"This could only happen in San Francisco," said "noircheologist" Eddie Muller, at Friday's opening night of the 8th annual NOIR CITY Film Festival at the venerable Castro Theater, "because you are the smartest, most sophisticated, sexiest moviegoers in the world!"
I'm inclined to agree. This is one hip, rowdy audience, which cheers enthusiastically when the names of noir royalty appear in the credits, such as Andre de Toth, the director of the opening double bill films, Pitfall and Larceny, and laughs heartily at what some purists consider to be all the wrong places. In response, Muller instituted the first house rule of NOIR CITY, which the "Voice of Noir City," William P. Arney, thundered down from the balcony: "Enjoy yourself." "This is a movie house, not a museum," said Muller and left us to appreciate the show in whatever manner we cared to.
This year's festival theme is both sides of "the coinage of noir," as Muller termed it—lust and larceny. As Fred MacMurray succinctly put it in Double Indemnity, "I killed him for money and for a woman. I didn't get the money and I didn't get the woman. Pretty, isn't it?"
Noir is rarely pretty, and there will be plenty of lust and larceny on display in the 24 films chosen by long-time Castro programmer Anita Monga, now Artistic Director of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, including 19 not available on DVD. Classic fare such as The Postman Always Rings Twice, Pickup on South Street, and A Place in the Sun are joined by rarities like The Gangster and Suspense, two vehicles for ice skating star Belita, "the Ice Queen of Film Noir."
The success of the first NOIR CITY in 2003 led to the creation of the nonprofit Film Noir Foundation, helmed by Muller, and 100% of festival profits go to fund the preservation of noir films. This year's showpiece, restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive, is Cry Danger, starring Dick Powell, screening Saturday, January 23 at 7:30 p.m., followed by Broderick Crawford in The Mob at 9:30. There is also a separate Saturday matinee of two Robert Siodmak films, Fly-by-Night and Deported, featuring, reportedly upon his demand, a cameo by mobster Lucky Luciano.
This year's Honor Roll of stars we lost choked me up with powerful clips of classic noir showcasing Gale Storm, Jennifer Jones, James Whitmore, Ricardo Montalban, Nina Foch, Patrick McGoohan, Karl Malden, and screenwriter Budd Schulberg. Luckily they live forever on the silver screen.