Sunday, Aug. 5, marks the 50th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe‘s death. Several events will be held this week, including a memorial service at noon on Sunday at Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles.
The Noir File: Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, dueling noir queens in ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?’
By Michael Wilmington
A noir lover’s guide to classic film noir on cable TV. All the following movies are from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).
PICK OF THE WEEK
Saturday, July 28
8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” (1962, Robert Aldrich) Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, rivals for most of their careers, got two of their greatest roles when they were cast by director Robert Aldrich as the house-bound Hudson sisters, Blanche (Crawford) and Baby Jane (Davis) – two ex-film-stars turned eccentric recluses – in this mesmerizing, darkly funny, sometimes-touching suspense classic. Together with Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Blvd.,” it’s the cinematic definition of Hollywood Grand Guignol. With Victor Buono as the fat mama’s boy pianist, Marjorie Bennett as mama, Maidie Norman as the good housekeeper and Anna Lee as the kind neighbor.
Adapted by Lukas Heller from Henry Farrell’s novel; shot and edited by two masters, Ernest Haller (“Gone with the Wind”) and Michael Luciano (“Kiss Me Deadly”). A grisly, poignant masterpiece. If you aren’t both chilled and moved by Baby Jane’s line “You mean all these years we could have been friends?” you may have a heart of stone.
Sunday, July 29
10:15 a.m. (7:15 a.m.): “Boomerang!” (1947, Elia Kazan) True-crime drama thrillers, shot in real locations (“Kiss of Death,” “Naked City“) , are among the gems of film noir. Here’s a top-notch example, based on fact, about a prosecutor (Dana Andrews) and his crusade for justice for a defendant he’s convinced is wrongly accused. Scripted by Richard Murphy.
The superb cast of Kazan regulars includes Lee J. Cobb, Arthur Kennedy, Karl Malden and Ed Begley, Jane Wyatt and Sam Levene.
4 a.m. (1 a.m.): “The Fugitive” (1947, John Ford) John Ford usually isn’t ranked among noir directors, though 1935’s grim I.R.A. film “The Informer,” is definitely a noir precursor. “The Fugitive” – based on Graham Greene’s great novel “The Power and the Glory” and one of Ford’s own favorites of his work – qualifies as Western noir just as much as Raoul Walsh’s “Pursued” or William Wellman’s “The Ox-Bow Incident.”
With Henry Fonda as a sinful and alcoholic man of God fleeing the police in a tyrannical, anti-clerical Latin American state, Pedro Armendariz as his relentless pursuer, Dolores Del Rio as their mutual love (a point fudged in this censor-bound film), and Ward Bond as the gringo outlaw.
The sublime monochrome cinematography is by Mexican genius Gabriel Figueroa (“Los Olvidados”). The script is by Ford regular, master dramatist and occasional noir scribe Dudley Nichols (“Scarlet Street,” “The Informer,” “Stagecoach”).
Incidentally, the other Fords I would classify as Western noir are “Stagecoach” (1939), “The Searchers” (1956), “Sergeant Rutledge” (1960) and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (1962). “Stagecoach” and “The Searchers” are on TCM on Wednesday, Aug. 1, as part of the John Wayne tribute.
Thursday, Aug. 2
11 p.m. (8 p.m.): “The Thin Man” (1934, W. S. Van Dyke) The first and best of all the plush M.G.M. films in which William Powell and Myrna Loy impersonated Nick and Nora Charles, the slightly pixilated and urbanely witty couple who alternated screwball romps with tough, brainy detective work, solving murders and finishing champagne bottles with equal flair. That golden couple was inspired by the relationship between Dashiell Hammett and his longtime companion, playwright/screenwriter Lillian Hellman.
This is the only one of the Thin Man movies actually based on a Hammett novel. The adaptor/scenarists were another witty couple, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett (“It’s a Wonderful Life”). The supporting cast includes Maureen O’Sullivan and Cesar Romero.
“Cause I lost my job two weeks before Christmas,” goes a line in “Cause” by the Detroit-born singer/songwriter Rodriguez. If you’ve never heard of the song or the singer, he’s used to that. And he’s long been accustomed to the fickle tastes of the music business, having been dropped from the Sussex record label two weeks before Christmas of 1971.
He continued to write and play his songs of political protest, but for the most part faded from the American music scene after his albums “Cold Fact” (1970) and “Coming From Reality” (1971) both tanked in the U.S. Win some, lose some.
In South Africa, however, through bootlegged copies of his music, he shot to stardom, inspiring young Afrikaners in their opposition to Apartheid and a repressive government. “He gave [us] permission to free our minds. To many South Africans, he was a soundtrack to our lives,” says South African journalist Craig Bartholomew-Strydom, adding that the three essential records in those days were “Abbey Road,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Cold Fact.”
Despite his enormous popularity, his loyal fans knew little about him. By the ’90s, he ranked as a mysterious urban legend, owing to persistent and widespread rumors that he’d committed suicide on-stage. Trying to piece together the details of his demise, Bartholomew-Strydom and Stephen Segerman, a fellow fan/record seller, decided to probe what really happened.
And in “Searching for Sugar Man,” by Stockholm-based documentary filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul, we find out. A man-hunt, a meditation and a fairy tale, it’s an unforgettable story, by turns bafflingly suspenseful and deeply moving. Says Rodriguez, now 70: “In rock ’n’ roll, there’s always disappointment, criticism, rejection. That’s part of it. And that it all worked out like this, it’s all right with me.”
Bendjelloul paints a contemplative, joyful and visually sumptuous portrait of an artist. We meet music and media insiders such as Motor City producers Dennis Coffey and Mike Theodore who discovered Rodriguez in the late 1960s in a local bar and Sussex Records founder Clarence Avant as well as longtime Detroiters and Rodriguez’s three daughters. “They put me on the map,” says Rodriguez of his kids.
Shot by Camilla Skagerström with a Sony EX1, Super 8 and a Super 8 iPhone app and punctuated with animation, the film perfectly captures atmosphere: follow-the-money, investigative tension in sunny Cape Town contrasted with the grittily poetic qualities of Detroit – a nightscape pregnant with thunder and rain; slow, careful footsteps over snow-and-ice encrusted streets in a desolate city; neon signs lighting up bars like the Sewer and in-store posters announcing “We accept food stamps.”
And Bendjelloul precisely renders his subject, showing us Rodriguez’ prophetic but elusive spirit and letting us hear the voice – plaintive, searing and soulful – that’s as capable of inspiration today as it was 40 years ago.
“Searching for Sugar Man” opens Friday in New York and LA. The soundtrack is available at: http://myplay.me/u3e.
Southern California National Public Radio (NPR) affiliate KCRW is hosting one more free night of outdoor live music, DJs and photography at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City. Moby played on July 14; on Saturday night, Portugal. The Man celebrated the 40th anniversary of T.Rex‘s “The Slider” and on Aug. 4 Raphael Saadiq & Band of Skulls will perform the songs of Bob Dylan.
The concerts are in conjunction with Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present, organized by the Brooklyn Museum with guest curator and author Gail Buckland. Show organizers say it is the first major museum exhibit on rock and roll to spotlight the creative and collaborative role that photographers have played in the history of rock music. The show features 166 prints from iconic photographers, a Henry Diltz slideshow, several videos and a short doc film. Who Shot Rock & Roll runs at the Annenberg through Oct. 7.
By Michael Wilmington
A noir-lover’s guide to classic film noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). The times are Pacific Standard (listed first) and Eastern Standard.
Saturday, July 21
5 p.m. (8 p.m.): “To Have and Have Not” (1944, Howard Hawks). One of my all-time favorite movies is this crackling adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s novel of boating and gunplay, reset in wartime Martinique and legendary for its incendiary love scenes between co-stars Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. (They met on the set here and later married.) Bogie is at his toughest and most likeable as Harry Morgan, a charter fishing boat captain torn between Vichy government thugs and French partisans.
The sensational 19-year-old Bacall plays singer/adventuress Marie (a.k.a. Slim), who memorably asks Harry “You know how to whistle, don’t you?” The supporting cast includes piano man Hoagy Carmichael, Marcel Dalio (“Grand Illusion”), Dan Seymour and Walter Brennan (great as Harry’s pal, Eddie the Rummy). Two Nobel Prize winners, both friends of Hawks, were among the writers here: original author Hemingway (whose book was considerably changed) and screenwriter William Faulkner.
Tuesday, July 24
7:15 a.m. (10:15 a.m.): “Strangers on a Train” (1951, Alfred Hitchcock). Two strangers meet on a train: social-climbing tennis pro Guy Haines (Farley Granger) and charming rich-kid psychopath Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker). Since they both have someone “ruining” their lives (Guy’s estranged wife and Bruno’s father) Bruno proposes, seemingly playfully, that they swap murders. Guy thinks it’s a joke, but Bruno is dead serious. One of Hitchcock’s best: a superb noir adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s classic literary thriller, with an amazing performance – blood-chilling, hilarious and strangely moving – by Walker. Ruth Roman, Leo G. Carroll, Marion Lorne and Hitch’s daughter Patricia Hitchcock are in the supporting cast. Raymond Chandler was one of the screenwriters.
9 a.m. (12 p.m.): “Jeopardy” (1953, John Sturges). Barbara Stanwyck, desperately trying to save endangered hubby Barry Sullivan – trapped by an accident and the rising tide under a Pacific Ocean pier – is herself kidnapped by Ralph Meeker, a ruthless outlaw with a yen for Stanwyck. A real nail-biter, directed by John Sturges (“The Great Escape,” “The Magnificent Seven”). Scripted by Mel Dinelli.
1:30 p.m. (4:30 p.m.): “D.O.A.” (1950, Rudolph Maté). Quintessential noir. Edmond O’Brien, as an accountant visiting San Francisco, is slipped a dose of slow-acting poison; he has only a day to find his mysterious killers. With Luther Adler, Pamela Britton, Beverly Garland and Neville Brand. Co-scripted by Russell Rouse.
Authors Christopher Nickens and George Zeno will sign their book “Marilyn in Fashion,” today at the Egyptian Theatre, before a screening of 1952’s “Don’t Bother to Knock” starring Marilyn Monroe and Richard Widmark.
Using many rare photographs, the book traces the evolution of Marilyn’s style. The signing starts at 1 p.m. and the film at 2 p.m. The Egyptian Theatre is at 6712 Hollywood Blvd. in Hollywood.
Additionally, “Citizen Kane,” Orson Welles’ masterpiece, plays tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica.
On Sunday, July 22, at 7:30 p.m., there’s a great Otto Preminger double-bill: “Laura” (1944) and “Bonjour Tristesse” (1958). Don’t miss it!
The Aero Theatre is at 1328 Montana Ave. in Santa Monica.
Today’s shocking massacre at an Aurora, Colo., showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” has left us shaken and deeply sad. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and friends. The movie’s director Christopher Nolan released the following statement:
“Speaking on behalf of the cast and crew of ‘The Dark Knight Rises,’ I would like to express our profound sorrow at the senseless tragedy that has befallen the entire Aurora community. I would not presume to know anything about the victims of the shooting but that they were there last night to watch a movie. I believe movies are one of the great American art forms and the shared experience of watching a story unfold on screen is an important and joyful pastime.
“The movie theatre is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me. Nothing any of us can say could ever adequately express our feelings for the innocent victims of this appalling crime, but our thoughts are with them and their families.”
There are several ways to help. To learn more, click here.
By Michael Wilmington
The first of three wildly divergent movie versions of Cornell Woolrich’s novel “I Married a Dead Man,” this bizarre blend of domestic drama and film noir stars noir queen Barbara Stanwyck as Helen Ferguson, a ruthlessly abused, jilted (by Lyle Bettger as slimy Steve) and pregnant city gal, who, on a train ride home, tumbles into a bog of false identity and blackmail.
After Bettger gives Babs the boot (preferring blonde femme fatale Carole Mathews), Helen meets a generous young couple, Patrice and Hugh Harkness (Phyllis Thaxter and Richard Denning) on the train, and then is mistaken for Patrice, after the train crashes and many (including the nice couple) die.
Directed by Mitchell Leisen, “No Man” has a prototypical Woolrich “trap” plot. Since no one in the immediate Harkness family ever met Patrice, Helen more or less falls into the deception. The Harkness household, especially matriarch Mrs. Harkness (Jane Cowl), accepts Helen as their new kin. And Hugh’s brother Bill (John Lund of Billy Wilder’s “A Foreign Affair”) falls in love with her. What happens next? Well, I doubt if you realize how slimy Lyle Bettger can get.
Stanwyck suffers wonderfully here, and she almost single-handedly makes the implausible seem inevitable. Jane Cowl, a one-time Queen of Broadway, who crammed in a few movie roles at the end of her life (she was dying of cancer when she made this one), is touching as Mrs. Harkness. The movie doesn’t really start cooking until Bettger reappears, and by then, they seem to expect us to swallow anything. (Even if you can’t, it’s murderous fun.)
The original novel “I Married a Dead Man,” which Woolrich signed with his preferred pen name William Irish, makes more sense than the “No Man” script (co-written by that estimable small-town scribe Sally Benson of “Meet Me in St. Louis.”)
The other film adaptations of “Dead Man” include a 1982 French version called “I Married a Shadow” by Robin Davis, starring Nathalie Baye and Madeleine Robinson, and a weird 1996 comedy version, directed by Richard Benjamin, starring Ricki Lake and (as the mother) the wondrous Shirley MacLaine. That one is called “Mrs. Winterbourne.” A better title might have been “I Married a Madhouse.”
The French “Shadow” is the best of them so far. There’s room for another, though “No Man of Her Own” isn’t bad. As for “Mrs. Winterbourne,” turning the nightmarish “I Married a Dead Man” into a kooky comedy seems misguided. The results are a little forced and even a little slimy – but not as slimy as Lyle Bettger.
Olive Films recently released “No Man of Her Own” on DVD.
Today is Barbara Stanwyck’s birthday! Stanwyck (July 16, 1907 – Jan. 20, 1990) ranks as one of film noir’s most important actresses, having played perhaps the greatest femme fatale of all, Phyllis Dietrichson in “Double Indemnity.”
Always popular with audiences and admired by colleagues for her uncommon intelligence, versatility and professionalism, she also starred in “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers,” “The Two Mrs. Carrolls” “Sorry, Wrong Number,” “The File on Thelma Jordon,” “No Man of Her Own,” “The Furies,” “Clash by Night,” “Jeopardy,” “Witness to Murder” and “Crime of Passion.”
Crime of Passion/1957/United Artists/84 min.
Aah, how often has Film Noir Blonde fantasized about giving up her dreary day-job. If only she had a lackadaisical husband whose career needed a jumpstart, she’d quite happily quit writing and meddle in his affairs full time. In director Gerd Oswald’s “Crime of Passion” (1957), Kathy Ferguson Doyle (Barbara Stanwyck) makes that noble sacrifice for her hubby.
Kathy is a tough, high-profile advice columnist for a San Francisco newspaper. She’s also a singleton who’s stylish, smart and openly defiant to the male chauvinists in her social circle. She loves dishing out wisdom and doesn’t consider herself lovelorn or lonely-hearted, dismissing marriage and family as “propaganda not for me.” (An interesting turn of phrase from writer Jo Eisinger.)
That’s before Kathy meets her blonde Adonis, aka Police Lt. Bill Doyle (Sterling Hayden), who comes to town with the Los Angeles police as they expand their search for a criminal. Kathy helps them by putting a plea for surrender in her column. The cops nail the killer and Kathy gets a job offer from a New York paper. Alas, she never makes it to NYC because she’s fallen head over heels for Bill. The idea of them moving east for her career doesn’t occur to anyone, even Kathy.
Shortly into their relationship, Kathy has an OMG-what-did-I-do-last-night? moment and asks Bill: “Who are you? Who are you?” Next she peppers him with questions, like “What are your favorite colors?” In fact, what she did was get married. Yep, just like that.
Kathy quits writing, moves to LA and tries to become a dutiful wife. “I hope all your socks have holes in them and I can sit for hours and hours darning them,” she gushes to Bill.
Unfortunately, however, Kathy seriously overrated the appeal of darning socks for hours at a time (shocker) and becomes darn bored.
At social gatherings, she gets stuck chatting with the ladies about cream cheese and olives, and 36-inch TVs. Not exactly thrilling stuff and Kathy starts to go a little crazy. OK, a lot a crazy. (Note to self: Before ditching my drivel-writing, check that husband has cool friends to hang with or at least lives near good shopping and spa treatments.)
To occupy her brain, Kathy engineers a series of stunts to accelerate Bill’s ascent on the career ladder. She befriends the police inspector’s wife Alice Pope (Fay Wray) and does her best to sabotage Bill’s competition, captain Charlie Alidos (Royal Dano). His annoying wife Sara (Virginia Grey) relentlessly promotes her mate, but she’s no match for Kathy.
That just leaves the job of getting the big cheese, police inspector Tony Pope (Raymond Burr), to rally behind Bill. So, she has a fling with Tony, natch. The only problem is that when Tony decides he’s made a mistake, the unlikely lovers don’t see eye to eye, and she grabs a gun …
German-born Gerd Oswald, the son of director Richard Oswald, made his first foray into the noir genre with 1956’s “A Kiss Before Dying” and worked with Anita Ekberg on three noir movies. He also directed “The Outer Limits” and “The Fugitive” TV shows. “Crime of Passion” may not be the director’s finest film, but it’s still strong storytelling – well paced with compelling performances and visually engaging cinematography by Joseph LaShelle. Stanwyck was 50 and Hayden 41; it’s fun to watch these two old pros reeling off their lines and riffing with Burr, of “Perry Mason” TV fame.
I’ve seen some harsh online assessments of “Crime of Passion.” Sure, it has its flaws (55 years later, parts of it might seem a bit stilted and corny) but it’s still a lot of fun and has some pretty biting social commentary to boot.
If you judge a work of art (or entertainment) from the past by contemporary standards, it’s easy for it to fail. A girdle from 1957 didn’t have Lyrca; that doesn’t mean it didn’t do the job.
Career women really got under the skin of 1950s America. For proof, take a look at Barbara Stanwyck in “Crime of Passion,” where she is the ’50s equivalent of Carrie Bradshaw, and watch what happens when she gives up her newspaper career to marry Sterling Hayden, a dishy but dull police officer. A woman not content with darning socks? Clearly, she’s insane. Gerd Oswald directs.