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CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD

In the shadows

American Cinematheque takes a walk on the dark side with 'Noir City.' Included are some rarely seen pictures.

March 28, 2011|Susan King

It was a time when a movie's "hero" could actually be the villain. A time when women were femme fatales who could wrap unsuspecting males around their little fingers. A time of dark streets, men in fedoras and trench coats who called coffee a cup of Joe and smoked unfiltered cigarettes.

In other words, it was the time of film noir.

On Friday, "Noir City: Hollywood, 13th Annual Festival of Film Noir" rolls into the American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre for a three-week stay. Along with some of the usual suspects, the festival features rarities.

Historians Eddie Muller and Alan K. Rode of the Film Noir Foundation have made rich selections for the festival, including: "High Wall," a nifty 1947 noir starring Robert Taylor as a World War II vet with amnesia who confesses to murdering his wife and is put in an asylum (screening Friday). Audrey Totter plays his sexy doctor who begins to believe he is not a killer. Notes Muller: "I think of all the films in the festival, this is the most emblematic of the bunch -- the look of the film, the returning veteran, the amnesia.

"There wasn't a 35mm print of it, so the Film Noir Foundation worked out a deal with Warner Bros., and we were able to fund the striking of a new print that now will be housed at the UCLA Film & Television Archive."

Rode is a big fan of 1954's "Loophole," which screens April 9. The film stars Barry Sullivan as a bank clerk who becomes the fall guy on an embezzlement scheme. Charles McGraw plays the insurance investigator who pursues Sullivan.

" 'Loophole' is like my Captain Ahab quest for the white whale," Rode says, laughing. "It is one of Charles McGraw's most distinctive noir portrayals," says the noir historian, who wrote a biography on the actor. "The film had literally disappeared and hadn't been shown theatrically. Warners had it in their library, but there was a reel missing and they didn't have it. I will spare you all the subplots, but it was very difficult. We finally got it, and the foundation was able to fund a new 35mm print."

The film, he says, gives a bird's-eye view of 1954 L.A. "It opens at a show at Ciro's nightclub, and it shows all of the Sunset Strip," said Rode. "They used a bank in Hollywood, and it has a climatic sequence filmed at Malibu. The house that they use in Malibu is the same house that blew up in 'Kiss Me Deadly.' "

Then there's Joan Crawford chewing the scenery in the torrid 1955 noir "Female on the Beach," screening April 13. Crawford plays a widow who moves into her late husband's Malibu house after the tenant commits suicide. Beefcake Jeff Chandler bares his chest as a beachcomber who seduces Crawford's character. "I love that movie," said Muller, who also points out the fun to be found in Crawford's last film under her Warner Bros. contract, 1952's "This Woman Is Dangerous," screening April 7. She plays a gangster losing her sight.

There's also a Robert Ryan double bill on April 14 -- 1949's "Caught," in which he plays a psycho billionaire, and 1952's "Beware My Lovely," in which he plays a drifter who is hired as a handyman by a lonely widow (Ida Lupino). " 'Caught' is another one that hasn't been seen much. It's Robert Ryan's take on Howard Hughes," said Rode. "Even Howard Hughes knew that and didn't seem particularly perturbed about it, probably because he liked Bob Ryan and Ryan was under contract to RKO [which Hughes owned]."

Then there's 1947's "The Two Mrs. Carrolls," screening April 6, with Humphrey Bogart as a crazy painter who marries women and then kills them after he's painted their portraits. Barbara Stanwyck is the current Mrs. Carroll and Alexis Smith is the latest object of his affection.

"It's a crazy movie," said Muller.

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susan.king@latimes.com

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

Far from the usual suspects

These two tough guys and one feisty dame made their mark on the film noir era, appearing in several classics.

Charles McGraw

The gravely voiced actor, who died in 1980 at age 66, played a hit man in the 1946 noir classic "The Killers" and went on to appear in such noir hits as 1950's "Armored Car Robbery, 1951's "Roadblock" and the 1952 classic "The Narrow Margin."

Audrey Totter

Totter, now 92, made her film debut in 1945's "Main Street After Dark" and excelled in numerous film noirs, including Robert Montgomery's 1947 version of "Lady in the Lake" and "High Wall," which opens the "Noir City" festival.

Lawrence Tierney

As tough and dangerous in person as on the screen, Tierney became a star in 1945's "Dillinger" and went on to star in such noirs as 1947's "Born to Kill" and "The Devil Thumbs a Ride." His last major film role was in the 1992 hit "Reservoir Dogs." He died in 2002 at age 82.

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'Noir City'

Where: American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood

When: Friday to April 20

Price: $11

Contact: www.americancinematheque.com

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