THIS YEAR, San Francisco's 10-day Noir City festival boasted 27 obscure and, in some cases, entirely forgotten films largely from the '40s and '50s. An abbreviated lineup makes its way to Portland, hosted by Eddie Muller, founder and president of the Film Noir Foundation. While these black-and-white thrillers all fall easily into the "film noir" category, the eight films—all screening on 35mm—display a remarkable stylistic range that gives continued evidence of noir existing outside strict genre boundaries. Broadly put, these are films whose plots hinge on sex and violence, but date from an era when sex and violence couldn't be openly depicted. This required filmmakers to take more artful, metaphorical approaches to their subject matter, and the results are full of passion and darkness.
None of these movies exist on DVD, but I was able to watch a few muddy screening copies—sourced from TV broadcasts, smeary VHS tapes, or bootlegs of indeterminate origin—of what Muller is bringing with him. 1950's Try and Get Me, also known as The Sound of Fury, is the centerpiece, the subject of a recent restoration by the Film Noir Foundation. It's a bizarre but affecting thriller about a down-on-his-luck man (Frank Lovejoy) working for a two-bit hood (Lloyd Bridges). And while all the noir conventions are firmly in place, the movie also makes room for a bit of moralizing about the sensationalism of the press. It's based on a 1933 incident in which two murder suspects were dispatched by an unruly lynch mob.
1947's Repeat Performance is also presented in a new restoration from the Film Noir Foundation, and it marries noir intrigue with magic-fantasy elements. After killing her husband, an actress is allowed to relive the last year of her life, correcting (or, in some cases, reliving) the mistakes that led her to murder. Its flipside is the fun whodunit of Street of Chance (1942), starring Burgess Meredith as a man who can't remember the last year of his life. And why is everybody trying to kill him, anyway?
Other highlights are what's perhaps the best film adaptation of The Great Gatsby (1949), which includes a really hilarious scene of Shelley Winters getting hit by a roadster. And 1956's The Come On is a lurid thriller with Anne Baxter trying to persuade square-jawed Sterling Hayden to off her abusive husband. It doesn't quite go the extra mile, but their heaving affair has its appeal.