Noir City Hollywood, with hosts Eddie Muller and Alan K. Rode, is back, hitting town with a vengeance Friday with stunning photochemical restorations and 35-millimeter prints after an almost two-year absence due to the pandemic. The hard-boiled, driving lineup features themes seemingly ripped from today’s headlines, offering a powerful examination of social issues while providing riveting entertainment. The festival also highlights the work of several insightful, daring filmmakers caught in the often duplicitous, backstabbing, and treacherous underbelly of Hollywood, with a mini focus on blacklisted writer/director Cy Enfield, who offered a pessimistic, messy look at repressive policies.
Kicking the festival into high gear is Enfield’s engrossing Try and Get Me (1951), based on the true story of a 1934 kidnapping and murder in San Jose that sparked mob violence. Slick criminal Jerry Slocum (Lloyd Bridges) manipulates gullible, struggling ex-GI Howard Tyler (Frank Lovejoy) into profitable criminal activities that quickly take a calamitous turn before offering a searing indictment against vigilante justice.
Tickets and information on Noir City Hollywood, Friday through Sunday at Hollywood’s American Legion Post 43 Theater, 2035 N Highland Ave.
The UCLA Film and TV Archive’s and Film Noir Foundation’s newly restored The Argyle Secrets follows, a compelling roller-coaster 64-minute “B” picture overloaded with a plot that cleverly parodies The Maltese Falcon while featuring American industrialists willing to embrace fascism if the United States lost the war. Looking for a front page scoop, cynical, hard-boiled reporter Harry Mitchell (William Gargan) begins a quest to obtain The Argyle Secrets, a book offering a detailed and scandalous listing of notable WWII traitors, before it falls into the hands of a motley crew of villains. Filming locations include the old Cedars of Lebanon Hospital on Fountain that is now the Scientology Center and Hollywood’s Knickerbocker Hotel.
Featuring a corrupt LAPD policeman (Van Heflin) who exploits tenuous connections to sexually and financially manipulate a married woman (Evelyn Keyes), the sizzling 1951 The Prowler plays Saturday afternoon. The film challenged Hollywood’s Production Code and societal mores through penetrating work by blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo and soon-to -be-blacklisted director Joseph Losey. Producer S.P. Eagle (better known as Sam Spiegel) allowed his talented duo to push the boundaries of social norms with challenging adult subject matter.
Prim college professor Wilma Tuttle (Loretta Young) endures stalking and nightmarish situations from a lecherous student before fighting back in the thoughtful, far-sighted The Accused (1949) Saturday night, a telling look at sexual harassment and abuse decades before the #MeToo movement. Adapted by screenwriter Ketti Frings from June Truesdell’s 1947 novel Be Still, My Love for producer Hal B. Wallis, the film features rare creative work by women and plays with noir conventions by taking a feminist point of view.
Following the feminist theme, the 1950 film Caged follows, a dramatic, electrifying women-in-prison film featuring the work of such talented stars as Lee Patrick, Agnes Moorehead, Jane Darwell, and Jan Sterling from a tough script by screenwriters Virginia Kellogg and Bernard Schoenfeld. Given penitentiary time as the accessory to her husband’s botched robbery, Eleanor Parker survives malevolent matron Hope Emerson and her tough cellblock compatriots. Parker and Emerson earned Academy Award nominations for their work.
Gale Storm in Underworld Story, a previous mystery movie.
World-weary, cynical newspaperman Dan Duryea survives being firing from a big city newspaper to land at Gale Storm’s small-town paper and fall into a scandalous local murder case in the 1950 Underworld Story, Sunday’s matinee film. Renowned cinematographer Stanley Cortez injects telling atmosphere into Enfield’s hard-driving look at corruption and racism, with Los Angeles City Hall and the Los Angeles Times lobby perfect locations.
Sidney Poitier and Dots Johnson in No Way Out, a previous mystery movie.
The late Sidney Poitier first appeared on screen opposite Richard Widmark playing a malicious racist in the 1950 film No Way Out, Joseph Mankiewicz’s searing indictment of racism. Widmark accuses Poitier’s Dr. Brooks of murder when his brother dies under his watch, threatening to ignite a race war. Both men offer incendiary performances, assisted by Linda Darnell’s subtle but touching performance.
The festival concludes Sunday night with The Breaking Point (1950), Michael Curtiz’s compelling, tragic update of Ernest Hemingway’s novel To Have and Have Not, set in Newport Beach instead of Cuba. Struggling skipper Harry Morgan (John Garfield) has money woes and marital problems that lead him into joining a criminal conspiracy and flirting with Patricia Neal. The film features strong performances by Phyllis Thaxter, Wallace Ford, and the dignified Afro-Puerto Rican actor Juano Hernandez
The festival is indeed back with a vengeance, offering tough, hard-hitting themes out of the past that resonate today.
This is always a terrific festival. I attended the flagship NOIR CITY at The Castro in SF five consecutive years (2014-18) and always had a blast (https://justbearwithme.blog/2018/02/11/reviewing-noir-city-16-setting-the-stage/). I then helped to establish NOIR CITY Boston in 2018, though I fear it may be another victim of the pandemic. Thank you for this review!