If the chill in the air is sending a chill down your spine, flip up the collar of your trench coat and turn down a dark alley to explore the cynical realm of film noir. Autumn’s darker atmosphere makes it good time to enjoy classic Hollywood’s shadier side. You may find Burt Lancaster’s words have extra bite when he tells Tony Curtis in Sweet Smell of Success, “I’d hate to take a bite outta you. You’re a cookie full of arsenic.”
AFI Silver Theater and Cultural Center in downtown Silver Spring is screening 18 films as part of Noir City DC: the 2011 Film Noir Festival, starting Saturday. It’s the genre that Eddie Muller, Film Noir Foundation founder, describes as happening at the height of classic style. He claims that the relevance of film noir can in part be contributed to the things the movies say about culture--discomforting things that scare audiences. “As a work of art, what more could you want?” asks Muller.
Among this year’s titles are the popular and the lesser-known, recent preservations, and those unavailable on DVD. Select showings will feature introductions and post-show discussions with Muller and FNF board member Foster Hirsch.
Here are some noteworthy screenings:
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
It’s arguable whether or not this is the first film noir, but its status as an essential is less debatable. Directed by John Huston, The Maltese Falcon features staple-of-the-genre Humphrey Bogart playing private investigator Sam Spade. Spade finds himself tangled in a dangerous web with the likes of stars Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, all trying to get their hands on “the, uh, stuff that dreams are made of.”
Mildred Pierce (1945)
Kate Winslet and Guy Pearce each won a Primetime Emmy Award for their performances in the 2011 HBO miniseries of the same name, based on the James M. Cain novel. While the miniseries was very close to the book, Hollywood adapted the source material first and threw in a murder plot line. A film noir was born. Joan Crawford won an Academy Award for her portrayal of the title character, a woman who tries to make something of herself to please her vile, ungrateful daughter.
Angel Face (1952)
Robert Mitchum is under the spell of Jean Simmons in Otto Preminger’s risqué film about a man who becomes the chauffeur for a toxic woman. One of Muller’s personal favorites, he describes it as one of the “ultimate femme fatale films;” “complex,” “spellbinding,” and testing the era’s production code boundaries. You’ll have to watch this one unfold on the big screen--it’s not available on DVD.
They Won’t Believe Me (1947)
Robert Young isn’t quite his “Father Knows Best” self in this obscure film (unavailable on DVD) about a man who can’t stop going after women, to deadly consequences. Rather than the typical femme fatale of the genre, which Muller describes as “the last woman a man should ever meet,” Young plays “the last man a woman should ever meet.”
Fall into film noir’s underworld of stylish gloom. A list of all films that will be screening, showtimes, and additional information are available at www.afi.com/silver.