From: Steve Novak ( Cinefrog@comcast.net)
Date: 29 Jan 2007

I'm sure many of you saw this article on the Noir festival in SF , in the NYTimes of today...but just in case... http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/29/movies/29noir.html?_r=1&ref=movies&oref=sl ogin Steve Novak Cinefrog@comcast.net

January 29, 2007 Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt, Nights Are Noir in Fog City

Pix captions: The Castro Theater in San Francisco on opening night of the Noir City film festival. John Ireland and Marsha Hunt in ³Raw Deal² (1948). Noir before the term was coined: Marsha Hunt, now 89, on the Castro stage during an intermission.

By WENDELL JAMIESON SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 28 ‹ The orange and blue neon lights of the Castro Theater shone blurrily on the damp asphalt beneath the crisscrossing catenary wires of the streetcars. The words on the marquee in the Friday night gloom, read: ³Marsha Hunt: In Person.²

Ms. Hunt made more than 50 movies before her career was wrecked in 1950 by the Hollywood blacklist. One of them, a 1948 crime melodrama called ³Raw Deal,² has gone on to an unlikely second life as a favorite of the cultish devotees of film noir. On Friday it opened the fifth annual Noir City film festival here, and Ms. Hunt, 89, was on hand to watch its dreamlike silvery hues make a rare appearance on a big ‹ very big ‹ screen.

Lithe and glowing, Ms. Hunt took the stage after the film and said she was surprised not only that this dark little B movie had found fans nearly 60 years after its release, but that so many of them were here, nearly filling the Castro¹s more than 1,400 seats. The crowd was a mix of young and old, polished and scruffy, with only a few fedoras in sight.

³I can¹t get over this,² Ms. Hunt said as the film festival¹s founder and organizer, Eddie Muller, genially interviewed her at the foot of the stage.
³It was a strange sort of film,² she added, ³about as negative as you can get. They hadn¹t coined the term Œnoir¹ yet.²

She¹s right. It¹s hard to imagine a darker film, literally or figuratively, than ³Raw Deal.² Consisting almost entirely of luminescent day-for-night photography, it¹s the story of an escaped con (played by Dennis O¹Keefe) and the two women who love him (Ms. Hunt was one; Claire Trevor was the other), and features, among other pitch-black set pieces, a villain (Raymond Burr) who disfigures his girlfriend with a flaming dessert, and a furious midnight brawl in a seaside taxidermy shop. At the end everyone is either ruined, dead or under arrest.

And that darkness was just fine with the moviegoers here, which applauded vigorously as the closing titles rolled, just as they had at the beginning when the credit for the film¹s director of photography, John Alton, the master of all that darkness, appeared on screen.

Mr. Muller, an author and film noir aficionado, dreamed up the film festival five years ago as a way to increase visibility for the Film Noir Foundation he runs, which works to restore the movies, and to promote his own books.
(He most recently helped write Tab Hunter¹s autobiography.) The Castro, built in 1922 and recently refurbished, had some dead time in January, and the festival (which runs this year through Feb. 4) was born ‹ with a bang. The first double bill in 2003, ³The Maltese Falcon² and ³Dark Passage² ‹ two seminal San Francisco noirs ‹ sold out.

³It was huge right out of the gate,² he said. ²It totally threw me.² In the years since, he¹s sold an average of 880 seats a night.

Of course subject matter and city are well matched. San Francisco has a noir pedigree rivaling that of New York or Los Angeles, its fog, slanting streets, circa-1940¹s office buildings and dank narrow streets creating untold scores of blind alleys for characters unlucky enough to be trapped in them. Several noirs, including ³Raw Deal,² have been set here.

On Friday the weather didn¹t disappoint, with a steady rain falling much of the day. The sun made a half-hearted attempt to appear around noon, then gave up and went back to bed.

The Noir City festival may not be Sundance, but it too has its celebrities and scenes. Before ³Raw Deal² on Friday the Castro¹s balcony was crammed for a reception, with an open bar, a jazz band and Ms. Hunt signing copies of her book, ³The Way We Wore: Styles of the 1930s and ¹40s and Our World Since Then² (Fallbrook, 1993).

Among those on hand was Richard Erdman, 81, a character actor whose face is as recognizable ‹ his credits include ³Stalag 17² and ³Tora! Tora! Tora!² ‹ as his name is unknown. He had a supporting role in ³Cry Danger,² the first film on Saturday night¹s double bill, and looked so familiar standing there at the reception that it was almost impossible not to run up to him and say,
³Haven¹t we met before?²

Like Ms. Hunt, Mr. Erdman seemed a little puzzled as to why exactly, so many years later, these movies are finding a new following. Asked for a theory, he thought for a moment and said: ³I really have no idea. I¹m not putting it down, I just don¹t understand it.²

He heaped praise on Mr. Muller and his crew of volunteers for running a high-class operation. ³They¹re not chintzy,² he said, sipping a glass of white wine.

Film noir is enjoying something of a second golden age at the moment. In addition to the San Francisco festival, the Film Forum in New York City offered a major noir series last year, and studios like Warner Brothers and Fox have ratcheted up their noir reissues to such an extent that many films that never made it out on VHS are appearing on DVD. Just last week Warner Home Video released 1952¹s ³Angel Face,² starring Robert Mitchum, which had only been available on foreign or pirated VHS tapes. Mr. Muller provides the commentary track.

³With film noir, if you show it to a group of 20-year-olds, they¹ll find something to get hooked on,² said George Feltenstein, Warner Home Video¹s voluble senior vice president for marketing for its classic catalog. ³There is a sexiness to it, there is a mystery took it. These are very seductive movies, they are not cookie-cutter.²

Warner Brothers has released three noir box sets. The first, which came out in 2004 and featured titles like ³Out of the Past² and ³The Asphalt Jungle,² hit No. 1 on Amazon.com¹s DVD list. This year Warner¹s fourth noir set will include 10 rather than 5 movies. Here¹s a scoop for noir fans: Two will star Mr. Mitchum.

Whatever the machinations of the DVD business, here at the Noir City festival, everyone was in a pretty good mood by the time the second title of opening night, ³Kid Glove Killer,² a super-rarity from 1942, rolled to its conclusion. This one had a happier ending, with Ms. Hunt getting a marriage proposal, delivered beneath a microscope, from a skinny and surprisingly big-haired Van Heflin.

Coats and fedoras went back on, and the crowd headed for the exits. Ms. Hunt stood by the door, shaking hands and signing autographs, as her new legions of fans emerged onto the shiny street and headed off into the night.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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