An Opening Night in Noir City …

Noir City … where the damned not only don’t cry, but have a damned good time.

This weekend, I’ve not only been writing in the dark, but living in it … ’cause it’s that time of year, folks, when the Czar of Noir pulls out all the stops for the rip-roarin’ hell town at San Francisco’s famed Castro Theater … when fatales rub elbows (and other parts) with suckers and fall guys, and the whole audience looks like it could use a good frisking.

Yup, Noir City. This is my fourth detour into the cinematic mainline of darkness, and January wouldn’t be the same without it. It’s been inspiration, escape, master class and a trip back home. Noir City … I was born there, baby. 😉

So what happened? Two great films, Repeat Performance and The Hard Way, Joan Leslie starring in both (and in the second with Ida Lupino, noir stalwart and hell of a broad). Ms. Leslie was in the audience — I was three rows down– and what a thrill it was to see her speaking with Marsha Hunt, who was sitting behind her. Two grande dames of the real Hollywood, still beautiful, still energetic, still incredible.

I had a chance to thank the still effervescent and gentle Ms. Leslie and say hello again to one of my idols, Ms. Hunt — a more gracious, gorgeous, talented, courageous and intelligent woman you’ll never meet, and at ninety she can out dress and out class women half her age.

You’ve heard it before, but it’s the sad truth: they don’t make ’em like that anymore … the movies or the ladies.

Joan spoke to Eddie “the Czar” Muller about working with Coop and Bogie (Gary Cooper and you’d better know who Bogie is), Ida Lupino, Jimmy Cagney (in Yankee Doodle Dandy) and growing up as a child entertainer in the Depression. It was a conversation to savor. And in a wonderful moment, Eddie led the entire audience in singing “Happy Birthday” to Joan, who was 83 on January 26th. It’s dark in Noir City, but that’s because underneath the burnt-out street lights shines a big, vulnerable heart.

The movies were terrific. Repeat Performance also starred one of Ida’s husbands, Louis Hayward, and featured an incredible, brilliant debut by Richard Basehart, who played, as only he could, a gentle soul just a few seconds off from the rest of the world. A madman and a poet … but that’s a redundancy.

The plot was about a woman who got a chance to live a year of her life over again, one fatal New Year’s Eve. Yeah, it’s holiday noir, all right, but Destiny wasn’t wearing a Santa suit.
A favorite line? Here’s Richard Basehart: “Paula shouldn’t be allowed to drink. Paula shouldn’t be allowed. Paula shouldn’t be.”


Second film: Ida is the Stage-Sister who does whatever is necessary to get kid sibling Joan into the show business big time. She does, in fact, do it the Hard Way, and ’cause it’s Noir City and this was the ’40s (and all about warning those ambitious women who might not want to give back all the jobs to the menfolk), well, Ida pays the price … and it was more than the admission, brother.

Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson round out the cast. Morgan is attractive as a cynical, skirt-chasing cad, playing against his wholesome Irish good looks, and Jack’s dramatic acting prefigures what he does in Mildred Pierce.

How hard is show biz in The Hard Way? Here’s an exchange between a twin sister act and a theatrical agent:
The Morgan Twins: [in unison] Mr. Wade? We’re playing in Jersey City. Can you catch our act? We’re the Morgan Twins.
Max Wade: When you’re triplets, come back and see me.

Ida shows why she was nobody’s second string Barbara Stanwyck, in a role with similarities to the Stanwyck pre-code classic Baby Face.

That’s it from your intrepid reporter at the only film festival that really matters … NOIR CITY. I’ll be back with a report on the second evening, which promises to be the most exciting Saturday in Noir City history.

Who needs Cannes?