At the American Cinematheque’s eighth-annual dark passage through back alleys and febrile minds, a series of no-holds-barred double features will decide whether Los Angeles or New York is the most noir of noir cities. (Santa Monica plays the dark-horse contender at the Aero in a sidebar of films set in the beach city.) Call it hometown pride, but is there any doubt that Los Angeles reigns supreme as the most corrupt, most soul-crushing, most dream-devouring blight on the noir landscape? Please. It’s no contest. The first five minutes of Fred Zinnemann’s Act of Violence (1948), which kicks off the fest, gives ample evidence for why. After spilling from the innards of a Greyhound bus, a sweating, trench-coat clad Robert Ryan slouches across the sun-dappled street of a Los Angeles suburb, driven by vengeance, we learn, on a mission of murder. Somewhere a radio announcer describes the “warm and bright sunshine” of this typical California day. By the film’s end, Ryan’s target, Van Heflin’s successful architect, has been sucked from his Craftsman home into a vortex of Bunker Hill shadows. In Michael Curtiz’s The Breaking Point (1950), the slow rot of a Mexican port town seeps into the serenity of Newport Harbor as John Garfield’s financially strapped boat captain must choose between his wallet and his conscience. It’s such potent, ironic contrasts that put Los Angeles noirs over the top. New York noirs, on the other hand, live and die on the onerous uniformity of their grubby setting to strike a single note of urban entrapment and claustrophobia. Robert Siodmak nails it in Cry of the City (1948) as Richard Conte and Victor Mature play a crook and cop trading dazzling blows in tenements, subway stations and long, oppressive halls that never seem to end. Director John Sturges misses the mark in the Spencer Tracy courtroom drama The People Against O’Hara (1951), one of those films that always seems included in these noir fests more for padding than for its noir credentials. This year, however, there’s a lot more meat on the well-picked-over noir bones, be it from New York or Los Angeles, with an ample mix of rarities, including another Garfield vehicle, Nobody Lives Forever (1946), and classics, such as Double Indemnity and Sam Fuller’s The Crimson Kimono (1959). Noir City: Film Noir, Egyptian Theater, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; opens Thurs., April 12; thru May 2. Noir City: Ocean View, Aero Theater, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica; Wed.-Sun., April 18-22. (323) 466-FILM.
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