‘Film Stars’ offers fine performances, but doesn’t do full justice to the multidimensional Gloria Grahame

“Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,” is Paul McGuigan’s film based on Peter Turner’s memoir of his relationship with actress Gloria Grahame, near the end of her life. (She died in New York City on Oct. 5, 1981; she was 57.)

Annette Bening gives a nuanced, highly sympathetic performance as the aging Grahame. Jamie Bell beautifully plays her young lover, Turner, a working-class actor from Liverpool. Julie Walters (as his mother) and Vanessa Redgrave (as Grahame’s mother) also shine in this often-moving, if somewhat predictable, story, scripted by Matt Greenhalgh.

The problem with the movie is that it ultimately becomes a fairly generic yarn about a May-December romance involving a Faded Film Star. The writer and director made the choice to film Turner’s book – rather than to use it as a starting point to illuminate the complicated person and happy-sad-doomed glamour girl that was Gloria Grahame. As a result, her unique identity is lost in the shuffle as we learn more of Turner’s life than we do of hers.

Grahame was a talented stage and film actress of the 1940s and ’50s, who is now often forgotten. For someone unfamiliar with the name, you are left with the impression that she was a Marilyn Monroe wannabe – sexy and blonde, zaftig and sweet. (Of course, that clichéd interpretation sells both women short.)

Both Grahame and Monroe were able to channel an assumed innocence and girlishness that made their characters memorable. Grahame’s breakthrough role was the flirtatious, small-town hottie Violet Bick in “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946, Frank Capra).

Grahame was less otherworldly than the goddess Monroe (both women endured plastic surgery to perfect their faces) but she had a feline beauty, sharp-featured and streetwise, the ideal look for many a femme fatale in some of the finest film noir titles ever produced.

She earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nom for “Crossfire” (1947, Edward Dmytryk), held her own with Bogart in the exquisite “In a Lonely Place” (1950, Nicholas Ray, her husband at the time), gave Joan Crawford a run for her money in “Sudden Fear” (1952, David Miller) and tangled with Lee Marvin’s coffee-hurling sociopath in “The Big Heat” (1953, Fritz Lang).

Gloria Grahame was uniquely talented.

She had the vamps down cold and yet she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar playing a well bred Southern socialite/housewife in 1952’s “The Bad and the Beautiful,” directed by Vincente Minnelli.

Grahame had an unusually expressive face and a natural effervescence that is exciting to watch. She also had a slight lisp that renders her a bit goofy – less a celluloid confection and more a real person with flaws.

She was willing to take risks – but sometimes they backfired. Lacking singing and dancing chops, she struggled in “Oklahoma!” (1955, Fred Zinnemann). Oddly miscast in this classic musical, she was insecure; said to be difficult on set and uncooperative with the press.

And Grahame was eccentric, even by Hollywood standards, obstinate and scandalous in a singular way. Her fourth husband was her stepson, Anthony Ray, son of Nicholas Ray. (Jean Luc Goddard once said of the famed but tortured director: “The cinema is Nicholas Ray.”)

Though she didn’t marry Anthony Ray until 1960 (he was in his early 20s, she was 36), there is some dispute about when exactly their sexual relationship started. Of her four marriages, theirs was the longest – they divorced in 1974.

To say the least, the unconventional marriage raised eyebrows, lowered her status as a bankable star, gave her ex-husbands grounds for custody disputes and made excellent fodder for the tabloid journalists and gossip columnists she’d already alienated. Grahame suffered a nervous breakdown but after her recovery she continued to work, turning to the stage and TV when movie offers became fewer and far between.

And, to the end, she craved male companionship, as evidenced by Turner’s account of her time in England. She always enjoyed the attention. As she said of her appeal: “It wasn’t the way I looked at a man, it was the thought behind it.”

Grahame is still much loved by movie buffs. And if the cinema is Nicholas Ray, then the cinema, especially film noir, is Gloria Grahame as well.

“Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool” opens today in Los Angeles.

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Long-awaited Curtiz book hits Hollywood; Egyptian Theatre hosts signing and screening

Alan K. Rode

Film noir expert Alan K. Rode has released “Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film,” published by the University Press of Kentucky. To mark the book’s launch, the American Cinematheque is hosting a book signing and screening of two Curtiz gems on Thursday night in Hollywood at the Egyptian Theatre.

The Sea Wolf” (1941) stars Edward G. Robinson, John Garfield, Ida Lupino, Gene Lockhart and Barry Fitzgerald in a tense and moody adaption of Jack London’s anti-fascist adventure novel. Robert Rossen (“The Hustler”) wrote the screenplay.

The Breaking Point” (1950) takes Ernest Hemingway’s tragic novel “To Have and Have Not” as its source material. Though the setting is changed from Key West to Newport Beach, Calif., Curtiz delivers a more faithful version of the book than the famous Howard Hawks vehicle starring Bogart and Bacall.

Here, John Garfield expertly plays Skipper Harry Morgan. Gravel-voiced Patricia Neal is the alluring vamp; Phyllis Thaxter, Wallace Ford and Juano Hernandez round out the cast.

Rode set himself quite the task when he decided to write about this master director. Uncommonly prolific across many genres (including Westerns, swashbucklers and musicals), Hungarian-born Curtiz made more than 60 movies in Europe and more than 100 in Hollywood, arriving in 1926 at the behest of Warner Bros. Studio.

He won the Best Director Oscar for 1942’s noir-tinged “Casablanca” and for a short called “Sons of Liberty” from 1939. He was nominated for Oscars five times and directed 10 actors to Oscar nominations. James Cagney and Joan Crawford received their only Academy Awards under Curtiz’s direction.

Crawford won for her comeback role, “Mildred Pierce,” a domestic film noir from 1945. With a screenplay by Ranald MacDougall, the movie improves and heightens the drama of James M. Cain’s novel.

Co-starring Ann Blyth, Zachary Scott, Jack Carson, Eve Arden and Bruce Bennett, “Mildred Pierce” ranks as one of our all-time favorite films.

For tonight, however, we’ll just have to swoon over John Garfield. Life’s rough.

Rode will sign his book in the lobby at 6:30 p.m. He will also introduce the films, slated to start at 7:30 p.m.

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As AFI turns 50, this year’s fest looks set to be one of the best

We are very excited that AFI FEST presented by Audi starts in Hollywood on Thursday, Nov. 9, and ends Thursday, Nov. 16. This great fest is open to the public so check it out.

Load the app and pack some snacks – there are more than 100 movies showing!

Opening the festival on Thursday night is Dee Rees’ “Mudbound,” a drama set in post-World War II Mississippi, starring Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Mitchell, Jason Clarke, Mary J. Blige and Rob Morgan.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the American Film Institute, several 1967 titles will screen, such as: “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” “Barefoot in the Park,” “Blow-Up,” and “Red Desert.”

On Saturday, Nov. 11, documentary filmmaker Errol Morris will be honored with a tribute following a 3 p.m. screening of “Wormwood,” about one man’s 60-year quest to illuminate the circumstances of his father’s mysterious death. Peter Sarsgaard stars. Morris’ credits include the Oscar®-winning “The Fog of War” (2003) as well as “Gates of Heaven” (1978), “The Thin Blue Line” (1988), “Tabloid” (2010) and “The Unknown Known” (2013).

The world premiere of Ridley Scott’s “All the Money in the World” was scheduled to close the festival. On Monday, however, Sony pulled the film from the fest because of the sexual misconduct allegations against Kevin Spacey. In this thriller based on real events, Spacey initially played billionaire J. Paul Getty in 1973, as he refuses to give in to kidnappers who demand $17 million in ransom for the release of Getty’s grandson. The movie is still scheduled for theatrical release later this year but has been reshot, cutting Spacey and replacing him with Christopher Plummer.

Here at FNB, of course, we are super stoked about the neo-noir slate of programming, in particular:

Writer/director Aaron Katz’s “Gemini,” a thriller set in Hollywood starring Lola Kirke and Zoë Kravitz.

Have a Nice Day,” a Chinese animated noir about greed and ruthlessness amid China’s new economy, is generating buzz. Jian Liu writes and directs.

Gloria Grahame

“Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,” is Paul McGuigan’s film based on Peter Turner’s memoir of his relationship with actress Gloria Grahame, near the end of her life. Annette Bening plays Grahame, an icon of film noir. Jamie Bell plays her young lover, Peter. Julie Walters and Vanessa Redgrave round out the cast.

In “Molly’s Game,” Jessica Chastain is Molly Bloom, a former athlete targeted by the FBI after she gets involved in running high-stakes poker games. Based on a true story; directed by writing giant Aaron Sorkin.

In the Fade” is Germany’s contender this year for Best Foreign Film Oscar. Diane Kruger plays a wife and mother who turns vigilante after violence rips her life apart. Fatih Akin directs and co-writes. This is one of 14 Foreign Language Oscar entries in the fest lineup.

An athlete with an unscrupulous agenda – figure skater Tonya Harding – is the subject of “I, Tonya,” from director Craig Gillespie. Margot Robbie stars. Our friend Bob Strauss of the LA Daily News describes this as “hilarious and hard-hitting.”

Spoor” is a new crime thriller by the great Agnieszka Holland and is Poland’s Best Foreign Film Oscar entry.

In Laurent Cantet’s “The Workshop,” set in a declining town near Marseille, the vibe of a writers’ group goes from soothing to sinister.

An estranged couple must join forces to find their missing son in Andrey Zvyagintsev’s “Loveless,” which is Russia’s Best Foreign Film Oscar hopeful.

Other highlights include:

The 12-film Robert Altman retrospective will screen “M*A*S*H” (1970), “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” (1971), “The Long Goodbye” (1972), “California Split” (1973), “Nashville” (1975), “3 Women” (1977), “Vincent & Theo” (1990), “The Player” (1992), “Short Cuts” (1993), “Kansas City” (1996), “Gosford Park” (2001) and “A Prairie Home Companion” (2006). Talent in attendance at screenings will be announced closer to the festival.

Call Me By Your Name” is a coming-of-age bisexual love story set in Italy in 1983, directed by Luca Guadagnino, based on André Aciman’s novel and starring Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet and Michael Stuhlbarg.

Hostiles,” a highly anticipated Western by Scott Cooper, starring Christian Bale.

Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water,” a sci-fi love story set during the Cold War.

Let the Sun Shine In” a comedy/romance with the always-wonderful Juliette Binoche; directed by Claire Denis.

Isabelle Huppert

Isabelle Huppert fans, take note. The inimitable actress stars in two dramas: Michael Haneke’s “Happy End” and “Claire’s Camera” by Hong Sang-soo. (“Happy End” is Austria’s Best Foreign Film Oscar contender.)

Another coveted ticket: “The Other Side of Hope” by Finland’s Aki Kaurismäki, a critics’ darling.

Talent scheduled to appear at AFI FEST presented by Audi includes: Christopher Nolan, Angelina Jolie, Sofia Coppola, Martin McDonagh, Agnes Varda and Jordan Peele (“Get Out”).

Enjoy!

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Romero honored at special screening of ‘Creepshow’

An indie director before the term was widely used, George Romero carved his own niche in the horror genre by brilliantly marrying over-the-top blood and guts with sharp social satire.

He broke new ground with his first effort, 1968’s “Night of the Living Dead.” Dismissed by critics, his low-budget film was a huge hit with audiences and grossed more than $50 million. Romero went on to direct these sequels: 1978’s “Dawn of the Dead,” 1985’s “Day of the Dead,” 2005’s “Land of the Dead,” 2007’s “Diary of the Dead” and 2009’s “George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead.”

The Bronx-born maverick moviemaker died on July 16, 2017; he was 77.

Comic book fans will no doubt appreciate Romero’s “Creepshow,” a 1982 black comedy shot in Pittsburgh, as were many of his other flicks. (Romero graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in 1960.)

Starring Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Fritz Weaver, Leslie Nielsen, Ted Danson and E.G. Marshall, the film was Stephen King’s first script. King also plays a part in one of the five stories, which are inspired by the EC and DC comics of the 1950s.

You can see “Creepshow” on the big screen on Wednesday, October 25, at the Alex Theatre in Glendale. The Alex is hosting a tribute to Romero with a preshow reception and Q&A.

Happy Halloween, zombie people!

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‘Jane’ documentary is a joy to watch

A review of “Jane” might seem an odd choice for a site that focuses on film noir. But here at FNB we also celebrate strong, independent women and anthropologist Jane Goodall, the topic of Brett Morgen’s National Geographic documentary, is certainly that.

Goodall and Morgen appeared on-stage at a lovely screening Oct. 9 at the Hollywood Bowl with live orchestral accompaniment by Philip Glass. The event, which was open to the public, drew celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Judd Apatow, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jane Lynch, Kate Bosworth and Ty Burrell.

Goodall received hearty applause when she said we humans need to do a better job of taking care of the Earth. Morgen gave a shoutout to his mother because the screening date is also her birthday.

Speaking of mothers, Goodall probably would not have achieved as much as she did had it not been for the steady support of her mom. In the film, Goodall explains that, as a young girl, when she expressed her desire to study animals in their natural habitats, her mother didn’t flinch; she encouraged Jane to pursue her goal. Later, she joined her daughter in Africa and helped out in their day-to-day living.

The world’s top expert on chimpanzees, Goodall spent more than 50 years observing and documenting social interactions of wild chimps in Tanzania, starting under the guidance of Louis Leakey in the late 1950s.

In the early 1960s, Dutch filmmaker Hugo van Lawick shot more than 140 hours of footage of Goodall’s work, documenting it for National Geographic. From this filmic record and original interviews, Morgen weaves together his subject’s fascinating life story, both public and private.

With no college degree, Goodall tells us, her job qualifications were a love for animals and an open mind. (She later earned a PhD at Cambridge University.) As a leggy young blonde, she also courted a fair amount of media attention and not surprisingly caught van Lawick’s eye. They eventually married and had a child.

“A lot of people have extraordinary lives, but not a lot of people can articulate those lives, and even fewer have had that entire life photographed on 16mm by one of the world’s greatest photographers,” Morgen told The Hollywood Reporter.

Morgen, whose other credits include “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” “Crossfire Hurricane,” and “Cobain: Montage of Heck,” seamlessly captures Goodall’s passion and commitment, her gentle pragmatism, her quick wit and warm humor.

“I wish I could embrace every single one of you. I want to thank you for being here,” Goodall said at the Hollywood Bowl. “I hope you had a wonderful time.”

We did, indeed. This wonderful film is a joy to watch.

‘Jane’ opens in Los Angeles on Oct. 20.

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Highly anticipated ‘Snowman’ turns out to be mostly slush

Looking at the billboard posters for “The Snowman” (2017, Tomas Alfredson), I had the feeling that if I paid close attention while watching the movie, I might see a red flag or perhaps spot a clue that the police miss in a complex and carefully constructed story of a serial killer on the loose.

And since it’s set in Norway (haunting snowscapes, frozen lakes and austere mountains abound), I figured this tipoff to patient viewers would likely be a visual one – the Scandinavians being a tight-lipped crowd for the most part.

But about 45 minutes into this film, in which Michael Fassbender plays Detective Harry Hole, I realized that hanging in there was not going to pay off – that this was a complex and sloppily constructed story that was probably going to leave me feeling disappointed and frustrated.

Despite Alfredson’s success in 2011 with the multilayered “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” he seems out of his depth and overwhelmed with “The Snowman.” The narrative is confusing, the flashbacks don’t connect well with the present, the characterizations are haphazard. A case in point: Early on, we see Harry lying on a park bench shivering. There’s no explanation and the rest of the time he seems calm, measured, decisive and compassionate. Eventually, we learn he is an alcoholic. Oh, OK.

Similarly, his colleague Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), despite showing ingenuity and fierce determination, in the end, must resort to time-worn feminine wiles to land her suspect. Good thing she’s gorgeous!

Charlotte Gainsbourg’s character doesn’t have a last name but at least she’s elegantly dressed. Whatever.

Most vacant of all: Chloë Sevigny’s two characters (she plays twins) – one of whom is a dour-faced chicken slaughterer. ’Nuff said.

Considering, too, that the film was based on Jo Nesbø’s best-selling series of novels, there was reason to hope for a well made, intelligent, engrossing movie. Maybe there were too many screenwriters? (Peter Straughan and Hossein Amini lead the list.)

Or maybe this would have been better off as a TV series, where the serpentine storylines could play out and the characters could have more time to develop. Unfortunately, “The Snowman” we ended up with is mostly slush.

“The Snowman” opened Oct. 19 in Los Angeles and is now on general release.

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Italian-French ‘Like Crazy’ is crazy good

Like Crazy” (Folles de Joie in French and originally titled La pazza gioia), an Italian-French production, had its Los Angeles premiere at the COLCOA French Film Festival. The film won the Audience Special Mention Award at the fest.

There’s an Italian proverb: “Chi trova un amico, trova un tesoro,” which means “whoever finds a friend finds a treasure.”

The leads of “Like Crazy,” directed and co-written by Paolo Virzi, bear this out on-screen in a uniquely dysfunctional and hilariously messed-up way.

You may remember Valeria Bruni Tedeschi from the 2013 films “Human Capital” or “A Castle in Italy” (she directed, co-wrote and starred in the latter). After seeing this film, you won’t soon forget her. In “Like Crazy,” she plays Beatrice, a chic, snobby, well-to-do party girl a bit past her prime who never stops talking and namedropping.

It’s a little hard, though, to be a social butterfly as a resident of a group-home facility for people suffering from mental and emotional disorders. (“Facility” doesn’t quite do the place justice – it’s an enchanting villa that Beatrice’s family once owned.)

Sure that she does not belong there, Beatrice decides that her fellow residents are freaks with the exception of a withdrawn, depressive 20something named Donatella (Micaela Ramazzotti), who also happens to be drop-dead gorgeous, extremely expressive and endlessly watchable as an actress. She too will remain in your memory long after the credits roll.

Beatrice insists that she and Donatella will be pals and sets about grooming her as a sidekick. Donatella doesn’t have the strength to resist her overtures and when Beatrice finds a way to break free from the group home, Donatella doesn’t need much convincing.

Thus begins a spree of sweet-talking and stealing, boozing and barhopping, haute hustling and hightailing it from the cops and the admin staff at the home.

Smart, funny and deeply touching, thanks to Virzi’s deft and soulful directing, “Like Crazy,” is a stellar addition to the commedia all’Italiana tradition. It also reminds us of classic road-trip movies, such as 1991’s “Thelma and Louise” (directed by Ridley Scott and written by Callie Khouri), and is reminiscent of the days when American movies featured authentic, fleshed-out characters with human flaws and quirky peccadilloes.

(That’s not something we much these days, unfortunately. A case in point: “You Choose,” which closed the COLCOA festival. Amusing and innocuous, it’s a by-the-numbers, superficial comedy.)

Having a woman’s input (Virzi co-wrote the script with Francesca Archibugi) lends “Like Crazy” a special nuance and sensitivity.

Granted, the film follows a fairly conventional structure but all of the filmmaking elements – in particular the writing and acting – are presented so honestly, so movingly and with such consummate skill that we are swept along for one hell of a ride.

“Like Crazy” opens Friday in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Royal Theatre and the Laemmle Playhouse 7.

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‘A Woman’s Life’ is a story that charms, chills and resonates

A Woman’s Life” (Une Vie), which had its West Coast premiere at the COLCOA French Film Festival, won the Los Angeles Film Critics Association’s Jury Award at the fest.

In the opening scene of “A Woman’s Life” (Une Vie), we watch the lovely lead character Jeanne le Perthuis des Vauds (Judith Chemla) watering a vegetable garden on her family estate. The copper watering can gleams in the sunlight, water and mud spatter on Jeanne’s dress. It’s a day like any other for her – unhurried, predictable, peaceful. She is the only child of wealthy land owners in Normandy, France, in 1819, and her comfortable future is taken for granted.

But in fact these days of tranquility will dwindle and, as Jeanne’s life unfolds, we are drawn into her emotionally compelling world, viscerally experiencing her moments of poignancy and pain.

At the urging of her mother (Yolande Moreau), Jeanne marries the dapper but weasely Julien de Lamare (Swann Arlaud), who has a pedigree, a shiny frock coat and not much else. The marriage turns out to be short-lived and their child, Paul, grows up to be a willful, selfish brat of the highest order. (Finnegan Oldfield plays the adult Paul.)
Jeanne continues to love Paul blindly, falling back on her father (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and the family maid Rosalie (Nina Meurisse) for companionship and support.

Director Stéphane Brizé’s film (which he co-wrote with Florence Vignon, based on Guy de Maupassant’s novel) is subtle, complex and layered. Beautifully shot, impeccably acted and featuring first-rate art direction and costumes, “A Woman’s Life” almost seems to have its own organic existence so heightened and intense is its poetic mood and darkly enchanting atmosphere.

(The novel has been adapted one other time: In 1958, director Alexandre Astruc made “One Life” (Une vie) with Maria Schell and Christian Marquand. It was released as “End of Desire” in the U.S.)

Most obviously, Brizé’s film looks at the strict and narrow conventions that defined a woman’s role in family and society at that time. On another level, it’s a study of loyalty and sacrifice, broken trust and betrayal. Jeanne’s mother’s ulterior motives cause Jeanne suffering; her father’s devotion is steadfast.

After she marries, Jeanne turns to a priest for moral counsel but cannot bring herself to follow his advice, lest she inflict pain on an innocent party. A treacherous decision by one of Jeanne’s acquaintances (Clotilde Hesme) has disastrous consequences. Jeanne’s unwavering love and generosity toward her son become her undoing.

At a time of need, Jeanne is rescued by a friend with whom she has a long and complicated history. The film ends with the ultimate symbol of commitment and perhaps fresh hope.

It’s a story that charms, chills and resonates.

“A Woman’s Life” opens Friday in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Royal Theatre and the Laemmle Playhouse 7.

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Basinger and Pearce delight a sold-out audience at anniversary screening of ‘L.A. Confidential’

Guy Pearce and Kim Basinger spoke with critic Stephen Farber after the screening.

Kim Basinger’s initial answer to playing the voluptuous call girl Lynn Bracken in “L.A. Confidential” was a resounding “no.”

“I’m not going to play a whore! I’m a Mom now,” she recalled saying. (Basinger gave birth to daughter Ireland Baldwin in October of 1995.)

Basinger was speaking at Tuesday night’s screening of the movie, marking its 20th anniversary, held at the Laemmle Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre in Beverly Hills. Co-star Guy Pearce (squeaky clean Det. Ed Exley) joined her for the Q&A, which was moderated by critic Stephen Farber.

But the film’s director Curtis Hanson was determined and invited Basinger to meet him at the Formosa Café to discuss the idea. (The famous bar/restaurant would later feature in the film – it’s there that Kevin Spacey as cop Jack Vincennes gives his perfectly timed line: “It is Lana Turner.”)

At the Formosa, Basinger said she experienced “the seduction of Curtis Hanson,” referring to his eloquence and deadpanning that he was “very manipulative.”

Kim Basinger and Guy Pearce share a scene in “L.A. Confidential.”

Hanson’s persistence paid off: Basinger won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal. “He believed in me much more than I believed in myself,” she said. “He had a magical connection with actors and with people in general.”

(Hanson and Basinger worked together again in 2002’s “8 Mile,” with Hanson remarking, while she was deciding whether to take the part, “I know if she fears it, she’s going to do it.” Sadly, Hanson died on Sept. 20, 2016.)

Fans wait in line late Tuesday afternoon at Laemmle’s Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.

Playing Ed Exley was a much easier choice for Pearce, who was unknown in America at that time, though he remembered being a little overwhelmed by the plot’s twists and turns. “I read the script and I was really confused,” he laughed.

(Hanson and Brian Helgeland earned an Oscar for their screenplay adaptation of James Ellroy’s novel.)

Once Pearce heard that fellow Aussie Russell Crowe had been cast as muscle-bound cop Bud White, he was eager to be a part of the production, adding that he went through extensive screen tests at Warner Bros. before it was a done deal.

“L.A. Confidential” turned out to be Pearce’s break-through role. As he put it: “It’s the greatest film I’ve ever been a part of. It sticks with me like nothing else.”

(Pearce went on to make many more films, including “Memento” in 2000, “The Hurt Locker” in 2008, and “Iron Man 3” in 2013.)

Basinger said director Curtis Hanson was a calming influence.

Pearce and Basinger both credit Hanson with being a calming presence and encouraging them to bring stillness to the screen. A true cinephile who had the cast watch a “film noir retrospective” to get in an old-school mood, Hanson pushed back when he was nudged by execs to speed up the production, telling them: “You can hurry me along all you want but I’m not going to go any faster.”

Veronica Lake was famous for her hair. Basinger was as well – as a Breck Shampoo girl. In the film, Basinger plays a call girl who is Lake’s doppelgänger.

Hanson’s treatment of his actors was often gentle but also spare. Basinger remembered being rattled after doing a scene repeatedly, noting that she had trouble walking gracefully in long gowns and clunky 1940s shoes, à la Veronica Lake.

She asked Hanson for help. His answer: “Do it again.”

“He was utterly inspiring, really,” said Pearce. “He was a mentor, a father figure and we stayed close friends.”

Pearce also shared Crowe’s advice before a close-up. He told Pearce: “Don’t blink.”

Basinger took the opportunity on Tuesday night to thank Pearce and Crowe for their support in her Oscar win, explaining that she’d been too flustered to do so at the time. With “Titanic” sweeping the awards that year, she was sure the trophy would go to Gloria Stuart. “When you hear your name, you freeze! You lose your hands. You lose your feet. You can’t think. I just sat there until Curtis, who was sitting behind me, nudged me. Jack Nicholson had to help me to the stage.”

At 63, and still every inch a beautiful blonde, Basinger looked sleek and slim in a black blazer and blouse, cuffed jeans, white socks and black Oxfords.

When an audience member asked if they had considered making Lynn a brunette for the film’s final scene (in which she leaves Los Angeles, with Bud, for Arizona), Basinger paused a moment, then replied:  “I don’t think there was any thought of that,” she said. “I think she was really happy being a blonde.”

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‘L.A. Confidential,’ a neo-noir classic, turns 20

Tonight at the Laemmle Fine Arts Theatre in Beverly Hills: Oscar winner Kim Basinger and co-star Guy Pearce will participate in a Q&A after a screening of ‘L.A. Confidential’!

Upon the film’s release, critic Michael Wilmington, writing for the Chicago Tribune, described it as: “A movie bull’s-eye: noir with an attitude, a thriller packing punches. It gives up its evil secrets with a smile.”

In honor of the anniversary, we are rerunning our review from 2010.

L.A. Confidential/1997/Warner Bros./138 min.

Life is good (and glitzy) in 1953 Los Angeles, if you don’t mind smoke and mirrors, hidden crime, rampant racism and more than a few dodgy cops. Corruption in the police force, long an undercurrent in classic noir, takes center stage in “L.A. Confidential,” a wry, stylish and devastating police drama directed by Curtis Hanson.

Hanson sets the tone of glib optimism masking darker secrets by opening the movie with shots of bright and cheerful ’50s postcards, the song “Accentuate the Positive (Eliminate the Negative)” and a Danny DeVito voiceover filling us in on some of the trouble that lurks in paradise.

The sophisticated script, by Hanson and Brian Helgeland, is based on the 1990 novel by James Ellroy, which cleverly weaves in actual Hollywood history while telling the see-speak-and-hear-all-evil story of three cops:

From left: James Cromwell, Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe and Kevin Spacey

*The jaded and jazzy Det. Sgt. Jack Vincennes (played by Kevin Spacey with a nod to Dean Martin) who pads his bank account by consulting for a TV police show (“Badge of Honor”) and feeding juicy info to “Hush Hush” tabloid columnist Sid Hudgeons (Danny DeVito). Sid meets looming deadlines with set-ups, celebrity exposés and the odd blackmail scheme. (“Hush Hush” magazine is based on the ’50s scandal mag “Confidential” and “Badge of Honor” is based on TV’s “Dragnet.”)

*Det. Lt. Edmund Jennings ‘Ed’ Exley (Guy Pearce), an ambitious newbie with a gift for finessing police politics. Exley wants to make his Dad proud, follows a strict moral code and doesn’t care about being one of the guys. And he won’t be, given that he testifies against his fellow cops and their part in “Bloody Christmas,” a true incident of LA cops beating up Mexican prisoners.

*Officer Wendell ‘Bud’ White (Russell Crowe), a thuggish beefcake who likes to take justice into his own hands, especially when it comes to violence against women. “His blood’s always up,” Exley says of White.

Presiding over the entire force and clashing with Exley in particular is Capt. Dudley Smith (James Cromwell), arrogant but understated until his latent psychopath rears his head.

“Bloody Christmas” is a mere prelude to a detailed catalog of vice and sin, as the story deepens and stretches to accommodate layer after layer of lies, double-dealing, betrayal and cover-up. Funny what can happen when mob leader and “honest haberdasher” Mickey Cohen (Paul Guilfoyle) — a real-life criminal — is getting a time-out in jail.

Central to the tangle is the Nite Owl case, involving kidnapping, rape, robbery and murder, which of course is not what it looks like. White’s ex-partner Dick Stensland (Graham Beckel) was among the bodies found in a dumpy diner, and, in pretty short order, three African-American guys with records end up taking the fall.

Kim Basinger won the Oscar for best supporting actress.

Additionally, the three cops find out about an upscale call-girl service, run by the suave, slick and urbane Pierce Patchett (David Strathairn). Patchett’s gimmick: All the girls resemble popular actresses — or they do after a few trips to a plastic surgeon. For instance, there’s a Veronica Lake look-alike named Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger). Sure enough, such a business did apparently exist in ’50s Tinseltown, as recounted in Garson Kanin’s memoir “Hollywood.”

Bud White proves to be both smart and strong as he asks the tough questions and finds their well-guarded answers, one in the form of a rotten, rat-infested corpse who turns out to be a fellow cop. Shocker!

More storylines surface, such as the romance between Bud and good-hearted golden-girl Lynn, not to be confused with Veronica Lake. (Btw, the Lana Turner mixup scene is a hoot!) And as is the case in noir, it’s not long before Exley meets Lynn and creates a triangle of treachery. As the threads of the story unravel, and we see more darkness and deceit, deadly shoot-outs and bloody dust-ups, it’s clear that all strands lead back to a central source of evil. Hanson and Helgeland, courtesy of Ellroy, tell a tense, crisply paced, funny and chilling story nestled in a near-perfectly rendered world of sun-drenched, sleazy LA.

A hit at the Cannes Film Festival, “L.A. Confidential” also ranked on most major critics Top Ten lists for 1997. The film received Oscar noms for best movie, director, editing, art direction, cinematography, adapted screenplay, supporting actress, sound and music/original dramatic score. Composer Jerry Goldsmith also scored “Chinatown” from 1974 and 1992’s “Basic Instinct.” “L.A. Confidential” won two: Basinger for supporting actress; Hanson and Helgeland for the screenplay.

Hanson’s film stands up beautifully and certainly holds its own among the great neo-noir movies, in the tradition of “Chinatown” and “Body Heat.” Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times sums up the appeal this way: “Its intricate plot is so nihilistic and cold around the heart, its nominal heroes so amoral, so willing to sell out anyone and everyone, that the film is as initially unnerving as it is finally irresistible.”

That said, there are several snags on the accuracy front. We are introduced to Johnny Stompanato (Paolo Seganti) as Lana Turner’s boyfriend, but in reality, the pair didn’t meet until 1957. (The following year, Turner’s teenage daughter Cheryl Crane fatally stabbed Stompanato; it was found to be justifiable homicide.)

And while Mickey Cohen was certainly a major player in the LA underworld, the bigger, though less famous, boss was Jack Dragna, who took over mob business after the murder of Bugsy Siegel in 1947.

Veronica Lake shot by George Hurrell; copyright George Hurrell

Also, Veronica Lake was a 1940s star and, by 1953, her power had faded considerably; the clip that’s shown from “This Gun for Hire” would have been 11 years old. At least Hanson let a 43-year-old actress play the part.

My favorite aspect of “L.A. Confidential” is the stellar performances. (There are 80 speaking parts.) Australians Pearce and Crowe, largely unknown in the U.S. at the time, and Spacey are terrific to watch as their loyalties to each other ebb and flow. Crowe electrifies every scene he’s in and Pearce makes an ideal foil. Spacey coasts through his part with an equal measure of glitz and wit; his brief answer to why he became a cop is stunning. DeVito must have modeled Sid after a mangy dog.

As I mentioned earlier, Basinger won an Oscar for her role as the femme fatale. “She’s one of the few contemporary actresses that you imagine in a George Hurrell photograph—as glamorous as any star in the old studio system,” Hanson said in an AP story from 1997. In the same story, Basinger said of Veronica Lake: “I think she’s more interesting than every character she ever played.”

So do I.

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