Archives for April 2014

The Film Noir File: Wham, bam, thank you, Sam!

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: A Day with Sam Fuller

Tuesday, April 29

Cigar-chewing, ex-New York City newsman Sam Fuller was one of the toughest of all the tough noir directors. He made tough crime thrillers, tough war movies, tough westerns, and even a tough period newspaper drama (“Park Row,” which was his own favorite). Eight of his movies are on tap this Tuesday.

American film executives and critics were often bewildered by Sam Fuller.

American film executives and critics were often bewildered by Sam Fuller.

Offhand, we can’t think of another moviemaker who began his scenes and camera takes by firing off a gun, or who ended one picture (“Shock Corridor”) by flooding and destroying his own set and vamoosing from the studio.

Sam Fuller knew what real crooks, cops, Army men and news guys were like, and he encouraged his casts to play it hard, spiky and dark. American film executives were often bewildered by Sam, and so were American film critics. But the French loved him.

Fuller served as a soldier with the famed WWII infantry squadron The Big Red One (which he and star Lee Marvin portrayed, to the hilt, in their 1980 war saga of the same name). And he served as a 20th Century Fox contract writer-director, under the formidable Darryl F. Zanuck, which may have been almost as dangerous.

The Steel Helmet posterLike Don Siegel and Phil Karlson, Fuller was one of the masters of B-budgets, though he did all right with a few “As” too, including “The Big Red One,” and the Venice Film Festival prize winner (with Richard Widmark), “Pickup on South Street.” He never made anything soft and he never made anything that put you to sleep.

7:15 a.m. (4:15 a.m.): “I Shot Jesse James” (1949, Samuel Fuller). With John Ireland, Preston Foster and Barbara Britton. Reviewed in FNB on July 13, 2012.

8:45 a.m. (5:45 a.m.): “The Baron of Arizona” (1950, Fuller). Vincent Price at his slickest, suavest and meanest, playing a real-life Arizona land-grabber who almost stole the whole state.

10:30 a.m. (7:30 a.m.): “The Steel Helmet” (1951, Fuller). A very dark, grim and relentless Korean war movie, about a platoon under fire bivouacked in a Buddhist temple, led by a hard-case sergeant named Zack (Gene Evans). One of the few times Fuller had most of the critics in his corner; “The Steel Helmet” is a B-movie classic. With Steve Brodie, James Edwards and Robert Hutton.

12 p.m. (9 a.m.): “Run of the Arrow” (1957, Fuller). The Civil War is over. Southern rebel survivor Rod Steiger is in Sioux country out west, trying to survive. This film and Forty Guns (with Barbara Stanwyck as a tough cattle queen) are Fuller’s best westerns, though “Run of the Arrow” has the stronger cast. Besides Steiger, who affects an outrageous Irish- Confederate brogue, there’s Charley Bronson, Brian Keith, Ralph Meeker, Sarita Montiel and Jay C. Flippen.

Shock Corridor poster1:30 p.m. (10:30 a.m.): “Verboten!” (1958, Fuller). James Best, who usually plays sensitive cowboys, is a nosey yank soldier in post-war Germany, whose German girlfriend (Susan Cummings) leads him to a secret neo-Nazi group.

3 p.m. (12 p.m.): “Merrill’s Marauders” (1962, Fuller). Jeff Chandler, in his last movie, plays the real-life WW2 hero General Frank Merrill of the famed Merrill’s Marauders — fighting and suffering in the Burmese jungles, in what’s probably Fuller’s most conventional war picture. But it’s a good one anyway. Chandler is backed by much of the Warner Brothers TV Western repertory troupe: Claude Akins, Andrew Duggan, Ty Hardin, Will Hutchins and Peter Brown.

4: 45 p.m. (1:45 p.m.): “Shock Corridor” (1963, Fuller). With Peter Breck, Constance Towers, Gene Evans, James Edwards and Larry Tucker. Reviewed in FNB on Nov. 16, 2011.

6:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m.): “The Naked Kiss” (1964, Fuller). With Constance Towers, Anthony Eisley, Virginia Grey, Michael Dante, and Patsy Kelly. Reviewed in FNB on Jan. 16, 2012. [Read more…]

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Paris Photo Los Angeles opens; restored ‘Alphaville’ arrives; free screening of ‘The Narrow Margin’ at Egyptian Theatre

Besides the superb French films showing at the COLCOA Film Festival (see item below), there is much going on in Los Angeles this weekend.

Paris Photo Los Angeles runs Friday, April 25, to Sunday, April 27, at Paramount Pictures Studios. The fair will host more than 80 leading art galleries and book dealers from 18 countries. They will set up on Paramount’s famed soundstages and New York street backlot.

Detail of two bullet holes in car window, 1942 ©LAPD /Image courtesy of fototeka

Detail of two bullet holes in car window, 1942 ©LAPD /Image courtesy of fototeka

New this year is UNEDITED!, a program that unveils unedited or rarely seen photographic material. The program draws from the LAPD Photo Archives, a curated selection of unseen police photographs.

Alphaville posterThe new digital restoration of “Alphaville,” Jean-Luc Godard’s science fiction/film noir thriller, opens Friday, April 25, at the Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles. Set in a dystopian future controlled by a computer known as Alpha 60, “Alphaville” stars Eddie Constantine as Lemmy Caution, the quintessential hard-boiled ’50s private eye. Anna Karina (Godard’s wife and muse, and star of “Band of Outsiders” and “Pierrot Le Fou”) plays the femme fatale.

“Alphaville” is showing at the Nuart Theatre, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, through Thursday, May 1.

A tribute to writer-producer Stanley Rubin (Oct. 8, 1917 – March 2, 2014) will kick off at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 26, at the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre. A FREE screening of “The Narrow Margin will follow at 3 p.m. with an introduction by Alan K. Rode. Marie Windsor is an unforgettable bad girl in this must-see low-budget noir.

And more big-screen news: Click here to read about LA’s downtown theaters regaining their allure.   

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Enchanté: COLCOA film fest hits LA

coloca-logo5[1]The City of Lights City of Angels (COLCOA) Film Festival, a fixture in Los Angeles for 18 years, shows new and classic French films at the Directors Guild in Los Angeles. The fest runs April 21-28.

This year’s fest offers another prime schedule of French motion pictures. “We Love You, You Bastard” (or Salaud, on t’aime, to be French about it), the latest film by Claude Lelouch, is the opening night film.

Lelouch, a New Wave writer-director (auteur), won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival with his 1966 “A Man and a Woman” (or Une Homme et un Femme). He conquered movie art-houses and has been active ever since. This new Lelouch movie stars two venerable French rock stars Johnny Hallyday and Eddy Mitchell in a story about sowing wild oats and dealing with the results.

What is showing to tempt noiristas? Well, 1960’s “Purple Noon,” one of the great film noirs, starring Alain Delon and Maurice Ronet. This gripping thriller was directed by Rene Clement, based on a novel by the American expatriate crime writer Patricia Highsmith and dazzlingly shot by Henri Decae. It screens at 1:45 p.m., on Tuesday, April 22.

our-heroes[1]le-dernier-diamant[1]Then, there’s the highly popular Film Noir Series on Friday, April 25. Can’t wait! At 5:30 p.m. is the North American premiere of “Our Heroes Died Tonight” (Nos héros sont morts ce soir). Set in early-1960s Paris, this minimalist noir, written and directed by David Perrault, plunges into the seedy world of semi-professional wrestling where backroom dives smell of Gauloise and sweat, and the fights are all rigged.

At 7:30 p.m. Eric Barbier’s heist thriller “The Last Diamond,” makes its international premiere. Starring Bérénice Bejo and Yvan Attal, the film follows in the tradition of Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Le Cercle Rouge.” The carrot for the crooks is mighty pretty: the fabled Florentine, a 137-carat yellow diamond last seen in 1918, which has resurfaced and is up for sale in an exclusive Antwerp auction house.

amourcrime[1]

venus-in-fur[1]The Larriere Brothers’ crime drama “Love is a Perfect Crime” plays at 10:30 p.m. Adapted from “Incidences by Philippe Dijan, whose other novels inspired the films “Betty Blue and “Unforgivable,” this chilly thriller revolves around a University of Lausanne student who goes missing. The top suspect? Her professor and lover, natch. “Love is a Perfect Crime” stars Mathieu Almaric, Karin Viard, Maiwenn and Sara Forrestier. This is the film’s West Coast premiere.

The late, great François Truffaut will be honored Friday.

The late, great François Truffaut will be honored Friday.

There are two other enticing events on Friday. The massively influential but too mortal (and gone too soon) French auteur François Truffaut will be remembered at a 1:30 p.m. screening of his very personal 1977 tale of a femme-chaser “The Man Who Loved Women,” starring Charles Denner as the Man, and Brigitte Fossey, Nathalie Baye and the supremely piquant Leslie Caron as some of the Women. There will be a talk on Truffaut after the movie.

At 8:30 p.m., that brilliant and elusive Polish-American-French cineaste, Roman Polanski will be represented by his latest film “Venus in Fur,” based on the masochistic novel by Leopold Sacher-Masoch and David Ives’ play from it. “Venus” stars Polanski’s muse-mate Emmanuelle Seigner as an extroverted actress who shows up after hours to read for a part.

la-belle-et-la-bete[1]the-murderer-lives[1]On Saturday, at 11 a.m., the one French film of this year’s glittering menu that you absolutely don’t want to miss: the 1946 fairytale treasure “Beauty and the Beast,” written and directed by Jean Cocteau. Josette Day stars as Belle and Jean Marais as Bete. The film was photographed (lustrously) by Henri Alekan, scored (hauntingly) by Georges Auric and technically advised by Rene Clement, who we suspect, had more to do with the film‘s impeccable, fantastic technique than just advice.

If fairytales aren’t your tray of gateaux, there’s a brutally real alternative: “Abuse of Weakness,” a fierce semi-autobiographical drama by auteur Catherine Breillat about her own fleecing by a famous conman. “Abuse” screens at 7:45 p.m.

“We Love You, You Bastard” rescreens at 1:15 p.m.

Sunday brings the closing session of the competition, but there are two more major French classics on Monday, April 28. At 2 p.m., you can see the great director Patrice Chereau’s 1994 adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ breathless historical novel “Queen Margot” (La Reine Margot). Chereau’s film stars Isabelle Adjani and Daniel Auteuil.

And at 3:30 p.m. there’s another film noir, a black-and-white ‘40s classic: “The Murderer Lives at No. 21” by Henri-Georges Clouzot. French stage and screen actor Louis Jouvet stars as the relentless detective Wens.

The COLCOA screenings are at the Directors Guild, 7920 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, 90046.

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The Film Noir File: Otto Preminger paints it black, twice

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: Preminger Noir on Saturday, April 19

Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney star in “Laura” and “Where the Sidewalk Ends.”

Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney star in “Laura” and “Where the Sidewalk Ends.”

Otto Preminger, a prickly auteur with a sometimes mean disposition, claimed not to know what “film noir” meant and often ridiculed interviewers who asked him about it. But in the ’40s and ’50s, the Viennese émigré and nemesis of censors and philistines directed a string of stylish black-and-white, gloomily fatalistic crime pictures that epitomized the whole genre. Two of Otto’s best are showing this Saturday, and you can watch them as a double feature, starting at 8 p.m. EST/5 p.m. PST.

First up is Preminger’s adaptation of Vera Caspary’s best-selling novel of murder and romance in high-style ’40s New York City, “Laura.” This classic is followed by the sharp, moody Ben Hecht-scripted drama of obsessive police and ruthless gangsters “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” Both movies star Dana Andrews as a tough cop and Gene Tierney as a glamour girl, and both of them helped define noir – even if Preminger couldn’t or wouldn‘t.

Laura” (1944, Otto Preminger). 8 p.m. (5 p.m.), Saturday, April 19. With Tierney, Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price and Judith Anderson.

Where the Sidewalk Ends” (1950, Otto Preminger). Saturday, April 19. With Andrews, Tierney, Gary Merrill and Karl Malden. [Read more…]

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TCM Classic Film Fest embraces the black sheep: film noir

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

Words that we associate with family: Happy times. Togetherness. Loyalty. Fun. Laughter. Pure love. Film noir.

Film noir? Yup, film noir. This dark and cynical genre was surprisingly well represented at this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival, which was dedicated to the theme: “Family in the Movies: The Ties That Bind.”

Maureen O’Hara and Walter Pidgeon star in “How Green Was My Valley.”

Maureen O’Hara and Walter Pidgeon star in “How Green Was My Valley.”

Families, at their best, give us solace and joy. At their worst, they tear us apart. Both extremes showed up at the fest, from “How Green Was My Valley” on the sunny side to “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” on the stormy, noir edge.

Other noir highlights were “Double Indemnity,” “The Thin Man,” “Touch of Evil,” “The Naked City,” “Freaks,” “The Lady From Shanghai,” “Johnny Guitar” and “The Godfather Part II.

GWTW posterThis year marked the fifth annual edition of one of the world’s great (and certainly one of its most lovable) film festivals. During its four-day run, hosted by TCM’s Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz with many special guests, this bounteous cinematic fest became a celebration of fathers, mothers, daughters, sons and other blood ties.

More than 70 movies, including some real masterpieces, were presented at first-rate venues, such as the TCL Chinese Theatres, Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre, Disney’s flagship El Capitan, plus poolside outdoor movies at the Roosevelt Hotel.

Is there any more powerful or moving portrait, for example, of a loving family facing the vicissitudes of life and surviving the relentless march of change than director John Ford’s “How Green Was My Valley?”

The Quiet Man posterMaureen O’Hara, who played Angharad, appeared on the El Capitan stage, still full of Irish sass and fire. At 93 and feisty as ever, she is our living link to the beauties and treasures of the celluloid past.

How green were our valleys then…

Other classic films, all shown in pristine and sometimes newly restored prints, included: “Gone with the Wind,” “The Best Years of Our Lives,” “East of Eden,” “Father of the Bride,” “Hannah and Her Sisters,” “The Quiet Man,” “City Lights,” “Written on the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz.”

Granted, for movie lovers who prize a happy ending above all else, film noir could be a rebel, a tough child to love. But then just about every clan has at least one black sheep. Isn’t the outcast the one who needs love the most? Isn’t loving the hard-to-love the ultimate test of family bonds? Isn’t that the point of being a family?

Film noir is the cinematic equivalent of a prodigal son or spoiled baby – recalcitrant, yes, but also irresistible. Leave it to film noir to break the rules, steal attention and get its own way whenever it can.

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Another great time at the TCM Classic Film Fest

Thanks to everyone at the TCM Classic Film Festival. It was a great time: Movies, events, staff and fans were amazing! I’ll be writing a more detailed overview but for now, I just wanted to mention a noir factoid I recently uncovered.

“Double Indemnity” (1944, Billy Wilder) was a highlight of the fest. Both Walter’s place (the Bryson Apartments) and Phyllis’ house are still in LA. In the film, Walter reckons the house cost about $30,000; it would now cost more than $1.5 million. Read more about the house here.

Phyllis’ house was and is at 6301 Quebec Drive in the Hollywood Hills.

Phyllis’ house was and is at 6301 Quebec Drive in the Hollywood Hills.

In 1944, Fred MacMurray bought the Bryson building for $600,000. Built in 1913 by real estate developer Hugh W. Bryson, the 10-story Beaux Arts stunner was where MacMurray’s character Walter Neff lived in “Double Indemnity.”

The Bryson building is at 2701 Wilshire Blvd. in the MacArthur Park section of Los Angeles.

The Bryson building is at 2701 Wilshire Blvd. in the MacArthur Park section of Los Angeles.

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The Film Noir File: Oscar-winning ‘Nights of Cabiria’ is stylish darkness from Fellini

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

Nights posterNights of Cabiria” (1957, Federico Fellini). 12 a.m. (9 p.m.); Friday, April 11.

Federico Fellini takes us into the sordid, sinful, falsely glamorous, sometimes oddly appealing and sometimes dangerous night world of Roman prostitution. He and his actress wife Giulietta Masina (the magical waif of “La Strada”) create one of their most memorable characters: the childlike, hard-luck whore, Cabiria – unlucky in love, but lucky in cinema. While the buoyant but put-upon Cabiria is batted back and forth among a succession of awful johns and lovers – a thief, a philandering movie star and a gentle-eyed suitor who may be a killer – she becomes a figure of almost Chaplinesque charm and resilience. Co-written by Pier Paolo Pasolini, costarring Francois Perier, and Amedeo Nazarri, with a wonderful, typically lilting score by Nino Rota. It’s one of Fellini’s masterpieces, and the Oscar winner as 1957’s best foreign language picture.

Is it noir? Well, at least partly. In fact, imagine the same story, shot the same way, in the same stylish black-and-white, but with English-speaking actors in an American city (say, Los Angeles or New York), and you’re thinking, more than likely, of another noir. Of course, the actual American remake, Bob Fosse’s colorful “Sweet Charity,” with Shirley MacLaine, is somewhat brighter and more sentimental, but it was a musical. If anyone was a maker of noir musicals, though, it was Fosse. And, if anyone was a poet of the dark sides of the city, it was Fellini. (In Italian, with subtitles.) [Read more…]

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Film noir giants Ray, Welles, Wilder, Coppola highlighted at TCM Classic Film Festival 2014

The fifth annual TCM Classic Film Festival opens Thursday night with “Oklahoma” (in which femme fatale Gloria Grahame forays into the musical genre) and runs through Sunday.

The central theme of this year’s festival is Family in the Movies: The Ties that Bind. In keeping with this theme, organizers say, the fest will showcase on-screen clans of all types – big and small, happy and imperfect, musical and dramatic. Additionally, the festival will spotlight Hollywood’s first families and dynasties and will explore the kinship that connects close-knit groups of professionals behind the camera.

Johnny Guitar posterWe at FNB are excited about the film-noir slate: “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” “Johnny Guitar,” “The Thin Man,” “Touch of Evil,” “Double Indemnity,” “The Godfather II,” “The Naked City,” “Freaks” and “The Lady From Shanghai.” Also not to be missed: The Film Noir Foundation’s czar of noir Eddie Muller will interview neo-noir master director William Friedkin. These are just a few highlights – the fest is packed with cinematic treats and cool events.

Meanwhile, TCM came up with a terrific way to celebrate the network’s 20th birthday: the free (yes, free!) TCM Movie Locations Tour, running in Los Angeles. Created in Partnership with Starline Tours, the nifty bus rides started last month and will run through April 14, overlapping with the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival.

The tours use comfy new buses with stadium-style seating, skylight windows and a 65”-inch HDTV to show movie clips and commentary from TCM host Ben Mankiewicz. (There’s also a Starline tour guide onboard.)

Featured sites include Echo Park (“Chinatown”), the 2nd Street Tunnel (“Blade Runner,” “The Terminator”), Bryson Apartments (“Double Indemnity,” “The Grifters”) and the Gilmore Gas Station (“L.A. Story”), the Bradbury Building (“Blade Runner,” “The Artist”) and Union Station (“The Way We Were,” “Silver Streak”).

This marks TCM’s second sightseeing bus tour. Last August, the network launched the “TCM Classic Film Tour” in New York.

We are told the Los Angeles trips are sold out but it’s possible the schedule will be expanded. Check here for more info: www.tcm.com/20. The FNB team attended the press trip last month and even as Los Angeles residents we were mightily impressed at what we saw and what we learned. Here are a few shots we snapped along the way:

TCM bus 1

The TCM bus is cool and breezy.

bus 2

Paramount Studios on Melrose Avenue

The Bryson apartments, home to Walter Neff in "Double Indemnity."

The Bryson apartments, home to Walter Neff in “Double Indemnity.”

The Bradbury building,  304 Broadway, was built in 1893.

The Bradbury building, 304 Broadway, was built in 1893.

Los Angeles city hall, downtown

Los Angeles city hall, downtown

Union Station

Union Station

The Wiltern Theatre at Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue

The Wiltern Theatre at Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue

Formosa Cafe was and is a popular hangout. It was founded in 1925 by prize-fighter Jimmy Bernstein.

Formosa Cafe, founded in 1925 by prize-fighter Jimmy Bernstein, was and is a popular hangout.

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Film brings urban artist into focus after a life of obscurity

Finding Vivian Maier posterFinding Vivian Maier/2014/Ravine Pictures/83 min.

“Finding Vivian Maier,” a documentary about a mysterious photographer, is a real-life detective story that raises thorny issues about ethics and about art. The film revolves around a woman named Vivian Maier who, while working as a nanny on the North Side of Chicago in the 1950s and 60s, took more than 100,000 photos of people she encountered and places she explored, often with her charges in tow.

Perhaps oddly, she made little effort to share her work, printing relatively few of the negatives. In fact, she was reclusive and secretive; her huge stash of photos became part of her packrat’s storage nest along with stacks of newspapers (she was partial to crime stories), receipts, knick-knacks, jewelry and clothes. In 2007, a history buff named John Maloof bought a box of her negatives for about $400 at a thrift auction in Chicago, thinking it might serve a book project, then decided against including the photos.

Later Maloof rummaged through the box and became intrigued – make that obsessed – with finding out who took all the photos and why. Maier died in 2009 at 83 and her obit gave him the first meaty clue. The documentary retraces his sleuthing steps and pieces together a sketchy look at Maier’s eccentric life, interviewing a number of talking heads, including her former employers and their now-grown children.

Born in the Bronx to a French mother and Austrian father, Maier’s personal history is fraught with paradox and sadness. She reportedly feared men but was often bold in snapping pictures of strangers; she was an avid observer of human connection and emotion but had few friends; she was fondly remembered by most of the kids she cared for but was said to be on bad terms with her own family; in her later years, she may have been mentally ill. We’re presented with contradictory reports of what she was like, yet one thing is beyond dispute: she treasured her privacy.

Since being brought to light by Maloof, Maier’s work has garnered huge popular acclaim and some critical praise, though the fine-art establishment has been slower in bestowing its stamp of approval. Maloof, who co-directed this film with Charlie Siskel (Gene Siskel’s nephew), mostly comes off as an earnest cheerleader and champion of a neglected artist.

But it’s hard to overlook the fact that Maloof profits from the lifelong effort of a woman now dead who by all accounts kept her work to herself. I couldn’t help feeling at times that Maloof was providing a protest-too-much justification for his quest to illuminate the shadows of someone else’s life. As both co-director and interviewee, Maloof doesn’t have to answer any hard questions. That said, Maier’s impressive body of work deserves discovery and appreciation.

At its best, “Finding Vivian Maier,” is a first-class mystery and, through the gorgeous black and white photos, a fascinating look at long-ago urban life. At its worst, “Finding Vivian Maier,” is documentary filmmaking at its least rigorous.

“Finding Vivian Maier” opened last weekend and is currently in theaters.

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The Film Noir File: Bogie is at the top in ‘High Sierra’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on Cable TV. All movies below 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

High Sierra” (1941, Raoul Walsh). 4 p.m. (1 p.m.), Saturday, April 5.

Bogart and Ida Lupino star in "High Sierra."

Bogart and Ida Lupino star in “High Sierra.”

In 1941, the same year he played Sam Spade, private eye, one of the greatest of all movie detectives, in John Huston’s classic film noir “The Maltese Falcon,” Humphrey Bogart also played one of the greatest of all movie gangsters, Roy Earle, in Raoul Walsh‘s classic noir, “High Sierra.”

If Spade was one of the meanest, most realistic and most unsympathetic of all movie detectives (up until then), Earle was one of the roughest, least clichéd but most surprisingly sympathetic gangsters. He’s a hard guy with a soft streak, whose sentimentality (especially toward women and little dogs), may trip him up in the end.

Veteran thief Big Mac (Donald MacBride) and an ex-cop (Barton MacLane) engineer Earle’s release from prison so he can take over a very lucrative job: a high-end resort robbery near the Sierras. But Earle finds himself yoked to a young, inexperienced gang.

The tyro would-be crooks include Arthur Kennedy, Alan Curtis and inside man Cornel Wilde. The moll of one of the guys is Marie (Ida Lupino), a smart, bruised city doll who falls for Earle, but whom the old pro regards, like all dames, as “trouble.”

More to his taste, disastrously, is the beautiful, seemingly sweet club-footed girl Velma (Joan Leslie), whose family (including Henry Travers) he meets and helps on the road.

Roy sets up the robbery and tries to woo the crippled girl. But it’s his last job, and we know what that means in a movie. As the boss‘s outlaw doctor (Henry Hull) tells Roy: “Guys like you and Johnny Dillinger “are just rushing toward death.”

High Sierra posterAndrew Sarris once described “High Sierra” as “the Gotterdammerung of the gangster movie.” And perhaps Bogart connected so well with the part of the doom-haunted criminal Earle because he had a face that really could suggest a man rushing toward death. Bogie’s dark burning eyes, brusque been-there-shot-that manner, innate intelligence and his existential tough-guy persona were leagues away from the standard handsome male stars who tended to monopolize Hollywood’s leading man roles.

Screenwriting team John Huston and W. R. Burnett based their work on Burnett’s hard-boiled novel. Action-master director Raoul Walsh, a first-tier ‘20s silent moviemaker (he directed Douglas Fairbanks in the 1924 “The Thief of Baghdad“), had been languishing in the second tier for most of the ‘30s.

But Walsh came back with 1939’s “The Roaring Twenties” (in which James Cagney played a sympathetic gangster and Bogie was the villain), 1940‘s “They Drive by Night” (with truck-driver Bogie as the second lead after star George Raft) and “High Sierra,” in which Bogie finally got the lead. (Raft turned down both of the roles that took Bogart to the top: Sam Spade in “The Maltese Falcon” and Roy Earle in “High Sierra.”)

By the way, the last shot of “High Sierra,” with Ida Lupino walking toward the camera, framed by the mountains and the sky, is one of the great last moments in film noir and in all Hollywood movies.

Saturday, April 5

4 p.m. (1 p.m.): “High Sierra” (1941, Raoul Walsh). See Pick of the Week.

Sunday, April 6

8 a.m. (5 a.m.): “They Drive By Night” (1940, Raoul Walsh). With George Raft, Ida Lupino, Humphrey Bogart and Ann Sheridan. Reviewed in FNB on July 7, 2012. [Read more…]

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