NOIR CITY: the great San Francisco festival of film noir

Noir City 2017
I always look forward to the Noir City film fest, which gets underway in San Francisco this week. Noir City is the annual festival of the Film Noir Foundation, spearheaded by its founder and president Eddie Muller. The Foundation preserves movies from the traditional noir period that would otherwise be lost. Noir City often plays newly restored films and movies not available on DVD. And we get to watch them in a vintage movie palace (San Francisco’s Castro Theatre) with a thousand other film fans.

The theme of this year’s festival is the Heist Movie, Noir City is presenting a wonderful array of heist movies from the classic American film noir period, foreign noirs and an especially healthy selection of neo-noirs. Being noir, you might not expect many of these heists to end well. And some are from noir’s Perfect Crime sub-genre – they’re going to get away with the elaborately planned big heist EXCEPT FOR ONE THING.

Noir City runs January 20-29. To see the this year’s Noir City program and buy tickets, go here.

On Noir City’s first weekend:

  • The Asphalt Jungle: As long as things go according to plan… John Huston directed a marvelous cast (Sterling Hayden, James Whitmore, Sam Jaffe, Jean Hagen, John McIntire). And even Louis Calhern knows that Marilyn Monroe isn’t going to stick around as his moll.
  • Violent Saturday: a completely overlooked film from one of my favorite directors that I hadn’t seen until Eddie Muller programmed it for this festival. Filmed in the bright Arizona desert with CinemaScope and De Luxe color, the story is plenty noir.
  • Four Ways Out: Saturday night, Noir City goes goes Italian with the last script written by screenwriter Federico Fellini before he started directing. Four guys pull a heist, and it goes bad four different ways.
  • Big Deal on Madonna Street, the funniest film in the festival, with an Italian gang that couldn’t shoot straight. Watch for a 34-year-old pre-Fellini Marcello Mastroianni.
  • Rififi: This French classic is the top heist film ever and pioneering in its use of real time. After the team is assembled and the job is plotted, the actual crime unfolds in real-time – over thirty minutes of nerve wracking silence.
  • The Big Risk: It’s a highlight because it’s a French noir starring the bloodhound-visaged Lino Ventura that I have NOT seen, so I’ll be going to Noir City myself on Sunday.

And midweek, at Noir City:

  • The rarely-seen Once a Thief (Alain Delon, trying to keep Ann-Margret while being hunted by Van Heflin) and The Sicilian Clan (with the neo-noir trifecta of Delon, Ventura and Jean Gabin), both on Wednesday evening, January 25.

I’ll be writing about Noir City’s tremendous final weekend. Stay tuned.


Movies to See Right Now



Go see the gripping and thoughtful Mud.  Two Arkansas boys embark on a secret adventure with a man hiding from the authorities, and they learn more than they expected about love and loyalty.   Mud is one of the best movies of 2013.

Best bets in theaters this week:

      • If you see the thought-provoking drama The Place Beyond the Pines with Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, you’ll still be mulling it over days later;
      • I guarantee that you will enjoy the absolutely winning The Sapphires, a charmer about Australian Aboriginal teens forming a girl group to entertain troops in the Vietnam War.
      • Don’t overlook the heartwarming British indie The Angel’s Share about a hard luck guy’s struggle to turn his life around with unexpected help from some ultra-rare Scotch whisky.  

The compelling documentary The Central Park Five from Ken Burns, et al, is available streaming from Amazon Instant and other VOD providers. Football fans should tune into ESPN’s 30 for 30 for Elway to Marino, an inside look at several astonishing stories from the 1983 NFL draft.

There are two big releases this weekend:  The Reluctant Fundamentalist and At Any Price.   You can read descriptions and view trailers of upcoming films at Movies I’m Looking Forward To.

My DVD/Stream of the Week is Flight, starring Denzel Washington as an airline pilot who becomes a hero after saving his passengers in a miraculous crash landing, but then risks legal jeopardy unless he can get his drinking under control. Flight is available on DVD from Netflix and Redbox and streaming from many VOD outlets.

On May 7, Turner Classic Movies will be broadcasting the three film noir classics: Out of the Past, The Asphalt Jungle and The Naked City.

Coming Up on TV: 3 noir classics


On May 7, Turner Classic Movies is broadcasting three classics of film noir.

You really haven’t sampled film noir if you haven’t seen Out of the Past (1947).  Perhaps the model of a film noir hero, Robert Mitchum plays a guy who is cynical, strong, smart and resourceful – but still a sap for the femme fatale…played by the irresistible Jane Greer.  Greer later reported that she received this guidance from director Jacques Tourneur: “First half of the picture – good girl.  Second half – bad girl.”  Kirk Douglas plays The Bad Guy You Don’t Want to Mess With, emanating a mix of evil and power.  With Out of the Past, Tourneur crafted one of the most dramatically lit and photographed noirs – not one puff of cigarette smoke goes uncelebrated.


In The Asphalt Jungle (1950), the crooks assemble a team and pull off the big heist…and then things begin to go wrong.  There aren’t many noirs with better casting – the crooks include Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Sam Jaffe and James Whitmore.  The 23-year-old Marilyn Monroe plays Calhern’s companion in her first real speaking part.  How noir is it? Even the cop who breaks the case goes to jail.  Directed by the great John Huston.

Every police procedural from 1948 through today’s Law and Order and CSI owes something to the prototypical The Naked City (1948). Tenacious New York City cops solve a murder amid gritty streets and shady characters. Unusual for the time, it was shot on location.   Directed by noir great Jules Dassin, The Naked City won Oscars for black and white cinematography and film editing.