The Big House … Noir City at the Castro

Back again, with a tale already legendary … and I don’t mean the ones up on the screen.

Saturday, January 26th, was the biggest night in Noir City history … the entire 1,400 seat Castro Theater was sold out. Yup, that many people crawled out on a rainy San Francisco night to pay tribute in the Dark, and boy, were they happy to do it.

Last night was not only the most successful evening in seven years of hot femme and homme fatales serving up cold revenge … it was palpably the most exciting. An embarrassing treasure chest of noir riches awaited the denizens, and it wasn’t filled with fools gold, angel face.

First, the noir anthology of the season, A Hell of a Woman–edited by Noir Queen Megan Abbott and filled with some of the finest writers of this or any era–was on sale in the mezzanine courtesy of the fabulous M is for Mystery bookstore–ready to be signed, sealed and delivered by the editor, publisher Dave Thompson and some of the writers in attendance. Ken Bruen, Cornelia Read, Christa Faust, Donna Moore, and the Czar himself, Eddie, are a few of the authors who contributed … I’m lucky to live in a great writing community in the Bay Area, and even luckier to call some of them friends. They make me proud to be a writer.

Next, The Prowler. This unflinchingly harsh examination of bourgeois materialism and the abuse of authority is one of Dalton Trumbo’s finest efforts. Already blacklisted, his name wasn’t on the screen, but his thoughts, courage and honesty were in every line.

This movie was nearly lost–I saw the unrestored version a few years ago at the Balboa Theater–and, thanks to the Film Noir Foundation and noir-loving ticket buyers, The Prowler is back, better than ever. The restored print was amazing, and Van Heflin and Evelyn Keyes give the performances of their careers. If you ever get a chance to see this one … don’t miss it.

But that’s not all! Before the film, James Ellroy (yeah, that James Ellroy) introduced it to the audience. He contributed money to save the movie, and spoke in Ellroyese about many things, mostly sex. Love him or hate him, the truth is you can’t ignore him, and he filled the house with an inimitable energy–all 1,400 seats.

After The Prowler was the main reason I think the house was full: The Grand Inquisitor, and that actress of actresses, the amazing, wonderful and generous Marsha Hunt. Here’s the scoop, if you haven’t heard it. Remember I mentioned Eddie M. wrote a short story for A Hell of a Woman? Well, that was The Grand Inquisitor. And then last year, Eddie filmed it. And it starred Marsha Hunt, who, at 90, returned to the screen after a twenty-five year absence.

It was as if she never left. She is a phenomenal, incredible actress. I mean, we sat through classic Hollywood film noir, but this–this was new. Eddie directed. Marsha and terrific newcomer Leah Dashe starred. And Marsha … Marsha took down the house.

An Oscar isn’t good enough for her.

She was there to see it, to stand up and walk to the stage and feel the standing ovation. There are talented people, beautiful people, morally courageous people and kind, giving generous people. Marsha Hunt is all of the above, and God, how lucky we were to see The Grand Inquisitor with her in attendance.

(On a side note, last year I had the pleasure of thanking her for being a great role model when I purchased her book, The Way We Wore. I had just received my publication news that day, and it was bubbling out of me in every conversation, and I mentioned it to Marsha. She signed the book, “To my fellow author!” … that’s Marsha Hunt.)

Eddie’s direction was nothing short of brilliant. If you get a chance to see this film, do it. And hope that our Czar of Noir will add to his repertoire, as gifted a director as he is a writer.

Finally, the night ended with another Dalton Trumbo treat, Gun Crazy. This daring, adrenalin-fueled romp of sexual symbolism is a classic. The film-making captures the essence of speed and makes you feel like you’re on it … and it offers one of the best lines in film noir, one that will resonate with the slacker generation:

“Two people died so we could live without working!”

Now, that’s noir.

Since I’m a working girl, I can’t use my Noir City passport every day this week … and in fact, I had to skip the Sunday shows. On Tuesday, I’ll be blogging about The Liar’s Club, and why you need to buy it. And I’ll end my dark sojourn next week, with the finale to a sensational year … from the Noir Capital of the World, rainy, cold and foggy San Francisco.

Noir City, baby … are those foghorns or my heart beating?