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

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

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

Pick of the Week: Preminger Noir on Saturday, April 19

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

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

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

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

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

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

And showing at 8 a.m. (5 a.m.) on Saturday, April 19: “The Loved One” (1965, Tony Richardson). With Robert Morse, Rod Steiger, Jonathan Winters, John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson and Liberace. Reviewed in FNB on Dec. 26, 2013.

Sunday, April 20
12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Spione” (“Spies”) (1928, Fritz Lang). Lang, the cinematic Godfather of Noir, scales the peaks of silent movie melodrama and intrigue in this terrifying classic about spies chasing each other, romancing each other, outwitting each other and, occasionally killing each other. Willy Fritsch is the gentlemanly spy hero, Gerda Maurus is the spy who (maybe) loves him, and the scarily wheelchair-bound Rudolf Klein-Rogge (Dr. Mabuse himself) is the villainous spy-master who menaces the whole world and especially Fritsch. In one of the original audiences for “Spione,“ perhaps, may have been Adolf Hitler, a fan of movies and spying who especially liked Lang’s “Metropolis.“ (Silent, with intertitles and music score.)

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

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

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

Pick of the Week

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

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

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

Friday, April 11                                         

10 a.m. (7 a.m.): “The Blue Gardenia” (1953, Fritz Lang). With Anne Baxter, Richard Conte, Hammond Burr and Nat King Cole. Reviewed in FNB on May 22, 2013.

12 a.m. (9 p.m.) “Nights of Cabiria” (1937, Federico Fellini). See Pick of the Week. [Read more...]

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

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

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

Pick of the Week

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

Bogart and Ida Lupino star in "High Sierra."

Bogart and Ida Lupino star in “High Sierra.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 5

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

Sunday, April 6

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

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The Film Noir File: Sam Fuller takes us down ‘Shock Corridor’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

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

Pick of the Week

Shock Corridor” (1963, Samuel Fuller). 10 p.m. (7 p.m.), Saturday, March 29.

Reviewed in FNB on Nov. 16, 2011.

Friday, March 28

12:15 p.m. (9:15 a.m.): “The Racket” (1928, Lewis Milestone). The first movie version of playwright/screenwriter/Chicago crime reporter Bartlett Cormack’s tense play about the war of nerves between a tough, obsessed police captain and a brutal mob boss. With Thomas Meighan, Louis Wolheim and Marie Prevost. The movie was remade in 1951 at Howard Hughes’ RKO (by director John Cromwell), with Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan.

Night of the Living Dead poster1:45 a.m. (10:45 p.m.): “Night of the Living Dead” (1968, George Romero). With a plague of blood-thirsty, lurching, relentlessly oncoming zombies rampaging all over the Pittsburgh area, a group of bickering and sometimes hysterical survivors barricade themselves in a suburban house near a graveyard, and try to survive the longest night of their lives. One of the most noirish – and certainly one of the scariest – of all low-budget horror classics, directed (and written) by George Romero with nerve-rending, savage black-and-white pseudo-realism and some macabre humor. Starring Duane Jones and Judith O’Dea.

3:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m.): “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” (1962, Robert Aldrich). With Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Victor Buono and Anna Lee. Reviewed in FNB on July 28, 2012.

Saturday, March 29

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “His Girl Friday” (1940, Howard Hawks). With Cary Grant. Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy, Gene Lockhart and John Qualen. Reviewed in FNB on Jan. 22, 2013.

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “Shock Corridor” (1963, Samuel Fuller). See Pick of the Week.

Rhonda Fleming and Vincent Price are supporting players in "While the City Sleeps."

Rhonda Fleming and Vincent Price are supporting players in “While the City Sleeps.”

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “While the City Sleeps” (1956, Fritz Lang). The great film noir director Fritz Lang worked even longer in Hollywood than he did in Germany, and of all the pictures of his American career, his two favorites were reportedly the 1936 lynch-mob classic “Fury” (starring Spencer Tracy and scripted by Bartlett Cormack), and the lesser-known crime thriller “While The City Sleeps.” Set in a big metropolitan newspaper which is in the throes of transition and a possible take-over, the movie’s complex plot revolves around both the corporate battles at the paper, and the big news story that is consuming the city and the newsroom: a series of vicious serial slayings by an unknown psychopathic killer. It’s an engrossing melodrama, steeped in stark, boozy, big-city ’50s atmosphere.

The remarkable cast is headed by noir mainstays Dana Andrews and Ida Lupino (as star reporters). Andrews and Lupino bring a whole raft of urban noir memories along with them. So does the supporting cast of journalists, executives and crime-fighters, played by George Sanders, Vincent Price, Thomas Mitchell, Howard Duff, Rhonda Fleming, James Craig, Sally Forrest and Mae Marsh. The young leather-jacketed psycho-killer they’re after is played by John Barrymore, Jr. (aka John Drew Barrymore, John Barrymore’s son and Drew Barrymore’s dad.)

That all-star cast and Lang’s moody mastery of big-city tension and cynicism keep you on the hook. Though we wouldn’t rank this picture above “Scarlet Street” and “The Big Heat” (which Lang apparently did), it’s an underseen, underrated gem of film noir, hot off the presses, from the genre’s heyday.

The Lady from Shanghai posterSunday, March 30

12:15 p.m. (9:15 a.m.): “The Lady from Shanghai” (1948, Orson Welles). With Welles, Rita Hayworth, Everett Sloane and Glenn Anders. Reviewed in FNB on Dec. 26, 2013.

Monday, March 31

9 p.m. (6 p.m.): “On the Waterfront” (1954, Elia Kazan). With Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden and Rod Steiger. Reviewed in FNB on Feb. 20, 2013.

3:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m.): North by Northwest” (1959, Alfred Hitchcock). With Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason and Martin Landau. Reviewed in FNB on Nov. 17, 2012.

 

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Hitch’s second U.S. film sets the bar for the rest of his career

“Foreign Correspondent” (1940) was recently released on Blu-ray/DVD (dual edition) by Criterion.

By Michael Wilmington

Foreign Corr posterAlfred Hitchcock started his American filmmaking career with a bang, directing a Best Picture Oscar winner and an inarguable classic: his 1940 David O. Selznick-produced film of Daphne du Maurier’s immensely popular Gothic romantic novel “Rebecca.” Though he was under the control of Selznick at his zenith (the year after “Gone With the Wind”), Hitch executed the assignment with near-flawless skill  and panache.

He beautifully dramatizes du Maurier’s romantic tale of a naïve young wife (Joan Fontaine) taken to a mansion by her wealthy new husband (Laurence Olivier), who may have murdered his haunting first wife, Rebecca.

But “Rebecca” wasn’t Hitch’s only 1940 film. Nor is it the one that some Hitchcock critics (and maybe even Hitchcock himself) consider the inarguable classic. Shortly after completing “Rebecca,” and freeing himself from the fealty Selznick felt was owed to du Maurier’s novel, Hitchcock made a second American movie.

This new work was a continuation of the style and technique of the delightfully frightening suspense thrillers he’d made in England in the ’30s: notably “The 39 Steps,” “The Man Who Knew Too Much” and “The Lady Vanishes.”

That second Hitchcock movie was “Foreign Correspondent,” produced by Walter Wanger: a top-notch melodrama of international intrigue and nail-biting suspense that was set in the early days of World War II. Starring the sturdily all-American guy Joel McCrea (Hitch had wanted Gary Cooper) and love interest Laraine Day (Hitch had wanted Fontaine), it was a movie that unabashedly called  for the U.S. to enter the war against Germany, on the side of Hitchcock’s beleaguered homeland Great Britain.

That’s the conclusion McCrea’s pugnacious but immensely likable reporter Johnny Jones (pen name: Huntley Haverstock) reaches after being sent overseas as The New York Globe’s foreign correspondent and witnessing Germany’s murderous espionage and sabotage. As bodies and evidence accumulate, Johnny/Haverstock chases down a Nazi spy ring in England and Holland.

In company with Johnny: the head of an ambiguous peace organization (Herbert Marshall), his beauteous daughter (Day), a suave and plucky British fellow reporter (George Sanders), a kidnapped Dutch diplomat (Albert Bassermann), and assorted spies, officials, killers and bystanders (Edmund Gwenn, Robert Benchley, Eduardo Ciannelli and others). They race from one hair-raising Hitchcockian set-piece to the next; finally culminating in a plane crash, with McCrea and others in the cockpit.

It’s the sort of  convulsively paced, thoroughly engrossing and purely entertaining tale Hitchcock loved to make, with an audience-pleasing flair and imagination that would have been entirely out of place in a faithful classic adaptation like “Rebecca.” But “Foreign Correspondent” was a clear precursor of Hitchcock’s later career and also of the James Bond spy thrillers of the ’60s and beyond, which were partly inspired by his work.

Selznick would not allow Hitchcock to change any of “Rebecca” (except for his habitual joke-cameo appearance). While Selznick has probably been proven right by the film’s 1940 Oscars and continued classic status, “Foreign Correspondent” (which was nominated for six Oscars), has also been validated as the more truly Hitchcockian movie.

It’s full of virtuoso set-pieces, like the windmills that are turning against the wind, the climactic plane crash, the famed umbrella-knocking assassination scene, and other logic-defying moments inserted in defiance of the critics and carpers whom The Master of Suspense dismissively called “The Plausibles.”

Hitch makes his cameo in "Foreign Correspondent."

Hitch makes his cameo in “Foreign Correspondent.”

“Foreign Correspondent” was scripted by Hitchcock’s regular collaborators Charles Bennett and Joan Harrison, with dialogue by James Hilton (the novelist who wrote “Goodbye Mr. Chips”) and the Algonquin Round Table’s resident wit Robert Benchley (who also appears in the cast as a fellow reporter). The source was an actual foreign correspondent’s memoir, “Personal History” by Vincent Sheean.

One of the uncredited writers on “Foreign Correspondent” was Richard Maibaum, who was later the main Bond series screenwriter. Besides Maibaum, the remarkable gallery of uncredited writers on the project includes Ben Hecht, Harold Clurman, John Howard Lawson, John Lee Mahin and Budd Schulberg, or almost everyone in Hollywood, it seems, but William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Of course, there was the script-shaping genius of Hitchcock himself (and of his wife Alma): Hitchcock, who of all non-actor movie directors, is perhaps the most visibly present in his films. We sense him in and behind nearly every shot.

But he’s more present in “Foreign Correspondent” than in “Rebecca.” Freed for the moment from Selznick (they would make two more pictures together), Hitch charts the major direction he would follow right up to the end of his career: the ingenious set-pieces, the games with the audience, the personal touches and brilliant identification devices.

He also produced a film proselytizing for America’s entrance into the war with the Allies and against the Nazi juggernaut that was admired as propaganda by no less an expert than Joseph Goebbels himself.

Criterion’s extras include a 1972 interview with Hitchcock by Dick Cavett and a 1946 radio adaptation of “Foreign Correspondent” with Joseph Cotten.

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The Film Noir File: Say hello to Chandler’s sizzling ‘Farewell’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

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

Murder My Sweet posterPick of the Week

Murder, My Sweet” (1944, Edward Dmytryk). 12:15 p.m. (9:15 a.m.); Monday, March 24. You can read the full review here.

Friday, March 21

12:15 a.m. (9:15 p.m.): “The Loved One” (1965, Tony Richardson). With Robert Morse, Rod Steiger, Jonathan Winters and John Gielgud. Reviewed in FNB on Dec. 16, 2013.

2:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m.): “Cool Hand Luke” (1967, Stuart Rosenberg). One of Paul Newman’s best-liked roles and movies came when he played the lovable convict-rebel Luke, in this tough, brash, jocular comedy-drama of life on a Southern chain gang – and how to make it more livable by staging egg-eating contests, standing up to the Man and breaking loose.

George Kennedy won an Oscar as Luke’s jail mate tormentor-turned-sidekick Dragline, and Strother Martin won immortality in the Memorable Lines Dept. as the weaselly prison boss who lectures the convicts about “failure t’ communicate.”

Newman himself makes one of the toniest, best-looking chain gang convicts ever. His Luke could probably walk into a cotillion ball in his prison duds and walk out with any woman in the place. Based on a novel by chain gang vet Donn Pearce, the movie has a terrific supporting cast, including Dennis Hopper, Joe Don Baker, Harry Dean Stanton, and, as Luke’s dying old mother, Jo Van Fleet.

Sunday, March 23

6 a.m. (3 a.m.): “Lady in the Lake” (1947, Robert Montgomery). With Montgomery, Audrey Totter Lloyd Nolan and Leon Ames. Reviewed in FNB on Dec. 3, 2012.

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “Notorious” (1946, Alfred Hitchcock). With Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, Claude Rains and Louis Calhern. Reviewed in FNB on Feb. 12, 2013 and on Feb. 20, 2012.

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “Fists in the Pocket” (1965, Marco Bellocchio). Italian writer-director Marco Bellocchio burst on the international film scene in 1965 with this savage, dark-hued look at a psychopathic young epileptic (Lou Castel) who embarks on a murderous campaign against his own family. The subject matter of this classic noir seethes with evil and frenzy, but Bellocchio’s treatment is cool and brilliantly controlled. Castel makes a memorable mad killer. (In Italian, with English subtitles.)

Dick Powell was a song-and-dance man before this flick.

Dick Powell (center) was a song-and-dance man before he starred in “Murder, My Sweet,” a seminal film noir.

Monday, March 24

12:15 p.m. (9:15 a.m.): “Murder. My Sweet” (1944, Edward Dmytryk). See Pick of the Week.

2 p.m. (11 a.m.): “To Have and Have Not” (1944, Howard Hawks). With Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Walter Brennan and Marcel Dalio. Reviewed in FNB on July 21, 2012.

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The Film Noir File: Huston helms, Bogarts stars in ‘Falcon’ et al

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

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

Pick of the Week

Maltese-Falcon-poster[1]

The Maltese Falcon
(1941, John Huston). 8 p.m. (5 p.m.); Wednesday, March 12. With Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre and Elisha Cook, Jr. See previous post for the review.

Wednesday, March 12

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Maltese Falcon” (1941, John Huston). See review in previous post.

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “Across the Pacific” (1942, John Huston). With Bogart, Astor and Greenstreet. Reviewed in FNB on June 6, 2012.

Friday, March 14

10:45 a.m. (7:45 a.m.): “Beat the Devil” (1953, John Huston). Humphrey Bogart and John Huston’s last movie together was a commercial failure but a triumph of silliness, satire and pseudo-noir. Bogart stars as the sly, grinning kingpin of a group of uranium-mine swindlers that includes Robert Morley, Peter Lorre and Italian bombshell Gina Lollobrigida. Jennifer Jones and Edward Underdown are two naïve British vacationers who fall guilelessly into their hands.

Beat the Devil posterBased on a novel by Claud Cockburn, the film, a cult movie if there ever was one, was adapted with tongue completely in cheek, by Truman Capote, who wrote (or rewrote) it on location in Italy. Apparently, Capote got the script done each day with barely enough time for the actors to learn their lines. (They have fun with them anyway.) The settings on the Italian coast, in prime tourist territory, are gorgeous — as are bad girl Lollobrigida and good girl Jones. The cast look as if they‘re not quite sure what’s going on but are having an absolutely marvelous time. As will you.

4 a.m. (1 a.m.): “The Public Enemy” (1931, William Wellman). With James Cagney, Jean Harlow and Mae Clarke. Reviewed in FNB on Aug. 10, 2012.

Saturday, March 15

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Sugarland Express” (1974, Steven Spielberg). With Goldie Hawn, Ben Johnson and William Atherton. Reviewed in FNB on Nov. 23, 2013.

Sunday, March 16

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “After the Thin Man” (1936, W. S. Van Dyke). With William Powell, Myrna Loy and James Stewart. Reviewed in FNB on June 6, 2013.

Monday, March 17

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Outfit” (1973, John Flynn). With Robert Duvall, Karen Black and Robert Ryan. Reviewed in FNB on May 22, 2013.

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There’s only one ‘Maltese Falcon’ and this is it

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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The Film Noir File: ‘Strangers on a Train’ is one you must catch

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

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

Pick of the Week

Farley Granger (left) and Robert Walker give pitch-perfect performances in "Strangers."

Farley Granger (left) and Robert Walker give pitch-perfect performances in “Strangers.”

Strangers on a Train (1951, Alfred Hitchcock). Monday, March 10: 4 p.m. (1 p.m.). With Farley Granger, Robert Walker and Ruth Roman.

Hitchcock starts the story by contrasting the shiny, two-toned spats of Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) with the sensible black dress shoes of Guy Haines (Farley Granger) as each emerges from a Diamond cab. We follow these parallel footsteps as they board the same train, hence the title.

These brief shots contain the crux of the film: Model citizens often hide hard-core badness and the most unsavory renegades and reprobates can surprise you with a virtue or two (especially if we count charm and fashion sense as virtues). Read the full review here.

Thursday, March 6

A Kiss Before Dying poster6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “A Kiss Before Dying” (1956, Gerd Oswald). With Robert Wagner, Jeffrey Hunter and Joanne Woodward. Reviewed in FNB, on May 17, 2011 and Nov. 10, 2012.

Friday, March 7

11 a.m. (8 a.m.): “The MacomberAffair” (1947, Zoltan Korda). Widely regarded as one of the cinema’s best films ever taken from an Ernest Hemingway story, this simmeringly tense, darkly faithful adaptation of Hemingway’s African tale “The Short Happy Like of Francis Macomber” focuses on a dangerous triangle on safari. The potent threesome are a cynical Great White Hunter (Gregory Peck), his boyishly enthusiastic rich neophyte hunter of an employer, Macomber (Robert Preston), and Macomber’s sultry-eyed seemingly ready-to-be-faithless wife (Susan Hayward). They enact a timeless drama surrounded by wild animals and scorching real-life African settings. Few filmmakers are better with jungle beasts and jungle people than director Zoltan Korda (’The Jungle Book,’ “Elephant Boy,” “Four Feathers”), and this may be his best movie.

5 p.m. (2 p.m.): “Count the Hours” (1953, Don Siegel). Tough, lean Siegel “B” about a migrant worker accused of murder in a prejudiced town, and the inferno of a trial into which he and his idealistic lawyer (MacDonald Carey) are thrown. With Teresa Wright and Jack Elam. [Read more...]

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The Film Noir File: Nine glorious Garfield movies

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

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

John Garfield and Patricia Neal star in "The Breaking Point."

John Garfield and Patricia Neal star in “The Breaking Point.”

Pick of the Week: John Garfield Day is Tuesday, March 4

A film noir feast: Nine movies with one of the great film noir stars, John Garfield – a quintessential New York City actor and Warner Brothers tough guy, whose movies and roles were full of nerve, chutzpah and street smarts, and who was born in the city, a.k.a. Jacob Julius Garfinkle. The Garfield noirs or semi-noirs shown that day are “Dust be my Destiny” (1939), “They Made Me a Criminal” (1939), “East of the River” (1940), “Out of the Fog” (1941), “The Sea Wolf” (1941), “Dangerously They Live” (1942) and (the best of the bunch) “The Breaking Point” (1950). Also showing that day: two interesting Garfield non-noirs “Four Wives” (1939) and “Flowing Gold” (1940).

Mark your calendar for this special day for film noir fans, and for all cinema-lovers – a day devoted to a classic movie hero and anti-hero in black-and-white, to the guy they called “Julie,” who lived passionately on screen and who died at 39, one of the tragic victims, many feel, of the ’50s Black List.

Friday, Feb. 28

Casablanca poster8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Casablanca” (1942, Michael Curtiz). With Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. Reviewed in FNB on Aug. 25, 2012. Also, TCM is bringing “Casablanca” to theaters for free screenings in 20 select cities on Tuesday, March 4.

Saturday, March 1

12 p.m. (9 a.m.): “On the Waterfront” (1954, Elia Kazan). With Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden and Rod Steiger. Reviewed in FNB on Feb. 20, 2013.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “In the Heat of the Night” (1967, Norman Jewison). With Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger and Lee Grant. Reviewed in FNB on Jan. 16, 2014.

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967, Arthur Penn). With Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman and Estelle Parsons. Reviewed in FNB on Feb. 4, 2013.

Monday, March 3

6:45 a.m. (3:45 a.m.): “The Informer” (1935, John Ford). With Victor McLaglen, Preston Foster and Heather Angel. Reviewed in FNB on Dec. 12, 2012.

Tuesday, March 4

John Garfield Day: See above. Also: “Casablanca” might be showing for free at your local theater (see above).

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