Thursday, January 22, 2009


It's that time. Deadline. Time to swallow down your bitter cup of joe to go. Time to stoke up a Camel straight and rake the rim of your fedora. Time to straighten the seams on your nylons and add yet more scarlet to your pursed lips. Time to load the revolver with bullets and to slip the switchblade in your handbag. Time to choke in the boldface headlines of page one of The Noir City Sentinel before heading out into a world that's incorrigibly corrupt and where a chump knows that even change doesn't come free. Not that the newspaper really warns you about anything new that you have to face once you leave your railroad apartment; it's just a mirror, after all, reflecting a psychotic world escaped and still at large, full of criminals, kingpins and hoods, molls and voluptuous dames limned with lamé and seductive danger. That's right. Now you're getting it. Bullets will fly Friday night January 23 when the seventh edition of the best film noir festival in the world makes deadline at the Castro Theatre, San Francisco—make that Noir City—California. The presses won't stop until February 1, 2009. The theme of this year's festival is Newspaper Noir, with many of the films set in the world of newspapers, or, in some cases, publishing or radio. "Come see how mid-20th-century media stack up against today's fourth estate," Noir City programmers Eddie Muller and Anita Monga entice.

Muller and Monga have made a special effort to have Noir City's nightly double bills (and for the first time separate Saturday matinees) reflect the traditional programming of theaters in the 1940s. To that end, they sought out rare, legitimate B films—shorter movies that were intentionally made to fill out the second half of a double bill. "I think this will probably be as close as you're going to get to actually going to the movies in 1948," says Muller.

"Making a special appearance at this year's festival will be 1950s favorite Arlene Dahl, who will appear for an onstage interview between screenings of two of her favorite films, made back-to-back in 1956: Slightly Scarlet (based on the novel Love's Lovely Counterfeit by James M. Cain) and the rarely screened femme-fatale classic Wicked as They Come."

To begin my hack journalist coverage of this year's Noir City Film Festival, I asked TCM host Robert Osborne to reminisce on Arlene Dahl.

* * *

Michael Guillén: I'm sure you're aware that here in San Francisco we have our Noir City Film Festival where film noir classics are shown? The festival's theme this year is journalism—which somewhat links in to TCM's thematic approach [for "The 31 Days of Oscar"]—and the festival's main guest this year is going to be actress Arlene Dahl. I was wondering if you've ever met Arlene?

Robert Osborne: Arlene is a great friend of mine actually. She's one of my best friends.

Guillén: Oh really? That's true?

Osborne: I just had dinner with her the night before last. She's a terrific lady and she's always been a better actress than she got credit for because she's so beautiful. But she did some films like Slightly Scarlet (1956) with Rhonda Fleming and John Payne. She's very good in that and she was wonderful in Woman's World (1954) with Clifton Webb and Lauren Bacall. She kind of stole that film actually. She's wonderful in a movie called Wicked As They Come (1956)—which was done in England—and Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959), the first one with James Mason; she's very good in that—

Guillén: —That's where I first saw her—

Osborne: I've always felt she was an underrated actress and she's a lovely person. She's also knowledgeable about film and about working in film. She's a great gift for San Francisco to have live on stage.

Guillén: I'm very much looking forward to the chance to talk to her. If you were me, would there be anything you would ask her? About Slightly Scarlet, let's say?

Osborne: I would ask her maybe why she feels that when Slightly Scarlet came out, the film was not particularly acknowledged as anything special but now it's acquired a cult following. I would ask her why she thinks that's happening. Also, I would ask her if she thinks a film can truly be film noir when it's been filmed in color.

Cross-published on Twitch.


Anonymous said...

This is off topic, but I was wondering if you knew who designed the white beaded gown Audrey Hepburn wore in My Fair Lady when Eliza goes to the ball towards the end of the film.



Michael Guillen said...

Leanne, that would most likely be Cecil Beaton.