Into the Darkness

The flickering shadows of the Redford Theatre auditorium were filled with mystery and intrigue on the weekend of September 23, 24, and 25, 2016 when the theater hosted a film noir festival.

The program was presented in conjunction with the Film Noir Foundation, whose founder Eddie Muller introduced each movie with insightful comments.

The film noir genre includes many undiscovered gems, because of the focus on style and atmosphere which allowed producers and directors to often economize with less prominent actors and actresses.

The Redford film noir festival helped visitors discover some of these obscure classics, with daily double bills that combined well-known movies with less publicized films.

I visited the festival on September 25 for a Sunday afternoon twin bill, which featured Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth in The Lady from Shanghai (1948) and an entertaining late career performance by Ann Sheridan in Woman on the Run (1950).

The best film noir movies create an atmosphere of fear and tension that skillfully help the viewer feel the emotions of the different characters. That experience is magnified when those films are projected on a big theater screen, and you’re sitting alone in the dark, captivated by these unique worlds of human conflict. Last year, I experienced this special thrill at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor (In the Shadows).

Redford Theatre, September 25, 2016

Redford Theatre, September 25, 2016

Highlights of the two Redford movies included many sharp and attractive closeups of Rita Hayworth and Ann Sheridan, who both played variations on the femme fatale that is a standard character in film noir. Also starring in the two films was the city of San Francisco, whose hilly layout and seaport variety of characters make it the ideal setting for film noir adventures.

Woman on the Run was available for screening because of the special efforts of the Film Noir Foundation, whose mission includes the restoration of film noir movies on 35-mm film.

The story of the restoration of Woman on the Run has almost as many twists and turns as a film noir movie, including the discovery by the FNF of prints of Woman on the Run in the vaults of Universal Pictures and the British Film Institute.

That diligent search paid off for Redford Theatre visitors when they watched Ann Sheridan journey her way through 1950 San Francisco in pursuit of her husband, who had gone into hiding after witnessing a gang-related murder.

The weekend began with a Friday night showing of The Killers (1946, Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner) and 99 River Street (1953, John Payne, Evelyn Keyes). On Saturday night, the Redford screened Double Indemnity (1944, Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, Edward G. Robinson) and The Prowler (1951, Van Heflin, Evelyn Keyes).

Stage comments on Sunday by Eddie Muller and Redford volunteer John Monaghan indicated that the festival would return in 2017, to once again plunge Redford audiences into the dark and exciting world of film noir.


The film noir festival was the culmination of several days of quality movie experiences in several historic theaters. This is the most active time of the year for alternative film theaters, and I had to make some tough decisions on what to see at each theater.

  • On Wednesday, September 21, I saw the Ron Howard documentary The Beatles: 8 Days a Week at the Michigan Theater. The movie focused on the live performances of The Beatles in Europe, America, and other places. The spaciousness of the Michigan helped the performances come to dramatic life. Before the movie, organist Andrew Rogers warmed up the crowd with a selection of Beatles tunes.
  • On Friday, September 23, the Detroit Film Theatre hosted a screening of the 1925 silent film Variety, by German director E.A. Dupont. The accompaniment was performed by the Alloy Orchestra, whose unique collection of instruments has been enhancing and promoting silent movies for 25 years. The orchestra has visited the DFT almost annually since 1995 (The Alloy Orchestra).
  • On Saturday, September 24, the Senate Theatre in Detroit hosted a screening of the 1927 silent Alfred Hitchcock movie The Lodger, which helped establish Hitchcock as a master of suspense. The accompaniment on the grand and expressive Wurlitzer organ was performed by the busy Andrew Rogers.

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Copyright © 2016 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.

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