The Film Noir File: Jane Fonda is a high-class hooker in distress in neo-noir classic ‘Klute’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

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

Pick of the Week

Klute posterKlute (1971, Alan Pakula).12:15 a.m. (9:15 p.m.). Friday, Aug. 1. With Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, Roy Scheider and Jean Stapleton. Reviewed in FNB on Dec. 26, 2013. Part of Jane Fonda Day and preceded at 11 p.m. (8 p.m.) by the broadcast of “AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to Jane Fonda” (2014).

Sunday, August 3

2:15 a.m. (11:15 p.m.) “Advise & Consent” (1962, Otto Preminger). With Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton, Don Murray, Walter Pidgeon, Peter Lawford and Gene Tierney. Reviewed in FNB on Dec. 4, 2013.

Tuesday, August 5: Barbara Stanwyck Day

12:45 p.m. (9:45 a.m.): “Lady of Burlesque” (1943, William Wellman). With Barbara Stanwyck, Michael O’Shea and Pinky Lee. Reviewed in FNB on Dec. 12, 2012.

2:30 p.m. (11:30 a.m.). “The Two Mrs. Carrolls” (1947, Peter Godfrey). With Humphrey Bogart, Barbara Stanwyck and Alexis Smith. Reviewed in FNB on June 27, 2012.

Ball of Fire poster8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Ball of Fire” (1941, Howard Hawks). Hawks and ace writing team Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett’s sparkling gangster romantic comedy, with Missy Stanwyck as a red hot jazz mama (in Gene Krupa’s swing band, no less). Dana Andrews as her mobster boyfriend, and Gary Cooper as the shy encyclopedia writer/editor who comes between them. Also around for the riffs: Henry Travers, S. Z. Sakall and Dan Duryea.

Wednesday, August 6: Paul Muni Day

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang” (Mervyn LeRoy, 1932). The scorching fact-based Warners social protest drama, based on Robert E. Burns’ autobiographical depiction of an innocent man (Paul Muni as Burns) wrongly condemned to life on a Georgia chain gang. A powerhouse of a movie that has never lost its punch. With Glenda Farrell, Preston Foster and Allen Jenkins.

9:30 p.m. (6:30 p.m.): “Scarface” (1932, Howard Hawks). With Paul Muni, George Raft, Ann Dvorak and Boris Karloff. Reviewed in FNB on July 17, 2014.

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‘A Most Wanted Man’ ranks as one of the year’s best movies

A Most Wanted Man posterA Most Wanted Man/2014/Demarest Films/122 min.

Shocking violence has become so yawningly common, so eye-rollingly banal that its flippant depiction onscreen is often just par for the course.

But once in a while you see a movie that derives its tension not from a pool of trigger-happy cardboard psychos and their brutal pursuers but from white-hot sparks that fly between finely drawn flesh-and-blood characters; people with depth and dimension, with vital things at stake.  That’s the case with “A Most Wanted Man,” a sharp, suspenseful thriller (based on a John le Carré novel) by director Anton Corbijn.

Corbijn has assembled outstanding actors at the top of their game to bring this story to life. The story and the film belong to the late Philip Seymour Hoffman (1967-2014) as Günther Bachmann, a driven workaholic in a German government security/anti-terrorist agency in Hamburg.

His job is keeping surreptitious watch over a mysterious half-Chechen, half-Russian Islamic immigrant Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), who learns he is the potential heir to a fortune, assuming his claim to the money can be verified. In Günther’s mind, Karpov is a “minnow” in the larger quest to capture “a barracuda and a shark.”

Hoffman plays Günther with arresting realism. We see the dirt under Günther’s nails, hear the raspy voice that’s endured countless smokes and copious Scotch, see the hint of a pleased smile at the culmination of his search. Hoffman is mesmerizing.

Also turning in captivating performances are: Rachel McAdams as Karpov’s lawyer, Willem Dafoe as an uptight banker, Robin Wright as a CIA agent and Nina Hoss as Günther’s colleague.

Corbijn’s carefully rendered  mise-en-scène shows Hamburg, often shot against inky-blank nightscapes by Benoît Delhomme, as glossy and gritty, bustling and lonely. Herbert Grönemeyer provides a haunting score. Where Corbijn missteps is pacing what turns out to be a rather spare plot – the story idles a bit in the third act.

That’s a small flaw, however. Well crafted and superbly acted, “A Most Wanted Man” stands as one of the best films of 2014.

‘A Most Wanted Man’ is currently in theaters.

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The Film Noir File: ‘Out of the Past,’ newly out on Blu-ray, hits TCM on Thursday

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

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

Pick of the Week:

 Robert Mitchum falls hard for Jane Greer and, baby, he doesn’t care.


Robert Mitchum falls hard for Jane Greer and, baby, he doesn’t care.

Out of the Past” (1947, Jacques Tourneur). 2 a.m. (11 p.m.). Thursday, July 24. With Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas. Reviewed in FNB on Dec. 12, 2010. (See Tourneur‘s “Cat People” below, on Sunday.)

Wednesday July 23

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Bullitt” (1968, Peter Yates). With Steve McQueen, Jacqueline Bisset, Robert Vaughn and Robert Duvall. Reviewed in FNB on Oct. 27, 2012.

10:15 p.m. (7:15 p.m.): “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (1948, John Huston). With Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt, Alfonso Bedoya and Bruce Bennett. Reviewed in FNB on Nov. 31, 2012.

12:30 a.m. (9:30 p.m.): “Belle de Jour” (1967, Luis Bunuel). With Catherine Deneuve, Michel Piccoli, Jean Sorel and Genevieve Page. Reviewed in FNB on Aug. 8, 2013.

2:15 a.m. (11:15 p.m.): “Blowup” (1966: Michelangelo Antonioni). With David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles and The Yardbirds. Reviewed in FNB on June 19, 2014.


Thursday, July 24

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “Out of the Past” See Pick of the Week.

Metropolis posterSaturday, July 26

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Metropolis” (1927, Fritz Lang). With Brigitte Helm, Rudolf Klein-Rogge and Alfred Abel. Reviewed in FNB on May 29, 2014.

2:15 a.m. (11:15 p.m.): “Spider Baby” (1964, Jack Hill). An insane, incestuous, greed-crazed Southern family runs amok in a dilapidated, decaying mansion. One of the wildest and campiest of all the ’60s low-budget horror quickie noirs, with a plot that makes “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” look like “The Song of Bernadette.” Lon Chaney Jr., Sid Haig and Quinn K. Redeker costar.

Sunday, July 27

12:15 p.m. (9:15 a.m.): “The Ladykillers” (1955, Alexander Mackendrick) With Alec Guinness, Katie Johnson, Peter Sellers and Herbert Lom. Reviewed in FNB on July 31, 2013.

2 p.m. (11 a.m.): “Blackboard Jungle” (1955, Richard Brooks.) With Glenn Ford, Sidney Poitier, Anne Francis, and Vic Morrow. Reviewed in FNB on Apr. 18, 2013. In Memoriam: Paul Mazursky.

4 p.m. (1 p.m.): “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955, Nicholas Ray). With James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, Dennis Hopper and Jim Backus. Reviewed in FNB on Apr. 18, 2013.

Cat People poster8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Cat People” (1942, Jacques Tourneur). Subtle, moody, gently chilling, this low-budget RKO supernatural noir, about a foreign émigré (Simone Simon) – whose soul is coveted by a coven of cat people – is a poetic suspense movie in which the horrors are suggested rather than shown. It was the first of the legendary Val Lewton-produced literate fright classics. Scripted by DeWitt Bodeen; with Kent Smith and Tom Conway.

9:30 p.m. (6:30 p.m.): “The Curse of the Cat People” (1944, Robert Wise & Gunther von Fritsch). Producer Val Lewton’s sequel to the classic “Cat People,” with the spirit of the first film’s beautiful feline victim Simone Simon returning to bedazzle the child of her bereaved ex-husband (Kent Smith). Robert Wise’s directorial debut, and a good one. (Followed at 10:45 p.m. (7:45 p.m.), by the documentary “Martin Scorsese presents Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows.”)

12:15 a.m. (9:15 p.m.): “Pandora’s Box” (1928, G. W. Pabst). With Louise Brooks, Fritz Rasp and Francis (Franz) Lederer. (Silent German Movie with music score.) Reviewed in FNB on Nov. 3, 2012.

2:45 a.m. (11:45 p.m.): “La Haine” (1995, Mathieu Kassovitz). Stylish, stark and violent black-and white drama of French juvenile delinquency in Paris and its suburban banlieues. With Vincent Cassel, Hubert Kounde and Said Taghmaoui. (In French with subtitles.)

Wednesday, July 30

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Detective Story” (1951, William Wyler). With Kirk Douglas, Eleanor Parker, William Bendix and Lee Grant. Reviewed in FNB on June 20, 2013.

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On the radar: James Garner remembered; Grace Kelly set released; ‘Gun Crazy’ and ‘The Lineup’ on the big screen

RIP James Garner: April 7, 1928 – July 19, 2014.

RIP James Garner: April 7, 1928 – July 19, 2014.

Who didn’t love hunky James Garner? The plain-talking, straight-shooting Oklahoma boy was best known for his roles as TV’s wry Western gambler Bret Maverick and as private eye Jim Rockford on the 1970s show “The Rockford Files.” Garner died in Los Angeles on Saturday, July 19. He was 86. TCM remembers Garner on July 28 with an all-day marathon, including 1969’s “Marlowe.” Click here to see TCM’s tribute video.

The Grace Kelly Collection box setWarner Bros. has released a divine Grace Kelly box set.  The collection includes six of  Kelly’s most popular films brought together for the first time on DVD: “Mogambo” (1953, John Ford), “Dial M for Murder” (1954, Alfred Hitchcock), “The Country Girl” (1954, George Seaton), for which she won the Best Actress Oscar, “The Bridges at Toko-Ri” (1954, Mark Robson), “To Catch a Thief” (1955, Alfred Hitchcock) and “High Society” (1956, Charles Walters).

Essential viewing for any sultry blonde or princess-type. It’s easy to dismiss Kelly as a pretty, privileged face but she was, in fact, a fine actress and a bold woman, especially in “Dial M” where she fights off her attacker.

Don’t get too excited about the special-feature interview with Pierre Salinger, conducted in 1982, just months before she died. Salinger shows a knack for asking inane questions and, though the still-lovely Kelly makes the best of it, the result is very dull viewing indeed.

The Alex Theatre in Glendale will show a “car-crazy” film noir double feature on Saturday night: “Gun Crazy” (1950, Joseph H. Lewis) and “The Lineup” (1958, Don Siegel). You can read more here.

The Film Noir Foundation’s Alan K. Rode will introduce the films.

 

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The Film Noir File: ‘Scarface’ times two makes for a gangster classic knockout

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

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

Pick of the Week:
The Two “Scarfaces“

Scarface poster 1932

The first “Scarface” came out in 1932: a ferociously violent and bloodily realistic contemporary gangster tale directed by Howard Hawks, produced by Howard Hughes, and co-scripted by Ben Hecht, W. R. Burnett and several others. Set in Chicago and loosely based on the vicious career of the country’s most famous Prohibition era mob czar, Alphonse “Al” Capone of Chicago. It starred Paul Muni as the sexy, ape-like, gun-crazy Capone protagonist, Tony Camonte, George Raft as his poker-faced, coin-flipping sidekick, Ann Dvorak as his seductive (and the object of his obsession), Karen Morley as his cynical blonde girlfriend, and Osgood Perkins (Tony’s dad) and Boris Karloff as two of the crooks he slaughters in his murderous rise to the top.

One of Hawks’ best, and one of the director’s own personal favorites, the 1932 “Scarface” was stark, brutal, tense, darkly comic, knowingly written (by ex-Chicago reporter Hecht), beautifully, stylishly and excitingly made (a visual “X” marked the spot of each of Tony’s killings) and one of the great crime films of its era. That was the time, of course, that included William Wellman‘s “The Public Enemy” with James Cagney and Mervyn LeRoy‘s “Little Caesar,” with Edward G. Robinson. Nevertheless, the Hawks-Hecht-Hughes-Muni “Scarface” — in which Hecht deliberately modeled the main characters on Renaissance Italy’s murderous Borgia family — is the masterpiece of them all.

Scarface poster 1983

The second “Scarface” was released in 1983. Rethinking the story and resetting it to the equally violent Miami drug trade and the a criminal’s odyssey from Cuba in the post-Kennedy era, it starred Al Pacino (at his most magnetic and over-the-top as the now Havana-born Tony, Steven Bauer as his gun-packing buddy, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as his perversely adored sister, Michelle Pfeiffer as his gorgeous blonde main squeeze, and, among other drug trade mobsters, F. Murray Abraham, Harris Yulin and Robert Loggia. A cult film and a big favorite of actual gang guys, it was dedicated to Hawks and Hecht by writer Oliver Stone and Director Brian De Palma. Like the other, older “Scarface,” it both rivets you to you seat and knocks you out if it. Both movies are killers, but I’d give the edge to the first.

Scarface” (1932, Howard Hawks). 12 a.m. (9 p.m.). Thursday, July 17.

Scarface” (1983, Brian De Palma). 11 p.m. (2 a.m.). Thursday, July 17. [Read more...]

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The Film Noir File: Greene, Reed make a great ‘Third Man’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

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

Pick of the Week:
Two by Graham Greene and Carol Reed

One of the greatest of all British novelists (Graham Greene) and one of England’s finest film directors (Carol Reed) teamed up for a nonpareil collaboration that produced a classic drama about boyhood, infidelity and murder, “The Fallen Idol” and the Viennese-set postwar thriller that many critics feel is the best of all British films, “The Third Man.” You can catch them both today.

Alida Valli and Joseph Cotten star in "The Third Man."

Alida Valli and Joseph Cotten star in “The Third Man.”

The Third Man” (1949, Carol Reed). 2 p.m. (11 a.m.). Sunday, June 29. With Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Alida Valli and Trevor Howard. Read the full review here.

The Fallen Idol” (1948, Carol Reed). 10 p.m. (7 p.m.), Sunday, June 29. With Ralph Richardson, Michele Morgan, Bobby Henrey and Jack Hawkins. Reviewed in FNB on Sept. 28, 2012.

Monday, June 30

9 a.m. (6 a.m.): “Deadline at Dawn” (1946, Harold Clurman). With Susan Hayward, Paul Lukas and Bill Williams. Reviewed in FNB on June 25, 2013 and Oct. 13, 2012.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Pawnbroker” (1964, Sidney Lumet). Scorching drama about a Jewish Holocaust survivor (Rod Steiger) who runs a pawn shop in Harlem, and is haunted and bedeviled by memories of the death camps, while also subject to the hell of everyday life in the modern black New York City ghetto. With Geraldine Fitzgerald, Brock Peters, Jaime Sanchez, Raymond St. Jacques, and the fantastic Juano Hernandez as the old man who wants to talk. From the novel by Edward Lewis Wallant. Searingly photographed in black and white by Boris Kaufman; with a music score by Quincy Jones.

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “In the Heat of the Night” (1967, Norman Jewison). With Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Warren Oates, Lee Grant and Scott Wilson. Reviewed in FNB on Jan. 16, 2014.

The Italian Job poster4:15 a.m. (1:15 a.m.): “The Italian Job” (1969, Peter Collinson). Michael Caine, at his most playful, is at the wheel one of the most elaborate – and stylized and stylish – of all the neo-noir heist thrillers. Caine is an ex-con who literally shuts down Turin, Italy to steal a truckload of gold with the aid of computers, a huge gang and three red, white and blue Mini-Coopers. The supporting cast includes Noel Coward (yes, that Noel Coward), Raf Vallone, Benny Hill (yes, that Benny Hill) and Rossano Brazzi. The final heist and chase sequence is a real doozy, one of the most memorably over-the-top of all ’60s action set-pieces. The script is by cult writer Troy Kennedy Martin; the cinematographer is the peerless Douglas Slocombe.

Wednesday, July 2

5:30 a.m. (2:30 a.m.): “The Fallen Sparrow” (1943, Richard Wallace). With John Garfield, Maureen O’Hara and Walter Slezak. Reviewed in FNB on June 27, 2012.

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‘Whitey’ documentary asks how Boston’s most famous mob boss got away with so much murder and mayhem

Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger/2014/CNN Films/107 min.

Whitey posterTrue-crime aficionado and award-winning documentary director Joe Berlinger says he’s always felt he had a civic duty to point out flaws in the criminal justice system. His latest film, “Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger,” looks at the reign of Boston’s most notorious and nefarious mob criminal and probes his ties with federal law-enforcement agencies. In telling Bulger’s sordid yet riveting story, Berlinger makes a case that there was widespread corruption at the FBI and the Department of Justice.

During his decades-long career, James “Whitey” Bulger, 84, became world famous. His irresistible narrative has spawned a cottage industry of books and films, says Berlinger. Johnny Depp is playing Bulger in the upcoming film “Black Mass” and in 2006’s “The Departed,Jack Nicholson portrayed a character that was partially based on Bulger.

When Bulger went to trial in June 2013 (after being arrested in June 2011 in Santa Monica), Berlinger says he saw an opportunity, as a filmmaker, to separate the man from the myth. “You have a guy who ruled Boston’s criminal underworld for 25 years and wasn’t even stopped for a traffic ticket. Finally the Massachusetts State Police said enough was enough and started forcing an investigation. … The FBI tips off Bulger and he goes on the lam for 16 years. Frankly, I thought he would never be caught.”

For his lifetime of crime, Bulger is serving two consecutive life terms plus five years at a facility in Tucson, Ariz. He was found to have been involved in 11 murders.

In the moral code of the Irish mafia, however, there was a worse offense than taking a life and that was to be a “rat” or an informant to law enforcement. In Berlinger’s film, we meet insiders on both sides of the law, many of whom speculate on whether Bulger committed the gangster’s ultimate betrayal. Berlinger’s take? “I think Bulger was never officially an informant in the truest sense of the word, but there was a relationship there where he was passing some information. The truth was in the middle.”

The film argues, sometimes eloquently and other times a bit heavy-handedly, that government corruption paved the way for the gruesome work of a vicious criminal, often showing us survivors who were left to pick up the pieces in the wake of brutal violence.

As for isolating the man from the myth, there was one interview subject rich with dramatic irony who does not appear in the film. Whitey Bulger is the brother of former President of the Massachusetts Senate, Billy Bulger. Unfortunately, Billy is not on camera.

But who knows? Maybe Johnny Depp will give him a cameo.

“Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger” opens Friday in New York and July 11 in LA.

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The Film Noir File: A Day with Fritz Lang, Der Noirmeister

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: Friday, May 30: A Day of Noir with Fritz Lang

Fritz Lang lived in a world of nightmares: in 20th century Germany during World War I, the economic collapse of the Weimar Republic, the turbulent sturm und drang of the 1930s, the murderous rise of the Nazis and the subsequent conflagration of WWII.

Lang created cinematic nightmares as well: crafting terrifying frescoes and mad (but sometimes all too true) visions of a world of crime and war. His movies, mostly done in the ultra-noir hues of high-style black and white cinematography, spanned the silent era, when he made “Metropolis,” “Die Nibelungen” and the “Dr. Mabuse” thrillers, and the sound era, when he made “M,” “Fury,” “Scarlet Street” and “The Big Heat.”

Fritz Lang was a noir master.

Fritz Lang was a noir master.

Lang, who started his artistic career as a sculptor, was equally great as a director of German art films and of American crime movies. He made cinematic classics in both countries. His early collaborator, and also his wife, was the brilliant scriptwriter Thea Von HarbouM”), who ended up leaving him and joining the Nazi Party.

Lang managed to elude Fascist censorship and was once offered the leadership of the entire German film industry by Joseph Goebbels, who (like Hitler) was an admirer of Lang and Von Harbou’s spectacular science fiction epic “Metropolis.” (See below.) A leftist and anti-Nazi, and also a man who had Jewish relatives, Lang fled Germany and Europe instead, and wound up one of the top directors of the Hollywood studio system during its heyday. He was also, indisputably, one of the reigning masters of the movie style we call film noir.

Young French critic-directors (Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol) idolized Lang, as much for his American films as his German ones. Finally, in the mid-1950s, he returned to Germany. He made a last few German pictures, and co-starred, as himself. in Jean-Luc Godard’s French classic ”Contempt.”

Fritz Lang, born in Vienna in 1890,  died in Los Angeles in 1976, at age 85. Eight of his best pictures are screening on TCM this Friday.

(The Lang films without notes below have been reviewed previously in Film Noir Blonde. Next week, starting Thursday, seven Lang films will play on the big screen at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica.)

“Scarlet Street” (1945) stars Edward G. Robinson and Joan Bennett.

“Scarlet Street” (1945) stars Edward G. Robinson (center) and Joan Bennett.

6 a.m. (3 a.m.): “Metropolis” (1927, Fritz Lang). The rich vs. the poor, the factory owners vs. the workers, and the mad scientist vs. the people and their heroine (Brigitte Helm as the human Maria and her double, the false robot Maria) in the greatest of all silent era science fiction epics. And it’s noir as well. With  Alfred Abel and Rudolf-Klein-Rogge).

7:30 a.m. (4:30 a.m.): “M” (1931). With Peter Lorre, Otto Wernicke and Gustaf Grundgens.

9:15 a.m. (6:15 a.m.): “Fury” (1936). Spencer Tracy, Sylvia Sidney, Bruce Cabot, Walter Brennan and Walter Abel.

11 a.m. (8 a.m.). “Scarlet Street” (1945). With Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea.

1 p.m. (10 a.m.). “Clash by Night” (1952). With Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Ryan, Paul Douglas and Marilyn Monroe.

3 p.m. (12 p.m.). “The Blue Gardenia” (1953). With Anne Baxter, Richard Conte, Raymond Burr, Ann Sothern and Nat King Cole.

4:45 p.m. (1:45 p.m.). “Moonfleet” (1955). A moody Robert Louis Stevenson-style costume adventure-romance, about a dashing pirate (Stewart Granger) who wins the hearts of a young lad (Jon Whiteley) and several beautiful and susceptible ladies (Viveca Lindfors, Joan Greenwood). Based on a bodice-heaving bestseller, with supporting turns by George Sanders and Ian Wolfe. They especially loved this one in “Cahiers du Cinema.”

6:15 p.m. (3:15 p.m.). “”While the City Sleeps” (1956). With Dana Andrews, Ida Lupino, George Sanders, Thomas Mitchell, Vincent Price, Howard Duff, Rhonda Fleming and John Drew Barrymore. [Read more...]

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‘Red Rock West’ still rocks, 21 years later

Red Rock West posterRed Rock West/1993/Red Rock Films/98 min.

Nicolas Cage’s new movie “Joe” is being hailed as Cage’s comeback. It’s a meaty role in a dark film about desperate people doing bad things, to be sure.  But I like my degenerates a bit more clever and I kept thinking of Cage’s terrific turn in the smart and stylish neo-noir “Red Rock West.” It’s now 21 years old and I think it improves with age.

In playing Michael Williams, an ex-Marine looking for a job in a dusty Wyoming town, Cage creates an uncommonly sympathetic character. Rejected for a spot on an oil-drilling crew because of his bad leg, Michael figures he’s got nothing to lose by stopping into the Red Rock West tavern, the hub of a bustling metropolis of 200 people.

Brooding tavern-owner Wayne Brown (J.T. Walsh) mistakes Michael for a hitman known as Lyle from Dallas (damn those Texas license plates). Wayne wants his wife, Suzanne (Lara Flynn Boyle), out of his hair forever. Before Michael’s picked up a buzz, he stumbles into a quagmire of serpentine deception and murder for hire.

Since he accepted the cash, Michael gives it a go, but changes his mind when he gets an eyeful of the raven-haired, fine-boned Suzanne – a flinty, ferocious femme fatale – and hears her side of the story, including a chapter in which she wants Michael to kill Wayne. “Being married does strange things to people,” she tells him.

Nic Cage and Lara Flynn Boyle remind us of Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer.

Nic Cage and Lara Flynn Boyle remind us of Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer.

Michael hits the road but comes to a screeching halt as he nearly drives over a body, who, it turns out, is Suzanne’s ex-lover. Then the real Lyle from Dallas (the inimitable Dennis Hopper) shows up. Lyle from Dallas don’t take kindly to another man messin’ with his hard-earned hit money. Natch.

It also turns out that Wayne works two jobs – tavern owner and, gulp, town sheriff. Actually make that three – pre-Red Rock, he and Suzanne robbed a bank in Illinois for about $2 million. Suzanne don’t take kindly to anybody messin’ with her haul from the robbery so, with Michael in tow, she sets out to stake her claim, then vamoose South of the Border. But, in the end, Michael isn’t quite the slave to cash that she is and when she finally heads out of town, it’s not quite in the style she’d been planning.

Dennis Hopper plays the "real" hitman from Texas.

Dennis Hopper plays the “real” hitman from Texas.

At 98 minutes, “Red Rock West” is a taut, sexy, funny story that lingers at the right spots and lurches forward just when you were getting cozy. The scene in the graveyard where the four principals dig up bills and duke it out, then plug and pierce the night away is stellar. As they go through bullets, blades, a sword and chains, Hopper snarls, Cage seethes, and Boyle shows prowess with a pistol. Fine performances, all around.

Director John Dahl, who co-wrote the script with his brother Rick, taps 1940s film noir roots with their exploration of shifting identities, appearance vs. reality and the range of motivations that drive people to create their own moral codes. Cage’s disillusioned dreamer recalls the laconic sadness of a young Robert Mitchum, though Cage’s part doesn’t quite allow him to plumb the depths of darkness. Boyle recalls the regal beauty of Gene Tierney and the cool intensity of Jane Greer.

The story is set in a dusty Wyoming town.

The story is set in a dusty Wyoming town.

Infused with humor, the script meditates on the role that luck plays in our lives. We see that Cage has borne Fortune’s smiles and blows. At one point, upon finding his gas tank near empty, he mutters, “F’ing story of my life.”

Natives of Billings, Montana, the Dahls set the film not in a claustrophobic or hostile big city but in sunny Western climes, which work well to highlight Cage’s isolation and desperation. Country singer and actor Dwight Yoakam plays a grimy a truck driver who gives Cage a lift and Yoakam’s mournful “Thousand Miles From Nowhere” is a fitting conclusion to the film’s score. (Dahl started his career directing shorts and music videos.)

After 1989’s “Kill Me Again” and “Red Rock,” John Dahl made “The Last Seduction” in 1994 as well as “Rounders” in 1998 and “You Kill Me” in 2007. He’s also worked on many high-profile TV shows like “Breaking Bad,” “True Blood” and “Dexter.” We hope he and Nic Cage can hook up again – a slick thriller, or a jet-black TV series, perhaps? We’re waiting impatiently.

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Enchanté: COLCOA film fest hits LA

coloca-logo5[1]The City of Lights City of Angels (COLCOA) Film Festival, a fixture in Los Angeles for 18 years, shows new and classic French films at the Directors Guild in Los Angeles. The fest runs April 21-28.

This year’s fest offers another prime schedule of French motion pictures. “We Love You, You Bastard” (or Salaud, on t’aime, to be French about it), the latest film by Claude Lelouch, is the opening night film.

Lelouch, a New Wave writer-director (auteur), won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival with his 1966 “A Man and a Woman” (or Une Homme et un Femme). He conquered movie art-houses and has been active ever since. This new Lelouch movie stars two venerable French rock stars Johnny Hallyday and Eddy Mitchell in a story about sowing wild oats and dealing with the results.

What is showing to tempt noiristas? Well, 1960’s “Purple Noon,” one of the great film noirs, starring Alain Delon and Maurice Ronet. This gripping thriller was directed by Rene Clement, based on a novel by the American expatriate crime writer Patricia Highsmith and dazzlingly shot by Henri Decae. It screens at 1:45 p.m., on Tuesday, April 22.

our-heroes[1]le-dernier-diamant[1]Then, there’s the highly popular Film Noir Series on Friday, April 25. Can’t wait! At 5:30 p.m. is the North American premiere of “Our Heroes Died Tonight” (Nos héros sont morts ce soir). Set in early-1960s Paris, this minimalist noir, written and directed by David Perrault, plunges into the seedy world of semi-professional wrestling where backroom dives smell of Gauloise and sweat, and the fights are all rigged.

At 7:30 p.m. Eric Barbier’s heist thriller “The Last Diamond,” makes its international premiere. Starring Bérénice Bejo and Yvan Attal, the film follows in the tradition of Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Le Cercle Rouge.” The carrot for the crooks is mighty pretty: the fabled Florentine, a 137-carat yellow diamond last seen in 1918, which has resurfaced and is up for sale in an exclusive Antwerp auction house.

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venus-in-fur[1]The Larriere Brothers’ crime drama “Love is a Perfect Crime” plays at 10:30 p.m. Adapted from “Incidences by Philippe Dijan, whose other novels inspired the films “Betty Blue and “Unforgivable,” this chilly thriller revolves around a University of Lausanne student who goes missing. The top suspect? Her professor and lover, natch. “Love is a Perfect Crime” stars Mathieu Almaric, Karin Viard, Maiwenn and Sara Forrestier. This is the film’s West Coast premiere.

The late, great François Truffaut will be honored Friday.

The late, great François Truffaut will be honored Friday.

There are two other enticing events on Friday. The massively influential but too mortal (and gone too soon) French auteur François Truffaut will be remembered at a 1:30 p.m. screening of his very personal 1977 tale of a femme-chaser “The Man Who Loved Women,” starring Charles Denner as the Man, and Brigitte Fossey, Nathalie Baye and the supremely piquant Leslie Caron as some of the Women. There will be a talk on Truffaut after the movie.

At 8:30 p.m., that brilliant and elusive Polish-American-French cineaste, Roman Polanski will be represented by his latest film “Venus in Fur,” based on the masochistic novel by Leopold Sacher-Masoch and David Ives’ play from it. “Venus” stars Polanski’s muse-mate Emmanuelle Seigner as an extroverted actress who shows up after hours to read for a part.

la-belle-et-la-bete[1]the-murderer-lives[1]On Saturday, at 11 a.m., the one French film of this year’s glittering menu that you absolutely don’t want to miss: the 1946 fairytale treasure “Beauty and the Beast,” written and directed by Jean Cocteau. Josette Day stars as Belle and Jean Marais as Bete. The film was photographed (lustrously) by Henri Alekan, scored (hauntingly) by Georges Auric and technically advised by Rene Clement, who we suspect, had more to do with the film‘s impeccable, fantastic technique than just advice.

If fairytales aren’t your tray of gateaux, there’s a brutally real alternative: “Abuse of Weakness,” a fierce semi-autobiographical drama by auteur Catherine Breillat about her own fleecing by a famous conman. “Abuse” screens at 7:45 p.m.

“We Love You, You Bastard” rescreens at 1:15 p.m.

Sunday brings the closing session of the competition, but there are two more major French classics on Monday, April 28. At 2 p.m., you can see the great director Patrice Chereau’s 1994 adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ breathless historical novel “Queen Margot” (La Reine Margot). Chereau’s film stars Isabelle Adjani and Daniel Auteuil.

And at 3:30 p.m. there’s another film noir, a black-and-white ‘40s classic: “The Murderer Lives at No. 21” by Henri-Georges Clouzot. French stage and screen actor Louis Jouvet stars as the relentless detective Wens.

The COLCOA screenings are at the Directors Guild, 7920 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, 90046.

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