Film Noir Festival Features Restorations Sponsored by the HFPA

by Yoram Kahana April 22, 2016

The longest-running film noir festival in Los Angeles returns to the Egyptian Theatre, anchored by movies that were restored with funds provided by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. The Film Noir Foundation's Noir City festival  returned to Hollywood for its 17th annual edition and both the opening and the closing of the festival featured HFPA-funded restorations.

Opening night, on April 15th, celebrated the Southern California premiere of Los Tallos Amargos (The Bitter Stems, 1956), an Argentinian noir that was almost lost until rescued last year via a restoration funded by the Film Noir Foundation with assistance from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s charitable trust, a collaboration that, says Alan Rode, the Noir Foundation's Director-Treasurer "underscores organizational synergy in film preservation (for a) vitally significant ‘lost’ film in the history of international noir cinema" . 

Los Tallos Amargos sold out the main auditorium of the storied Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Boulevard (also a grantee of the HFPA). The packed theater was thrilled by the Argentine masterpiece – which now includes English subtitles. Directed by Fernando Ayala, “Los Tallos Amargos has been compared with the best work of Alfred Hitchcock" said Rode in an interview,  "and, in 2000, American Cinematographer Magazine placed the film at #49 on its list of “Best Photographed Films of All-Time.”

The film won the Silver Condor—the Argentine Film Critics Association award for the nation’s best film—in 1957, with Best Director honors going to Ayala.The score is by the legendary Ástor Piazzolla. "Despite these accolades and pedigree," said Rode, “a 35mm print has not been available for decades, and the film is virtually unknown outside Argentina. With the FNF's restoration – thanks in part to funding provided by The HFPA Trust, Los Tallos Amargos is being returned to its rightful place in cinema history."

The American Cinematheque, who co-produces the NOIR CITY: Hollywood festival with the Film Noir Foundation, hosted a reception after the restoration’s screening. The Egyptian theater courtyard was decked out with vintage 1940s police cars. Movie goers, many of them dressed up in period film noir finery, were invited to pose with costumed cops and gangsters evoking the noir era. Los Angeles Argentinian merchants provided delicacies from the home country - wines, empanadas and dulce de leche sweets to all.

Kevin Thomas, the retired film reviewer of the Los Angeles Times told “I thought the opening night went smoothly and was lots of fun. I loved Bitter Stems and hearing how complicated it was to assemble and restore it, and the HFPA’s contributions to its resurrection. HFPA’s ongoing support of the Film Noir Foundation is not only admirable but invaluable."

The festival featured daily double bills, pairing classic noirs such as director Michael Curtiz's Young Man With A Horn (1950), with Kirk Douglas as the star-crossed jazz trumpeter and the women in his life, Lauren Bacall and Doris Day, and John Cromwell's Dead Reckoning, (1947), with Humphrey  Bogart as a war vet in search of his disappeared buddy in steamy Florida. Anthony Mann's Side Street,(1949), with Farley Granger as the naive postman stealing cash from a crooked  lawyer's office and running away from the cops and the gangsters or Joseph Pevney's Meet Danny Wilson (1952), with hot-tempered singer Frank Sinatra, his heart of gold chanteuse girlfriend (Shelly Winters) and gangster Raymond Burr pursuing them both.  

The festival will end this Sunday, April 24 with another restoration funded by the HFPA, Too Late For Tears (1949), with Lizabeth Scott, Dan Duryea, Arthur Kennedy and a bag-full of ill gotten cash dropped on Mulholland Drive. This 2014 restoration, processed by the UCLA Film and television Archives, will close the Noir City 2016 festival with a screening and a reception, as a celebration of its recent release on DVD/Blu Ray.