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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

SF is Noir City: Seventh Annual Festival Opens with a Bang

Posted By on Tue, Jan 27, 2009 at 12:26 PM

Eddie Muller is in way too good a mood for a man who's known as the Czar of Noir. At every onstage introduction this year, he's been chortling with joy. But he's not alone: the Castro Theatre has been packed out at both of its evening performances of its opening weekend of Muller's Deadline: Noir City, the Seventh Annual San Francisco Film Noir Festival. The capacity crowd, 1400 strong, loudly approved Friday, January 23rd's double bill of Deadline-U.S.A. (1952), starring Humphrey Bogart as an uncompromising editor of a high-class daily that's about to be bought and shut down by a competitor, and Scandal Sheet (1952), based on Samuel Fuller's novel The Dark Page, wherein a different kind of editor, Broderick Crawford, hoped to escape detection as a murderer while his crack investigative reporter, John Derek, was hot on his trail. Our favorite overheard comment: "Was Bo Derek his daughter?" Uh, no, she was his fourth wife, in a long line of ever-younger lookalike blondes, including Ursula Andress and Linda Evans, in fact.

Saturday night's tribute, with guest of honor Arlene Dahl, gracious, funny, and impossibly glamorous in floor-length black lace and satin, with still-flaming red hair, toasting the festival onstage with champagne and admiring interlocutor Eddie, featured Wicked as they Come (1956), about a social-climbing girl who used her beauty to reach the top in English and Parisienne society, and Slightly Scarlet (1956), moodily shot by master cinematographer John Alton in vivid Technicolor, ideally suited for the pairing of two of Hollywood's most voluptuous redheads, Arlene Dahl and her good friend Rhonda Fleming. Far from being rivals, the two women often celebrated their one-day-apart August 10th and 11th birthdays together. The much-married Dahl (six times, including the past 25 years to perfume magnate Marc Rosen) was accompanied by both the much-younger Rosen and her son by second husband Fernando Lamas, Lorenzo Lamas

A smaller but equally happy crowd attended Saturday's matinee double bill of Blind Spot (1947), written by Martin Goldsmith, the writer of seminal noir cheapie Detour, and Chicago Deadline (1949), a tale with echoes of Otto Preminger's Laura, wherein reporter Alan Ladd pursues the truth behind the early death of what the program termed a "good girl gone wrong," Donna Reed. Since this is the only known surviving 35mm print, residing in the UCLA Film & Television Archive, the Festival was allowed to show it only once. 

On Sunday afternoon, multiple screenings were permitted of the heretofore unknown Joseph H. Lewis unusual swamp noir, Cry of the Hunted

(1953), which used MGM's resources to include a surrealistic dream

montage that prompted one viewer to comment "Hey! An American in

Louisiana!", double-billed with Billy Wilder's icy-cold Ace in the Hole (1951), starring Kirk Douglas in one of his best roles, and famed for such classic noir lines as Jan Sterling's

"I don't go to church. Kneeling bags my nylons," and her comment to

Douglas, "I met a lot of hard-bolied eggs in my time, but you -- you're

twenty minutes."

click to enlarge Lorenzo Lamas, Arlene Dahl and her husband Marc Rosen
  • Lorenzo Lamas, Arlene Dahl and her husband Marc Rosen
Of the eight movies shown in the festival so far, only Slightly Scarlet and Ace in the Hole

are available on DVD. So watching the others is not only a pleasure

because of the Castro's famed huge screen, but it's the aficionado's

only chance. Unless Muller's Film Noir Foundation succeeds in

convincing the studios who hold the rights to these movies to release

them. And 1400-strong crowds reacting with noisy appreciation goes a

long way in these efforts. 

The theme of this year's Noir

City festival is somewhat bittersweet for us ink-stained wretches.

Deadline: Noir City features a number of movies (12 out of 22) set in

the world of newspapers and magazines, in those halcyon pre-internet

days when that's where most of the world got its news. Amid reports of

layoffs, cutbacks, consolidations, and entire organizations shutting

down, it's not only nostalgic but ironic to revisit a time when

deadlines mattered and "stop the presses!" rang out. 

Muller and his chief programmer, the gifted Anita Monga, have put together a dazzling ten-day schedule that include upcoming not-on-DVD rarities including such double bills as Wednesday, January 28th's While the City Sleeps (Fritz Lang, 1956) and Shakedown (1950, from another Martin Goldsmith script) and Saturday January 31st's Beyond A Reasonable Doubt (Fritz Lang, 1956) and Two O'Clock Courage (1945, Anthony Mann). 

click to enlarge img_2188.jpg
But we can't stay away, no matter what they're showing. Along with San Francisco's Silent Film Festival, Noir City is our favorite among the plethora of San Francisco's excellent array of nearly-constant film fests.

In addition to the movies,  there's an excellent selection of noir-related books and DVDs on sale in the lobby, with scheduled author appearances. And in our favorite theatrical touch, during evening weekend screenings adorable young girls dressed up as newsboys trolled the lines, handing out programs, while yelling "EXTRA, EXTRA!" They ignored our suggestion that "WUXTRY, WUXTRY" was the cry heard back in the day.


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Meredith Brody


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