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Hit the dark side of the street at the S.F. Film Noir Festival

A wave of fatalistic crime sagas crossed with cynical love stories flooded B-movie houses in the late 1940s and '50s, offering a pointed rebuttal to the cherished myth of the postwar economic miracle -- namely, that a rising tide lifts all boats. These dark pictures spoke to people who'd never drawn a 10, let alone an ace: war vets and waitresses, bookies and bad girls, loners and loose cannons. Likewise, the rediscovery and ratification of film noir in the 1980s and '90s coincided with another boom time that, nonetheless, left many Americans behind. But in 2005, with diminished expectations the new status quo and our faith in fairness pretty well extinguished, can the downbeat deviousness of the genre still pack a punch?

Rest easy, brothers and sisters. The third annual Noir City: The San Francisco Film Noir Festival, a two-week carnival of dashed hopes and doomed schemes assembled by East Bay writer Eddie Muller and former Castro programmer Anita Monga, proves conclusively that some jaw-cracking masterpieces never mellow. Nothing softens the pain John Garfield endures in He Ran All the Way and Force of Evil or that Richard Widmark inflicts in Kiss of Death and Pickup on South Street. Even the tonier movies with better pedigrees -- Sweet Smell of Success with Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis, and In a Lonely Place, starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame -- haven't lost their ability to disturb us with their charmingly amoral protagonists.

Pickup on South Street.
Pickup on South Street.


Noir City: The San Francisco Film Noir Festival runs Jan. 14-27 at the Balboa Theater, 3630 Balboa (at 37th Avenue), S.F. Tickets are $7.50-10 (or $120 for an all-film pass); call 221-8184 or visit www.noirci ty.com.

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This year's lineup is dubbed "Darkness Coast to Coast," with each double bill featuring one flick set in New York and another in Los Angeles. Every program is a knockout, but aficionados should be out in force on opening night for Somewhere in the Night, Joseph Mankiewicz's underexposed tale of an amnesiac vet prowling L.A.'s less glamorous neighborhoods for clues to his identity. Undoubtedly the toughest ticket, because it only screens once, is the harrowing crime flick Try and Get Me! (aka The Sound of Fury), a movie so rare that the print comes from Martin Scorsese's personal collection. In fact, be advised that this year's change of venue from the Castro to the much smaller Balboa means that shows will sell out faster. Parking will be easier to find, true, but remember: In Noir City, every spot is at the dark end of the street.

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