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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Film Noir File: Terrence Malick’s ‘Badlands’ is a dark poem of killers on the run

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

Badlands” (1973, Terrence Malick). Friday, Nov. 7. 12:30 a.m. (9:30 p.m.).

Kit and Holly are played by Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek, the first lead roles for either of them.

Kit and Holly are played by Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek, the first lead roles for either of them.

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.

Driving stolen cars, Kit and Holly embark on a savage cross-country trek.

Driving stolen cars, Kit and Holly embark on a savage cross-country trek.

These two moonchildren run off together after Kit fails to reconcile Holly’s mean, smiley-sign-painter father (Warren Oates) to their relationship. Then, plumb out of arguments, Kit shoots him dead and burns his house down. It’s probably Kit’s first murder; he’s such a weirdly polite guy that it’s hard to envision it otherwise. But soon he develops a taste for slaughter. And he and Holly embark on a savage cross-country trek by stolen cars, one that includes the massacre of many people, including Kit’s best (only) friend Cato (Ramon Bieri).

Kit appears to be killing not out of need or fear, but out of some perverse pleasure he gets from pulling the trigger and making a soul disappear from a body. “He was the most trigger-happy person I’d ever seen,” says Holly, in her flat, unemotional voice. Kit and Holly are played by Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek, the first lead roles for either of them.

Read the full review here.

Thursday, Nov. 6

Burt Lancaster stars in "Brute Force" by director Jules Dassin.

Burt Lancaster stars in “Brute Force” by director Jules Dassin.

8:15 a.m. (5:15 a.m.): “Brute Force” (1947, Jules Dassin). With Burt Lancaster, Hume Cronyn, Yvonne De Carlo, Charles Bickford and Ann Blyth. Reviewed in FNB on Aug. 15, 2013.

10:15 p.m. (7:15 p.m.): “Bullitt” (1968, Peter Yates). With Steve McQueen, Jacqueline Bisset, Robert Vaughn and Robert Duvall. Reviewed in FNB on Oct. 27, 2012.

12:15 a.m. (9:15 p.m.): “The Third Man” (1949, Carol Reed). With Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Alida Valli and Trevor Howard. Reviewed in FNB on Oct. 12, 2013.

Friday, Nov. 7

Rebel poster8 a.m. (5 a.m.): “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955, Nicholas Ray). With James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo and Dennis Hopper.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Detour” (1945, Edgar G. Ulmer). With Tom Neal and Ann Savage. Reviewed in FNB on Sept. 27, 2011.

9:15 p.m. (6:15 p.m.): “The Hitch-Hiker” (1953, Ida Lupino). With Edmond O’Brien, Frank Lovejoy and William Talman.

10:45 p.m. (7:45 p.m.): “Gun Crazy” (1950, Joseph H. Lewis). With Peggy Cummins, John Dall, Morris Carnovsky and Russ Tamblyn.

Saturday, Nov. 8

6 a.m. (3 a.m.): “His Kind of Woman” (1951, John Farrow). With Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell, Vincent Price and Raymond Burr. Reviewed in FNB on Dec. 18, 2012.

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “Saboteur” (1942, Alfred Hitchcock). With Robert Cummings, Priscilla Lane, Otto Kruger and Norman Lloyd. Reviewed in FNB on Oct. 18, 2014.

10:45 p.m. (7:45 p.m.): “The Big Knife” (1955, Robert Aldrich). With Jack Palance, Ida Lupino, Rod Steiger and Shelley Winters. [Read more...]

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Film noir features prominently at AFI FEST 2014

A Most Violent Year poster largeWe at FNB are eagerly awaiting the start of AFI FEST 2014 presented by Audi.

The terrific slate of shows runs Nov. 6-13 in Hollywood. The fest opens and closes with neo-noir titles that are generating Oscar buzz. “A Most Violent Year,” starring Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain and David Oyelowo, will kick things off. Set in 1981 in New York City, the film tells the story of an immigrant struggling to survive amid intense crime and danger. “A Most Violent Year” is directed by J.C. Chandor (“Margin Call” and “All Is Lost”).

Inherent Vice posterThere will be two screenings on Sat., Nov. 8., of director Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest feature: an adaptation of “Inherent Vice” by novelist Thomas Pynchon. Joaquin Phoenix stars as P.I. Doc Sportello in 1970-ish Los Angeles. We’re in. Phoenix leads a stellar cast including Katherine Waterston, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Jena Malone, Maya Rudolph and Martin Short.

On Monday, Nov. 10, “The Gambler” is the gala screening. In this remake of the 1974 James Caan film, Mark Wahlberg plays Jim Bennett, a college professor immersed in the watch-your-back world of underground gambling. English director Rupert Wyatt (“The Escapist” and “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”) joins forces with Boston-born writer William Monahan (“The Departed”).

Foxcatcher,” the closing night movie, is based on the real-life saga of ’80s Olympic wrestling champs Dave and Mark Schultz (Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum) and their uneasy working relationship with ultra-wealthy wrestling hobbyist/“coach” John du Pont (Steve Carell). Things go from tense to deadly in this spare and thoughtful drama, for which Bennett Miller took home the Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Fest. (His previous work includes “Capote” and “Moneyball.”) We caught this at a press screening last night – it is very chilling and very well done. From his pasty skin to his zombie rasp that passes for a voice, Carell perfectly conveys the menacing imperiousness and internal emptiness that apparently defined du Pont’s personality. Ruffalo and Tatum are excellent as well.

sophia-loren-afi-tribute[1]These are just a few of the film-noir offerings and there is much more going on, such as the Sophia Loren tribute on Nov. 12. Who doesn’t love this supremely talented and stunningly beautiful actress?

The complete AFI FEST program includes 118 films (73 features, 45 shorts), representing 39 countries. There are 29 films directed/co-directed by women, 16 documentaries and 17 animated films.  The breakdown by section is: Galas/Tributes (6), Special Screenings (8), American Independents (8), New Auteurs (10), World Cinema (29), Midnight (4), Breakthrough (4), Conversations (4), Cinema’s Legacy (4) and Short Films (45), and includes 9 official Foreign Language Film Oscar® submissions.

Free tickets are available: http://www.afi.com/afifest/freetickets.aspx

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‘Nightcrawler’ teaches how to creep up the career ladder

Nightcrawler posterNightcrawler/2014/Bold Films, Open Road Films/117 min.

Writer/director Dan Gilroy’s “Nightcrawler” is a slick, suspenseful neo-noir satire on “if-it-bleeds-it-leads” journalism and the bleak reality of big-city survival.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Louis Bloom, a Los Angeles loner whose “resume” is an odd blend of scavenging, thievery and clumsy self-promotion. While selling stolen goods to get by, he eagerly seeks a more upright job. But parroting cheesy memes he’s learned in online business classes to potential employers doesn’t compensate for his blatant dishonesty.

Then his late-night carousing leads him to a potential goldmine and an actual career path. He discovers that he can shoot video of crime scenes and sell it to local TV news stations. His camera might be cheap but he has the requisite ruthlessness and unflagging energy to join the ranks of freelance videographers who race against dawn, on deadline, from one crime scene to the next.

Equally ruthless is Nina Romina (Rene Russo), station manager of KWLA. Sharp-tongued and steely, Nina serves as Louis’ mentor; he helps her spike ratings and protect her job. Louis appears to have a crush on Nina and an awkward pseudo-romance ensues.

Having zero ethics and finding no shortage of wrong-doing around town, Louis has enough work to hire a gopher (Riz Ahmed). As the pressure mounts and the stakes get higher, Louis crosses the line to become what he might call a “hands-on entrepreneur” and what anyone else would call a criminal.

Where the film arguably missteps is in failing to humanize Louis (though maybe that’s not Gilroy’s goal). There’s no descent into craziness – Louis is unhinged from the first scene. Also, the budding “romance” is dropped too soon. It would have added a layer to both of their characters had Gilroy explored that subplot in more detail.

Nevertheless, “Nightcrawler” engages throughout, thanks to fierce performances from Gyllenhaal and Russo, crisp writing and direction from Gilroy and stunning cinematography from Robert Elswit.

 “Nightcrawler” opens in theaters today.

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Moody and hypnotic, ‘Force Majeure’ breathes new life into a tired trope

Force Majeure posterForce Majeure/2014/Magnolia Pictures/118 min.

It’s a question as old as the hills (or, in this case, the Alps): Can you ever really know a person? In “Force Majeure,” a domestic noir, Swedish writer/director Ruben Östlund probes the surface of a couple’s relationship, on a skiing holiday with their kids in the majestic French mountains. Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) is a handsome workaholic; his lovely wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and children (Clara and Vincent Wettergren) sometimes compete with his i-phone for his attention.

When an avalanche hits, Tomas’ instinct is to take off on his own, rather than protect his family. Later, he denies and minimizes his behavior. But Ebba is devastated by what happened and she won’t let it go. The children distance themselves from their parents.

Östlund creates strange, jarring tension driven by a primal betrayal unfolding in unfamiliar territory. Tomas and Ebba are claustrophobic and quarrelsome at the ski lodge; exposed and vulnerable when they hit the slopes. Time drags, they bicker in front of strangers, drink too much booze and pretend all is well in front of the kids.

Moody and hypnotic, “Force Majeure” scored big at the Cannes Film Fest where it won the Jury Prize in Un Certain Regard.  The characters are rendered with piercing honesty as Östlund takes his time to tell the story. It’s a good, well acted yarn, pretty and ponderous, despite a few contrivances.

My one gripe: the film ends on a random note that doesn’t play particularly well.

“Force Majeure” opens in theaters today.

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Film Noir File: Welles’ magnum opus, Halloween nightmares

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

Touch of Evil” (1958, Orson Welles). Wednesday, Oct. 29. 10 p.m. (7 p.m.).

“A little old lady walked down Main Street last night and picked up a shoe. That shoe had a foot in it. I’m going to make you pay for that, boy.”
Detective Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles)

Orson Welles and Charlton Heston lock horns in “Touch of Evil.”

Orson Welles and Charlton Heston lock horns in “Touch of Evil.”

In two Hellish border towns, one in California, the other in Mexico, a grotesque and loony gallery of rogues, cops, narcs, city bosses, gangsters, juvenile delinquents, psycho motel clerks and ladies of the evening are thrown together, when a wealthy banker, Rudy Linnekar, is blown to smithereens at the border. We watch a bomb being planted in his car (from above, in one of cinema’s greatest long-take, moving-camera shots) by a shadowy, not-quite-seen killer.

On the killer’s trail, in what seems only minutes after that explosive opening, is the local star police detective, Hank Quinlan (writer-director-star Orson Welles), a mountainously fat, savagely cynical but brilliant cop, who specializes in cracking the most mysterious crimes and nailing the wiliest killers. In this case, Quinlan fingers a good-looking Mexican shoe clerk (Victor Millan) who was sleeping with Linnekar’s daughter (Joanna Moore) and who has a shoebox full of dynamite in their motel room.

Only one problem: An upright, unshakably honest narcotics-cop named Mike Vargas (Charlton Heston, at his most righteous) – who’s visiting the town with his gorgeous blonde wife Susie (Janet Leigh, at her liveliest) – knows that the dynamite was planted. And if Quinlan planted the evidence on this murder, maybe he, and his hero-worshipping partner Menzies (Joseph Calleia) have been faking things for years.

Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh (as Mike and Susie Vargas) have much to fear.

Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh (as Mike and Susie Vargas) have much to fear.

What follows is a war of nerves (and of guts and morality) between two great cops, one of whom may be a murderer.

Around them is the rest of one of film noir’s greatest casts: Akim Tamiroff as Uncle Joe Grandi, the local sawed-off Little Caesar, Valentin de Vargas as Uncle Joe’s lady-killing leather-jacketed nephew, Dennis Weaver as the nervous “night man” at the local motel, Mercedes McCambridge as the most blood-freezing lesbian biker ever, and a couple of salty old pros from “Citizen Kane” (Joseph Cotten and Ray Collins). And, in one of her (and our) favorite performances, Marlene Dietrich as Tana, the sultry, sardonic madame who plays the pianola at her high-style whorehouse and makes great chili. She tells her old flame Quinlan, “You’re a mess, honey.”

The Universal studio execs of 1958 made a mess of “Touch of Evil,” in its original release, ordering reshooting and recuts. But it’s long since assumed classic status and been put back in the shape it’s believed writer-director-star Welles wanted.

We actually owe the existence of “Touch of Evil” to Charlton Heston. He was hired to play the hero, Vargas, in an initially unpromising adaptation of Whit Masterson’s paperback thriller “Badge of Evil,” after Welles was already cast as Quinlan. Heston then insisted that Welles direct it as well.

Marlene Dietrich as Tana plays the pianola and makes great chili.

Marlene Dietrich as Tana plays the pianola and makes great chili.

Welles was still in his prime when he made “Touch of Evil” and he did it with a flair, panache and unflagging invention. He displays a mastery of  staging, of camera placement and of bravura acting from the incredible cast that has seldom been matched in the canon of noir. (Russell Metty photographed it and Henry Mancini wrote the score.)

The movie is a masterpiece of pulp and expressionism. Just as with “Citizen Kane,” you can watch it over and over again, and still find surprises. The ending is both melancholy and exhilarating.

It’s wonderful that Welles got this last big studio chance. But it’s sad too, because we know that he was never able to make a go-for-broke super-Hollywood studio film like this again. No one was better at it.

Some aficionados think “Touch of Evil” is the very pinnacle of film noir. Even if it isn’t, it’s a movie that takes the whole notion of noir (the melding of hard-boiled crime stories and expressionist high style technique) to one of its craziest, wildest, most brilliant extremes.

“He was some kind of a man. What does it matter what you say about people?”
Tana (Marlene Dietrich)

Act of Violence posterWednesday, Oct. 29

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Psycho” (1960, Alfred Hitchcock). With Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles and Martin Balsam. Reviewed in FNB, on July 7, 2011.

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Act of Violence” (1948, Fred Zinnemann). With Van Heflin, Robert Ryan and Janet Leigh. Reviewed in FNB, on Aug. 4, 2012.

1:45 a.m. (10:45 p.m.): “Harper” (1966, Jack Smight). With Paul Newman, Janet Leigh, Lauren Bacall and Julie Harris. Reviewed in FNB, on Dec. 4, 2012.

Friday, Oct. 31

Horror Halloween Marathon

“Cat People” (1942, Jacques Tourneur) is a purrfect choice for Halloween.

“Cat People” (1942, Jacques Tourneur) is a purrfect choice for Halloween.

11 a.m. (8 a.m.): “Cat People” (1942, Jacques Tourneur). With Simone Simon, Kent Smith and Tom Conway. Reviewed in FNB, on July 20, 2014.

3:15 p.m. (12:15 p.m.): “Dementia 13” (1963, Francis Ford Coppola). With William Campbell, Luana Anders and Patrick Magee. Reviewed in FNB, on June 12, 2014.

4:45 p.m. (1:45 p.m.): “Carnival of Souls” (1962, Herk Harvey). An anguished young woman (Candace Hilligoss) nearly drowns and then makes her way to a small city. It’s mysteriously inhabited by ordinary-looking but strange people who seem to be the citizens of some other, more dangerous place. (The eerie, smiling little man who follows her all around is played by the writer-director, Herk Harvey.) This is a legendary low-budget horror classic, and few films of its type are scarier.

Repulsion Criterion poster6:15 p.m. (3:15 p.m.): “Repulsion” (1965, Roman Polanski). With Catherine Deneuve, Yvonne Furneaux and Ian Hendry. Reviewed in FNB, on Oct. 27, 2012.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Night of the Living Dead” (1968, George Romero). With Duane Jones and Judith O’Dea. Reviewed in FNB, on March 27, 2012.

5:15 a.m. (2:15 a.m.): “Eyes Without a Face” (1959, Georges Franju). With Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli and Edith Scob. Reviewed in FNB, on Nov. 4, 2011.

Saturday, Nov. 1

6:15 p.m. (3:15 p.m.): “Point Blank” (1967, John Boorman). With Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson and Carroll O’Connor. Reviewed in FNB, on Jan. 28, 2013.

11:45 p.m. (8:45 p.m.): “North by Northwest” (1959, Alfred Hitchcock). With Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and James Mason.

4 a.m. (1 a.m.): “The Honeymoon Killers” (1969, Leonard Kastle). With Shirley Stoler and Tony Lo Bianco. Reviewed in FNB, on July 21, 2011.

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Film Noir File: Have a Happy, Haunting Halloween with Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’

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 Birds” (1963, Alfred Hitchcock). Saturday, Oct. 25. 5:45 p.m. (2:45 p.m.)

Most critics attacked “The Birds.” But movie audiences flocked to it.

Most critics attacked “The Birds.” But movie audiences flocked to it.

A smug, snobbish, stylishly beautiful, and very, very blonde San Francisco socialite named Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) chases a cocky lawyer she’s just met named Mitch (Rod Taylor), to his family home in scenic Bodega Bay, to mock him with a gift of love birds in a cage. Once they’ve reconnected, Mitch and Melanie commence on what first seems a typical Hollywood movie romance, with typical Hitchcockian mother problems (Jessica Tandy). And there’s another woman – Mitch’s old flame, a gorgeous brunette schoolteacher (Suzanne Pleshette).

Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren and Alfred Hitchcock on location for “The Birds.”

Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren and Alfred Hitchcock on location for “The Birds.”

Suddenly, inexplicably, the uncaged wild birds of Bodega Bay – crows, sparrows, sea gulls – start massing into murderous flocks or going on solitary raids, attacking Melanie and everyone else. As the attacks escalate in fury, their hapless human targets become immersed in an avian nightmare from the sky where no one is safe.

Perhaps most terrifying is the famous scene when Melanie sits on a bench outside the school to pick up Mitch’s kids, while, in the schoolroom, the children chant a doggerel nursery rhyme and behind Melanie masses of crows gather and perch, waiting quietly on the schoolyard jungle gym. Chaos ensues, with typical Hitchcockian invention and panache.

Masses of crows gather and perch, patiently waiting to attack.

Masses of crows gather and perch, patiently waiting to attack.

Back in 1963, critics, especially the more intellectual ones, generally attacked “The Birds.” But movie audiences flocked to it and that is the verdict that has lasted. The source of Evan Hunter’s screenplay was a novelette by Daphne du Maurier (“Rebecca”). The crisp and crystalline color cinematography is by Hitch regular Robert Burks and the menacing, shrieking bird sounds were created by Hitch’s masterly composer, Bernard Herrmann. Happy Halloween!

Saturday, Oct. 25: Horror Day

Sweeney Todd poster 19822 p.m. (11 a.m.): “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” (1982, Terry Hughes & Harold Price). A film of the celebrated Harold Prince Broadway staging of Stephen Sondheim’s very dark musical play about the notorious killer-barber Sweeney Todd. With Angela Lansbury and George Hearn from the original stage cast.

4:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m.): “Mad Love” (1935, Karl Freund). The most stylish film version of novelist Maurice Renard’s eerie horror tale “The Hands of Orlac,” in which a murderer’s hands are grafted onto the wrists of a famed concert pianist and amputee (Colin Clive) by a mad doctor (Peter Lorre), with an unspeakable yen for the pianist’s wife (Frances Drake). This one has a brilliantly maniacal performance by Lorre, and it’s a masterpiece of noir photography by German expressionist cameraman-turned-Hollywood-director Freund and his great cinematographer Gregg Toland (“Citizen Kane“). With Sara Haden and Edward Brophy.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Haunting” (1963, Robert Wise). With Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson and Russ Tamblyn. The second great American horror movie of 1963. (See “The Birds” above.)

Sunday, Oct. 26

10 a.m. (7 a.m.): In a Lonely Place(1950, Nicholas Ray). With Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame and Frank Lovejoy.

Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner star in “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” from 1941.

Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner star in “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” from 1941.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1941, Victor Fleming). The often-filmed Robert Louis Stevenson thriller about the good doctor whose potion turns him into a bad man. Spencer Tracys Jekyll-Hyde is much more realistically and psychologically played than the classic hammery of predecessors John Barrymore and the Oscar-winning Fredric March. Tracy does him with less extreme makeup, as a brilliant, sensitive but tormented Victorian Britisher beset with repressions and secret desires that explode into evil with the creation of Hyde. Fleming directed this movie near his “Gone with the Wind”-“Wizard of Oz” heyday and, though it’s a bit slow in the beginning, the last 30 minutes are a noir triumph. The excellent supporting cast includes Ingrid Bergman (as Hyde’s terrorized sex victim Ivy), Lana Turner, Donald Crisp and C. Aubrey Smith. (Off-screen, Bergman reportedly had affairs with Fleming and Tracy.)

2:15 a.m. (11:15 p.m.): “Diabolique” (1955, Henri-Georges Clouzot). With Simone Signoret, Paul Meurisse, Charles Vanel and Vera Clouzot.

4:15 a.m. (1:15 a.m.): “Gaslight” (1944, George Cukor). With Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten, Dame May Whitty and Angela Lansbury. Reviewed in FNB on August 26, 2012.

Monday, Oct. 27: Jack Carson Day

Jack Carson died on Jan. 2, 1963, the same day as noir star Dick Powell. Carson was 52, Powell was 58.

Jack Carson died on Jan. 2, 1963, the same day as noir star Dick Powell. Carson was 52, Powell was 58.

12:30 p.m. (9:30 a.m.): “Mildred Pierce” (1945, Michael Curtiz). With Joan Crawford, Jack Carson, Ann Blyth, Zachary Scott and Eve Arden.

Tuesday, Oct. 28

6 a.m. (3 a.m.): “Nosferatu” (1922, F. W. Murnau). Regarded by many critics as one of the greatest German films – and one of the greatest horror movies – of all time: F. W. Murnau’s hypnotic, brilliantly visual, unacknowledged adaptation of Bram Stoker’s vampire classic “Dracula.” Murnau’s Nosferatu, the mysterious Max Schreck, is one of the eeriest, creepiest, most frightening horror film monsters ever. He really looks as if he’d just crawled up out of a grave to kill you and drink your blood. And if you want a quick one-stop lesson in German film expressionism, here is a consummate example. (German silent, with intertitles and music score.)

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Film Noir File: A Day with Ulmer, the King of Poverty Row Noir

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 Dark Day with Edgar G. Ulmer

Edgar Ulmer

Edgar Ulmer

The French call him an auteur. The Americans call him The King of Poverty Row. And no cultish filmmaker of the classic Hollywood era, not even the infamous Ed Wood, Jr., has a stranger, more offbeat, more off-the-wall filmography than Edgar G. Ulmer. He’s the man who made “The Black Cat,” “Bluebeard” and “The Strange Woman” as well as a picture shot for a song that eventually made it into the U. S. National Film Registry, that legendary 1945 no-exit low-budget classic of fate, despair and sudden death, “Detour.”

Ulmer, born in Olmutz, Moravia, Austria-Hungary in 1904, started his career in Germany, in the heyday of German Expressionism, working, he claimed (some dispute it), on classics such as “Metropolis,” and “The Last Laugh” for film geniuses like Fritz Lang and F. W. Murnau. He received his first directorial credit on “People on Sunday,” with fellow filmmakers Robert Siodmak, Billy Wilder and Fred Zinnemann.

While Wilder and the others became A-list directors and even Oscar-winners in Hollywood, Ulmer was exiled to “Poverty Row.” There he labored for the rest of his career on an amazing potpourri of low-budget titles, including westerns, film noir and science fiction.

The Black Cat posterThe reason: While he was directing the 1934 horror hit, “The Black Cat” starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, Ulmer made the mistake of having an affair with his producer’s wife, Shirley Alexander. Shirley later divorced her husband Max, married Ulmer and worked beside him, as script supervisor or scenarist, from then on.

Ulmer’s Hollywood career lasted from the early ’30s to the mid ’60s, largely because he doesn’t seem to have ever turned down a script. He shot on bare-bones sets, with actors usually (though not always) on the B or C or D lists, from scripts for which the adjective “clichéd” would be a compliment. And though his movies may have been shot for peanuts, in his hands, they often looked like caviar.

A healthy percentage of Ulmer’s movies were film noir – or close to film noir. They took place in a world of fear and darkness, sometimes because the characters were swallowed up in impending doom, and sometimes, one suspects, because the electricity bill hadn’t been paid. Whatever the job though, Ulmer was one of the real masters of the noir form and style.

And why shouldn’t he be? His whole life and career, in a way, were film noirs – dark stories of infidelity, betrayal, paranoia and persecution, enacted in an Ulmerworld that was lost in shadows of menace and dread.

Ann Savage is one fierce femme in “Detour.”

Ann Savage is one fierce femme in “Detour.”

Ulmer died in 1972, but he lived to see his work revived and his name made famous – cultishly famous, it’s true, but renowned nonetheless. He and Shirley are buried near each other. And they now have Ulmerfests near his Austrian-Hungarian birthplace.

Here is your own Ulmerfest from TCM. So, take the detour. You won’t find cheaper, better, crazier, more cultish, shadowy, mesmerizing (or should we say “Ulmerizing“) Poverty Row classics anywhere.

The Ulmerfilmen (Tuesday, Oct. 21)

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Her Sister’s Secret” (1946, Edgar Ulmer). A weepy soaper, starring Nancy Coleman and Margaret Lindsay as sisters with a secret (an illegitimate child). Not quite in Douglas Sirk’s class, but better than most cheapo tear-jerkers.

9:15 p.m. (6:15 p.m.): “Edgar G. Ulmer The Man Off-Screen” (2004, Michael Palm). A 2004 Ulmer documentary. Interviewees include Peter Bogdanovich and Roger Corman. Also shown at 5 a.m. (2 a.m.) on Wednesday, Oct. 22.

“Detour” eventually made it into the U. S. National Film Registry.

“Detour” eventually made it into the U. S. National Film Registry.

10:45 p.m. (7:45 p.m.): “Carnegie Hall” (1947, Edgar Ulmer). Marsha Hunt is a faithful Carnegie Hall music lover determined that her son (William Prince) will be a great classical pianist. While she drives him onward and upward, director Ulmer –  a classical music buff of the first degree – beautifully stages and photographs some incredible performances by such legendary classical virtuosi as pianist Artur Rubinstein, violinist Jascha Heifetz, cellist Gregor Piatagorsky, conductors Leopold Stokowski and Fritz Reiner (Ulmer’s personal friend and the godfather of his daughter), opera singers Lily Pons, Ezio Pinza and Rise Stevens, and, for variation, pop music stars Harry James and Vaughn Monroe.

Few musical movies have ever boasted a lineup like that – and this movie probably had a special place in music-lover Ulmer’s heart.

Paul Langton and Barbara Payton star in “Murder is My Beat.”

Paul Langton and Barbara Payton star in “Murder is My Beat.”

1:15 a.m. (10:15 p.m.): “Murder is My Beat” (1955, Edgar Ulmer). Two cops chase a killer. One of Ulmer’s pure noirs. With Paul Langton, Robert Shayne and Barbara Payton.

2:45 a.m. (11:45 p.m.): “Detour” (1945, Edgar Ulmer). With Tom Neal, Ann Savage and Esther Howard. Read the full review here.

4 a.m. (1 a.m.): “The Amazing Transparent Man” (1960, Edgar Ulmer). A gangster and a mad scientist with an invisibility formula team up for a crime wave. There is no truth to the rumor that the producer told Ulmer to make the entire cast invisible to save on salaries. With Marguerite Chapman and Douglas Kennedy.

Saturday, Oct. 18

Assault poster2:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m.): “Assault on Precinct 13” (1976, John Carpenter). Trapped in a local Los Angeles precinct station and lock-up, with communication cut off and a gang of vicious delinquents and criminals besieging them from outside, a group of cops and convicts try to make it through the night. Director-writer John Carpenter, inspired by one of his favorite movies (the 1959 Howard Hawks Western “Rio Bravo”) gives us one of the quintessential entrapment thrillers. With Austin Stoker and Darwin Joston.

Sunday, Oct. 19

5:45 p.m. (2:45 p.m.): “Foreign Correspondent” (1940, Alfred Hitchcock). With Joel McCrea, Laraine Day, George Sanders and Herbert Marshall. Reviewed in FNB on March 26, 2014.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Marnie” (1964, Alfred Hitchcock). With Sean Connery, Tippi Hedren and Martin Gabel. Reviewed in FNB on Jan. 30, 2012.

10:30 p.m. (7:30 p.m.): “Julie” (1956, Andrew L. Stone). The same year she sang “Que Sera, Sera” for Hitchcock as the menaced mom in Hitch’s remake of “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” Doris Day played a comely stewardess stalked by her psycho ex-husband, Louis Jourdan, in this lady-in-distress thriller from the poor man’s Hitchcock, Andrew Stone. It’s an okay movie with a good cast: Barry Sullivan, Frank Lovejoy, Jack (“Maverick”) Kelly, Jack Kruschen and one of D. W. Griffith’s great threatened ladies, Mae Marsh of “Intolerance.” Reviewed in FNB on June 27, 2012.

Monday, Oct. 20

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Saboteur” (1942, Alfred Hitchcock). Robert Cummings plays one of the classic Hitchcockian “wrong men,” falsely accused of World War II era sabotage, racing cross country to try to find and expose the real saboteurs. In the tradition of “The 39 Steps“ and “North by Northwest,“ it’s full of sometimes astonishing suspense set-pieces, including the breathtaking, vertigo-inducing scene with Cummings and Norman Lloyd at the top of the Statue of Liberty.

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‘Fury’ hits hard with a powerful story and fine performances

Fury posterFury/2014/Columbia Pictures/134 min.

Writer/director David Ayer’s “Fury,” a World War II drama, is a force to behold, with one of Brad Pitt’s finest performances.

The movie is set in April of 1945 and the war is coming to an end, but this is no gradual winding down. Instead, it’s a tooth and nail fight, a savage final struggle to defeat the Nazis on the European front. Pitt plays an army sergeant nicknamed Wardaddy who commands a Sherman tank and a crew of men.

Boyd (Shia LaBeouf) clings steadfastly to religion to get him through. Jon Bernthal’s Coon and Michael Peña’s Gordo gave up hope a long time ago. Logan Lerman, as a new addition named Norman, shows us a heart-wrenching evolution from paper-pusher to Nazi-slayer.

The soldiers hold their own for a while but, as they push through enemy lines, it becomes frighteningly clear that they are far outnumbered by the Germans.

Pitt melds fierce intensity and psychological battle scars with layers of mystery, dignity and reserve. The rest of the cast (including Anamaria Marinca and Alicia von Rittberg as German women the men encounter) match him, beat for beat, thanks to assured and nuanced direction from Ayer.

‘Fury’ can be hard to watch at times – it’s gory and graphic from the start – but war is hell, remember. And this is one hell of a story.

“Fury” opens in theaters today.

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