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Area moviegoers, October isn’t just a time for horror. The (finally) cooler weather promises the return of another cinematic tradition, featuring private eyes, tough dames, and gorgeous black-and-white cinematography. Noir City DC (Oct. 11–24) is back at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, with some free screenings co-presented with the National Gallery of Art. The series offers a typically well-curated slate—courtesy of Eddie Muller and the Film Noir Foundation—of classics you’ve seen before and obscurities you’ve never heard of.
This year, film purists have more reason to celebrate: Many titles will be screened from 35mm prints, the analog format that will make you never want to watch another lousy transfer on YouTube ever again. While better-known films like Touch of Evil, Double Indemnity, Laura, and the noir-adjacent Psycho will be screened digitally, all of the titles we’ve previewed will be from celluloid. Also screening on film, but not previewed: the 1953 Robert Mitchum classic Angel Face and the 1956 Jayne Mansfield vehicle The Burglar.
Deadline—U.S.A. Directed by Richard Brooks This drama takes place in a milieu that may not seem conducive to the kind of existential dread common to film noir: the newspaper room. But in an age when long-running publications are getting shut down all over, it’s as relevant as ever. Iconic tough guy Humphrey Bogart stars as Ed Hutcheson, the crusading editor of the New York Day, whose owners want to stop its respected but money-losing presses for good. Here’s where the crime drama comes in—when the murder of a young woman leads to a local gangster (Martin Gabel), the Day is the only paper that dares stand up to his strong-arm tactics. Bogie can pull off this kind of role in his sleep, and he’s effective in what amounts to a more hard-boiled version of Capra-corn. And much like You Can’t Take it With You, you’ll wish the little guy could defeat the big bad corporation so easily in real life. More noir-adjacent than pure noir, this old-fashioned entertainment captures a dread that anyone who works in local journalism will find all too familiar.
Oct. 19 at 5 p.m., and Oct. 22 at 7:15 p.m. at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center. $13.
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Murder by ContractDirected by Irving LernerBefore Ben Casey made Vince Edwards a TV star, the Brooklyn-born actor played an ambitious hired gun in this taut, no-nonsense thriller that doubles as an indictment of the real estate market. Claude (Edwards) wants to buy a house, but it would take him years to save up enough money. Good thing for him he’s a cold-blooded killer, moving up from small-time hits in the Midwest to the big leagues in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, his target in the hills proves fidgety, and worse, a jinx. Perry Botkin’s guitar-heavy score makes this a kind of rock ‘n’ roll crime drama—you half expect Edwards to run pomade through his hair and put on a leather jacket. But the pulsing beat of this music doesn’t invoke sock hops as much as an agitated heart. The movie goes meta in its final act, a showdown that takes place on a movie set. Lerner began his movie career making documentaries for the anthropology department at Columbia University, which helps explain the cool, clinical eye he uses in this portrait of a killer.
Oct. 19 at 3 p.m., and Oct. 22 at 9:15 p.m. at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center. $13.
Phantom LadyDirected by Robert Siodmak Siodmak made at least two essential noirs, including the 1946 Hemingway adaptation The Killers. But in this moody mystery, he gives you something you don’t expect from the genre: the greatest drum solo in movie history. Ella Raines stars as a secretary who searches for an elusive female witness who can prove that her boss (Alan Curtis) didn’t commit murder. One of the keys to this puzzle is a jazz drummer played with bug-eyed intensity by legendary character actor Elisha Cook Jr., who appeared in everything from The Maltese Falcon to the sitcom Alf. Cook’s expressive, almost cartoon-like face reaches a fever pitch as he takes an incendiary solo that’s worth the price of admission.
Oct. 12 at 5:20 p.m. at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center. $13.
PushoverDirected by Richard QuineWhile Fred MacMurray went on to a long TV career playing the benign patriarch of My Three Sons, his square-jawed everyman was a regular in crime dramas where his father really didn’t know best. In this anxious thriller, MacMurray plays a police detective who’s supposed to keep tabs on a gangster’s girlfriend. But, since she’s played by Kim Novak, can you blame the detective if he falls for his target? This is one of the strongest titles in this year’s program. Director Richard Quine, who began his career as an actor in musicals like My Sister Eileen, makes his star-powered cast sweat, digging into the moral conflicts at the heart of the best noir.
Oct. 13 at 5:30 p.m. and Oct. 17 at 9:15 p.m. at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center. $13.
The Scarlet HourDirected by Michael Curtiz A collaboration between the director of Casablanca and a screenwriting team that included comedy director and Looney Tunes animator Frank Tashlin, this love triangle-heist movie might be better known if its leads packed more heat. Paulie (Carol Ohmart, whom you might remember from the lurid horror movie Spider Baby) is bored with her older husband (James Gregory). She hatches a scheme to intercept a gang of jewel thieves with her lover (Tom Tryon, who would go on to be a novelist). Director Michael Curtiz and his cast make the tangled plot simmer, but the film’s musical guests almost steal the show: Nat King Cole, and in her first film role, Broadway legend Elaine Stritch.
Oct. 20 at 7:30 p.m. at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center. $13.
Trapped Directed by Richard FleischerDecades before Richard Fleischer made Soylent Green, he directed this lean procedural starring a young Lloyd Bridges as a counterfeiter caught in the crosshairs of federal agents. The action begins like a documentary, laying out the scope and actions of the U.S. Treasury Department, which at the time was in charge of the Coast Guard. Feds cooperated with the production, allowing cameras to roll as real money was being printed, perhaps in the hopes it would be a recruitment tool. Trapped has only been available in a terrible transfer, so this new 35mm restoration will give viewers a chance to really take in Guy Roe’s gritty cinematography.
Oct. 13 at 3:30 p.m. at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center. Free.
Woman on the RunDirected by Norman FosterHow many times have you gone out to walk the dog and witnessed a gangland shooting? That’s what happens to struggling artist Frank (Ross Elliott). When Frank goes missing, his wife Eleanor (Ann Sheridan) figures he’s just running away from her, but the police straighten her out, and she starts looking for Frank with the help of a curious newspaper reporter (Dennis O’Keefe). If a crime drama reaches its thrilling conclusion at night in an amusement park, it’s bound to be good. This is quintessential noir, with artful shadows and hard-boiled dialogue and a disorienting carnival set piece, and you should definitely see it on the big screen.
Oct. 20 at 5 p.m. at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center. Free.