Noir City Hollywood Celebrates 20 Years: A Festival Preview
April 2, 2018
2018 is a milestone year for Noir City Hollywood, with the festival celebrating its 20th edition in Los Angeles. To commemorate two decades in the City of Angels, Noir City 20’s theme is – surprise! – the city itself.
Having grown up in northern New Jersey where my first urban interaction was the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, I've never come to think of Los Angeles as a city, but rather a series of interconnected suburbs, save for downtown. In musing over some of the fest selections I have already seen, I actually believe that's a more modern view; LA on film, especially in a noir, appears more urban than anything I've encountered here. That clash of suburban and metropolitan, mixed with the darkness that can infiltrate both environments (even in sun-drenched LA), complements the hard-edged aesthetic of film noir nicely. As I've attended this festival for several years now, I'm pretty confident the Noir City Hollywood audience will revel in 10 straight days of mid-century LA locations, including diverse cityscapes ranging from Venice to Hollywood to downtown and even Big Bear; I certainly know I will!
Keeping in line with previous fests, Noir City 20 once again champions film. In fact, 19 of the 20 pictures screening are 35mm prints, with the sole digital selection, The Turning Point (1952), a brand new restoration made for the festival by Paramount. (Even the lone ‘modern’ title, 1997’s L.A. Confidential, will be presented on 35mm – and it’s an archival print, too). Even better yet: three of this year’s selections, 1948's I Love Trouble, 1950's Armored Car Robbery, and 1945's Jealousy, aren’t available on DVD. (Full disclosure: Armored Car Robbery is streaming on Amazon Prime.) Additionally, taking a page from last year’s theme which paired A-B titles released in the same year, it appears that in some instances this edition, double (or in one case, triple) features also share matching dates.
As per usual, Noir City will once again usher in a solid 2.5 weeks of near-constant movie-going for me – this event runs from April 13-22 and the TCM Classic Film Festival returns April 26-29. Despite the close proximity to TCMFF and the fact that 10 consecutive evenings is an incredibly long haul, Noir City is an event I ardently look forward to every year. Whereas TCMFF is a hasty 3.5 day sprint, this is more reminiscent of a long marathon that requires pacing; it’s hard to make it to every screening after a full work day, as much as I want to.
All that said, below is my preview for Noir City Hollywood 20. Enjoy!
German poster for The Blue Dahlia.
Friday, April 13
The Blue Dahlia (1946)
Last year’s fest opened with Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd in This Gun for Hire (1942), and #20 debuts in similar fashion, albeit fast forwarding a few years to Lake and Ladd in The Blue Dahlia. Honestly, I get The Blue Gardenia (1953) and this title mixed up – they’re both blue flowers, don’t judge me – so this is one that definitely warrants a re-watch for me.
I Love Trouble (1948)
This title just begs for attention, and the Fandango summary has me thoroughly confused, which actually is a bonus for me when it comes to film noir. According to the Cinematheque, I Love Trouble affords glimpses of Wilshire and Venice, which should be lots of fun; Venice in particular is a location that I don't think you see often in noir. Plus, I’m always down for pre-Code fave Glenda Farrell, who co-stars.
Saturday, April 14
L.A. Confidential (1997)
While other renditions of Noir City have featured newer titles, Hollywood’s fest generally sticks to the oldies. The odd ball out this year is this neo-noir classic, made in 1997 but set in 1950s Los Angeles, a time and location native to several of Noir City 20’s selections. Truth time: I’ve never seen L.A. Confidential (I’m not one for excessive violence), but the fact that author James Ellroy is scheduled for a Q&A AND it’s an archival print may just change my mind…
Sunday, April 15
Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
What a nuclear double feature! I haven't seen Kiss Me Deadly in years, but I remember it being rather shocking and disturbing for 1955. That recollection alone merits a re-visit.
City of Fear (1959)
I've never heard of this “little shoestring production,” but already I'm intrigued by this line from the Cinematheque’s website: “An escaped con (Vince Edwards) thinks he’s stealing a cache of heroin, but he’s actually toting around enough radioactive material to destroy the parts of Los Angeles left standing at the end of KISS ME DEADLY.” What the what?! Imagine how pissed he'll be when he finds out - or will he be? You can probably make more money selling radioactive material to an adversary government, right? Also, how did someone sneak that into prison? How can you tell the difference between the two? Does heroin glow? I have so many questions, and I hope City of Fear can answer at least some of them.
Monday, April 16
Dark City (1950)
I used to consider myself a major Lizabeth Scott fan, until I kept getting caught off guard by more and more of her movies that I never knew existed. Like this picture. So that automatically makes this a must-see. Oh, and the excellent cast - Charlton Heston (in his feature film debut), Jack Webb, Ed Begley, and Don DeFore - yeah, they don't hurt either.
Armored Car Robbery (1950)
They get right to the point with this title! Armored Car Robbery is one of those movies that I've heard mentioned so many times that I’ve come to believe I've watched it... but I'm pretty sure I haven't. A 67-minute noir starring Charles McGraw and William Talman - those two described as the “film noir equivalent of King Kong vs. Godzilla” by the Cinematheque - and Adele Jergens as a burlesque queen? I'm not sure how I've dodged this one for so long!
Richard Baseheart being shady in He Walked By Night.
Tuesday, April 17
He Walked By Night (1948) - I saw He Walked By Night last year as part of UCLA's Festival of Preservation, and it was a nail biter on the big screen. Between director Anthony Mann (uncredited, with Alfred Werker), cinematographer John Alton, and Richard Baseheart as the cunning, unhinged killer, this B-entry from Eagle Lion has all the markings of a quintessential low budget noir. Plus, it even takes viewers beneath the City of Angels for its breathtaking climax. However, having seen it at least twice in three years, I think I’ll be taking this screening off (and maybe I’ll attempt to be productive and re-cap the entries that I’ve already seen!).
Down Three Dark Streets (1954)
Another B-side, another film I haven't heard of. That's something I love about this festival - there's always a handful of movies that are brand new to me. It fascinates me that even after 20 years, the Film Noir Foundation and the Cinematheque can still program relative rarities. Anyways, this story, which was apparently based on real FBI cases, sounds incredibly convoluted, so Down Three Dark Streets is either going to be brilliant or bonkers. Whichever way it lands, I’m all there for it. This picture also boasts early glimpses of the Hollywood Sign and a “trifecta of female trouble (Ruth Roman, Martha Hyer and Marisa Pavan), all entangled in extortion and murder.” Sounds like a good time to me.
There seems to be two languages on this Loophole poster - French and Dutch?
Wednesday, April 18
I’ve of course heard of the TV series of the same name, but honestly I wasn’t aware that Dragnet was adapted into a 1950s film as well, much less a “no holds barred version” that rarely screens. The element that excites me most about this movie is Ann Robinson playing a policewoman, partly because she’ll also be partaking in a discussion afterwards. I briefly spoke to Robinson on the TCMFF red carpet in 2016 (where she very gently corrected a historical mistake I made!), and she was such a lovely, bubbly woman. I can’t wait to hear what she has to say about this film.
You got me with “one of the rarest films of the original noir era,” Noir City. (Though curiously, this title is available on both DVD and Amazon Prime video.) As the Cinematheque puts it, Loophole “plays like a B-movie version of Les Miserables, transplanted to the streets of Los Angeles.” I’m a sucker for peculiar plot lines like that – and a reliable cast featuring the likes of Charles McGraw, Barry Sullivan, and Dorothy Malone.
Spanish poster for The Turning Point.
Thursday, April 19
The Turning Point (1952)
This brand new digital restoration was created specially for Noir City, so that’s something! Government probes, crime syndicates, political corruption, and crusading reporters are all par for the noir course, but it will be a treat seeing Edmond O’Brien, William Holden, Ed Begley, and Alexis Smith romp around this yarn, which was also based on true revelations. Plus, I can never get enough of mid-century downtown LA locations like Angels Flight and Bunker Hill, both of which are featured here.
The Scarlet Hour (1956)
Ultra rare archival print! Michael Curtiz directed! Sold. I’m curious to see how this picture, “one of the least seen film noirs of the 1950s,” according to the Cinematheque, compares with Curtiz’s earlier films noir (1945's Mildred Pierce, 1947's The Unsuspected, 1949's Flamingo Road). I’m also quite enthralled by the cast of relative unknowns (at least to me): Carol Ohmart, Tom Tryon, and James Gregory. Noir City sometimes turns up captivating new acting discoveries, like Beverly Michaels in last year’s Wicked Woman (1953), so I’m excited to see what The Scarlet Hour serves up! (I guess to make up for all those newbies, Nat King Cole appears in a cameo performing “Never Let Me Go” in the Beverly Hills Hotel.)
Friday, April 20
As already disclosed in this article, I love me some Lizabeth Scott. André de Toth’s moody Pitfall, co-starring Dick Powell, Raymond Burr, and Jane Wyatt, is probably my favorite noir of Scott's, and I've seen it several times, including on the big screen. This screening comes at the end of a long week, so if I'm feeling tired, I may sit it out to save up energy for:
This rare Republic B-flick clocks in at a swift 71 minutes, which is extremely alluring to me, especially since it's second on the bill. Then there’s Jane Randolph as a female taxi driver; Karen Morley “at her best”; suicidal Nils Asther, which must be #dramatic; and director Gustav Machatý, who helmed 1933's subversive Ecstasy, all of whom are in for what the Cinematheque terms “part bargain-basement loopiness, part experimental art film.” With so many intriguing elements, I’m curious to see how this one plays out in an hour and 11 minutes.
I just love the scrawling Satan in this German poster for The Prowler, which roughly translates to The Satan to Sing no Songs, according to Google.
Saturday, April 21
Triple feature, Noir City?! Why do you have to be so generous? (Seriously, as much as I love this fest, I need to preserve my sleep and sanity as we head into TCMFF.) Saturday night, Noir City presents three Joseph Losey films, and Losey’s dramatically charged movies are always a treat on the big screen. Not to mention, all of these titles were released in 1951, when Losey’s name was brought up in the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and he fled to Europe to avoid being subpoenaed.
The Prowler (1951)
Van Heflin. Evelyn Keyes. The Cinematheque’s description (SPOILER ALERT): “A perverse, provocative film about a corrupt cop (Van Heflin) who sexually dominates a married woman (Evelyn Keyes) for material gain. Oh yeah, he murders her husband in the process - then marries her. And she ends up giving birth in a Nevada ghost town.” I have no words; I just have to see this movie.
Perhaps I accepted Peter Lorre (from Fritz Lang’s 1931 German original) as the type to play a child killer, but David Wayne will always be a good boy musical star in my mind, which is why he absolutely astonishes me in the lead role in Losey's M. He is so softly terrifying that he’s almost sympathetic in a way; there's so much going on in his head – much of it obviously depraved – but you can’t help but want to know what it is. The first time I saw this adaptation was a few years ago at the Egyptian, and I was blown away by Wayne's performance and how well the picture fit in to 1951 Los Angeles. Though I've caught M on TCM since then and could probably use a break on this long night, this is one movie that's hard for me to pass up. Plus, I recently visited the Bradbury Building in downtown LA for the first time, and I know this film features scenes shot there and other iconic DTLA locations like Angels Flight, which would be fun to see again.
The Big Night (1951)
I don't believe I've ever heard a noir also described as a coming of age tale, which makes this picture instantly captivating. In fact, when I think about it, I’ve actually seen more films noir with child leads, like 1949’s The Window and 1948’s The Fallen Idol; the POV in this case is of 16-year old John Barrymore Jr., affording us a perspective we don't often get in these types of movies. As much drama as I can expect from an all-night teenage crusade through DTLA, there was comparable apprehension and angst behind the scenes after filming, too: this is the picture Losey deserted during editing so he wouldn’t have to appear in front of the HUAC.
Sunday, April 22
Act of Violence (1948)
This is another title that I'm always positive I've seen, but in reading the synopsis, I’m pretty sure I would have remembered Mary Astor as a "blowsy, street-wise hooker." And I definitely do not. Robert Ryan, who was basically born for noir, leads an all-star cast featuring Astor, Van Heflin, and a young Janet Leigh, all overseen by Fred Zinnemann, who excelled at creating tension in later classics such as High Noon (1952), From Here to Eternity (1953), and A Hatful of Rain (1957), among others.
Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948)
I was crushed to miss a nitrate screening of this previously unknown-to-me picture last June at the UCLA Film and Television Archive. Though this closing night show won’t be on nitrate (that would be something!), I'm still grateful for a chance to see it. I find shady carny tales like Nightmare Alley (1947) and even The Mind Reader (1933) darkly entertaining, and watching the versatile Edward G. Robinson in such a juicy role will be a blast - I can already feel it!
If you’re attending Noir City Hollywood this year, what films are you most looking forward to?