Friday, December 18, 2009


For cinephiles, this is certainly the season to rejoice because—as we near the winter solstice and the return of the light—our favorite local institutions are announcing their upcoming calendars. Not that Noir City requires much light, however. In fact, one might argue this is one particular film festival that downright thrives on the dark.

Returning to San Francisco's majestic Castro Theatre for ten days, January 22–31, 2010, the theme for this eighth incarnation of the world's most popular noir film series is part and parcel of classic noir: "Lust and Larceny." (Superman—at least his unshaven Red Kryptonite doppelganger—would be proud of such double Ls!)

Within the theme of Lust and Larceny, Noir City 8 will include double features showcasing the work of screenwriter Bill Bowers, directors Robert Siodmak and Robert Parrish, actors John Garfield, Richard Widmark, Marilyn Monroe, and skating star Belita.

More guest stars are expected when Noir City 8 presents the first public screening of the Film Noir Foundation's latest preservation project: a completely restored version of the fabulous 1951 noir Cry Danger, starring Dick Powell, Rhonda Fleming, and Dick Erdman.

Other Highlights include Sony Home Entertainment's co-presentation of "Bad Girls Night" to celebrate its upcoming DVD box set Bad Girls of Film Noir. Grover Crisp, Sony's Vice President of Asset Management and Film Restoration, will attend—along with a bevy of bad girls. So many fans turn out for the bad girl movies that Noir City has decided to make it a regular part of the annual program.

The festival's always popular "San Francisco Night" returns with two fresh entries: Red Light (1949) and Walk a Crooked Mile (1948), both set in the city by the Bay—as is Escape in the Fog (1945), a rare Budd Boetticher-directed B film playing on the festival's final day.

Friday, January 22 (Double Bill Bowers)

7:30, Pitfall (1948) Dir. André De Toth, archival 35mm print—This independently produced gem is the most realistic exploration of adultery produced in 1940s Hollywood. Bored suburbanite Dick Powell drifts into a dalliance with hard-luck model Lizabeth Scott, only to find his life and family threatened by an obsessive private eye and a jealous ex-con. Director de Toth had the gifted Bill Bowers rewrite the script. The result is truly believable noir—a wrenching tale of repressed lust and suburban ennui. Restored print courtesy the UCLA Film and Television Archive. Not available on DVD.

9:30, Larceny (1948) Dir. George Sherman, brand new 35mm print—John Payne and Dan Duryea play dandy grifters bent on bilking a wealthy war widow (Joan Caulfield). Both are tangled up with saucy Shelley Winters, who's more dangerous than a loaded .38. The cast has a field day firing Bowers's one-liners faster than speeding bullets. We screened this riotously entertaining, little-known gem in 16mm at Noir City 4, and now it’s back for an encore . . . in a BRAND NEW 35mm print courtesy Universal Pictures. Not available on DVD.

Saturday, January 23, Matinée (Robert Siodmak Tribute)

1:00 & 4:20, Fly-By-Night (1942) Dir. Robert Siodmak—An entertaining "cheapie" about an in-his-cups writer (Chester Morris) who pitches his skeptical publisher an ingenious "locked room" mystery ... only to have the crime come true. The law jumps right on his trail as the prime suspect! Martin (Detour) Goldsmith's script is particularly amusing for its backhanded take on crime writing. Not available on DVD.

2:30, Deported (1950) Dir. Robert Siodmak—For one of his last Hollywood assignments, the great Siodmak (Phantom Lady, Criss Cross) ventured to Italy—with Oscar-winning director of photography William Daniels—to film this thinly veiled tale of mobster Lucky Luciano's enforced return to his roots. Jeff Chandler plays "Vic Smith" in this ultra-rarity, the hardest to find of Siodmak's American films. Luciano, a big fan of Siodmak's classic noir The Killers, reportedly demanded a cameo role in the film! Not available on DVD.

Saturday, January 23, Evening
(Bowers & Parrish: The Big Combo)

7:30, Cry Danger (1951) Dir. Robert Parrish, newly restored—One of the most wicked and witty revenge yarns of the original film noir era. When we showed it in 2007 we had to screen star Dick Powell's personal 16mm print; no 35mm copies existed. We're thrilled to "re-premiere" this terrific film—Parrish's debut as a director—in a brand-new restoration, courtesy the Film Noir Foundation and the UCLA Film and Television Archive. It costars the ravishing Rhonda Fleming and the redoubtable Richard Erdman, one of the great wisecrackers of all time. Thanks to all the Noir City supporters and Film Noir Foundation donors who made this restoration possible! Not available on DVD.

9:30, The Mob (1951) Dir. Robert Parrish—On the heels of their Cry Danger success, Bowers and Parrish were contracted by Columbia Pictures to craft a hard-hitting crime picture for Oscar-winner Broderick (Born Yesterday) Crawford. The tale of an undercover cop (Crawford) infiltrating a waterfront labor racket was a huge hit and a forerunner to 1950s crime exposes, subsequently overshadowed by the higher-pedigreed On the Waterfront (1954). The Mob stands as a terrific film in its own right, featuring early work from actors Charles Bronson, Neville Brand, and Ernest Borgnine. Not available on DVD.

Sunday, January 24 (Marilyn Noir)

1:00, 5:10, 9:30, Niagra (1953) Dir. Henry Hathaway—"Niagara Falls and Marilyn Monroe—The Two Most Electrifying Sights in the World!" screamed the studio's ads for this sexually charged Technicolor noir. Monroe is a too-hot-to-handle wife who enflames her husband's jealousy during a vacation at the famous falls ... with murderous results. Joseph Cotten, Jean Peters, and one of the world's majestic natural wonders all play second fiddle to Marilyn, whose larger-than-life allure still leaps off the screen 56 years after this film was originally released.

2:50, 7:15, The Asphalt Jungle (1950) Dir. John Huston—The gold standard of "caper" films. John Huston brings a neorealist feel to his version of W. R. Burnett's classic crime novel, and a remarkable cast vividly brings to life the book's rogues' gallery of crooked characters. It stars Sterling Hayden and Jean Hagen and a trio of the finest supporting performances ever from Louis Calhern, Sam Jaffe, and Marc Lawrence. Huston also gets credit for being the first to exploit the extraordinary on-screen sex appeal of Marilyn Monroe; this was the film that launched her meteoric rise to stardom.

Monday, January 25 (Belita, Ice Queen of Noir)

7:30, Suspense (1946) Dir. Frank Tuttle—The most lavish, expensive ($1 million!) production ever created by Monogram Pictures was tailored to the talents of young British ice skating sensation Belita, whose brief Hollywood career coincided with the rise of film noir, making her literally the genre's "Ice Queen." Barry Sullivan is her costar in this James M. Cain-styled story of lust and murder, set against the backdrop of a skating revue, which provided the star with several show-stopping routines. Quirky, crazy, and totally unique! Not available on DVD.

9:30, The Gangster (1947) Dir. Gordon Wiles—Based on Daniel Fuchs's novel Low Company. One of the most peculiar noirs of the 1940s stars Barry Sullivan in a riveting performance as a small-time hood who suffers a mental breakdown as his big plans begin to crumble. Beautiful Belita is the slumming society girlfriend who only fuels his paranoia. Director Wiles, normally a production designer and art director, creates an arresting visual corollary for the character's disintegrating psyche. Ultra rare! See it on the big screen while you can! Not available on DVD.

Tuesday, January 26 (John Garfield Tribute)

7:30, The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) Dir. Tay Garnett—"Their Love Was a Flame That Destroyed!" James M. Cain's 1934 novel—essentially the blueprint for noir—was so hot, and so wrong, it took MGM 12 years to figure out how to put it on the screen, heat intact. It helped to have Lana Turner and John Garfield playing the sex-starved, ill-fated lovers who plot murder. A huge hit in 1946, it remains one of the most revered films in the genre, and the progenitor of a thousand "erotic thrillers" to follow.

9:45, He Ran All the Way (1951) Dir. John Berry—Garfield gives perhaps his most desperate, impassioned performance in this, his final film. Facing nothing but a dead-end life, small-time hood Nick Robey (Garfield) pulls a simple stick-up ... but when he shoots a cop, his life spins out of control. Hiding out, he meets a neighborhood girl (Shelley Winters) who brings him home to meet the family ... whom he holds hostage while plotting his escape. A bitter, blistering film created by a cadre of talents all on the verge of losing their Hollywood careers to the blacklist. Not available on DVD.

Wednesday, January 27 (Bad Girls of Film Noir)

7:30, One Girl's Confession (1953) Dir. Hugo Haas—In the 1950s, actor Hugo Haas became a B-movie auteur, writing, directing, and starring in a series of pulpy tales of amour fou in which a pathetic man (usually Haas himself) is tempted and tormented by a voluptuous vixen. In this edition of Haas's ongoing saga of sadomasochism, the vixen is curvaceous Cleo Moore, who carved a niche for herself as the Poor Man's Marilyn Monroe in a series of tawdry (but oh so enjoyable) sex-driven potboilers. Not available on DVD … yet!

9:15, Women's Prison (1955) Lewis Seiler—All right, it's not really noir, but who can resist a good ol' sleazy women-behind-bars saga, especially one with dishy dames like Jan Sterling, Cleo Moore, and Audrey Totter getting (wo)manhandled by a jealously berserk warden played by Ida Lupino? The setup: The state has built men's and women's prisons side by side, with only a wall keeping the genders apart. Pretty soon, more than license plates are being pounded out. A cellblock of terrific actresses have a field day tearing apart the scenery, and each other. Not available on DVD … yet!

Thursday, January 28 (San Francisco Noir)

7:30, Red Light (1949) Dir. Roy Del Ruth—Witness the resurrection of this incredibly rare, visually stunning "Biblical Noir." San Francisco truck company owner Johnny Torno (George Raft) seeks revenge on the killers of his priest brother, who left a clue to the culprit's identity in a missing bible. It's rife with religious symbolism, packed with indelible supporting players, and features sensational cinematography by Bert (Crime Wave) Glennon and a great score by Dimitri Tiomkin. It took a lot of digging to unearth this 35-millimeter print, so don't miss it! Not available on DVD.

9:15, Walk A Crooked Mile (1948) Dir. Gordon Douglas—When a security leak at an atomic energy plant threatens the safety of the free world, an FBI agent (Dennis O'Keefe) and a Scotland Yard inspector (Louis Hayward) track the spy ring to (where else?) Commie-infested San Francisco. Hint to the feds: Look for the big, shifty guy (Raymond Burr) with the Lenin look-alike goatee. This time capsule of escalating Cold War paranoia is rendered in the once-voguish "semidocumentary" style, providing terrific glimpses of 1948 San Francisco. Not available on DVD.

Friday, January 29 (Richard Widmark Remembered)

7:30, Slattery's Hurricane (1949) Dir. André de Toth—The rarest film of Richard Widmark's early rise to stardom is an uncommonly adult story of infidelity and drug smuggling. Will Slattery (Widmark) is a cynical fighter pilot facing possible court-martial, flying suspicious cargo around the Caribbean. Disasters, both human and natural, result when an old flame (Linda Darnell) comes between Slattery and his loyal gal (Veronica Lake), who has secrets of her own. It's a unique film featuring fresh, innovative direction by the great Andre de Toth. Not available on DVD.

9:30, Pickup On South Street (1953) Dir. Samuel Fuller—Widmark delivers his signature performance in this exceptionally fast and hardboiled tale of a New York pickpocket caught between the commies and the feds, playing both ends against the middle for his own gain. It is perhaps Fuller's most perfectly realized film, featuring Oscar-nominated support from Thelma Ritter and a memorable turn by Jean Peters as a blowsy, brazen B girl. Fuller, a former New York crime reporter, magically turns Fox back lots and studio sets into a vivid depiction of his beloved Big Apple.

Saturday January 30, Matinée (Larceny & Lust)

1:00, 4:30, Inside Job (1946) Dir. Jean Yarbrough—This terse programmer is notable as the final credit of writer-director Tod Browning (Freaks), although he'd written the story years before it was made. Some of his distinctive traits are evident in the tale of newlywed ex-cons (Ann Rutherford and Alan Curtis) forced into a mobster's plan to rob a downtown department store. It's a B movie through and through, but one with clever business peppering a plot that consistently zigs when you expect it to zag. Featuring the stalwart Preston Foster as the dapper gangster. Not available on DVD.

2:25, To Be Announced
Saturday, January 30, Evening
(The Glorious Gloria Grahame)

7:30, Human Desire (1954) Dir. Fritz Lang—You can't really call this a redo of The Postman Always Rings Twice because it's based on Emile Zola's 1890 novel La Bete Humaine. But then, tales of tortured lovers tempted to commit murder are timeless, aren't they? Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame rekindle their flame from Lang's 1953 smash The Big Heat, and Broderick Crawford plays the loutish cuckold they want to be rid of. Do we need to note that things don't go according to plan? Burnett Guffey supplies the wonderfully atmospheric cinematography. Not available on DVD.

9:30, Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) Dir. Robert Wise—Legendary actor-musician-humanitarian Harry Belafonte starred in and produced this incendiary crime classic. He plays jazz musician Johnny Ingram, whose gambling debts lead him to take part in a bank job with surly racist Earle Slater (Robert Ryan, in a performance both ferocious and sad). The film also features a landmark score by jazz greats John Lewis and the Modern Jazz Quartet, bolstering the tight and tense direction of the great Robert Wise. Unfortunatley, due to an unexpected development beyond everyone's control, Harry Belafonte cannot appear at this year's Noir City festival as originally intended. Mr. Belafonte sends his deepest regrets and fondest regards to the film fans of San Francisco, with whom he was so eager to have shared this special 50th anniversary screening of Odds Against Tomorrow.

Sunday January 31 (Getaway Day)

1:00, 4:50, 7:00, Escape in the Fog (1945) Dir. Budd Boetticher—An army nurse (Nina Foch) is terrified by a fog-shrouded dream in which she witnesses a trio of men committing murder on the Golden Gate Bridge. Good thing it's all a dream ... until the victim asks her out on a date! Settle in with some popcorn for lots of old-fashioned B-movie skullduggery. Director Boetticher, who'd go on to direct some of the greatest Westerns ever, rides briskly over plot holes, camouflaging lapses in logic with loads of atmosphere, and makes the most of star Nina Foch's distinctive appeal. Not available on DVD.

2:25, 8:30, A Place in the Sun (1951) Dir. George Stevens—This sublime adaptation of Theodore Drieser's An American Tragedy is noir to the core, despite the gloss and glamour Paramount ladled on to make it a huge hit. A blue-collar social climber (Montgomery Clift) falls for a gorgeous society debutante (Elizabeth Taylor, at the peak of her beauty), but his plain, prole, and pregnant girlfriend (Shelley Winters) stands in the way of his personal American Dream. It won Oscars for best costumes, score, editing, cinematography, screenplay, and direction, yet somehow lost best picture to An American in Paris.

Of related interest: Noir City Index.

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