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Cities at Night, In Black & White 

Wednesday, May 1 2013
New York and Los Angeles are sometimes unrecognizable in films noir because A) it was often taken for granted that those movies simply needed a big city as a backdrop, and B) many of those films lacked location photography. San Francisco was rarely used merely as a stand-in for “big city America,” probably because it is instantly recognizable – even if it’s only as a black-and-white, rear-projection backdrop. But San Francisco made an enormous contribution through its appearances in The Maltese Falcon, Dark Passage, The Lineup, The Lady from Shanghai, and a number of others. Today, the city hosts two of the country’s best film noir festivals. The Roxie’s two-week celebration, I Wake Up Dreaming!, begins on Friday and features 30 films. As always, the program will include a handful of beloved classics, such as Criss Cross (1949) and Sweet Smell of Success (1957), both of which star Burt Lancaster in very different roles. The latter is unusual in that the plot does not revolve around a crime — but the story of moral corruption, photography by James Wong Howe, and the nighttime Times Square settings make it as noir as is possible. The festival also includes several obscurities that hover on the fringes of noir. Blues in the Night (1941), starring Priscilla Lane, is based on a Depression-era play by Elia Kazan (who has a small role in the film) about down-on-their-luck musicians. All Through the Night (also 1941) is a Warner Brothers programmer starring none other than Humphrey Bogart. The twist here is that it’s a semi-comic story set in motion when boxing promoter “Gloves” Donahue (Bogart) discovers that the restaurant where he holds court no longer carries the cheesecake he likes. Furious, Donahue is led down a winding path and uncovers a conspiracy hatched by Nazi fifth columnists. It’s terrific, pulpy stuff.
May 10-23, 2013

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Casey Burchby

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