After attending one film at Noir City Chicago 2018, I made it a personal mission to catch more of these films during the next iteration of the festival. During my initial sampling of the festival in 2018, I delighted in the “classy As and trashy Bs” format in addition to its focus on noir in the 1940s. As always, the enthusiasm of an audience and the communal experience of enjoying a film at the Music Box Theatre supplemented my enjoyment of The Spiritualist (1948), also known as The Amazing Mr. X. I was also able to snap a photo with Alan K. Rode after the show.
This year, I decided to support both the Music Box Theatre and the Film Noir Foundation by attending the Noir City Chicago 2019 and becoming a member of both groups. I have been a longtime fan of the Music Box, particularly when they partnered with TCM as part of the former Road to Hollywood series. That series allowed me the incredible opportunity to be in the same space as Jane Powell, Dickie Moore, Robert Osborne, Mitzi Gaynor, and so many more. While the Road to Hollywood series no longer continues, the Music Box stands as a beloved Chicago venue for classic and current films. Though noirs are still somewhat new to me, I am an archivist and preservationist who is always eager to champion the restoration and preservation of our cinematic heritage.
This year, I was able to attend three of the seven days of the festival and am happy to share this experience through some articles.
In a Lonely Place (1950):
This year, Noir City Chicago emphasized noirs of the 1950s, launching the festival with a screening of In a Lonely Place. The film was introduced by current Noir Alley Host and TCM Host Eddie Muller as one of his favorite films.
“I consider this to be the most mature and adult crime thriller,” said Muller. More over, the film was based on a book with a fascinating depiction of the male psyche and written by a woman. Her characters come to life in the film through the performances of major studio stars, Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame.
“This is the most self-revelatory performance in Humphrey Bogart’s career,” said Muller. “He is essentially playing himself in this movie.”
While there is much to be examined in this film, it also contains an interesting shift in terms of which character in the story is the protagonist and which is the antagonist. Throughout the film, Bogart’s character is complex and not necessarily credible in the eyes of the audience. As the film continues, there is one moment during which there is a clear shift from his character being portrayed as the protagonist to an antagonist.
The File on Thelma Jordon (1950):
Noir City Chicago typically offers an double feature to its attendees. After the screening of In a Lonely Place, the next film was The File on Thelma Jordon, starring Barbara Stanwyck and Wendell Corey.
For me, Stanwyck is one of the top women of film noir, in addition to being an actress who demonstrated her talents across a wide breadth of film genres. I immediately think of her in Double Indemnity (1944) and her iconic performance in the film and was excited to view her work in another film noir role. Six years after Double Indemnity, Stanwyck continued to be sheer perfection in noir.
As is typical of film noir, there is a clear pessimism to this film as relationships begin to intertwine–for better or worse–and various truths and deceptions surrounding the key characters are brought to light. The story is full of twists and turns, in addition to a jarring end, and proved to be a worthy follow-up to the opening film of the night.
After a strong start to the film festival, I enjoyed meeting with fellow TCM Backlot members and Muller. It was clear that I was not alone in my enthusiasm for the upcoming days of the festival, and I was ready to continue broadening my knowledge of film noir in the following days.