The evening began–after the usual cartoons and Speakeasy Theaters Coming Attractions video, plus a brief onstage appearance by Speakeasy programmer Will Viharo and Noir scholar Eddie Muller–with Muller’s own short film, “The Grand Inquisitor.” Its 20-minute length was just right for building a sense of dread leading up to a shocker of an ending. And classic noir star Marsha Hunt (now 90) can still send chills down your back. I don’t want to give too much away.
Viharo and Muller returned after the short for some Q&A. In response to one question, Muller offered an excellent definition of noir from a content (as opposed to stylistic) point of view: “If the protagonist knows that what he’s doing is wrong, but he does it anyway, it’s noir.” He also explained that when he described the night’s feature, The Killers, as the Citizen Kane of film noir, he was talking about story structure, and not trying to burden it with a “greatest of all time” mantle.
That’s appropriate, because The Killers is no Citizen Kane. Nor is it Sunset Blvd.–the originally-planned feature for the evening (a print of the Billy Wilder classic wasn’t available). But it’s a fun little movie, and it introduced Burt Lancaster to the world as a likeable thug whose murder sets the investigation-driven, flashback-heavy plot in motion. Ava Gardner plays the femme fatale who enjoys and exploits Lancaster’s beefcake lug.
Unfortunately, the print appeared to have gone through a meat grinder on its way to the Cerrito. It was heavily scratched both in the picture and sound. After the film, Muller informed us that the film has recently been restored and a better print should be available in the near future.
No one wanted to leave the theater when the show was over. The near-capacity crowd hung out and talked until theater employees asked us to leave. Then we hung out in the lobby. I asked Muller why he doesn’t do an “Eastside” version of his annual Noir City festival. He seemed to like the idea, and Viharo appeared receptive to hosting it at the Cerrito.
Keep your fingers crossed.