TCM Classic Film Festival honors Robert Osborne’s legacy

The TCM Classic Film Festival is dedicated to famed host and historian Robert Osborne. The fest runs Thursday through Sunday in Hollywood.

By Film Noir Blonde and Michael Wilmington

This year’s edition of the TCM Classic Film Festival will be bittersweet. Our excitement about four days filled with gorgeous movies and great guests is tempered with sadness because of a very sad loss: TCM host and historian Robert Osborne passed away on March 6 at his home in New York City. He was 84.

The fest, which runs in Hollywood from Thursday, April 6, to Sunday, April 9, is dedicated to Osborne’s memory and we hope that this year’s theme – Comedy in the Movies – will help to chase the blues away.

At Wednesday’s press conference, held at the TCL Chinese Multiplex Theatre, TCM representatives noted that Robert Osborne was the festival. As to how Osborne’s legacy and contributions (specifically his intros to the films) will be remembered going forward, TCM host Ben Mankiewicz said: “We would like to bring Bob back, sure, but there’s the question of doing it the right way. Maybe it’s a matter of having an introduction to his introduction.”

“Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” screens poolside Friday night. Do we need to watch Bette and Joan for the 5,000th time? Maybe …

Some of the titles for a comedy-focused fest have obvious appeal, for example: “Born Yesterday,” “The Graduate,” “The Jerk,” “High Anxiety” and “Whats Up, Doc?

Others have a dark slant … which is right up our alley, of course: “Some Like It Hot,” “Beat the Devil,” “Unfaithfully Yours,” “Lured,” “Twentieth Century,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Harold and Maude,” “Dr. Strangelove” and “The Front Page.”

And the campy noir treat “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” will screen Friday night poolside at the Roosevelt Hotel.

Additionally, there are tearjerkers, such as “Postcards from the Edge,” perhaps the greatest musical of them all, “Singin in the Rain,” and other feel-good fare, such as  “The Princess Bride,” “Casablanca,” “Bye Bye Birdie” and “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

There are, in fact, nine themes for the fest: Discoveries; Essentials; Festival Tributes; Dark Comedies; Divorce Remorse; Movies Spoofs; Hey, That’s Not Funny; Special Presentations; and Nitrate.

As for Nitrate, the TCM program guide points out that films produced before the early 1940s were released on nitrate stock, which has a luminous quality and higher contrast than the cellulose acetate film that superseded it. (Nitrate was replaced because of its volatile nature.) The film noir classic “Laura” is part of this roster.

TCM programming director Charlie Tabesh explained at the press conference: “We try to get everyone interested in classic film, young and old. When we book, we try to put very different films against each other … so that people have a choice.”

That is an understatement! There are about 90 films at the fest.

Plus, there is a full slate of special guests and events – Mankiewicz will interview veteran actor Michael Douglas; director Peter Bogdanovich will discuss his career as will blacklisted actress Lee Grant; comedy greats Carl and Rob Reiner will be honored at a hand and footprint ceremony at the TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX – as well as panels, parties, presentations, book signings and more.

Mr. Osborne would be proud.

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Celebrating the 70th anniversary of groundbreaking ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’ at the Lasky-DeMille Barn

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Hollywood Heritage Museum and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association will present on Wednesday, April 12: An Evening at the Barn – “Gentleman’s Agreement”: Hollywood’s Stand Against Anti-Semitism.

Directed by Elia Kazan and starring Gregory Peck and Dorothy McGuire, “Gentleman’s Agreement” was a critical and box-office hit. The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards and was named Best Picture of 1947, additionally winning Oscars for Best Supporting Actress for Celeste Holm and Best Director for Kazan.

Few critics would rank it that high today – it’s perhaps too much a message picture. That said, many of its performances are vastly underrated.

For Peck, it was one of his most curious, controversial movie roles: a New York City magazine writer named Philip Schuyler Green, who (at first reluctantly) takes on the assignment of writing an exposé of contemporary American anti-Semitism.

Phil decides to personalize the piece by posing as a Jewish man and recording how he’s treated or mistreated in the posh sections of Manhattan, Darien, Conn., and elsewhere – places that usually welcome him, or anyone else who looks like Gregory Peck, with open arms.

Kathy (Dorothy McGuire) and Phil (Gregory Peck) have the ideal romance. Or do they?

Peck’s Phil, who renames himself Phil Greenberg, gets more than he bargained for, from restaurateurs, real-estate agents, hotels, and from his increasingly skittish girlfriend, Kathy Lacy (McGuire) and her parents and friends.

Meanwhile, with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) operating in high gear, the postwar movie audience got a lesson in tolerance of unusual candor – from a first-class director (Kazan), Laura Z. Hobson’s highly acclaimed and best-selling source novel, a brilliant screenwriter (Moss Hart) and top actors (including Holm, Albert Dekker, Anne Revere, Dean Stockwell, June Havoc and Jane Wyatt.)

From left: John Garfield, Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire and Celeste Holm.

Stealing every scene he’s in, is a bona-fide New York Jewish actor, John Garfield, who begged to do the film and gives a powerhouse performance. Peck, McGuire, Revere and Hart received Oscar noms, as did Harmon Jones for editing.

Ironically, though many of the 1947 Hollywood moguls were themselves Jewish, they all shied away from the project. It took the 20th Century Fox head Darryl F. Zanuck (a Gentile) to get “Gentleman’s Agreement” on the screen.

(And it should be noted: in 1952, Kazan gave HUAC the names of eight actors who had been members with him of a Communist Party unit in the Group Theatre.)

At Wednesday’s event, film historian Claudine Stevens will discuss the book and the movie, with clips, and Cecilia Peck, daughter of Gregory Peck, will talk about her father and his part in the film.

Reserve your tickets now for this special event, which will take place in the historic Lasky-DeMille Barn. Free parking is available in Hollywood Bowl Lot D, which is directly adjacent to the museum.

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With ‘Prevenge,’ Alice Lowe pops out a classic

Prevenge/2016/88 min.

I don’t know filmmaker and mother Alice Lowe but I’d be willing to bet that if she was given a baby shower, she banned boring guessing games and gluten-free, sugarless cupcakes. Instead, she might have shown “The Shining” and served hefty slabs of juicy red meat.

A bit of a random speculation, perhaps, but not after you see her sly, subversive black comedy, “Prevenge,” which she wrote, directed and starred in, well into her first pregnancy.

Lowe (whose credits include “Hot Fuzz,” “Sightseers” and “Locke”) plays Ruth, a single, soon-to-be mother who’s also a serial murderer with a talent for disguises and a penchant for gore. Why does Ruth kill? Because the demanding little fetus that has taken over her body is telling her to, natch. And because she feels betrayed by the loss of the baby’s father.

Lowe tells a smart, taut and funny yarn, with shades of Stanley Kubrick and Monty Python, raising provocative questions about women, motherhood and the way society tends to pigeonhole women who choose to have kids. She’s joined by a strong cast: Gemma Whelan and Kate Dickie (from “Game of Thrones”), Tom Davis and Kayvan Novak.

Admirably, Lowe takes a few risks with the script. For example, she doesn’t beg the audience to sympathize with the demented Ruth. “Though you might come to like her towards the end, I didn’t want it to be too easy at the start,” said Lowe at a recent screening and reception at Cinefamily in Los Angeles.

Easy, no. But entertaining? Very much so.

“Prevenge” opens on Shudder on Friday, March 24.

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Restored ‘Jamaica Inn’ highlights top acting talent

In Hollywood’s Golden Age, no one held court quite like Charles Laughton. Pompous and puffed-up, charming and shrewd, he often played characters brimming with confidence, or, some might say, entitlement. A case in point is Alfred Hitchcock’s “Jamaica Inn,” from 1939, in which Laughton plays Sir Humphrey Pengallan, an aristocrat lording it about in Cornwall, England, in the early 1800s, amid shipwrecks and pirates and a butler named Chadwick (Horace Hodges). Of course.

Based on a Daphne Du Maurier novel and made a year before Hitchcock’s Oscar-winning movie of Du Maurier’s “Rebecca,” the film introduces Maureen O’Hara as Mary, a headstrong young Irish woman (is there any other kind?) who travels to Cornwall to find her Aunt Patience, her last surviving relative. Mary finds Patience as well as much crafty scheming and seaside battles.

“Jamaica Inn” was the last film Hitchcock made in England before embarking on his stellar Hollywood career. Hitchcock’s wife and creative partner Alma Reville Hitchcock also worked on the movie. Laughton co-produced. (Laughton and O’Hara reunited for “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” also 1939, directed by William Dieterle. Lest anyone think Laughton was typecast as a British bigwig, this famous and poignant part let him show his acting chops.)

From left: Cohen Media Group Chairman and CEO Charles S. Cohen, Alfred Hitchcock’s granddaughter Tere Carrubba, Hitchcock leading actor Norman Lloyd, Alfred Hitchcock’s granddaughter Katie Fiala and KCETLink Media Group President and CEO Michael Riley at Tuesday’s screening of “Jamaica Inn.” Photo courtesy of Lisa Rose.

“Jamaica Inn” was recently restored and shown Tuesday night on the big screen at the Pacific Design Center’s SilverScreen Theater in Los Angeles, hosted by KCETLink Media Group, BAFTA Los Angeles and Cohen Media Group. The “Jamaica Inn” screening was held in advance of the movie’s KCET broadcast premiere, part of KCETLink’s Cohen Film Classics lineup.

Cohen Film Classics’ telecast of “Jamaica Inn” will air on Friday, March 24, on KCET in Southern California at 10:20 p.m. PT and on Link TV nationwide (DirecTV 375 and DISH network 9410) at 9 p.m. ET/PT. The restoration looks great and is well worth seeing.

Special guests at Tuesday’s event included Charles S. Cohen, KCET’s host of Cohen Film Classics, KCETLink Media Group’s Michael Riley, two of Hitchcock’s three granddaughters – Katie Fiala and Tere Carrubba – and legendary actor-producer Norman Lloyd, who played in “Saboteur” (1942) and “Spellbound” (1945) and produced many episodes of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.”

Lloyd, 102, had the audience in the palm of his hand as he shared memories and anecdotes about working with the Master and Mistress of Suspense. “Alma Hitchcock knew as much about film as anyone who ever lived and Hitch knew it,” said Lloyd.

As for his famous leap from the Statue of Liberty in “Saboteur,” Lloyd said Hitch asked him: “Norm, can you do a back flip over the railing?” Lloyd agreed and it was shot in one take. “Hitch got it. I gave it. And forever after we were great friends. It was the greatest piece of acting I’ve ever done!”

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Lake and Ladd pack heat in ‘This Gun for Hire’

This Gun for Hire/ 1942/ Paramount Pictures/ 80 min.

Veronica Lake in “This Gun for Hire” from 1942 is an angel-food cake kind of femme fatale. Alan Ladd’s stone-faced, yet complex, hitman is a devil, but damn he’s debonair. He also likes cats and kids so it’s hard not to want to cut him some slack.

Veronica Lake

Lake plays a smart, svelte and stunning nightclub singer/magician named Ellen Graham who’s essentially engaged to amiable and solid cop Michael Crane (Robert Preston). Essentially but not officially engaged because there’s no ring or dress shopping, just some affectionate banter about getting domestic, which means darning his socks and cooking corned beef and cabbage.

But those scenes aren’t exactly sizzling with passion. That’s because of Ladd. It was his first major film and once he was aboard, director Frank Tuttle realized the actor was A-list material and changed the script to give Ladd more prominence. Even though you know Lake and Ladd aren’t going to end up together, there’s a mighty sexy undercurrent between them.

Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake and Laird Cregar star in “This Gun for Hire.”

As Ephraim Katz of “The Film Encyclopedia” puts it: “She clicked best at the box office as the screen partner of Alan Ladd in a matchup of cool, determined personalities.” They went on to make six more flicks together, including noir fare “The Glass Key” (1942) and “The Blue Dahlia” (1946).

In this one, Ladd’s character, Philip Raven is on the trail of Los Angeles-based Willard Gates (Laird Cregar) a blubbery, unctuous exec at a chemical company who hires Raven to bump off his colleague, a blackmailing paymaster named Baker (Frank Ferguson). Gates then pays Raven off in stolen cash, a ploy to put him in the hands of the police.

But chemical formulas aren’t really Gates’ thing – on the side, he likes to chomp on peppermints, hang out in nightclubs in LA and San Francisco, and indulge his “vice,” as he calls it, as a part-time impresario. When he sees the head-turning Ellen perform in San Francisco, he’s hooked and invites her to perform at the Neptune Club in LA.

Ellen’s trying to get close to Gates, too, but not just because she craves the spotlight. She’s been recruited by a senator (Roger Imhof) who wants hard evidence that Gates is the Benedict Arnold of 1942, i.e., he’s suspected of selling chemical formulas to the Japanese. It is war time, after all.

So, as Raven tracks down his prey and eludes the police, Ellen juggles her high-minded snooping with sequin-drenched dress rehearsals. Before long, their paths are bound to cross, especially when they board the same train to LA …

Known primarily for musicals and crime dramas, and for naming names to HUAC during Sen. Joe McCarthy’s reign of terror, director Tuttle wasn’t what you’d call an artist or a poet, but he managed to make a top-notch thriller, based on one of Graham Greene’s best crime novels. True, the movie doesn’t do the book justice, but for every one of its 80 minutes, the film is engaging and entertaining.

Tuttle easily balances moody suspense, wholesome romance, patriotic duty and the not-quite-jaded vibe of young performers trying to earn a living at a nightclub. Cinematographer John Seitz (of “Double Indemnity”) lends his elegant eye to the lighting; the scenes of Ladd and Lake on the train and on the run are especially beautiful. Crisp dialogue comes from writers Albert Maltz (one of the Hollywood Ten) and W.R. Burnett, a Midwesterner whose stint as a night clerk in a Chicago hotel inspired the 1929 crime novel (and the 1931 film) “Little Caesar” as well as many other novels and screenplays.

Unrepentant and casual about killing for a living, Ladd’s performance is classic noir; it influenced Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Le Samourai” from 1967. Unlike most femme fatales, Ellen Graham isn’t motivated by money or revenge but by doing her part for the war effort. Still, Lake gives us bemused detachment and a glimmer of tenderness; she also helps humanize Raven. And how could you not love her musical numbers and surprisingly modern costumes, especially the sleek black “fishing” garb with thigh-high boots? [Read more…]

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‘This Gun for Hire’ opens Noir City: Hollywood Festival on Friday at the Egyptian Theatre

The Veronica LakeAlan Ladd quintessential film noir “This Gun for Hire,” co-starring Laird Cregar, opens the Noir City: Hollywood Festival on Friday at the Egyptian Theatre. Directed by Frank Tuttle from a Graham Greene novel, the 1942 film helped shape many archetypes of the genre. Albert Maltz (one of the Hollywood Ten) and W.R. Burnett wrote the script, with an uncredited contribution from Tuttle. John F. Seitz shot it and Edith Head designed the costumes.

Noir City: Hollywood, the longest-running film noir festival in Los Angeles, is now in its 19th year. For 2017, the Film Noir Foundation and the American Cinematheque will present a program “replicating the movie-going experience of that time – 10 double bills, each featuring a major studio A picture paired with a shorter B movie … showcased exactly as it was back in the day.”

In Friday’s B-movie slot is the well regarded “Quiet Please, Murder” (1942, John Larkin), which stars the inimitable George Sanders as a con artist.

The Film Noir Foundation’s Eddie Muller will introduce the lineup. There’s a cocktail hour between films for all ticket buyers, sponsored by Clarendelle inspired by Haut-Brion and Teeling Irish Whiskey.

Compiled by Muller, Alan K. Rode and Gwen Deglise, the festival runs through April 2.

In honor of the film and the fest, we are re-running an earlier review of “This Gun for Hire.”

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Noir City: Hollywood, TCM Classic Film Festival and COLCOA French Film Festival are around the corner

Calling all cinephiles: Three great festivals are about to kick off…

Noir City: Hollywood will run Friday, March 24, to Sunday, April 2, at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. The famed fest is presented by the American Cinematheque in collaboration with the Film Noir Foundation.

Organizers say the fest will feature favorite rarities as well as many never-before-screened obscurities. This 19th edition of the event aims to replicate the movie-going experience of that time: 10 double bills, each featuring a major studio A picture paired with a shorter B movie.

The series opens with “This Gun for Hire” and “Quiet Please, Murder.” Other highlights include: “Ministry of Fear,” “The Dark Corner,” “The Accused,” “Chicago Deadline,” “I Was a Shoplifter,” “Where the Sidewalk Ends”  and “The Big Heat.”

Eddie Muller and Alan K. Rode of the Film Noir Foundation will introduce the movies.

Next up: Find your best vintage pencil skirt and your favorite fedora. The TCM Classic Film Festival comes to Hollywood Thursday, April 6, to Sunday, April 9. Gear up for a dose of hilarity because this year’s theme is Make ‘Em Laugh: Comedy in the Movies. “From lowbrow to high, slapstick to sophisticated comedies of manners—we will showcase the greatest cinematic achievements of lone clowns, comedic duos and madcap ensembles.”

We’re very stoked about “Born Yesterday,” “The Graduate,” “High Anxiety,” “The Last Picture Show,” “Postcards from the Edge,” “Singin in the Rain” and “Whats Up, Doc?

Holliday and Holden in “Born Yesterday.” Turns out, Judy ain’t as dumb as she looks.

And might there be a third title to feature redheads?! So far, we have “Those Redheads from Seattle” and  “Red-Headed Woman.” Let’s hope more are announced.

We are also eager for the slate of panels, special guests and parties that have come to define this fest. Organizers do a truly stellar job of planning and programming and keeping their cool amid the craziness.

Wry chuckles, silly humor, belly laughs, boundless fun. We’re in!

Last on the lineup but first on the list of any self-respecting Francophile (bien sur!) is the 21st annual City of Lights City of Angels (COLCOA) Film Festival. COLCOA runs Monday, April 24, to Tuesday, May 2, at the Directors Guild Theater in Hollywood.

So far, we know that director Damien Chazelle, who just won the Oscar for “La La Land,” (at 32, he is the youngest director to win the coveted prize) will present Leos Carax’s “The Lovers on the Bridge,” starring Academy Award® winner Juliette Binoche and Denis Lavant.

COLCOA will honor writer-director Stéphane Brizé with a special presentation of “Not Here To Be Loved” (2005) and the festival will host the West Coast premiere of Brizé’s new film “A Womans Life,” (Une Vie), based on the Guy de Maupassant novel and starring Judith Chemla.

Of special interest to noiristas: COLCOA will present the world premiere of the newly digitally restored “One Day in a Clowns Life,” the first film written and directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. The screening honors the 100th anniversary of the iconic filmmaker’s birth.

We are looking forward to our date with Delon.

Also part of the Melville birthday celebration is a special presentation of “Le Cercle Rouge,” starring Alain Delon, Bourvil and Yves Montand.

Additionally, COLCOA will show an international premiere of “Farewell Bonaparte” (1985), the beautifully restored historical fresco from filmmaker Youssef Chahine.

Playtime,” Jacques Tati’s inventive and ambitious 1967 film, will have a special presentation at the festival to celebrate its 50th (gasp!) anniversary.

The full schedule will be announced April 5.

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Bogart & Bacall on Valentine’s Day: Need I say more?

The Big Sleep/1946/Warner Bros. Pictures/114 min.

Howard Hawks added romance and comedy to the dark tone of Raymond Chandler’s novel. Every scene with Bogie and Bacall sizzles.

“The Big Sleep,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, is almost too much fun to be pure noir. Actually, it’s not pure in any way because under the thriller surface, it’s all about sex. The women in this movie especially are thinking a lot about the bedroom.

(That’s pretty much the case with most of the film noir canon, but this movie is an outstanding example.)

“The Big Sleep” was released in 1946, the year after World War II ended. Having been man-deprived for four long years while their guys were all over the globe fighting battles, all of a sudden, everywhere the ladies looked, Men, Glorious Men! For the vets, being welcomed home and hailed as heroes by women, who likely weren’t playing all that hard to get, was not too shabby a deal.

Based on the Raymond Chandler novel of the same name, “The Big Sleep” stars Humphrey Bogart as Chandler’s legendary private eye Philip Marlowe. Cynical, stubborn and streetwise, Marlowe is impervious to the trappings of wealth and power, though, given his line of work, he often finds himself dealing with the ultra rich. Marlowe flings sarcastic barbs as casually as they drop cash, even when his companions are slinky, sharp-tongued women, like spoiled society girl Vivian Sternwood Rutledge, played by Lauren Bacall.

Carmen Sternwood (Martha Vickers) is a rich party girl who constantly courts trouble.

Vivian’s Dad, a wise and way-old patriarch known as General Sternwood (Charles Waldron), has hired Marlowe to get a blackmailer named Joe Brody (Louis Jean Heydt) off his back and to track down a missing chum: Sean Regan (a character we never see onscreen).

Fueling Brody’s scheme are the, uh, antics of Sternwood’s other daughter Carmen (Martha Vickers), a sexy party girl who sucks her thumb and likes posing for cameras with very little on. Snapping the pics is seedy book dealer Arthur Gwynn Geiger (Theodore von Eltz), whose snippy clerk Agnes (Sonia Darrin), has, as her “protector,” feisty little Harry Jones, played by film noir’s number one patsy, Elisha Cook Jr.

That’s just one piece of a very complicated puzzle, full of false leads and red herrings, bad guys and blind alleys, and more plot twists than I can count. By the time Marlowe puts it all together, seven are dead. But the best part of the movie for me is the dry humor and that sexy subtext I was talking about. Even the title, “The Big Sleep,” referring to death, could be a play on the French phrase for sexual climax: “le petite morte” (the little death).

Bogart’s Marlowe charms a bookstore clerk (Dorothy Malone).

By the film’s end, Marlowe’s had propositions aplenty. For example, as Marlowe gathers info on Geiger, he strolls into the Acme Bookstore and meets a bespectacled brunette clerk(Dorothy Malone, later more famous as a blonde). They chat, she provides a description of Geiger, and Marlowe tells her she’d make a good cop. It starts to rain and he suggests they have a drink. Next thing you know, she removes her glasses, lets down her hair and says, “Looks like we’re closed for the rest of the afternoon.”

Then there’s the perky female cab driver who tells Marlowe to call her if he can use her again sometime. He asks: Day and night? Her answer: “Night’s better. I work during the day.”

Apparently, all Marlowe has to do is get out of bed in the morning to be inundated with offers to climb back in. Most importantly, of course, is Marlowe’s innuendo-heavy badinage with Vivian Sternwood. They’re attracted from the moment they meet and, with each subsequent encounter, they turn flirting and verbal sparring into an art form. Here’s a quickie (sorry, I couldn’t resist):

Marlowe and Vivian discuss horse-racing and other amusements.

“You go too far, Marlowe,” says Vivian.

He replies: “Those are harsh words to throw at a man, especially when he’s walking out of your bedroom.”

Perhaps their most famous exchange occurs when they trade notes about horse-racing – with Vivian comparing Marlowe to a stallion.

Vivian: I’d say you don’t like to be rated. You like to get out in front, open up a lead, take a little breather in the backstretch, and then come home free.

Marlowe: You don’t like to be rated yourself.

Vivian: I haven’t met anyone yet that can do it. Any suggestions?

Marlowe: Well, I can’t tell till I’ve seen you over a distance of ground. You’ve got a touch of class, but, uh…I don’t know how – how far you can go.

Vivian: A lot depends on who’s in the saddle. Go ahead Marlowe, I like the way you work. In case you don’t know it, you’re doing all right.

Marlowe: There’s one thing I can’t figure out.

Vivian: What makes me run?

Marlowe: Uh-huh.

Vivian: I’ll give you a little hint. Sugar won’t work. It’s been tried.

The horsy banter was added after the 1945 version was completed and shown overseas to audiences of U.S. soldiers; several other changes were made for the 1946 stateside release. In the late 1990s, the original version of the movie turned up. Though the original made the plot points more clear, most critics and viewers prefer the altered (second) version.

Whichever version you prefer (both are available on the Warner Brothers DVD), “The Big Sleep” is full of all kinds of pleasure, thanks to director Howard Hawks, one of Hollywood’s greatest storytellers. Hawks was known for being a master of all genres, garnering great performances from stars like Bogart, John Wayne, Walter Brennan and Marilyn Monroe, and for perfecting the bromance, long before the term came into currency.

In “The Big Sleep,” the pace is brisk, the characters are richly drawn, there’s loads of action and the scenes with Bogart and Bacall truly sizzle. Though the cinematography by Sid Hickox doesn’t bear the expressionistic stamp of the more Germanic noir directors, the film certainly holds its own in terms of visual panache. And Max Steiner’s original music lends sonic verve.

Marlowe gets details from his client, the wealthy and weak Gen. Sternwood (Charles Waldron).

Also brilliant, and not just for its subtext, is the screenplay by William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman. The dialogue, much of which comes straight from Chandler’s novel, is both colorful and economical, as shown by this exchange between Gen. Sternwood and Marlowe:

Sternwood: You are looking, sir, at a very dull survival of a very gaudy life – crippled, paralyzed in both legs, very little I can eat, and my sleep is so near waking that it’s hardly worth the name. I seem to exist largely on heat, like a newborn spider. The orchids are an excuse for the heat. Do you like orchids?

Marlowe: Not particularly.

Sternwood: Nasty things. Their flesh is too much like the flesh of men, and their perfume has the rotten sweetness of corruption.

Flesh, perfume, sweetness and corruption permeate “The Big Sleep,” my favorite of Bogart and Bacall’s great noirs. (The others are “To Have and Have Not” 1944, also directed by Hawks, “Dark Passage” 1947, and “Key Largo” 1948.) What’s not to love, or at least lust after, for 114 minutes?

Too bad Lauren Bacall never made a guest appearance on “Sex and the City.” She could have taught Carrie and the girls a thing or two.

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Given the election, here’s how I feel in 2017 …

IWUS 1I Wake Up Screaming/1941/Twentieth Century-Fox/82 min.

In the Neglected Works of Noir department, “I Wake Up Screaming” from 1941 is just crying out for attention.

Director H. Bruce Humberstone made a fun and taut whodunit that’s also a treat for the eyes. The film stars Betty Grable (singer, dancer and pin-up legend in her first dramatic role) and Carole Landis as sisters Jill and Vicky Lynn, who quickly shed their homespun sensibilities as they fend for themselves in New York City, Jill working as a stenographer and Vicky waiting tables.

IWUS 2Naturally, it’s only a matter of time before the fine-boned fair-haired creatures are discovered. Vicky’s in the spotlight first after PR guru Frankie “Botticelli” Christopher (Victor Mature) stops into the diner one night with some friends and decides, as he puts it, to make her The Next Big Thing. (At one point, Frankie asks how expensive she is; she replies he couldn’t afford her. To circumvent censors, that risqué line was reportedly added while shooting.)

Frankie’s pals Jerry (William Gargan), Robin (Alan Mowbray) and Larry (Allyn Joslyn) also jockey for her attention and lend their support to her quest to be a model/actress. But, just as she’s about to jet off to Hollywood for a screen test, Vicky is murdered, and all her pals are under suspicion as is the creepy clerk at her apartment building, Harry, played by noir great Elisha Cook Jr.

Laird Cregar spent time with cops to lend realism to his role.

Laird Cregar spent time with cops to lend realism to his role.

Matching Cook’s seediness is hefty Police Insp. Ed Cornell (Laird Cregar). Cregar caught critics’ attention with his dark, skulking, mysterious presence; his name is probably a hat-tip to writer Cornell Woolrich.

Also, look out for “Black Mask,” the famous pulp magazine, for sale on a newsstand.

As the story unfolds, a romance develops between Frankie Christopher and Jill, and the movie proceeds at a nice clip, clocking in at 82 minutes. “I Wake Up Screaming” makes significant strides in noir style and technique, though it rarely gets credit for its achievements. One of the films that eclipsed it was director John Huston’s mightily famous “The Maltese Falcon,” also from 1941. A big-budget release from Warner Bros., the now classic movie is often cited as the first film noir.

IWUS 5“I Wake Up Screaming,” a much smaller project than “Falcon,” was the first film noir made at Twentieth Century-Fox. Humberstone incorporated arresting compositions and lighting – note the dramatic, single-source lighting in the police interrogation room scenes. The scene in which Cornell pays Christopher a night-time visit virtually defines noir, with its exaggerated shadows, grim faces, a black cat and a neon sign in the distance. Edward Cronjager was director of photography. Noir czar and author Eddie Muller points out in his excellent DVD commentary that, in visual terms, “The Maltese Falcon” is pedestrian compared with the creativity in “I Wake Up Screaming.”

Additionally, scriptwriter Dwight Taylor conceived the story as a series of flashbacks – a hallmark of film noir storytelling – though Steve Fisher’s pulpy novel is not structured that way. And, long before it became common for actors, Cregar hung out with L.A. police to lend realism to his performance. The score is interesting too – featuring “Over the Rainbow” as well as “Manhattan Street Scene,” which was also used in “The Dark Corner.” (“I Wake Up Screaming” was remade in 1953 as “Vicki,” starring Jeanne Crain, Jean Peters and Elliott Reid; it was directed by Harry Horner.)

"I Wake Up Screaming" is visually spectacular.

“I Wake Up Screaming” is visually spectacular.

So why did “Screaming” get such short shrift? Well, it wasn’t a prestige picture and, while Humberstone made the best of this low-budget B movie, it’s tough to compete with John Huston, one of Hollywood’s finest talents ever. Also, “I Wake Up Screaming” contains a generous dollop of fluffy romantic comedy, which pairs a bit uneasily with the sly, wry humor and cynical entanglements of film noir at its grittiest. Btw, I love the scene where Frankie and Jill take a dip in a public pool – both flaunting their great shape, of course – Frankie puffing away merrily on a cigarette.

I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that “I Wake Up Screaming” has a happy ending. Sadly, though, two of its actors died not long after the movie was released. In 1944, Cregar’s promising career was cut short at age 30 when the Philly-born actor had a heart attack, likely spurred by crash dieting for a part. Four years later, Wisconsin native Carole Landis, 29, died of a drug overdose. Her career had dead-ended and she was in bad shape, having been dismissed by the industry as a pretty airhead.

Unfortunately, that’s a story that’s been told and retold in Hollywood.

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Welcome the New Year with a glass from the past

Looking to add retro flair to your New Year’s Eve entertaining? Here are a few ideas to keep your bartender busy.

The LA Fizzy Blonde has a nice kick, sans alcohol.

The LA Fizzy Blonde
8 ounces ginger ale (don’t use diet)
2 ounces fresh grapefruit juice
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
Mix soda and juice. Add ice and lime slice to garnish.
From FNB’s own fridge

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The Biltmore’s Black Dahlia cocktail

The Biltmore’s Black Dahlia
This concoction is named after the mysterious Elizabeth Short, a.k.a. the Black Dahlia, who was allegedly seen at the Biltmore Hotel on the evening of Jan. 9, 1947. She disappeared that night and her mutilated body was found several days later.
3 ½ ounces Grey Goose Le Citron vodka
¾ ounce Chambord black raspberry liqueur
¾ ounce Kahlua
Ice
Shake ingredients in a shaker. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with orange zest.
From the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles and www.imbibemagazine.com
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The Hummingbird: perfection in a glass.

The St.-Germain Hummingbird
2 parts brut champagne or dry sparkling wine
1 ½ parts St.-Germain elderflower liqueur
2 parts club soda
Stir ingredients in a tall ice-filled Collins glass, mixing completely. Think of Paris circa 1947. Garnish with a lemon twist.
From St.-Germain

The classic Pink Lady cocktail has a mere three ingredients.

The Pink Lady
1 ½ ounces gin
2-4 dashes of grenadine
White of one egg
Shake well with cracked ice; strain into cocktail glass
From various sources; variations call for the addition of the juice of half a lemon, ½ ounce cream, ¾ ounce applejack and Maraschino cherry as garnish. Photo from www.tipsytexan.com
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This retro manual is available at LA’s Dragon Books.

The Ward 8
Juice of one lemon
½ jigger of grenadine
1 jigger of Fleischmann’s Preferred gin
Shake well with cracked ice. Strain into 8 ounce glass. Decorate with slice of orange and Maraschino cherry
From Fleischmann’s Mixer’s Manual, 1948
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The French Breeze is from 1961.

The French Breeze
2 ounces Calvados
2 ounces fresh grapefruit juice
1-2 dashes orange-flower water
¼ teaspoon fine granulated sugar
Chilled Champagne
Pour Calvados and juice into a cocktail shaker one-third full of cracked ice. Add orange-flower water and sugar. Shake the drink well and pour it into a chilled 12-ounce highball glass. Fill the glass with chilled Champagne and stir lightly to blend.
From Gourmet July 1961; posted this month by Brie Schwartz for Gourmet Live
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Eureka Lake poster

The Manhattan
2 ounces rye or Canadian whisky
½ ounce sweet vermouth
2-3 dashes Angostura bitters
Maraschino cherry to garnish
Pour the ingredients into a mixing glass with ice, stir well, strain into a chilled cocktail glass and add cherry.
From www.cocktails.about.com

Choose your Fireman’s Brew by hair color.

If you’d rather keep the drinks list simple, try a pretty pale, such as Fireman’s Brew Blonde Beer, a Pilsner lager brewed and bottled in Southern California. The guys also make Fireman’s Brewnette and Redhead Ale.

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