Archives for June 2013

The Noir File: Woolrich and Chandler are two of the best

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

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).

FRIDAY NOIR WRITERS SERIES: CORNELL WOOLRICH and RAYMOND CHANDLER

All this month on its Friday Night Spotlight screenings, TCM has presented a series of classic film noirs, with each Friday night devoted to movies based on or written by top-notch noir authors.

Cornell Woolrich

Tonight, the first spotlight shines on one of the darkest, loneliest, most prolific and most personally tragic of all the major noir authors: George Cornell Woolrich-Hopley, better known as Cornell Woolrich.

Woolrich, who lived a tormented life, spent much of it typing out tales of suspense, shock and murder in his mother’s New York City suite in the Hotel Marseilles. And he wrote more stories that were turned into film noirs –sometimes great ones like “Phantom Lady,” “The Bride Wore Black” and “Rear Window” – than any of his competitors. In the ’30s and ’40s, he was virtually a story machine, cranking them out fast and flawlessly, earning a penny a word at first.

These stories typically were set in the city, recognizably New York, where Woolrich lived most of his life – after a failed attempt to become an F. Scott Fitzgerald style novelist of flaming youth and a failed effort at being a Hollywood screenwriter and a Hollywood husband – something on which Woolrich’s lifelong homosexuality put the kibosh.

Most noir writers are tough, hard-drinking, streetwise guys. Dashiell Hammett was a Pinkerton detective. Raymond Chandler was a Canadian Army WWI veteran. Jim Thompson was a hard-nosed Texas news reporter. Woolrich drank, but he wasn’t tough. He was the most sensitive of the top noiristos. Many of his key protagonists are women and many of his best stories are written from a woman’s point of view.

Bill Williams and Susan Hayward star in “Deadline at Dawn.”

Woolrich was the kind of writer who could freeze your blood, creating a nerve-racking sense of impending doom. The best of his dark tales plunge the reader into dead ends and blind alleys and the shadow of the hangman: deadly traps in which his characters struggle often helplessly, sometimes escaping their harsh fates, sometimes not. But always Woolrich was a master of nightmare, the king of pulp suspense – as a lot of his colleagues and competitors believed. He wrote and sold his many stories and then, in the ’50s and ’60s, he started to dry up. He died alone, in his New York City hotel room, from a gangrene infection and leg amputation caused when he didn’t take care of a foot injury.

When I read Cornell Woolrich’s stories, it’s always night fall, even if I’m reading in the morning or afternoon. And I always hear an insistent, pounding sound in the background – the percussive clack and ring of an old manual typewriter, an Olympia maybe, as Woolrich types out another of his terrifying stories. It is night. The trap is sprung. Death is in the air. He’s almost done. And when he’s finished and the clacking stops, he’ll pour himself a drink.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Leopard Man” (1943, Jacques Tourneur). With Dennis O’Keefe, Margo, Jean Brooks. Reviewed on FNB Nov. 10, 2012.

9:30 p.m. (6:30 p.m.): “Deadline at Dawn” (1946, Harold Clurman). With Susan Hayward, Paul Lukas and Bill Williams. Reviewed on FNB Oct. 13, 2012.

Raymond Chandler

Raymond Chandler seemed to be something of a failure when he took up pulp fiction writing (a genre then little respected) in 1933. Shamelessly imitating his main model, Dashiell Hammett, Chandler wrote hard-boiled private eye stories that feature a tough, wise-cracking heavy drinking private eye, most famously Philip Marlowe. (Hammett was then the most admired of all the crime writers working in Hollywood. But by 1934 when Hammett wrote his last novel, “The Thin Man,” his career was pretty much done and Chandler‘s was just beginning.)

Chandler was an accountant for a Los Angeles oil company. Married to a woman many years his senior, Cissy Chandler, he drank himself out of his business career, and decided to try to pay his keep by writing. He took five months to write his first detective story, “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot,” which he sold to the best of the pulp crime magazines, Black Mask.

He wrote plenty more for Black Mask and Dime Detective magazines, and then he “cannibalized” some of the stories to write his novels, including “The Big Sleep” (one of his masterpieces), “Farewell, My Lovely” (another), “The Lady in the Lake,” “The High Window” and “The Long Goodbye” (another). Most of his novels were made into movies, and Chandler helped adapt as films the books of other excellent writers like James M. Cain (“Double Indemnity”) and Patricia Highsmith (“Strangers on a Train”).

Farley Granger and Robert Walker star in “Strangers on a Train.”

Chandler wrote of Los Angeles, and of crime in the sun, on the Pacific shore and under the palm trees. He wrote of a world of bars and night clubs and rich people’s big homes and of cops, blackmailers, thieves and killers –the criminal classes of which he probably knew relatively little, certainly less than Hammett. But he wrote beautifully, in a style that was creamier and full of crisp gorgeous metaphors and witty turns of phrase than Hammett’s bare-bones facts.

Chandler was born in Chicago but he was raised in England by his Irish-born mother and her family, and he has a good English writer’s impeccable sense of style and language. British writers, like novelist Iris Murdoch, tend to love him. Ian Fleming modeled James Bond after Marlowe. Of course, many of Chandler’s American colleagues, in or out of his time, loved his work too.

Today, it is common to hear Chandler called the best of all the hard-boiled noir writers, and that may be true. He is also sometimes called the best American writer, period. And that may be true too.

(The “Noir Writers” films, all of which show on Friday, June 28, were curated and will be introduced by film noir expert Eddie Muller.)

Dick Powell, a musical star, broke new ground by playing Philip Marlowe in “Murder, My Sweet,” an adaptation of “Farewell, My Lovely.”

11 p.m. (8 p.m.): “Murder, My Sweet” (1944, Edward Dmytryk). With Dick Powell, Claire Trevor and Mike Mazurki. Adapted from Raymond Chandler’s novel “Farewell, My Lovely.”

1 a.m. (10 p.m.): “The Big Sleep” (1946, Howard Hawks). With Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Elisha Cook, Jr. and Dorothy Malone.

3 a.m., (12 p.m.): “Strangers on a Train” (1951, Alfred Hitchcock). With Farley Granger and Robert Walker.

Wednesday, June 26

9 a.m. (6 a.m.): “Born to be Bad” (1950, Nicholas Ray). With Joan Fontaine, Robert Ryan and Mel Ferrer. Reviewed on FNB April 9, 2013.

3 p.m. (12 p.m.): “Armored Car Robbery” (1950, Richard Fleischer). With Charles McGraw, Adele Jergens and William Talman. Reviewed on FNB Jan. 28, 2013.

Sterling Hayden, Sam Jaffe and Marilyn Monroe lead “The Asphalt Jungle” cast. John Huston directed this seminal heist film.

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950, John Huston). With Sterling Hayden, Sam Jaffe and Marilyn Monroe.

10:30 p.m. (7:30 p.m.): “Rebecca” (1940, Alfred Hitchcock). With Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, Judith Anderson and George Sanders.

1 a.m. (10 p.m.: “Notorious” (1946, Alfred Hitchcock). With Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains.

3 a.m. (12 a.m.): “Casablanca” (1942, Michael Curtiz). With Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre[Read more…]

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Celebrating 50 years of splendid Stones!

Great to be back in the Detroit area!

Friday: Heading to the Rock Hall of Fame in Cleveland to see the Rolling Stones exhibit! http://rockhall.com/exhibits/rolling-stones-50-years-of-satisfaction/

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The Noir File: James M. Cain rings twice

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and  pre-noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

FRIDAY NOIR WRITERS SERIES:  JONATHAN LATIMER and JAMES M. CAIN

This month, TCM is presenting a series of classic film noirs, with each Friday night devoted to movies based on or written by (or both) one of  six top-notch noir authors.

Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray star in “Double Indemnity.”

This week’s Friday Spotlight features two noir novelists: James M. Cain and the lesser known Jonathan Latimer, a punchy pulp crime novelist who became one of the most prolific and reliable of all noir screenwriters. Latimer’s novels were notable for both hard-boiled suspense and  sharp humor.

Noir icon Cain was a hard-boiled prose master whose unsentimental stories of perverse sexuality and murder are unsurpassed.  A one-time prospective opera singer, journalist, screenwriter and magazine editor as well as a best-selling novelist, Cain didn’t follow the self-destructive path of some of his noir colleagues, like Goodis and Woolrich. But he had one of the darkest visions, and one of the tightest, hardest-edged word-perfect styles of any of them.

Two of his most famous and influential film noirs are on the schedule tonight: Billy Wilder and co-screenwriter Raymond Chandler’s tense and brilliant 1944 adaptation of  Cain’s thriller “Double Indemnity” and Tay Garnett’s glamorous and gritty 1946 movie of another Cain scorcher, “The Postman Always Rings Twice.”

John Garfield and Lana Turner in “Postman.”

Together, they make  an incredible double bill. And you can stretch it into a Cain triple feature by catching, right after “Postman,“ Anthony Mann’s 1956 “Serenade.“ Though not part of the noir writers series, it‘s  adapted from another Cain novel, directed by noir master Mann, and it boasts an operatic background.

The best American noir novelists were much admired by French critics and intellectuals, none more than Cain, who was one of the favorite writers of the great existential novelist and Nobel Prize winner, Albert Camus.

(The films will be introduced and discussed by film noir expert Eddie Muller.)

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Nocturne” (1946, Edwin L. Marin). Cop George Raft investigates night club murder of a songwriter. Standard stuff, well-written by Latimer.

9:45 p.m. (6:45 p.m.): “They Won’t Believe Me” (1947, Irving Pichel). More Latimer: Robert Young plays a rake, guilty of adultery, but innocent of  murder. Susan Hayward, Jane Greer and Rita Johnson co-star.

11:15 p.m. (8:15 p.m.): “Double Indemnity” (1944, Billy Wilder). With Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson. Reviewed on FNB, December 30, 2010.

1:15 a.m. (10:15 p.m.): “The Postman Always Rings Twice” (1946, Tay Garnett). With Lana TurnerJohn Garfield and Cecil Kellaway. Reviewed on FNB October 11, 2012.

3:15 a.m. (12: 15 a.m.): “Serenade” (1956, Anthony Mann). Cain was once a singer, with aspirations to opera, and here, one of his novels became a movie vehicle for Mario Lanza – a superb natural tenor, whose own meteoric career and untimely death might make a good film noir. Unusual material for Cain and Mann, but you‘ll want to see it. [Read more…]

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Christian Louboutin shoe exhibition hits Toronto

The exhibition is set to run at the Design Exchange from June 21 to Sept. 15.

You can read more here.

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The Noir File: ‘My Name Is Julia Ross’ today on TCM

Playing Wednesday, June 19, on TCM

1:30 p.m. EST (10:30 a.m. PST): “My Name Is Julia Ross” (1945, Joseph H. Lewis). The B-movie prodigy Joseph H. Lewis made two great low-budget noirs: “Gun Crazy,” which almost everyone knows and admires, and the lesser known British-set thriller “My Name Is Julia Ross,” which was a sleeper in its time. It’s a kind of knockoff of the 1944 Ingrid BergmanCharles Boyer driving-you-crazy suspense drama “Gaslight,” with Nina Foch as the title heroine.

She’s a working (or not-working) woman hired for a mysterious job at a seaside Cornish mansion by a rich family (Dame May Whitty, George Macready), who then insist that her name is not Julia Ross, but that  she’s instead Macready’s young wife who’s gone insane.

Wonderful mood, images and atmosphere; it’s a crime Lewis didn’t make more films like this.

More of the Noir File is on its way!

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‘From the Head’ intrigues, but doesn’t live up to its potential

From the Head/2013 VoD/Breaking Glass Pictures/95 min.

Three years at a job can feel like a milestone or a miracle. Working as a bathroom attendant at a seedy strip club, it’s an eternity.

In “From the Head,” a film made by and starring George Griffith, we spend a day in the life of Shoes, a wry, worldly grifter on his third anniversary of hanging out behind the men’s room door of a Times Square club, drinking, smoking and secretly smirking at patrons as they pause to leave their tips.

We see him interact with customers, joking, advising, observing – even solicitously plucking a stray blonde hair off a man’s suit. Shoes has literary aspirations and all of these moments might be fodder for his work.

The film, impressionistic and candid, snags the harsh look and tawdry feel of the place. Griffith deftly shows the camaraderie among co-workers (shared drinks, a casual display of a brand-new boob job) and seamlessly orchestrates the parade of memorable customers in and out of the men’s room – from the guys who refuse to tip to those who reveal their genuine (mostly unrequited) feelings for the strippers.

Griffith has a gem of an idea here – a sly insider’s view of a “hell hole” fairly bursting with potential for drama. Unfortunately, the film’s drama doesn’t quite get off the ground – despite the tawdry, titillating backdrop, “From the Head” feels oddly flat and sluggish.

Griffith’s main character (Shoes) must distance himself to survive the hostility, sadness and desperation around him, but we don’t get much of a glimpse beyond the wall he has built. The constant cold sneer needs to be tempered by at least a suggestion of vulnerability in order for viewers to feel his depth of pain and connect with his plight.

“From the Head” is available on cable VOD. It releases July 9 on DVD.  

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Happy Father’s Day, all!

My friends used to say that my Dad reminded them of John Wayne.

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The Noir File: Bogie, Bacall shine in quirky ‘Dark Passage’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

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).

PICKS OF THE WEEK

“Dark Passage” was the third of four films Bogart and Bacall made together.

Dark Passage” (1947, Delmer Daves). Friday, June 14:  8 p.m. (5 p.m.)

I recently wrote about 1947’s “Lady in the Lake,” a Raymond Chandler/Philip Marlowe tale, starring and directed by Robert Montgomery. Its chief claim to fame is the experimental subjective camera – the story is told entirely from Marlowe’s point of view.

In that review, I noted that “Dark Passage,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, also from 1947, uses a subjective camera as well, though just for the first half-hour of the movie. The limited use of the technique in “Dark Passage” pays off much better than the full-on treatment in “Lady.” Though “Dark Passage” wasn’t a huge hit in its day – audiences weren’t crazy about being deprived of Bogart – it’s a film noir treasure that rarely gets its due.

You can read the full FNB review here.

NOIR WRITERS SERIES: DAVID GOODIS
All this month on its Friday Night Spotlight screenings,  TCM is presenting a series of classic film noirs, with each Friday night devoted to movies based on or written by (or both) one of  six top-notch noir authors: Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, David Goodis, Jonathan Latimer and Cornell Woolrich.

Tonight the spotlight is on David Goodis, one of the strangest and most poignantly self-destructive of the great film noir novelists. Goodis, a well-educated  Philadelphian, and an outsider for most of his life, came to Hollywood when his best-selling novel, “Dark Passage” was sold to Warner Brothers as a vehicle for the red hot movie team of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. “Dark Passage” allowed Bogie and Bacall to shine, and is now considered a classic.

“Dark Passage” uses a subjective camera for the first half-hour of the movie.

But Goodis, who liked to explore the lower depths,  proved too weird even for Movieland, and he soon returned East where he spent the rest of his relatively brief life (1917-1967) writing pulp novels for paperback publishers, which he occasionally sold to the movies. (See below.)

They were cheap, supposedly trashy books, churned out fast. Goodis filled them with a  keen insight into darkness, loneliness and the underworld, a flair for strong perverse characterization and a poetic command of language few writers in his genre could match. “Dark Passage” remains his most famous novel. The most personal and revealing  may be “The Burglar,” directed by his Philly friend Paul Wendkos. It’s a powerful film, but the book is better.

David Goodis was weird, even for Hollywood.

(The “Noir Writers” films, all of which show on Friday evening, June 14, were curated and will be introduced by film noir expert Eddie Muller.)

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Dark Passage” (See Above.)

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “Nightfall” (1956, Jacques Tourneur). With Aldo Ray, Anne Bancroft and Brian Keith. Reviewed on FNB, May 29, 2012.

11:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.): “The Burglar” (1957, Paul Wendkos). David Goodis’  eerie, haunting novel about a gang of burglars, inlcuding platonic lovers Dan Duryea and Jayne Mansfield, and how they come apart. The diretcor, Paul Wendkos (“The Mephisto Waltz”) was another Philadelphia guy and a friend of Goodis’, and he did very well by the book, which is one of the great pulp paperback novels of the ’50s. The movie isn’t on that level, but, in its way, it’s a neglected, if melancholy, gem.

Charles Aznavour and Michèle Mercier in François Truffaut’s “Shoot the Piano Player.”

1:15 a.m. (10:15 p.m.): “Shoot the Piano Player” (1960, François Truffaut). The greatest movie ever made from a David Goodis novel is also the ultimate fusion of film noir with the French New Wave. Noir-lover François Truffaut (“Jules and Jim”) takes one of Goodis’ best novels, “Down There,” resets it in a Paris dive, and comes up with melancholy black-and-white movie magic. Truffaut makes the material his own. He keeps the original  tale of a concert pianist (legendary torch singer Charles Aznavour) who, heartbroken at the loss of his love, goes down there to the depths of show biz – tinkling the keys in a neighborhood bar, until, despite his best efforts, he falls in love again and falls in with criminals. Like most Goodis stories, it’s a bluesy tale touched with terror.  But Truffaut opens it up with innovative filmmaking and breezy, saucy, seemingly off-the-cuff scenes that shoot vibrant life into a very dark subject. [Read more…]

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‘The Bling Ring’ brings you inside a baffling world

The Bling Ring/2013/American Zoetrope, et al/87 min.

Writer/director Sofia Coppola (“The Virgin Suicides,” “Lost in Translation,” “Marie Antoinette,” “Somewhere”) has a knack for creating richly textured worlds, capturing the precise look of a place, feeling of a moment and mood of the characters.

In her latest film, “The Bling Ring,” a noirish tale based on real events, the milieu she so deftly depicts is one she presumably knows pretty well from her own experience – a chapter of high school for a group of five privileged kids from suburban Los Angeles. This clique, however, has an unusual gambit for getting a high – they like to steal stuff from celebrities.

These primp-prowl-and-pilfer kids from Calabasas made international headlines in 2009 after breaking into homes and absconding with more than $3 million in jewelry, clothes and accessories from celebrities including Paris Hilton (who appears in the film), Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom, Rachel Bilson and Audrina Patridge. The movie is a fictionalized version of a Vanity Fair feature story (now a book) by Nancy Jo Sales.

After tracking their targets’ whereabouts via gossip and news sites, then finding their addresses on search engines, the gorgeous “gang” nonchalantly sets about quietly letting themselves into these stylish residences, snooping around the celebs’ red-carpet-ready stuff and making off with whatever catches their eyes. Oh and then flaunting their swag, glorious swag, and posting about it on Facebook.

These stunningly self-absorbed Angelenos – played by Emma Watson, Israel Broussard, Claire Julien, Taissa Farmiga and Katie Chang as the brazen ringleader – are observed more than they are judged. Their aberrant behavior, it appears, is fueled by a near-lethal cocktail of hyper-materialism, rampant narcissism, obsession with celebrity (real and fake), hollow spirituality and social media, not to mention actual booze and drugs.

And that constant of high-school angst: a hunger for popularity, attention and belonging. “In ‘The Bling Ring,’ the kids are trying to figure out their identity. I could understand that age and wanting to be part of a group,” said Coppola at a recent event at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica. “I like stories about people in transition or figuring out their place. I like stories about internal struggle.”

“The Bling Ring,” starts out like a B crime movie – crickets breaking the silence of a peaceful night just before a sleek, secluded home is burgled – but soon sheds any inkling of a low-budget vibe. We are immediately immersed in what feels like a glossy, baffling and fascinating game. It’s hard not to indulge your inner-voyeur. [Read more…]

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‘Wish You Were Here’ thriller/drama is a mixed bag

Image from Entertainment One Films. From left: Joel Edgerton, Teresa Palmer, Felicity Price and Antony Starr.

The Australian thriller/domestic drama “Wish You Were Here,” directed by Kieran Darcy-Smith, opened last weekend in New York and LA. Unfortunately, I found it dull, despite strong performances. You can read the NYT review by Stephen Holden here.

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