Noir City Oaktown

It was 3:00am. The streets were deserted. The fog was as thick as the plot of a Raymond Chandler novel. I was missing something important. I hadn’t attended Noir City since 2019. A bad case of the flu kept me at home that year. At least I thought it was the flu. Within weeks, a more deadly disease would close all the movie theaters for no one knew how long.

The Noir City festival was set to run in late January. It’s now opening on Thursday, March 24, and closing Sunday the March 27. It’s the first Noir City in three years. But don’t head over to the Castro this year. Noir City has moved to the Grand Lake Theatre in Oakland. For us who live in the East Bay, it’s a blessing. [[I changed this paragraph on Wednesday, March 23.]] 

The Grand Lake’s theatre 1

This Noir City is shorter than before. It used to be a week and two weekends. This year, it’s only four days: Thursday, March 24 – 27. [I have changed the dates because the festival had to change its dates]

Unlike Mill Valley or SFFilm, Noir doesn’t focus on new, serious films. Instead, this festival presents crime dramas, mostly from the 1940s and ’50s – the golden age of noir. These films are dark, both visually and thematically. Visually dark because of the many deep shadows on the screen. Thematically because the stories on the screen tell us that the world is a crime-ridden cesspool. Just read some of the movie titles: The Sniper, On Dangerous Ground, The Killer That Stalked New York, and more.

The Accused

Double bills were common in the age of noir, so this is the only film festival I know of where one ticket gets you into two movies.

Most of these films will be new to me, and I’m looking forward to them. But here are three that I’ve seen and can write about, in order of the festival’s schedule:

C Crossfire (1947), Friday, January 21, 7:30 (on a double bill with Open Secret)

This cheap post-war noir detective story isn’t a particularly good movie, but is historically interesting in many ways. This is probably the first Hollywood film to deal with American anti-Semitism (Gentleman’s Agreement came out four months later). The book it was based on, Richard Brooks’ novel, The Big Foxhole, was not about anti-Semitism but homosexuality, which couldn’t be broached in Hollywood films back them. It also provides good performances to four actors soon to become famous: Robert Young, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, and (no Robert) Gloria Grahame.

The next two films are a double bill:

B+ Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), Sunday, 7:00

This suspenseful heist movie, written by blacklisted screenwriters and directed by Robert Wise, puts you on the edge of your seat. Three desperate men set out to rob a small-town bank. The big problem is that one of them is black (Harry Belafonte), and another is a horrible racist (Robert Ryan). Ed Begley plays the leader who tries to keep them together. The climax gets a little silly, and the last line of dialog is absurdly preachy. On a double bill with…

B+ Force of Evil (1948), Sunday, January, 23, 9:00

John Garfield plays a crooked lawyer in the numbers racket, about to make a fortune by making his gangland boss an even bigger fortune. But this lawyer worries that the deal will destroy his morally upright brother’s small business. Oddly, the brother is also in the numbers racket, but he’s small time and refuses to use violence. Shot in New York while both film noir and the blacklist were heating up, Force of Evil is a short, powerful punch of a movie, leading up to a terrifically suspenseful final act.

2 thoughts on “Noir City Oaktown

  1. As I read your descriptions, I felt something was missing- and then I realized that a “Noir” film does not, necessarily, require the presence of a Gumshoe, sitting in his seedy office, waiting for a beautiful (and dangerous) heiress to walk through the door. Failing that element, what then, I wonder, does define a noir film? Is it just cynicism or nihilism? The total absence of any “good guys”? Is it all about the lighting and other production values? Blacklisted writers? All of the above? Curious.

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