Noir Nights of San Francisco

CA-Modern explores why so many classics of the film genre were staged by the Bay
Fridays on the Homefront
"San Francisco has always been a colorful town," points out one film noir aficionado, "…and by mid-century it was considered a metropolis of sophistication mixed with a bohemian underground." CA-Modern magazine takes on the topic of film noir and that local perspective in 'City of Noir,' a feature in the new Winter 2020 issue. Above: Humphrey Bogart roams the streets of San Francisco in 1947's noir classic 'Dark Passage.'

Well, Mr. Mayer, here's the pitch: San Francisco boy grows up in the rough-and-tumble world of pro boxing and eventually makes good on his own, celebrating culture that made his hometown famous and infamous at the same time. He rescues an important artifact and starts a nationwide road show, but in the end the artifact perishes in a tragic fire.

Wait, what? Too dark?

Don't you see, Mr. Mayer, this is a new kind of story. Right, that thing the French are calling 'film noir.'

OK, it's not truly a noir story, but rather the true story of Eddie Muller, San Francisco's 'Czar of Noir' and one of the main sources for 'City of Noir,' a feature in the new Winter 2020 issue of CA-Modern magazine.

Fridays on the Homefront
Photo: Fred Lyon

Muller's tale is one of several told in the new CA-Modern story about some daring mid-century culture that is still imitated today.

Now, don't get me wrong, Louis baby. The star of this pitch is not some crusty, old nostalgia freak, nor even Muller himself, suave host of weekly films noir programming on Turner Classic Movies channel and creator of the Noir City film festival, which incidentally kicks off its 18th annual edition January 24 (through February 2) at San Francisco's Castro Theatre.

No, the star here could only be San Francisco, the Baghdad-by-the-Bay setting of 'The Maltese Falcon' and dozens of subsequent superb films alluded to in the magazine piece.

  Fridays on the Homefront
Eddie Muller: San Francisco's 'Czar of Noir'
 

"San Francisco is a good host for noir because it has a sense of a little bit of criminality in its reputation," says Anita Monga, artistic director of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival and former longtime programmer at the Castro Theatre, where she helped Muller launch his festival.

Son of a local sportswriter who introduced him to a few hard-luck boxers in his youth, Muller says noir always resonated with him.

"All the great boxing movies back then were noir. I asked [people I met], 'Is this what it was like?'" he recalls of his first attraction to the genre. "It wasn't just in the movies—I knew people like that!"