For many years, the Michigan Theater has helped area filmgoers make the slow, difficult transition from winter to spring with special Monday night classic film series. Recent series have include Charlie Chaplin in 2011 and Alfred Hitchcock in 2014.

These series become something to look forward to, as you count the weeks toward spring and summer. They help take the edge off of the beginning of the work week, and the other audience members that you keep noticing every week help give the series a community feeling.

This year, the Michigan stepped over to the dark side with a collection of film noir dramas that included many movies from the Golden Age of that genre in the 1940s and 1950s.

The Michigan also focused on the literary side of these films with film introductions and handouts about the book and magazine sources for the movies. Also on hand was a special table sponsored by Nicola’s Books where patrons could buy book versions of the mysterious dramas that had just enthralled them in the Michigan Theater.

The schedule included They Live By Night (1948) on March 23, 2015 and The Asphalt Jungle (1950) on March 30, 2015.

They Live By Night starred Cathy O’Donnell and Farley Granger, two actors who had more friendly personalities than you were used to seeing in film noir movies. But that played to their advantage as the audience struggled to avoid sympathizing with two people who were involved in criminal activities.

The Asphalt Jungle featured many familiar names, including Sterling Hayden, Jean Hagen, Sam Jaffe, James Whitmore, Louis Calhern, and Marilyn Monroe in one of her early roles.

Hagen was particularly interesting because her performance was two years before her great comedic role in Singin’ in the Rain. I gained more appreciation for her Singin’ in the Rain performance because of how she had to radically alter her personality from what people were used to seeing in her acting.

Marilyn Monroe played a small, but significant, role in The Asphalt Jungle, as Calhern’s mistress. It was similar to the role that she played in another 1950 movie, All About Eve, which screened at the Michigan last year and at the Redford Theatre earlier this year. It was part of her gradual rise to stardom in the 1950s.

The darkness and shadows of the main theater of the Michigan make that auditorium a particularly good place to see a film noir movie. You could feel the growing tension and mystery, in the privacy of the dimmed lights, but with the magnified impact of the big screen and speakers.

The 17-film series which ran from January 12 to April 27 also included modern film noir classics, including Blade Runner (1982), Blood Simple (1984), and a humorous end to the series—Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988).

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Copyright © 2015 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.


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