Film noir features prominently at TCM Classic Film Festival

Cinematic Journeys: Travel in the Movies is the theme for the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival, which takes place in Hollywood April 25-28. The lineup will explore how movies can carry viewers beyond their hometowns to distant or imaginary locales, where they can be transformed by great storytelling.

What I’m most looking forward to, though, is the slew of film noir treats and the special guests that make the fest so memorable. They are:

The Killing
In person: Coleen Gray

The Night of the Hunter

The Narrow Margin
In person: Jacqueline White

Bonnie and Clyde
In person: Robert Benton

Notorious

On the Waterfront
In person: Eva Marie Saint

Cape Fear
In person: Polly Bergen

The Lady Vanishes
In person: Norman Lloyd

They Live by Night
In person: Susan Ray

Mildred Pierce
In person: Ann Blyth

Try and Get Me

Badlands
In person: Ed Pressman, Billy Weber

Gilda
In person: Debra Winger

The Birds
In person: Tippi Hedren

Three Days of the Condor
In person: Max von Sydow

Dial M for Murder
In person: Norman Lloyd

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A few of FNB’s fave posts from 2012

Happy 2013, all! Here’s a look at FNB highlights from 2012.

Marilyn Monroe shot by Bert Stern

Top 10 FNB posts (misc.)

Remembering Beth Short, the Black Dahlia, on the 65th anniversary of her death

TCM festival in Hollywood

Interview with Tere Tereba, author of “Mickey Cohen: The Life and Crimes of L.A.’s Notorious Mobster”

Marilyn Monroe birthday tribute

Marilyn Monroe exhibit in Hollywood

Film noir feline stars: The cat in “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers”

Famous injuries in film noir, coinciding with my fractured toe, or broken foot, depending on how dramatic I am feeling

Panel event on author Georges Simenon with director William Friedkin

History Channel announcement: FNB to curate film noir shop page

Retro restaurant reviews: Russell’s in Pasadena

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REVIEWS: 2012 neo-noirs or films with elements of noir

Crossfire Hurricane” documentary

Hitchcock

Holy Motors

Killing Them Softly

Momo: The Sam Giancana Story” documentary

Polisse

Rust and Bone

Searching for Sugar Man” documentary

Unforgivable

Wuthering Heights

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REVIEWS: Classic film noir

Anatomy of a Murder

Criss Cross

Decoy

Gilda

Gun Crazy

Murder, My Sweet

The Postman Always Rings Twice

Possessed

Sunset Blvd.

They Drive By Night

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REVIEWS: Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Dial M for Murder

The Lady Vanishes

Marnie

Notorious

The 39 Steps

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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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Producer Walter Mirisch talks with author Foster Hirsch after ‘Fall Guy,’ a rare film noir, at TCM fest

After a TCM film fest screening of “Fall Guy,” a rare film noir from 1947 starring Leo Penn (Sean’s dad), producer Walter Mirisch (right) talked with author Foster Hirsch. Mirisch went on to produce “The Magnificent Seven,” “West Side Story,” “The Great Escape,” “The Pink Panther” and “In the Heat of the Night,” among many others. The screening and talk were Saturday, April 14, at the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood.

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‘Fall Guy’ world premiere restoration a highlight of TCM fest

One of the strengths of the TCM Classic Film Festival is that you can watch timeless favorites on the big screen and discover rare gems that are difficult to see elsewhere.

That was the case with 1947’s “Fall Guy,” a little-known film noir whose world premiere restoration screened on Saturday morning. It’s a wonderful example of a low-budget B-movie that tackled dark topics, such as drug use and the struggle of World War II vets to readjust to civilian life.

Jerry Warner’s script is adapted from “Cocaine,” a short story by pulp-fiction master Cornell Woolrich. The action in “Fall Guy” revolves around a disaffected ex-soldier named Tom (Leo Penn, Sean’s dad, credited as Clifford Penn) who wakes up one morning with a hell of a hangover, bloodstains on his clothes and little memory of the night before. He doesn’t remember killing anyone but in his drug-addled state, anything’s possible.

Helping him piece together his fragmented recollections are his girlfriend Lois (Rita Hayworth-lookalike Teala Loring) and his brother-in-law, a tough cop named Mac (Robert Armstrong, of “King Kong” fame.) Elisha Cook Jr. and Virginia Dale spur his downward spiral; Iris Adrian is memorable as the brassy party girl.

Foster Hirsch (left) interviews producer Walter Mirisch. Photo by Adam Rose

In 2012, the rough and ready production values and pat story make “Fall Guy” a bit dated, it’s true. What’s fascinating about this release from Monogram Pictures, a quintessential Poverty Row studio, is the fact that because the budget was so limited, director Reginald Le Borg and the script could fly under the radar, exploring risqué and unsettling subject matter.

The censors still had their say, of course, and by today’s standards, the storyline is tame, but the creators of “Fall Guy” had a certain freedom and flexibility not found at glossy, high-end studios like MGM.

And though Monogram was small, it was smart about cross-branding. The studio’s 1946 noir classic “Decoy” is playing on a movie marquee in “Fall Guy.”

At Saturday’s screening, the film’s producer Walter Mirisch, now 90, talked with author Foster Hirsch. Mirisch offered an apology, noting that “Fall Guy” was the first film he produced and that he was still learning at the time, but the audience still gave the movie enthusiastic applause. Mirisch (and brothers Harold and Marvin) went on to produce “The Magnificent Seven,” “West Side Story,” “The Great Escape,” “The Pink Panther” and “In the Heat of the Night,” among many others.

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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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TCM Classic Film Festival starts today

I am off to the TCM Classic Film Festival, running through Sunday in Hollywood, where I will be packing in as many movies, photo opps and events as I can.

I will be updating on twitter. Bye for now!

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Masterpiece of neo-noir ‘Chinatown’ is an unmatchable blend of wised-up savvy and yearning romanticism

Chinatown/1974/Paramount/130 min.

“Chinatown” will screen at 9:30 p.m. Friday, April 13, at the TCM Classic Film Festival. Writer Robert Towne and producer Robert Evans will be at the event. This is the site’s second review of the movie; you can read FNB’s piece here.

By Michael Wilmington

Noah Cross (John Huston) tells J.J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson) what’s what.

“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

Those are the last words, chilling, evocative, cynical, of Roman Polanski and Robert Towne’s Chinatown – that great dark tale of politics, murder and family secrets in ’30s Los Angeles. No matter what you think of Polanski and his arrest and extradition problems, the director’s 1974 private-eye classic “Chinatown” is still a masterpiece of neo-noir. The movie, one of the big commercial-critical hits of its era, was a career peak for director Polanski, the matchless screenwriter Towne and the superb star team of Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and John Huston.

It’s a picture that seems close to perfect of its kind and one of the ’70s films I love best. Gorgeous and terrifying and sometimes funny as hell, “Chinatown” tells a romantic/tragic/murder mystery tale of official crimes and personal depravity raging around the real-life Los Angeles water scandal, with private sin and public swindles steadily stripped bare by J. J. Gittes (one of Nicholson’s signature roles), a cynical, natty, smart-ass shamus, with a nose for corruption and a hot-trigger temper.

Gittes is an anti-Philip Marlowe detective. He’s proud of taking divorce cases (Marlowe disdained them), and he’s not too queasy about selling out. He’s also much less sexually reticent than Raymond Chandler’s knight of the mean streets, though he cracks just as wise. Fundamentally, Gittes is a survivor.

He likes his nose, he likes breathing through it. But he finds it increasingly hard to keep it unbloodied and out of rich L. A. people’s business as he keeps digging deeper into what starts as a simple infidelity investigation and then broadens to include a vast conspiracy, intertwined with the deadly history of immaculately evil nabob Noah Cross (played by the devilishly genial Huston) and his desperate, wounded daughter Evelyn Mulwray (Dunaway). It’s a nasty web that includes Polanski himself as the cocky little fedora-topped thug (with a Polish accent) who calls Gittes “Kitty-Kat” and slices up his proboscis for a memento mori.

“Chinatown”– with splendid Richard Sylbert production design, gleaming John Alonso cinematography and a haunting Jerry Goldsmith score – wafts us back to LA’s downtown and Silverlake in the ’30s: the era of the Depression. It was also the heyday, of course, of the hard-boiled, high-style thrillers of Dashiell Hammett and Chandler, fiction that Towne, at his absolute best, pastiches to a fine turn and that Polanski, at his best makes shatteringly alive.

Gittes puts in some extra time with client Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway).

The movie has great dialogue, great acting, great direction and an unmatchable blend of wised-up savvy and yearning romanticism. The bleak ending (Polanski’s idea) cuts you to the heart. Temper-tantrum virtuoso Nicholson has some of his best blowups.

And the supporting cast members – Polanski, Burt Young, Diane Ladd, Perry Lopez, Dick Bakalyan, Roy Jenson, James Hong, Bruce Glover, Joe Mantell and John Hillerman (at his smarmiest) – are wonderful too.

In fact, this is a movie that – not counting Gittes’ slit nose – has no perceptible flaws: a classic you can’t and won’t forget. “Chinatown” reminds you of how Nicholson almost single-handedly, shifted the ground of the movies, and changed our conception of what a movie star was. It reminds you of how vulnerable Dunaway could be, of what a sly old movie fox Huston was.

It reminds you how great films can be when they have really wonderful, beautifully crafted, verbally agile scripts (like Towne’s here). And it reminds you that Polanski is a filmmaker who’s maybe faced such terror, darkness and despair in his own life – from the Holocaust to personal tragedy – that he can, brilliantly and memorably, turn fear into art.

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Stellar ‘Criss Cross’ tells a riveting story of cursed love

Criss Cross/1949/Universal Pictures/88 min.

What would film noir be without obsessive love? (Or “amour fou” as the French would say.) Just a bunch of caring and sharing among equal partners with no cause for discontent? How frightfully dull.

My favorite example is “Criss Cross” from 1949. Director Robert Siodmak helped define noir style and in this flick you can see what an unerring eye he had.

Anna (Yvonne De Carlo) and Steve (Burt Lancaster) find it impossible to say goodbye.

“Criss Cross” tells the story of a nice guy from a modest background who, try as he might, just cannot break ties with his sexy but venal ex-wife. They are one of noir’s most stunningly gorgeous couples.

Burt Lancaster as Steve Thompson takes your breath away with his arresting features and beautiful build. Equally captivating is exquisite Yvonne De Carlo (Lily Munster on the ’60s TV show, “The Munsters”) as Anna.

Lancaster and De Carlo were also paired in Jules Dassin’s prison film “Brute Force” from 1947. And in 1946, Siodmak helped catapult Lancaster and Ava Gardner to stardom in “The Killers,” another seminal film noir. Miklós Rózsa wrote original music for both Siodmak films.

Back to “Criss Cross.” Having returned to his native Los Angeles after more than a year of roaming around the country, working odd jobs, Steve’s convinced that he’s over Anna and can move on from their failed marriage.

He gets his old job back (as a driver for Horten’s, an armored car service) and reconnects with his family (a very unusual touch – most noir heroes are total loners). There’s Mom (Edna Holland), brother Slade (Richard Long) and his brother’s fiancée Helen (Meg Randall). They’re all anti-Anna, natch, and so is Steve’s childhood friend Det. Lt. Pete Ramirez (Stephen McNally).

Anna likes the perks that her sugar daddy Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea) can provide.

It’s only a matter of time (and fate, of course) before Steve sees Anna again, only to learn she has a new love interest, an unctuous gangster and sugar daddy named Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea), whom she abruptly marries.

But Anna can’t quite tear herself away from Steve – he is Burt bloody Lancaster, after all. When Slim catches the pair together, Steve stays calm and says he’s figured out a way to pull a heist – an inside job at Horten’s – but he needs some help to carry it out. Things don’t go quite according to plan, however, and the caper turns into a smoke-filled shootout, which lands Steve in the hospital and launches Slim on the lam.

Noir master Daniel Fuchs adapted “Criss Cross” from a Don Tracy novel. While the script’s references to Steve’s imminent doom are a little over the top, the movie is still an excellent showcase for the talents of German-émigré Siodmak, an auteur largely underrated in postwar Hollywood, as well as for his cast and crew. “Criss Cross” is both a tense, lean crime thriller and a textured, haunting story about relationships and human nature.

Much as I like “The Killers,” I prefer “Criss Cross” and its probing into questions of fate, our inherent human capacity for perversity and self-destruction, our tendencies toward paranoia, greed and guilt, and our willingness to trust, trick and manipulate others and ourselves. Basically, everything we hate to think about and try to repress.

We see romantic relationships that run the gamut from sweet to steamy to sadistic, with Siodmak and Fuchs reminding us of the violence that can lurk just under a tranquil surface. It’s also interesting to speculate, upon repeat viewings, just how far back Steve might have been hatching his plan and to what extent it grew out of Slim’s wider and stickier web of deceit.

When Slim and his gang invade Steve’s place, Steve outlines his plan.

Beginning with a magnificent shot that lands us in the middle of the story, we witness a clandestine meeting, a few minutes in a parking lot, of lovers Steve and Anna.

Then, as Siodmak backtracks to fill us in on their story, it’s one ravishing chiaroscuro composition after another, often shot from high above and suggesting a sense of encroaching peril or shot low to create a feeling of dominance, danger and power. Entrapping shadows abound.

Siodmak and cinematographer Franz Planer were at the top of their game in “Criss Cross. “ It’s hard to beat the panoramic opening scene and the pieta-like closing shot. Another striking scene: when Steve sees Anna dancing the rhumba (with an uncredited Tony Curtis) as Esy Morales’ band gives it their all. I also love the alternating high and low shots as Anna and Steve discover that Slim and his gang have infiltrated Steve’s place, quiet as cats, save for the refrigerator that pounds shut as they help themselves to beers. “You know,” says Dan Duryea’s Slim, in a cool, silky voice, “it don’t look right. You can’t exactly say it looks right now can you?”

Was there anyone better in 1940s than Duryea as the cheap, sleazy, misogynistic gangster-type who never failed to be dressed to the nines in the flashiest and gaudiest of garb?

Steve and Anna hope to reunite after she extricates herself from Slim.

Additionally, it’s a testament to Lancaster’s power of expression – his graceful physicality, measured, calm voice and what seems to be an innate kindness and intelligence – that you continue to root for him knowing that every step he takes is the wrong one.

And you can see how De Carlo as Anna could sear a man’s heart. (De Carlo later starred as the quirky matriarch in TV’s “The Munsters,” 1964-66.) While some would write Anna off as a conniving shrew who causes Steve’s downfall, and it’s pretty hard to argue otherwise, she at least never plays too coy – she wants him, yes, but she wants money too and she’s entirely clear that she’ll get it with or without him. It’s his choice (as much as you have a choice in film noir) to execute a heist to get a bunch of cash. As for the heist, particularly the planning of, I think there is much here that influenced John Huston when he made “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950).

Also memorable in their performances are Percy Helton as the bartender, Alan Napier as Finchley, the stately, dignified crook consultant who works for liquor and Griff Barnett as Pop, the co-worker whom Steve betrays. “Criss Cross” also features Raymond Burr, uncredited, as a gangster.

Steven Soderbergh remade “Criss Cross” as “The Underneath” in 1995 and it’s a good film. But just as Lancaster’s Steve likens his love to getting a bit of apple stuck in his teeth, “Criss Cross” similarly lodges in your psyche. Like a lurking temptation, it’s hard to let go.

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Film noir screenings galore this month in Los Angeles

A new photo for FNB! By Halstan Williams, www.halstan.com

So looking forward to the dark this month! There are three great fests taking place in April.

“Criss Cross” is the first of many excellent film noir titles at the third annual TCM Classic Film Festival, which this year is celebrating style in the movies, from fashion to architecture and everything in between.

The festival runs Thursday through Sunday. “Criss Cross” screens at 10 p.m. Thursday and the Film Noir Foundation’s czar of noir Eddie Muller will introduce the film.

Other noirs include: “Raw Deal,” “Cry Danger,” “Vertigo,” “Chinatown,” “Fall Guy,” “Night and the City,” “Gun Crazy,” “Marathon Man,” “Seconds,” “To Catch a Thief” and “Black Sunday.”

Kim Novak is one of many Hollywood greats to attend the fest; check out the schedule for more info on events, interviews and discussions. (For a little comic relief from full-on noir fare, the always-entertaining Michael Schlesinger will introduce 1942’s “Who Done It,” in which Bud Abbott and Lou Costello play a pair of would-be writers posing as detectives.)

Starting Monday, April 16, is the 16th annual City of Lights City of Angels (COL•COA) film festival, which presents 34 French features and 21 shorts. Opening the fest is the North American premiere of “My Way” (“CloClo”), a biopic about French pop star Claude François. Directed by Florent-Emilio Siri, the film stars Jérémie Renier.

Closing the fest on Sunday, April 22, is a comedy called “The Intouchables,” by writer/directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano. Starring François Cluzet and Omar Sy, “The Intouchables” is the third highest grossing film of all time in France.

Other titles of particular interest include: “Michel Petrucciani,” “38 Witnesses,” “Guilty,” “A Trip to the Moon”/“The Extraordinary Voyage,” “Step Up to the Plate,” “The Art of Love,” “Another Woman’s Life,” “Le Skylab,” “Call Me Savage,” Paris By Night,” “A Gang Story,” “Early One Morning,” “Hotel du Nord, “Americano, “Polisse” and “The Minister.”

Paris By Night,” “A Gang Story” and “Early One Morning are part of COL•COA’s film-noir series on Friday, April 20.

Femme fatale Gloria Grahame stars with Sterling Hayden in 1954’s “Naked Alibi,” the first film in the Hayden tribute. The second: “Suddenly,” 1954.

Friday, April 20, is also the opening night of Noir City: Hollywood, the 14th annual festival of film noir at the Egyptian Theatre, presented in collaboration with the Film Noir Foundation.

Opening night is an Alan Ladd double feature: “The Great Gatsby” and “This Gun for Hire.” The foundation’s Eddie Muller and fellow noir expert Alan K. Rode will introduce the movie.

The stellar lineup includes many rare films, several of which are not on DVD:

“Naked Alibi”/“Suddenly”
“Phantom Lady”/“Black Angel”/“The Window”
“T-Men”/“Strange Impersonation”
“Caged”/“Big House USA”
“Scene of the Crime”/“Reign of Terror”
“Slaughter on Tenth Avenue”/“Edge of the City”
“Johnny O’Clock/“Johnny Allegro”
“Shield for Murder”/“Private Hell 36”
“Okay, America”/“Afraid to Talk”
“The Maltese Falcon”/“City Streets”
“The Postman Always Rings Twice”
“Three Strangers”/“Nobody Lives Forever”
“Circumstantial Evidence”/“Sign of the Ram”
“Mary Ryan, Detective”/“Kid Glove Killer”

See you in the dark!

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