ANN ARBOR - Is film noir a genre or a style? This is a debate that has raged among film fans for many years and was even a topic of discussion in my Eastern Michigan days in the film studies major. If memory serves, we came down on the style side of the argument, with our defense being that the genre itself is actually the detective genre, and noir was a style imposed on detective movies, which originated from German Expressionist films. Has the film nerd in me emerged? Well you too can have this debate among fellow cinephiles and a famous TCM host when the Michigan Theater kicks off its "Fatally Yours" film noir series on Sept. 21.
Kicking off this genre and style blending series will be Orson Welles’ "The Lady From Shanghai" at 7 p.m., with an introduction and post-film discussion by Eddie Muller, the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) host of "Noir Alley," as well as the president and founder of the Film Noir Foundation.
In addition to his work on TCM, Muller is a writer, filmmaker and noted noir historian. His books include "Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir," "Dark City Dames: The Wicked Women of Film Noir" and "The Art of Noir: Posters and Graphics from the Classic Film Noir Era." His work has earned him the nickname “The Czar of Noir.”
If you're new to film noir, are a longtime fan, or are simply curious, "The Lady From Shanghai" is a great introduction to this style of filmmaker and Muller is the perfect host to give you all of the interesting tidbits you need. But the series doesn't end there.
Four additional films will be shown on Mondays beginning Sept. 24 with "Double Indemnity," starring Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck. Each film has been handpicked by the programming team and is considered a classic in the film noir genre, while at the same time offering interesting takes on the femme fatale archetype, according to the Michigan Theater.
“I wanted to show different variations on the femme fatale,” said programmer Nick Alderink, who spearheaded the series. “There are so many noir films that use the woman with the smoking gun, but these films -- they don’t all play on the same tropes.”
Alderink also feels that now more than ever is an appropriate time to revisit these films. “There is something oddly relevant in movies of the 1940s at the beginning of the baby boom, when America was seemingly at its economic peak, that the most popular movies of the time were about the destruction of men at the hands of women. These men were coming home from war with murder in their heads to find empowered women -- and this is how it showed up on screen.”
This is not the first time that the Michigan Theater has hosted a set of film noir movies. It was quite successful in 2015, which was one factor in creating the "Fatally Yours" series. “Our audience clearly loves film noir, and for good reason,” Alderink said. “The films we’ve selected are all adapted from written works, and the literary nature of them is extremely evident in how the characters converse with each other.”
If you're interested in learning more about film noir, the series begins Sept. 21 with the aforementioned "The Lady From Shanghai" and concludes on Oct. 15 with "Gun Crazy." The full list of films and dates can be found below.
Friday, Sept. 21 at 7 p.m.
"The Lady From Shanghai" (1942)
Featuring an introduction and post-film discussion from TCM’s Eddie Muller
A seaman becomes involved in a complex murder plot when he is hired to work on a yacht. He soon finds himself implicated in the murder, despite his innocence. The film is best remembered for its climax “hall of mirrors” scene with a shoot out amidst shards of shattering glass. Directed by and starring Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth.
Monday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m.
"Double Indemnity" (1944)
In this classic film noir, insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) gets roped into a murderous scheme when he falls for the sensual Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), who is intent on killing her husband (Tom Powers) and living off the fraudulent accidental death claim. Prompted by the late Mr. Dietrichson’s daughter, Lola (Jean Heather), insurance investigator Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) looks into the case, and gradually begins to uncover the sinister truth.
Monday, Oct. 1 at 7 p.m.
"Mildred Pierce" (1945)
When Mildred Pierce’s (Joan Crawford) wealthy husband leaves her for another woman, Mildred decides to raise her two daughters on her own. Despite Mildred’s financial successes in the restaurant business, her oldest daughter, Veda (Ann Blyth), resents her mother for degrading their social status. In the midst of a police investigation after the death of her second husband (Zachary Scott), Mildred must evaluate her own freedom and her complicated relationship with her daughter.
Monday, Oct. 8 at 7 p.m.
In one of the most celebrated 1940s film noirs, Manhattan detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) investigates the murder of Madison Avenue executive Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney) in her fashionable apartment. On the trail of her murderer, McPherson quizzes Laura’s arrogant best friend, gossip columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) and her comparatively mild fiancé, Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price). As the detective grows obsessed with the case, he finds himself falling in love with the dead woman.
Monday, Oct. 15 at 7 p.m.
"Gun Crazy" (1950)
When gun-obsessed pacifist Bart Tare (John Dall) witnesses expert shooter Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins) demonstrate her firearm prowess at a carnival one night, it’s love at first sight. Aimless Bart joins the traveling show and begins a romance with Annie, but her dangerously rebellious spirit soon gets them both fired. After eloping, the young lovers embark on an armed robbery spree, managing to elude the authorities until Annie insists on pulling one last job.
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