Noir Festival in Palm Springs Mixes Classics, Restorations for Film Buffs Who ‘Live by Night’

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The Palm Springs area will live up to its reputation for seediness under the cover of never-ending nights — irony intended — as the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival returns to town for its 22nd annual marathon of vintage crime dramas this weekend. Leonard Maltin and TCM “Noir Alley” host Eddie Muller will be among the guest hosts joining festival curator Alan K. Rode for a four-day deep dive into the dark that kicks off Thursday night with the 1949 Nicholas Ray film whose title pretty much says it all about the genre being celebrated: “They Live by Night.”

That opening night will be preceded Wednesday by a fundraising performance by frequent festival guest Victoria Mature, daughter of Hollywood golden-age icon Victor Mature, dubbed “Victoria/Victor Mature Cabaret, an Evening of Memories and Music,” to be held, as with the festival proper, at the Palm Springs Cultural Center. Mature will also be on hand Sunday afternoon to present her father’s work in the festival’s penultimate film, 1941’s “I Wake Up Screaming” (speaking of quintessential noir titles).

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Rode brought the festival back last fall outside its usual May time slot to get things back on track after sitting out 2020 due to the pandemic, but getting back on pace in springtime this year — shortly after he also co-hosts, with Muller, the annual Noir City festival in Hollywood — represents a return to normalcy, to the extend that anyone wants to use the word “normal” in conjunction with such a belovedly twisted genre.

“It’s a classic film paradise, and I am so gratified that TCM renewed its sponsorship for 2022,” says Rode, speaking of the network that came on board officially for the first time last fall. (Rode, the author of “Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film,” was also a presenter at the just-revived TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood last month.)

“Back in October we were missing a percentage of our audience because of COVID. We are now back in our usual mid-May time slot and I am confident that the loyal Coachella Valley film fans — along with those from L.A., San Diego and the rest of SoCal and beyond, who have supported this festival for 22 incredible years — will turn out this week at the Palm Springs Cultural Center. The Cultural Center [formerly the Camelot Theaters] is the best place I know to watch a movie. Three screens (we’re in the big house), two bars, a restaurant and an elevator to the bar and restaurant upstairs makes for a relaxing environment to watch these classic films in the way they were designed to be seen. People can come out and have a martini to watch Kirk, Burt, Liz, Gene Tierney, Eleanor Parker and all the rest.”

Maltin, who just received a lifetime achievement award from the TCM Festival, will be the special guest opening night and personally selected “They Live by Night.” “He and Alice are personal friends,” says Rode. “I’ve invited them for several years and I’m delighted that it worked out so both of them could attend this year. Leonard invented the now-often used term ‘film historian,’ as he has forgotten what many knowledgable people know about film history. He and Alice will be there all weekend.” Besides Maltin, Mature and Muller, who traditionally comes out to support his Film Noir Foundation cohort with several introductions, Rode is also promising “a special guest who worked with Orson Welles” to introduce “Touch of Evil” (to be seen in the originally released theatrical cut, which Rode thinks is superior).

Gene Tierney in “Leave Her to Heaven”
Gene Tierney in “Leave Her to Heaven”

While Noir City in Hollywood tends to focus primarily on lesser-seen films and obscurities, the Arthur Lyons Festival in Palm Springs provides a fairly even mixture of films that are probably well-familiar to noir buffs and the restorations that are a big part of the Noir Foundations raison d’etre. As usual with the festival, a good number of the 12 films will be 35mm prints.

“I seeded the film programming this year with some classics including ‘Phantom Lady,’ ‘Leave Her to Heaven’ and ‘Detective Story’ that I’ve never shown in Palm Springs before,” Rode says. “The notion that film noir is all about low budget ‘B’ movies is a myth. ‘Leave Her to Heaven’ (with Gene Tierney, pictured above) was the second-biggest box office hit of 1945 next to ‘The Bells of St. Mary’s'” (and a fairly rare color entry in what would eventually be known as a genre, if it wasn’t yet identified by its future tag at the time.

“Noir was mainstream entertainment in Hollywood after WWII ,and I wanted to put some of those best movies on display, along with some great B noirs like ‘The Guilty’ and ‘The Argyle Secrets,’ both restored by the Film Noir Foundation.”

Among the lineup is “I Walk Alone” (which is something one does before waking up screaming), the first of five films that Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster made together, joined in this instance by noir stalwart Lizabeth Scott (pictured, top).

The full schedule of films can be found here. After opening night, the programming for Friday and Saturday features a healthy four films a day, with three to wrap up the festival on Sunday. Tickets are $14.50 for individual screenings, $149 for a weekend-long festival pass including opening night party, and $45-55 for Wednesday’s Victoria Mature pre-festival performance.

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