Archives for December 2013

The Noir File: Superb sizzle in ‘The Lady from Shanghai’

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).

Pick of the Week

Stars Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles were married from 1943 to 1948.

Stars Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles were married from 1943 to 1948.

The Lady from Shanghai  (1948, Orson Welles). Sunday, Dec. 29. 12:15 p.m. (9:15 a.m.). With Rita Hayworth, Orson Welles and Everett Sloane.

“Citizen Kane” is hallowed cinematic ground, I know, but my favorite Orson Welles film is “The Lady from Shanghai” (1948), which he wrote, produced, directed and starred in, playing opposite his real-life wife Rita Hayworth, one of the most popular entertainers of the 1940s.

In “The Lady from Shanghai” Welles plays Michael O’Hara, an Irish merchant seaman, in between ships in New York. By chance, or so he thinks, he meets the wily blonde operator Elsa Bannister (Hayworth) and saves her from being mugged in the park.

Elsa invites Michael to join her as she sets sail for Acapulco. The boat belongs to her husband, a wizened, creepy criminal lawyer named Arthur Bannister (Everett Sloane), and he’ll be on the trip too. So will his partner, the moon-faced and sinister George Grisby (Glenn Anders). O’Hara agrees regardless. “Once I’d seen her,” he says, “I wasn’t in the right frame of mind.”

Read the full FNB review here.

Friday, Dec. 27

2 p.m. (11 a.m.): “Across the Pacific” (1942, John Huston). With Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet. Reviewed in FNB on June 6, 2012.

4 p.m. (1 p.m.): “We Were Strangers” (1949, John Huston). Intrigue and rebellion, long before Castro, in ’40s Cuba. With John Garfield, Jennifer Jones, Gilbert Roland and Pedro Armendariz. Co-scripted by Huston and  Peter Viertel (who later dissed his boss in the tell-all novel (about the shooting of “The African Queeen,”  “White Hunter, Black Heart”).

9:45 p.m. (6:45 p.m.): “Out of the Past” (1947, Jacques Tourneur). With Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas.

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “Klute” (1971, Alan Pakula). Jane Fonda as a brainy hooker (her first Oscar-winning performance) being pursued by a psycho killer. Donald Sutherland plays Klute, the cop who tries to help and save her. A classy, first-class neo-noir.

Saturday, Dec. 28

Boyer drives Bergman nuts in "Gaslight."

Boyer drives Bergman nuts in “Gaslight.”

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Gaslight” (1944, George Cukor). With Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotton and Angela Lansbury. Reviewed in FNB on Aug. 25, 2012.

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “Suspicion” (1941, Alfred Hitchcock). With Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine and Nigel Bruce. Reviewed in FNB on Sept. 21, 2012.

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Leave Her to Heaven” (1945, John M. Stahl). With Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde, Jeanne Crain and Vincent Price. Reviewed in FNB on Aug. 8, 2013.

Sunday, Dec. 29

12:15 p.m. (9:15 a.m.): “The Lady from Shanghai.“  See Pick of the Week.

Monday, Dec. 30

1:15 a.m. (10:15 p.m.): “The Loved One” (1965, Tony Richardson). Novelist Evelyn Waugh’s (“Brideshead Revisited”) delicious dark comedy about a posh Los Angeles pet cemetery (modeled on Forest Lawn) and the vagaries and deadly eccentricities of the British community in Hollywood, — turned into a Strangelovian satire/farce by director Tony Richardson and screenwriter Terry Southern. One of the campiest casts imaginable is headed by Robert Morse as the Candidesque protagonist, and includes Rod Steiger, Jonathan Winters, Tab Hunter, Robert Morley and Liberace.

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‘A Christmas Carol,’ with Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge, has touches of noir darkness

The FNB team wishes everyone a joyful holiday season. But that doesn’t stop us from relishing the dark side. Here, Mike Wilmington dishes on this psychologically acute, tormented version of Charles Dickens’ classic tale.

CAROL DVDAlmost everyone’s nominee for best of the many film adaptations of Charles Dickens’ Yuletide evergreen “A Christmas Carol,” is this 1951 cinematic gem, directed by the underrated Brian Desmond Hurst and scripted by the underrated Noel Langley.

The movie is shot by the neglected near-genius cinematographer (later a prolific director), C. M. Pennington-Richards, whose other great photographic job was for documentarian Humphrey Jennings in his WW2 masterpiece “Fires Were Started.” “A Christmas Carol,” shot at the very height of the prime film noir period, looks like noir and feels like noir. (So, at the end, does that other great Christmas movie inspired by “A Christmas Carol,” Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.”) And it has what are usually film noir politics and social views.

This is the one of the most faithful of all Carol adaptations and also one of the least sentimental, one of the most stylishly crafted and one of the more psychologically acute. That’s in part because Hurst and Langley have deftly resisted the obvious temptations of the material. It’s beyond question a film for adults more than for children, which is almost never how “A Christmas Carol” is played.

When the Ghosts of Christmas Past (Michael Dolan) and Christmas Present (Francis De Wolff,  decked out like a plum pudding) show up on a horrific, dark Christmas Eve (it’s black as pitch outside even when it should be afternoon) to escort Scrooge though his sad, frustrated past and his greedy, cheerless present, they’re almost like a team of Freudian (Jungian? Scroogian?) psychiatrists covered with mistletoe, digging into the roots of Scrooge’s neuroses and compulsions. (That’s always been the modus operandi of Scrooge’s Ghosts, but never more so than here.)

Sim is unforgettable as Scrooge in a film that's for adults more than for children, which is almost never how “A Christmas Carol” is played.

Sim is unforgettable as Scrooge in a film that’s for adults more than for children, which is almost never how “A Christmas Carol” is played.

Of course, key to this movie’s lasting appeal is its star: juicily eloquent comic actor Alastair Sim as the pathologically stingy Ebenezer Scrooge – the mean, miserly London businessman who considers Christmas a humbug. It was Sim (otherwise best known for the thriller “Green for Danger” and various comedies) who became the Scrooge of all Scrooges, just as the film is deservedly ranked as the Christmas Carol of all Christmas Carols.

With his baleful eyes and snarling smile, Sim had a gift for playing men who know too much and are rather annoyed at the silliness of the world. His diction was shatteringly perfect and it’s the foundation of his comic style.

All the acting is expert, deliciously British and delightfully (but never annoyingly) exaggerated. Sim is supported by an excellent cast: the fantastic Michael Hordern as Jacob Marley, the touching Mervyn Johns and Hermione Baddeley as Mr. and Mrs. Bob Cratchit, Jack Warner as the youthful Scrooge’s big-hearted boss, Fezziwig, Glyn Tearman as the mild but never saccharine Tiny Tim, George Cole as young Ebenezer, Patrick Macnee as the young Marley, Brian Worth as Scrooge’s ebullient nephew Fred, and Peter Bull as both the film’s narrator and an even colder-blooded financier than Scrooge.

In the “Carol,” the eggnog is a little spiked, the tale a little darker than in other versions. And more truthful, more penetrating. It’s amazing, in fact, how modern this story and its message, and particularly Scrooge’s philosophy, now seem. Greed? Business? Save the rich? Eat the poor? Are there no jails? Are there no workhouses? Bah, humbug!

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The Film Noir File: Polanski goes to Towne in ‘Chinatown’

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).

Pick of the Week

“Chinatown” (1974, Roman Polanski). Friday, Dec. 13. 1 a.m. (10 p.m.)

Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway sizzle in "Chinatown."

Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway sizzle in “Chinatown.”

A nervous femme fatale with a slight stutter. A stocky PI with a hot temper and a bandage plastered on his face.

Perhaps not the most promising characters at first glance; in fact they are among noir’s finest. Faye Dunaway and Jack Nicholson deliver knockout performances in 1974’s “Chinatown,” a neo-noir that ranks as one of the greatest films ever made. Certainly, it’s among the top 10 movies of the 1970s.

With an Oscar-winning screenplay by Robert Towne, directed by Roman Polanski, and produced by Robert Evans, “Chinatown” clearly has roots in classic noir, but also reinvents and subverts the tradition. The movie’s intelligence, artistry and uniquely dark vision elevate it beyond a simple homage.

Read the rest of FNB’s review here or read Michael Wilmington’s review here.

Cary Grant cracks us up in "Arsenic and Old Lace."

Cary Grant cracks us up in “Arsenic and Old Lace.”

Sunday, Dec. 15

8 a.m. (5 a.m.): “Arsenic and Old Lace” (1944, Frank Capra). Two sweet little old spinsters who run a Brooklyn boarding house (Josephine Hull and Jean Adair) also help elderly bachelors into another, better world with their specialty: poisoned elderberry wine. Their frantic theater- critic nephew Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant, in his wildest performance ever), who’s just discovered their secret (on Halloween), tries desperately to keep them out of jail. Meanwhile two murderous professional criminals on the lam (Raymond Massey and Peter Lorre) show up to further envenom the brew.

This mad farce is not the kind of movie Frank Capra usually makes but the pace and energy (as well as the Coen Brothers-ish dark humor) never flag. The movie also has Priscilla Lane as the Ginger Rogers-ish love interest, and those three yeoman comic supporting players Jack Carson, James Gleason and Edward Everett Horton. Of the loony sub-genre comedy noir, this is a prime example: the least sentimental, least Capra-corny and maybe the craziest-funniest of all Capra’s films. Adapted by brothers Julius and Philip Epstein (“Casablanca”), from Joseph Kesselring’s hit Broadway play.

Photo credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment/ Myrna Loy as Nora Charles, Asta the dog and William Powell as Nick Charles in "After the Thin Man" (1936)

Photo credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment
Myrna Loy as Nora Charles, Asta the dog and William Powell as Nick Charles star in “After the Thin Man” (1936).

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “The Thin Man” (1934, W.S. Van Dyke). With William Powell, Myrna Loy and Asta. Reviewed in FNB on July 28, 2012.

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “The Unholy Three” (1925, Tod Browning). With Lon Chaney, Harry Earles and Victor McLaglen. Reviewed in FNB on Dec. 12, 2012.

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “Pickpocket” (1959, Robert Bresson). An ascetic looking, light-fingered young man who looks like, and is, a starving artist (played by the thin, visually impeccable Martin Lasalle), lives out a Parisian Dostoyevsky tale, when he begins picking pockets at racetracks and metros. Together with Diary of a Country Priest and A Man Escaped, this is one of the untouchable black-and-white masterpieces of a true master, France’s austere film genius Robert Bresson. (In French, with subtitles.)

3:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m.): “Crime and Punishment, U.S.A.” (1959, Denis Sanders). Like “Pickpocket,“ this is another ’50s film modernization of Dostoyevsky’s themes of guilt, spirituality and redemption. And we can only thank God that the movie’s young star, George Hamilton wasn’t, after this, typecast as a Dostoyevskian anti-hero.

Eleanor Parker is most famous for playing the Baroness in Robert Wise’s “The Sound of Music” (1965), but film noir fans remember her from “Caged.”

Eleanor Parker is most famous for playing the Baroness in “The Sound of Music” (1965), but film noir fans remember her from “Caged.”

Tuesday, Dec. 17

ELEANOR PARKER TRIBUTE

Eleanor Parker, the notable auburn-haired Hollywood star of the ’40s and ’50s, passed away Monday at the age of 91. TCM will pay tribute to legendary leading lady on Tuesday, Dec. 17, with a 14-hour marathon, featuring seven of her films.

Parker earned Best Actress Oscar nominations for her performances in “Interrupted Melody” (1955) and John Cromwell’s classic prison picture “Caged” (1950) in which she co-stars with Agnes Moorehead and Hope Emerson. She was especially admired by film noir fans for her leading role in “Caged” as a brutalized prisoner. “Caged” plays at 11:45 a.m. (8:45 a.m.). Reviewed in FNB on July 13, 2012.

Check the TCM web site for the full list of titles and times.

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The Film Noir File: Czar of Noir Otto Preminger has his day

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).

Pick of the Week:
Otto Preminger Day

Robert Mitchum and Jean Simmons star in “Angel Face.”

Robert Mitchum and Jean Simmons star in “Angel Face.”

His nickname was “Otto the Ogre.” He was one of the most colorful and feisty of all the star Golden Age Hollywood directors. His verbal abuse of actors, including beautiful actresses and children, was legendary. Robert Mitchum once slugged him on the set for his vile treatment of co-star Jean Simmons. (He and Mitchum later made up and even made another film together, with Marilyn Monroe.) But Otto Preminger – known for his hot temper, thick German accent, bald bullet head, defiance of taboos  and long camera takes – was also one of the czars of film noir in the 1940s and early ’50s, when he directed classics like “Laura,” “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and “Angel Face.” Later on, he made one of the best of all trial dramas, 1959’s  “Anatomy of a Murder,” and directed the neglected 1965 British thriller “Bunny Lake is Missing.”

Otto was the son of a renowned and well-respected attorney general in the old Austrian-Hungarian Empire (Markus Preminger). He grew up in Vienna, where, instead of the law, he became enamored of the theatre and eventually was a protégé and assistant of the legendary stage maestro Max Reinhardt. During Hitler’s rise, the Jewish Preminger emigrated to America where he fairly quickly became a notable Broadway and Hollywood director, as well as an actor who played especially nasty Nazis (as he did in Billy Wilder’s “Stalag 17“).

"The Man with the Golden Arm," starring Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak, plays at 5.

“The Man with the Golden Arm,” starring Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak, plays Thursday at 7:45 a.m. PST.

After his huge success directing the classic mystery “Laura” in 1944, Preminger became a 20th Century contract director and an A-lister. He was also the bane of censors and blue noses, whose limits and “rules” he constantly tested and attacked: crossing the boundaries that held back candid screen portrayals of sex, drug addiction, politics and the legal system. He had an “open” marriage and long unpublicized liaisons with both the tragic black actress Dorothy Dandridge and gilt-edged stripper Gypsy Rose Lee. He helped break the black list in 1960, by hiring  Dalton Trumbo, the long  black-listed scriptwriter who used aliases on his ’50s screenplays, to write “Exodus” (1960) under his real name.

Some serious critics, offended by what they saw as his publicity-mongering, tended to dismiss him as a phony, except in France, where  he was one of the admired auteurs of the Cahiers du Cinema crowd. Preminger’s greatest years, 1959 to 1965, when he produced and directed a series of epic bestseller adaptations on big political and social themes, were succeeded by a decade in which his movies were almost all mercilessly savaged by critics and ignored by the public. His nadir, in 1968, was an unfunny pseudo-hip Jackie Gleason prison comedy called “Skidoo,” in which everyone took LSD, Groucho Marx played God, and all the credits were sung. I like Preminger, but words fail me.

Lee Remick in "Anatomy of a Murder."

Lee Remick in “Anatomy of a Murder.”

He was a stylist. Perhaps because of his lifelong love of the theater, he liked to shoot his scenes in extremely long takes; he once said that, ideally, every film should be made in one unbroken shot. Late in his career, from the 1967 movie “Hurry Sundown” on, reviewers tended to beat up on him. But Otto the Ogre, in public, never lost his acerbic tongue, his feistiness or his capacity for verbal abuse until the end, when he died of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease at 80. Late in his life, he was interviewed about his contributions to film noir, and he professed to have no idea what film noir was, and proceeded to ridicule, abuse and hector his interviewer. That was pure Preminger — and Mitchum wasn’t there to slug him.

9 a.m. (6 a.m.) “Angel Face (1953, Otto Preminger). Robert Mitchum and Jean Simmons tumble into one of those awful noir twisted affairs, where a nice handsome guy is entrapped by an  evil, obsessed, gorgeous woman who won’t take “no” or even “maybe,”  for an answer. She’s a rich spoiled girl, he’s a straight-arrow ambulance driver  and Herbert Marshall is also one of her victims. In the ’50s, critic-cineaste Jean-Luc Godard put “Angel Face” on his Cahiers du Cinema list of the Ten Best American Sound Films, along with another classic film noir: Orson Welles’ ‘The Lady from Shanghai.” And yes, this is the movie where Mitchum decked Preminger.

10: 45 a.m. (7:45 a.m.): “The Man with the Golden Arm” (1955, Preminger). With Frank Sinatra, Kim Novak and Eleanor Parker. Reviewed in FNB on November 10, 2012.

12:45 p.m. (9:45 a.m.): “Anatomy of a Murder” (1959, Preminger). With James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara and George C. Scott. Reviewed in FNB on March 14, 2012.

3:30 p.m. (12:30 p.m.): “Advise and Consent” (1962, Preminger). This star-studded, non-flag-waving  adaptation of Allen Drury’s political novel about a fiercely contentious U.S. Senate confirmation battle has a stellar cast that includes Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton, Don Murray, Walter Pidgeon, Gene Tierney, Burgess Meredith and  Franchot Tone — and it may not exactly be classic pure film noir.

But, shot by Preminger in knife-sharp black and white on actual government and Washington D.C. locations with the co-operation of the Kennedy White House —  it looks like noir, feels like noir, and is as murderously frank and coolly unabashed about taboo subjects as  “Double Indemnity” or  “The Maltese Falcon.“  Preminger, a liberal director filming Drury’s very conservative novel, shows us D. C.‘s dirtiest linen in one of the nastiest, most vicious mud-slinging confirmation battles ever.

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “Bunny Lake is Missing”  (1965, Preminger). With Laurence Olivier, Carol Lynley and Noel Coward. [Read more…]

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‘Bettie Page Reveals All’ hits theaters

Bettie Page Reveals AllNow playing at the Nuart Theatre in LA: ‘Bettie Page Reveals All.’ It’s just here for a week so see it while you can.

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