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Noir City: Hollywood festival is a walk on the dark side of film

Dig out your raincoats and crushed fedoras for American Cinematheque's Noir City: Hollywood festival. This year's festival kicks off with the recently restored 'Try and Get Me.'

April 03, 2013|By Susan King, Los Angeles Times
  • Tony Curtis, right, stars in "City Across the River."
Tony Curtis, right, stars in "City Across the River." (Alan K. Rode )

There is something mesmerizing — almost addictive — about the classic film noirs of the 1940s and '50s, with their darkened, rain-drenched streets and narrow alleys inhabited by anti-heroes sporting well-worn raincoats and crushed fedoras.

These men held their secrets close to the vest. And their hearts on their sleeves. The women they encountered were labeled dames. Far from shrinking, demure violets, these tough-minded beauties could hold their own, wrapping the men around their little fingers and causing their moral downfall or death.

A major influence on filmmakers over the decades, these film noirs boasted such talent as Humphrey Bogart, Dan Duryea, Frank Lovejoy, Richard Basehart, Victor Mature, Coleen Gray and Gloria Grahame.

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Several of those actors are featured in the American Cinematheque's Noir City: Hollywood, 15th Annual Festival of Film Noir, which begins April 5 at the Egyptian in Hollywood and continues through April 21. The retrospective is presented in collaboration with the Film Noir Foundation, whose mission is to find noir films in danger of being lost and have new prints made for future generations to enjoy in theaters or on DVD.

The festival includes some well-known noirs such as 1950's "Sunset Blvd." and 1948's "Road House." But the highlight of "Noir City" is the rarities that have disappeared over the years, victims of bad VHS copies or poor quality prints.

The Film Noir Foundation has funded the restorations of several of the films, including the April 5 opener, 1950's "Try and Get Me," directed by Cy Endfield, starring Lovejoy and Lloyd Bridges, the latter exuding venom as a bad guy.

To raise funds for the UCLA Film & Television Archive's restoration of "Try and Get Me," the foundation held a successful blogathon. The new print debuted in San Francisco in January and screened last month at UCLA's Festival of Preservation.

"It is really a remarkable film because it is based on a true story of a 1934 kidnapping and murder in San Jose," said film historian Alan K. Rode of the foundation.

"It has really striking performances from Frank Lovejoy and Lloyd Bridges — Bridges is absolutely stunning."

As is the taut work of Endfield, an up-and-coming director whose U.S. career was cut short when he was placed on the Hollywood blacklist. Endfield found new life in England, collaborating with actor Stanley Baker on many films, most notably 1964's "Zulu" and April 5's second feature, 1957's "Hell Drivers."

"For people who haven't seen that movie, this is really a testosterone-charged, blue-collar movie about an ex-con driving for a trucking company," Rode said of "Hell Drivers."

The Film Noir Foundation also funded UCLA's restoration of 1947's "High Tide," screening April 13. This low-budget thriller was directed by John Reinhardt and stars Lee Tracy and Don Castle.

Rode describes the film as "a 72-minute crackling 'B.' You have got to love a movie that opens up with a wrecked car sitting in a Malibu ditch with the tide rolling in. Lee Tracy is sitting in the front seat with a broken back and Don Castle is laying in the sand wounded. Lee Tracy says, 'You know, kid, if you had only not answered that telegram I sent you.' The rest of the movie is a flashback."

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Screening with "High Tide" is Reinhardt's final Hollywood film, 1952's "Chicago Calling."

"I think it's one of the saddest movies ever," Rode said. "Dan Duryea is at his best as an unemployed drunken photographer living in Bunker Hill. His wife and daughter are leaving him. The whole movie is shot in downtown L.A."

The foundation funded the soundtrack restoration of 1947s "Repeat Performance," screening April 7. "Repeat Performance" also screened at UCLA's Festival of Preservation.

Alfred L. Werker directed this "Twilight Zone"-meets-film-noir thriller starring Joan Leslie as a Broadway actress who shoots her husband on New Year's. When she leads her best friend to the crime scene, the preceding year begins anew.

The film marked the debut of Basehart in the supporting role as Leslie's friend. The following year, Basehart gave a star-making performance as a psychotic loner in Werker's "He Walked by Night," which rounds out that evening's double bill.

"The influence of the film was phenomenal," Rode said. "It was the template of so many police procedurals set in Los Angeles."

In fact, Jack Webb was inspired to create his classic radio and TV series "Dragnet" after co-starring in the film as an L.A. cop searching for the Basehart character.

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Noir City: Hollywood, 15th Annual Festival of Film Noir

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

When: Friday at 7:30 p.m: "Try and Get Me," "Hell Drivers"; Saturday at 7:30 p.m.: "Sunset Boulevard,""The Other Woman"; April 10 at 7:30 p.m.: "House by the River," "Secret Beyond the Door"

Admission: $11

Information: For the complete schedule, go to


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