In the Dark

Why a film noir festival? Because we're living in a noir world, brother.

Look around you: threat of war, fear of terrorism, ineffective president, weak economy, dollar in retreat, massive layoffs, rising prices, dismal stock market, enormous gap between rich and poor, corporate criminals going unpunished, street crime on the upsurge — it’s film noir time, baby.

“We live in a noir world,” proclaimed Will “The Thrill” Viharo of the Parkway Theater as he put the finishing touches on his fourth Film Noir Fest, playing at the Oakland movie house September 6-26. Maybe that’s why Viharo sees an interesting mixture of younger faces and die-hard noir fans every time he books a sinister old policier like Pushover (1954). Post-WWII disillusionment has never gone out of style.

Pushover, a rarely seen sucker-cop/crooked-dame drama directed by the great Phil Karlson and starring Fred MacMurray and Kim Novak, is one of the nine 35mm prints Viharo culled for this year’s fest — his usual combination of easily accessible and harder-to-find films. In the former category is Friday night’s opening flick, Curtis Hanson’s crackling L.A. Confidential. That 1997 neo-noir doesn’t exactly thrill the Thrill (“I like my film noir with hats,” he admits), but it’s part of his effort to appeal to a wider audience, to convert new fans for classic tales of family treachery (Mildred Pierce with Joan Crawford), hardboiled newspapermen with dirty secrets (Karlson’s Scandal Sheet from 1952), and one of Viharo’s proudest additions to the fest, the 1954 adaptation of writer Raymond Chandler’s Murder My Sweet, with Dick Powell as gumshoe Philip Marlowe. Marlowe crops up again September 16-18 in Robert Altman’s queasy update of The Long Goodbye, played this time by Elliott Gould, suffering with Beverly Hills gangster Mark Rydell and alcoholic novelist Sterling Hayden in a 1973 inferno of deceit.

Several programs are cohosted by East Bay author and noir impresario Eddie Muller (Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir, Dark City Dames), and at least three titles — Pushover, 711 Ocean Drive, and Scandal Sheet — haven’t been screened here since their first runs in the early ’50s. How noir can you get?

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