The Film Noir Foundation’s Noir City Festival is back, and Boston’s got it.
From June 9 to 11, you can take in 11 movies, all celebrating their 75th anniversaries. It’s a bitter little world over at The Brattle, where femme fatales, flatfoots, and fatal attractions await the daring viewer. Several of these 1948 classics are on 35mm, and many come with an introduction by the Film Noir Foundation’s own Foster Hirsch. (Bonus: There’s also a June 12 screening of Anthony Mann’s “Raw Deal” at 8 p.m.)
As a card-carrying noirista who has attended the flagship Noir City in the Bay Area nearly every year since 2006 (I’ve attended the one here in Boston, too), I cannot stress enough how great it is to sit in a darkened theater with fellow lovers of noir. I even get decked out in my noir attire for the occasion.
Life is filled with questions, but Noir City poses only one: What could possibly go wrong?
The short answer: everything.
Here’s what the cat drags in this weekend:
June 9: Opening Double Feature
Noir City: Boston opens with two films shot on location in the city so nice, they named it twice. New York has a leading role in “Cry of the City,” directed by the great noir veteran, Robert Siodmak. Cop Victor Mature and crook Richard Conte chase each other through The Big Apple. It’s worth seeing for its style alone, and not streaming anywhere, so don’t be a sucker and miss your chance to see it.
Also on the bill is Jules Dassin’s “The Naked City,” one of my favorites of the genre. Barry Fitzgerald, the older priest in “Going My Way” plays a tough Irish cop trying to solve a murder. Dassin takes us step by step through the investigation. This one’s populated with New York types, and doubles as a great time capsule of the five boroughs. As its famous narration goes: “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This is one of them.”
June 10: Afternoon Triple Feature
Saturday kicks off with a triple feature of films shot by the great cinematographer John Alton — all on 35mm! Starts at noon with one of the most celebrated noir titles “He Walked by Night.” Jack Webb, a.k.a. “Dragnet”’s Joe Friday, leads a Los Angeles-set investigation to stop bad guy Richard Basehart. Alton’s location work makes this a must-see.
This one’s followed by another gorgeously shot LA noir, “Hollow Triumph.” The twisty script by Daniel Fuchs is full of surprises, so the less you know going in, the better. Stars Paul Henreid and Joan Bennett.
After you finish scratching your head, the third feature awaits. “The Spiritualist” features psychics, séances, wealthy widows, and atmosphere galore. Alton paints the screen with atmosphere. As the “psychic,” Turhan Bey’s performance is worth the price of admission.
June 10: Evening Double Feature
Want more? Saturday evening brings a double feature starting at 6 p.m. Top of the bill is director John Farrow’s highly recommended suspenser “The Big Clock.” You get a creepy Charles Laughton channeling a certain owner of Fox News; Laughton’s wife, Elsa Lanchester, in one of her patented goofy comic roles; and Ray Milland reminding us why the star of “The Lost Weekend” should not drink.
Jimmy Stewart makes a Noir City appearance in the second feature, “Call Northside 777,” another famed noir title. Director Henry Hathaway puts Stewart’s reporter through the wringer as he tries to clear Richard Conte’s convicted killer. Cinematographer Joseph McDonald does for Chicago what John Alton did for LA — he makes the Windy City’s locations pop on screen. At 111 minutes, this is the longest movie Noir City has to offer. I like it, but it does drag a bit.
June 11: Matinee Double Feature
I’ve attended 22 Noir City film festivals. So believe me when I tell you there’s always one movie that’s absolutely bonkers and a joyous must-see. Sunday’s lineup opens with that movie, “Sleep, My Love.” Directed by the king of melodrama, Douglas Sirk (whose noir films you should definitely seek out), the delectably insane story features a sleepwalking Claudette Colbert and a sinister Don Ameche using that gorgeous voice of his for all manner of evil purposes. The plot: Colbert goes to sleep in her own bed and wakes up in a sleeper car on a train from NYC to Boston — with no idea how she got there. Oh, and she shot her husband before that. Helping us figure out this mystery are a game Robert Cummings and Keye Luke, who is wonderful here. Worth seeing for Colbert’s drunk scene alone. Look out for Dr. Rheinhart, one of the shadiest shrinks in noir.
Sirk is followed by another famous director, Preston Sturges. Primarily known for his comedies, “Unfaithfully Yours” is his foray, however parodic, into noir. The plot has Rex Harrison fantasizing about ways to kill his allegedly unfaithful wife, Linda Darnell, then implementing his plans with disastrous results. I saw this with a Noir City audience that rolled in the aisles with laughter. But you know what? I dislike this movie intensely. Your mileage may vary.
June 11: Closing Night Double Feature
It wouldn’t be Noir City without Stany. Barbara Stanwyck stars in Anatole Litvak’s adaptation of the radio play “Sorry, Wrong Number.” But this isn’t “Double Indemnity” Stanwyck — she’s not in control here. She spends most of the film sick in bed while trying to figure out who the victim is in the murder plot she overheard on the phone. As she slowly pieces together that it might be her, she goes all Susan Hayward on us! (And got an Oscar nomination for her trouble.) Burt Lancaster’s here, too. The pitch-black ending must have shocked audiences in 1948.
It also wouldn’t be Noir City without noir staple Dan Duryea. He shows up in George Stevens’s “Larceny” alongside John Payne, whose sleazy character is a long way from the guy he played in “Miracle on 34th Street.” In her first big role, Shelley Winters takes the title to heart — she steals this movie as a rock-hard, cold beauty who takes no guff from anyone. Whether slap-fighting Payne or firing off one-liners made from barbed wire, she owns this picture.
Odie Henderson is the Boston Globe's film critic.