Gritty film noir just may be embraced by contemporary audiences more than any other genre from the Golden Age of Hollywood.
And for good reason.
"I think it's because the old film noirs have had a greater influence on popular culture," said movie historian and author Eddie Muller, founder of the Film Noir Foundation, a nonprofit preservation group. "I think young people recognize that the whole cocktail culture has made a comeback. They see the aesthetic of mid-20th century America as being really cool. It has not gotten dated or silly. The films are tough and tough-minded."
And so are the characters. The "heroes" are conflicted, complex and often drowning in trouble. The women are femme fatales who more often than not cause the protagonist's downfall. The cinematography is atmospheric black and white. The dialogue crackles. And directors move the action along with a quick pace.
Film noir, added movie historian, writer and Film Noir Foundation board member Alan K. Rode, "is like beauty."
"It is in the eye of the beholder," he said. "I also think noir is not a genre like a western or a musical. It's a style. It is a look. It is a feel. You can see its influence all over the place."
"Noir City: The 17th Annual Festival of Film Noir" opening April 3 in Hollywood reflects the expansive influence of the pictures. Presented by the American Cinematheque in collaboration with the Film Noir Foundation, the festival features not only American movies but also British thrillers, three rarities from Argentina, even a new noir from the Humphrey Bogart Estate's Santana Films
Muller said that as a programmer, he has learned the need to bring back familiar titles while mixing in the obscurities. "You want to appeal to impressionable 21-year-olds who are just getting their film education and haven't seen a lot of this stuff," he said. "And for some of the tried and true fans, it may be their last opportunity to see it on the big screen."
The festival kicks off at the Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre with Muller introducing two Ann Sheridan noirs: the 1950 rediscovery "Woman on the Run," restored by the Film Noir Foundation in conjunction with the UCLA Film & Television Archive, and the 1947 film "The Unfaithful."
Years ago, Muller found what was thought to be the only print of "Woman on the Run" at Universal and screened it at the foundation's noir festival in San Francisco. That print, however, burned in 2008 in a studio lot fire. About three years ago, while checking out the British Film Institute's then-new database, he discovered the organization had material from which a new negative and print could be made.
"Woman on the Run," also screening March 29 at the Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum as part of the UCLA Festival of Preservation, was worth all the effort to restore, Muller said.
"It's a great script, and to me, it's very, very unique, in that it's a love story told in reverse," he said.
Sheridan was one of the great forgotten female stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood, Rode said.
"I think she gets overlooked sometimes with all of the attention given to Bette Davis, Ida Lupino or Olivia de Havilland at Warner Bros.," he said. "I think she had a hard time competing for roles."
Muller will be on hand April 4 for the double bill of the 1947 noir romance "Dark Passage," starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, and "This Last Lonely Place," a 2014 noir from the Humphrey Bogart Estate's Santana Films. The actor's son, Stephen Bogart, and director Steve Anderson will talk about the new movie, noir and Santana Films.
"We are trying to do something special: low-budget films that are inspired by the films that Bogie might have made if Bogie were around today — crime films and noirs he cut his teeth on," Anderson said. "It's a great sort of mix of old-world Bogart with the new world of crowd-funding and social media."
On April 11, Rode will introduce a double bill of 1950's "The Underworld Story," directed by Cy Endfield and starring noir fave Dan Duryea and Gale Storm, and the 1949 film "Abandoned," which features Storm, Dennis O'Keefe and Raymond Burr.
"The Underworld Story," Rode said, is so extraordinary that they funded a new 35mm print.
"The film takes on some significant issues, where you have an African American character being framed for murder," he said. "The cinematography is by the great Stanley Cortez."
Two British film noirs, "The Hidden Room" from 1949 and "The Sleeping Tiger" from 1954, are set to screen April 5. Jacques Tourneur's1951 British production "Circle of Danger" starring Ray Milland is scheduled for April 15.
The noirs from Argentina making their L.A. debut are "El Vampiro Negro," a 1953 re-imagining of Fritz Lang's 1931 masterpiece "M," and two 1952 anthology films of stories by noir writer Cornell Woolrich: "No Abras Nunca Esa Puerta" and "Si Muero Antes De Despertar." They all screen April 17.
The Film Noir Foundation also funded the UCLA archive's restoration of 1947's "The Guilty," based on a Woolrich story, which closes the festival April 18. The picture stars Bonita Granville and Regis Toomey in one of his police detective turns.
"It's as B as a B film can get," Muller said. "It has a weird, spellbinding quality."
Highlights of 'Noir City: The 17th Annual Festival of Film Noir':
April 3: An Ann Sheridan double bill features a restoration of the 1950 noir drama "Woman on the Run" and the 1947 thriller "The Unfaithful," based on Somerset Maugham's "The Letter."
April 4: Noir City will screen the 1947 Humphrey Bogart-Lauren Bacall classic "Dark Passage" with a new noir, "This Last Lonely Place" from Santana Films, which has been resurrected by Bogart's son Stephen, who will be doing a question-answer session that evening.
April 10: A tribute to mystery writer Cornell Woolrich features a restored print of the 1946 thriller "The Chase," starring Robert Cummings, Steve Cochran, Peter Lorre and Michele Morgan, and the 1943 Val Lewton suspense thriller "The Leopard Man," with Dennis O'Keefe.
April 17: Rare Argentine noirs are on tap — 1953's "El Vampiro Negro" and 1952's "No Abras Nunca Esa Puerta" and "Si Muero Antes de Despertar."
April 18: Restoration of the low-budget 1947 noir "The Guilty" starring Regis Toomey, Bonita Granville, Don Castle and Wally Cassel.