Original publication: May 15, 2014
(This year’s Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs, CA will be held May 14 to May 17, 2015. I will be attending.)
This past week Palm Springs where I live hosted yet another one of its fabulous film festivals: The Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival. This annual film lovers get together was founded fifteen years ago by the late Arthur Lyons, a lover of black and white films of the 1940s and early 1950s. The Film Noir Foundation has over the years chased down many of these largely-ignored films and returned them to newly restored 35mm prints.
Watching these great films of the past on the big screen is not only an appreciation multiplier but exactly how their creators had intended them to be seen. The festival itself is a unique assemblage of venerable stars, film biographers, fans dressed in era costumes and a general public all sharing their insights and recollections in a collaborative celebration of classic films.
The term Film Noir was coined by French critics to describe a type of film that is characterized by its dark, somber tone and a cynical, pessimistic mood. Literally meaning dark or black film, the term is derived from roman noir, a black or dark novel. Specifically, film noir describes those Hollywood films of the 40s and early 50s which portray the dark and gloomy side of life and many times focus on the underworld of crime and corruption. These films have heroes as well as villains who are cynical, disillusioned and often insecure losers. In terms of style and technique, the film noir basically abounds with night scenes, both interior and exterior, with sets that suggest dingy realism and with lighting that emphasizes deep shadows and accents a mood of fatalism.
Some of the film noir movies which showed this past week were The Window, Roadblock, Too Late for Tears, Sunset Boulevard, Sorry, Wrong Number, The Killers, Out of the Past and Laura.
Stars who attended were Barbara Hale (The Window), Nancy Olsen (Sunset Boulevard) and Terry Moore (Shack Out on 101.)
I attended opening night with the showing of The Window starring Barbara Hale. This film was made in 1948 but was held up for release by its producer Howard Hughes for nearly two years. I had never heard of the film but like the rest of the audience found it excellent. It too benefitted from a restored print courtesy of The Film Noir Foundation. The Window also starred Arthur Kennedy, Bobby Driscoll, Ruth Roman and Paul Steward.
After the showing of the film, Barbara Hale was brought from the audience to the stage. She is a very pretty 93 year-old who is witty, charming and full of life. She discussed the film as well as her major career as Della Street of the Perry Mason series. She told the audience that she had not seen The Window in fifty-five years. She also said that she had no idea why Howard Hughes held up the release of the film. She noted that Mr. Hughes never interfered with films while they were being made. He apparently did that after they were completed by rarely releasing them promptly.
She spoke of Bobby Driscoll, the young actor who actually carried the film as he was on screen almost constantly. The credits said he appeared by special permission of Walt Disney. He had appeared in many Disney films including Song of the South. During the Q and A that followed, one audience member stood and said he had seen this film when he was a small boy and that he had developed a big crush on Bobby Driscoll. He wondered what had happened to him. She said it hurt her to relate that he had a very sad life, having been unable to find adequate work once he was an adult. He had overdosed on drugs in his early twenties and died. She added that for his role in The Window he had received a special Oscar for a juvenile performance.
Barbara spoke of Raymond Burr and her 9 years with that show. She said he was a practical joker and she never knew what trick he was going to play next. Several times she would come to work and find that her dressing room had been mysteriously painted a very strange color or that the floor had been covered with raw eggs which she stepped on in the dark. She also recounted that Earl Stanley Gardner who was the creator of the Perry Mason show could be difficult at times. Once she had to redo a scene because she leaned on Perry’s desk. He said he would never allow his secretary that liberty so the scene was done again.
Barbara was extremely gracious and seemed much younger than her 93 years. She spoke of her wonderful 36 years of marriage to actor Bill Williams and their son actor William Katt.
How amazing that one can go to an event like this Film Noir Film Festival and hook up with the past in such a splendid manner. I spoke with Barbara Hale afterwards and she couldn’t have been sweeter or nicer. What an evening. There was an opening night party to boot and all the good food and drink rounded out a perfect evening spent in the past.