Media oftentimes has an awkward relationship with other forms of media, but when celluloid documents pulp, it’s hard to lose. Such was the case for the last week at the Noir City Film Fest at the Castro Theatre in San Francsico. All old movies about the newspaper industry in a fitting, timely program curated by Noir City founder Eddie Muller, who introduced each film with his comfortable wit and contagious appreciation. Not like the crowd needed any needling: these films were outstanding. Most of them, sadly, are unavailable on DVD.
I joined the sold-out crowd for the opening double feature. Deadline U.S.A. isn’t on DVD and it’s a crying shame; Bogart as the tough-as-nails newspaper editor who refuses to see his paper sold to the tabloid without a fight is unbelievable. Muller mentioned seeing the film when he was a kid; his dad, he said, was a reporter, and the end of Deadline U.S.A. is one of the few times he saw his dad cry. It encapsulates everything that we hope newspapers truly used to be, and everything that we lament that they’re not. Some bootlegs of it can be found for sale online.Scandal Sheet showed next, a dark, gripping tale of ink and murder. A circulation-obsessed editor accidentally kills his former girlfriend and tries to cover it up; his reporters, meanwhile, pick up some suspicious evidence from the crime scene and ask to pursue it. A harrowing, tense film, as the editor tries to evade his own writers while watching his readership climb because of the juicy story. You can guess how it ends.
I woke up the next morning unable to do anything but hop in the car and drive back down to the city for more. Unsurprisingly, the line was around the block again. Chicago Deadline brought Alan Ladd and Donna Reed together on the only known print of the film in existence; Slightly Scarlet closed the night with two redhead bombshells, Arlene Dahl and Rhonda Fleming; but it was the film in the middle, Wicked as They Come, which shined, with Dahl as a kleptomaniacal, nymphomaniacal rung-climber. Dahl herself made a special appearance and sat down for an interview with Muller afterwards to dish the dirt on Errol Flynn, Clark Gable and John F. Kennedy, whom she dated at one point, long before his presidency. She called him “Jack.” It was sweet.
It was hard to stay away for the rest of the week, especially with titles like Ace in the Hole, The Big Clock, and The Sweet Smell of Success on the big screen, all three of them incredible movies about newspapers and publishing (they’re on DVD, at least). Muller did a fantastic enough job picking the films last year with titles like Gun Crazy, The 3rd Voice, and The Face Behind the Mask, but by this year offering a cinematic salve for the struggling print newspaper business, he’s shown acumen and heart. The Noir City Film Fest is a treasure; here’s to next year.