Brit Noir at Film Forum

John Crawford in Val GuestÕs HELL IS A CITY (1959). Courtesy PhoI once had a smug definition of the Film Noir genre.  I used to say a movie was a good example of Film Noir if I could not understand it.  Granted some Film Noirs are exercises in style rather than story-telling.  Today though, Film Noir is one of my favorite genres.  What happened?  Several years ago, during a period of under-employment, I spent a lot of time at a Film Forum series on Film Noir.  My “noir” horizons were greatly expanded.   Now I get it, although I still have trouble following “The Big Sleep”.  Among many great films I discovered one of my favorite movies, “Night and the City” (1950),  to be included in Film Forum’s new “Brit Noir” series, which runs from August 7 – September 3. 

What is the difference between American Film Noir and British Film Noir? Well if I was more scholarly I would expound on the fact that American Film Noir was influenced by German expressionism while British Film Noir was influenced by the French poetic realist cinema of the 1930s.  In plain English though, this series has some really interesting films.  Film Forum Repertory Program Director Bruce Goldstein said, “With the exception of a few well-known classics, British Film Noir is an extraordinary area of discovery for American cinephiles.  We’ve imported about a third of the prints from the U.K., and the series includes many titles that have rarely surfaced here in theatres or on video, television or DVD.”

Space does not permit me to review all 42 films in the series but highlights include:

“Night and the City” (1950) is the engrossing, hard hitting story of Harry Fabian, a small time hustler bent on taking over the Soho London wrestling circuit.  Richard Widmark plays Fabian with just the right combination of charm, desperation and vulnerability.  He co-stars with Gene Tierney, Googie Withers and a supporting cast of great British character actors.  Directed by American Jules Dassin, after being black listed here.

“Hell is a City” (1959) is a gritty police drama beautifully photographed in anamorphic black and white and shot on location in Manchester. The story is well paced with crisp dialogue, held together with a zippy, urban-sounding jazz score by Stanley Black.  It is a cops and robbers drama with real psychological insight into the main character, Inspector Martineau (Stanley Baker), who in addition to trying to solve a murder, has to deal with personal troubles at home and on the job.

“Victim” (1961) could have slipped into “movie of the week” social message mode about Britain’s anti-gay laws.  Instead it intelligently frames its (progressive for the time) social criticism in the form of a compelling thriller and character study.

I know that my “noir” horizons will be further expanded by Film Forum’s “Brit Noir” series, as long that it does not interfere too much with my day job.  Considering Film Forum’s low admission of only $6.00 for members, plus the fact that most of the programs are double features, this is a screaming deal for cinephiles, unemployed “noir” fans and those just feeling the financial pinch.

“Brit Noir,” a four-week film festival runs at Film Forum, 209 W. Houston Street, from August 7 through September 3.


About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on July 30, 2009, in Film Forum, Film Noir. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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