A lobby card for “Too Late for Tears,” listed on EBay as Buy It Now for $75.
For 16 years at Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre, the Film Noir Foundation has been presenting Noir City, a dedicated look at the evil underbelly of the human psyche, not only in Southern California, but now, all over the world. As usual, the festival pairs up films to highlight actors, locations, themes or interesting dichotomies and this year travels the world to reveal human depravity around the globe.
This year’s opening weekend films focused on petty crooks, slimy slicksters, two-faced plotters and double dealings, all featured in glorious shades of black and white, both in delicious 35-millimeter film prints and pristine digital restorations.
Opening night, March 21, showcased the shady shenanigans of droopy-eyed Dan Duryea and his fellow fraudsters. Long sought after by noir aficionados, “Too Late for Tears” opened the Hollywood Fest after a five-year search and rescue operation by the Film Noir Foundation. The film was carefully restored from a multitude of sources for its physical rebirth.
Mary Mallory’s “Hollywoodland: Tales Lost and Found” is available for the Kindle.
Shelley Winters, left, John Payne and Joan Caulfield in a photo from “Larceny,” listed on EBay as Buy It Now for $13.50.
Starring film noir regulars like Duryea, oily Don De Fore, and weary Liz Scott, the movie depicts unhappy housewife Scott’s greedy plans for misdirected cash that comes her way. The film zooms around L.A. and environs, from the crazy curves of Mulholland Drive, the busy streets of Hollywood and the Chinese Theatre, the glorious architecture of Union Station, the easygoing charm of Westlake Park (now MacArthur Park), to the striking Park Plaza and Asbury Apartments lining Wilshire Boulevard, as shady Duryea tracks Scott, Arthur Kennedy, and his dough.
Duryea plays the slick, slimy supporting role to a smooth-talking John Payne in “Larceny,” focusing on the duplicitous dealings of a small group of con men out to score large sums out of duped and naïve residents of Mission City, a rich enclave just outside Pasadena. Pasadena itself stands in for the wealthy town, with plenty of locations around Colorado Boulevard, Green Street, and Oakland Avenue, depicted in shots of the old Zinke’s Shoe Repair, Pasadena Presbyterian Church, possibly Jacob Maarse’s, the First Church of Christ, Scientist, and shops at the corners of Colorado and Oakland, and Green and Oakland. The film even shows characters stepping off the train at the Pasadena train station, as Castle Green looms in the background. Stock footage of the Rose Bowl and Rose Parade add to the authentic feel.
The March 22 films saluted the recently deceased Joan Fontaine as a pair of duplicitous divas in San Francisco and London. Fontaine’s fair, lovely face masks her blackguard soul as she attempts to scheme her way into money. Like “The Bad Seed,” Fontaine is “Born to Be Bad,” manipulating career woman Joan Leslie, urbane Zachary Scott, and an intense Robert Ryan to her own ends. Fontaine playfully altered one of her lines from the film to title her autobiography, “No Bed of Roses.”
Joan Fontaine in “Ivy,” in an image listed on EBay as Buy It Now for $5.39.
Fontaine portrays another scheming vixen in the period film, “Ivy,” rarely screened. This Universal film shows a manipulative Fontaine scheming to gain greater positions and wealth for she and her husband in early 1900 London. Producer William Cameron Menzies achieves a lavish look on sets and costumes from a miniscule budget, which features a plethora of English character actors.
Sunday night, the Fest highlighted foreign films and their walk on the dark side in its laid-back pairing of “Two Men in Manhattan” and “Rififi,” with Czar of Noir Eddie Muller describing the pairing as a American noir directed by a Frenchman and a French noir directed by an American. Long-time noir fan and America lover, French film director Jean-Pierre Melville, stars in the freewheeling, adlibbed film as he and Pierre Grasset pound New York’s grimy nighttime streets searching for a missing French politician. The film features a jaunty jazz score and evocative, gorgeous views of Rockefeller Center’s Christmas decorations and ice rink and striking skyline.
Blacklisted American director Jules Dassin traveled to Europe in the 1950s shooting the thrilling caper, “Rififi,” on Paris streets and suburbs, even giving himself a small role in the film. Dassin’s direction gives empathy and understanding to his small band of crooks, all well-played. The thrilling heist sequence keeps audience on the edge of their seats. Both films reflect a more laid-back French pace and focus on character and everyday life, as compared to American films’ focus on plot, chase, and three-act structure.
Life is often cruel on the mean streets of Los Angeles, New York, and world cities, as amply captured in the first weekend of Noir City. Two more weekend walks on the dark side occur March 25-30, and the closing weekend of April 6. Check out the Film Noir Foundation website or the American Cinematheque’s website for show titles and times.