Archives for March 2011

On the radar: Noir fest hits the Egyptian, get into Cain’s brain on ‘Mildred Pierce’ tour, Bette and Joan on stage

There’s nothing like a bunch of noirs in my back yard to put me in a good mood!

Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer star in "Gaslight" from 1944.

So I’m very excited that the NOIR CITY: HOLLYWOOD film festival, presented in collaboration with the Film Noir Foundation, returns to the Egyptian Theatre on April 1.

Now in its 13th year, the program features several new prints preserved by the foundation and the UCLA Film & Television Archive. The series is hosted by the foundation’s Eddie J. Muller and Alan K. Rode. For more info, visit:

There is much to see at this year’s fest (28 films total) and top on my viewing list are:

“High Wall” (1947, Curtis Bernhardt)

“The Hunted” (1948, Jack Bernhard)

“The Two Mrs. Carrolls” (1947, Peter Godfrey) and “The Dark Mirror” (1948, Robert Siodmak)

“Journey into Fear” (1943, Orson Welles)

“Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” (1950, Gordon Douglas)

“A Woman’s Secret” (1949, Nicholas Ray)

“Caught” (1949, Max Ophuls)

“Framed” (1947, Richard Wallace)

“Gaslight” (1944, George Cukor) and “My Name is Julia Ross” (1945, Joseph H. Lewis)

One way ticket to Noirville: Viewers of HBO’s “Mildred Pierce,” directed by Todd Haynes, may be interested to know about a bus tour of the Los Angeles venues that inspired James M. Cain, author of the novel on which the series and the 1945 film were based. Read Sean Macaulay’s story at:

London anyone? According to Playbill: “London’s Arts Theatre has announced details of its summer program, which will include the world premiere of Anton Burg’s Bette & Joan, which will star Greta Scaachi and Anita Dobson in the title roles of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, respectively.” Read more at:

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Huston explores ‘Asphalt Jungle’ with an unflinching eye

The Asphalt Jungle/1950/MGM/112 min.

“The Asphalt Jungle” was a departure in that it humanized its villains.

“The Asphalt Jungle” was a departure in that it humanized its villains.

“The Asphalt Jungle” from 1950 by director John Huston is rightly considered a masterpiece. Excellent storytelling and an outstanding cast, including Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Sam Jaffe, Jean Hagen and Marilyn Monroe, have helped it stand the test of time.

But its stark, unwavering realism is not for everyone. Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM, where Huston made the movie, had this to say about the flick: “That ‘Asphalt Pavement’ thing is full of nasty, ugly people doing nasty things. I wouldn’t walk across the room to see a thing like that.”

This small but pivotal role helped put Marilyn on the map.

This small but pivotal role helped put Marilyn on the map.

Um, did he not see luminous and fragile Monroe as mistress Angela Phinlay? Huston portrays a gang of thieves as flawed humans trying to make a living. “We all work for our vice,” explains menschlike mastermind Doc Erwin Riedenschneider (Jaffe). Recently released from jail, Doc has planned every detail of a $1 million jewel robbery and seeks to round up the best craftsmen he can find for one last heist.

A fat wallet means Doc can head to Mexico and court all the nubile girls he can handle. Dix Handley (Hayden), a tough guy with swagger to spare, hopes to pay his debts and return to his beloved horses in Kentucky. Getaway driver Gus Minissi (James Whitmore) is sick of running his dingy diner. Bookie ‘Cobby’ Cobb (Marc Lawrence) covets booze. Safecracker Louis Ciavelli (Anthony Caruso) has a wife and kid to support. Alonzo ‘Lon’ Emmerich (Calhern) is a wealthy but overspent lawyer who wants to be solvent again.

“You may not admire these people, but I think they’ll fascinate you,” says Huston in an archive clip included on the DVD. They pull it off, but what heist would be complete without a doublecross and crossing paths with the police?

In this macho, man’s-world movie, there is alas no femme fatale. But rest assured there are flawed women aplenty. Hagen plays the neurotic Doll, a struggling performer, and her vice is Dix. Monroe, as Lon’s barely legal girlfriend, orders mackerel for his breakfast, flips through travel magazines and is fond of saying, “Yipes!” Lon’s bed-ridden wife May (Dorothy Tree) wishes Lon were home more often. Teresa Celli plays dutiful wife Maria Ciavelli.

Said Huston of Marilyn: “She had no techniques. It was all the truth, it was only Marilyn.” (He later directed her in “The Misfits.”)

Said Huston of Marilyn: “She had no techniques. It was all the truth, it was only Marilyn.” (He later directed her in “The Misfits.”)

The actors complement each other deftly. Jaffe, both sage and seedy (when he lusts after pretty young things) is particularly entertaining; he nabbed an Oscar nom for best supporting actor. Helping his rich characterization is the fact that he gets some terrific lines, for instance: “Just when you think you can trust a cop, he goes legit.”

The movie is full of such dry asides. The whip-smart script, by Huston and Ben Maddow, also scored an Oscar nom. W.R. Burnett‘s novel provided the source material, though the book told its story from the police point of view; Huston and Maddow flipped the perspective. Huston was also nominated for best director; Harold Rosson for best B&W cinematography. (None won.)

“Asphalt Jungle” is the only noir I know of that’s set not in NYC, LA, Chicago or London, but in a smaller city in the Midwest, usually seen as the bedrock of integrity, and it’s fun to try to figure out exactly where this is happening.

The dark film was a departure for MGM—known for upbeat, lavish, escapist fare—but the studio’s production chief Dore Schary ushered in a period of social consciousness for the company, notes Drew Casper, film scholar and author of “Post-War Hollywood Cinema 1946-1962,” in his DVD commentary.

Rififi posterAs for the look of the film, Casper points out that in addition to elements of Expressionism (fractured frames and diagonals or horizontals blunting verticals to create tension), Huston’s experience filming war documentaries as well as the work of Italian Neo-realism (1945’s “Open City” by Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica’s “The Bicycle Thief” from 1948) also influenced his visuals.

In turn, Huston’s groundbreaking movie clearly had an impact on the great Jules Dassin, director of 1955’s “Rififi,” one of the best of all noirs. “Asphalt Jungle” was remade three times: “Badlanders” (1958), “Cairo” (1962), and “Cool Breeze” (1972). None is considered as good as the original.

Dry but never dull, “Jungle” is a straight-shooting portrait that undermines Hollywood’s often-moralizing and hypocritical gloss. “Crime is only a left-handed form of human endeavor,” as Lon so matter-of-factly puts it. Yipes!

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‘The Asphalt Jungle’ quick hit

The Asphalt Jungle/1950/MGM/112 min.

John Huston‘s classic heist movie, which earned four Oscar noms, broke new cinematic ground by humanizing the criminals rather than writing them off as one-dimensional cheats. A suspenseful ride with stellar performers. The top-notch cast includes Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Jean Hagen, James Whitmore, Sam Jaffe and an up-and-coming young starlet named Marilyn Monroe.

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Feel-good news for FNB

Yesterday I was named at the top of a list of stylish bloggers by the lovely Marya, who runs

How cool!

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‘Mildred Pierce’ by Haynes savors subtext of Cain’s novel

Crawford and Blyth

HBO’s “Mildred Pierce” mini-series, directed by Todd Haynes and based on James M. Cain’s 1941 novel, starts this Sunday.

In director Michael Curtiz’s 1945 movie version of the book, Joan Crawford won the Oscar for her portrayal of the title role in the ultimate story of a self-sacrificing mother and her ungrateful child, Veda (Ann Blyth). Mildred’s hard-earned success as a restaurateur allows her to support not only her family but also her aristocratic and cash-poor love interest Monty Beragon (Zachary Scott).

In Haynes’ mini-series, Kate Winslet stars as Mildred, Guy Pearce plays Monty and two actresses share the Veda role: Morgan Turner as the girl and Evan Rachel Wood as the young woman. Haynes and Jon Raymond wrote the teleplay.

In many ways, the series, which follows the book more faithfully than the 1945 movie and covers nearly 10 ten years in the characters’ lives, is a delight to watch. Depression-era Southern California is beautifully recreated and shot by Edward Lachman. Carter Burwell’s original music is spot-on as is Ann Roth’s costume design. And the acting is excellent, particularly the leads.

Whereas Crawford’s Mildred is stoic and dignified, Winslet’s is sensitive, wistful, often tentative and unsure of herself. Her expressive features suggest her mounting anger, guilt and desperation as her business grows but her relationships deteriorate.

Early on in the series, Winslet’s Mildred identifies in her daughter a “pride or nobility I thought I had” and we glimpse the complexity and closeness of her bond with Veda. The mother-daughter relationship in Haynes’ five-hour version is perhaps more nuanced than in Curtiz’s film.

Pearce easily inhabits the playboy scoundrel Monty and Wood sizzles as the junior miss femme fatale. As the story unfolds, we learn that Mildred and Veda also have very similar taste in men. This year’s supporting actress Oscar winner Melissa Leo and Mare Winningham are quite good as Mildred’s friends.

A disappointment, however, is James LeGros’ insipid performance as Pierce family “friend” Wally Burgan. In Curtiz’s version, the role as played by Jack Carson – conniving and sly, but charming – was one of the movie’s many strengths.

Another downside is the pacing, which is far too slow. It would have benefited from shaving about an hour, especially in the beginning. But then if Haynes’ aim was to be true to every page of the book, he has succeeded.

I prefer Curtiz’s original because it is canonical film noir, in tone, look and story. Granted, Cain’s book was altered because in 1940s Hollywood, immorality was never allowed to triumph. Instead of the evil-doers leaving California to begin a new life in New York, one is fatally shot and the other eventually is punished. The murder sets the story, told via flashback, in motion and lends an edgy suspense.

Still, Haynes did not set out to make a noir; apparently his aim is to explore the subtext and subtleties in Cain’s novel. Cain was, arguably, sympathetic toward his feisty protagonist (what choice does she have but to establish independence and security, given the weak and deceitful men she has to choose from?). But she pays a dreadful price for doing so and the book decries materialism, the class system and social climbing. As for Cain’s ultimate take on Mildred’s power, in Hayne’s work, there is fodder for both sides of the argument.

Warner Bros. image of 1945 “Mildred Pierce”

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THR on red-carpet beauty, what Head said, Zoe’s dough

The Hollywood Reporter’s recent style issue was packed with great stories. For instance, Meg Hemphill spotted four awards beauty trends that she predicts we’ll be seeing for months to come. They are:

Think bright pink for spring.

1. Bright pink lips: Who doesn’t love a flirty pink pout? Not Scarlett Johansson, who wore MAC’s Sheen Supreme in Behave Yourself, $14.50, on Oscar night, or Claire Danes, who dazzled at the SAGs with Joli Rouge in 709 Parisian Pink, $24, by Clarins. Shown here is MAC’s Full Fuchsia.

2. Messy side-dos: Let loose with a softly asymmetrical look. Hairstylist Laini Reeves, creator of Amy Adams’ up-do for the Globes, called the effect “1920s with a twist.”

3. Soft makeup: Nars Illuminating Cream, $29, was key to Olivia Wilde’s sheer glow at the Golden Globes. Makeup artist Spencer Barnes was going for “a soft, timeless look that wasn’t focused on trendy color schemes or any one bold application.”

4. Retro waves: Frederic Fekkai hairstylist Adir Abergel took a cue from old Hollywood and Rita Hayworth, then updated the look for Anne Hathaway on Globes night.

Edith Head

A must-read: Sam Wasson on the legacy of A-list costume designer Edith Head. The story is pegged to the release of two new books: “Edith Head: The Fifty-Year Career of Hollywood’s Greatest Costume Designer” and “The Dress Doctor: Prescriptions for Style from A to Z,” an adaptation of Head’s best-selling tome from 1959.

The spread features pictures from “Vertigo,” “Rear Window,” “The Birds” and other movies. Love this quotation from Head: “Clothes not only can make the woman – they can make her several different women. There’s no one style; there’s a style for a mood.”

THR’s cover story by Shirley Halperin details the empire of Rachel Zoe Inc., “a multiplatform brand powerhouse.” A companion piece names Hollywood ’s 25 most powerful stylists. The top four, after Zoe, are: Kate Young, Petra Flannery, Jen Rade and Anna Bingemann.

Other exiting news: Zoe and husband Rodger Berman are parents to a baby boy. Their first child, Skyler Morrison Berman, was born March 24 in Los Angeles.

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Can’t find Mr. Right? Mr. Bright might be right in front of you

A friend of mine was recently fixed up with a guy who said he loved music and liked to travel. He was a truck driver who listened to the radio. Another friend went on a blind date with an Irish dentist, who turned out to have a lovely brogue, but no front teeth. Seriously.

Despite the odd dating disaster, it’s important to keep a positive attitude when it comes to love. To help you out on that front, try Benefit’s Finding Mr. Bright: Your brightening makeup MANual, $36.

Mr. Bright just might surprise you.

The cute box contains four products that give your skin instant radiance:

 * Erase Paste in 02 (medium) brightening camouflage, 0.11 oz.

* Girl Meets Pearl golden-pink liquid pearl, 0.25 fl. oz.

* Posie Tint pink lip & cheek stain, 0.13 fl. oz.

* High Beam luminescent complexion enhancer, 0.08 fl. oz.

Erase Paste is a “creamy, industrial-strength” concealer, says the company’s site. Girl Meets Pearl, a “liquid pearl accent,” can be worn alone or on top of makeup. My favorite so far is Posie Tint, a super-sheer liquid blush that can be layered for deeper color. Apply High Beam liquid spotlight on cheekbones, brow bones and the bridge of your nose.

Mr. Right may be taking his time, it’s true, but meanwhile you’ll be sporting a gorgeous glow.

Product source: From my own collection; I did not receive product or compensation from Benefit.

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Remembering Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor, 79, one of the world’s most famous actresses, died today in Los Angeles. Her stunning beauty, charisma and wealth along with eight marriages, 50 movies and tireless advocacy efforts on behalf of those afflicted with HIV/AIDS ensure that her legacy will endure.

To that end, I’ve pulled a few of her memorable quotations:

“Some of my best leading men have been dogs and horses.”

“I don’t remember much about ‘Cleopatra.’ There were a lot of other things going on.”

“One problem with people who have no vices is that they’re pretty sure to have some annoying virtues.”

“Success is a great deodorant. It takes away all your past smells.”

“If someone’s dumb enough to offer me a million dollars to make a picture, I’m certainly not dumb enough to turn it down.”

“I, along with the critics, have never taken myself very seriously.”

“I will not be silenced and I will not give up and I will not be ignored.” (Referring to her HIV/AIDS charitable work)

Additionally, David Germain and Hillel Italie of the Associated Press wrote an excellent Taylor obit. To read it, visit:

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On the radar: HBO’s ‘Mildred Pierce’ premiere in New York, the launch of ‘Parisian Chic,’ and an of-the-moment site

Kate Winslet and Guy Pearce walked the red carpet Monday night in New York at the premiere for HBO’s “Mildred Pierce,” directed by Todd Haynes and based on James M. Cain’s novel. The mini-series starts Sunday. The 1945 movie version of the book stars Joan Crawford in the title role.

Inès de la Fressange

Look book: Magazine illustrator, Roger Vivier consultant and former Chanel model Inès de la Fressange shares her style secrets in “Parisian Chic” out next month. In addition to fashion pointers, the book includes tips on living well, 70 pages of her favorite places to go in Paris as well as ideas for entertaining at home, and who does that better than the French?

A sample de la Fressange maxim: “A true Parisian is not looking to snag a billionaire husband. She is uninterested in spending for its own sake and sporting the labels to show for it.”

Read more and see highlights on savvy and soigné Shana Ting Lipton’s site, Chic Trek.

Newness to me: I recently discovered the elegant site NOWNESS, which features “stories influencing contemporary culture and global lifestyle, previewing the latest in fashion, gastronomy, art, film, music, design, travel and sport.” Part of the Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton family, the site notes that all content is editorially independent. Bella Freud, Bret Easton Ellis, Joan Juliet Buck and Daria Shapovalova are just a few of the contributors.

Inès de la Fressange image from Chic Trek.

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Catherine Deneuve stars in comic confection ‘Potiche’

Screen icon Catherine Deneuve

This week, the French comedy, “Potiche,” directed by François Ozon, opens nationwide. Potiche is French for arm candy/trophy wife or husband. It stars Gérard Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve, who recently came to the LA County Museum of Art for a Q&A after a preview of the movie. She was magnificent! Granted, “Potiche” is not a noir, but why pass up a chance to see a blonde legend like Deneuve on the big screen?

Chicago fans can see a sneak preview of “Potiche” on Wednesday, as part of the Music Box Theatre’s program that also includes “Repulsion,” “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” “Belle de Jour,” “ 8 Women” and “The Last Metro.”

Meanwhile, the Bazaar Report notes that the Brooklyn Academy of Music is hosting a retrospective of Deneuve’s work. It runs through March 31.

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