Facebook Twitter

Film festival salutes the dark side of S.F.

SHARE Film festival salutes the dark side of S.F.

SAN FRANCISCO — Kim Novak takes a suicidal jump into the bay in "Vertigo." Sam Spade's right-hand man, Miles Archer, gets iced at Bush and Stockton in "Maltese Falcon."

Movie lovers around the globe know these scenes and associate them with San Francisco, one of the world's most-photographed cities. Hollywood has long celebrated the beauty, panache and cultural spirit of San Francisco — framing the city as a playground for romance, a bastion of social experimentation and bohemian lifestyle.

San Francisco has also served as the backdrop for a number of film-noir titles, many of which are included in "Noir City," a 10-day festival of hard-bitten crime thrillers, which began last Friday. Eddie Muller, an Alameda author and film noir expert, chose all 20 films, shown in 35mm prints.

Next to Los Angeles and possibly New York, Muller says, San Francisco was the setting for more film noirs than any other city. "Clearly, San Francisco had this flavor as a very mysterious city, and since film noir is pretty much an urban phenomenon, it's only right. It just works perfectly. Plus, it is a way for Hollywood filmmakers to do something exotic without having to travel too far to accomplish it."

Muller is the author of three books about film noir ("Dark City," "Dark City Dames" and "The Art of Noir"), as well as a series of film-noir novels that use his late father, San Francisco Examiner sportswriter Eddie Muller, as a model for the protagonist.

Muller says, it isn't "Lady From Shanghai" or another well-known title that captures San Francisco most potently, but "Woman on the Run." A rarely seen picture about a wife who teams up with a reporter to find her husband, Muller calls it "the crown jewel in the series."

"It's a great screenplay, a perfect example of a tight, 78-minute film noir that's suspenseful but also has a wonderful love story running underneath the surface. And it uses San Francisco brilliantly: it gets all around town (Wharf, Chinatown, City Hall, Playland) in a very creative way without overselling the city."

Also being shown during the festival is John Huston's "The Maltese Falcon" (1941), based on Dashiell Hammett's novel, which makes frequent references to the city but was filmed on a soundstage; "Dark Passage" (1948), in which Humphrey Bogart played a San Quentin escapee who hides out in an Art Deco building on Telegraph Hill; "Out of the Past" (1947), vintage film noir, shot on soundstages, with great direction by Jacques Tourneur, and Robert Mitchum as a detective who falls in love with the woman he's tracking; "Where Danger Lives," also with Mitchum as a sap in love with the wrong dame; Ann Sheridan as a black widow in "Nora Prentiss" (1948) and many others.