Light & Noir at the Skirball Cultural Center tells a spellbinding story of immigration and innovation, set in Hollywood

Joan Bennett entraps Edward G. Robinson in 1944’s “The Woman in the Window,” directed by Fritz Lang. The film will screen at the Skirball Cultural Center as part of Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950.

Joan Bennett entraps Edward G. Robinson in 1944’s “The Woman in the Window,” directed by Fritz Lang. The film will screen at the Skirball Cultural Center as part of Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950.

“Making movies is a little like walking into a dark room,” said legendary director Billy Wilder, who made more than 50 films and won six Academy Awards. “Some people stumble across furniture, others break their legs but some of us see better in the dark than others.”

“Sunset Blvd.” won three Oscars: writing, music and art direction. Shown: Gloria Swanson and Billy Wilder.

“Sunset Blvd.” won three Oscars: writing, music and art direction. Shown: Gloria Swanson and Billy Wilder.

By the time the Austrian-born journalist, screenwriter and director came to America in 1934, he’d seen more than his share of darkness, on screen and off. Wilder left Europe to escape the Nazis; his mother died in Auschwitz.

He joined many other prominent Jewish artists (such as directors Fritz Lang, Otto Preminger and Fred Zinnemann, composer Franz Waxman, and writers Salka Viertel and Franz Werfel) as they left their homes and careers in German-speaking countries to build new lives and find work in Hollywood.

Starting on Thursday, Oct. 23, a new exhibition at the Skirball Cultural Center in West Los Angeles Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950 highlights the experiences of these émigré actors, directors, writers and composers.

They came to California at a pivotal time in the world’s history and in the evolution of the movie-making capital, greatly contributing to Hollywood’s Golden Age and raising the artistic bar for its productions.

In particular, film noir was born when the talents of these European émigrés merged with the hard-boiled stories of American pulp crime fiction and the subtle sensibilities of French Poetic Realism.

Lizabeth Scott and Dick Powell star in “Pitfall.”

Lizabeth Scott and Dick Powell star in “Pitfall.”

Films, concept drawings, costumes, posters, photographs and memorabilia will help tell the story of Hollywood’s formative era through the émigré lens. Accompanying the show is a plethora of events: film screenings, readings, talks, tours, courses (photography and cooking with a Café Vienne installation), comedy, family programs, a holiday pop-up shop and more.

Organized by the Skirball Cultural Center and co-presented with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the exhibition will run through March 1, 2015.

Running in conjunction with the show is The Noir Effect, which explores how the film noir genre gave rise to major contemporary trends in American popular culture, art and media. (More on that in an upcoming post.)

Of course, I’m especially looking forward to the impressive lineup of films. On Oct. 30, Jan-Christopher Horak, a German-exile cinema historian and director of the UCLA Film and Television Archives, will describe how Hollywood became the prime employer of European émigré filmmakers as Nazi persecution grew. The lecture will be followed by a screening of Austrian émigré Fritz Lang’s “Hangmen Also Die!”

Yvonne De Carlo and Burt Lancaster play doomed lovers in “Criss Cross,” (1949, Robert Siodmak). The movie will play in January.

Yvonne De Carlo and Burt Lancaster play doomed lovers in “Criss Cross,” (1949, Robert Siodmak). The movie will play in January.

(Additionally, continuing through April 26, 2015, at the Los Angeles County Museum is Haunted Screens: German Cinema in the 1920s. The series explores approximately 25 masterworks of German Expressionist cinema, a national style that had international impact.)

At the Skirball Cultural Center, on Dec. 7, fashion expert Kimberly Truhler will discuss the effect of World War II on film costume design and American fashion in the 1940s. Gabriela Hernandez, founder of Bésame Cosmetics, will share the history of make-up and tips on achieving the film noir look.

And in January, the Skirball Cultural Center will host the film series “The Intriguante: Women of Intrigue in Film Noir,” which will feature: “The Woman in the Window,” “Pitfall,” “Criss Cross,” “The File on Thelma Jordon” and the 2008 documentary “Cinema’s Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood.”

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Film Noir File: A Day with Ulmer, the King of Poverty Row Noir

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

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

Pick of the Week

A Dark Day with Edgar G. Ulmer

Edgar Ulmer

Edgar Ulmer

The French call him an auteur. The Americans call him The King of Poverty Row. And no cultish filmmaker of the classic Hollywood era, not even the infamous Ed Wood, Jr., has a stranger, more offbeat, more off-the-wall filmography than Edgar G. Ulmer. He’s the man who made “The Black Cat,” “Bluebeard” and “The Strange Woman” as well as a picture shot for a song that eventually made it into the U. S. National Film Registry, that legendary 1945 no-exit low-budget classic of fate, despair and sudden death, “Detour.”

Ulmer, born in Olmutz, Moravia, Austria-Hungary in 1904, started his career in Germany, in the heyday of German Expressionism, working, he claimed (some dispute it), on classics such as “Metropolis,” and “The Last Laugh” for film geniuses like Fritz Lang and F. W. Murnau. He received his first directorial credit on “People on Sunday,” with fellow filmmakers Robert Siodmak, Billy Wilder and Fred Zinnemann.

While Wilder and the others became A-list directors and even Oscar-winners in Hollywood, Ulmer was exiled to “Poverty Row.” There he labored for the rest of his career on an amazing potpourri of low-budget titles, including westerns, film noir and science fiction.

The Black Cat posterThe reason: While he was directing the 1934 horror hit, “The Black Cat” starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, Ulmer made the mistake of having an affair with his producer’s wife, Shirley Alexander. Shirley later divorced her husband Max, married Ulmer and worked beside him, as script supervisor or scenarist, from then on.

Ulmer’s Hollywood career lasted from the early ’30s to the mid ’60s, largely because he doesn’t seem to have ever turned down a script. He shot on bare-bones sets, with actors usually (though not always) on the B or C or D lists, from scripts for which the adjective “clichéd” would be a compliment. And though his movies may have been shot for peanuts, in his hands, they often looked like caviar.

A healthy percentage of Ulmer’s movies were film noir – or close to film noir. They took place in a world of fear and darkness, sometimes because the characters were swallowed up in impending doom, and sometimes, one suspects, because the electricity bill hadn’t been paid. Whatever the job though, Ulmer was one of the real masters of the noir form and style.

And why shouldn’t he be? His whole life and career, in a way, were film noirs – dark stories of infidelity, betrayal, paranoia and persecution, enacted in an Ulmerworld that was lost in shadows of menace and dread.

Ann Savage is one fierce femme in “Detour.”

Ann Savage is one fierce femme in “Detour.”

Ulmer died in 1972, but he lived to see his work revived and his name made famous – cultishly famous, it’s true, but renowned nonetheless. He and Shirley are buried near each other. And they now have Ulmerfests near his Austrian-Hungarian birthplace.

Here is your own Ulmerfest from TCM. So, take the detour. You won’t find cheaper, better, crazier, more cultish, shadowy, mesmerizing (or should we say “Ulmerizing“) Poverty Row classics anywhere.

The Ulmerfilmen (Tuesday, Oct. 21)

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Her Sister’s Secret” (1946, Edgar Ulmer). A weepy soaper, starring Nancy Coleman and Margaret Lindsay as sisters with a secret (an illegitimate child). Not quite in Douglas Sirk’s class, but better than most cheapo tear-jerkers.

9:15 p.m. (6:15 p.m.): “Edgar G. Ulmer The Man Off-Screen” (2004, Michael Palm). A 2004 Ulmer documentary. Interviewees include Peter Bogdanovich and Roger Corman. Also shown at 5 a.m. (2 a.m.) on Wednesday, Oct. 22.

“Detour” eventually made it into the U. S. National Film Registry.

“Detour” eventually made it into the U. S. National Film Registry.

10:45 p.m. (7:45 p.m.): “Carnegie Hall” (1947, Edgar Ulmer). Marsha Hunt is a faithful Carnegie Hall music lover determined that her son (William Prince) will be a great classical pianist. While she drives him onward and upward, director Ulmer –  a classical music buff of the first degree – beautifully stages and photographs some incredible performances by such legendary classical virtuosi as pianist Artur Rubinstein, violinist Jascha Heifetz, cellist Gregor Piatagorsky, conductors Leopold Stokowski and Fritz Reiner (Ulmer’s personal friend and the godfather of his daughter), opera singers Lily Pons, Ezio Pinza and Rise Stevens, and, for variation, pop music stars Harry James and Vaughn Monroe.

Few musical movies have ever boasted a lineup like that – and this movie probably had a special place in music-lover Ulmer’s heart.

Paul Langton and Barbara Payton star in “Murder is My Beat.”

Paul Langton and Barbara Payton star in “Murder is My Beat.”

1:15 a.m. (10:15 p.m.): “Murder is My Beat” (1955, Edgar Ulmer). Two cops chase a killer. One of Ulmer’s pure noirs. With Paul Langton, Robert Shayne and Barbara Payton.

2:45 a.m. (11:45 p.m.): “Detour” (1945, Edgar Ulmer). With Tom Neal, Ann Savage and Esther Howard. Read the full review here.

4 a.m. (1 a.m.): “The Amazing Transparent Man” (1960, Edgar Ulmer). A gangster and a mad scientist with an invisibility formula team up for a crime wave. There is no truth to the rumor that the producer told Ulmer to make the entire cast invisible to save on salaries. With Marguerite Chapman and Douglas Kennedy.

Saturday, Oct. 18

Assault poster2:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m.): “Assault on Precinct 13” (1976, John Carpenter). Trapped in a local Los Angeles precinct station and lock-up, with communication cut off and a gang of vicious delinquents and criminals besieging them from outside, a group of cops and convicts try to make it through the night. Director-writer John Carpenter, inspired by one of his favorite movies (the 1959 Howard Hawks Western “Rio Bravo”) gives us one of the quintessential entrapment thrillers. With Austin Stoker and Darwin Joston.

Sunday, Oct. 19

5:45 p.m. (2:45 p.m.): “Foreign Correspondent” (1940, Alfred Hitchcock). With Joel McCrea, Laraine Day, George Sanders and Herbert Marshall. Reviewed in FNB on March 26, 2014.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Marnie” (1964, Alfred Hitchcock). With Sean Connery, Tippi Hedren and Martin Gabel. Reviewed in FNB on Jan. 30, 2012.

10:30 p.m. (7:30 p.m.): “Julie” (1956, Andrew L. Stone). The same year she sang “Que Sera, Sera” for Hitchcock as the menaced mom in Hitch’s remake of “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” Doris Day played a comely stewardess stalked by her psycho ex-husband, Louis Jourdan, in this lady-in-distress thriller from the poor man’s Hitchcock, Andrew Stone. It’s an okay movie with a good cast: Barry Sullivan, Frank Lovejoy, Jack (“Maverick”) Kelly, Jack Kruschen and one of D. W. Griffith’s great threatened ladies, Mae Marsh of “Intolerance.” Reviewed in FNB on June 27, 2012.

Monday, Oct. 20

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Saboteur” (1942, Alfred Hitchcock). Robert Cummings plays one of the classic Hitchcockian “wrong men,” falsely accused of World War II era sabotage, racing cross country to try to find and expose the real saboteurs. In the tradition of “The 39 Steps“ and “North by Northwest,“ it’s full of sometimes astonishing suspense set-pieces, including the breathtaking, vertigo-inducing scene with Cummings and Norman Lloyd at the top of the Statue of Liberty.

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Film Noir File: Hitchcock’s favorite: ‘Shadow of a Doubt’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

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

Pick of the Week

Shadow of a Doubt
(1943, Alfred Hitchcock). Sunday, Oct. 12; 8 p.m. (5 p.m.)

Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright star in "Shadow."

Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright star in “Shadow.”

A bright and beautiful small town girl named Charlotte “Charlie” Newton (Teresa Wright) is bored, bored with her well-ordered home in her pretty Norman Rockwellish little city of Santa Rosa, California. It’s a place where trees line the sunlit streets, everyone goes to church on Sunday and lots of them read murder mysteries at night. Charlie has more exotic dreams. She adores her globe-trotting, urbane Uncle Charlie Oakley (Joseph Cotten) – for whom she was nicknamed – and is deliriously happy when he shows up in Santa Rosa for a visit.

But Uncle Charlie has some secrets that no one in his family or among their friends knows about. Not Uncle Charlie‘s adoring sister (Patricia Collinge), nor his good-hearted brother-in-law (Henry Travers), nor their murder-mystery-loving neighbor Herbie (Hume Cronyn), nor Charlie herself.

Shadow posterUncle Charlie, who conceals a darker personality and profession beneath his charming persona, is on the run, pursued by a dogged police detective (Macdonald Carey), who suspects him of being a notorious serial killer – a murderer who seduces rich old widows, kills them for their money, and whose signature tune and nickname come from Franz Lehar’s “Merry Widow” waltz. As handsome, cold-blooded Uncle Charlie, Cotten, who called “Shadow” his personal favorite film, is, with Robert Walker and Anthony Perkins, one of the three great Hitchcockian psychopaths.

“Shadow of a Doubt,” released in 1943, was Hitchcock’s sixth American movie and the one he often described as his favorite. As he explained to Francois Truffaut, he felt that his critical enemies, the “plausibles,” could have nothing to quibble about with “Shadow.” It was written by two superb chroniclers of Americana, Thornton Wilder (“Our Town”) and Sally Benson (“Meet Me in St. Louis”), along with Hitch‘s constant collaborator, wife Alma Reville. The result is one of the supreme examples of Hitchcockian counterpoint – an American small town nightmare: with a sunny, beguiling background against which dark terror erupts.

Friday, Oct. 10

6:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m.): “Illegal” (1955, Lewis Allen). Edward G. Robinson in one of his better later roles: as a district attorney turned big-bucks defense attorney for mostly rich guilty clients, who tries to regain his integrity with a sensational murder trial. Directed by Lewis Allen (“Desert Fury,“ “Suddenly”); based on Elliot Nugent’s 1932 “The Mouthpiece.” With Nina Foch (the defendant), Jayne Mansfield, Hugh Marlowe and Albert Dekker.

Sunday, Oct. 12

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Shadow of a Doubt” (1943, Alfred Hitchcock). See Pick of the Week. [Read more...]

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Film Noir File: Marvelous mystery appears in ‘Lady Vanishes’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

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

Pick of the Week

The Lady Vanishes” (1938, Alfred Hitchcock). 10 p.m. (7 p.m.) Saturday, Oct. 4.

"The Lady Vanishes" is full of tricks and surprises.

“The Lady Vanishes” is full of tricks and surprises.

In “The Lady Vanishes,” his marvelous 1938 mystery classic set aboard a train racing though the Balkans, Alfred Hitchcock pushes the romantic-comedy-thriller form to near perfection. It’s one of the most purely entertaining movies he ever made, and it can be watched over and over again with no diminution of pleasure. With Michael Redgrave, Margaret Lockwood, Paul Lukas and Dame May Whitty.

Read the full review here.

Sunday, Oct. 5

10 a.m. (7 a.m.): “Scarface” (1932, Howard Hawks). With Paul Muni, George Raft, Ann Dvorak, Karen Morley and Boris Karloff. Reviewed in FNB on July 17, 2014.

12 p.m. (9 a.m.): “Cool Hand Luke” (1967, Stuart Rosenberg). With Paul Newman, George Kennedy, Jo Van Fleet, Strother Martin and Dennis Hopper. Reviewed in FNB on March 21, 2014.

Tuesday, Oct. 7

7:45 a.m. (4:45 a.m.): “The Letter” (1940, William Wyler). With Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall, Gale Sondergaard and James Stephenson. Reviewed in FNB on Sept. 19, 2012).

Maltese Falcon poster9:30 a.m. (6:30 a.m.): “The Maltese Falcon” (1941, John Huston). With Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Elisha Cook, Jr. and Ward Bond. Reviewed in FNB on March 11, 2014.

1:15 p.m. (10:15 a.m.): “The Unfaithful” (1947, Vincent Sherman). With Ann Sheridan, Lew Ayres, Zachary Scott and Eve Arden. Ann Sheridan, with lots of oomph, takes over Bette Davis’ old role (and Jeanne Eagels’) in this Americanized remake of the film versions of the classic W. Somerset Maugham short story “The Letter.” (See above.)

3:15 p.m. (12:15 p.m.): “Where Danger Lives” (1950, John Farrow). With Robert Mitchum, Faith Domergue and Claude Rains. Bob Mitchum on the run with one of his blander leading ladies, Faith Domergue. No “Out of the Past,” but it holds your interest.

4:45 p.m. (1:45 p.m.): “Strangers on a Train” (1951, Alfred Hitchcock). With Farley Granger, Robert Walker, Ruth Roman and Leo G. Carroll. Reviewed in FNB on April 14, 2011.

6:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m.): “A Kiss Before Dying” (1956, Gerd Oswald). With Robert Wagner, Jeffrey Hunter and Joanne Woodward. Reviewed in FNB on Nov. 10, 2012.

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Film noir and shoulder pads spur Crawford’s comeback

Wanted to share my talk on “Mildred Pierce” (1945, Michael Curtiz) on Saturday, Sept. 20, at the West Hollywood Library. The library’s Corey Roskin introduced me. Hope you enjoy!

The movie was popular with critics and audiences, and it garnered six Academy Award nominations including best picture. Joan Crawford won for best actress. The superb cast members (Eve Arden, Ann Blyth, Jack Carson, Bruce Bennett, Zachary Scott) balance Crawford beautifully. Arden and Blyth both got Oscar nods for supporting actress.

The screening was part of WeHo Reads, a noir-themed month-long literary program.

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Film Noir File: ‘Strangers on a Train’ just the ticket for suspense

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

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

Pick of the Week:

Strangers on a Train posterStrangers on a Train” (1951, Alfred Hitchcock). Saturday Sept. 27, 3:30 p.m. (12:30 p.m.). With Farley Granger, Robert Walker, Ruth Roman, Marion Lorne and Leo G. Carroll. You can read the full review here.

Saturday, Sept. 27

1:15 p.m. (10:15 a.m.): “Under Capricorn” (1949, Alfred Hitchcock). With Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten and Margaret Leighton. Reviewed in FNB on Nov. 17, 2012.

5:30 p.m. (2:30 p.m.): “North by Northwest” (1959, Alfred Hitchcock). With Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Martin Landau and Jessie Royce Landis. Reviewed in FNB on Nov. 17, 2012.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Laura” (1944, Otto Preminger). With Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price and Judith Anderson. Reviewed in FNB on April 18, 2014.

Monday, Sept. 29

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “The Informer” (1935, John Ford). With Victor McLaglen, Heather Angel, Preston Foster and J. M. Kerrigan. Reviewed in FNB on Dec. 12, 2012.

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Film Noir File: Ryan seethes with rage in ‘Crossfire’

Crossfire posterLast Friday was my birthday and I have been having much fun celebrating. As a result, the Film Noir File has just one entry!

Tuesday, Sept. 23, 12:15 a.m. (9:15 p.m.) on TCM:

Crossfire” (1947, Edward Dmytryk). Based on the novel “The Brisk Foxhole” by the young Richard Brooks and directed by Edward Dmytryk in what many feel was the best period of his career, this is the famous postwar thriller about an anti-Semitic murder and the returning American soldiers mixed up in it. Co-starring Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Robert Young, Sam Levene and Gloria Grahame.

The film is moody and gripping, filled with noirish dark-hued scenes, and the entire cast is excellent. But the performance everyone tends to remember best is Bob Ryan as the anti-Jewish soldier – a role that Ryan packs with seething, psychopathic hatred and rage. Incidentally, in Brooks’ original novel, the murder victim was not Jewish, but homosexual.

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Film Noir Blonde to introduce ‘Mildred Pierce’ Saturday in West Hollywood

“Mildred Pierce” has an outstanding cast, including Eve Arden (left), Ann Blyth and, of course, the divine Ms. Crawford.

“Mildred Pierce” has an outstanding cast, including Eve Arden (left), Ann Blyth and, of course, the divine Ms. Crawford.

More noir news to share: I will be introducing “Mildred Pierce” (1945, Michael Curtiz) at 2 p.m. this Saturday, Sept. 20, at the West Hollywood Library Community Meeting Room, 625 N. San Vicente Blvd.

The movie was popular with critics and audiences, and it garnered six Academy Award nominations including best picture. Joan Crawford won for best actress. The superb cast members (Eve Arden, Ann Blyth, Jack Carson, Bruce Bennett, Zachary Scott) balance Crawford beautifully. Arden and Blyth both got Oscar nods for supporting actress. They lost to Anne Revere in “National Velvet.”

This free screening is part of WeHo Reads, a noir-themed month-long literary program. On Saturday, Sept. 27, there will be a day of panels, music and film.

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‘The Big Sleep’ a hit in WeHo film noir series

Film Noir Blonde

Film Noir Blonde

I had a great time introducing “The Big Sleep” (1946, Howard Hawks) on Saturday at the West Hollywood Library. Many thanks to event organizers Corey Roskin and Andrew Campbell, who did a great job and gave me a warm welcome.

The free screening was part of WeHo Reads, a noir-themed month-long literary program. Next Saturday, Sept. 20, “Mildred Pierce” will play and on Saturday, Sept. 27, there will be a day of panels, music and film.

Meanwhile, I thought I’d share nuggets of info from my presentation.

***As you probably know, “The Big Sleep” stars Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, who formed one of Hollywood’s primo power couples, onscreen and off.

***“The Big Sleep” is a hard-boiled detective story, to be sure, but its mood is more upbeat, fun and entertaining than a typical film noir. It doesn’t have an angst-ridden, pessimistic, cynical vibe, nor is it a tale of American vets finding it hard to adjust to civilian life after WWII. Instead, the men are glad to be back home and the women welcome them with open arms. It was time for a little romance and there’s flirtation, risqué banter and innuendo aplenty.

The Big Sleep poster 214***Central to the sexy, sultry tone: Bogart and Bacall, of course. This was the second film they starred in. The first was 1944’s “To Have and Have Not,” where the pair fell in love and she famously lit his cig, also directed by Hawks. There were four B&B movies in total, all for Warner Bros. The other two were: “Dark Passage” (1947, Delmer Daves) and “Key Largo” (1948, John Huston).

***Hawks’ wife, Slim Keith, spotted Bacall, a teenage model, in Harper’s Bazaar. Slim showed her husband and he quickly cast her in “To Have and Have Not.” He told Bogart: “You’re the most insolent man on the screen and I’ve found a girl who’s more insolent than you.”

***“The Big Sleep” started shooting in October of 1944. Hawks, a confident, successful auteur (who later would be much admired by French critics) was sure it would be a straightforward production. Um, not so much.

***“The Big Sleep” was Raymond Chandler’s first novel (1939) and the first novel to feature the character Philip Marlowe, a tough private eye based in Hollywood. The film was the first time Bogart portrayed Marlowe.

***The first time Marlowe appeared in celluloid form was in 1944’s “Murder, My Sweet,” starring Dick Powell. This movie was based on Chandler’s second novel, “Farewell, My Lovely” (1940).

***More than likely, Chandler would have been tapped to write the script for “The Big Sleep,” but he had an exclusive contract with Paramount, which had released “Double Indemnity” earlier that year. (Chandler and director Billy Wilder had adapted “Double Indemnity” from James M. Cain’s novel.)

“The Big Sleep” script is notoriously confusing. Here, director Howard Hawks, far left, and his team try to figure it out. The film’s own backstory is also a bit tangled.

“The Big Sleep” script is notoriously confusing. Here, director Howard Hawks, far left, and his team try to figure it out. The film’s own backstory is also a bit tangled.

***Hawks hired William Faulkner and Jules Furthman, the team that had adapted Ernest Hemingway’s “To Have and Have Not,” for “The Big Sleep.”

***Also hired was a 28-year-old sci-fi writer named Leigh Brackett. Hawks, a macho type who liked to hunt, fish and shoot with his buddies, was surprised to discover that Brackett was a woman but he was glad to give her a shot. He liked women who could hold their own among manly men. She did fine and had a great career.

***Faulkner decided to divide the work in a strange way: He and Furthman would be one team and Brackett would be another. The two “teams,” working separately, would tackle alternating chapters of the book and slot them together when they’d finished. The script was somewhat disjointed and Hawks took a stab at tweaking it.

WeHo Reads event flyer

***Bacall was just 20 years old and had scant training as an actress when she played spoiled rich girl Carmen Sternwood in “The Big Sleep.” Her female co-stars were Martha Vickers as her little sister, Carmen; Dorothy Malone as a bookstore clerk and Sonia Darrin as a so-called bookstore clerk.

***The book has a serpentine plot and so does the movie. It’s easy to lose track of the narrative but there are seven dead by the end. One day, Bogart asked Hawks who killed the Owen Taylor character (the Sternwood family chauffeur). Hmm, good question. Hawks didn’t know and neither did the writers. Hawks sent Chandler a telegram and he replied that he didn’t know either.

***Hawks sometimes had to shoot around Bogart because the actor was going on drinking benders. Though Bogart had met the love of his life in Bacall, there was a glitch. Still married to his third wife, actress Mayo Methot, he ended the affair with Bacall and he tried to reconcile with Methot. It didn’t go well and Bogart took to binging. Also, there was tension because Hawks was hoping to ignite a romance with his protégée Bacall and she snubbed him.

***All that said, they still managed to have a good time on the film. In fact, Jack Warner sent Hawks this memo: “Word has reached me that you are having fun on the set. This must stop.”

Corey Roskin introduces the event.

Corey Roskin introduces the event.

***Hawks was known for fast-paced action and comedy. He also gave rise to the “bromance” before the term existed. So, as I said, this film does not have the brooding, doom-and-gloom feeling that typically characterizes film noir. By the same token, it doesn’t have the intense chiaroscuro visual style (which has its roots in German Expressionism) that so often shapes the look of film noir. Nevertheless, “The Big Sleep,” which was an A-budget title, boasts a top cinematographer: Sid Hickox, who also shot “Dark Passage.”  (Max Steiner provided the score.)

***They finished shooting in January 1945. Bogart divorced Methot and married Bacall in May 1945. “The Big Sleep” was shown to U.S. servicemen in the Philippines in August 1945. World War II was ending so Warner Bros. hurried to release  movies with war-related narratives. “The Big Sleep” wasn’t timely or topical and could be released at a later date.

***Also, Warner Bros. put “The Big Sleep” on the back burner so as not to compete with Bacall’s second movie: “Confidential Agent” (1945) based on a Graham Greene novel and co-starring Charles Boyer. Unfortunately, though, that film garnered scathing reviews for Bacall.

***Warner Bros. then turned its attention back to “The Big Sleep,” hoping the movie would be able to compensate for the disappointment of “Confidential Agent.” The studio showed it to preview audiences and they wanted more scenes with Bogart and Bacall. So did Bacall’s agent. And, as Mrs. Humphrey Bogart, she now had impressive clout.

Film Noir Blonde at the event.

Film Noir Blonde at the event.

***In January 1946, Hawks spent six days reshooting and came up with another version of the film, one that gives us more Bogie and Bacall sizzle. There is also less of Martha Vickers – even though she was quite good, promoting Bacall and recapturing the electric chemistry of “To Have and Have Not” was the priority. The new scenes reportedly were written by one or both of the Epstein brothers, Julius and Philip, of “Casablanca” fame.

***“The Big Sleep” was released on Aug. 31, 1946. The narrative was even less clear than before, but who cares?! We have Bogart and Bacall in top form – flirting and fighting off baddies – in a very entertaining film. Both versions of the movie (as well as a short documentary on the changes) are available from Warner Bros.

***Hawks was once asked what makes a great movie. His answer was three great scenes and no bad scenes. By that definition, “The Big Sleep” surely ranks as a great work.

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The Film Noir File: ‘To Have and Have Not’ and ‘Key Largo’ showcase noir’s top couple

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

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

Pick of the Week: Two Classics from The Couple: Bogart and Bacall
Bogie. Bacall. The Ultimate Film Noir Couple. At their best. Need we say more?

Director Howard Hawks discovered Lauren Bacall and cast her opposite Humphrey Bogart. They fell for each other while making “To Have and Have Not.” She was 19.

Director Howard Hawks discovered Lauren Bacall and cast her opposite Humphrey Bogart. They fell for each other while making “To Have and Have Not.” She was 19.

To Have and Have Not” (1944, Howard Hawks). Tuesday, Sept. 16, 10 a.m. (7 a.m.).

With Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Walter Brennan, Hoagy Carmichael and Marcel Dalio.

Key Largo” (1948, John Huston). Tuesday, Sept. 16, 12 p.m. (9 a.m.). With Bogart, Bacall, Edward G. Robinson, Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor and Thomas Gomez.

Friday, Sept. 12

Miriam Hopkins

Miriam Hopkins

12:45 a.m. (9:45 p.m.): “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1931, Rouben Mamoulian). Fredric March won the Best Actor Oscar for playing those exemplars of good and evil, alter-egos Jekyll and Hyde, in this dark and very stylish version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic about the potion that turns a good man into the devil incarnate. With Miriam Hopkins as Hyde’s sad, beauteous victim Champagne Ivy. For Jerry Lewis’ daffy version of this tale, try his 1963 comedy classic “The Nutty Professor,” on TCM this week at 8 p.m. (5 p.m.), Thursday, Sept. 11.

2:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m.): “The Story of Temple Drake” (1933, Stephen Roberts). A grim pre-Code adaptation of William Faulkner’s shocker about Deep South rape, scandal and murder, and the weird relationship between rich girl Temple (Miriam Hopkins) and the brutal gangster whom Faulkner called Popeye (Jack La Rue).

3:45 a.m. (12:45 a.m.): “Freaks” (1932, Tod Browning). With Olga Baclanova, Wallace Ford and Harry Earles. Reviewed in FNB on April 18, 2013.

Saturday, Sept. 13

Catherine Deneuve stars in "Belle."

Catherine Deneuve stars in “Belle.”

8 p.m. (5 p.m. ,.): “Belle de Jour” (1967, Luis Bunuel). With Catherine Deneuve, Michel Piccoli, Genevieve Page, Jean Sorel, Francisco Rabal and Pierre Clementi. (In French, with subtitles.) Reviewed in FNB on March 8, 2013.

Monday, Sept. 15

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Background to Danger” (1943, Raoul Walsh). With George Raft, Brenda Marshall, Sydney Greenstreet and Pater Lorre. Reviewed in FNB on Jan. 9, 2013.

Tuesday, Sept. 16

A shot from Bacall's modeling days.

A shot from Lauren Bacall’s modeling days.

6 a.m. (3 a.m.): “The Confidential Agent” (1945, Herman Shumlin). Classy but somewhat turgid adaptation of one of Graham Greene’s spy “entertainments.“ With Charles Boyer, Lauren Bacall and Peter Lorre.

10 a.m. (7 a.m.): “To Have and Have Not” (1944, Howard Hawks). See Pick of the Week.

12 p.m. (9 a.m.): “Key Largo” (1948, John Huston). See Pick of the Week.

Wednesday, Sept. 17

6:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m.): “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950, John Huston). With Sterling Hayden, Jean Hagen, Sam Jaffe, Louis Calhern and Marilyn Monroe.

10 a.m. (7 a.m.): “The Narrow Margin” (1952, Richard Fleischer). With Charles McGraw, Marie Windsor and Jacqueline White.

Blue Gardenia poster11:30 a.m. (8:30 a.m.): “The Blue Gardenia” (1953, Fritz Lang). With Anne Baxter, Richard Conte, Nat “King” Cole and Raymond Burr. Reviewed in FNB on May 22, 2013.

1 p.m. (10 a.m.): “Suddenly” (1954, Lewis Allen). With Frank Sinatra, Sterling Hayden, James Gleason and Nancy Gates. Reviewed in FNB on April 23, 2012.

4 p.m. (1 p.m.): “I Died a Thousand Times” (1955, Stuart Heisler.) With Jack Palance, Shelley Winters, Lee Marvin and Lon Chaney, Jr. Reviewed in FNB on Jan. 15, 2013.

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “Al Capone” (1959, Richard Wilson). With Rod Steiger, Martin Balsam and Fay Spain. Reviewed in FNB on May 29, 2014.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Billy Budd” (1962, Peter Ustinov). With Terence Stamp, Robert Ryan, Ustinov and Melvyn Douglas. Reviewed in FNB on Nov. 10, 2013.

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “The Great Sinner” (1949, Robert Siodmak). Dark costume drama with eye-catching Siodmak direction and an extraordinary cast: Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Melvyn Douglas, Walter Huston, Ethel Barrymore, Agnes Moorehead and Frank Morgan. In novelist Christopher Isherwood’s offbeat screenplay, Peck is obsessed with Gardner and with gambling.

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