Traveling to the 2015 Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival

I recently had the pleasure of attending the 2015 Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival, held annually at the Camelot Theatres in Palm Springs, California.

The Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival is an intimate, relaxed setting providing an opportunity to chat with festival guests as well as fellow attendees. The movies were typically 75-95 minutes in length and spaced every three hours, beginning at 10:00 a.m., so unlike some other festivals, there was ample time to eat meals in between movies.

The Camelot is an ideal location; it's a spacious and comfortable venue with friendly staff and a huge screen. It's worth noting the Camelot provides considerably more leg room than the typical theater, a real plus when one is watching a dozen or so movies in a single weekend! There was a very nice-sized audience on hand; while not a complete sellout, each screening was well attended, with an enthused audience.

Although it was my first time at this festival, this was actually its sixteenth year. (And I had such a fantastic time I definitely want to attend again in the future.) Alan K. Rode of the Film Noir Foundation has acted as the festival's producer and host since founder Arthur Lyons died in 2008. He was ably assisted this year by Film Noir Foundation colleagues Eddie Muller and Foster Hirsch, with the three men taking turns introducing the festival's dozen movies.

I unfortunately had to miss the opening Thursday night screening of Miller's Crossing (1990), attended by actor Jon Polito, but by all accounts it was a terrific evening. I arrived in Palm Springs bright and early on Friday morning and didn't miss a single one of the eleven movies shown between Friday morning and Sunday afternoon. Talk about film noir heaven!

I'd previously seen most of the films at the festival, but the screenings were book ended by two first-time viewings for me, They Won't Believe Me (1947) and Thieves' Highway (1949).

They Won't Believe Me, which is not on DVD, was a most enjoyable film and a great way for me to start my festival experience. The film stars Robert Young in an atypical role as an unfaithful heel opposite three terrific actresses, Susan Hayward, Jane Greer, and Rita Johnson.

After lunch, the next film on the schedule was the starkly beautiful On Dangerous Ground (1951), starring Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino. I hadn't seen the film in years, and it was just as good as I remembered, with Ryan's performance as an anguished, angry police detective a beautiful portrait of a broken man. He's matched by Lupino as a blind woman living an isolated country life; some of their scenes together made my eyes mist since they are both such moving actors. As Alan Rode said in his introduction, this is 'one of Robert Ryan's greatest roles.'

Author J.R. Jones, author of the new biography The Lives of Robert Ryan, was interviewed by Alan Rode after the movie. Jones said it was a challenge to get Ryan 'on the page' as he was very private. He didn't live a 'Hollywood' lifestyle, living a quiet life in North Hollywood where he was involved in activities outside of acting, such as the founding of the Oakwood School. Ryan's children told the author their father was 'hard to read,' and those who knew Ryan loved him yet said they didn't know him well.

The next film of the day was a very stylish film I love, The Big Clock (1948), starring Ray Milland, Maureen O'Sullivan, and Charles Laughton. Foster Hirsch said in his introduction The Big Clock is about 'control and what will happen if people lose it.' He also pointed out the interesting aspect that the characters are in a sterile, meticulously designed environment, dominated by the title clock, yet they 'can't regulate themselves.'

The final film that day was Dan Duryea in the tragic Chicago Calling (1951), described by Alan Rode as 'the saddest movie you'll ever see.' Duryea is remarkable, and the film is a fascinating record of the decrepit Bunker Hill area of Los Angeles. Duryea didn't take a salary for the film, working solely for a percentage of the profits. There was no profit, so he made nothing, but he said he was glad he'd done it because the role 'made my wife cry,' which he said was the 'highest compliment' he could receive from someone whose opinion he so respected.

A highlight of the festival was Alan Rode's interview with Gordon Gebert, who had an impressive career as a child actor, including a large role opposite Duryea in Chicago Calling.

Gebert said Duryea was clearly 'a father' and had 'infinite patience.' He said the experience filming Chicago Calling in Downtown Los Angeles, along with a trip to San Francisco to film The House on Telegraph Hill (1951), helped awaken his interest in architecture and building. Gebert left acting before he turned 20 and obtained a Bachelor's degree in architecture from MIT and a Master's from Princeton. He is now a Professor of Architecture at City College of New York.

Saturday was another four-film day, starting with Steve Cochran and Ruth Roman in Tomorrow is Another Day (1951). This film has my favorite Steve Cochran performance; as Eddie Muller said in his introduction, Cochran 'is incredibly great in this.' Cochran's combination of bad guy toughness with naivete and vulnerability makes his performance a real winner.

The second film of the day was Joseph Losey's 'reimagining' of M (1951), which sadly is not on DVD. The movie stars David Wayne, and what Alan Rode described as a 'Hall of Fame' of character actors. Although I feel the film's energy peters out in the final 10 minutes or so, the story of a bunch of bad guys hunting a child killer is extremely compelling, with a fantastic sequence where the criminal underworld converges on L.A.'s Bradbury Building to nab the murderer.

The screening of M was followed by an interview with cast member Norman Lloyd, which was all the more remarkable given that Lloyd turned a century old last November. Lloyd is a treasure, with an endless supply of great stories to tell. Lloyd's philosophy of living is 'You've got to look ahead. If you don't look ahead, you're dead. You can't sit back and remember the past. You have to keep working.'

It was hard to top that experience, but there was more to come! Eddie Muller next introduced Born to Kill (1947), a noir favorite of mine starring Lawrence Tierney and Claire Trevor.

Muller said the James Gunn novel on which the film was based is 'depraved' and that it's fascinating to see what Hollywood was able to do with the story within the confines of the Production Code. He also mentioned it's interesting that such an 'off the charts' dark movie was directed by Robert Wise, otherwise known as a 'genteel' personality.

Finally, it was time for the last film of the day, with Foster Hirsch introducing Richard Widmark and Paul Douglas in Panic in the Streets (1950), directed by Elia Kazan. I was glad to revisit Panic after not having seen it in many years. It's a most engrossing film, as Widmark and Douglas try to track down criminals before they can spread a deadly disease all over New Orleans. The print was absolutely pristine and a real joy to watch.

There were three films shown on Sunday, May 17th, rather than four, with the final 4:00 p.m. screening making it easy for those of us in driving distance to arrive home at a reasonable hour.

The first showing of the day was Abandoned (1949), a not-on-DVD treasure starring Dennis O'Keefe, Gale Storm, Jeff Chandler, and Raymond Burr. O'Keefe plays a reporter who joins Storm in the hunt for her missing sister, a woman who's recently given birth out of wedlock. As they begin to uncover a baby adoption ring, the local D.A. (Chandler) joins them in hunting down the crooks, including Burr.

Abandoned has marvelous L.A. locations, filmed by William Daniels, and some absolutely terrific William Bowers dialogue, delivered with flare by O'Keefe. At one point, O'Keefe tells Burr, 'You going legitimate is like a vulture going vegetarian,' which received a particularly delighted reaction from the audience. The gorgeous Universal print we watched is, sadly, the only 35mm archival print of the film in existence.

Hangover Square (1945) is what some term a 'gothic noir' or 'gaslight noir,' a period piece starring Laird Cregar, Linda Darnell, and George Sanders. The gleaming print, showing off the superb black and white cinematography of Joseph LaShelle, added to my enjoyment.

After the film Alan Rode interviewed Stephen C. Smith, author of A Heart at Fire's Center: The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann. Smith described Herrmann as 'difficult but usually right.' I was interested to learn Herrmann was never a staff composer, always freelancing, and he did his own orchestrations. Herrmann's view: 'A composer not doing his own orchestrations is like a painter not choosing the colors.'

The last film of the day, Thieves' Highway (1949), was a first-time viewing for me. I thoroughly enjoyed this superbly acted film, directed by Jules Dassin and starring Richard Conte, Millard Mitchell, and Lee J. Cobb.

A closing note: I hadn't been to Palm Springs in more years than I can remember, and I was pleasantly surprised to realize how compactly located everything was; the theatre, my hotel, and a variety of restaurants were all within a five-minute drive of each other. Prospective attendees might also note Palm Springs International Airport is just a mile and a half away from the Camelot.

The combination of plenty of movies at a relaxed pace in a lovely desert setting made this festival an ideal 'classic movie getaway' weekend. I highly recommend the Arthur Lyons Film Festival; it's a wonderful experience, and I hope to meet more fellow classic film fans there in 2016!

Laura Grieve is a lifelong film enthusiast whose thoughts on classic films, Disney, and other topics can be found at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings, established in 2005.