Archives for May 2013

The Noir File: ‘Mask of Dimitrios’ is an underseen ’40s gem

By Mike Wilmington and Film Noir Blonde

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir 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

The Mask of Dimitrios (1944, Jean Negulesco). Tuesday, June 4, 1:15 a.m. (11:15 p.m.)

Tracking down an elusive international criminal named Dimitrios Makropoulos (Zachary Scott) becomes the obsession of a Dutch writer named Cornelius Weyden – a prime Peter Lorre role and the mild-mannered hero of the neglected but first-rate “The Mask of Dimitrios.”

Weyden learns of Dimitrios and his sordid career when a corpse is washed up near Istanbul and a talkative Turkish police colonel (Kurt Katch) tells colorful stories of the great swindler’s crimes. The inquisitive little scribe thinks he can use this material for a book.

When Weyden meets one of Dimitrios’ victims in the (ample) flesh – the genial Mr. Peters, played by Lorre’s usual partner-in-crime Sydney Greenstreet – the two join forces to try to unearth the villain’s trail through war-threatened Europe.

“The Mask of Dimitrios” was one of nine movies Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet appeared in together.

They piece together Dimitrios’ dark history as they cross paths with his other partners and/or victims, including blonde intriguer Faye Emerson, Victor Francen, Steven Geray, Eduardo Ciannelli and the irrepressible Florence Bates. As Lorre and Greenstreet close in on their prey, dark questions loom. Is Dimitrios really still alive? And who are his next victims?

If you’ve never seen “Dimitrios” (from the novel known as “A Coffin for Dimitrios” in the U.S.), you’re in for a surprise and a treat. Faithfully adapted from master spy novelist Eric Ambler’s classic thriller by pulp fictionist/screenwriter Frank Gruber, shot in high noir style by cinematographer Arthur Edeson (“The Maltese Falcon,” “Casablanca”) and artfully directed by Romanian émigré and Warner Brothers’ “melodrama king” Jean Negulesco (in what is probably his best film), “Dimitrios” is an underseen gem of ’40s noir. It’s what used to be called a corker.

(Another Ambler adaptation with Lorre and Greenstreet, “Background to Danger,” immediately follows “The Mask of Dimitrios.” See below.) [Read more…]

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Noirish ‘Some Like It Hot’ at Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Marilyn Monroe as Sugar Kane in “Some Like It Hot.”

To celebrate Marilyn Monroe’s birthday, on Saturday, June 1, Cinespia.org will present “Some Like It Hot” (1959, Billy Wilder) at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Though the film is considered one of Tinseltown’s all-time best comedies, Marilyn reportedly objected to the fact that her character, Sugar Kane, actually believed her fellow musicians (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemon dressed in drag) were women. No girl is that dumb, she said. Nevertheless, the movie was a hit and her performance is unforgettable. You can read Mike Wilmington’s review here.

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More Burt on the big screen at UCLA’s Billy Wilder Theater

The Billy Wilder Theater at UCLA will present a choice double bill on Sunday, June 2, at 7 p.m.: two film-noir titles starring Burt Lancaster. First is the prison drama “Brute Force” (1947, Jules Dassin), in which Lancaster plays an angry inmate desperate to escape his sadistic captors.

Variety’s review of “Brute Force” noted that “Yvonne De Carlo, Ann Blyth, Ella Raines and Anita Colby are the women on the ‘outside’ whose machinations, wiles or charms accounted for their men being on the ‘inside.’ ” Natch. (Lancaster and De Carlo were paired again in 1949’s “Criss Cross,” directed by Robert Siodmak.)

“Brute Force” will be followed by “Kiss the Blood Off My Hands” (1948, Norman Foster). Lancaster plays a traumatized and violent ex-prisoner of war living in London and trying, unsuccessfully of course, to get his life together. Co-starring Joan Fontaine.

The evening is part of the Lancaster centennial celebration presented by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Hugh M. Hefner Classic American Film Program. The celebration of Lancaster’s movies runs through June 30. Author Kate Buford is the special guest on June 2.

Additionally, on Monday, June 3, at 7:30 p.m., the Archive’s look at emerging voices in Czech cinema comes to a close with director David Ondříček in person for his taut neo-noir police thriller, “In the Shadow” (2012), which was the Czech Republic’s official Oscar entry for 2013.

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Happy birthday, Carey Mulligan!

Photo by Matt Hart – ©2013 Bazmark Film III Pty Ltd

She is 28. Shown as Daisy Buchanan in “The Great Gatsby” by director Baz Luhrmann and production/costume designer Catherine Martin.

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On Memorial Day: Good wishes, gratitude to our veterans

Marlene Dietrich dances with a serviceman at the Hollywood Canteen.

Today I was thinking about the Hollywood Canteen, the club that entertained servicemen during World War II. What a feat of dedication and coordination! More than 3,000 stars as well as industry staff from producers to prop masters volunteered their talent, time and effort. A uniform served as a ticket for admission; food, non-alcoholic drinks, shows and dancing were free of charge.

Housed at 1451 Cahuenga Blvd., the Canteen was typically open six nights a week and was in operation from Oct. 3, 1942 to Nov. 22, 1945. Key to the venue’s formation and success were Bette Davis, John Garfield and Jules Stein (Davis’ agent).

You can read more about the Hollywood Canteen here.

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Film noir gets a Hawaiian punch Saturday at the Egyptian

New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago … these are the cities we usually associate with the grim, glamorous tales of film noir.

But when you get the rare chance to see a noir with a more exotic setting, it’s all the more memorable. The American Cinematheque is offering just such a viewing opp when it goes tiki on Saturday, June 1.

Noir stalwart Marie Windsor stars in this unusual example of the genre.

The Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood is showing “Hell’s Half Acre” (1954, John Auer), which was filmed in filmed in Honolulu. Evelyn Keyes stars as a dancer combing the streets of Honolulu’s red-light district to hunt for her missing G.I. husband (Wendell Corey), who she believes is alive and writing songs in Hawaii.

Turns out, he’s also a gangster vying with Philip Ahn for control of the island’s vice rackets. Toss sultry, statuesque Marie Windsor into the mix, and it’s pulp nirvana, says the Cinematheque.

The party starts at 5 p.m. in the Egyptian’s courtyard, where there will performances from King Kukulele & the Friki Tikis and the Polynesian Paradise Dancers, tiki vendors and a cash bar with Polynesian drinks. A slide show and a 50th anniversary tribute to the Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room by Bob Baker’s Marionettes will precede the 7:30 p.m. screening.

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Beatty and Penn make ‘Mickey One’ an arty nightmare

By Mike Wilmington and Film Noir Blonde

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and  pre-noir 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 

Mickey One” (1965, Arthur Penn). Friday, May 24, 12:30 a.m.  (9:30 p.m.)

In “Mickey One,” Warren Beatty plays a Chicago comic who has angered the mob.

The man on the run in “Mickey One,” Arthur Penn’s and Warren Beatty’s nightmare of a 1965 neo-noir, is a Chicago standup comedian  trapped in an urban world of disorientation and fear. It’s one of Beatty’s most offbeat roles: a smart-ass hipster Lenny Bruce type who’s  gotten on the mob’s list for  a transgression  that he doesn’t remember (that possibly doesn’t even exist) and now feels himself in danger every time he walks out on stage. Mickey is a prototypical film noir outsider, lost in the big city night, in a darkness interrupted by neon guideposts to Hell.

Donna Michelle

Around the terrified comedian is a gallery of bizarre characters who might have been assembled for some noirish Wonderland:  Hurd Hatfield (who once played Dorian Gray) as a devious club owner, Franchot Tone as Mickey’s elderly mentor, Alexandra Stewart as the girl who loves him (maybe), Playboy Playmate-of-the-Year Donna Michelle as the babe of babes, Teddy Hart as Mickey’s pint-size agent-manager, Jeff Corey as a club guy, and Kamatari Fujiwara (who was one of the two squabbling peasants in  Kurosawa’s “The Hidden Fortress”) as a conceptual artist.

This neglected film, written by Alan M. Surgal, is one of the artiest and most experimental of all ‘60s black-and-white neo-noirs. And though Surgal’s script is pretentious to a fault, “Mickey One” is beautifully made, a classic of ‘60s razzle-dazzle film technique – often more reminiscent of  early ‘60s foreign art film style than anything out of the Hollywood mainstream.

The movie was stunningly photographed by Ghislain Cloquet, who shot some of the French film masterpieces of Alain Resnais (“Night and Fog”) and Robert Bresson (“Au Hasard Balthazar”).  And the picture has one of the finest jazz scores in the movies, written and orchestrated by Eddie Sauter and improvised by saxophone genius Stan Getz.

One thing “Mickey One” doesn’t have is funny jokes. Mickey’s act couldn’t make a hyena laugh. But maybe that’s the point. The next time Penn and Beatty got together, it was to make “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967), which does have funny jokes, as well as  violence and beauty. Here, the director and his star may fail, but they fail grandly, with ambition, daring, style and images that stay in your head.

Wednesday, May 22

3:30 p.m. (12:30 p.m.): “The Blue Gardenia” (1953, Fritz Lang), Working girl Anne Baxter lets her guard down and gets mixed up in the murder of slimy Raymond Burr. (As the girls in “Chicago” say, “He had it coming.”)  The rest of the lineup includes Ann Sothern, Nat King Cole and George “Superman” Reeves. Not Lang’s best, but you won’t want to miss it anyway.

10:30 p.m. (7:30 p.m.): “The Outfit” (1973, John Flynn).  Here’s another adaptation of one of Donald Westlake’s (alias “Richard Stark’s”) ultra-hard-boiled “Parker” novels – the series that inspired “Point Blank.” This time, Robert Duvall plays the “Parker” character, and just as unstoppably as Lee Marvin did. Out to avenge his brother, aided (maybe) by Karen Black and Joe Don Baker, Duvall is up against villain Robert Ryan. The  stellar noir cast includes Timothy Carey, Marie Windsor, Jane Greer, Richard Jaeckel, Sheree North and Elisha Cook, Jr. The movie is underrated too. You’ll be surprised at how good it is – unless you look over that cast list again.

Saturday, May 25

4:30 a.m. (1:30 a.m.) “Foreign Correspondent” (1940, Alfred Hitchcock). With Joel McCrea, Laraine Day, and George Sanders. Reviewed on FNB February 20, 2013.

Tuesday, May 28

8 p.m. (5 p.n.): “Hard Times” (1975, Walter Hill). Charles Bronson, James Coburn and the illicit world of back-alley, bare-knuckle fighting during the American Depression. (Bronson is the boxer, Coburn his manager.)  With Jill Ireland and Strother Martin. Tough stuff.

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “Bullitt” (1968, Peter Yates). With Steve McQueen, Jacqueline Bisset and Robert Duvall. Reviewed on FNB October 27, 2012.

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‘The Boudoir Bible’ author Betony Vernon shares secrets of sacred sexual pleasure

Betony Vernon

In her headshot by Ali Mahdavi, author Betony Vernon holds a come-hither gaze worthy of an Old Master courtesan. No girl next door is she – flame-red tresses frame alabaster skin, voluptuous cheekbones and pouty lips. Her dark fingernails drape over her ear; a lush green tattoo wraps around her shoulder. She is sultry and severe, alluring and mysterious.

In person, however, this modern-day femme fatale – more precisely a jet-setting jewelry designer as well as a writer/sex educator – is equal parts elegant and down to earth. We are in a back room at Bookmarc in West Hollywood, moments before the signing party for her book, “The Boudoir Bible: The Uninhibited Sex Guide for Today” (Rizzoli, $35).

I got the feeling she slipped into her fuchsia cocktail dress and Louboutins as easily as she might throw on a favorite pair of jeans. Her pale-pink back-seam tights are from a shop she loves in London. It was in London that Vernon started her educational sex salons in November 2002. She felt compelled to teach after retail buyers rejected her fine erotic jewelry collection in late 2001. The snub was a sign that there was a vast need for knowledge, among the fashion elite and everyday people alike.

Vernon is friendly and approachable, green eyes playfully glinting, lashes fluttering as she makes a point. Other times her words are punctuated with an easy laugh as fizzy as the champagne she is sipping. I can picture her growing up in the mountains of Tazewell, Va., in the ’70s, then heading to Florence to launch her design career.

I’m curious about the fact that “The Boudoir Bible” is dedicated to her mother and father who, she says, made her extraordinary life possible. Says Vernon: “I grew up with very little parental guidance. I was sort of a free agent. Sometimes absence has a greater impact than presence.”

While we live in a sex-sells society, that doesn’t mean we are truly liberated, much less enlightened, Vernon believes. Where there are hook-ups, there are hang-ups, along with taboos, repression and fear. “We’re in a country where billions of dollars are made through porn,” she says. “Sex is very accessible but pleasure’s really not.”

Vernon recommends taking a holistic approach to sexual pleasure. For starters, she suggests setting aside time to experience a sacred sexual ceremony. In her book, she explains as follows: “By creating a ritualized context for sexual exploration, extending the duration of the time of the sexual encounter, and engaging the entire body as a sexual whole, the ceremony aims to broaden the horizons of pleasure beyond that which may be experienced through ‘normal’ everyday sex.”

Or as she put it during our chat: “Fast sex is a killer.”

Betony Vernon greets guests at Bookmarc in West Hollywood.

The beautifully laid out book (with illustrations by François Berthoud) covers basics, such as anatomy and hygiene, as well as more risqué topics such as bondage, flagellation, role playing, restraints and cutting-edge sex toys.

Also central to satisfaction: empathy and communication. “There’s still the belief that a woman’s pleasure is very much like a man’s. It’s not. People tend to consider the act a performance and make orgasm their only goal. Goal-oriented is really dangerous. It’s better if you let go and not use a script.”

Speaking of scripts, Vernon possesses a healthy irreverence for the language we use to broach the subject of sex. She has banned words such as guilty pleasure, dirty and naughty from her vocabulary. And, for those playing the field, she doesn’t like the word single. “It signals alone when in fact you could be multiple.”

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The Noir File: Wilder’s dark favorite is an American nightmare

By Mike Wilmington and Film Noir Blonde

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir 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

Ace in the Hole” (1951, Billy Wilder). Friday, May 17, 8 p.m. (5 p.m.).

Kirk Douglas plays Chuck Tatum, a star reporter exiled from his big-city paper.

In the Golden Age of Hollywood and film noir, no one was better than Kirk Douglas at playing anti heroes, heels and villains. In movies like “Champion,” “The Bad and the Beautiful,” “I Walk Alone” and “Out of the Past,” he channeled the amoral climber who knifes you with a smile, or steps on almost everyone on his way to the top. The best (or worst) of all Douglas’s movie heels is Chuck Tatum in Billy Wilder’s “Ace in the Hole” – a slick-operator star newspaper reporter who messes up, gets exiled from his big-city paper and is now stuck in Albuquerque, N.M., in a desert dead-end.

When Chuck learns of a local miner named Leo Mimosa trapped in a cave-in in a Native American holy area, he sees a chance to ratchet up the drama and revive his career. A master manipulator, Chuck talks Leo and his rescuers into taking a longer, more dangerous escape route, then plays the story to the hilt, planning to sell it to the big outlets back east. With Leo’s life on the line and the clock ticking, this master of hype and hoopla turns the story into a circus and the circus into a nightmare.

A master manipulator, Chuck ratchets up the drama in an effort to revive his career.

Chuck Tatum, brought to stinging life by Douglas, was the brainchild of Billy Wilder, who had just dissolved his decades-long writing partnership with Charles Brackett after their hit, “Sunset Blvd.” Walter Newman, who later wrote “The Man with the Golden Arm” and “Cat Ballou,” was one of Wilder’s new co-writers and, though they never collaborated again, Wilder must have liked some of what they did.

Many times, Wilder cited “Ace in the Hole” as one of his favorites among his films, “the runt of my litter” as he affectionately called it. The runt is one of the darkest of all Wilder’s films: a portrait of American society, culture and media, a ruthless exposé of Tatum and his fellow opportunists.

The more conservative Brackett (who had refused to work with Wilder on “Double Indemnity”) had been something of a brake on Billy’s cynicism, which is fully unleashed here. Perhaps Brackett had a point. Many critics and audiences in 1951 didn’t much care for the acrid darkness and lacerating social indictment of Wilder’s “Ace in the Hole,” which was such a flop that it had to be pulled and re-released as “The Big Carnival.”

It didn’t come to be regarded as a classic of American cinema and social criticism until years later. Maybe the picture was just too noir for ’50s moviegoers. But it’s not too noir for us.

Friday, May 17

3 p.m. (12 p.m.): “Where Danger Lives” (1953, John Farrow). Love on the run, with infatuated Bob Mitchum falling for dangerous Faith Domergue, and the two of them heading for Mexico. A standard but engrossing “femme fatale” noir, from the director of “The Big Clock.”

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Ace in the Hole” (1951, Billy Wilder). See PICK OF THE WEEK.

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “Our Man in Havana” (1960, Carol Reed). The third of the three film thriller collaborations between writer Graham Greene and director Carol Reed. (The others are “The Third Man” and “The Fallen Idol.”) It’s also the least admired by critics, and the team’s only comedy, with Alec Guinness playing a British vacuum cleaner salesman in Cuba inexplicably involved in a batty spy intrigue. The crack cast also includes Maureen O’Hara, Ralph Richardson, Ernie Kovacs, Noel Coward and Burl Ives.

Joan Crawford and Cliff Robertson star in “Autumn Leaves.”

4 a.m. (1 a.m.): “Autumn Leaves” (1956, Robert Aldrich.) With Joan Crawford, Cliff Robertson and Vera Miles. Reviewed on FNB December 4, 2012.

Sunday, May 19

12 p.m. (9 p.m.): “Johnny O’Clock” (1947, Robert Rossen). Rossen’s directorial debut: a solid noir with a gambling backdrop and a vintage tough Dick Powell performance.

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “Leave Her to Heaven” (1945, John M. Stahl). With Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde, Jeanne Crain and Vincent Price. Reviewed on FNB April 18, 2013.

3 p.m. (12 p.m.): “Night Must Fall” (1937, Richard Thorpe). Emlyn Williams’ famed suspense play about a seductive young psycho (Robert Montgomery) and his rich lady target (Dame May Whitty) is given a plush MGM treatment. With Rosalind Russell. [Read more…]

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Happy (film noir) Mother’s Day, everyone!

“I’d do anything for those kids, do you understand?” — Joan Crawford as Mildred Pierce.

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