It’s a dark and foggy film festival…and it’s only weeks away

Noir City isn’t like most Bay Area Film Festivals. For one thing, they don’t show new movies. You could probably stream most of these pictures right now in your home. But it’s a lot more fun watching the movies at Oakland’s Grand Lake Theater. People dress up for the occasion. Every movie is preceded by an introduction. You can buy a book, a poster, or maybe a fedora.

The festival opens Friday, January 20, and closes on Sunday, January 29. It’s also the only film festival I know of that has double bills. As in the old days, one ticket gives you two movies.

I have a problem with their double bills. On weekdays, the main picture starts about 7:00pm, and the second picture starts around 9:00. That means you’re getting out of the theater around 11:00. A lot of people must go to work the next morning. My suggestion: Play the second movie twice; once at around 5:00 and again around 9:00 – with the main film in between.

Every year, Noir City has a different theme. This year, it’s “the heart of Hollywood’s noir movement,” films released in 1948.

Here are some of the movies that that will screen:

A Key Largo, Friday, January 20, 7:00pm

Opening night! In the 1930’s, movie stars like Edward G. Robinson got to kill punk character actors like Humphrey Bogart. By 1948, Bogey was the top star and Robinson was the supporting player (and a great one). Set in a lonely Florida hotel during a hurricane, most of the movie is talk, but when Richard Brooks and John Huston adopt a Maxwell Anderson stage play, and Huston directs a solid and charismatic cast, who needs more than talk? And yet the climax is all cinema! On a double bill with Orson Welles’ The Lady From Shanghai, one of his worst films.

B Naked City, 1:00 & 7:00; Cry of the City, 1:00pm & 7:00pm, Sunday, January 22,

Naked City: This police procedural has a gimmick: It was shot entirely in Manhattan locations…except it actually wasn’t. Some scenes are clearly done with rear protection. Barry Fitzgerald, usually typecast as a charming Irish priest, stars as a charming Irish detective as he leads a team of investigators doing the hard work of running down a murderer. A handful of excellent scenes (especially one with the victim’s parents) elevate this otherwise pedestrian movie.
Cry of the City: In the late 1940s, Robert Siodmak directed several high-quality film noirs. In this one, a cop and a criminal – childhood friends from the tough side of town – face off as the detective tries to find out what the gangster is up to. Richard Conte plays the crook as a charismatic tough guy always looking for himself. Victor Mature, as the police detective, gives a surprisingly good performance.

B+ Sleep, My Love, Monday, January 23, 9:00pm

Claudette Colbert wakes up on a train with no idea how she got there. She obviously has some serious mental problems. Or, since this is noir, it’s more likely that her husband and a few friends want her dead. The plot is outrageous and ridiculous, but that didn’t block my enjoyment of the movie a bit. There’s a very funny subplot containing a Chinese wedding that is surprisingly not racist for its time. On a 7:00pm double of So Evil My Love, which I have not seen.

? All My Sons, Saturday, January 28, 3:00pm

I loved this Arthur Miller stage play in college…it’s the one he wrote just before Death of a Salesman. I’ve never seen either the play or the film, although I played a scene in an acting class. I didn’t even know there was a film version. A World War II veteran (Burt Lancaster) comes home from the war to discover that his father (Edward G. Robinson) did something horrible during the war because of…well, capitalism. This is the one film I really want to see. Double-billed at 1:00pm with Night Has a Thousand Eyes.

B+ Sorry, Wrong Number, Saturday, 7:00pm

Burt Lancaster again! An invalid (Barbara Stanwyck), heavily dependent on her phone, accidentally hears some men on a party line plotting a murder, and there’s very little she can do to stop it. Things are going to turn very ugly in this tight and effective expansion of a 22-minute radio play into a feature-length thriller. Co-starring a shockingly young Burt Lancaster as her untrustworthy husband. I wish I could see this one with Dial M for Murder, but instead, they’re showing it with Kiss the Blood Off My Hands.

B- Unfaithfully Yours, 1:00pm & 6:00pm

When a film is written and directed by Preston Sturges, you don’t expect noir; you expect comedy. What you get here is classical music, private detectives, possible adultery, and intended murder. Toward the end, the movie suddenly becomes screamingly funny. Rex Harrison plays a famous symphony conductor who suspects his wife is cheating. As he swings his baton, he dreams of several ways to get rid of his possibly cheating spouse. But when he tries to turn his evil daydreams into reality, everything goes wrong – including a gloriously funny sequence about the problems of technology. Double billed with The Velvet Touch at 3:15pm & 8:00pm.