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Arts & Culture

Palm Springs Noir Festival kicks off 21st year this week

Columbia Pictures
Victor Mature and Diana Dors in a still from "The Long Haul" (1957). San Diego resident Victoria Mature will be introducing the movie at the Arthur Lyons Noir Film Festival, Oct. 21, 2021. The film stars her father, Victor Mature.

Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival showcases classics as well as lost gems newly restored

With Palm Springs as close a drive as Los Angeles, cinephiles may want to check out the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival happening this week.

Film noir is a term coined by French film critics to describe a style of cinema rooted in the hard-boiled crime fiction that emerged in the 1940s. It revealed a darkness and cynicism that challenged audiences with something new, a world where women used sex to get what they wanted, where betrayal and deceit are to be expected, and murder was a given. Classic examples are "The Maltese Falcon," "Out of the Past," "Double Indemnity" and "The Big Sleep" (this one plays Friday at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival).

Unlike many older films that can feel dated, noir remains contemporary because it's willing to look at the darker side of human nature and tackle themes that remain relevant today. And there are just some things about human nature that don't change like lust, greed and larceny.

"When you have people in situations who are doing something that they know is fundamentally wrong and they do it anyway, I think people identify with that," said Alan K. Rode, host and producer of the festival. "They identify with a good story, and they appreciate that. I think film noir is and will always be relevant because it's stories about people and what they do or in many cases, what they shouldn't do. I think it also identifies characters that may not live within the letter of the law, but they have their own personal code, their own personal standards, which I think we all do. So I think when people see these stories, they often identify with the characters and the decisions that they may or may not make, because, again, film noir is about people. It's about the human condition, a lot of times the dark side of the human condition. And I think that's just something that people naturally identify with."

Now in its 21st year, the festival was started by Arthur Lyons, a mystery writer and Palm Springs city councilman. The inaugural year was a single film screening but now the festival has grown and won international recognition for bringing out guests and for going so far as to restore films that have been out of circulation so that audiences can enjoy them in a darkened cinema where they belong.

Barry Sullivan and Shelley Winters are up to no good in "Playgirl."

Some of the rarities screening this year include "The Cruel Tower" (1956), "The High Wall" (1947), and "Playgirl" (1954).

"We're showing 'Playgirl' on Sunday morning, which has been vaulted for decades," Rode explained. "In 2020, we were able to show it at the Egyptian Theater and Universal actually made a DCP [a new digital copy for projection] for me, which is great. This is Shelley Winters unbound, by the way."

But sometimes running a noir festival takes as much detective work and diligence as a gumshoe in a noir story.

"As a charter director and treasurer of the Film Noir Foundation, we have restored many films, and we have a very close relationship with the UCLA Film and Television Archive," Rode said. "In fact, it's one of the films that we funded striking a print for because the Film Noir Foundation started around [TCM Noir Alley host] Eddie Muller's kitchen table in Alameda because we couldn't get the films that we wanted to show at the Noir City Festival. And so then the foundation kind of emanated from that."

Restoring these films can result in new digital copies being available for home video or projection or it can result in striking brand new and beautiful 35mm film prints, which many cinephiles crave. The Camelot Theater, the home of the festival, is equipped to show both 35mm films with reel-to-reel changeovers as well as state-of-the-art digital copies of films.

Plus, Rode added, "what other place you can go to see a film noir where you can go upstairs to the bar, take a cocktail, go down in an elevator and sit in the theater and watch Bogey and Bacall. It doesn't get any better than that."

Warner Brothers
Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart star in "The Big Sleep," screening at this year's Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival.

This year the festival will showcase two films starring Victor Mature, "Violent Saturday" and "The Long Haul." If you have attended some of the Film Geeks events that I have co-programmed then you might have enjoyed the introductions by Victor Mature's daughter Victoria, a San Diego resident, to his films. She will be at the festival this year to present "The Long Haul."

Rode is thrilled to welcome her back to the festival: "I had her there for 'Kiss of Death,' and she sang a little song. So we're going to come up with something fun for this screening with Victoria about her dad. And for those of you who haven't seen this movie, this is Victor Mature as an American GI married to a British war bride, and he becomes a lorry driver. And then, of course, gets caught up when the whole trucking industry is corrupt. And then Diana Dors emerges with the blow-dried hair and the bodice that looks like it's going to rupture. And she does her best to screw up Victor's marriage and so forth. And there is a phenomenal ending that, for those of your viewers who have seen the movie 'Sorcerer' will recall. So Victoria and I are going to do that together, and I think it's going to be a blast."

You can access the full schedule here.

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