Happy Halloween, everyone!

Here’s a shot of one of my fave costumes – a Hitch/Tippi homage.

Speaking of Hitchcock, this topic came up last night at a Writers Bloc Presents discussion with film critic and historian David Thomson. “Vertigo,” which flopped upon its release in 1958, recently ousted “Citizen Kane” for the No. 1 spot on the BFI’s Sight & Sound poll of the greatest films of all time.

The question: Does “Vertigo” work with an audience or is it best appreciated at home/without a crowd?

Thomson, whose latest book is “The Big Screen,” was enthralling and I particularly enjoyed his assessment of why film noir continues to captivate. Said Thomson: “It’s about the lonely hero who may be going crazy. Many men have had that feeling in the last 60 years.”

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The Noir File: Five greats include ‘M,’ ‘Repulsion,’ ‘D.O.A.’

By Michael Wilmington and Film Noir Blonde

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

In one of the best film noir weeks ever, TCM offers five noir greats: “M,” “Diabolique,” “D. O. A.,” “The Big Heat” and “Repulsion.”

CO-PICKS OF THE WEEK

Repulsion” (1965, Roman Polanski). Wednesday, Oct. 31, 11 a.m. (8 a.m.)

In Roman Polanski’s shiveringly erotic horror-suspense film “Repulsion,” the 22-year-old Catherine Deneuve plays Carol: a blonde French beauty, with a disarmingly lost-looking, childlike face – a girl who begins to go frighteningly mad when her older sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux) leaves her alone a week or so. Soon, the beautiful, naïve and sexually skittish young Carol, the object of mostly unwanted desire from nearly every man in the neighborhood, starts sinking into alienation and insanity. When the outside world begins to intrude, Carol, repulsed, strikes back savagely, with a soon-bloody knife.

Catherine Deneuve’s nightmare becomes our own in “Repulsion” from 1965.

“Repulsion,” Polanski’s first English language movie and the first of his many collaborations with the reclusive, brilliant French screenwriter Gerard Brach (“Cul-de-Sac”), is one of the great ’60s black-and-white film noirs. It’s also one of the more frightening films ever made. Ultimately, “Repulsion” scares the hell out of us, because Polanski makes Carol’s nightmare so indelibly real, and so inescapably our own.

M” (1931, Fritz Lang) Sunday, Oct. 28, 2:45 a.m. (11:45 p.m.)

Fritz Lang’s great, hair-raising 1931 German crime thriller “M” is the masterpiece of his career, a landmark achievement of German cinema and a film that marks Lang as one of the most important cinematic fathers of film noir. “M” is a work of genius on every level.

Written by Lang’s then-wife Thea von Harbou (who also scripted “Metropolis”), and directed by Lang, “M” stars the amazing young Peter Lorre as the compulsive child-murderer Hans Beckert aka “M.” Beckert is a chubby little deviate who throws Berlin into turmoil with his string of slayings – a sweet-faced serial killer modeled on the real-life Dusseldorf Strangler. It is a role and a performance that plunges into the darkest nights of a lost soul.

Young Peter Lorre is unforgettable in Fritz Lang’s 1931 masterpiece.

Lang shows us both the murders and the social chaos triggered by the killer’s rampage. When M’s string of murders causes the police to clamp down on organized crime too, the outlaws strike back. Led by suave gentleman-thief Schranker (Gustaf Grundgens), they pursue the murderer relentlessly through the shadowy, mazelike world of Berlin at night. Just as relentlessly, the cops, with cynical detective Inspector Lohmann (Otto Wernicke) in charge, pursue him by day.

“M,” in its own way, is as much a creative movie milestone as Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane.” It’s one of the main progenitors of film noir and remains an all-time classic of suspense. (In German, with English subtitles.)

Saturday, Oct. 27

8 p.m. (5 p.m.) “Diabolique” (1955, Henri-Georges Clouzot).

10 p.m. (7 p.m.) “Games” (1967, Curtis Harrington). An American semi-remake of Clouzot’s “Diabolique,” with Simone Signoret starring again here, as an enigmatic interloper who moves in on New York married couple James Caan and Katharine Ross, unleashing a string of increasingly deadly games.

Sunday, Oct. 28

6: 30 a.m. (3:30 a.m.) “D.O.A.” (1950, Rudolph Maté).

8 a.m. (5 a.m.): “Kind Hearts and Coronets” (1949, Robert Hamer). From Ealing Studio with love: One of the best of the high-style British dark comedies of manners and murder. Silken schemer Dennis Price is the vengeful climber trying to kill his way to the Dukedom of D’Ascoyne. Alec Guinness plays all eight of his aristocratic victims or victims-to-be. Valerie Hobson and Joan Greenwood are the fetching ladies whom the would-be Duke is torn between. The peerless cinematographer was Douglas Slocombe.

Tuesday, Oct. 30

In 1932′s “Freaks,” by Tod Browning, Olga Baclanova plays a trapeze artist.

9:15 p.m. (6:15 p.m.): “Freaks” (1932, Tod Browning). Tod (“Dracula”) Browning’s macabre classic features a troupe of real-life circus freaks, all of them unforgettable camera subjects, in the bizarre story of a heartless trapeze artist (Olga Baclanova) who seduces a lovelorn midget (Harry Earle), marries him, and has to face the consequences.

Wednesday, Oct. 31

6:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m.): “The Body Snatcher” (1945, Robert Wise). Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Henry Daniell fight over corpses and medical experiments in this gripping adaptation of a Robert Louis Stevenson tale.

Thursday, Nov. 1

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Big Heat” (1953, Fritz Lang).

9:45 p.m. (6:45 p.m.); “Bullitt” (1968, Peter Yates). One of the more stylish cop-movie thrillers. With Steve McQueen at his coolest, Jacqueline Bisset at her loveliest, Robert Vaughn at his slimiest – plus the car chase to end all car chases.

11:45 p.m. (8:45 p.m.): “The Racket” (1951, John Cromwell, plus Nicholas Ray, Mel Ferrer and Tay Garnett, the last three uncredited). A battle of two Bobs, both film noir giants: good cop Robert Mitchum vs. gangster Robert Ryan, with Lizabeth Scott watching. From Howard Hughes’ RKO studio-head tenure, “The Racket” is a remake of Lewis Milestone’s 1928 mobster movie, based on Bartlett Cormack’s play, and also produced by Hughes.

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Highs outweigh the lows in London-set ‘Pusher’

Pusher/2012/Radius TWC/87 min.

“Pusher,” by director Luis Prieto, is a fun romp through familiar territory. Maybe romp isn’t quite the right word, given that this is a drug dealer’s violent, watch-your-back world full of sketchy thugs with extremely bad teeth, gorgeous strung-out girls and vicious power-brokers with very short tempers.

Prieto’s movie is based on Nicolas Winding Refn’s 1996 Danish film trilogy, also called “Pusher.” Winding Refn, who captivated American audiences last year with “Drive” starring Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan, is executive producer here.

This “Pusher” follows a dealer named Frank (Richard Coyle) as he goes about his illegal business over the course of a week in his home base of London. (The original was set in Copenhagen.)

When a big sale is interrupted by the cops, Frank improvises and saves his skin. But now he owes a wad of cash to a supplier and he tries to cobble together the cash under a looming deadline.

The story, scripted by Matthew Read, is formulaic and doesn’t probe much beyond the surface. But there’s so much energetic camerawork and such assured performances that I had a good time immersing myself in the seedy, sleazy glitz of London’s SE1.

Coyle’s Frank likely tells himself that this too shall pass, that soon he’ll be done with dealing once and for all. Frank is exactly the kind of guy – smart, cocky, very cute and fully deluded – who thinks he can breeze through the badness and eventually live a different life. Emphasis on eventually. Did I mention he was very cute?

Just as interesting to watch is blonde glamazon Agyness Deyn as Flo, his dancer girlfriend; she brings a depth to the part that also signals mystery and muted pain. It is perhaps a little hard to buy that Frank would choose as his sidekick a chattery simpleton like Tony (Bronson Webb) but Tony comes from a long line of nervous, weasely, all-talk henchmen, most memorably played by classic film-noir great Elisha Cook, Jr.

Croatian-Danish actor Zlatko Burić plays Milo, the portly crime lord who happily juggles chats over buttery pastries with sending his boys to bash people’s knees in. Burić played the same role in the 1996 trilogy and he effortlessly nails the part.

“Pusher” isn’t the most original movie you could watch, but perfection isn’t everything. Look at the awkward, seemingly incompetent, sidekick thugs I mentioned above. Sometimes just being psycho is enough.

“Pusher” opens today in New York and LA (at the Sundance Sunset Cinema in West Hollywood). It is also available via video on demand.

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‘Holy Motors’ picks up three awards at Chicago film fest

By Michael Wilmington

“Holy Motors,” Leos Carax’s surreal French fantasy-drama-thriller-romance (and then some) about a chameleonic actor and his weird limousine journey through nearly a dozen alternate lives, was the big winner at last week’s award ceremony of the 48th annual Chicago International Film Festival. The festival closed tonight.

Carax’s film, his first since “Pola X” in 1999, won the fest’s top prize, the Gold Hugo for Best Film, from the festival jury. “Holy Motors” also took Silver Hugos for Best Actor – Carax regular Denis Lavant – and Best Cinematography, awarded to Yves Capes and Caroline Champetier for their poetic and eerie view of Paris.

Ulla Skoog of Sweden was named Best Actress for her moving role as Puste, the tragic wife of the uncompromising anti-Nazi Swedish journalist Torgny Segerstedt in writer-director Jan Troell’s superb biographical drama, “The Last Sentence.”

The other awards in the international competition went to Michel Franco’s Mexican-French entry, “After Lucia,” a wounding indictment of high-school bullying that took the Special Jury Prize, and to Merzak Allouache’s “The Repentant” (Algeria/France), which won a Silver Hugo Special Mention.

The New Directors Competition Gold Hugo went to Peter Bergendy’s “The Exam,” a thriller about the dangers of police state surveillance set in ’50s Hungary. The runner-up Silver Hugo was awarded to Zdenek Jiraski’s “Flowerbirds,” a dark look at contemporary family life in the Czech Republic.

The winner of the After Dark Competition, devoted to horror movies, was a familiar name. Brandon Cronenberg, the son of David Cronenberg, took the Gold Hugo for “Antiviral” (Canada/USA), his dystopian futuristic shocker about an industry devoted to celebrity disease. The runner-up was Jaume Balaguero’s “Sleep Tight” (Spain), a psychological thriller about a Barcelona doorman with too many apartment keys.

The Career Achievement Award was given to one-time Chicago-based movie actress Joan Allen.

This year’s festival, an excellent one, offered 175 films from more than 50 countries. The CIFF award ceremony was held in festive surroundings at the Renaissance Blackstone Hotel, and featured presentations by ebullient CIFF founder/artistic director Michael Kutza and others. The main feature jury included directors Patrice Chereau of France and Joe Maggio of the U.S., actress Alice Krige of the UK and South Africa, actor/producer Amir Waked of Egypt, and Daniele Cauchard of Canada, general director of the Montreal World Film Festival. As usual, it was a great time.

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Good evening: Antenna’s ‘Hitch-O-Ween: Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ marathon

Beginning at 5 a.m. EST (8 a.m. PST) on Halloween, Antenna TV will air “Hitch-O-Ween,” a 54-episode/27-hour “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” marathon. You can see the list of episodes here.

Antenna runs “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” Monday-Thursday nights 12 a.m. EST (9 p.m. PST) and Saturdays 11 p.m. EST (8 p.m. PST).

Happy Halloweeen!

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Hitch bio-flix premieres, ‘Psycho’ and ‘Dressed to Kill’ at Aero

Decades after making “The Birds” (1963) and “Marnie” (1964) with Alfred Hitchcock, actress Tippi Hedren said the director harassed her and hindered her career, after she rebuffed his advances. “The Girl,” a recounting of her side of the story, premieres Saturday at 9 p.m. (8 p.m. Central) on HBO.

Directed by Julian Jarrold and written by Gwyneth Hughes, ”The Girl” stars Sienna Miller and Toby Jones. If other Hitchcock blondes, such as Eva Marie Saint, Kim Novak, Ingrid Bergman and Grace Kelly, received similar treatment, they did not publicly reveal it. You can read Richard Brody’s excellent review of the movie here.

Writing for HuffPo, TV critic Lynn Elber describes the “stunned silence” after a private screening of the “The Girl,” held for Hedren, her friends and family, including daughter Melanie Griffith.

According to Elber, Hedren had this to say after the event in Beverly Hills: “I’ve never been in a screening room where nobody moved, nobody said anything. Until my daughter jumped up and said, ‘Well, now I have to go back into therapy.’”

It will be interesting to compare that treatment to “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho,” which opens the AFI Fest 2012 on Thursday, Nov. 1. (General release is Nov. 23.)

Directed by Sacha Gervasi, the film highlights Hitchcock’s relationship with his wife Alma Reville and her contributions to his work, particularly 1959’s “Psycho.” The film stars Anthony Hopkins as Hitch, Helen Mirren as Alma and Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh. (Imelda Staunton plays Alma in HBO’s “The Girl.”)

And, tonight at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, there is a great double bill: “Psycho” and “Dressed to Kill” (1981, Brian De Palma), starring Michael Caine and Angie Dickinson.

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The Noir File: Crawford a fave fatale in ‘Flamingo Road’

By Michael Wilmington and Film Noir Blonde

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

PICK OF THE WEEK

Flamingo Road” (1949, Michael Curtiz) Friday, Oct. 19, 11:45 p.m. (8:45 p.m.)

Joan Crawford is at her dark-eyed, femme fatale peak in this spicy, fast-moving saga from director Michael Curtiz (“Casablanca”). Co-scripted by Robert Wilder, based on his best-selling novel and play. Joan has one of her archetypal roles: a tough carnival dancer left stranded in a crooked Southern city, who rises to the top while juggling the hearts of both the local deputy sheriff turned gubernatorial front-runner (Zachary Scott) and a high-flying wheeler-dealer (David Brian). She also must evade the venomous hatred and harassments of the tyrannical local political boss (Sydney Greenstreet, at his slimiest, flapping a fan on his porch, casting baleful glances and cooking up dark schemes).

Decades later, “Flamingo Road” became a hit TV series (1980-2). This movie was a success in its time too. It’s also one of Crawford’s top mid-career vehicles, along with “Mildred Pierce,” “Possessed” and “Johnny Guitar.” Here, she’s a streetwise, bedroom-savvy beauty battling corruption and prejudice in the kind of Deep South town where old boys call the shots, but where shady ladies can bring them down, and where violence simmers under a high-toned veneer.

The always formidable Sydney Greenstreet is Joan’s opponent.

Curtiz’s “Flamingo Road” was also one of the all-time favorite movies of German art film giant R. W. Fassbinder (“The Marriage of Maria Braun”). Fassbinder, a ’70s noir specialist and a strong Curtiz admirer, named “Flamingo Road” No. 2 on his all-time top 10 best films list, right behind his top choice, Luchino Visconti’s “The Damned.” They’re both classics, but, as for femme fatales, we’ll take Curtiz’s Joan Crawford over Visconti’s Helmut Berger any day.

Sunday, Oct. 21

5 a.m. (2 a.m.): “Bullets for O’Hara” (1941, William K. Howard). Neat little B-movie from the director of “The Power and the Glory,” with mobster Anthony Quinn targeted by both the FBI and wife Joan Perry.

Monday, Oct. 22

3:15 p.m. (12:15 p.m.): “The Bigamist” (1953, Ida Lupino). Director/star Ida Lupino whips up a potent brew of soap and noir, with this nervous tale of bigamist Edmond O’Brien shuttling between unknowing wives Lupino and Joan Fontaine.

4:45 p.m. (1:45 p.m.): “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” (1956, Fritz Lang). Dana Andrews, one of film noir’s acting icons, plays a crusading writer who decides to test the protection of reasonable doubt against the trial system and capital punishment. One of noir master Fritz Lang’s last American films and another of his anti-capital punishment stories, but with an unusual twist. Some of Lang’s ’50s French admirers on the magazine “Cahiers du Cinema,” like Jacques Rivette, thought particularly highly of this film. Co-starring Joan Fontaine, Sidney Blackmer and Edward Binns. [Read more...]

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On the radar: ‘WW II & NYC,’ noir fest in DC, vintage expo

“Fans Listening to a Boxing Match over the Radio, June 22, 1938″ is part of “WWII and NYC,” at the New-York Historical Society. The exhibition runs through May 27, 2013.

At the New-York Historical Society: “WWII & NYC” explores the impact of the war on the metropolis, which played a critical role in the national war effort, and how the city was forever changed.

Visit the site to access more images as well as lectures, films and behind-the-scenes stories. The exhibition runs through May 27, 2013.

An image from the “WWII & NYC” show.

A dress from the vintage expo.

Noir fest journeys east: NOIR CITY returns to Washington DC on Saturday. The festival kicks off with a three-film celebration of Humphrey Bogart’s multifaceted noir career: Richard Brooks’ “Deadline U.S.A.” (1952) John Huston’s “Key Largo” (1948), and Delmer Daves’ “Dark Passage” (1947). Attendees will also have the rare chance to see Elliott Nugent’s “The Great Gatsby” (1949), starring Alan Ladd, as well as Jerry Hopper’s “Naked Alibi” (1954) starring Gloria Grahame and Sterling Hayden. The fest runs from Oct. 20 through Nov. 1.

Santa Monica hosts a vintage fashion expo: On Saturday, Oct. 20, and Sunday, Oct. 21, more than 95 dealers from across the country will be selling vintage clothing and accessories for men and women. The event is held at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, 1855 Main St.

Waves lithograph by John Philip Falter/Library of Congress

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Pitch-black ‘Seven Psychopaths’ charms, then disappoints

About halfway through “Seven Psychopaths,” I remembered this old joke: What’s an Irish seven-course dinner? A six pack and a potato. It’s an apt comparison for this a pitch-black, neo-noir comedy written, co-produced and directed by Martin McDonagh (acclaimed playwright and writer/director of 2008’s “In Bruges”). Watching “Seven Psychopaths” lures you with some great lines and foamy laughs. Great!

And we get to see a terrific cast: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken, Tom Waits, Harry Dean Stanton, Linda Bright Clay, Abbie Cornish, Gabourey Sidibe and Olga Kurylenko. Even better!

When we want to sink our teeth into something really satisfying, though, McDonagh disappoints with this fare. Clearly, in his movie-within-a-movie, he wants to riff on crime movie clichés, point out that Hollywood is a fatuous land and pay tribute to Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino. Unfortunately, the story becomes skimpy and yet annoyingly tangled. As for McDonagh’s direction, he’s either trying too hard or not trying hard enough, I’m not sure which. But, if it’s a banquet you’re after, beware: this plate is both messy and meager.

For a more extensive review, read Stephanie Zacharek’s take here.

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The Noir File: ‘The Third Man’ ranks as one of Britain’s best

By Michael Wilmington and Film Noir Blonde

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

PICK OF THE WEEK

The Third Man” (1949, Carol Reed) Saturday, Oct. 13, at 8 p.m. (5 p.m.)

“The Third Man” is a noir masterpiece with a perfect cast and Oscar-winning cinematography.

Graham Greene and Carol Reed’s “The Third Man” is one of the all-time film noir masterpieces. Greene’s script – about political corruption in post-World War II Vienna, a naïve American novelist named Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) and his search for the mysterious “third man” who may have witnessed the murder of his best friend, suave Harry Lime (Orson Welles) – is one of the best film scenarios ever written. Reed never directed better, had better material or tilted the camera more often.

“The Third Man” also has one of the all-time perfect casts: Cotten, Welles (especially in his memorable “cuckoo clock” speech, which he wrote), Trevor Howard (as the cynical police detective), Alida Valli (as Lime’s distressed ladylove), and Jack Hawkins and Bernard Lee (as tough cops). Oscar-winner Robert Krasker does a nonpareil job of film noir cinematography – especially in the film’s climactic chase through the shadowy Vienna sewers. And nobody plays a zither like composer/performer Anton Karas.

Sunday, Oct. 14

6:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m.): “Deadline at Dawn” (1945, Harold Clurman). Bill Williams is a sailor on leave who has just one New York City night to prove his innocence of murder. Susan Hayward and Paul Lukas are the shrewd dancer and philosophical cabbie trying to help him. Clifford Odets’ script is from a Cornell Woolrich novel; directed by Group Theater guru Harold Clurman (his only movie).

8 a.m. (5 a.m.): “Crime in the Streets” (1956, Don Siegel). This streetwise drama of New York juvenile delinquents (John Cassavetes, Sal Mineo and Mark Rydell) and a frustrated social worker (James Whitmore) is an above-average example of the ’50s youth crime cycle that also included “Rebel Without a Cause” and “The Blackboard Jungle.” Reginald Rose (“12 Angry Men”) wrote the script based on his TV play. Punchy direction by Siegel and a lead performance of feral intensity by Cassavetes.

1:30 a.m. (10:30 p.m.): “The Unknown” (1927, Tod Browning). One of Lon Chaney’s most sinister roles: as a traveling carnival’s no-armed wonder (really an escaped con). With the young Joan Crawford.

2:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m.): “The Testament of Dr. Mabuse” (1933, Fritz Lang). Fritz Lang and writer Thea von Harbou (Lang’s wife) bring back their famous silent-movie crime czar, Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge). This time, he’s a seeming lunatic, running his empire from an insane asylum. According to some, it’s an analogue of the Nazis’ rise to power.

Monday, Oct. 15

11:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.): “Bad Day at Black Rock” (1955, John Sturges).

Tuesday, Oct. 16

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Eyes in the Night” (1942, Fred Zinnemann). A good B-movie mystery with Edward Arnold as blind detective Duncan Maclain, co-starring Donna Reed, Ann Harding and Stephen McNally.

3:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m.) “Wait Until Dark” (1967, Terence Young).

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