‘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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Rare and riveting, ‘The Babadook’ holds its own among horror classics

The Babadook poster 2Prepare to be creeped out, chilled to the bone and genuinely scared. “The Babadook” is one of those rare films that relies on character and psychology, not blood and gore, to get under your skin. In the tradition of Roman Polanski and Stanley Kubrick, writer/director Jennifer Kent creates a mesmerizing world of loneliness and paranoia, frustration and doom.

In doing so, Kent laudably tackles a taboo topic: Motherhood gone awry. Essie Davis plays Amelia, a one-time writer who is mourning the death of her husband and struggling to raise her son, Sam (Noah Wiseman). After they read a children’s book about a menacing creature called the Babadook, Sam becomes convinced that the Babadook is real and that he is coming to get them.

Amelia is initially dismissive, writing off strange occurrences to Sam’s issues and overactive imagination. But as her own life slowly starts to spin out of control and the line between reality and fiction blurs, she must confront demons, on the page and in her past.

“The Babadook” is playing in theaters. Director William Friedkin, one of the film’s many fans, will introduce the movie on Saturday, Dec. 6, at 11:45 p.m. at the Vista Theater, 4473 Sunset Drive, in Los Angeles.

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The Film Noir File: Paying tribute to Otto Preminger

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

Happy Birthday, Otto Preminger (1905-1986)

Friday, Dec. 5

During the filming of “Angel Face,” Robert Mitchum bonded with Jean Simmons when he came to her defense against Preminger’s mistreatment.

During the filming of “Angel Face,” Robert Mitchum bonded with Jean Simmons when he came to her defense against Preminger’s mistreatment.

His nickname was “Otto the Ogre.” He was one of the most colorful and feisty of all the star Golden Age Hollywood directors. His verbal abuse of actors, including beautiful actresses and children, was legendary.

But Otto Preminger – known for his hot temper, thick German accent, bald bullet head, defiance of taboos and long camera takes – was also one of the czars of film noir in the 1940s and early ’50s, when he directed classics like “Laura,” “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and “Angel Face.” Later on, he made one of the best of all trial dramas, 1959’s “Anatomy of a Murder,” and directed the neglected 1965 British thriller “Bunny Lake is Missing.”

Read the rest of the story here.

Gene Tierney and Vincent Price size each other up in Otto Preminger’s “Laura.”

Gene Tierney and Vincent Price size each other up in Otto Preminger’s “Laura.”

6:15 a.m. (3:15 a.m.): “The Human Factor” (1970). Preminger’s last film – a faithful adaptation of Graham Greene’s dark, knowing novel about a British defector/putative spy (Nicol Williamson) – has a good, smart script, inspired by the Kim Philby case, written by playwright Tom Stoppard. The top cast includes Derek Jacobi, Richard Attenborough, Iman, John Gielgud and Robert Morley. But it suffers from a parsimonious budget and Otto’s declining film fortunes.

8:15 a.m. (5:15 a.m.) “Advise and Consent” (1962). With Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton, Don Murray, Walter Pidgeon, Gene Tierney, Burgess Meredith and Franchot Tone. Reviewed in FNB on Dec. 4, 2013.

The Man with the Golden Arm poster12:45 p.m.: (9:45 a.m.): “The Man with the Golden Arm” (1955) As a man struggling to give up his heroin habit, Frank Sinatra leads a superb cast in this riveting adaptation of Nelson Algren’s novel. Kim Novak plays his ex-girlfriend. Sinatra earned a Best Actor Oscar nom; the film’s music (by Elmer Bernstein) and art direction-set decoration also were considered for Oscars. With Eleanor Parker and Darren McGavin.

4:45 p.m. (1:45 p.m.): “Angel Face” (1953). With Robert Mitchum, Jean Simmons and Herbert Marshall.

6:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m.): “Laura” (1944). With Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Judith Anderson and Vincent Price.

Other non-noir Premingers shown on his birthday are his two well-made stage adaptations: George Bernard Shaw’s historical drama “Saint Joan” (1957), scripted by Greene, with Jean Seberg, Richard Widmark and Anton Walbrook at 10:45 a.m. (7:45 a.m.) and F. Hugh Herbert’s controversial sex comedy “The Moon is Blue” (1953), with William Holden, Maggie McNamara and David Niven, at 3 p.m. (12 p.m.). Both are worth a look.

Sunday, Dec. 7

8 a.m. (5 a.m.): “The Lady Vanishes” (1938, Alfred Hitchcock). With Michael Redgrave, Margaret Lockwood, Dame May Whitty and Paul Lukas.

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The Film Noir File: A day with Hitch, master of suspense

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

A Day With Alfred Hitchcock (Friday, Nov. 28)

Robert Cummings, Ray Milland and Grace Kelly form the love triangle in “Dial  M for Murder.”

Robert Cummings, Ray Milland and Grace Kelly form the love triangle in “Dial M for Murder.”

When it came to making movie thrillers, manufacturing chills, and squeezing the last drop of tension out of every thrill-packed scene and breath-catching set piece, Alfred Hitchcock was, by common consent, the Master of Suspense — king of the genre in the cinema’s Golden Age. Born in London, an émigré who moved to Hollywood in the ’40s, “Hitch,” as he was called by most movie folk, could plan and plot a suspense scene like no one else — riveting his audiences almost from his opening minutes, and building his unforgettable sequences and his little gems of nerve-racking tension with a meticulous expertise and vivid imagination that all thriller-makes envied and all tried (usually unsuccessfully) to emulate.

Hitchcock liked his heroines to be blonde and in distress, his villains to be charming and deadly, and his heroes to be fallible or accused of something they didn’t do. And he liked his movies (like those villains) to be devilishly seductive and watchable. Of all his contemporaries, he is still the film director most known, most watched and most imitated. And when his 1958 masterpiece “Vertigo” — that eerie romantic chiller starring James Stewart as a detective afraid of heights and Kim Novak as the beautiful mystery woman for whom he falls — was recently voted the best movie of all time, finally beating out runner-up “Citizen Kane” in the Sight and Sound film poll, it was a recognition that was probably as much for Hitchcock’s entire oeuvre.

Tippi Hedren gets direction from Hitch.

Tippi Hedren gets direction from Hitch.

Today’s Hitchcock mini-festival gives us five of his acknowledged classics, from the ’30s (“The Lady vanishes”), the ’40s (“Shadow of a Doubt,” which Hitchcock often named as his personal favorite), the ’50s (”Dial M for Murder”), to the ’60s (“Psycho” and “The Birds“), as well as the underrated 1942 “Saboteur” and 1964 “Marnie.” His constant, though often uncredited, collaborator on all these pictures, and on most of his others, was his one-time script woman, wife and life-long partner Alma Reville Hitchcock. If you’re a movie aficionado, you’ve probably seen them all, but they always repay a return visit. After all, life and love may fail you, but a thriller by Hitch will almost always get you on the hook.

5:30 a.m. (2:30 a.m.): “The Lady Vanishes” (1938, Alfred Hitchcock). With Michael Redgrave, Margaret Lockwood, Paul Lukas and Dame May Whitty. Reviewed in FNB on March 12, 2012.

7:30 a.m. (4:30 a.m.): “Saboteur” (1942, Alfred Hitchcock). With Robert Cummings, Priscilla Lane, Otto Kruger and Norman Lloyd. Reviewed in FNB on Oct. 18, 2014.

9:30 a.m. (6:30 a.m.): “Shadow of a Doubt” (1943, Alfred Hitchcock). With Joseph Cotten, Teresa Wright, Macdonald Carey and Hume Cronyn. Reviewed in FNB on Oct. 9, 2014.

11:30 a.m. (8:30 a.m.): “Dial M for Murder” (1954, Alfred Hitchcock). With Grace Kelly, Ray Milland and Cummings. Reviewed in FNB on Sept. 11, 2012.

1:30 p.m. (10:30 a.m.): “Marnie” (1964, Alfred Hitchcock). With Sean Connery, Tippi Hedren and Diane Baker. Reviewed in FNB on Jan. 30, 2012.

3:45 p.m. (12:45 p.m.): “The Birds” (1963, Alfred Hitchcock). With Rod Taylor, Hedren and Jessica Tandy. Reviewed in FNB on Oct. 23, 2014.

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “Psycho’ (1960, Alfred Hitchcock, 1960). With Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles and Martin Balsam. Reviewed in FNB on July 7, 2011.

[Read more...]

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The Film Noir File: Crawford at her craziest in ‘Possessed’

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

Possessed

Van Heflin is immune to Joan Crawford’s charm in “Possessed.” What nerve!

Van Heflin is immune to Joan Crawford’s charm in “Possessed.” What nerve!

(1947, Curtis Bernhardt). Thursday, Nov. 20. 4:15 p.m. (1:15 p.m.) With Joan Crawford, Van Heflin and Raymond Massey. Read the full review here.

Thursday, Nov. 20

2:15 p.m. (11:15 a.m.): “A Stolen Life” (1946, Curtis Bernhardt). Two Bette Davises, both in love with Glenn Ford, create mass confusion when one of them (his wife) dies and the other (her sister) substitutes herself. A double-role tour-de-force, which two-faced Bette tried again in 1964‘s “Dead Ringer.” With Walter Brennan, Dane Clark and Charlie Ruggles.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Birds” (1963, Alfred Hitchcock). With Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Suzanne Pleshette and Jessica Tandy. Reviewed in FNB on Oct. 23, 2014.

Friday, Nov. 21

Dennis Weaver goes from frustrated to freaked out in “Duel.”

Dennis Weaver goes from frustrated to freaked out in “Duel.”

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Duel” (1971, Steven Spielberg). “Jaws” made Steven Spielberg famous, but it was the earlier made-for-TV movie “Duel” that first showed he could scare the pants off any decently susceptible audience. Based on a Richard Matheson story, this brilliantly made, terrifying action movie pits an increasingly exasperated and then frightened motorist (Dennis Weaver) against an oncoming truck driven by a faceless trucker. A huge smoke-belching behemoth of a truck keeps pursuing him, apparently trying, for no reason he can fathom, to run him off the road and kill him. A real shocker.

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Scarecrow” (1973, Jerry Schatzberg). With Al Pacino, Gene Hackman and Dorothy Tristan). Reviewed in FNB on May 6, 2013.

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “The Last Detail” (1973, Hal Ashby). With Jack Nicholson, Randy Quaid and Otis Young. Reviewed in FNB on Feb. 20, 2013.

Sunday, Nov. 23

9:45 a.m. (6:45 a.m.): “Citizen Kane” (1941, Orson Welles). With Welles, Joseph Cotten, Everett Sloane, Dorothy Comingore and the Mercury Players. Reviewed in FNB on July 13, 2012.

2 p.m. (11 a.m.): “The Big Sleep” (1946, Howard Hawks). With Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Dorothy Malone and Elisha Cook, Jr.

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‘Foxcatcher’ draws us in with riveting acting but denies dramatic satisfaction

Alert: This review contains a spoiler.

Foxcatcher posterFoxcatcher/2014/Sony Pictures Classics/134 min.

“I’ve been looking for a father my whole life and I finally found him in John du Pont,” says Channing Tatum as Olympic wrestling champ Mark Schultz in “Foxcatcher.”

The movie is based on the real-life saga of the ultra-wealthy du Pont (Steve Carell) and his working relationship with Mark Schultz and his older brother Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo), both of whom won Olympic gold medals in 1984.

With the apparent aim of coaching wrestlers for the 1988 Seoul Olympics, du Pont invites Mark to train on his family estate, Foxcatcher Farm. But du Pont has little talent for coaching and it’s clear he wants to be more than a father figure to his protégée.

When Dave joins his brother at Foxcatcher, Mark is pushed aside and becomes alienated. Du Pont sours on his coaching plans and ultimately commits murder.

Director Bennett Miller (“Capote” and “Moneyball”) won the Best Director prize for “Foxcatcher” at the Cannes Film Fest. E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman wrote the script. The film strikes a grim and chilling mood, and Miller elicits memorable performances. From his pasty skin to his hunched gait to his clipped, halted speech, Carell perfectly conveys the menacing arrogance and internal emptiness that apparently defined du Pont’s personality. Ruffalo and Tatum are excellent as well.

But the film is strangely lopsided. Though it creates intensely compelling portraits on the surface, it shies away from examining the characters, especially du Pont, in real depth (once the triangle grows strained, Mark is essentially sidelined) and avoids any probing of du Pont’s interior life or motive for a cold-blooded killing.

Steve Carell is almost unrecognizable as creepy John du Pont.

Steve Carell is almost unrecognizable as creepy John du Pont.

That was a conscious decision, said Miller at a recent press conference in Beverly Hills. “[The film] resists the temptation of concluding anything, of putting labels on what this complex is. It purposely denies you the satisfaction of saying that’s what it was and to let you stop thinking about it. There was no conclusion in real life.”

At du Pont’s trial, neither the prosecution nor the defense suggested a motive for the crime. A jury rejected du Pont’s request to be found not guilty by reason of insanity. He was found guilty but mentally ill.

Carell said du Pont’s longtime sadness and loneliness influenced his portrayal. “I never approached him as a villain,” he said at the press conference.

And though Carell is compelling to the point of being almost unrecognizable as this awkward creepy loner, the fact remains that du Pont was indeed a villain, in more than ways than one. Completely sidestepping this essential component of the story dilutes the overall impact.

That said, “Foxcatcher” is worth seeing, especially given the Oscar buzz around the actors. “It’s very rewarding that it is resonating with people,” Carell said. “It was challenging, exciting and exhilarating.”

“Foxcatcher” opens in theaters today.

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