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Established 1995 filmfestivals.com serves and documents relentless the festivals community, offering 92.000 articles of news, free blog profiles and functions to enable festival matchmaking with filmmakers.

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13th Film Noir Festival in Hollywood

The 13th Annual Film Noir festival, known affectionately as "Noir City", arrived at its usual venue, the fabled Egyptian theater on Hollywood Boulevard, on April 1st, settling in for a three week run until April 20. Here dedicated Noir fans and many merely curious drop-ins will be treated to a series of established classics of the genre and rarely seen new discoveries in a viewer friendly "double feature" format -- just like the old days -- two distinctive black and white features from Hollywood's Memory Lane for the price of one! The Egyptian theater itself, whose exterior foyer is like an open air gallery of ancient Egyptian art -- itself a tourist attraction -- is located in the very heart of Hollywood, where along with Grauman's Chinese, it is among the last of the old movie palaces that used to line this famous street.

Noir City is the brainchild of film historian, author and Man About Town, Eddie Muller of San Francisco, also the founder of the Film Noir Foundation, dedicated to the preservation and restoration of long unseen lesser known films of the genre. In his own words Eddie describes himself as follows:

"EDDIE MULLER is a second generation San Franciscan, product of a lousy public school education, a couple of crazy years in art school, and too much time in newspaper offices and sporting arenas. No college, but he's compensated by always hanging around smarter people, an effortless feat typically accomplished in bars."

Muller's crusade to save such films from oblivion and promote Film Noir in the eyes of the general public have earned him the well deserved sobriquet, "The Czar of Noir".
Audiences who attend these screenings are the beneficiaries of an extra treat: Mr. Muller, in his trademark black suit, introducing most films in person, to share his infectious enthusiasm for the pictures in question. As Eddie is literally a walking encyclopedia of Fim Noir (three books on the subject published) and is an engaging public speaker in his own right, his film intros are practically worth the price of admission on their own.

For the uninitiated, "Film Noir" (French for "Black Film"), broadly speaking, encompasses a specific style of dark, hard-boiled, A-moral, crime melodramas that emerged in Hollywood in the forties (beginning, roughly, with "The Maltese Falcon", 1941, and ending with Welles' "Touch of Evil", 1958), were more often than not (but not necessarily) low budget 'B' movies with second echelon lead actors (Dane Clark, Barry Sullivan, Charles McGraw) and a bevy of fatal females (Liz Scott, Janis Carter, Evelyn Keyes, and their ilk) drawing hapless suckers into their deadly clutches. The setting was aways the city, mostly at night with dark rainy streets where murder lurked, and the lighting was typically high contrast with stark shadows, whereupon the early postwar French film critics, who doted on Hollywood B movies, dubbed this Hollywood style "Film Noir" or blackish film -- both for its cinematography and for the black hearts of the characters who peppered the screen. These films always had a cynical edge to them in contrast to the mainstream moral high ground Hollywood films of the period -- One might go so far as to say that the guiding purpose of Film Noir was to take the moral Low Ground from the majors and sell it to the unwashed masses.
Today these films seem to portray a kind of lost honesty and straight-from-the-shoulder tell-it-like-it is-ness, which is in stark contrast to the phony preaching and cloying political correctness of so many contemporary movies -- all of which, it would seem, makes their revival so popular and Forever-Green.

As for the films in the current batch, the present collection of 24 titles is somewhat weighted in favor of bigger films with bigger stars that nevertheless fit into the Noir framework because of their themes, if not exactly put together with the lower budget nuts and bolts. Once the major studios realized that there was a definite market for quirky crime melodramas of this type -- before they became glorified with the "Film Noir" appellation -- the studios started turning out glossier more upscale versions of their own, with some of their leading stars; Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Bennett, Bogart and Cagney, Glenn Ford, and even a couple of pictures with quintessential Romantic leading man Robert Taylor, two of whose films are included in the present lineup. My personal leaning would be toward the more naive (maybe "campy" is the word) original version, but the question as to where to draw the line between "true noir" and merely noirish in flavor, has never been clearly resolved, and leads only to areas of gray at best.

On the second day of the fest I walked into the middle of a film and said to myself, "Hey, wait a minute -- isn't that Jack Palance up there!" -- and indeed it was, in what must undoubtedly be the weirdest film of his entire career, "House of Numbers", 1957. For one thing he looks far too handsome to be associated with his usual grotesque heavy portrayals, and in this one he plays a double role as twin brothers on opposite sides the state penitentiary. The good brother outside is trying to spring his criminal twin, doing a life sentence for murder, with the help of the knockout beautiful estranged wife of the jailbird, who is living with him. The plot is pretty flimsy, but the film is worth seeing just to see this double edition of Palance playing his good and bad selves like a separated Jekyll and Hyde. Moreover, the wife played by seldom seen actress Barbara Lang, is quite an eyeful, in the mold of a Jean Harlow. She is most aptly described on Imdb as "a beautiful, brassy B-level blonde of the 50s", but her career was limited to only a handful of films followed by numerous TV series later. The director was Russell Rouse, whose name is associated with two immortal monuments of film noir, "DOA" (1950) as writer, and "Wicked Woman" (1953) as director.

"Whiplash", 1948, stars Dane Clark as a talented boxer who is also a talented painter and falls for a mysterious dame (Alexis Smith). She turns out to be the unwilling wife of a sadistic fight promoter in a wheelchair (the always nefarious Zachary Scott) who was crippled in a whiplash accident for which she feels responsible. Although some of the plot points are built on shaky ground (the ease with which Scott hires Clark as his next prospective "champ") the picture holds attention all the way and, when the hateful Scott gets his at the end -- both shot and run over by a car in his careening runaway wheelchair -- even the sophisticated Egyptian audience cheered out loud. There is also a very good side role by S. Z. "Cuddles" Szakall, (of "Casablanca" fame) as the kindly old bartender who gives the lovelorn boxer, Clark, lots of good avuncular advice. This is one of the few Noirs that has a tacked on happy ending after all the mayhem is over.

The big discovery of the festival so far, however, was 1936 teenage Olympic skating champion and occasional movie actress "Belita", in a film entitled "The Hunted" made for Allied Artists (one of the low rent studios) by Jack Bernhard in 1948. Belita, known as "The Ice Maiden" to her adoring fans, was the stage name of Maria Belita Jepson-Turner, born in England in 1923. She had no acting training whatsoever, but was enlisted by Hollywood as a kind of follow-up to Norwegian skating star, Sonja Henie. Counter to expectation, she soon found her niche in a spate of Noirs with a bit of her spectacular skating worked in for good measure.

As for the plot line of "Hunted", Laura Mead (Belita) was framed by a crooked lawyer for a jewel heist she had nothing to do with (but her brother did). Worse, she was busted by her then older lover, Detective Johnny Saxon (Preston Foster), a super dedicated cop. When she gets out of jail after four years she has sworn vengeance on both detective and lawyer. However, when she shows up at Saxon's pad, insisting that she was framed, the old flames start to kindle and he begins to believe that maybe he was wrong and she was really innocent after all. (At the time she was 24 and Foster was 48, but the chemistry was there, so this also works as a September and April romance). Saxon gets her a job skating at a hockey rink -- where a spectacular skating scene is inserted -- and things between them are warming up when the lawyer is murdered, and again all evidence points to Belita, so she takes it on the lam knowing that Saxon will stop at nothing to bust her again... and so the hunt begins. The escape sequences are the most exciting parts of the picture with Saxon in relentless pursuit as Belita hitch hikes with truckers and takes a temporary waitress job at a truck stop cafe. To make a long story short, just as she is about to get caught a surprise confession by the mug who really bumped the lawyer off clears Laura and, at the end, Saxon is ready to quit his job to be with her forever after.

The whole first half of the film is extremely talky but Belita's blunt sassiness holds the line until the pic moves into high gear, while the second part is extremely far fetched -- to the point of hoakiness -- but what makes the whole thing work is simply the off-the wall personality and almost horsey blonde majesty of the Belita profile. "Hunted" is an unmitigated potboiler but it sizzles whenever Belita, "The Ice Queen of Noir", is on, which is most of the time. She was a total non-actress, yet lit up the screen with her unschooled dead-pan poise and off-beat long-faced beauty.

Barry Sullivan, her co-star in two other films, ("Gangster' and "Suspense") summed up the unique Belita allure as follows: "I always had a great fondness for Belita because she didn't know what the fuck was happening! She was a great skater, but acting and especially filmmaking, were totally foreign to her." Amen.

Coming up: "The Two Mrs.Carrolls", with Bogart as a mentally disturbed painter (!), "The Dark Mirror" with Olivia de Haviland, "The Threat", with Charles McGraw, and "This Woman is Dangerous", with Joan Crawford in her self declared "worst film" -- but maybe she was wrong about that ...
a beautiful, brassy B-level blonde of the fifties"

THIRTEENTH FILM NOIR FESTIVAL IN HOLLYWOOD
By Alex Deleon

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