Sunday, January 24, 2016

Noirvana at the Castro Theater

The 14th annual Noir City Film Festival opened on Friday at the Castro Theatre for ten days of movies having something to do with the arts.

Saturday's matinee double-bill from 1946 featured "Curators and Critics," which included Clifton Webb basically reprising his celebrated role from Laura as an epicene, cultured art dealer up to no good, in The Dark Corner. The film also starred Lucille Ball as a glamorous, tough-talking, soft-hearted secretary to a private eye who has left his shameful past in San Francisco to make a new start in New York.

One of the greatest joys of the festival is sharing a hop in time with an attentive, smart audience, involving communal laughter over changed customs, such as our hero nonchalantly striking his wooden matchsticks to light a cigarette on just about any surface imaginable. (The Dark Corner has as much smoking as To Have and Have Not, whose plot is essentially Bogie and Bacall lighting cigarettes together for 90 minutes.)

San Francisco's Eddie Muller, the Czar of Noir above, has been all over the place lately, hosting a Noir Festival on Turner Classic Movies, having a book on Gun Crazy published in France, recording audio tracks for DVD reissues, establishing at least eight satellite Noir City film festivals around the country, and restoring lost films to posterity through The Film Noir Foundation. Muller introduced The Dark Corner on Saturday, explaining why it was quintessential noir and also the worst professional working experience of Lucille Ball's career (the blunt director Henry Hathaway was the problem). "The pairing in one movie of tough guy William Bendix and 'interesting' Clifton Webb is some kind of noir nirvana, or noirvana," he said. "Oh, jesus, I really did just make that up, and I think I'm keeping it."

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