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GUN MOLLY: June Havoc surrenders her weapon to tough guy Charles McGraw in 'The Story of Molly X.'

Dark Screen

Rare treats highlight Noir City Festival

By Richard von Busack & Michael S. Gant

JANUARY cinema is usually about as succulent as January tomatoes. Fortunately, there is an alternative: the Noir City Festival at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, Jan. 25–Feb. 3. Opening night is a tribute to Joan Leslie, ex-vaudevillian, real-life spouse of William Powell and screen-life co-star of James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy. In a personal appearance, Leslie will recall the perhaps 15 hours it took to film Repeat Performance for Eagle-Lion studios in 1947. In it, she plays a lady who has a second chance to repeat a deadly year that ended with her murder of her husband (Louis Hayward). It will be followed by with The Hard Way, a drama with Ida Lupino as Leslie's sister, an actress who sacrificed everything for her sis, including her humanity. Jan. 26 is Van Heflin's time to prowl in a tribute to a Dalton Trumbo script, done under a pseudonym during the blacklist. James Ellroy himself (L.A. Confidential) will be on hand to introduce a newly restored 35 mm print of Joseph Losey's The Prowler (1951), in which a bent policeman proposes to help himself to a married woman (Evelyn Keyes). Also that night is the amazing Gun Crazy (1950), featuring perhaps the most hardboiled of noir heroines, Peggy Cummins. Festival founder Eddie Mueller wraps up the evening with his own 20-minute-long film noir, The Grand Inquisitor (2008), starring blacklisted actress Marsha Hunt. On Jan. 27, pays tribute to Gail Russell with the 1948 Frank Borzage melodrama Moonrise. Also on tap is a virgin print of Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948), with Edward G. Robinson as a doomed clairvoyant. Jan. 29 brings back that sawed-off damsel of doom, Ida Lupino, in Woman in Hiding, but the co-bill is more exciting: Jeopardy (1953) is a 69-minute set-in-Mexico thriller. John Sturges directs a man-woman tussle between the one and only Barbara Stanwyck and sublime musclehead Ralph Meeker. (Richard von Busack)

One of the reliable pleasures of film noir is character actor Charles McGraw. He menaced a hapless diner chef in The Killers; McGraw's Moxie terrorized everyone in T-Men. McGraw took a starring turn in Narrow Margin with Marie Windsor but never broke through to leading-man status. Now, Alan K. Rode's Charles McGraw: Biography of a Film Noir Tough Guy (McFarland; $45 hardback) gives McGraw his due. Rode signs copies of his book on Jan. 30, 6–7pm, at the festival. After appearing in the stage version of Odets' Golden Boy, McGraw moved to Hollywood and played relentless thugs in several Anthony Mann noirs. Bedeviled by serious drinking problems, McGraw's career took a downward turn, although he did show up as the brutal gladiator trainer in Spartacus. He died in a bathroom accident, severing some veins with the broken glass of a shower door, in 1980. Rode captures McGraw's appeal: "His guttural rasp of a voice, reminiscent of broken china plates grating around in a burlap sack, was complemented by an intimidating, laserlike glare." He also makes noir fans salivate at a chance to see The Story of Molly X (Jan. 31 at the festival), starring June Havoc as a female gangster in prison, with McGraw as a police captain, and Mann's Border Incident, (shows Jan. 30), in which McGraw plays a scary rancher who tracks down immigrant workers: "A close-up of McGraw's craggy profile filling up the entire screen, illuminated by a flashlight in the Imperial Valley night, conjures up the notion of a film noir version of Mount Rushmore." (Michael S. Gant)

Movie Times NOIR CITY runs Jan. 25–Feb. 3 at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. See for schedule details.

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