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Noir City Film Festival

In the Shadows

The shadowy, morally murky world of Hollywood black-and-white movies of the late 40s and early 50s is the peak artistic expression of a streak of crime storytelling that began with the pulp magazines and detective novels of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.

Every year in January, when the dashing torrents of rain replicate the mise-en-scène of many noirs, the Noir City film festival at Castro Theater presents many prime examples of the genre. Although festival director Eddie Muller can be heard doing the voice-over commentary on many noir DVDs, the event specializes in offering films that haven’t made it to home video in any form except bootlegging.

The festival stretches over two weekends, Jan. 22–31. Opening night pairs Pitfall (1948), with Dick Powell as an ordinary guy who gets mixed up with husky-voiced Lizabeth Scott and hulking Raymond Burr, with Larceny (1948), in which snarky Dan Duryea and partner John Payne try to separate a widow from her bankroll. Both films benefit from new prints.

Saturday afternoon (Jan. 23) features Robert Siodmak’s little-known Fly-By-Night (1942), a proto-noir with comic elements. It will be screened with Deported (1950), also by Siodmak. Unusual for noir, Deported takes place in Italy, with Jeff Chandler as a mobster based on Lucky Luciano. The evening matchup is a restored print of Cry Danger (1951), with Powell and Rhonda Fleming, plus The Mob (1951), with Broderick Crawford going undercover to bring down a labor racket.

Sunday’s shows may be a bit more familiar. Joseph Cotten, in one of his best parts, can’t contain his jealousy at wife Marilyn Monroe’s flirtatious ways in Niagara (1952), a rare example of a Technicolor noir; Monroe does a dance in a red sheath dress that explains all you need to know about her iconic fame.

She has a much smaller but just as memorable part in The Asphalt Jungle (1950), directed by John Huston. A tortured Sterling Hayden plays an enforcer watching Sam Jaffee’s back during a jewel heist; Monroe plays the dim but gorgeous girlfriend of the crooked lawyer (Louis Calhern) handling the fence. In a famous moment, Jaffee’s character is fatally mesmerized by the sight of a teenager girl dancing to a jukebox in a lonely diner — a great noirish moment.

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