Noir Film Fest invites you in from the cold

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"It's the dead of winter. The holidays are over," Bonnie Schock pointed out. But she doesn't believe that's any reason to go into hibernation until the weather warms.

"Come on inside and treat yourself to some intrigue," suggested the Sheldon Theatre's executive director.

The Sheldon is holding its first Noir Film Fest and will screen five classic movies on Jan. 5 and 7 on the big screen.

"We've been doing classic and some modern films the last couple of years," she said. "It's been a lot of fun." People may have seen the movies on TV or at least heard of them, but "...it's so fun to see them on a big screen, with other people," Schock added.

Film noir is a classic genre that produced some movies that are considered among the best films ever made. Part mystery and part psychological drama, film noir is marked by a mood of pessimism, fatalism and menace.

Shadowy photography and foreboding background music are elements of the ominous atmosphere.

The Sheldon chose five of the best, starting with two more modern — almost contemporary — version of film noir and following up with three vintage classics. "Come sit, see it all," Schock said, "or pop in" when it fits your schedule.

The first day of the Noir Film Fest on Jan. 5 will feature "Fargo" at 6 p.m. followed by "Chinatown" at 8 p.m. Both films are rated R.

• "Fargo," a 1996 black comedy crime film, was written, produced, edited and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. It stars Frances McDormand as a pregnant Minnesota police chief investigating roadside homicides that occur after a car salesman (William H. Macy) hires two thugs (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife so he can extort a big ransom from his rich father-in-law (Harve Presnell). The film is rated R.

• "Chinatown," a 1974 screen classic starring Jack Nicholson as private eye Jake Gittes, is considered a landmark movie in the film noir tradition. Director Roman Polanski set the story in sunbaked, pre-war Southern California. Socialite Faye Dunaway hires Gittes to investigate her husband's extramarital affairs, and he is swept into a maelstrom of double dealings and deadly deceits that come crashing together in Chinatown. John Huston co-stars.

Day two of the film fest on Jan. 7 opens with "The Third Man" at 3 p.m., followed by "Sunset Boulevard" at 5 p.m. and then "Double Indemnity" around 7 p.m. These vintage films are unrated.

• "The Third Man," a legendary tale of love, deception and murder, is a 1949 British film noir. Pulp novelist Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) travels to postwar Vienna and finds himself investigating the mysterious death of an old friend — black market opportunist Harry Lime (Orson Welles). An evocative zither score by Anton Karas and dramatic use of light and shadow help make it an enduring favorite. Carol Reed directed the film.

• "Sunset Boulevard" tells the story of a screenwriter (William Holden) who is hired to rework a faded silent film star's (Gloria Swanson) script, only to find himself developing a dangerous relationship. The 1950 film was directed by Billy Wilder. Famed director Cecil B. DeMille and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper appear as themselves.

• "Double Indemnity" is the gripping tale of a calculating wife (Barbara Stanwyck) who encourages her wealthy husband (Fred MacMurray) to sign a double indemnity policy proposed by a smitten insurance agent (Walter Neff). As the would-be lovers plot to murder MacMurray, they are pursued by a suspicious claims manager (Edward G. Robinson). Billy Wilder also directed this 1944 film.

Little bags of popcorn and candy will be available at the Sheldon, along with beer and wine for adults. Tickets are $5.50 per film or $15 for a weekend pass to all the films. Visit the box office, go online to www.sheldontheatre.org or call 651-388-8700.