Noir City: Chicago 2023
My Favorite First-Time Watches From The Annual Noir Celebration
My second year attending Noir City, taking place at the resplendent, and historic, Music Box Theater, allowed me to fill some significant gaps. The festival, its thirteenth year, also featured much bigger crowds than last year (and from what I understand, from longtime attendees, some the biggest crowds in the history of the Chicago iteration of the fest). Films like Key Largo, The Lady from Shanghai, and Call Northside 777 were sellouts, for instance. Even B-movies like The Spiritualist were extremely well-attended. All of the movies that played, in fact, are bound together by their release year: 1948. Think about that, these pictures are 75-years old. But they hold the power not just to continue enrapturing viewers, but to still pack them in theaters.
I must also add that anecdotally, these crowds didn’t totally veer older. There were large swaths of younger folks, people in their early-20s to early 30s, who attended too. When TCM Noir Alley host Eddie Muller asked the people who hadn’t watched Key Largo before to raise their hands, about 2/3 of the audience threw their palms into the air. Similar scenes like these repeated for every film at the festival. Once again, showing the power of these movies to not just draw the same fans again and again, but to welcome new lovers as well (it was heartening hearing how well these film translated to the audience, contemporary eyes recognizing the intended motives of old masters, and modern hearts embracing older cinematic love letters).
Before I get going, I should also shout out the Tribune’s Michael Phillips’ interview with Muller, Laura Emerick’s preview of the festival for RogerEbert.com, and the fest’s vendors, and the dedicated Music Box staff, particularly the bar, for spreading the gospel (and its libations) of the festival.
For this roundup, rather than enumerating all of the films I saw at Noir City, for this I wanted to focus on my five favorite first-time watches.
The Big Clock
A magazine editor for a sleuthing vertical, George Stroud (Miland), attempts to solve the murder of a woman (Maureen O'Sullivan) he became acquainted with the previous night before he’s implicated in her death. While Miland, by virtue of the script, is the star of the film — a work adapted from the same-titled novel by Kenneth Fearing — his costars are The Big Clock’s indelible components. The ever-dependable, Harry Morgan, for instance, plays a silent, menacing heavy; while a pitch-perfect Charles Laughton as Stroud’s exacting boss is a delectable highlight, a remarkable combination of acutely calibrated mannerisms and caustically witty sensibilities.