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Festival of Film Noir

“Writers have no business kissing ass,” says the sharp-witted sage Albert Isaac (“Buzz”) Bezzerides, a founding father of film noir who is the symbolic parade marshall of this year’s Noirfest. Novelist and screenwriter, he is filmed going strong at age 97 in director Fay Lellios’ documentary The Long Haul of A.I. Bezzerides, whose premiere forms the beating heart of the series. In addition to Thieves’ Highway (1949), which Bezzerides adapted from his own novel, we’re offered a group of dazzlingly well-written, hard-boiled rarities from the ’40s and early ’50s, most of which can’t be found on DVD. The very titles are an evocative delight: Crime Wave, Beyond the Forest, Angel’s Flight, The Man Who Cheated Himself. Each is a must-see for the hardcore cineaste, but of particular interest are: Underworld USA (1961), by the original superhyphenate, writer-producer-director Samuel Fuller; Ruby Gentry (1952), directed by King Vidor and written by Silvia Richards (a.k.a. Mrs. Bezzerides); and Nobody Lives Forever (1946), an impeccable thriller written by W.R. Burnett and starring John Garfield. In each, the excellence of the writing forcefully gives rise to every other virtue. Fuller sets out to show, with all the hard-hitting energy of his origins in tabloid journalism, how crime is organized. Meanwhile, fate itself seems organized against Ruby Gentry (Jennifer Jones) — a strong, openly sexual climber born (where else?) on the fabled “wrong side of the tracks.” Condemned by circumstance, she angrily rebels against what is merely the human condition à la film noir. Garfield, by contrast, cheerfully accepts his possibly doomed fate as he falls in love with the woman he hopes to swindle. He takes his chances in life, eyes open, without histrionics. When the game turns against him, he refuses to kiss ass, and stands his ground without complaint — the perfect noir hero, a model for the rest of us to follow. (American Cinematheque at the Egyptian and Aero theaters; thru April 16. www.americancinematheque.com)

—F.X. Feeney

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