Opening Weekend of the 8th Annual Festival of Film Noir at American Cinematheque at the Egyptian and Aero Theatres: April 8th through 16th
by Alan Rode
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Los Angeles was reaffirmed as the epicenter of film noir by special guest James Ellroy with the opening of the eighth annual film noir festival at Hollywood’s historic Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood last night.
Festival host and programmer, author and founder of The Film Noir Foundation, Eddie Muller was joined by legendary novelist and chronicler of historical darkness, James Ellroy, for an opening night double feature introduction and Q&A session for “Crime Wave” (1954) and “Between Midnight and Dawn” (1950).
The dark underbelly of LALA land held center stage with the screening of two 1950’s crime drama rarities that are not on DVD. In a comprehensive scrubbing of the various studio film archives by Eddie Muller, fully half of the 24 films on the festival screening schedule are true rarities that haven’t made it to the small screen as yet.
The Film Noir Foundation is having startling success into locating ‘lost’ film noirs from the 40’s and 50’s. Working in partnership with the studios, many films that haven’t seen the light of a projector for decades are now being made available for screenings and issued for sale in pristine DVD packages. America’s noir heritage is being restored, one film at a time.
“Crime Wave” (1954) is a cliché title for an unambiguously refreshing “B” film shot on location in the dark streets of Los Angeles with remarkable deep focus skill by the late Andre de Toth. For the tight story and the hard-edged performance of a tooth-pick chewing Sterling Hayden as the prototype L.A.P.D. Robbery-Homicide dick, this briskly paced “B” noir is not to be missed. For a more detailed review of this minor gem of picture, please click here:
The second feature, “Between Midnight and Dawn” (1950), originally titled “Prowl Car”, also carried a great deal of heft. A prototype cops-as-partners saga, the picture chronicles radio car cops and roommates, Edmond O’Brien and Mark Stevens on the hunt for a homicidal gang boss. Bullets fly as the buddies take on the crooks while wooing the same woman, a comely police dispatcher, played by Gale Storm. All of the three leading players acquit themselves well with O’Brien’s vigorous performance taking center stage. The prototype film noir leading man, O’Brien is never better as a hard-edged beat cop particularly when snapping off terse, hard-boiled noir dialogue to a crook in a nightclub or repetitively backhanding a gangster’s moll in a frantic effort to make her talk.
Gordon Douglas, an underrated director who scored in multiple film genres adds to an impressive noir resume-“San Quentin” (1946), “Walk a Crooked Mile” (1948), “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” (1950)—with this film. Another picture shot in the actual environs of the L.A.P.D. communications suite and detective bureau, this film has a more wholesome story that turns progressively darker culminating in a wild finale replete with hostages, searchlights and smoke bombs. We’ll save the spoilers, but suffice to say, any child protection services official viewing this film might want to lock up the cops after the denouement. One can quickly deduce that this 1950 film became the antecedent of innumerable television cop shows and movies. In a case of Hollywood Darwinism, film noir never really died out, it simply moved to television in the middle 1950’s and evolved into something different. Kudos must go to Mike Schlesinger, Grover Crisp, Rita Belda, and the folks at Sony-Columbia for striking the beautiful new print of “Between Midnight and Dawn” that was screened last night.
Eddie Muller and James Ellroy took center stage prior and after the first screening. For those sheltered souls who haven’t been exposed to Ellroy’s public shtick, it is outrageously profane, funny and always prescient. Introduced as the ‘greatest living noir author’, Ellroy’s riff on his dark upbringing in 1950’s L.A., the root theme of film noir (“…so you are… f#$! ed!) and one-liners about his “present and future masterpieces of writing…” was interspersed around his thoughtful and frequently uproarious responses to questions from a sold-out house in the Egyptian Theatre. The always-fascinating James Ellroy noted that Hollywood’s next send-up on his work, “The Black Dahlia” directed by Brian De Palma is in postproduction and scheduled for release in September 2005.
Warner’s Home Video is expected to release “Crime Wave” as a DVD selection in one of their upcoming boxed sets with the commentary track by Eddie Muller and James Ellroy. One hopes that the commentary, particularly from the ribald “Demon Dog” of noir fiction, remains intact and uncensored as an adult narrative companion to a film noir from the classic era.
The Eighth Annual Festival of Film Noir will be screened at the Egyptian and Aero theatres from April 8-16 courtesy of the American Cinematheque.
Alan Rode is a film historian, writer, and board member of the Film Noir Foundation.
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