Noirish ‘Unforgivable’ is sleek, suspenseful, contemplative

Unforgivable/2011/Strand Releasing/112 min.

There’s a moment early on in “Unforgivable” when André Dussollier ’s character, a best-selling crime writer named Francis, suggests to a woman he just met (Judith, played by Carole Bouquet) that they move in together. Exasperated, she rolls her eyes and reminds him that they barely know each other. His response is that “knowing” isn’t a prerequisite to love.

Crazy as it seems, she accepts the offer (ok, it happens to be on an island near Venice) and somehow the decision seems completely plausible in the coolly hypnotic world created by director/co-writer André Téchiné.

He’s in his 60s, she’s in her 50s and, as they attempt to merge their lives, their flaws and frailties surface, not to mention their baggage. Francis’ adult daughter Alice (Mélanie Thierry) has a wild-child streak; while visiting the couple, she takes off, leaving no word as to her whereabouts.

Judith, a former model, now real-estate agent, has had many lovers with whom she has stayed friendly. She is independent, sometimes aloof and doesn’t take Francis and his family drama as seriously as perhaps he would like. Panicked about Alice, Francis taps an old flame of Judith’s (Adriana Asti as gumshoe Anna Maria) to find her. As his frustration about Alice mounts, Francis becomes suspicious and jealous of Judith’s chill charm and knack for attracting attention. So he hires Anna Maria’s son Jérémie (Mauro Conte), just out of jail and in need of cash, to follow her and report back to him her activities.

Technically, “Unforgivable” isn’t a neo noir, but there are noir elements in this sleek, suspenseful, contemplative movie that is particularly well written and well acted. (Based on a novel by Philippe Dijan, Téchiné co-wrote the film with Mehdi Ben Attia.) Arguably, there is almost too much going on – sometimes the supporting players’ strands of the story meander a bit randomly and Alice’s relationship with her father doesn’t quite feel authentic. But Téchiné, one of the most highly regarded French filmmakers of his generation, rewards patient viewing with graceful images and illumination of the niggling difficulties inherent in loving and trusting other people.

“Unforgivable” opens today in New York and LA.

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Film noir Friday on TCM kicks off a new feature on FNB

THE NOIR FILE
By Mike Wilmington

A noir-lover’s schedule of film noirs on cable TV. First up: Friday, June 29, an all-noir day on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). Times: Eastern Standard and Pacific Standard.

Friday, June 29
6 a.m. (3 a.m.): “The Letter” (William Wyler, 1940) Bette Davis, in her Bad Bette mode, strings along Herbert Marshall and James Stephenson (but not Gale Sondergaard) in the ultimate movie version of W. Somerset Maugham’s dark colonial tale of adultery, murder and a revealing letter. Like most of Maugham’s stories, this one was based on fact. Script by Howard Koch.

Bogart and Ida Lupino play outlaw lovers in “High Sierra.”

7:45 a.m. (4:45 a.m.): “High Sierra” (Raoul Walsh, 1941) “The ‘Gotterdammerung’ of the gangster movie,” according to Andrew Sarris. Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino (both great) as outlaw lovers in Walsh’s classic noir from the W. R. Burnett novel. Script by Burnett and John Huston; with Arthur Kennedy, Cornel Wilde, Barton MacLane, Joan Leslie, Henry Hull and Henry Travers. If you’ve never seen this one, don’t miss it: the last shot is a killer.

9:30 a.m. (6:30 a.m.): “The Fallen Sparrow” (Richard Wallace, 1943) John Garfield, Maureen O’Hara and Walter Slezak in an anti-Fascist thriller, with a Spanish Civil War backdrop. From the novel by Dorothy B. Hughes (“In a Lonely Place”).

11:15 a.m. (8:15 a.m.): “Johnny Angel” (Edwin L. Marin, 1946) Night-life murder mystery with George Raft, Claire Trevor, Signe Hasso and Hoagy Carmichael. Too plain visually, but a nice script by Steve Fisher and Frank Gruber.

John Garfield, Hume Cronyn and Lana Turner share a tense moment in “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” directed by Tay Garnett.

12:45 p.m. (9:45 a.m.): “Deception” (Irving Rapper, 1946) Bette Davis, Claude Rains and Paul Henreid in a stormy classical music triangle. Script by John Collier (“Evening Primrose”), from Louis Verneuil’s play.

2:45 p.m. (11:45 a.m.): “The Postman Always Rings Twice” (Tay Garnett, 1946) John Garfield and Lana Turner make the screen blaze as the bloody, adulterous lovers in this hot-as-hell, cold-as-ice movie of the steamy James M. Cain classic noir sex-and-murder thriller. With Hume Cronyn, Cecil Kellaway and Leon Ames. Script by Niven Busch.

4:45 p.m. (1:45 p.m.): “Hollow Triumph” (aka “The Scar”) (Steve Sekely, 1948) Crime and psychology and doubles and scars, with two Paul Henreids, Joan Bennett and Eduard Franz. Script by first-rate Brooklyn novelist Daniel Fuchs (“Low Company”).

Ava Gardner tempts Charles Laughton in “The Bribe.”

6:15 p.m. (3:15 p.m.): “The Bribe” (Robert Z. Leonard, 1949) Ace femme fatale Ava Gardner tempts Robert Taylor and Charles Laughton. Script by Marguerite Roberts (“True Grit”), from a Frederick Nebel story.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Woman in Hiding” (Michael Gordon, 1950) Marital tension with Ida Lupino, real-life hubby Howard Duff (as the wry love interest) and bad movie hubby Stephen McNally (the villain). Script by Oscar Saul (“The Helen Morgan Story”).

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “Julie” (Andrew L. Stone, 1956) Doris Day is terrorized by hubby Louis Jourdan. With Barry Sullivan and Frank Lovejoy. Stone scripted.

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “The Two Mrs. Carrolls” (Peter Godfrey, 1947) Humphrey Bogart, in Bad Bogie mode, has marriage problems with Barbara Stanwyck and Alexis Smith. Nigel Bruce co-stars; Thomas Job scripted.

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Mitzi Gaynor to appear at UCLA’s Jack Cole tribute night

So many bad girls, so little time ...

Innovative choreographer Jack Cole is finally getting his due. Long neglected in most discussions of dance on film, Cole introduced radically modern ideas and forms to a sphere often treated as merely decorative. He also lent distinction to the careers of stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Betty Grable and Mitzi Gaynor. Cole came to Hollywood from the world of nightclubs and Broadway.

Jack Cole

Mitzi Gaynor

As dance critic Debra Levine points out, Cole was a preeminent film choreographer when he joined Twentieth Century Fox to coach Monroe and Jane Russell in 1953’s “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”

His film portfolio includes remarkable female solos: “Put the Blame on Mame” for Hayworth in the film noir “Gilda” (1946); “No Talent Joe” for Grable in “Meet Me After the Show” (1951) and “Beale Street Blues” for Gaynor in “The I Don’t Care Girl” (1953).

On Saturday, Aug. 4, the UCLA Film & Television Archive is hosting a tribute to Cole. There will be a screening of “The I Don’t Care Girl” and a discussion with Gaynor, Levine and Larry Billman, founder of the Academy of Dance on Film. Directed by Lloyd Bacon, the movie shows Cole’s hyper-stylized choreography to dazzling effect.

The UCLA event precedes Levine’s guest-host appearance on Turner Classic Movies. “Choreography by Jack Cole,” a four-film Cole homage, airs Sept. 10 on TCM.

UCLA’s tribute is at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 4, at the Billy Wilder Theater, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90024, 310-206-8013. Tickets are $10 and I hear they are going fast!

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‘A Little Prince’ recalls Ford family’s ‘perfect’ Hollywood life

Peter Newton Ford, son of Glenn Ford and Eleanor Powell, grew up among Hollywood royalty. His father rose to stardom with Rita Hayworth in the film noir classic “Gilda” (made by Charles Vidor in 1946, the year after Peter was born). His mother was known as “The Queen of Tap” at MGM.

Life in the Fords’ Beverly Hills mansion looked picture perfect. But, says Peter Ford, much was hidden behind the warm, charming, cheerful exterior and, as his parents’ marriage dissolved, he found himself divided between fantasy and reality. The documentary “A Little Prince” explores his family relationships against the backdrop of Hollywood’s Golden Age, with its mighty magic and sweeping illusions.

“A Little Prince” by Alexander Roman, plays June 29 to July 5 at Laemmle Noho 7, 5240 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA, 91601. There will be a Q&A with Ford and Roman on Saturday, June 30, and Sunday, July 1.

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Synesthesia show: art through the lens of a set designer

Still from the 1924 Marcel L’Herbier film “L’inhumaine.” Robert Mallet-Stevens designed the sets.

M+B Gallery in Los Angeles presents Synesthesia, a group exhibition, from June 29 to Aug. 31.

As a starting point, the show uses concepts from Robert Mallet-Stevens (1886-1945), one of France’s most influential architects and one of cinema’s first set designers. “In cinema, the set designer must be more of an architect than a painter,” he said.

Synesthesia is created from a set designer’s point of view – assembling furniture, art and objects in an environment that is highly personal but wholly artificial. Daniele Balice, co-founder of the Paris gallery BaliceHertling, and Jay Ezra Nayssan curated the show.

Participating artists include Michael Anastassiades, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Isabelle Cornaro, Jacopo da Valenza, Lucy Dodd, Thomas Dozol, Paul Dupré-Lafon for Hermès, Piero Fornasetti, Guido Gambone, Martino Gamper, Eileen Gray, Hadrien Jacquelet, Lisa Jo, Alex Katz, Allison Katz, Antonio Lopez, Stewart MacDougall, Alexander May, MissoniHome, Carlo Mollino, Paul P., Ico Parisi, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Charlotte Perriand, Gaetano Pesce, Pablo Picasso, Gio Ponti, ROLU and Yves Saint Laurent.

The opening reception is on Friday, June 29, from 6-8 p.m.

M+B Gallery is at 612 N. Almont Drive, Los Angeles, CA, 90069, 310-550-0050.

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‘Searching for Sugar Man’ blends music and mystery

The highlight of my week was seeing ‘Searching for Sugar Man,’ a doc about Rodriguez, a Detroit-born singer-songwriter of the ’70s. Virtually unknown in the U.S., he had a huge following in South Africa. But even his foreign fans, young Afrikaners who rebelled against Apartheid, knew very little about this mysterious artist, including whether he lived past the ’70s.

The soundtrack is available July 24; the movie, by Swedish first-time director Malik Bendjelloul, is out in New York and LA on July 27, with more cities to follow. Don’t miss it – it’s an amazing film! (I’ll be running a review closer to the release date.)

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Film noir feline stars: The cat in ‘Strange Love of Martha Ivers’

The butler tries to help Martha (Janis Wilson) keep Bundles safe.

More on the most famous kitties in film noir

The Cat in “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers” 1946

Name: Marvin Saperstein

Character Name: Bundles

Bio: As I mentioned in my “Martha Ivers” review, it is Bundles the kitten who, through no fault of his own, sparks the chain of evil events that unfold in this noir melodrama.

The malevolent Mrs. Ivers (Dame Judith Anderson), a bit of a fat cat herself, hates anything that her niece Martha (Janis Wilson) loves, in particular, the girl’s treasured feline. But it’s one thing to say you hate a cat, it’s another thing to give it a brutal beating with your cane. Some would argue that Martha’s badass retaliation against her aunt was exactly what the nasty old lady deserved. (You could also argue that Martha, as an adult, symbolizes the corruption and decadence of capitalism, but that’s another post.)

Australian-born Dame Judith Anderson was a Broadway and film actress. She had a particular gift for playing snide, snooty matrons.

Anyway, back to Bundles, known offscreen as Marvin Saperstein. After his performance in this film, he acquired a reputation as a bruiser and found that working as a bodyguard for an alley cat named Lucky Malone, who controlled the downtown LA feline nightclub circuit, paid far better than working as an actor. The Sap, as he was called, had more to offer than just brawn, however. With a keen eye for spotting singers and other talent, and sharp negotiation skills, it wasn’t long before he became an agent and protector for a number of A-list feline entertainers.

When Malone was discovered dead in his Beverly Hills home (his oft-meowed claim to having 19 lives apparently false), the Sap took over the business and acquired great power by not only managing careers, but also by overseeing the covert gambling that took place in the clubs.

Saperstein never married, though he had a string of relationships with noted cat celebs such as Lola Pawsingham, Clawdette Montgomery and Fluffy Taylor. He prided himself on his Brentwood mansion as well as his enormous collection of diamond-studded collars and imported catbeds. Though he was dogged by the police, no charges ever stuck, likely because of The Sap’s close friendship with Tiger Brown, pet cat of L.A’s driven and often drunk police chief, Bill Parker. Saperstein died in Palm Springs in 1976.

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Greed at its glossiest in ‘The Strange Love of Martha Ivers’

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers/1946/Paramount/115 min.

The effects, both corrosive and subtle, of deep-seated greed form the core of “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers,” made for Paramount by prestige director Lewis Milestone. Known primarily for his war films, like the 1930 Oscar-winning classic “All Quiet on the Western Front,” and later for guiding the Rat Packers in the original Ocean’s Eleven (1960), Milestone is equally adept at noir.

An A-list picture with a budget to match, the film also boasts an A-list noir cast: “Double Indemnity’s” lethal dame Barbara Stanwyck as steely, unwavering Martha; Kirk Douglas in his film debut as Martha’s tough-on-the-outside-but-milquetoast-underneath alcoholic husband, District Attorney Walter O’Neil; the always-superb Van Heflin as Sam Masterson, Martha’s cocky ex-boyfriend; and gorgeous, statuesque Lizabeth Scott as Sam’s latest girlfriend, a kid from the wrong side of the tracks named Toni Marachek.

In some ways, this darkly melodramatic film is not a typical noir – Martha, the femme fatale, hails from a wealthy, prestigious family that’s made its fortune from the workers of a small industrial burg called Iverstown. We learn about the principal characters’ backgrounds and see Martha (Janis Wilson), Walter (Mickey Kuhn) and Sam (Darryl Hickman) as kids.

Martha (Barbara Stanwyck) likes to boss her husband Walter (Kirk Douglas). Walter likes to have a bottle nearby at all times.

Young Martha, fed up with her tyrannical spinster aunt/guardian, is on the verge of running away with Sam. She doesn’t quite make it, though, and one fateful night (need I mention dark and stormy?) the trio’s lives are changed permanently after Martha commits a terrible crime. Sam flees but returns nearly 20 years later, catching Martha’s eye again and making Walter squirm with guilt, which he tries to obliterate by drinking breakfast, lunch and dinner.

But in many ways, “Martha Ivers” is classic noir – a cynical, pessimistic mood; sharp visuals; characters trapped by secrets of the past and burdened with the weight of wrongdoing; love warped by a thirst for money and power. That said, not all is bleak – screenwriter Robert Rossen (“The Hustler”) provides a crackling good script with a sly twist, Edith Head designed the costumes, Miklós Rózsa wrote the score, the ideally cast actors nail their parts and there’s an upbeat ending. (Also, watch for Blake Edwards, uncredited, as a sailor/hitchhiker.)

Toni (Lizabeth Scott) and Sam (Van Heflin) become allies and more.

Every time I think I’ve found Heflin’s best performance, I see him in another movie and change my mind – for the next week or so this is my fave. Could anyone else but Heflin deliver a line like: “It’s the perfume I use that makes me smell so nice” and have it work so perfectly?

As a smalltime gambler who lives by his wits, Heflin’s Sam brims with swagger and sweet talk. Stanwyck’s Martha is more than up to the challenge of loving him. Douglas is supremely convincing in a difficult, textured role; Scott brings a sexy warmth and vulnerability to this girl who can’t seem to get a break.

And I particularly enjoyed the cherchez le femme element: setting all the evil into motion is little Martha’s beloved pet, a kitten named Bundles.

“The Strange Love of Martha Ivers” was recently released on Blu-ray by HD Cinema Classics.

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Ernst Haas exhibition opens Saturday in Santa Monica

Route 66, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1969

The Duncan Miller Gallery presents the first major Los Angeles showing of the works of Ernst Haas in “Classics,” a selection of his well-known prints along with more experimental color work he never exhibited.

Haas (1921-1986) was one of the 20th century’s most prolific and published photographers. Born in Vienna, Haas began as a painter before switching to photography. In 1953, he moved to New York and Life magazine published his 24-page color-photo essay on New York City. The Museum of Modern Art in New York gave Haas a one-man show in 1962; it was the museum’s first color-photography show, according to the Duncan Miller Gallery.

The opening reception is on Saturday, June 23, from 6-9 p.m. The show runs through Aug. 31.

The Duncan Miller Gallery is at 2525 Michigan Ave, Unit A7, Santa Monica, CA 90404, 310-453-1111. Hours: Wednesday-Saturday, 11-6.

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Slices of Los Angeles and a screening of ‘Mildred Pierce’

Photo from www.bettycrocker.com

On Saturday, June 16, at 2 p.m. the American Cinematheque will host a presentation on Los Angeles restaurants of the 1920s-1940s and screen the film-noir classic “Mildred Pierce.”

To kick off the event, Veronica Gelakoska, author of “Pig ’n Whistle,” and writer/preservationist Chris Nichols will give an illustrated talk on the Pig ’n Whistle, Melody Lane, Hody’s and other retro spots.

“Mildred Pierce” stars Joan Crawford as a divorced mother who waits tables and bakes pies to support her demanding daughter’s desires. She becomes a successful Los Angeles restaurateur and trouble ensues.

In honor of Ms. Pierce, slices of fruit pies will be sold at the screening. Fast forwarding to LA restaurants of today, I recently reviewed Gordon Ramsay at the London West Hollywood and thought I would share the review. Mmm.

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