After a three-year “intermission,” Noir City: Chicago returns Friday through Sept. 1 at the Music Box Theatre with a lineup of killer B’s — a six-movie marathon of rarities — and an opening-night salute to neo-noir icon James Caan.
Turner Classic Movies host Eddie Muller and his partner in cinematic crime appreciation Alan K. Rode produce and program the traveling festival, which celebrates film noir, a movement born in the ’40s, with a fatalistic perspective and a visual style reflecting that pessimism. Muller, who helms the weekly TCM showcase “Noir Alley,” bills this edition as “Noir Alley Live.”
“I tried to pick films that haven’t been shown yet on TCM,” said Muller, who also founded the Bay Area-based Film Noir Foundation, which co-presents Noir City. “There are films that can be screened in theaters but can’t be shown on TV or cable networks like TCM because they are what’s called out of window — their broadcast rights are no longer available.”
Noir City: Chicago
When: Friday to Sept. 1
Where: Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport
Tickets: $9-$12 per film; passes $90 ($85, Music Box members)
For hard-core noir fans, this year’s main attraction has to be the 10-hour marathon Saturday of B-movie rarities, beginning with “Among the Living” (1941) at 1:30 p.m. and winding up at 10:15 p.m. with “The Argyle Secrets” (1948).
“The marathon is possible because these films are all relatively short, at 64 to 71 minutes each,” Muller said. “I originally wanted to do eight films, but cooler heads prevailed. I want to give noiristas a sense of triumph by getting through a marathon.”
As an added incentive, marathon attendees will receive a passport, to be punched for each film seen. Viewers completing the marathon will be eligible for a prize drawing.
“The Argyle Secrets,” written and directed by Cy Endfield, takes pride of place in the marathon because it’s the latest title restored by the Film Noir Foundation, along with its preservation partner, the UCLA Film & Television Archive. A specialist in politically themed thrillers, and a protégé of Orson Welles, Endfield fell victim to the House Committee on Un-American Activities and fled to England to avoid the blacklist.
“ ‘Argyle’ is a lighthearted B-movie that’s an ersatz ‘Maltese Falcon,’ but Endfield put in a serious subplot about World War II profiteers,” said Rode, a cinema historian and a charter director of the Film Noir Foundation. “It’s got a great supporting cast of future sitcom favorites such as John Banner [‘Hogan’s Heroes’] and Barbara Billingsley [‘Leave It to Beaver’].”
A sub-theme for this year’s Noir City is “They Tried to Warn Us,” with films taking on issues especially relevant today, such as power-crazed politicians (“All the King’s Men,” 1949), corrupt businessmen (“The Argyle Secrets”), serial killers (“The Sniper,” 1952) and police malfeasance — and abortion (“Detective Story,” 1951).
The James Caan tribute came together after the “Godfather” star died July 6 at age 82. Set and filmed in Chicago by director/co-writer Michael Mann in his feature-film debut, “Thief” (1981) gave Caan one of his best roles. “Most neo-noir fans know ‘Thief,’ but I was most psyched to screen ‘Flesh and Bone’ ,” Muller said. “It’s very much a noir, with a flashback story to a dark secret in a man’s life. It asks the perennial question: Are the sins of the father visited upon the son?”
The Music Box engagement marks the 12th installment of Noir City: Chicago, which had been shelved since 2019 due to the pandemic. “Chicago will be our the longest festival since COVID,” Muller said. “We did abbreviated versions of the San Francisco and Hollywood festivals earlier this year, but they were just long weekends.”
As usual, Muller and Rode will introduce each film, with Muller here Friday through Sunday and Rode from Monday to Sept. 1. “We’re glad to be back after the hiatus,” Rode said. “It will be great to see friends and fellow noiristas.”
Rode and Muller appreciate Chicago for being so into noir and its talismen such as cult writer Cornell Woolrich (with two films at the Music Box).
“We can’t program Noir City without [Woolrich] getting in there somehow,” Muller said. “It’s fun that people recognize this stuff now. You can’t say that about many festivals. Our audience understands this.”