The Film Noir File: Robert Wise lays odds against tomorrow

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard). All films without a new review have been covered previously in Film Noir Blonde and can be searched in the FNB archives (at right).

Earl (Robert Ryan) instantly feels threatened by smart and polished Johnny (Harry Belafonte).

Earl (Robert Ryan) instantly feels threatened by smart and polished Johnny (Harry Belafonte).

PICK OF THE WEEK Odds Against Tomorrow” (1959, Robert Wise). Monday, Aug. 31. 6 p.m. (3 p.m.).

Here is one of the great, underrated film noirs – a movie whose stature was recognized early on by French critics and has continued to grow over the past half century.

Directed by Robert Wise, with a Nelson Gidding-credited screenplay based on a novel by suspense and crime specialist William McGivern (“The Big Heat”), “Odds Against Tomorrow” boasts a riveting and exciting story, unforgettable characters and a bitingly contemporary social/political allegory plot.

Shelley Winters plays a frumpy romantic in “Odds Against Tomorrow.”

Shelley Winters plays a frumpy romantic in “Odds Against Tomorrow.”

In the movie, three mismatched New Yorkers – genial, corrupt ex-cop Dave (Ed Begley), brutal ex-con Earl (Robert Ryan) and reckless musician Johnny (Harry Belafonte), a nightclub entertainer with huge gambling debts – join forces for an upstate bank robbery, a well-planned heist that will supposedly solve all their money problems. But their problems are just beginning. Earl is a racist who hates Johnny on sight and Johnny has a short fuse as well. Dave has heart trouble. Things begin to unravel, then explode.

Ryan’s performance is a scorcher; he‘s a perfect villain, bad to the bone. Belafonte’s is compelling and non-clichéd. (He was also one of the producers.) Begley’s is jovial but poignant, a Willy Loman-like salesman peddling his own destruction. The women in the case, a pair of bad blondes – Shelley Winters as Earl’s whining wife and Gloria Grahame as his slutty neighbor – are top-notch noir babes.

Gloria Grahame sizzles in “Odds.”

Gloria Grahame sizzles in “Odds.” What else is new?

French noir master Jean-Pierre Melville named “Odds Against Tomorrow” as one of his three all-time favorite movies; the other two were: “The Asphalt Jungle” and “The Best Years of Our Lives.” Along with the 1949 boxing classic “The Set-Up” (which had Ryan starring in a sympathetic role, as the aging fighter) this is the best of Wise’s noirs and crime movies.

The screenplay was mostly written by the uncredited and blacklisted Abraham Polonsky (“Force of Evil”). The original jazz score is by John Lewis and the Modern Jazz Quartet. The atmospheric black and white cinematography is by Joseph C. Brun (“Edge of the City”). The film is a great one, noir to the max, with a powerful and unforgettable ending.

Saturday, Aug. 29: George C. Scott Day

12 p.m. (9 a.m.): “Anatomy of Murder” (1959, Otto Preminger). One of the best and most true-to-life of all courtroom dramas, “Anatomy of a Murder” is also the best film producer-director Otto Preminger ever made.

Paul Newman is the blue-eyed king of the pool hall in “The Hustler.”

Paul Newman is the blue-eyed king of the pool hall in “The Hustler.”

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Hustler” (1961, Robert Rossen). In this dark, agile, sinewy cinema tale of the world of pool halls, pool hustlers and the gamblers who exploit them, Paul Newman plays the brash, cocky young pool shark Fast Eddie Felson. Piper Laurie is his ill-fated girl (a tragic drinker). Myron McCormick is his rat-faced, loyal little manager, Jackie Gleason is Minnesota Fats, the plump, limber champ whom Fast Eddie wants to replace. And George C. Scott is Burt, the mean manipulator with the satanic smile who lays the bets, bankrolls the players and says of Fast Eddie to Fats: “Stick with this kid. He’s a loser.”

Newman wasn’t a loser here and neither was the movie. Based on Walter Tevis’s cool, hustling, sharply authentic novel, it’s one of the great late film noirs and the show that made Newman a mega-star – and made Gleason a movie star as well. No film has ever caught the seedy but graceful pool-hall underworld better: the angles, the pockets, the incredible shots, the immaculate tables, the cigarettes and booze culture, the click of the pool balls, and the bravura of the hustlers and sharks hard at their game. Once you see this picture, you won’t get them out of your head either.

2:15 a.m. (11:15 p.m.): “The Last Run” (1971, Richard Fleischer). One last job for aging crook driver George C. Scott. Co-starring wives Trish Van Devere and Colleen Dewhurst; scripted by Alan Sharp; with a few scenes (uncredited) directed by John Huston.

Monday, Aug. 31: Shelley Winters Day

Harper poster6 a.m. (3 a.m.): “Harper” (1966, Jack Smight). Paul Newman, at his most attractively laid-back, plays one of detective literature’s most celebrated private eyes, novelist Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer. One catch: Archer has been renamed “Lew Harper,” so Newman could have (he hoped) another hit movie with an “H” title, like “The Hustler” and “Hud.” He got one. The stellar cast includes Lauren Bacall, Janet Leigh, Julie Harris, Shelley Winters, Robert Wagner, Arthur Hill, Robert Webber and Strother Martin. Scripted snappily by William Goldman.

2:30 p.m. (11:30 a.m.): “He Ran All the Way” (1951, John Berry). John Garfield, as a sexy bad guy on the lam, terrorizes a family and tries to seduce Shelley Winters. (Tries?) Hard core noir and Garfield’s last movie. With Norman Lloyd and Wallace Ford.

4 p.m. (1 p.m.): “I Died a Thousand Times” (1955, Stuart Heisler). A color and Cinemascope remake of the Raoul WalshHumphrey BogartIda Lupino gangster saga (from a W. R. Burnett novel) “High Sierra,” this time around starring Jack Palance and Shelley Winters. Inferior to its model, but not awful. With young supporting heavy Lee Marvin in his vicious snarl mode.

Lolita poster10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “Lolita” (1962, Stanley Kubrick). Kubrick’s superb film of Vladimir Nabokov’s classic comic-erotic novel – about the dangerous affair of college professor Humbert Humbert (James Mason) and nymphet Lolita (Sue Lyon), in which they are nightmarishly pursued by the writer, sybarite and man of many faces Clare Quilty (Peter Sellers). An underrated dark comic masterpiece, this film has strong noir touches, themes and style. With Shelley Winters; script by Nabokov (and Kubrick).

Wednesday, Sept. 2

1 p.m. (10 a.m.): “A Woman’s Face” (1941, George Cukor). Based on a Gustaf Molander-directed Swedish romantic thriller about a horribly scarred lady outlaw, whose personality changes (for the better), when plastic surgery gives her a beautiful new face, this MGM remake has Joan Crawford in the star role originated by the young Ingrid Bergman. It’s about as posh as a noir can get.

Thursday, Sept. 3

12:30 p.m. (9:30 a.m.): “The Hitch-Hiker” (1953, Ida Lupino). Fate isn’t smiling when two guys on vacation give a lift to a man who turns out to be serial killer. “The Hitch-Hiker,” starring Edmond O’Brien, Frank Lovejoy and William Talman, is the only classic film noir directed by a woman, the great Ida Lupino. Best known as an actress, Lupino was also a director, writer and producer. She co-wrote “The Hitch-Hiker.”

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The Film Noir File: Terrence Malick’s stunning debut ‘Badlands’ is a timeless love-on-the-run classic

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard). All films without a new review have been covered previously in Film Noir Blonde and can be searched in the FNB archives (at right).

PICK OF THE WEEK

Badlands posterBadlands” (1973, Terrence Malick). Monday, Aug. 24. 8 p.m. (5 p.m.). The late 1960s and early 1970s, in America, were marked by violence and loneliness, war and craziness, and wild beauty. We see a portrait of a lot of that trauma, in microcosm, in Terrence Malick’s shattering 1973 classic, “Badlands.”

Set in the American West of the 1950s, it’s the story of two young people on the run: Kit, who works on a trash truck and tries to model himself after James Dean, and Holly, a high-school baton twirler with a strange blank stare, who thinks Kit is the handsomest boy she’s ever seen. Read the full review here.

Friday, Aug. 21 2:15 a.m. (11:15 p.m.): “Freebie and the Bean” (1974, Richard Rush). Funny, violent and politically incorrect buddy-buddy cop thriller, co-starring Alan Arkin and James Caan as the buddies.

Saturday, Aug. 22: Marlene Dietrich Day

Putty in her hands: The magnificent Marlene Dietrich and the malleable Emil Jannings star in “The Blue Angel.”

Putty in her hands: The magnificent Marlene Dietrich and the malleable Emil Jannings star in “The Blue Angel.”

9:15 a.m. (6:15 a.m.): “The Blue Angel” (1930, Josef von Sternberg). (Repeat FNB mini-review.) (In German, with subtitles.) Marlene Dietrich plays a stunning and saucy singer who leads a fuddy-duddy teacher (Emil Jannings) to doom and destruction, natch.

2:45 p.m. (11:45 a.m.): “Stage Fright” (1950, Alfred Hitchcock). A backstage theater drama with Jane Wyman as an acting student, who tries to help a man on the run (Richard Todd). He’s accused of murdering the husband of a swooningly beautiful actress (Marlene Dietrich). “Stage Fright” is usually considered one of the lesser Hitchcocks, but second-tier Hitch is still better than most films.

The always-ravishing always-entertaining Marlene Dietrich.

The always-ravishing always-entertaining Marlene Dietrich.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Witness for the Prosecution” (1957, Billy Wilder). A stylish and entertaining whodunit starring Charles Laughton, Tyrone Power and Elsa Lanchester. And of course a very versatile Marlene Dietrich.

Monday, Aug. 23: Warren Oates Day

7:45 a.m. (4:45 a.m.): “The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond” (1960, Budd Boetticher). In just five years, working with paltry budgets on miniscule shooting schedules, ex-matador and B-movie master Budd Boetticher made the five Western masterpieces or near-masterpieces (from “The Tall T” to “Comanche Station”) known as “The Ranown Cycle” — all with stoic-looking cowboy star Randolph Scott in the saddle, and most with producer Harry Joe Brown. As if that weren’t enough, Boetticher had time during the same span to make another two top Scott vehicles, one of them another masterpiece (the 1956 “Seven Men From Now”) as well as that hard-boiled classic of film noir and the gangster genre, “The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond.”

Wild Bunch posterShot in brilliant black and white by ace of aces cinematographer Lucien Ballard (“The Killing,” “The Wild Bunch“), and starring the ruthless-looking, poker-faced glamour guy Ray Danton as the real-life mobster Diamond, “Legs” is prime Boetticher: taut, hard, perfectly shaped. It’s a sharp-eyed tale of brutal men, their fast ladies and their hapless victims, with a supporting cast that includes Karen Steele, Simon Oakland and that later wild triggerman on “The Wild Bunch,” Warren Oates.

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia” (1974, Sam Peckinpah). One of Peckinpah’s bloodiest neo-noirs, with Warren Oates as the morally weary American bounty hunter who brings a head to Mexico.

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “The Wild Bunch” (1969, Sam Peckinpah). The greatest neo-noir Western. Peckinpah at his finest and most brutally exciting. With William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Ben Johnson and Warren Oates.

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‘A Perfect Man’ is an ideal start to COLCOA film festival

Last night, the COLCOA French Film Festival kicked off with a lovely reception and a screening of “A Perfect Man,” directed and co-written by Yann Gozlan.

A Perfect Man posterIn the movie, Pierre Niney plays Mathieu Vasseur, a sensitive smart loner and struggling fiction writer. When he happens to find an unpublished manuscript written by a French soldier in the Algerian War (who is now deceased), Mathieu takes a gamble and sends it to a publisher. It’s an instant success and Mathieu’s once-dismal existence is transformed, bringing him money, acclaim and the love of Alice Fursac (Ana Girardot), a beautiful and brainy literature professor who hails from a prominent family.

But three years later, Mathieu’s lies catch up with him: he’s spent all his money and he’s made zero progress on a second book. Also bothering him: a blackmailer and a nosy friend of the Fursac family. As Mathieu gets more desperate to cover his tracks (à la Patricia Highsmith’s Mr. Ripley), he turns to increasingly dire methods to hang onto his pretty illusion.

As always, the COLCOA opening-night reception was delightful.

As always, the COLCOA opening-night reception was delightful.

Granted, there are several times where “A Perfect Man” might inspire head-shaking incredulity. But I found that easy to forgive because there is so much that’s highly entertaining about the film – Niney and Girardot are just right for their parts, not to mention the luscious cinematography, shocking twists, taut pacing and gorgeous locations.

Alfred Hitchcock had a name for viewers who quibbled with the likelihood of a suspense movie’s plot points occurring in real life: The Plausibles. In his view, these nitpickers were missing the point, which was to enjoy the story’s thrills, both narratively and visually.

Of course, there needs to be some semblance of reality as well as sophistication in terms of storytelling in order to gloss over pesky points of fact. And it’s a difficult balance to maintain – some films are so compelling that it’s easy to forgive even major errors, others we dismiss completely because we just can’t buy into the film’s reality.

In the case of “A Perfect Man,” ditch your Plausibles checklist and just have a good time.

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In noirish ‘Clouds,’ Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart shine

At a recent press screening, several of my fellow critics and I were lamenting the lack of good movies released so far this year. It’s about time for some titles worth touting.

Clouds of Sils Maria poster with JB KSThe one standout, most of us agreed, is French writer/director Olivier Assayas’ “Clouds of Sils Maria,” a drama with neo-noir elements (set in Sils Maria, Switzerland) that revolves around a high-profile actress, exuding poise and sophistication, named Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche).

Maria’s enviable career comes full circle when she is talked into making the ultimate encore: She will return to the play that spurred her success 20 years before, though this time she will star as the older women whose life is falling apart. Cast as the luscious ingénue in this rendition is a Hollywood bad girl struggling to steer clear of the tabloids and be taken seriously as an actress (Chloë Grace Moretz). Kristen Stewart co-stars as Maria’s smart, cynical and chicly bespectacled assistant, Valentine.

We are introduced to Maria and Valentine on a train as it solemnly chugs though gorgeous mountain country and the story of these two women, a generation apart, unfolds like a long journey — freeing and claustrophobic, intimate and impersonal, destined yet random and mysterious. We see the boundaries of their intense relationship stretch, fray and then suddenly, frighteningly vanish.

“Clouds of Sils Maria,” beautifully shot, impeccably cast and confidently directed, has deservedly garnered much praise, especially for the superb performances from leads Binoche and Stewart. (Never having seen “Twilight,” I am now a big Stewart fan).

Suspenseful and sly, wistful and resonant, “Clouds” should not be missed.

Ex Machina posterMeanwhile, many reviewers have been impressed with first-time director Alex Garland’s “Ex Machina” (Garland also wrote the script). This sleek sci-fi thriller is crisply smart, coolly shot with a chilly color palette and well acted. In fact, I failed to recognize Oscar Isaac as the mad but muted scientist. Domhnall Gleeson plays a young techie who wins the chance to assess the emotional intelligence of a sexy female robot — a truly heartless femme fatale (Alicia Vikander). It sounds good and looks great but somehow the film overall felt slightly shallow and short on ideas.

Similarly, “True Story,” fails to live up to its potential, despite grisly real-life details. James Franco plays Christian Longo, an Oregon man who received the death sentence in 2003 for murdering his family. While on the run in Mexico, Longo impersonated a journalist named Mike Finkel (Jonah Hill). In need of a career boost after being fired by the New York Times for making up one of the interviewees in a magazine story, Finkel agreed to write about Longo and later published a memoir about his experience.

True Story posterFranco and Hill are compelling as is Felicity Jones as Finkel’s girlfriend. But director and co-writer Rupert Goold loses his way and the storytelling soon becomes murky.

Also, it’s a bit hard to take “True Story” seriously when it depicts the New York Times newsroom as a place where reporters raucously drink beer and play poker after submitting their stories. (Or maybe it’s just hard to take James Franco seriously after the fiasco that was “Child of God”). But it’s been a few weeks since I’ve seen it and nothing much of the movie has stuck with me. Still, there are worse ways to kill two hours.

Also drawing mixed but mostly good reviews is Levan Gabriadze’s debut feature “Unfriended,” a horror flick that takes place entirely on the small screen, ie Skype and Facebook. Shelley Hennig leads a cast of high-school friends who are harassed by a mysterious cyber-stalker. It’s a clever gimmick and the acting’s good, but other than that, “Unfriended” tells a same-old same-old story about the secrets and betrayals of teen friendships and romance.

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Film Noir File: Sit back and enjoy a night with Bogie & Bacall

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 Classi  c Movies (TCM). The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard). All films without a new review have been covered previously in Film Noir Blonde and can be searched in the FNB archives (at right).

Pick of the Week: Bogie and Bacall night is Tuesday, April 7

“To Have and Have Not” was the couple’s first film together.

“To Have and Have Not” was the couple’s first film together.

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall – the King and Queen of film noir – make for a royally cool evening. First: A documentary-memoir by Bacall, followed by two of the nonpareil pair’s top shows, adapted from books by Ernest Hemingway and David Goodis. Sit back, pour yourself a cold one, and enjoy. And remember: Another vintage Bogart, “Casablanca,” plays (again Sam), Tuesday morning on TCM. (See below.)

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “Bacall on Bogart” (David Heeley, 1988). A bio-pic gem. Baby on Bogie – and who knew him better?

3:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m.): “To Have and Have Not” (Howard Hawks, 1944).

5:15 a.m. (2:15 a.m.): “Dark Passage” (Delmer Daves, 1947).

Saturday, April 4

Marlene Dietrich

Marlene Dietrich

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Witness for the Prosecution” (Billy Wilder, 1957). “Witness for the Prosecution” (1957, Billy Wilder) From the famous Agatha Christie short story, Billy Wilder expertly fashions one of the screen’s trickiest trial-drama/murder mysteries – with Charles Laughton as the wily, wheelchair-bound barrister, his real-life wife Elsa Lanchester as his long-suffering nurse, and Tyrone Power and Marlene Dietrich as the incendiary couple caught up in a legendary triple-reverse surprise ending.

10:15 p.m. (7:15 p.m.): “Laura” (Otto Preminger, 1944).

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Klute” (Alan Pakula, 1971). Jane Fonda as a brainy hooker (her first Oscar-winning performance) being pursued by a psycho killer. Donald Sutherland plays Klute, the cop who tries to help and save her. A classy, first-class neo-noir.

Monday, April 6

“His Kind of Woman” is a tongue-in-cheek noir, down Mexico way.

“His Kind of Woman” is a tongue-in-cheek noir, down Mexico way.

1:45 a.m. (10:45 p.m.): “Macao” (Josef von Sternberg, 1952). Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell strike sultry sparks in this exotic thriller from Howard Hughes’ RKO.

Directed by Josef Von Sternberg, with uncredited reshooting by Nick Ray. Co-starring Gloria Grahame, William Bendix and Thomas Gomez.

3:15 a.m. (12:15 a.m.): “His Kind of Woman” (John Farrow, 1951). Down Mexico way, in a Hollywood-style resort, Jane Russell is his kind of woman. And Robert Mitchum is her kind of man.

Gangster Raymond Burr and overripe actor Vincent Price are our kind of heavies in this breezy, funny tongue-in-cheek noir.

Tuesday, April 7

11:45 a.m. (8:45 a.m.): “Casablanca” (Michael Curtiz, 1942).

4 p.m. (1 p.m.): “Passage to Marseille” (Michael Curtiz, 1944).

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “Mildred Pierce” (Michael Curtiz, 1945).

The classic trio of “Casablanca.”

The classic trio of “Casablanca.”

See Pick of the Week above.

Wed., April 8

2 p.m. (11 a.m.): “Bunny Lake Is Missing” (Otto Preminger, 1965). Bunny Lake is an American child kidnapped in London, Carol Lynley her terrified mother, Keir Dullea her concerned uncle, Anna Massey her harassed teacher, Noel Coward her sleazy landlord, and Laurence Olivier the shrewd police detective trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together. The most important of those pieces: Was Bunny ever really there at all? A neglected gem; based on Evelyn Piper’s novel.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “La Strada” (Federico Fellini, 1954).

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “Requiem for a Heavyweight” (Ralph Nelson, 1962).

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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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Film Noir File: Your passport to Coen Bros.’ neo-noir ‘Country’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Film Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard). All films without a new review have been covered previously in Film Noir Blonde and can be searched in the FNB archives (at right).

Pick of the Week

No Country posterNo Country for Old Men” (2007, Joel and Ethan Coen). Tuesday, March 3, 12:30 a.m. (9:30 p.m.)

The Coen Brothers’ most praised and prized movie, and one of their most memorable, is the grim, mesmerizing crime-drama/chase-thriller “No Country for Old Men.” The multiple-Oscar winning film is adapted, very faithfully, from one of Cormac McCarthy‘s darkest and most violent novels.

Set in 1980s Texas, in an anti-John Ford Western land of harsh plains and searing deserts, barren cities and the hot, speedy roads that connect all of them, the movie is about a huge cache of illegal drug money that falls into the hands of a local cowboy-hatted small-towner named Moss (Josh Brolin) after a massacre wipes out most of the criminals and smugglers handling the transfer.

Unfortunately, there’s one deadly efficient collector still around: the incredible Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh a.k.a. Sugar, a terrifying psychopathic killer with a seemingly permanent dour deadpan stare, a laughably lousy haircut and a relentless talent for finding the right people in all the wrong places – and sending them to the hell that surely must have spawned him.

There are other terrific actors (playing terrific roles) in “No Country,” namely Tommy Lee Jones as Ed Tom Bell, a melancholy old sheriff watching his world disintegrate, Bell’s lonely old friend (Barry Corbin), Moss’s steadfast but unlucky wife (Kelly MacDonald) and a lippy, freelance loot-scavenger (Woody Harrelson).

Texas. Tough guys. Epic bad hairstyling. Enjoy your visit to this ‘Country.’ Or else.

Saturday, Feb. 28. Thriller Day

6 a.m. (3 a.m.): “The Window” (1949, Ted Tetzlaff).

7:15 a.m. (4:15 a.m.): “Night Must Fall” (1937, Richard Thorpe).

9:15 a.m. (6:15 a.m.): “Kind Lady” (1951, John Sturges).

10:45 a.m. (7:45 a.m.): “Wait Until Dark” (1967, Terence Young).

12:45 p.m. (9:45 a.m.): “The Narrow Margin” (1952, Richard Fleischer).

2 p.m. (11 a.m.): “Strangers on a Train” (1951, Alfred Hitchcock).

3:45 p.m. (12:45 p.m.): “Shadow of a Doubt“ (1943, Alfred Hitchcock).

Sunday, March 1

Chicago poster10:15 p.m. (7:15 p.m.): “Chicago” (2002, Rob Marshall). This strange, Oscar-winning hybrid is, of all things, a neo-noir crime courtroom musical. It’s based on the jazzy, snazzy Broadway show by songsmiths Kander and Ebb (of “New York, New York”) and director Bob Fosse, which in turn was based on the classic 1942 film noir “Roxie Hart” by writer-producer Nunnally Johnson and director William Wellman.

The story is as cynical as, well, a ’20s Chicago newspaper guy on deadline. Wannabe star showgirl Roxie (Renee Zellweger in the old Ginger Rogers role) schemes to become famous by committing a near-murder and generating a sensational trial. John C. Reilly is her hapless hubby, Richard Gere is her flashy lawyer, and Catherine Zeta-Jones (an Oscar winner here) steals the whole damned show as another would-be murderess and Roxie’s inspiration. This is a good, splashy, nasty neo-noir, but you can’t help wondering about the movie the late Bob Fosse might have made out of it.

Wednesday, March 4

12 p.m. (9 a.m.): “Dementia 13” (1963, Francis Ford Coppola).

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Film Noir File: Five stylish ’70s thrillers make must-see viewing

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Film Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard). All films without a new review have been covered previously in Film Noir Blonde and can be searched in the FNB archives (at right).

Jane Fonda won the Best Actress Oscar for her role in “Klute.”

Jane Fonda won the Best Actress Oscar for her role in “Klute.”

Saturday, Feb. 21

11 p.m. (8 p.m.): “Deliverance” (1972, John Boorman).

3:45 a.m. (12:45 p.m.): “Klute” (1971, Alan Pakula).

Sunday, Feb. 22

1 a.m. (10 p.m.): “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975, Sidney Lumet).

3:15 a.m. (12:15 a.m.): “Network” (1976, Sidney Lumet).

Monday, Feb. 23

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “All the President’s Men” (1976, Alan Pakula). Burglary and other high crimes and misdemeanors in a soon-to-be-legendary Washington D. C. hotel called The Watergate turn out to be instruments of re-election for the Nixon White House in their no-holds-barred 1972 presidential campaign — as uncovered by two dogged, relentless Washington Post investigative reporters named Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman).

One of the best true crime movies ever: directed with neo-noir flair by Pakula, knowingly scripted by Oscar winner William Goldman (based on the Woodward-Bernstein book), with a first rate cast that includes Oscar winner Jason Robards (as crusty mandarin editor Ben Bradlee), Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, Hal Holbrook, Ned Beatty, Jane Alexander and F. Murray Abraham. Maybe the best and most accurate of all “inside” dramas on American journalism and politics.

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Three neo-noirs open and a legendary blonde gets her day

Gena Rowlands makes her mark with the help of her son Nick Cassavetes (right).

Gena Rowlands makes her mark with the help of her son Nick Cassavetes (right).

Veteran actress Gena Rowlands knows that life is messy. She made her mark playing difficult, disturbed and complex women in films such as “A Woman Under the Influence,” “Faces” and “Gloria,” all made with her husband, the groundbreaking writer/director/actor John Cassavetes. (All three films garnered Oscar noms.)

But Rowlands, 84, recently dealt with a happy mess when she planted her hands and feet in wet cement at the TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX, formerly known as Grauman’s Chinese.

“I want to tell you one thing and I want you to listen,” she told the crowd at the ceremony last Friday. “If I get stuck in that cement, I expect all of you to help me out of it.”

Six Dance Lessons posterJoking aside, it’s hard to imagine Rowlands, with her gravelly voice, graceful posture and piercing blue eyes, needing help of any kind. To be sure, she’s delightful to watch in her latest vehicle, a comedy/drama called “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks.”

Directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman and written by Richard Alfieri (from his hit play of the same name), the movie introduces us to two lonely-hearts: Rowlands as a bored widow named Lily with time on her hands and no one to twirl her around the ballroom, and Cheyenne Jackson as Michael, a snippy gay dance teacher with attitude and arrogance to spare. It’s familiar territory: the oddballs with nothing in common who clash at first, then find true camaraderie and lasting affection.

Somehow, it’s a tad hard to buy that the stunningly gorgeous Michael is really that hard up for guys to date. (On stage, David Hyde Pierce played Michael, opposite Uta Hagen.) And there are more than a few manufactured moments. But this is a fluffy, crowd-pleasing, feel-good flick.

At a recent press day, Rowlands said she welcomed the chance to play the role, given the paucity of good parts for older women. “They’ve been done sort of an injustice,” she said. “Older people are the ones who have been places and seen things and have insight.”

Rowlands’ crisp and independent Lily likely will resonate with viewers. “She just wasn’t going to take it. She just wasn’t going to be miserable,” said Rowlands. “She was going to have some fun.”

And Rowlands said she voiced her opinion about Lily’s sexy dancing dress, making sure it looked as tasteful as possible. As she put it: “I have not made a reputation on my bosom!”

Inherent Vice posterThe much-anticipated “Inherent Vice” (director Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel of Los Angeles in 1970) stands as an exemplar of the neo-noir canon.

As pothead private eye Doc Sportello, Joaquin Phoenix is grubby, raunchy and amusing throughout. Doc agrees to help his ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston) after she confides to him that her current lover’s life could be in danger. Doc’s snooping sets off a gloriously Byzantine plot in the tradition of “The Big Sleep,” “Out of the Past,” “D.O.A,” “Pulp Fiction” and “The Big Lebowski.”

Doc encounters an assortment of mostly corrupt malcontents, including Josh Brolin as a brutish cop, Owen Wilson as an airheaded surf musician, Jena Malone as his wry wife, Reese Witherspoon as a cynical district attorney not averse to puffing a joint, Benicio Del Toro as Doc’s hip lawyer, and Martin Short as an evil dentist.

Anderson provides assured direction as well as a script that is both slick and at times touching. “Inherent Vice” is a head-banging cinematic ride. It’s hard, however, to escape the feeling that this trippy, 148-minute excursion to hippiedom could be a little more entertaining, a little funnier than it is. Anderson puts his top-tier cast in comic situations and there are laughs, to be sure, just not quite enough to energize the material as a whole.

Tales of the Grim Sleeper posterIn “Tales of the Grim Sleeper,” documentarian Nick Broomfield tells a riveting crime story of haunting sadness and infuriating injustice. But given that the crimes – the murders of at least 10 women, some of whom were prostitutes – took place in South Central Los Angeles it’s hardly surprising, according to London-born Broomfield, who describes Los Angeles as operating under apartheid.

Certainly, it is staggering to consider that the murders took place over a period of 22 years with apparently little effort by police to follow clues, connect the cases or alert the community to the potential danger. LA Weekly reporter Christine Pelisek broke the story in 2007. In 2010, a mechanic named Lonnie Franklin, now 62, was arrested and is awaiting trial.

The LAPD would not participate in Broomfield’s film so arguably there may be gaps or questions about the events. But one thing’s for sure: Watching Broomfield’s recounting of the facts will make your blood boil.

The Captive posterFrom its opening scene, “The Captive,” loosely based on an actual case in Ontario, Canada, declares itself an unconventional thriller. That’s not surprising given that it’s directed and co-written by unconventional filmmaker Atom Egoyan (“Where the Truth Lies,” “The Sweet Hereafter”).

The titular captive is a girl named Cass (Alexia Fast) who is abducted and held prisoner for close to a decade by an uber-creepy rich guy (Kevin Durand). Her parents, Mireille Enos and Ryan Reynolds, struggle to maintain hope that Cass is still alive; meanwhile their marriage is in tatters. Rosario Dawson and Scott Speedman are the cops trying to crack the case.

Some elements of “The Captive” are praiseworthy: the stark cinematography full of isolated, foreboding winterscapes; the weird, unnerving atmosphere; the raw performances. But the story feels ill conceived and randomly plotted, leading to a particularly hackneyed and hard-to-buy turn for Dawson’s tough, streetwise character. Unfortunately, the non-linear narrative doesn’t so much unfold as flop around, sometimes annoyingly, serving to create tedium more than tension.

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Film Noir File: Postman rings twice for Garfield and Granger

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 Postman Always Rings Twice” (1946, Tay Garnett). Sunday, Dec. 14; 6 a.m. (3 a.m.). With Lana Turner, John Garfield, Cecil Kellaway and Hume Cronyn.

Lana Turner, John Garfield and Cecil Kellaway are the players in the “Postman” love triangle.

Lana Turner, John Garfield and Cecil Kellaway are the players in the “Postman” love triangle.

In the opening of “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” a sign reading “MAN WANTED” flashes at us twice. This man, John Garfield as it happens, is really wanted. But you wouldn’t know it from Lana Turner’s imperious entrance.

She drops a tube of lipstick, then deigns to let him pick it up and return it to her. He decides to let her get it herself. She’s unruffled and he’s hooked. In a way, these first few minutes of the film foreshadow the sexual power play between Garfield’s Frank and Turner’s Cora.

Read the full review here.

Friday, Dec. 12

4:15 p.m. (1:15 p.m.): “Kid Galahad” (1937, Michael Curtiz). In this archetypal boxing-gangsters crime drama, a bumpkin bellhop (Wayne Morris) with big natural prize-fighting talent, tangles with a wily promoter (Edward G. Robinson), a mean mobster (Humphrey Bogart) and a true-blue dame (Bette Davis). One of those ’30s movies that late-night TV audiences loved. Later remade by Phil Karlson as an Elvis Presley vehicle, “Kid Galahad” was a major prize winner at the 1937 Venice Film Festival.

Saturday, Dec. 13

12 p.m. (9 a.m.): “Gaslight” (1944, George Cukor). Set in foggy Victorian gas-lit London, this is the best of all the melodramas and noirs where a bad husband tries to drive his wife insane. With Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten, Angela Lansbury and Dame May Whitty.

A distraught Tippi Hedren confronts a wary Sean Connery in “Marnie.”

A distraught Tippi Hedren confronts a wary Sean Connery in “Marnie.”

2 p.m. (11 a.m.): “Marnie” (1964, Alfred Hitchcock). With Sean Connery, Tippi Hedren, Diane Baker and Bruce Dern.

Sunday, Dec. 14

3:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m.): “Blowup” (1966, Michelangelo Antonioni). With David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles and The Yardbirds. Reviewed in FNB on June 19, 2014.

Tuesday, Dec. 16

4:15 a.m. (1:15 a.m.): “The Sea Wolf” (1941, Michael Curtiz). Jack London’s philosophical sea-going melodrama about vicious cargo-ship captain Wolf Larsen (Edward G. Robinson). Larsen is an egghead fascist and brutal autodidact who’s going blind and crazy as he toys with his crew and his passengers (John Garfield, Ida Lupino, Barry Fitzgerald and Alexander Knox).

With its noirish cast, writer (Robert Rossen) and director, this is probably the best of many film versions of London’s dark tale. The movie seethes with gangsterish menace and obvious parallels to then-contemporary WWII conflicts.

Wednesday, Dec. 17 

“Side Street” was the second noir to feature young lovers played by Farley Granger and Cathy O’Donnell.

“Side Street” was the second noir to feature young lovers played by Farley Granger and Cathy O’Donnell.

7:15 a.m. (4:15 a.m.): “Dial 1119” (1950, Gerald Mayer). Crisp little B-thriller about a barful of New York City types held captive by a maniac. With Marshall Thompson, Andrea King, Sam Levene and Keefe Brasselle.

1 p.m. (10 a.m.): “Mystery Street” (1950, John Sturges). A good, smart police procedural, set partly at Harvard University, with a homicide cop and forensic scientist (Ricardo Montalban and Bruce Bennett), trying to crack a murder with sexual overtones. Co-starring Elsa Lanchester, Sally Forrest, Jan Sterling and Marshall Thompson. Written by Sydney Boehm (“The Big Heat”).

4:15 p.m. (1:15 p.m.): “Side Street” (1950, Anthony Mann). The postman rings too often here too, as Farley Granger and Cathy O’Donnell, the two tenderly romantic, stunningly photogenic stars of Nick Ray’s love-on-the-run noir classic “They Live by Night,” are rematched for one of Anthony Mann’s best B-noirs. Granger is a financially strapped postal delivery guy who makes one slip and swipes money that turns out to be the property of some particularly murderous criminals. O’Donnell is his lovely and loyal wife. The stellar gallery of crooks, cops and bystanders lurking around them includes James Craig, Paul Kelly, Jean Hagen and Charles McGraw. The cast, Sydney Boehm’s taut script, the evocative New York City location photography (by Joseph Ruttenberg) and the full-throttle, exciting action set-pieces make this “B” special. (Also see our FNB Farley Granger piece on April 4, 2011.)

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