Saturday, January 26, 2008

Joan Leslie at the Noir City Film Festival

There are various film festivals held over the course of the year at the Castro Theatre for just about every niche group imaginable, from gays and lesbians to Jews to German speakers to Asians.

Probably the coolest of them all is the Noir City Film Festival (click here for the schedule), partly because the beautiful old movie house has the perfectly shaped large screen for Hollywood films from the 30s through the 50s, but also because the audience is so passionate about the movies themselves, with some even dressing up in period clothes.

The sixth annual edition of the festival opened on a perfectly rainy, miserable Friday evening with a party for "passport" holders in the Castro Theatre mezzanine to meet and greet the evening's guest of honor, the movie star Joan Leslie.

Joan, above, was the female ingenue in a number of famous films such as "High Sierra," "Sergeant York" and "Yankee Doodle Dandy," and in the late 1940s she transitioned into more adult roles in a couple of noirs, including the 1947 rarity being screened on Friday, "Repeat Performance," which was notable for a number of reasons including the debut of the impossibly handsome Richard Basehart, the outre dresses of Oleg Cassini, and a major film score by the great American composer George Antheil.

Eddie Muller, in the middle above, seems to have gained the trust of much of old Hollywood and the surviving members of that era are often featured in person at the festival, including the 82-year-old Joan Leslie above on the left and the 91-year-old Marsha Hunt on the right.

Muller gave a passionate speech to start off the festival, defending the act of watching a flickering film on a large screen in the company of an audience during a period where we are entering a downloadable, digital world. He also explained the difficulties in preserving films through his Film Noir Foundation, "because without naming any names here, the worst caretakers are often the rights holders."

"When we knew Joan Leslie was going to attend, I managed to get a 35 millimeter print of 'Repeat Performance,' but when we put it into the projector, the film literally disintegrated. There was less than two weeks to go before this evening, and out of the blue I received an email from a Bay Area Film Noir fan who said if I had any problems with the print, he had just bought a 16 millimeter copy of the film from a collector in the Midwest. And two days later, a similar offer came in from another Bay Area fan. So that's what you're seeing tonight, and that's why this is the greatest Film Noir festival in the world. It's the audiences. It's frigging miserable out there, and you all came," he said, gesturing at the completely full Castro Theatre.

"I'll accept the Czar of Noir label proudly, but it's really you who make this festival what it is, not to mention all the great programmers in the Bay Area over the decades like Anita Monga with her Noir Mondays at the York Theatre, and the Cento Cedar Cinema, the Surf Cinema, the Richelieu..." It was quite a moving testimonial, and the movie star stories with Joan Leslie were pretty entertaining too.


Matty Boy said...

Some say it's just nostalgia, but I think it's great that film fans get together and salute these performers.

I remember a story told by Yvette Vickers, a gorgeous b-movie starlet of the 1950's and 1960's, whose most memorable role might be as the town tramp Honey, the other woman in the skewed triangle that is The Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman. (I wonder why I remember this story? Hmmm, no matter.)

There was a showing of Aot50FW in Los Angeles in the early 1990s and Miss Vickers was invited to attend by the movie house. There was a line of well wishers who wanted to take a picture with her, and she particularly remembered this huge tattooed biker trembling like a leaf. He stammered something about how he was hardly able to believe that he would have a picture of him and Yvette Vickers to treasure for the rest of his life.

Rod Stieger said, though I doubt it's original with him, that people who make movies make memories for millions of people, and that's why they want to connect with them.

Thanks for this post, Mike.

Janet Kathleen Tandy said...

Great picture of Marsha Hunt!


Anonymous said...

I had tix but the rain kept me home. How was the movie?

sfmike said...

Dear rootlesscosmo: The movie was awesome, sorry to say. It takes place in the Broadway backstage of the late 1940s where wealthy society characters slum it up sexually with the artists. Lots of alcoholism and lots of fabulous apartments and gowns, not to mention a Cornell Woolrich style plot where dear Joan tries to set fate right by reliving a year and not spending New Year's Eve shooting her husband in self-defense. As my friend Bill Selby described it, "It's sort of like 'It's A Wonderful Life IN HELL!'

allitwantedbythunder said...

I saw REPEAT PERFORMANCE on TV on New Year's Eve around 1971 and I've never forgotten it, or that Joan Leslie was its star. It's a movie I check online for now and then to see if it's come out on DVD, and that's how I found this site and this story. What lucky people you are to have got to see it on a big screen, with Joan Leslie in attendance. And on a rainy night, too. Thanks for the story and the pictures. Joan and Marsha look classy.

Chris F. said...

I'm glad I came across this blog on Joan Leslie. I've been a fan of hers for almost 20 years after seeing Sgt. York. I would love to be able to meet her someday.

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