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Film Noir Fest at the Castro Theatre

Femme fatales and dirty rats live again on the siilver screen



Yeah, baby, Noir City is back with a vengeance. The annual Film Noir Festival is my very favorite cinematic event of the year (I've scheduled overseas vacations around it, to make sure I didn't miss any of its black-and-white glory.)

Back to the festival. Every January, Alameda resident Eddie Muller hooks up a film geek's buffet of the rarest of rare movies from the 1940s and '50s. Often, these films have never been released on DVD or VHS, and never show up on TCM—so the only chance film buffs have to see them is on the giant silver screen of the glorious Castro Theater in San Francisco. Muller is the go-to guy for noir—his books, Dark City and Dark City Dames, among others, lovingly extol the virtues of the bleakest of film genres.

The festival celebrates femme fatales, double-crossers, hit men, fall guys, chumps and myriad other downward-spiraling saps of the genre. Muller also created the Film Noir Foundation, which restores archival prints of these rare cinematic treasures, for future generations to enjoy.

This year's festival begins Friday, January 25, with a tribute to screen legend Joan Leslie, who will be interviewed on stage, between screenings of her movies, Repeat Performance and The Hard Way.

Saturday, January 26 is a tribute to screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, featuring the classic Gun Crazy and an ultra rare print of The Prowler (one of crime author James Ellroy's all-time faves. Ellroy (L.A. Confidential, The Black Dahlia) will introduce the 7 p.m. screening of The Prowler).

Sunday January 27 remembers noir legend Gail Russell, with showings of Moonrise and Night Has 1,000 Eyes.

January 27—Just got back from this double feature, which was fantastic!
Moonrise was a very bizarre, beautifully photographed 1948 melodrama noir about a guy in a backwater Southern town who grew up being teased and bullied because  his father had been hung to death while he was a baby in the crib. Needless to say he has anger issues as a young man. Notable for early performances by the great Lloyd Bridges and Henry Morgan (Col.Potter on MASH). Very interesting selection for the festival.

The second feature,
Night Has 1,000 Eyes, was a fantastic psychic noir, also from 1948. The great Edward G. Robinson (netflix Scarlet Street or The Woman in the Window for two of Robinson's best noirs) plays a vaudeville psychic who actually does see into the future from time to time. Fortunes and fates spin out of control over twenty-plus years as Robinson's makes life decisions, abandons relationships, and tries to save a young woman (Gail Russell) based on his visions. William Demerest (Uncle Charlie from TV's My Three Sons) shows up as a hard-boiled cop who thinks Robinson is a con man. Great stuff! The Castro crowd responded enthusiastically with a long, loving applause at the end credits of this largely forgotten gem. I'm thinking Rod Serling saw this as a mid-twentysomething.

Noir City runs all the way through February 3 (who wants to watch the Super Bowl, anyway?), with a killer double feature each night.

Mon, Jan 28
WOMAN IN HIDING and JEOPARDY. I'm really looking forward to this one. Woman In Hiding features the great Ida Lupino, who starred and directed in many great film noirs. She's a legend of the genre. And Jeopardy features two of film noir's Hall of Fame stars, Barbara Stanwyck (Double Indemnity) and Ralph Meeker (Kiss Me Deadly), and clocks in a tidy 69 minutes (That's about how much time Tom Hanks spent talking to a volleyball in Cast Away, btw.)

Tues, Jan 29
HANGOVER SQUARE and DANGEROUS CROSSING

Wed, Jan 30
REIGN OF TERROR and BORDER INCIDENT

Thu, Jan 31
D.O.A. and THE STORY OF MOLLY X

Fri, Feb 1
CONFLICT and THE SUSPECT

Sat, Feb 2
THE 3RD VOICE and THE FACE BEHIND THE MASK

Sun, Feb 3
ROADHOUSE and NIGHT AND THE CITY

If you're planning on going, its best to buy your tickets in advance through the website, www.noircity.com. The festival grows in popularity each year, and its great fun to watch these films with an audience. And keep your eyes open for some filmmakers in the audience, or in the neighborhood, as director Gus Van Sant and stars Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, and Emile Hirsch are in town shooting Milk, the true-life  (and very noir) biopic of Harvey Milk, the San Francisco suprvisor who, along with Mayor George Moscone, was murdered by Dan White in November, 1978.

The Castro Theatre is located at 429 Castro St., San Francisco (415) 621-6120

If you're looking for the perfect retro spot to grab a bite to eat, try the It's Tops Diner at 1801 Market St. It's a fairly close drive to the Castro Theatre, the food is great, and the atmosphere is very 1940's Bogart film (without trying too hard to be retro.) See you there!