What to see, what to see: TCM Classic Film Fest starts today

The TCM Classic Film Festival is in full swing today and runs through Sunday in Hollywood. “There’s nothing like watching a movie on a screen with a big audience,” said head programmer Charlie Tabesh at yesterday’s press conference. This year’s theme is history and Tabesh added that he is particularly looking forward to the film “1776,” directed by Peter H. Hunt, who will be in attendance along with stars William Daniels and Ken Howard.

Last night, I stopped by the Formosa Café to mingle with fellow scribes. Several people shared my view that it’s tough to decide what to see and to strike a balance between longtime favorites and exciting new discoveries. I know, I know – what a good problem to have!

One thing’s for sure: I will attend the opening party and will see the newly restored film noir “Too Late for Tears” (1949, Byron Haskin), starring Lizabeth Scott, Arthur Kennedy and Dan Duryea.

For now, I will leave you with this shot from one of last year’s poolside screenings at the Hollywood Roosevelt. (Photo courtesy of TCM.) Life is good!

Poolside screenings at the Hollywood Roosevelt are a special treat.

Poolside screenings at the Hollywood Roosevelt are a special treat.

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Miss Crawford would have been pleased … I think

A fun time was had by all Monday night at the Joan Crawford birthday party and screening at Laemmle NoHo 7 in North Hollywood! Thanks to Greg Laemmle and his staff, Warner Archive and Shakar Bakery. And of course everyone who attended!

In case you missed it, here are some vids, pix and a trivia fix.

We showed “Possessed” (1947, Curtis Bernhardt):

and “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” (1962, Robert Aldrich):

Trivia Questions

1. What was Joan’s given name and where was she born?

2. The name Joan Crawford was the second-place winner from a contest held by MGM to rename their new star. The top choice was rejected because it already belonged to another actress. What was it?

3. Joan won the Best Actress Oscar for her 1945 performance in “Mildred Pierce.” That was the only time she won but she was nominated for Best Actress two other times. Name the movies.

4. What did Joan’s professional resume have in common with Bette Davis’s as young women?

5. Joan starred with Clark Gable in eight films. Name the first one.

The Laemmle NoHo 7 at night

The Laemmle NoHo 7 at night

Film Noir Blonde gushing re: JC

Film Noir Blonde gushing re: JC

Rat cake anyone?

Rat cake, anyone?

Eek! Greg Laemmle reacts to the cake, a superb creation by Shakar Bakery. The cake references an unforgettably gross moment in “Baby Jane.”

Eek! Greg Laemmle reacts to the cake, a superb creation by Shakar Bakery. The cake references an unforgettably gross moment in “Baby Jane.”

Trivia Answers

1. Lucille Fay LeSueur, San Antonio, Texas.

2. Joan Arden.

3. “Possessed” 1947 and “Sudden Fear” 1952

4. They were both dancers – Joan was a Broadway showgirl who came to Hollywood to play flappers (“Our Dancing Daughters” 1928 was a breakout film). She was Fred Astaire’s first on-screen dance partner. Bette Davis studied dance with Martha Graham.

5. “Dance, Fools, Dance” 1931. Their last was “Strange Cargo” 1940. Both married, their affair was called: “the affair that nearly burned Hollywood down.”

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‘The Long Goodbye’ is a highlight of Altman at the Aero

On Friday, March 20, the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica will present “The Long Goodbye” (1973, Robert Altman) as part of a weekend tribute to this stellar director. This event is free to all current American Cinematheque members, with regular pricing for non-members. There will be an introduction by Kathryn Altman, who will sign her book Altman in the lobby at 6:30 p.m. The movie is at 7:30 p.m.

The Long Goodbye/1973/United Artists/112 min.

One of the best films of the ’70s or an ugly, boring travesty of a well respected detective novel?

Elliott Gould and Nina Van Pallandt in “The Long Goodbye.”

Decide for yourself as you watch Robert Altman’s 1973 movie of “The Long Goodbye,” by Raymond Chandler. The film, starring Elliott Gould as private investigator Philip Marlowe, divided critics, earning the above-mentioned rave from Time Out and the snooty slam from Leslie Halliwell.

It was primarily Gould’s free-wheeling interpretation of the beloved PI that drew ire. Charles Champlin called him an “untidy, unshaven, semi-literate dimwit slob.”

An entertaining yarn, soaked in ’70s atmosphere, the movie captures the sunny, scruffy, solipsistic mood and look of Malibu, Calif., at the start of the Me Decade. Marlowe’s next door neighbors, for example, are pot-brownie-baking, clothing-optional candlemakers. We only see them from a distance but in a way they are timeless party girls, a ’70s version of “The Girls Next Door.”

And “The Long Goodbye” stretches the vocabulary of film noir. As Foster Hirsch, author of “Detours and Lost Highways: A Map of Neo Noir,” writes: “For all its self-indulgence and contradiction – the film both satirizes and seeks acceptance as a cool, contemporary L.A. mystery story – Altman’s ‘new age’ noir suggested the genre’s elasticity at a time when it was considered passé. Produced before nouveau noir had taken root, ‘The Long Goodbye’ anticipates the full-force genre revival of the 1980s and 1990s.”

We meet Marlowe late one night as he’s trying to round up food for his hungry cat (Morris the Cat in the role that launched him to stardom). The story spices up when Marlowe’s friend Terry Lennox (Jim Bouton) asks him, after a marital spat, to drive him to Tijuana.

Marlowe doesn’t have much else going on (besides cat care, of course) and so they make the trip; Marlowe heads back on his own to find that Lennox’s wife is dead. The police press Marlowe for info on Terry’s whereabouts, hoping that a little jail time will jog his memory (David Carradine plays Marlowe’s cellmate). They ease up after Terry Lennox commits suicide, having first written a letter confessing to the murder.

Marlowe’s not buying the suicide, but turns his attention to a new client. The sun-kissed and sophisticated Eileen Wade (Nina van Pallandt) wants Marlowe to find her missing hubby Roger Wade, a boozy writer, (played by the wonderful Sterling Hayden, a veteran of film noirs like “Asphalt Jungle” and “The Killing”).

Searching for Roger isn’t all that challenging, but Marlowe has his hands full with a visit from psychopathic gangster Marty Augustine (director Mark Rydell) and his hoods (including young Arnold Schwarzenegger). They’re sniffing around for a load of cash that Terry Lennox was supposed to deliver to Mexico. Surprise, surprise, the cash never made it. So the surly, anti-social Marlowe plods on toward the truth, trying not to get any sand on the shag carpets. [Read more...]

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Feast your eyes: TCMFF, Noir City and COLCOA

Over the next several weeks, there will be lots to see on the big screen in Los Angeles.

First, the TCM Classic Film Festival runs March 26-29 in Hollywood. This year’s theme is history as portrayed by Hollywood. Noir treats include: “Too Late for Tears,” “Nightmare Alley” and “Psycho.” More info is here.

The festival takes place at various venues in Hollywood.

Ride the Pink Horse posterTickets are now on sale for Noir City Hollywood. The 17th annual edition of the fest runs April 3-19 at the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre. There’s so much noir goodness – oops, I mean badness – to choose from. I am particularly looking forward to the Humphrey Bogart programming as well as the Dorothy B. Hughes double feature: “Ride the Pink Horse” and “The Fallen Sparrow.” Criterion just released “Ride the Pink Horse” on Blu-ray and DVD, which is great, but I can’t wait to see this at the Egyptian.

The Egyptian Theater is at 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90028.

Mais oui! The always-outstanding City of Angels City of Lights (COLCOA) festival runs April 20-28. “The Soft Skin” restored? I’m in! Check the web site for more info starting March 31. This is a first-rate festival and should not be missed!

The COLCOA festival is held at the Directors Guild of America, 7920 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, 90046.

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Laura Linney plays Patricia Highsmith, Rendez-Vous with French Cinema opens at the Crest Theater in Westwood

Laura Linney

Laura Linney plays the role of crime writer Patricia Highsmith in the new stage drama “Switzerland,” by Joanna Murray-Smith, at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood. The play opens Friday and runs through April 19.

Highsmith (1921-1995), a Texas-born novelist and short-story writer, was much admired in Europe and is considered part of the Existentialist tradition started by Dostoyevsky, Conrad, Kafka and Camus. Alfred Hitchcock’s 1951 film adaptation of her novel, “Strangers on a Train,” which she published in 1950, put her career on the fast track.

In the play, Highsmith is near the end of her life and residing in the Swiss Alps. A visit from a young American man (played by Seth Numrich) sets the drama in motion.

“There’s something sort of exotic about [doing theater in Los Angeles],” Linney told the LA Times.

The Geffen Playhouse is at 10886 Le Conte Ave. in Westwood.

Also starting Friday in Westwood: The Crest Theater, in association with Emerging Pictures, will present the 20th annual Rendez-Vous with French Cinema – a first-time look at some of France’s most exciting modern cinema. Rendez-Vous runs through March 19.

The Crest Theater is 1262 Westwood Blvd.

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Celebrate Joan Crawford’s birthday at Laemmle’s NoHo 7

See “Possessed” & “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” on the big screen!

Laemmle NoHo7 - 140Laemmle Theatres and Film Noir Blonde are pleased to present a double feature on Monday, March 23, at Laemmle’s NoHo 7, to mark Joan Crawford’s birthday.

A gifted actress and the ultimate movie star, Joan Crawford found that by the mid-1940s, her career had stalled. She restarted it with the help of film noir, namely 1945’s “Mildred Pierce,” by director Michael Curtiz, for which she won the Best Actress Oscar. Whether she played a tough broad or a lady in distress, Crawford was especially well suited for the genre’s expressionistic intensity. She starred in many film-noir titles between 1945 and 1962.

Possessed movie poster -- 140What Ever Happened to Baby Jane poster - SmallerOn Monday, March 23, Laemmle’s NoHo 7 will pay tribute to her legacy with a special double bill from Warner Bros.: “Possessed” (1947, Curtis Bernhardt) and “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” (1962, Robert Aldrich).

The program will start at 7:30 p.m., with “Possessed” and “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” at 9:55. Tickets are $11 each, $15 for the double feature.

There will be a special birthday cake for Ms. Crawford’s fans and Warner Bros. Archive will provide select prizes. Laemmle’s NoHo 7 is at 5240 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601, 818-762-4600. Laemmle’s main number is 310-478-3836.

Film Noir Blonde

Film Noir Blonde

Joining the party will be Jacqueline Fitzgerald, founder and editor of FilmNoirBlonde.com. Fitzgerald will introduce the movies.

In “Possessed” (also starring Van Heflin and Raymond Massey) Crawford gives a memorable performance as a woman who can’t get over a bad relationship. In “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” she is Blanche Hudson, a once-glamorous Hollywood actress who lives with her demented sister (Bette Davis), a former child star.

Full reviews are available here:

“Possessed” http://bit.ly/1saxBHV

“Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” http://bit.ly/1z7ctQ7


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Celebrate Women in Film Noir: Saturday at the Durant Library

Patricia Highsmith

Patricia Highsmith

Did you know:

* A woman named Czenzi Ormonde co-wrote the script for “Strangers on a Train” (1951, Alfred Hitchcock). The film was based on Patricia Highsmith’s first novel, published in 1950.

* In the early days of Hollywood, film editors, or cutters as they were known, were mostly women. The job was considered menial labor and on-screen credit was rare.

* In a Lonely Place” (1950, Nicholas Ray) was the third movie based on a novel by Dorothy B. Hughes. The others were: “The Fallen Sparrow,” (1943, Richard Wallace) and “Ride the Pink Horse,” (1947, Robert Montgomery).

Come out and learn more at 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 7, at the Will & Durant Library in Hollywood. I will be talking about women’s contributions to film noir in honor of Women’s History Month. The Durant Library will be showing films on March 9, 16, 23. See my post from Feb. 24 (below) for more details.

The Durant Library is at 7140 W. Sunset Blvd. (one block west of La Brea), Los Angeles, CA 90046, 323-876-2741.

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Film Noir Blonde, Durant Library celebrate Women in Film Noir

I am very pleased to announce that I have programmed a series for the Will & Ariel Durant Library in Hollywood called Women in Film Noir. The series runs in March to honor Women’s History Month. We are highlighting women’s contribution to the genre at a time when there were many barriers to working outside the home.

Ida Lupino juggled work and family. Shown: Ida with her husband Howard Duff and daughter Bridget.

Ida Lupino juggled work and family. Shown: Ida with her husband Howard Duff and their daughter, Bridget, who was born in 1952.

The library will screen five films, starting March 2.

I will be giving a talk at the library at 1 p.m.  Saturday, March 7. The opening night double feature is a spotlight on Ida Lupino, actress, director, writer and producer.

5 p.m. March 2: “On Dangerous Ground” (1951, 82 min.): Ida Lupino plays a blind country girl who lives with her brother. She meets a psychologically scarred cop (Robert Ryan) when her brother becomes a suspect in a murder. With a taut script by A. I. Bezzerides (“Kiss Me Deadly”) and moody, poetic direction from Nicholas Ray, “On Dangerous Ground” is an unforgettable film noir.

Nightmare Alley poster 214The Hitch-Hiker” (1953, 71 min.): 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.”

5 p.m. March 9: “Nightmare Alley” (1947, 110 min.) A film noir set in the seedy world of a carnival, “Nightmare Alley” tracks an ambitious performer (Tyrone Power) as he pursues a better life. Crucial to his rise and fall are three women: Joan Blondell, Coleen Gray and Helen Walker. Unusual for time, Walker plays an upper-class working woman who is not a teacher, nurse or secretary.

Based on William Lindsay Gresham’s novel and directed by Edmund Goulding, “Nightmare Alley” is unusually cerebral and rich with subtext. Also unusual for that time: Barbara McLean served as editor – by 1947, many women had been pushed out of film editing jobs, despite the fact that in the early days of the industry they dominated that function.

In a Lonely Place poster5 p.m. March 16:  “Strangers on a Train” (1951, 101 min.) With standout performances from Robert Walker and Farley Granger, “Strangers” stands as an excellent example of Alfred Hitchcock’s subversive casting. The film is based on the novel of the same name by master of suspense Patricia Highsmith. Czenzi Ormonde (aka Gladys Lucille Snell) co-wrote the script with Raymond Chandler. Pat Hitchcock plays a small but memorable part.

5 p.m. 23: In a Lonely Place” (1950, 94 min.) Based on a novel by Dorothy B. Hughes, “In a Lonely Place” tells the story of a screenwriter (Humphrey Bogart) and an actress (Gloria Grahame) who live in the same Hollywood apartment building and fall in love. All is not well, however, when it seems the writer might also be a deranged killer. Masterfully directed by Nicholas Ray and edited by Viola Lawrence, sometimes called “Hollywood’s first lady film cutter.”

The Durant Library is at 7140 W. Sunset Blvd. (one block west of La Brea), Los Angeles, CA 90046, 323-876-2741.

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Skirball Cultural Center screens ‘Cinema’s Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood’

The exhibitions close on Sunday, March 1.

The exhibitions close on Sunday, March 1.

Time flies, that’s for sure. The Skirball Cultural Center’s superb exhibitions Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950 and The Noir Effect, which began last October, will close Sunday, March 1.

The closing day (March 1) is an ideal opportunity to head up to the Skirball. That way you can see “Cinema’s Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood,” a 2009 PBS documentary about members of the German film industry who left Europe and re-created their careers in Los Angeles, forever changing the way American movies were made. More than 800 filmmakers fled the Nazis; some found great success in the U.S., but others were less fortunate. Sigourney Weaver narrates the movie.

Film excerpts include: “The Bride of Frankenstein,” “Fury,” “Ninotchka,” “To Be or Not To Be,” “Casablanca,” “The Wolf Man,” “Double Indemnity,” “Phantom Lady,” “Sunset Blvd.,” “High Noon,” “The Big Heat” and “Some Like It Hot.” Also covered will be classics of early German cinema, including “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” “Metropolis,” “The Blue Angel” and “M.”

Additionally, “Cinema’s Exiles” features behind-the-scenes archival footage of director Fritz Lang in Germany and Marlene Dietrich’s “Blue Angel” screen test as well as home-movie footage and photographs. Eyewitness accounts of this era are provided by screen actress Lupita Kohner, author Peter Viertel and (via archive statements) Lang, Billy Wilder and Fred Zinnemann, among others.

“Cinema’s Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood” (90 min.) will start at 11 a.m. Sunday. It is free with museum admission. Museum tickets are available at the door.

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Movie lessons on sex, death and being Jewish

By Michael Miller

Who hasn’t left a movie theater carrying the aura of the characters who have leaped from the big screen to leave their imprint on the audience, just as the taste of a fine entrecote steak lingers on the palate long after the last morsel has been savored?

Tara Ison

Tara Ison

This feeling of being a participant in what she has seen, rather than an observer, has had a profound effect on author Tara Ison. In her insightful new book she analyzes how movies have influenced different aspects of her life, including sex, death and being Jewish.

In “Reeling Through Life: How I Learned to Live, Love and Die at the Movies” (Soft Skull Press. $15.95 soft cover), Ison delves into her inner-self in a series of “How to…” essays such as “How to be Lolita,”  “How to Die with Style” and “How to be a Jew.”

Ison’s first Lolita-ish movie experience came at the tender age of six when her parents  took her to see “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” in which one of Miss Brodie’s pupils, 17-year-old Sandy, played by Pamela Franklin, is seduced by art teacher Teddy Lloyd (Robert Stephens).

Later, when Ison herself is 17 and yearning to be seduced, she revisits the scene in which Sandy taunts her lover, saying, “How much longer are you going to be tempted by this firm young flesh?” Replies Teddy, “Until you’re 18 and over the hill.”

The words haunt her as she watches 13-year-old Lolita, played by Sue Lyon in the film of the same name, having her sex with the nymphet-fixated much older Humbert (James Mason). Ison realizes that the days of her “firm young flesh” falling to the temptations of seduction are numbered. “What am I? I am seventeen now, and I have only just, at last, gotten my first period. Hello, womanhood,” she bemoans.

But fear not, dear reader, sex is just a few chapters away. In “How to be a Slut,” our heroine relates how she not only blossomed as a promiscuous lover, but did so with both men and women. By her mid-twenties, “I am having delightful or tortured affairs, thrilling sex, falling in lust all over the place.”

The film “Lolita” reminded Tara Ison that youth passes quickly.

The film “Lolita” reminded Tara Ison that youth passes quickly.

Later she falls in love with her best girlfriend and, in an effort to learn “How to be a Lesbian,” starts watching “dreadful movies” that “show lesbian sex in the blandest, most boring way possible.” “Thankfully I go on to sleep with a lot of other women and erase those tepid or faux-lesbian images from my mind forever,” she writes.

Born to a Lutheran father and Jewish mother in Los Angeles, Ison says religion was never a factor in her early childhood. In fact, she was hardly aware of being a Jew – until she was seven and was taken to see the movie version of “Fiddler on the Roof,” starring Topol as the Russian Jewish peasant Tevye, a poor milkman who dreams of being rich one day.

She recalls not so much watching the film, set in the 1890s, but injecting herself into it as one of Tevye’s daughters, delighting in the life of a poor but happy Jewish family. “Our Jewishness is made luminous with candles and copper kettles and fresh milk. We glow with our Jewishness. I became a Jew when I was seven.”

Ison’s introduction to death came at the age of six. In a movie, naturally. It was “Love Story,” the tale of two young lovers, played by Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw, in which MacGraw’s character dies a slow but painless death due to a mystery illness. Then, three years later, death becomes personal when a close friend of the family dies painfully of cancer at the age of 34, and Ison remembers the line from “Love Story,” “A girl like that, so alive, so entitled to live.”

REELING bookIson felt death’s breath herself in her early twenties when she suffered a grand mal seizure and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She immediately set about planning her death with dignity, planning to go out like Maude, played by Ruth Gordon, in “Harold and Maude” who secretly takes an overdose of pills to hasten her death and is last seen being happily wheeled off on a hospital gurney, twirling a daisy.

“If I can orchestrate the circumstances of my death, then of course I can be all ready,” writes Ison. “I can meet it beautifully and finely. For months I had been feeling I had a life without the living; now I can have the death without the dying.”

It turned out, however, that Ison did not have a brain tumor, merely a benign cyst. Now she is left to wonder again what death has in store for her. “Will I have lived a life that makes me ready to meet death beautifully and finely? Or will I fight to the last, try to barricade that door, claim every last second, last breath, last beat of my heart before it is the end of the thing that is me, and the thing that is me disappears for ever?”

Tara Ison is the author of the novels “The List,” “A Child Out of Alcatraz,” a Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and “Rockaway,” selected as a 2013 Best Books of Summer by O Magazine. She is also co-writer of the cult film, “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead.”

Michael Miller is a Los Angeles-based writer.

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