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Noir City Descends on the Music Box

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 10, 2011 4:00PM

Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake in "The Blue Dahlia"
Black as midnight on a moonless night. It's how Agent Cooper likes his coffee, and how we like our crime dramas. As we head into the dog days of summer, the Music Box cranks it up to 11 with the third edition of Noir City, unspooling some choice specimens of the genre.

The festival runs Aug. 12-18 and a whopping sixteen films are included in the lineup - all screening in 35mm prints, all promising the stripped-down violence, blunt drama, and chewy dialog that film noir lovers know so well. Like maple syrup on a stack of griddlecakes, Alan Ladd is all over this series. He stars in The Blue Dahlia, which features smoky-voiced dream girl Veronica Lake as well as a tangy original screenplay by Raymond Chandler. Like most noirs, this is one movie that doesn't waste any time getting started; more stuff happens in the first ten minutes than in the full running time of most other flicks. Ladd and Lake also appear in Dashiell Hammett's The Glass Key, an equally twisty tale of murder and corruption.

Those two titles happen to be available on video. But many others in the festival are completely MIA, which is what makes the work of the Film Noir Foundation in unearthing these gems so valuable. Among them is yet another Ladd movie, the newspaper yarn Chicago Deadline. Set on the South Side, Deadline USA from 1952, directed by Richard Brooks (In Cold Blood), stars Humphrey Bogart as a hardboiled newspaper editor. Other rarities include a pair of Broderick Crawford movies, The Mob and New York Confidential. Crawford is perhaps best known today for his Oscar-winning performance in All the King's Men, but he excelled in the kinds of juicy character roles film noir offered in abundance. Those film titles alone promise danger and excitement.

We'd be remiss if we didn't mention Brute Force, a prison picture starring Hume Cronyn as the most sadistic warden in cinema history, and the truly demented-sounding Among the Living. With all those goodies it's awfully hard to choose which ones to see. Luckily, you don't have to: festival passes are available for only $50, and there are double-feature and triple-feature tickets. So go ahead and dive right in. The water is dark, brackish, laced with poison, and absolutely wonderful.

Noir City: Chicago 3 runs August 12-18 at the Music Box