Archives for August 2015

The Film Noir File: Robert Wise lays odds against tomorrow

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). The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard). All films without a new review have been covered previously in Film Noir Blonde and can be searched in the FNB archives (at right).

Earl (Robert Ryan) instantly feels threatened by smart and polished Johnny (Harry Belafonte).

Earl (Robert Ryan) instantly feels threatened by smart and polished Johnny (Harry Belafonte).

PICK OF THE WEEK Odds Against Tomorrow” (1959, Robert Wise). Monday, Aug. 31. 6 p.m. (3 p.m.).

Here is one of the great, underrated film noirs – a movie whose stature was recognized early on by French critics and has continued to grow over the past half century.

Directed by Robert Wise, with a Nelson Gidding-credited screenplay based on a novel by suspense and crime specialist William McGivern (“The Big Heat”), “Odds Against Tomorrow” boasts a riveting and exciting story, unforgettable characters and a bitingly contemporary social/political allegory plot.

Shelley Winters plays a frumpy romantic in “Odds Against Tomorrow.”

Shelley Winters plays a frumpy romantic in “Odds Against Tomorrow.”

In the movie, three mismatched New Yorkers – genial, corrupt ex-cop Dave (Ed Begley), brutal ex-con Earl (Robert Ryan) and reckless musician Johnny (Harry Belafonte), a nightclub entertainer with huge gambling debts – join forces for an upstate bank robbery, a well-planned heist that will supposedly solve all their money problems. But their problems are just beginning. Earl is a racist who hates Johnny on sight and Johnny has a short fuse as well. Dave has heart trouble. Things begin to unravel, then explode.

Ryan’s performance is a scorcher; he‘s a perfect villain, bad to the bone. Belafonte’s is compelling and non-clichéd. (He was also one of the producers.) Begley’s is jovial but poignant, a Willy Loman-like salesman peddling his own destruction. The women in the case, a pair of bad blondes – Shelley Winters as Earl’s whining wife and Gloria Grahame as his slutty neighbor – are top-notch noir babes.

Gloria Grahame sizzles in “Odds.”

Gloria Grahame sizzles in “Odds.” What else is new?

French noir master Jean-Pierre Melville named “Odds Against Tomorrow” as one of his three all-time favorite movies; the other two were: “The Asphalt Jungle” and “The Best Years of Our Lives.” Along with the 1949 boxing classic “The Set-Up” (which had Ryan starring in a sympathetic role, as the aging fighter) this is the best of Wise’s noirs and crime movies.

The screenplay was mostly written by the uncredited and blacklisted Abraham Polonsky (“Force of Evil”). The original jazz score is by John Lewis and the Modern Jazz Quartet. The atmospheric black and white cinematography is by Joseph C. Brun (“Edge of the City”). The film is a great one, noir to the max, with a powerful and unforgettable ending.

Saturday, Aug. 29: George C. Scott Day

12 p.m. (9 a.m.): “Anatomy of Murder” (1959, Otto Preminger). One of the best and most true-to-life of all courtroom dramas, “Anatomy of a Murder” is also the best film producer-director Otto Preminger ever made.

Paul Newman is the blue-eyed king of the pool hall in “The Hustler.”

Paul Newman is the blue-eyed king of the pool hall in “The Hustler.”

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Hustler” (1961, Robert Rossen). In this dark, agile, sinewy cinema tale of the world of pool halls, pool hustlers and the gamblers who exploit them, Paul Newman plays the brash, cocky young pool shark Fast Eddie Felson. Piper Laurie is his ill-fated girl (a tragic drinker). Myron McCormick is his rat-faced, loyal little manager, Jackie Gleason is Minnesota Fats, the plump, limber champ whom Fast Eddie wants to replace. And George C. Scott is Burt, the mean manipulator with the satanic smile who lays the bets, bankrolls the players and says of Fast Eddie to Fats: “Stick with this kid. He’s a loser.”

Newman wasn’t a loser here and neither was the movie. Based on Walter Tevis’s cool, hustling, sharply authentic novel, it’s one of the great late film noirs and the show that made Newman a mega-star – and made Gleason a movie star as well. No film has ever caught the seedy but graceful pool-hall underworld better: the angles, the pockets, the incredible shots, the immaculate tables, the cigarettes and booze culture, the click of the pool balls, and the bravura of the hustlers and sharks hard at their game. Once you see this picture, you won’t get them out of your head either.

2:15 a.m. (11:15 p.m.): “The Last Run” (1971, Richard Fleischer). One last job for aging crook driver George C. Scott. Co-starring wives Trish Van Devere and Colleen Dewhurst; scripted by Alan Sharp; with a few scenes (uncredited) directed by John Huston.

Monday, Aug. 31: Shelley Winters Day

Harper poster6 a.m. (3 a.m.): “Harper” (1966, Jack Smight). Paul Newman, at his most attractively laid-back, plays one of detective literature’s most celebrated private eyes, novelist Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer. One catch: Archer has been renamed “Lew Harper,” so Newman could have (he hoped) another hit movie with an “H” title, like “The Hustler” and “Hud.” He got one. The stellar cast includes Lauren Bacall, Janet Leigh, Julie Harris, Shelley Winters, Robert Wagner, Arthur Hill, Robert Webber and Strother Martin. Scripted snappily by William Goldman.

2:30 p.m. (11:30 a.m.): “He Ran All the Way” (1951, John Berry). John Garfield, as a sexy bad guy on the lam, terrorizes a family and tries to seduce Shelley Winters. (Tries?) Hard core noir and Garfield’s last movie. With Norman Lloyd and Wallace Ford.

4 p.m. (1 p.m.): “I Died a Thousand Times” (1955, Stuart Heisler). A color and Cinemascope remake of the Raoul WalshHumphrey BogartIda Lupino gangster saga (from a W. R. Burnett novel) “High Sierra,” this time around starring Jack Palance and Shelley Winters. Inferior to its model, but not awful. With young supporting heavy Lee Marvin in his vicious snarl mode.

Lolita poster10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “Lolita” (1962, Stanley Kubrick). Kubrick’s superb film of Vladimir Nabokov’s classic comic-erotic novel – about the dangerous affair of college professor Humbert Humbert (James Mason) and nymphet Lolita (Sue Lyon), in which they are nightmarishly pursued by the writer, sybarite and man of many faces Clare Quilty (Peter Sellers). An underrated dark comic masterpiece, this film has strong noir touches, themes and style. With Shelley Winters; script by Nabokov (and Kubrick).

Wednesday, Sept. 2

1 p.m. (10 a.m.): “A Woman’s Face” (1941, George Cukor). Based on a Gustaf Molander-directed Swedish romantic thriller about a horribly scarred lady outlaw, whose personality changes (for the better), when plastic surgery gives her a beautiful new face, this MGM remake has Joan Crawford in the star role originated by the young Ingrid Bergman. It’s about as posh as a noir can get.

Thursday, Sept. 3

12:30 p.m. (9:30 a.m.): “The Hitch-Hiker” (1953, Ida Lupino). Fate isn’t smiling when two guys on vacation give a lift to a man who turns out to be serial killer. “The Hitch-Hiker,” starring Edmond O’Brien, Frank Lovejoy and William Talman, is the only classic film noir directed by a woman, the great Ida Lupino. Best known as an actress, Lupino was also a director, writer and producer. She co-wrote “The Hitch-Hiker.”

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The Film Noir File: Terrence Malick’s stunning debut ‘Badlands’ is a timeless love-on-the-run classic

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). The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard). All films without a new review have been covered previously in Film Noir Blonde and can be searched in the FNB archives (at right).

PICK OF THE WEEK

Badlands posterBadlands” (1973, Terrence Malick). Monday, Aug. 24. 8 p.m. (5 p.m.). The late 1960s and early 1970s, in America, were marked by violence and loneliness, war and craziness, and wild beauty. We see a portrait of a lot of that trauma, in microcosm, in Terrence Malick’s shattering 1973 classic, “Badlands.”

Set in the American West of the 1950s, it’s the story of two young people on the run: Kit, who works on a trash truck and tries to model himself after James Dean, and Holly, a high-school baton twirler with a strange blank stare, who thinks Kit is the handsomest boy she’s ever seen. Read the full review here.

Friday, Aug. 21 2:15 a.m. (11:15 p.m.): “Freebie and the Bean” (1974, Richard Rush). Funny, violent and politically incorrect buddy-buddy cop thriller, co-starring Alan Arkin and James Caan as the buddies.

Saturday, Aug. 22: Marlene Dietrich Day

Putty in her hands: The magnificent Marlene Dietrich and the malleable Emil Jannings star in “The Blue Angel.”

Putty in her hands: The magnificent Marlene Dietrich and the malleable Emil Jannings star in “The Blue Angel.”

9:15 a.m. (6:15 a.m.): “The Blue Angel” (1930, Josef von Sternberg). (Repeat FNB mini-review.) (In German, with subtitles.) Marlene Dietrich plays a stunning and saucy singer who leads a fuddy-duddy teacher (Emil Jannings) to doom and destruction, natch.

2:45 p.m. (11:45 a.m.): “Stage Fright” (1950, Alfred Hitchcock). A backstage theater drama with Jane Wyman as an acting student, who tries to help a man on the run (Richard Todd). He’s accused of murdering the husband of a swooningly beautiful actress (Marlene Dietrich). “Stage Fright” is usually considered one of the lesser Hitchcocks, but second-tier Hitch is still better than most films.

The always-ravishing always-entertaining Marlene Dietrich.

The always-ravishing always-entertaining Marlene Dietrich.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Witness for the Prosecution” (1957, Billy Wilder). A stylish and entertaining whodunit starring Charles Laughton, Tyrone Power and Elsa Lanchester. And of course a very versatile Marlene Dietrich.

Monday, Aug. 23: Warren Oates Day

7:45 a.m. (4:45 a.m.): “The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond” (1960, Budd Boetticher). In just five years, working with paltry budgets on miniscule shooting schedules, ex-matador and B-movie master Budd Boetticher made the five Western masterpieces or near-masterpieces (from “The Tall T” to “Comanche Station”) known as “The Ranown Cycle” — all with stoic-looking cowboy star Randolph Scott in the saddle, and most with producer Harry Joe Brown. As if that weren’t enough, Boetticher had time during the same span to make another two top Scott vehicles, one of them another masterpiece (the 1956 “Seven Men From Now”) as well as that hard-boiled classic of film noir and the gangster genre, “The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond.”

Wild Bunch posterShot in brilliant black and white by ace of aces cinematographer Lucien Ballard (“The Killing,” “The Wild Bunch“), and starring the ruthless-looking, poker-faced glamour guy Ray Danton as the real-life mobster Diamond, “Legs” is prime Boetticher: taut, hard, perfectly shaped. It’s a sharp-eyed tale of brutal men, their fast ladies and their hapless victims, with a supporting cast that includes Karen Steele, Simon Oakland and that later wild triggerman on “The Wild Bunch,” Warren Oates.

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia” (1974, Sam Peckinpah). One of Peckinpah’s bloodiest neo-noirs, with Warren Oates as the morally weary American bounty hunter who brings a head to Mexico.

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “The Wild Bunch” (1969, Sam Peckinpah). The greatest neo-noir Western. Peckinpah at his finest and most brutally exciting. With William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Ben Johnson and Warren Oates.

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The Film Noir File: Our Lady, Queen Joan

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). The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard). All films without a new review have been covered previously in Film Noir Blonde and can be searched in the FNB archives (at right).

Pick of the Week: An Evening with Joan, Monday, Aug. 10

Joan Crawford in her glory days, shot by George Hurrell.

Joan Crawford in her glory days, shot by George Hurrell.

Of all the immortal Hollywood queens of classical film noir (a short list that includes Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, Lauren Bacall, Gene Tierney and Claire Trevor) the most glamorous, and one of the best at “suffering in satin,” was Joan Crawford.

Joan’s stellar five-decade-long career took her from being a Roaring Twenties flapper princess (and dancing daughter) to being one of the pre-eminent noir queen bees and ladies-in-distress.

No one wore gowns, or eye makeup, quite like Joan, and no one stood up more gamely and steadfastly to a major villain. Or a major villainess, like Davis in “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” And few of the great glamour dames held up better, longer, more memorably or more seductively.

Four of Lady Joan’s best noir vehicles are playing Monday night on Turner Classic Movie’s Joan Crawford Day, Aug. 10, as part of the monthlong Summer under the Stars series. If you haven’t seen them, get ready for a dark treat. Miss Crawford is a great noir broad who rarely lets you down.

JC plays the consummate crazy lady in “Possessed,” which co-stars the great Van Heflin.

Joan Crawford plays the consummate crazy lady in “Possessed,” which co-stars the great Van Heflin.

Possessed” (1947, Curtis Bernhardt). 8 p.m. (5 p.m.).

Flamingo Road” (1949, Michael Curtiz). 10 p.m. (7 p.m.).

The Damned Don’t Cry” (1950, Vincent Sherman). 11:45 p.m. (8:45 p.m.).

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” (1962, Robert Aldrich).

Sunday, Aug. 9

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Strangers on a Train” (1951, Alfred Hitchcock).

Wednesday, Aug. 12

10:45 p.m. (7:45 p.m.): “Thunder Road” (1958, Arthur Ripley). Producer-star Robert Mitchum’s cult Southern backwoods moonshine-runners thriller. (He also sings the title song, which he wrote.) Co-starring Gene Barry and hip songbird Keely Smith.

Thursday, Aug. 13

10 a.m. (7 a.m.): “Once a Thief” (1965, Ralph Nelson). This likable heist thriller from the director of “Requiem for a Heavyweight” failed in its bid to make French noir star Alain Delon an American star as well, despite valuable help from Ann-Margret, Jack Palance and Van Heflin.

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