Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights: 21st Film Noir Festival Highlights Tension-Filled 1950s

Film Noir in the 1950s

Take a walk back in time to the tension-filled, conspiracy-driven world of the 1950s during the 2019 Annual Film Noir Festival at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. Kicking off Friday, March 29, the 21st annual festival examines the down and dirty, double-crossing, and dark despair of characters running out of both time and chances. “Czar of Noir” Eddie Muller and Alan Rode of the Film Noir Foundation will introduce films spanning the decade, showing the rise and fall of the studio system and the turbulent decade.

Opening night features the newly restored 1949 film “Trapped,” starring a young Lloyd Bridges in a tale of Secret Service agents on the prowl through the streets of Los Angeles searching for a counterfeiting ring and ending in the Red Car barn. Tempestuous Barbara Payton plays Bridge’s love interest. Barbara Stanwyck headlines the 1950 noir “The File on Thelma Jordan,” the tale of a duplicitous femme fatale leading Assistant D.A. Wendell Corey astray. A special reception takes place during intermission of the double feature.


Tight-lipped postal inspector Alan Ladd infiltrates a ruthless gang hunting the killers of his partner in the 1951 film “Appointment With Danger” to kick off the Saturday screening. Future “Dragnet” co-stars Jack Webb and Harry Morgan play against type while character actor Paul Stewart also makes an appearance. Gigi Perreau plays a young girl who witnesses the murder of her stepmother in the 1950 film “Shadows on the Wall,” with a doctor attempting to retrieve the memories from the repressed little girl. Ann Sothern plays against type with the likes of slimy Zachary Scott and not long for film Nancy (Davis) Reagan.

Playwright Joan Crawford lets down her guard and good sense in Sunday night’s opener “Sudden Fear” (1952), marrying hunky Jack Palance after rejecting him for a part in one of her plays. Noir vixen Gloria Grahame co-stars along with reliable Bruce Bennett and a young Mike Connors. Tough guy Charles McGraw trades putdowns with tough as nails Marie Windsor as he escorts her via train from Chicago to Los Angeles for a racket-busting trial in the nail-biting, suspenseful second film of the evening, “The Narrow Margin (1952).”

City That Never Sleeps

Two couples wander the crime-infested, seedy back streets for the Monday night double feature of “City That Never Sleeps” (1953) and “99 River Street (1953).” Sordid goings-on in urban jungle Chicago keep Gig Young and Maia Powers on the run and tangling with such eccentric shady characters as William Talman, Edward Arnold, and Windsor in “City That Never Sleeps.” Washed-up boxer John Payne hooks up with aspiring actress Evelyn Keyes as they hunt the mean streets for the killer of Payne’s wife in “99 River Street,” with Jay Adler, Frank Faylen, and Jack Lambert hot on their trail.

Love lost and found highlights Tuesday night’s double feature of “Playgirl” (1954) and “Hell’s Half Acre” (1954), with a little Tiki noir thrown in. Hot chanteuse Shelley Winters deals with naive roommate Coleen Gray while juggling her pimpish boyfriend Richard Long and married lover Barry Sullivan. What could go wrong? Filmed on location in Honolulu’s red-light district, “Hell’s Half Acre” features spunky Keyes searching for her husband Wendall Corey, believed killed during Pearl Harbor. Elsa Lanchester makes a surprising appearance along with such solid performers as Keye Luke and Philip Ahn.

Conspiracies and fascists reign supreme in Wednesday night’s pairing of “The Big Combo” (1955) and “Bad Day at Black Rock (1955).” Crusading cop Cornel Wilde battles crime boss Richard Conte for the knockout Jean Wallace in renowned crime caper “The Big Combo.” Oddball hitman team of Lee Van Cleef and Earl Holliman deal with the likes of strongtough supporting actors Brian Donlevy, Jay Adler, and John Hoyt. Suspense thriller “Bad Day at Black Rock” stars Spencer Tracy as a one-armed World War II veteran searching for his Japanese American buddy while town bully and racist Robert Ryan and his thuggish cohorts Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin attempt to chase him out of town.

A Kiss Before Dying

Literary adaptations “A Kiss Before Dying” (1956) and “The Harder They Fall” (1956) highlight the dark side of success on Thursday night. Filmed in color, “A Kiss Before Dying” resembles “A Place in the Sun,” as aspiring college student Robert Wagner looks to move ahead at any cost. Adapted from Budd Schulberg’s best seller, “The Harder They Fall” features Humphrey Bogart in his last film role as a burned-out sportswriter hired by a crooked boxing promoter (Rod Steiger) to publicize his heavyweight contender.

Rarely screened “The Midnight Story” (1957) and “Monkey On My Back” (1957) play as a double feature on Friday night. Shot in Cinemascope in San Francisco, “The Midnight Story” features Tony Curtis as a ex-cop turned vigilante a la Dirty Harry as he hunts the murderer of his mentor and finds a father figure in Italian patriarch and suave Gilbert Roland. Cameron Mitchell stars in the real life story of Barney Ross, a former champ addicted to morphine and gambling, in “Monkey On My Back,” a nightmarish sinking into despair and devastation.

Orson Welles’ hallucinatory, over-the-top “Touch Of Evil” (1958) kicks off Saturday night, as Mexican cop Charlton Heston battles slovenly sheriff Welles while creepy leather-clad Mercedes McCambridge and her gang of juvenile delinquents threaten his wife Janet Leigh. Marlene Dietrich, Joseph Cotten, Akim Tamiroff, and Dennis Weaver make memorable appearances. Jeanne Moreau stars in Louis Malle’s “Elevator to the Gallows” (1958) in a tale of ill-fated and obsessed love gone wrong in the second film of the evening. Miles Davis’ haunting jazz score highlights the film that helped kick off the French New Wave.

I Want to Live!

The Film Noir Festival concludes Sunday, April 7 with crime thrillers featuring gritty social issues pulling characters towards the dark side. Susan Hayward gives an Academy Award-winning performance playing true life Barbara Graham as a good time girl gone bad after joining the wrong crowd in the 1958 film “I Want to Live!,” fighting to save her life and soul. John Saxon plays a tough ex-con torn between his star-crossed girlfriend Linda Cristal, his old gang, and family pressures in “Cry Tough” (1959).

The 21st Annual Film Noir Festival highlights the growing fear and hysteria of the repressed and dark 1950s, a world of crooked, racist thugs, duplicitous do-gooders, and oily con men, where for once villains mostly find their just desserts.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
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