On the weekend of September 23-25, 2016, Eddie Muller, founder of the Film Noir Foundation and known as the Czar of Noir, brought the renowned Noir City festival to Detroit’s historic Redford Theater. Over the course of the weekend, visitors had the chance to see up to seven noir classics, each introduced by Muller. Every day, there was a double feature consisting of one well-known noir classic paired with one that isn’t so widely known, all presented in beautiful 35mm prints. Each of the bigger titles were movies I’d seen before and really liked, but I was actually more excited for the second billings since I’d never seen any of them before.
The festival kicked off on Friday night with a double feature of The Killers and 99 River Street. In 99 River Street, the events of the film take place over the course of one night and I don’t really know why, but I love movies that are structured like that. John Payne stars as a boxer-turned-cab driver who is married to an unhappy wife. Over the course of one night, he discovers that his wife has been having an affair, gets framed for his wife’s murder, and unwittingly becomes entangled in a publicity stunt for a new play starring an actress friend of his, played by Evelyn Keyes. When Keyes’ character feels bad about unwittingly leading him into a publicity stunt, she quits the play to help him clear his name. For the most part, I loved this movie. Gritty and compelling, but with a happy ending that I would normally not like in a noir, but considering it’s about a guy having the worst night ever, I can forgive it. I figured that guy deserved to have something good happen to him.
Saturday’s double feature was Double Indemnity and The Prowler. Double Indemnity is definitely a favorite of mine, but The Prowler ended up being the biggest highlight of the festival for me. If you have never seen The Prowler, imagine an even more subversive Double Indemnity, only with a one-sided murder plot and a main female character who actually has a conscience.
When I hear classic film fans talk about how old films weren’t always wholesome and sweet, they’re typically referring to the pre-code era, but The Prowler definitely pushed some 1950s-era boundaries. Not only is the plot full of elements that test the limits of the production codes, its production involved two famous victims of Hollywood blacklisting: Joseph Losey and Dalton Trumbo. Trumbo was not only an uncredited writer, but also provided the voice Evelyn Keyes’ character’s husband. At the time The Prowler was produced, Trumbo was such a Hollywood outcast, the fact that he was providing the voice for a character in the movie had to be an extremely well-kept secret. In his introduction, Muller said that not even Evelyn Keyes knew Trumbo provided that voice until a long time after the fact.
Night owls had the chance to catch a late-night screening of David Lynch’s neo-noir classic Blue Velvet on Saturday. Although I’m a big David Lynch fan and really like Blue Velvet, I simply did not have the energy to stay up for it. But I was back at the Redford early Sunday afternoon for a double feature of The Lady from Shanghai and Woman on the Run.
It had been ages since I’d seen The Lady from Shanghai, and since it’s a movie you really have to concentrate on, seeing it in a theater is absolutely perfect. Woman on the Run was extremely enjoyable. I love Ann Sheridan, but I haven’t seen much of her post-1940s work, so this was a real treat. She is absolutely fantastic in it and the movie is full of twists and turns to keep things interesting from beginning to end.
Many people know Eddie Muller from his introductions on Turner Classic Movies, but if you ever have the chance to see him in person at an event, I very highly recommend going. Whether it’s at a Noir City festival or at an event like the TCM Film Festival, he is always extremely engaging, entertaining, passionate, and knowledgeable about the subject at hand. As someone who has been actively involved in trying to preserve and restore some of the more overlooked noir gems, Muller has some absolutely incredible stories to tell. Between the excellent line-up and Muller’s expertise, it was an absolutely fantastic weekend. The Redford’s volunteers have already started putting the gears in motion to do this again next year and I’m already looking forward to seeing next year’s line-up.