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November 19, 2009

November Is So Noir

Big-sleep If I had 16 hours to spend in Montpelier this weekend, you would find me at the Savoy Theater's annual Noir November mini-fest. This Saturday and Sunday at the Savoy, you can watch classic films noirs (as the French call 'em) at 10 a.m., noon, 2 and 4 — for free.

First there's The Killers, starring Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner (va-va-voom!). Then Orson Welles' Touch of Evil. Then Rififi, the famous '50s heist movie that influenced later stylish flicks like Reservoir Dogs. Saturday ends with The Big Sleep, featuring Bogie, Bacall, Raymond Chandler's immortal dialogue, and a plot so tangled that the screenwriters (who included William Faulkner) asked the author to explain it, please. (Chandler wrote to a friend, "They sent me a wire... asking me, and dammit I didn't know either.")

On Sunday, look for Otto Preminger's Laura, This Gun for Hire (starring glamour queen Veronica Lake), Kiss of Death, and The Asphalt Jungle, another classic heist film, this one from John Huston.

If nothing else, these films will show you movie-goers in the '40s and '50s were just as obsessed with law and order, crime and punishment, as they are today. Quentin Tarantino touched off a noir revival in the '90s (with hyperverbal dialogue added), but the genre and its style and its cynical, murky view of the world never really went away. Think Blade Runner and Chinatown. Bred in the big city, it's also one of the most urban of genres, though I guess you could have a small-town noir. Maybe. (David Lynch certainly thought so.)

So this weekend, here's to tough guys with flexible moral codes and dames with cigarette lighters. And, by the way, the "big sleep" is the one you don't wake from.

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