Stanwyck shines in ‘Crime of Passion’

Today is Barbara Stanwyck’s birthday! Stanwyck (July 16, 1907 – Jan. 20, 1990) ranks as one of film noir’s most important actresses, having played perhaps the greatest femme fatale of all, Phyllis Dietrichson in “Double Indemnity.”

Always popular with audiences and admired by colleagues for her uncommon intelligence, versatility and professionalism, she also starred in “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers,” “The Two Mrs. Carrolls” “Sorry, Wrong Number,” “The File on Thelma Jordon,” “No Man of Her Own,” “The Furies,” “Clash by Night,” “Jeopardy,” “Witness to Murder” and “Crime of Passion.”

Crime of Passion/1957/United Artists/84 min.

Aah, how often has Film Noir Blonde fantasized about giving up her dreary day-job. If only she had a lackadaisical husband whose career needed a jumpstart, she’d quite happily quit writing and meddle in his affairs full time. In director Gerd Oswald’s “Crime of Passion” (1957), Kathy Ferguson Doyle (Barbara Stanwyck) makes that noble sacrifice for her hubby.

Police Lt. Bill Doyle (Sterling Hayden) is go-along, get-along, but that’s OK. His wife Kathy (Barbara Stanwyck) has more than enough ambition for both of them.

Kathy is a tough, high-profile advice columnist for a San Francisco newspaper. She’s also a singleton who’s stylish, smart and openly defiant to the male chauvinists in her social circle. She loves dishing out wisdom and doesn’t consider herself lovelorn or lonely-hearted, dismissing marriage and family as “propaganda not for me.” (An interesting turn of phrase from writer Jo Eisinger.)

That’s before Kathy meets her blonde Adonis, aka Police Lt. Bill Doyle (Sterling Hayden), who comes to town with the Los Angeles police as they expand their search for a criminal. Kathy helps them by putting a plea for surrender in her column. The cops nail the killer and Kathy gets a job offer from a New York paper. Alas, she never makes it to NYC because she’s fallen head over heels for Bill. The idea of them moving east for her career doesn’t occur to anyone, even Kathy.

Shortly into their relationship, Kathy has an OMG-what-did-I-do-last-night? moment and asks Bill: “Who are you? Who are you?” Next she peppers him with questions, like “What are your favorite colors?” In fact, what she did was get married. Yep, just like that.

Kathy can barely contain her frustration with the dim-witted convo.

Kathy quits writing, moves to LA and tries to become a dutiful wife. “I hope all your socks have holes in them and I can sit for hours and hours darning them,” she gushes to Bill.

Unfortunately, however, Kathy seriously overrated the appeal of darning socks for hours at a time (shocker) and becomes darn bored.

At social gatherings, she gets stuck chatting with the ladies about cream cheese and olives, and 36-inch TVs. Not exactly thrilling stuff and Kathy starts to go a little crazy. OK, a lot a crazy. (Note to self: Before ditching my drivel-writing, check that husband has cool friends to hang with or at least lives near good shopping and spa treatments.)

To occupy her brain, Kathy engineers a series of stunts to accelerate Bill’s ascent on the career ladder. She befriends the police inspector’s wife Alice Pope (Fay Wray) and does her best to sabotage Bill’s competition, captain Charlie Alidos (Royal Dano). His annoying wife Sara (Virginia Grey) relentlessly promotes her mate, but she’s no match for Kathy.

That just leaves the job of getting the big cheese, police inspector Tony Pope (Raymond Burr), to rally behind Bill. So, she has a fling with Tony, natch. The only problem is that when Tony decides he’s made a mistake, the unlikely lovers don’t see eye to eye, and she grabs a gun …

German-born Gerd Oswald, the son of director Richard Oswald, made his first foray into the noir genre with 1956’s “A Kiss Before Dying” and worked with Anita Ekberg on three noir movies. He also directed “The Outer Limits” and “The Fugitive” TV shows. “Crime of Passion” may not be the director’s finest film, but it’s still strong storytelling – well paced with compelling performances and visually engaging cinematography by Joseph LaShelle. Stanwyck was 50 and Hayden 41; it’s fun to watch these two old pros reeling off their lines and riffing with Burr, of “Perry Mason” TV fame.

I’ve seen some harsh online assessments of “Crime of Passion.” Sure, it has its flaws (55 years later, parts of it might seem stilted and corny) but it’s still a lot of fun and has some pretty biting social commentary to boot.

If you judge a work of art (or entertainment) from the past by contemporary standards, it’s easy for it to fail. A girdle from 1957 didn’t have Lycra; that doesn’t mean it didn’t do the job.

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‘Falcon’ still flies high at age 75

The Maltese Falcon,’ directed by John Huston and arguably the first film noir, turns 75 this year. To honor that milestone, the movie will screen in select cities nationwide on Sunday, Feb. 21, and Wednesday, Feb. 24. TCM and Fandango are presenting the Warner Bros. film. It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.

The Maltese Falcon/1941/Warner Bros./100 min.

Maltese Falcon poster“The Maltese Falcon,” a spectacularly entertaining and iconic crime film, holds the claim to many firsts.

It’s a remarkable directorial debut by John Huston, who also wrote the screenplay. It’s considered by many critics to be the first film noir. (Another contender is “Stranger on the Third Floor” see below.) It was the first vehicle in which screen legend Humphrey Bogart and character actor Elisha Cook Jr. appeared together – breathing life into archetypal roles that filled the noir landscape for decades to come.

It was veteran stage actor Sydney Greenstreet’s first time before a camera and the first time he worked with Peter Lorre. The pair would go on to make eight more movies together. Additionally, “Falcon,” an entry on many lists of the greatest movies ever made, was one of the first films admitted to the National Film Registry in its inaugural year, 1989.

Based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett, Huston’s “Falcon” is the third big-screen version of the story (others were in 1931 and 1936) and it’s by far the best. Huston follows Hammett’s work to the letter, preserving the novel’s crisp, quick dialogue. If a crime movie can be described as jaunty, this would be it. Huston’s mighty achievement earned Oscar noms for best adapted screenplay, best supporting actor (Greenstreet) and best picture.

According to former New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther: “The trick which Mr. Huston has pulled is a combination of American ruggedness with the suavity of the English crime school – a blend of mind and muscle – plus a slight touch of pathos.”

A few more of Huston’s tricks include striking compositions and camera movement, breathtaking chiaroscuro lighting, and a pins-and-needles atmosphere of excitement and danger. (Arthur Edeson was the cinematographer; Thomas Richards served as film editor.)

For the few who haven’t seen “Falcon,” it’s a tale of ruthless greed and relentless machismo centered around the perfect marriage of actor and character: Humphrey Bogart as private detective Sam Spade – the ultimate cynical, streetwise, I-did-it-my-way ’40s alpha-male. As famed noir author Raymond Chandler once put it: “All Bogart has to do to dominate a scene is to enter it.” Bogart appears in just about every scene in “Falcon.”

As Raymond Chandler put it: “All Bogart has to do to dominate a scene is to enter it.”

As Raymond Chandler put it: “All Bogart has to do to dominate a scene is to enter it.”

As Spade, he sees through the malarkey, cuts to the chase and commands every situation, even when the odds are stacked against him. At one point he breaks free of a heavy, disarms him and points the guy’s own gun at him, all while toking on his cig. He’s equally adept at using wisecracks and one-liners to swat away the cops, who regularly show up at his door.

Mary Astor plays leading lady Brigid O’Shaughnessy to Bogart’s Sam Spade and it is she who sets the story in motion when she walks into Spade’s San Francisco office. Brigid asks Spade and his partner Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) to trail a man named Thursby who, she says, is up to no good with her sister. They accept the job and Archer takes the first shift of following Thursby. Next morning, Archer’s dead. Turns out that Brigid doesn’t have a sister and Archer’s widow (Gladys George) has the hots for Spade.

Spade’s ultra-reliable and resourceful secretary, Effie (Lee Patrick) is the one gal he can trust and it’s clear she means the world to him. At one point he tells her, “you’re a good man, sister,” which in Spade-speak is a downright gushfest. He might like the look of Brigid and her little finger, but he won’t be wrapped around it anytime soon.

Humphrey Bogart owns the movie, but he has a stellar support cast. From left: Bogart, Peter Lorre, Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet.

Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade owns the movie, but he has a stellar support cast. From left: Bogart, Peter Lorre, Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet.

Astor, a Hollywood wild child of her time, who left a long string of husbands and lovers in her wake and generated much fodder for the tabloids, was brilliant casting for the part of bad-girl Brigid O. True to form, Astor allegedly was having an affair with Huston during the making of the film.

There is no doubt that Bogart owns this guy’s-guy male-fantasy picture, but Astor and the stellar support cast are unforgettable in their roles. As a good-luck gesture to his son, John, actor Walter Huston plays the part of the old sea captain. Peter Lorre drips malevolence as the effeminate and whiny Joel Cairo, and he has a foreign accent, which in Hollywood is usually shorthand for: he’s a bad’un.

Making his film debut at 61, Greenstreet’s Kasper Gutman is both debauched and debonair, a refined reprobate with a jolly cackle and tubby physique (he was more than 350 pounds!). Warner Bros. had to make an entire wardrobe for Greenstreet; Bogart wore his own clothes to save the studio money. One more Bogart contribution was adding the line: “The stuff that dreams are made of” at the end of the film, paraphrasing a line in “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare.

Tough-guy Sam Spade (Bogart) and wimpy Wilmer Cook (Elisha Cook Jr.) are perfect foils.

Tough-guy Sam Spade (Bogart) and wimpy Wilmer Cook (Elisha Cook Jr.) are perfect foils.

And honing the sort of performance that would become his trademark, Elisha Cook Jr. stamps the character of warped thug Wilmer Cook with code for “psycho” (darting eyes, bubbling rage, edgy desperation) as if it were a neon light attached to his forehead.

Much has been written about the homosexual subtext of the Cairo, Gutman and Cook characters – I will just say they’re all part of the flock that covets and vies for possession the falcon, a jewel-laden statue of a bird that’s the treasure at the core of this tense and serpentine story. When it’s suggested that Wilmer Cook be sacrificed for the good of the gang, Greenstreet’s Kasper Gutman explains that, though Wilmer is like a son, “If you lose a son, it’s possible to get another. There’s only one Maltese Falcon.”

Though there were two other celluloid versions of Hammett’s story, in my view, there’s only one “Maltese Falcon” and this is it.

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‘Life’ is rough when you look for the film noir elements

It’s a Wonderful Life/ 1946/ Paramount/130 min

Michael Wilmington provides a fresh look at essential Christmas Eve viewing: “It’s a Wonderful Life.” If you’ve dismissed this film as sappy, watch the last act one more time and you’ll likely appreciate anew its noir mood and atmosphere.

Michael Wilmington

Scenario for Christmas: A whimsical guardian angel shows a good-hearted small-town guy, on the brink of suicide, what would have happened if he’d never lived and what a difference his life really made to everyone around him. You’ve seen it before, but it always works. And it always will.

Frank Capra‘s holiday masterpiece “It’s a Wonderful Life” is an exhilarating mix of angelic fantasy and small-town comedy, of political fable and poetic license, of Norman Rockwell and film noir.

The last act of this beloved Christmas classic — where George Bailey (James Stewart, in his favorite role) sees his beloved hometown of Bedford Falls turned into a dark semi-urban nightmare, as it would have been if it were run by George’s rich, greedy nemesis, Old Man Potter (Lionel Barrymore) — is a pure film-noir nightmare, with a tormented protagonist, a world bent into bad-dreams-come-true and a fate that (temporarily) can’t be escaped.

James Stewart falls into a Christmas nightmare in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

James Stewart falls into a Christmas nightmare in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

There are lots of real film-noir mainstays in the cast, people who fit easily into the noir universe — notably Gloria Grahame (“In a Lonely Place,” “Human Desire,” “The Big Heat”) as the town’s blonde bombshell Violet; Thomas Mitchell (“Dark Waters,” “The Dark Mirror,” “While the City Sleeps”) as George’s absent-minded Uncle Billy; Barrymore (“Key Largo”) as the evil banker Potter; and Sheldon Leonard (“Decoy”) as tough Nick the bartender.

The movie’s crack Capra ensemble also boasts Ward Bond (“The Maltese Falcon,” “On Dangerous Ground,” “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye”) and Frank Faylen (“The Blue Dahlia,” “Detective Story,” “The Sniper”) as cop and cabbie (and “Sesame Street” namesakes) Bert and Ernie. And of course there’s the great, shy, stammering Stewart himself, who went on to make such classic noirs as “Call Northside 777,” plus, for Hitchcock, “Rope,” “Rear Window” and “Vertigo.”

It's a Wonderful Life posterThe script, by turns witty and sentimental, was adapted from a Christmas fable by poet Philip Van Doren Stern. “Life” had a raft of A-list writers, namely Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, the husband-wife team who adapted Dashiell Hammett‘s “Thin Man” for the movies. On “Life,” they received uncredited assistance from such stalwart noir writers as Jo Swerling (“Leave Her to Heaven”), Dalton Trumbo (“Gun Crazy”), Clifford Odets (“Sweet Smell of Success”) and the famously acerbic Dorothy Parker (you heard me right).

Lead cinematographer Joe Biroc (“Cry Danger,” “The Killer That Stalked New York”) gives the movie a distinctly nightmarish look.

The point of cataloging “Life’s” noir vets is that most of the talent in the movie were known more for film noir than the simplistic goody-two-shoes stuff people mistakenly feel is the essence of both “It’s a Wonderful Life” and Capra-corn. Capra wanted smart, sophisticated collaborators who knew what happened when the lights went off. Noir people.

Capra had already experimented with a mixture of humor, sentiment and noir in his 1944 comedy of murders, with Cary Grant, “Arsenic and Old Lace” but “Wonderful Life” has the style down pat. We see George’s kindness, generosity and sometimes-antic humor shining throughout his difficult but rewarding life as recounted up above to his guardian angel Clarence (Henry Travers). But then we see him in a downpour of terror and anguish when he suddenly faces financial ruin, flees his family, wrecks his car, stands on a bridge and contemplates suicide. And finally at the “Auld Lang Syne” end, we get the Bailey family pride and joy when the nightmare ends. Well, some great noirs have happy endings too …

In many ways, of course, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is Charles Dickens‘ “A Christmas Carol” in reverse. (Barrymore was famous for his interpretation of Ebenezer Scrooge, which he reprised every year at Christmas on radio and which he probably would have played for the 1938 MGM movie, had he not been wheelchair-bound by the time of its production.)

Anyway, it all jelled into a movie and an experience, both spinetingling and heartwarming, that nobody ever forgets: On a magical Christmas Eve, a good man understands the meaning of his life and the effects of selflessness, just as Dickens’ Scrooge sees the consequences of his own selfishness.

Most importantly, “Life” had Frank Capra, a directorial magician who could mix comedy and drama, move audiences deeply and also make them laugh, like almost no one else in Hollywood history. Capra always thought this was his best movie, even though it was a horrible disappointment to him financially and professionally. The original 1946 audiences and critics were mixed, and the film’s receipts failed to support the new company, Liberty Films, that Capra was trying to set up with his friends George Stevens, William Wyler and John Huston. Largely because of “Life,” they lost their Liberty.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” takes you right over the edge. Almost. It’s a wonderful picture: a very funny, often charming, but also terrifying movie about life’s most horrible disappointments, about all your nightmares coming true and all your dreams being torn apart. And that was echoed in real life. George Bailey failed (for a while), and Frank Capra failed (for a while) too.

But Capra was right. This is his best movie. I can’t keep a dry eye when George’s brother Harry (Todd Karns) toasts him under the Christmas tree as “the richest man in town,” the Bedford Falls crowd sings “Auld Lang Syne” and they find Zuzu’s petals. I don’t even want to.

If you’ve never been moved, even slightly, when Harry raises that glass, everybody sings and George hears the bell — well, the hell with you. “Bah, Humbug,” as Potter would say. But the Bedford Falls folks are still going to shout: “Merry Christmas everyone!”

Noir people too.

You can read more of Michael Wilmington’s reviews at Movie City News.

Author photo by Victor Skrebneski; copyright Victor Skrebneski

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Happy birthday, Gloria Grahame, top film noir femme fatale

Gloria Grahame is one of our favorite bad girls.

Gloria Grahame is one of our favorite bad girls.

While lounging this holiday weekend or perhaps while shopping (for yourself, who else?) or having a tad more chocolate and champagne, be sure to remember one of our favorite bad girls: the inimitable Miss Gloria Grahame, kittenish with a slight lisp and sexy as hell. She could play a vixen like no one else and she courted scandal off-screen as well.

Gloria was born today (Nov. 28) in Los Angeles in 1923. She died on Oct. 5, 1981.

A few years ago, we decided to honor Ms. Grahame with her own special day (in addition to her b’day because one day was simply not enough) and we invite you to revisit our praise:

You will also find links to several GG film noir classics.


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Truffaut’s choice as the greatest film noir: ‘Rififi’

By Michael Wilmington & Film Noir Blonde

Rififi” (1954, Jules Dassin) starts today at the Laemmle Royal in West Los Angeles. It runs through Sept. 17.

Midway through director Jules Dassin’s French crime classic “Rififi” (“Trouble”), Dassin stages a 33-minute-long masterpiece of suspense: a sequence the most critics regard as the most perfect of all movie heist scenes. It’s a brilliantly designed set-piece of excruciating tension and the only sound is the thieves at work.

Probably no one who sees that scene ever forgets it. Here it is: In the early morning hours, a small band of crooks – which include legendary bank robber Tony le Stephanois (Jean Servais), his young married friend Jo Jo (Carl Mohner), a good thief named Mario (Robert Manuel) and the loose-lipped safecracker Cesar (played by Dassin himself, under the stage name Perlo Vita) – break into an exclusive Parisian jewelry store by drilling though the floor of the room above. They work carefully, quietly, methodically. For the entire scene, there is not a word of dialogue, not a note of background music. A tour de force of moviemaking technique, it helped win Dassin the Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Later, François Truffaut called “Rififi” the greatest of all film noirs.

That heist scene also sets up the grim, fatalistic last act of “Rififi,” which is about how thieves fall apart, set in a Paris that seems shrouded in perpetual clouds and drizzling rain. “Rififi” was regarded as an almost instant classic, and it wiped out the stigma of Dassin’s blacklisting by Hollywood. If you’ve never seen this movie and that scene, you won’t forget them either. (In French, with subtitles.)

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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).


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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Film Noir File: Summer of Darkness wraps up with four Lang classics, plus ‘Criss Cross,’ ‘Brute Force’ and ‘Asphalt Jungle’

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). 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: TCM’s Summer of Darkness wraps up

Friday, July 31

They’ve saved some of the best for last.

Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame sizzle in “The Big Heat.”

Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame sizzle in “The Big Heat.”

The last chapter of TCM’s Summer of Darkness binge-a-thon is one of the best of the whole series. During the day, the schedule includes a quartet of moody Teutonic-style thrillers directed by the great German Hollywood émigré suspense-meister Fritz Lang (the creator of “M”). It starts with the grim little mob masterpiece “The Big Heat,” featuring Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame and Lee Marvin in the cinema’s most memorable sadistic hot-coffee triangle.

Completing the Lang lineup are crime sagas “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt,” “While the City Sleeps” and “The Blue Gardenia.” In the evening, Summer of Darkness deepens the shadows with Jules Dassin’s “Brute Force” (a definitive prison picture), Robert Siodmak’s “Criss Cross” and John Huston’s “The Asphalt Jungle“ (two definitive heist thrillers), Anthony Mann’s “Desperate“ (a definitive B chase movie) and Hitchcock’s “The Wrong Man.”

Curated and hosted in the evening by the Czar of Noir himself, Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation and the Noir City film festivals, TCM’s Summer of Darkness, right up to the last breath, is one festival of broken dreams and movie nightmares you won’t want to miss. Tell ’em Fritz sent you.

6 a.m. (3 a.m.): “The Big Heat” (1953, Fritz Lang).

7:45 a.m. (4:45 a.m.): “Suddenly” (1954, Lewis Allen).

Blue Gardenia poster9:30 a.m. (6:30 a.m.): “I Died a Thousand Times” (1955, Stuart Heisler).

11:30 a.m. (8:30 a.m.): “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” (1956, Fritz Lang).

1 p.m. (10 a.m.): “The Harder They Fall” (1956, Mark Robson).

2:45 p.m. (11:45 a.m.): “While the City Sleeps” (1956, Fritz Lang).

4:45 p.m. (1:45 p.m.): “The Blue Gardenia” (1953, Fritz Lang).

6:15 pm. (3:15 p.m.): “Party Girl” (1958, Nicholas Ray).

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Criss Cross” (1949, Robert Siodmak).

9:45 p.m. (6:45 p.m.): “Brute Force” (1947, Jules Dassin).

11:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.): “Desperate” (1947, Anthony Mann).

Brute Force movie poster color

1 a.m. (10 p.m.): “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950, John Huston).

3 a.m. (12 a.m.): “The Wrong Man” (1956, Alfred Hitchcock).

Saturday, Aug. 1

2 p.m. (11 a.m.): “Whirlpool” (1949, Otto Preminger).

3:45 p.m. (12:45 p.m.): “Laura” (1944, Otto Preminger).

Sunday, Aug. 2

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte” (1964, Robert Aldrich). This is the macabre follow-up to 1962’s Grand Guignol suspense classic “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” But in this Robert Aldrich-directed, Henry Farrell-written Gothic soufflé featuring dueling divas Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, Crawford didn’t make it to the finishing line. Taken ill (or something), she was a no-show when the shooting started and was replaced by Bette’s longtime Warner Brothers buddy Olivia de Havilland.

The resulting chemistry isn’t nearly as potent in this Deep South chiller, which is a kind of grisly sub-Faulkner lady-in-distress murder-in-the-magnolias shocker. But those ace movie villainesses Agnes Moorehead and Mary Astor lend some extra “Sunset Boulevard”-style grande dame atmosphere. And so does the movie’s stylish misfit male contingent of Joseph Cotten, Bruce Dern, Cecil Kellaway and the great fat mama’s boy from “Baby Jane,” Victor Buono. The title song is sung, with a “Tennessee Waltz” warble, by Patti Page.

Monday, Aug. 3

2:45 a.m. (11:45 p.m.): “The Tall Target” (1951, Anthony Mann).

Tuesday, Aug. 4

9:15 a.m. (6:15 a.m.): “The Steel Trap” (1952, Andrew L. Stone).

4:30 a.m. (1:30 a.m.): “Count the Hours” (1953, Don Siegel). Crisp courtroom thriller about migrant workers framed for murder and defended by Macdonald Carey. Siegel’s direction is B-movie sharp. Teresa Wright and Jack Elam are the film’s Beauty and Beast, respectively.

Wednesday, Aug. 5

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “The Band Wagon” (1953, Vincente Minnelli).

Thursday, Aug. 6

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Get Carter” (1971, Mike Hodges).

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Nancy Olson to appear at ‘Sunset Blvd.’ screening in LA

Sunset b & wAcademy Award Nominee Nancy Olson Livingston will participate in a Q&A with film critic Stephen Farber at a 65th anniversary screening of “Sunset Blvd.” The event starts at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 21, at the Laemmle Royal in West LA. By popular demand, an additional 7:30 p.m. show has been added.

For our part, we offer our top 10 favorite lines from this magnificent film noir movie, directed and co-written by Billy Wilder, and starring (along with Nancy Olson) the incomparable Gloria Swanson, William Holden and Erich von Stroheim. The film garnered 11 Oscar nominations and won three (script, music and art direction).

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‘Double Indemnity’ plays nationwide on the big screen

Cissy and Raymond Chandler were married for 30 years.

Cissy Chandler (1870-1954) was married to Raymond Chandler for 30 years.

Just this morning, I finished reading “The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved” (Pantheon Books, 2007) by Judith Freeman. It’s a look at Chandler’s work and his 30-year marriage to a mysterious woman named Cissy Hurlburt Porcher Pascal, a sexy but refined redhead from the Midwest who was 18 years his senior. (It was her third marriage; his first and only.)  Not that she bothered to tell him her real age, natch. Details, details …

Double Indemnity July 19-20In the book, Freeman describes a turning point in Chandler’s career: When he received the offer from Paramount Studios to adapt James M. Cain’s novel “Double Indemnity” for the big screen, working in partnership with writer/director Billy Wilder.

The film, starring Fred Mac Murray, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson, was released in 1944. It earned seven Oscar noms, including screenplay, which was extremely rare for a film noir title.

Freeman writes:

“Ray didn’t get the idea of the whole thing at first. When Joe Sistrom, the producer, called and offered him the job, Ray said he could probably do it, but he wouldn’t be able to turn in the screenplay for a couple of weeks, and it would cost them a thousand bucks. Sistrom laughed. Was the guy being funny, or was he really that naïve about the way the movie business worked? Sistrom told him he’d be working with Wilder, in an office on the studio lot, that he’d have ten weeks to do the screenplay, and he’d be getting seven hundred and fifty bucks a week. Ray did the math. Ray liked the result. Ray saw the future … and Ray said, Yes. Sure. Why not?”

Precisely! So, why not treat yourself to a big-screen viewing of this genre-defining film? TCM, Fathom Events and Universal Pictures Home Entertainment are partnering to bring this classic to select cinemas nationwide on Sunday, July 19 and Monday, July 20.

“That tears it,” as Walter Neff would say.

See you there, noiristas. Meanwhile, you can read our review as well as 14 reasons we adore this flick.

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