Saturday at Noir City

I attended three of the four movies screened at Noir City Saturday. They didn’t all adhere to this year’s theme: The Art of Darkness (ie, dark films about artists). But they ranged from reasonably entertaining to absolutely brilliant.

But the movies themselves aren’t the festival’s only attraction. Many people dress up for Noir City, usually in 40’s style clothing. So, before we get to the movies, enjoy these pictures:

The Dark Corner

Saturday’s matinee wasn’t really about artists, but on those who feed on art: curators, critics, and most important, collectors.

And the first film, Dark Corner, barely touched on the subject, with one of the villains running a gallery. Not much is made of that. But since the movie was enjoyable, I let that pass.

This 1946 potboiler manages to be both a pretty good noir thriller, and a parody of the genre–still new in 1946. Mark Stevens plays the hard-boiled private dick to a way-over-the-top extreme. When he picks up two liquor bottles with one hand and pours their contents into one paper cup, you know it wasn’t meant to be serious.

Lucille Ball plays his secretary/romantic interest…another hint that this was meant to be played at least partly for laughs. And yet it’s an effective mystery/thriller.

I give it a B.

The festival screened The Dark Corner in a perfectly acceptable 35mm print.


The second movie in the matinee wasn’t all that great. But it really was about art critics, curators, and collectors. And also about forgers and criminals.

An art museum employee has a nervous breakdown after surviving a horrible train wretch. But no trains have been wretched. Obviously, someone has been playing with his mind.

That shouldn’t be surprising. A lot of his co-workers don’t like him, because his lectures are too much oriented to regular people. He also wants the museum to invest in an X-ray machine, which can help them study how the great artists created their works. But there’s a little problem here: An X-ray machine can also identify a forgery.

It was modest fun. I give it a C.

Again, I have no complaints about the 35mm print.

The Bitter Stems

Few experiences are as exciting as going to see a movie you’ve never heard of and discovering a classic.

This Argentinian thriller from 1956 can hold its own amongst the best thrillers of the classic noir period. We know within minutes that the main character–not a hero in any sense of the word but the person through who we see the story–is planning to kill his business partner. We know enough about noir to know that he will do the dirty deed, and that everything after that will go horribly wrong.

A flashback fills us in. The soon-to-be-a-murderer starts out as a journalist, but not a particularly good one. He’s frustrated with his assignments and his pay. Then he meets a con man. The two go into business. Their business is profitable and not all that illegal, but not strictly honest, either.

No need to tell you the rest of the story. Better to enjoy it yourself. I give it an A.

This is one of the best-made noirs I’ve scene. The dark, shadowy photography has a moody subtlety the heightens the experience. And that was greatly enhanced by one of the best 35mm black and white prints I’ve seen in a long time.

According to Eddie Muller’s introduction, Saturday’s screening was the film’s North American premiere, and this is the first print of The Bitter Stems with English subtitles. Although it was revered in Argentina in its time, it has been all but lost. But the negative was recently found rotting in a basement, and it has now been restored.

I didn’t stay for the last film, Girl With Hyacinths. It was just too late for me.