes after midnight: Strange Illusion (1945), an ineffable teenage Hamlet, at once poetic and shrill, is more than worthy of Ethan Hawke; the pastoral Green Fields (1937), based on a Yiddish theater classic, supposedly prompted Darryl Zanuck to offer Ulmer a job directing Shirley Temple.