COLCOA French fest opens and Noir City Hollywood closes

It’s a busy time for film buffs in Los Angeles.

The COLCOA French Film Festival opens tonight, Monday, April 20, with an elegant reception and the opening night film, a thriller called “A Perfect Man,” directed and co-written by Yann Gozlan and starring Pierre Niney and Ana Girardot.

Pierre Niney plays the wily writer in  “A Perfect Man.”

Pierre Niney plays the wily writer in “A Perfect Man.”

It’s a story of shifting identities as a struggling author stumbles upon a wildly unethical way to make the best-seller list.

With echoes of Patricia Highsmith’s Mr. Ripley, “A Perfect Man” strikes us as a divinely decadent way to kick off this wonderful festival, now in its 19th year.

There is much to see this year (check the COLCOA site for info on free screenings and cool events) and we are counting the days until Friday’s Film Noir Series.

The fest takes place at the Directors Guild of America, 7920 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, 90046.

Sunday was the closing day of an essential film fest, for noiristas and others: Noir City Hollywood, presented by the American Cinematheque in collaboration with the Film Noir Foundation. The foundation’s urbane noirphiles Eddie Muller and Alan K. Rode were on hand throughout the fest to introduce the movies. This year, they brought another excellent selection (heavy on adaptations of the great master of pulp suspense Cornell Woolrich).

The lineup included a real find: the American debut of three almost unknown but brilliantly done and stunningly visualized film noirs from Argentina: “The Black Vampire” (Roman Vinoly Barreto, 1953), a remake of Fritz Lang’s “M,” and superb adaptations of Woolrich stories in “Never Open That Door” (Carlos Hugo Christensen, 1952) and “If I Should Die Before I Wake” (Christensen, 1952).

Dorothy MacKaill lights up the screen in “Safe in Hell” (1931, William Wellman).

Dorothy MacKaill lights up the screen in “Safe in Hell” (1931, William Wellman).

The fest wrapped up with a four-movie proto-noir marathon:

The Ninth Guest” (1934, Roy William Neill) a mystery with a generous dollop of Deco glam.

Let Us Live” (1939, John Brahm) featuring the great Henry Fonda as a wrongly identified killer and a riveting performance from Maureen O’Sullivan as his girlfriend.

Heat Lightning” (1934, Mervyn LeRoy) a pre-Code delight about two sisters (Aline MacMahon and Ann Dvorak) running a garage and car-repair shop in the desert and ridding the place of rats, such as fleeing criminal and old flame (Preston Foster).

Safe in Hell” (1931, William Wellman) Dorothy MacKaill is unforgettable as a sparkling blonde siren who spends the entire movie fighting off men as she waits in vain on a Caribbean island to be with the guy she truly loves (Donald Cook).

Don Castle was a Clark Gable lookalike.

Don Castle was a Clark Gable lookalike.

My attendance was spotty this year because I had to leave town unexpectedly (such is life for a femme fatale) but my colleague Mike Wilmington caught quite a few.

Other highlights from this year’s fest were: “Woman on the Run,” “The Underworld Story,” “Abandoned,” “Circle of Danger,” “Berlin Express,” “Ride the Pink Horse,” “The Fallen Sparrow,” and “The Guilty” as well as that triple bill of Argentinian film noir.

The closing-weekend party was loads of fun, especially since I won a nifty raffle prize! I definitely needed my drink tickets that night. Why? By the small but mighty curveball in “The Guilty” when the lead character (Don Castle) reveals that he is studying “commercial geography” to land a good job.

What??? Education and hard work to get ahead? Was the movie going to start preaching about the virtues of a work ethic? Aaargh! Thankfully, this was, in fact, a temporary glitch and the character turned out to be crazy-bad.

Phew! I was freaked out there for a moment but everything was just as it should be in Noirville.

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UCLA’s Festival of Preservation delivers two rare film noir titles

I’m looking forward to seeing two rarely screened noirs – “The Chase” (1946, Arthur D. Ripley) and “High Tide” (1947, John Reinhardt) – at 7 p.m. Sunday, March 10, at UCLA’s Billy Wilder Theater in Westwood. The special guest is Harold Nebenzal, son of producer Seymour Nebenzal, who worked on “The Chase.”

The titles are part of UCLA’s Festival of Preservation, which opened last weekend with a special screening of “Gun Crazy” (1950, Joseph H. Lewis), and runs through March 30.

Based on a Cornell Woolrich novel, “The Chase” tells the tale of a returning World War Two solider named Chuck Scott (Robert Cummings) who’s short of cash and job prospects. Enter Eddie Roman (Steve Cochran), a Miami businessman in need of a chauffeur. Chuck’s cool with the new uniform but before long finds himself in a murderous love triangle with Eddie’s wife (Michèle Morgan). Co-starring Peter Lorre, lensed by Frank F. Planer. (Preservation funded by the Film Foundation and the Franco-American Cultural Fund.)

“High Tide” was the second of two independent crime thrillers produced in 1947 by Texas oil tycoon Jack Wrather. It shares with “The Guilty” the same cameraman and screenwriter (Henry Sharp and Robert Presnell), the same protagonist (actor Don Castle plays a Los Angeles newspaper reporter turned private dick), and the same director, Austrian-born John Reinhardt. Lee Tracy co-stars in “High Tide” as a cynical editor. (Preservation funded by the Packard Humanities Institute and the Film Noir Foundation.)

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