Noir City 11 festival kicks off in San Francisco

Peggy Cummins

The Film Noir Foundation’s Noir City film festival starts tonight at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre. The fest will present its most expansive schedule yet – 27 films – including three new 35mm restorations.

This festival kicks off with a tribute to actress Peggy Cummins, legendary for her ferocious performance as carnival sharpshooter Annie Laurie Starr in “Gun Crazy” (1950, Joseph H. Lewis). As always, Noir City will feature classics and rarities.

Opening weekend will feature the world premiere of two of the FNF’s latest film restoration projects: “Try and Get Me!” (1950, Cy Endfield) and “Repeat Performance” (1947, Alfred L. Werker).

The San Francisco festival runs Jan. 25-Feb. 3, 2013. The festival (with variations on the program) travels to several other cities throughout the year.

We at FNB can’t wait for the Hollywood fest, which usually arrives in April.

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Film Noir Foundation announces schedule for Noir City 11

The Film Noir Foundation’s Noir City film festival, coming to San Francisco’s Castro Theatre in January, will present its most expansive schedule yet – 27 films – including three new 35mm restorations.

This festival kicks off with a tribute to actress Peggy Cummins, legendary for her ferocious performance in “Gun Crazy” (1950, Joseph H. Lewis). As always, Noir City will feature classics and rarities. Opening weekend will feature the world premiere of two of the FNF’s latest film restoration projects: “Try and Get Me!” (1950, Cy Endfield) and “Repeat Performance” (1947, Alfred L. Werker).

The San Francisco festival runs Jan. 25-Feb. 3, 2013. The festival (with variations on the program) travels to several other cities throughout the year. On Thursday, Jan. 17, Eddie Muller and Robert Osborne will co-host “A Night in Noir City” on Turner Classic Movies. The five-film program of rare film noir includes two of the FNF’s restorations, “Cry Danger” (1951, Robert Parrish) and “The Prowler” (1951, Joseph Losey).

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Stylish and subversive, ‘Gun Crazy’ showcases Lewis’ talent

Gun Crazy/1950/King Brothers Productions/86 min.

Peggy Cummins at the TCM festival screening of “Gun Crazy” on Saturday. Photo by Jason Merritt

Peggy Cummins as Annie

It’s pretty much a given in film noir romance that red flags go unheeded and wake-up calls are ignored. An unforgettable example: the protagonist in Joseph H. Lewis’ groundbreaking noir “Gun Crazy” (1950) in which John Dall plays Bart Tare, a World War II vet who’s gifted with guns. After a circus clown tells Bart that he’s “dumb about women,” Bart simply shrugs and rushes off to do his femme fatale’s bidding, which in this case means robbing banks and living on the lam.

To be fair to Bart, however, this is a femme fatale like no other: rodeo performer Annie Laurie Starr (Irish actress Peggy Cummins) loves guns as much as Bart does but whereas he doesn’t want to kill anyone, she’s cool with that possibility. Blood-chilling and unfailingly bold, this svelte blonde ranks as one of the hardest women on the screen.

Cummins appeared last weekend at the TCM Classic Film Festival’s screening of “Gun Crazy” and spoke with Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation. Muller described Cummins’ interpretation of Annie as “the most ferocious female performance in American cinema.”

Bart (John Dall) and Annie (Peggy Cummins) prefer guns to roses.

Darryl Zanuck of 20th Century-Fox brought Cummins to Hollywood in 1945 – she was 98 pounds and had an 18-inch waist, she said.

When the opportunity arose to portray a bad girl for Lewis, Cummins said she was ready. “I loved the idea of it. The tendency was then if you’re a bit short, blonde and reasonably pretty, you were always playing rather pretty-pretty little parts. But this was a meaty part. I always wanted to play all the Bette Davis parts and I was never offered one. She was too good.

“An actor is always so thrilled to get a chance to play against what their character may be or the sort of person they are.”

It was Cummins’ most famous part (Dall is best remembered for this picture and 1948’s “Rope” by Alfred Hitchcock) and the film, as subversive as it is stylish, influenced directors for decades to come. In fact, it is one of the primary bridges between classic Hollywood movies and the French and American New Wave (Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless” from 1960 and 1967’s “Bonnie and Clyde” by Arthur Penn.)

On the run, playing it straight with some studious specs.

Director Lewis was a solid B-movie director and, with A-list status eluding him, he took advantage of the freedom lower-budget Bs offered to experiment, innovate and break cinematic rules. In his time he was underrated but, because of his inventive style, he was rediscovered and praised by American and French critics in the ’60s.

In “Gun Crazy” when the pair robs the first bank, Lewis shot on location and used real people to play the bystanders. And leading up to the crime, Lewis (via cinematographer Russell Harlan) uses one long, unbroken shot taken from the backseat of the getaway car, from the criminals’ point of view, immersing the audience in the robbers’ subjective reality. During this scene, said Cummins, she and Dall improvised the dialogue.

MacKinlay Kantor and Dalton Trumbo, one of Hollywood’s finest scribes, wrote the screenplay based on a short story of Kantor’s. But when Trumbo was blacklisted, his work on this film was credited to Millard Kaufman.

Annie’s got some great lines, for example, when she explains her aspirations: “Bart, I want things, a lot of things, big things. I don’t want to be afraid of life or anything else. I want a guy with spirit and guts. A guy who can laugh at anything, who will do anything, a guy who can kick over the traces and win the world for me.”

Renamed “Deadly is the Female” for its British release, “Gun Crazy” is insanely good noir.

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TCM Classic Film Festival 2012 draws stars and fans

From Thursday night’s world premiere of the newly restored “Cabaret” to the closing-night screening of “Annie Hall” on Sunday, the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood was packed with stars, fans, media and movie experts. “Cabaret,” which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, opened the fest. The red-carpet event at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre drew stars Liza Minnelli, Joel Grey and Michael York.

Other luminaries included: Kim Novak, Bob Mackie, Debbie Reynolds, Norman Jewison, Rhonda Fleming, Peggy Cummins, Marsha Hunt, Rose McGowan, Richard Anderson, Thelma Schoonmaker, Robert Evans, Robert Towne, Robert Wagner, Kirk Douglas, Stanley Donen, Tippi Hedren, Angie Dickinson, Tina Sinatra, Tony Roberts and Walter Mirisch.

And fittingly, since the fest’s theme was style, there were film noir screenings as well as events devoted to both noir and fashion. The Film Noir Foundation’s Eddie Muller programmed the classic noir offerings, Shannon Clute and Richard Edwards of noircast.net led a panel discussion and author Foster Hirsch was on hand to interview Walter Mirisch, whose first foray into producing was 1947’s “Fall Guy” by director Reginald Le Borg.

I’m still recovering from so much delightful viewing, but here are a few photo highlights, courtesy of the fest.

All images courtesy of TCM Classic Film Festival/photographers Jason Merritt, Edward M. Pio Roda, Mark Hill and Adam Rose.

A festival poster at the Roosevelt Hotel, HQ for the event.

Bob Osborne and Liza Minnelli

Ben Mankiewicz and Tippi Hedren

Inside Grauman's Chinese Theatre

Fans lined up in the rain to see movies at Grauman's.

A festival display inside the Roosevelt

Noir star Marsha Hunt, Eddie Muller and Rose McGowan

From left: Robert Evans, Robert Towne and Robert Osborne before the "Chinatown" screening.

Kim Novak made her mark at Grauman's.

Kim Novak and her husband

Fresh prints by Kim Novak

Hollywood Boulevard's Walk of Fame

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