The Film Noir File: A day with Hitch, master of suspense

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Film Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). All movies below are from the schedule of TCM, which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

Pick of the Week

A Day With Alfred Hitchcock (Friday, Nov. 28)

Robert Cummings, Ray Milland and Grace Kelly form the love triangle in “Dial  M for Murder.”

Robert Cummings, Ray Milland and Grace Kelly form the love triangle in “Dial M for Murder.”

When it came to making movie thrillers, manufacturing chills, and squeezing the last drop of tension out of every thrill-packed scene and breath-catching set piece, Alfred Hitchcock was, by common consent, the Master of Suspense — king of the genre in the cinema’s Golden Age. Born in London, an émigré who moved to Hollywood in the ’40s, “Hitch,” as he was called by most movie folk, could plan and plot a suspense scene like no one else — riveting his audiences almost from his opening minutes, and building his unforgettable sequences and his little gems of nerve-racking tension with a meticulous expertise and vivid imagination that all thriller-makes envied and all tried (usually unsuccessfully) to emulate.

Hitchcock liked his heroines to be blonde and in distress, his villains to be charming and deadly, and his heroes to be fallible or accused of something they didn’t do. And he liked his movies (like those villains) to be devilishly seductive and watchable. Of all his contemporaries, he is still the film director most known, most watched and most imitated. And when his 1958 masterpiece “Vertigo” — that eerie romantic chiller starring James Stewart as a detective afraid of heights and Kim Novak as the beautiful mystery woman for whom he falls — was recently voted the best movie of all time, finally beating out runner-up “Citizen Kane” in the Sight and Sound film poll, it was a recognition that was probably as much for Hitchcock’s entire oeuvre.

Tippi Hedren gets direction from Hitch.

Tippi Hedren gets direction from Hitch.

Today’s Hitchcock mini-festival gives us five of his acknowledged classics, from the ’30s (“The Lady vanishes”), the ’40s (“Shadow of a Doubt,” which Hitchcock often named as his personal favorite), the ’50s (”Dial M for Murder”), to the ’60s (“Psycho” and “The Birds“), as well as the underrated 1942 “Saboteur” and 1964 “Marnie.” His constant, though often uncredited, collaborator on all these pictures, and on most of his others, was his one-time script woman, wife and life-long partner Alma Reville Hitchcock. If you’re a movie aficionado, you’ve probably seen them all, but they always repay a return visit. After all, life and love may fail you, but a thriller by Hitch will almost always get you on the hook.

5:30 a.m. (2:30 a.m.): “The Lady Vanishes” (1938, Alfred Hitchcock). With Michael Redgrave, Margaret Lockwood, Paul Lukas and Dame May Whitty. Reviewed in FNB on March 12, 2012.

7:30 a.m. (4:30 a.m.): “Saboteur” (1942, Alfred Hitchcock). With Robert Cummings, Priscilla Lane, Otto Kruger and Norman Lloyd. Reviewed in FNB on Oct. 18, 2014.

9:30 a.m. (6:30 a.m.): “Shadow of a Doubt” (1943, Alfred Hitchcock). With Joseph Cotten, Teresa Wright, Macdonald Carey and Hume Cronyn. Reviewed in FNB on Oct. 9, 2014.

11:30 a.m. (8:30 a.m.): “Dial M for Murder” (1954, Alfred Hitchcock). With Grace Kelly, Ray Milland and Cummings. Reviewed in FNB on Sept. 11, 2012.

1:30 p.m. (10:30 a.m.): “Marnie” (1964, Alfred Hitchcock). With Sean Connery, Tippi Hedren and Diane Baker. Reviewed in FNB on Jan. 30, 2012.

3:45 p.m. (12:45 p.m.): “The Birds” (1963, Alfred Hitchcock). With Rod Taylor, Hedren and Jessica Tandy. Reviewed in FNB on Oct. 23, 2014.

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “Psycho’ (1960, Alfred Hitchcock, 1960). With Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles and Martin Balsam. Reviewed in FNB on July 7, 2011.

[Read more...]

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Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Retro Thanksgiving 2014

Hope you have a thoroughly decadent holiday.

Among the many things I am grateful for: all the people who read and support the site. Thank you!

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Film noir news and notes: SF gears up for darkness

NC13_Teaser[1]The Film Noir Foundation has announced that Noir City 13 in San Francisco will run Jan. 16-25, 2015. The fest comes to Los Angeles in the spring and travels to several other cities around the country. We’re eagerly awaiting the announcement of the movies that will screen.

SF fans don’t have to wait until the new year to get a big-screen noir fix. Noir City Xmas, featuring “O. Henry’s Full House” and “The Curse of the Cat People,” is on Dec. 17.

Earlier this month, Noir City made its first trip to Kansas City. To promote the fest, the foundation’s Eddie Muller talked on the radio with “Gun Crazy” actress Peggy Cummins and other guests.

We loved this snippet from the chat. Muller told listeners: “I’ve always said that in film noir, women were allowed to be, for once, completely the equal of men. By which I mean equally tempted, equally compromised and equally guilty.”

Exactly!

Meanwhile, if you are lucky enough to be in London during the holidays, there’s a must-see stop for photography lovers. The definitive retrospective of the work of Horst P. Horst (1906-99), one of the 20th century’s master photographers, continues through Jan. 4 at London’s V&A Museum.

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Dark Crimes: Film Noir Thrillers Vol. 2 collection is a great way to welcome Black Friday

Dark-crimes-film-noir-thrillers-volume-2-dvd_360[1]Just in time for next week’s Black Friday shopping binge is Dark Crimes: Film Noir Thrillers Vol. 2, a DVD collection from TCM and Universal released earlier this year.

The set includes two Fritz Lang films. “You and Me” (1938) is an offbeat gangster comedy/romance starring George Raft and Sylvia Sydney, with music  by Kurt Weill of “The 3 Penny Opera” fame.

The always delightful Ray Milland plays a man desperately trying to stop a Nazi spy ring in Lang’s “Ministry of Fear” (1944). Graham Greene wrote the source novel.

Two William Castle movies complete the set. “Undertow (1949) tells the story of a fall guy framed for murder (Scott Brady) who pursues the real culprits. “Undertow” also stars Bruce Bennett.

Castle’s “Hollywood Story” (1951) stars Richard Conte and Julie Adams.  In this backstage murder mystery, a producer makes a movie about an old crime, hoping to uncover the perp.

Dark Crimes Vol. 2 contains multiple digital bonus features, including an introduction by TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, behind-the-scenes photos, production stills, poster and lobby card galleries, an original essay by Film Noir Foundation founder and president Eddie Muller, and interviews with Muller and actress Julie Adams.

The collection is available exclusively through TCM’s online store: shop.tcm.com.

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The Film Noir File: Crawford at her craziest in ‘Possessed’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Film Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). All movies below are from the schedule of TCM, which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

Pick of the Week

Possessed

Van Heflin is immune to Joan Crawford’s charm in “Possessed.” What nerve!

Van Heflin is immune to Joan Crawford’s charm in “Possessed.” What nerve!

(1947, Curtis Bernhardt). Thursday, Nov. 20. 4:15 p.m. (1:15 p.m.) With Joan Crawford, Van Heflin and Raymond Massey. Read the full review here.

Thursday, Nov. 20

2:15 p.m. (11:15 a.m.): “A Stolen Life” (1946, Curtis Bernhardt). Two Bette Davises, both in love with Glenn Ford, create mass confusion when one of them (his wife) dies and the other (her sister) substitutes herself. A double-role tour-de-force, which two-faced Bette tried again in 1964‘s “Dead Ringer.” With Walter Brennan, Dane Clark and Charlie Ruggles.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Birds” (1963, Alfred Hitchcock). With Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Suzanne Pleshette and Jessica Tandy. Reviewed in FNB on Oct. 23, 2014.

Friday, Nov. 21

Dennis Weaver goes from frustrated to freaked out in “Duel.”

Dennis Weaver goes from frustrated to freaked out in “Duel.”

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Duel” (1971, Steven Spielberg). “Jaws” made Steven Spielberg famous, but it was the earlier made-for-TV movie “Duel” that first showed he could scare the pants off any decently susceptible audience. Based on a Richard Matheson story, this brilliantly made, terrifying action movie pits an increasingly exasperated and then frightened motorist (Dennis Weaver) against an oncoming truck driven by a faceless trucker. A huge smoke-belching behemoth of a truck keeps pursuing him, apparently trying, for no reason he can fathom, to run him off the road and kill him. A real shocker.

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Scarecrow” (1973, Jerry Schatzberg). With Al Pacino, Gene Hackman and Dorothy Tristan). Reviewed in FNB on May 6, 2013.

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “The Last Detail” (1973, Hal Ashby). With Jack Nicholson, Randy Quaid and Otis Young. Reviewed in FNB on Feb. 20, 2013.

Sunday, Nov. 23

9:45 a.m. (6:45 a.m.): “Citizen Kane” (1941, Orson Welles). With Welles, Joseph Cotten, Everett Sloane, Dorothy Comingore and the Mercury Players. Reviewed in FNB on July 13, 2012.

2 p.m. (11 a.m.): “The Big Sleep” (1946, Howard Hawks). With Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Dorothy Malone and Elisha Cook, Jr.

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Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining,’ noir as they come, plays Saturday at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica

The Shining/1980/Warner Bros./144 min.

By Mike Wilmington

The Shining poster Jack Nicholson“Heeeere’s JOHNNNY!!!!” screams the ferociously demented-looking hotel caretaker Jack Torrance as he axes open a door to get at his terrified wife Wendy and their child Danny, in the frightening final scenes of “The Shining“ – Stanley Kubrick’s flawed yet unforgettable 1980 film of what may be Stephen King’s best novel.

“The Shining” is revived on Saturday, Nov. 22, at the American Cinematheque’s Aero Theatre.

In the movie, Jack (played to the hilt by Jack Nicholson) is snowbound with his family (played by Shelley Duvall and Danny Lloyd) in the mountainous and isolated Overlook Lodge. It’s a vast spooky place, decorated with somber Native American motifs and infested with a creepy set of ghosts, including a sardonic bartender and a lecherous nude old lady and the previous caretaker who murdered his own family long ago in these same eerie corridors and rooms.

Wendy and Danny have watched Jack going crazier and crazier. Now, Mad Jack has hit his frenzied peak  and there‘s no one at Overlook to stop his axe-swinging rampage.

“The Shining” is not only based on King‘s best novel; it‘s probably the best movie ever adapted from any of King’s books. Even so, it’s flawed, and King was right to be somewhat disappointed with it. Here’s the problem: Kubrick and his fellow screenwriter, novelist Diane Johnson (“Le Divorce”) wrote Jack as crazy as a loon the moment he stepped into the Overlook (and even before).

King, more movingly, wrote his main character as a sympathetic but haunted alcoholic and failed novelist who loved his family and gradually sank into madness, fighting, as the ghosts and demons took over. In retrospect, Kubrick probably should have hired King as his co-writer rather than Johnson. The original story would have made a better movie and an even better role for Nicholson.

That said, “The Shining” is still one hell of a show, noir as they come, and one of the most horrifyingly visual of all classic American horror movies.

The Aero Theatre is at 1328 Montana Ave. in Santa Monica.

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Film Noir File: Does Gilda still sizzle? Put the blame on Rita

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Film Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). All movies below are from the schedule of TCM, which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

Pick of the Week

Rita Hayworth was Columbia Pictures’ top female star in the mid-1940s.

Rita Hayworth was Columbia Pictures’ top female star in the mid-1940s.

Gilda” (1946, Charles Vidor). Tuesday, Nov. 18. 12:45 a.m. (9:45 p.m.). “Gilda” is all about Gilda and that’s the way it should be – for any femme fatale and particularly for Rita Hayworth the most popular pinup girl of WWII, a talented entertainer and Columbia Pictures’ top female star in the mid-1940s. With Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford and George Macready. Read the full review here.

Friday, Nov. 14

1:45 a.m. (10:45 p.m.): “Wild Boys of the Road” (1933, William Wellman). In the 1960s, campus radicals, anti-war protestors and other rebels were crazy about this movie. And it still holds up today, both as blistering melodrama and as powerful populist moviemaking. The story still stings: In the depths of the Depression, two buddies (Frankie Darro and Edwin Philips) hit the road to help their strapped parents. On their way from the Midwest to New York City, they pick up a girl hobo played by Dorothy Coonan (Mrs. Wellman), and endure hardship, starvation, police brutality, rape on the train (by guard Ward Bond) and some particularly well-staged riots. One of Wellman’s best pictures, along with “Wings,“ “Public Enemy,” “The Ox-Bow Incident“ and “The Story of G. I. Joe.” You‘ll be amazed at how this movie gets to you.

Saturday, Nov. 15

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “On the Waterfront” (1954, Elia Kazan). With Marlon Brando, Lee J. Cobb, Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden and Rod Steiger. Reviewed in FNB on June 5, 2014.

Eva Marie Saint and Marlon Brando star in "On the Waterfront."

Eva Marie Saint and Marlon Brando star in “On the Waterfront.”

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “Dead Ringer” (1964, Paul Henreid). With Bette Davis, Karl Malden, Peter Lawford and Jean Hagen. Reviewed in FNB on March 25, 2013.

Sunday, Nov. 16

10:45 p.m. (7:45 p.m.): “Nights of Cabiria” (1957, Federico Fellini). With Giulietta Masina, Amedeo Nazzari and Francois Perier. Reviewed in FNB on April 10, 2014.

Preceded at 8 p.m. (5 p.m.) by “Sweet Charity,” Bob Fosse’s sizzling Broadway musical redo of “Nights of Cabiria” (book by Neil Simon, sings by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields), starring that super-terrific lady of the evening Shirley MacLaine as Charity.

4 a.m. (1 a.m.): “Mafioso” (1962, Alberto Lattuada). With Alberto Sordi, Norma Bangell and Gabriella Conti. Reviewed in FNB on Jan. 22, 2013.

Casablanca posterMonday, Nov, 17

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “Sunrise” (1927, F. W. Murnau). With Janet Gaynor, George O’Brien and Margaret Livingston. Reviewed in FNB on Nov. 3, 2012.

Tuesday. Nov. 18

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Casablanca” (1942, Michael Curtiz). With Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Paul Henreid, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and Conrad Veidt. Reviewed in FNB on Aug. 25, 2012.

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Happy birthday, Veronica Lake!

Veronica Lake in black dressShe was born today in 1922 in Brooklyn. Lake was almost as popular for her sexy long peek-a-boo hairstyle as she was for the film noir titles she starred in with Alan Ladd: “This Gun for Hire,” “The Glass Key,” “The Blue Dahlia” and “Saigon.”

She died July 7, 1973.

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‘Foxcatcher’ draws us in with riveting acting but denies dramatic satisfaction

Alert: This review contains a spoiler.

Foxcatcher posterFoxcatcher/2014/Sony Pictures Classics/134 min.

“I’ve been looking for a father my whole life and I finally found him in John du Pont,” says Channing Tatum as Olympic wrestling champ Mark Schultz in “Foxcatcher.”

The movie is based on the real-life saga of the ultra-wealthy du Pont (Steve Carell) and his working relationship with Mark Schultz and his older brother Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo), both of whom won Olympic gold medals in 1984.

With the apparent aim of coaching wrestlers for the 1988 Seoul Olympics, du Pont invites Mark to train on his family estate, Foxcatcher Farm. But du Pont has little talent for coaching and it’s clear he wants to be more than a father figure to his protégée.

When Dave joins his brother at Foxcatcher, Mark is pushed aside and becomes alienated. Du Pont sours on his coaching plans and ultimately commits murder.

Director Bennett Miller (“Capote” and “Moneyball”) won the Best Director prize for “Foxcatcher” at the Cannes Film Fest. E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman wrote the script. The film strikes a grim and chilling mood, and Miller elicits memorable performances. From his pasty skin to his hunched gait to his clipped, halted speech, Carell perfectly conveys the menacing arrogance and internal emptiness that apparently defined du Pont’s personality. Ruffalo and Tatum are excellent as well.

But the film is strangely lopsided. Though it creates intensely compelling portraits on the surface, it shies away from examining the characters, especially du Pont, in real depth (once the triangle grows strained, Mark is essentially sidelined) and avoids any probing of du Pont’s interior life or motive for a cold-blooded killing.

Steve Carell is almost unrecognizable as creepy John du Pont.

Steve Carell is almost unrecognizable as creepy John du Pont.

That was a conscious decision, said Miller at a recent press conference in Beverly Hills. “[The film] resists the temptation of concluding anything, of putting labels on what this complex is. It purposely denies you the satisfaction of saying that’s what it was and to let you stop thinking about it. There was no conclusion in real life.”

At du Pont’s trial, neither the prosecution nor the defense suggested a motive for the crime. A jury rejected du Pont’s request to be found not guilty by reason of insanity. He was found guilty but mentally ill.

Carell said du Pont’s longtime sadness and loneliness influenced his portrayal. “I never approached him as a villain,” he said at the press conference.

And though Carell is compelling to the point of being almost unrecognizable as this awkward creepy loner, the fact remains that du Pont was indeed a villain, in more than ways than one. Completely sidestepping this essential component of the story dilutes the overall impact.

That said, “Foxcatcher” is worth seeing, especially given the Oscar buzz around the actors. “It’s very rewarding that it is resonating with people,” Carell said. “It was challenging, exciting and exhilarating.”

“Foxcatcher” opens in theaters today.

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French film noir fest starts Friday in San Francisco

Simone Signoret in “Dedee D’Anvers,” one of the films in The French Had a Name for it at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco.

Simone Signoret in “Dedee D’Anvers,” one of the films in The French Had a Name for it at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco.

Mick LaSalle of SF Gate reports: “The Roxie Theater is launching a remarkable festival on Friday, Nov. 14, of films you’ve never heard of. Until a couple of weeks ago, I’d never heard of them either. I didn’t know they existed, or even that there were movies of this kind. But now I’ve seen every one of them, and the experience is like finding gold where you thought was rock.

“The festival is called The French Had a Name For It: French Film Noir 1946-1964. Of course, I knew that the French adored American noir and that the French critics gave the genre its name. But I had no idea they were also churning out noirs themselves, nor that they were doing them so well.

“Some of these films are great. Some are very good. And some are completely insane.”

Read the rest of his story here.

Oh, how I would love to dash up north for this festival!

But I’m not complaining. We at FNB are fully immersed in the AFI Fest by Audi, which runs through Thursday in Hollywood.

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