Saturday, January 27, 2007

Marsha Hunt at Noir City 5

With perfect timing, there was a light rainfall to slick down the streets for the fifth annual Film Noir Festival (click here for their website), returning to the Castro Theatre after a two-year exile.

Noir City 5 has received a huge amount of press attention in the last week, and probably the best article about the event was written by Max Goldberg in the San Francisco Bay Guardian (click here) detailing Eddie Muller, "The Czar of Noir," and his annual movie festival which seems to grow more ambitious every year.

A major part of the fun of this festival is the audience itself...

...which likes to dress up for the occasion.

The number of afficionados seems to get larger the further the original "Film Noir" period recedes (from approximately 1941-1959, with antecedents and "neonoir" successors all over the place).

The special guest for the evening was the 89-year-old actress Marsha Hunt, above.

Her movie career extends from 1935 (click here for the entire filmography) to the early 1950s, when she ran afoul of the House Unamerican Activities Committee during the Red Scare because of her outspoken leftist beliefs and defense of her colleagues. After being blacklisted in the movies, all of her subsequent work was in television for the next forty years

There was a reception for fans and Marsha in the small mezzanine of the Castro Theatre, complete with the Marcus Shelby jazz trio, cocktails...

...and Miss Noir City 5, Ivory Madison (above), who posed as the femme fatale on this year's poster.

Marsha spent the entire time signing copies of a coffee-table book from 1993 that she wrote called "The Way We Wore: Styles of the 1930s and '40s and Our World Since Then" which according to Eddie Muller is one of the most brilliant, unclassifiable mixes of fashion, politics and philosophy every assembled (click here for the Amazon page where it gets five stars and is still a collectible).

"You don't have to be frumpy and uninterested in fashion just because you're interested in social justice," as Eddie put it during his onstage interview with Marsha between the two movies "Raw Deal" and "Kid Glove Killer."

Marsha not only looked supernaturally youthful for her age but her mind is still sharp and she's a graceful speaker with a streak of goodnatured humor.

"How did I get my start in Hollywood? How long do you have tonight, anyway? Hollywood has always been a very childlike place. Not childish, mind you, but childlike. For instance, if you give a child a plateful of food and tell them they can eat anything on the plate except for the spinach, then their immediate reaction will be to want the spinach more than anything. Well, some publicist friends of mine in New York talked me up in Hollywood, and then told everyone that I would never be available. In other words, I became the spinach, and everyone wanted me."

She had wonderful stories about the director Fred Zinnemann, whose first film as a director was "Kid Glove Killer," and Claire Trevor, her costar in "Raw Deal," and she seemed amused at how film noir, with its unredeemed characters going through their grim, fateful paces had become "such a cult, I guess you could call it."

The lady radiated such warmth and charm that you could believe it when she claimed that there was no personal bitterness over her blacklisting. "I spent the next 25 years working with the United Nations in its earliest years, and after being an actress with all its self-absorbtion, it was wonderful to be outwardly directed and give something back to the world."


Anonymous said...

What a perfect place for Film Noir-- the Castro Theater... walking out into the fog etc.. perfect. I've been tempted to write TUrner Classics and BEG for a Film Noir month or two.---- My favorite is Roadhouse or Road House? with Ida Lupino and Richard Widmark etc. CAn't seem to see it anywhere.--- Marsha sounds like a gem--- mt claim to fame is seeing the Lana Turner evening at a MArket Street downtwon Theater.. she arrived about an hour late, possibly was a bit tipsy or possibly stopped off at a North Beach bistro for a cocktail or three too many??-- WHAT A NIGHT.--merci for Marsha

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your awesome coverage of this event. I'm a huge classic film fan, love Marsha Hunt, and had my heart set on seeing this once-in-a-lifetime event, but cost and travel issues kept me from attending. It's a thrill, then, to have stumbled on your post concerning it! I hope you had a wonderful and memorable evening!