Femmes fatales x 2 Sunday at the Skirball Cultural Center

The Intriguante—Women of Intrigue in Film Noir series at the Skirball Cultural Center (2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 25) features a superb lineup: “Pitfall” (1948, André de Toth) and “Criss Cross” (1949, Robert Siodmak). Veteran critic Dave Kehr once described “Criss Cross” as “an archly noir story replete with triple and quadruple crosses, leading up to one of the most shockingly cynical endings in the whole genre.” 

You can read more about “Pitfall” here.

Criss Cross/1949/Universal Pictures/88 min.

What would film noir be without obsessive love? (Or “amour fou” as the French would say.) Just a bunch of caring and sharing among equal partners with no cause for discontent? How frightfully dull.

My favorite example is “Criss Cross” from 1949. Director Robert Siodmak helped define noir style and in this flick you can see what an unerring eye he had.

Anna (Yvonne De Carlo) and Steve (Burt Lancaster) find it impossible to say goodbye.

“Criss Cross” tells the story of a nice guy from a modest background who, try as he might, just cannot break ties with his sexy but venal ex-wife. They are one of noir’s most stunningly gorgeous couples.

Burt Lancaster as Steve Thompson takes your breath away with his arresting features and beautiful build. Equally captivating is exquisite Yvonne De Carlo (Lily Munster on the ’60s TV show, “The Munsters”) as Anna.

Lancaster and De Carlo were also paired in Jules Dassin’s prison film “Brute Force” from 1947. And in 1946, Siodmak helped catapult Lancaster and Ava Gardner to stardom in “The Killers,” another seminal film noir. Miklós Rózsa wrote original music for both Siodmak films.

Back to “Criss Cross.” Having returned to his native Los Angeles after more than a year of roaming around the country, working odd jobs, Steve’s convinced that he’s over Anna and can move on from their failed marriage.

He gets his old job back (as a driver for Horten’s, an armored car service) and reconnects with his family (a very unusual touch – most noir heroes are total loners). There’s Mom (Edna Holland), brother Slade (Richard Long) and his brother’s fiancée Helen (Meg Randall). They’re all anti-Anna, natch, and so is Steve’s childhood friend Det. Lt. Pete Ramirez (Stephen McNally).

Anna likes the perks that her sugar daddy Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea) can provide.

It’s only a matter of time (and fate, of course) before Steve sees Anna again, only to learn she has a new love interest, an unctuous gangster and sugar daddy named Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea), whom she abruptly marries.

But Anna can’t quite tear herself away from Steve – he is Burt bloody Lancaster, after all. When Slim catches the pair together, Steve stays calm and says he’s figured out a way to pull a heist – an inside job at Horten’s – but he needs some help to carry it out. Things don’t go quite according to plan, however, and the caper turns into a smoke-filled shootout, which lands Steve in the hospital and launches Slim on the lam.

Noir master Daniel Fuchs adapted “Criss Cross” from a Don Tracy novel. While the script’s references to Steve’s imminent doom are a little over the top, the movie is still an excellent showcase for the talents of German-émigré Siodmak, an auteur largely underrated in postwar Hollywood, as well as for his cast and crew. “Criss Cross” is both a tense, lean crime thriller and a textured, haunting story about relationships and human nature.

Much as I like “The Killers,” I prefer “Criss Cross” and its probing into questions of fate, our inherent human capacity for perversity and self-destruction, our tendencies toward paranoia, greed and guilt, and our willingness to trust, trick and manipulate others and ourselves. Basically, everything we hate to think about and try to repress.

We see romantic relationships that run the gamut from sweet to steamy to sadistic, with Siodmak and Fuchs reminding us of the violence that can lurk just under a tranquil surface. It’s also interesting to speculate, upon repeat viewings, just how far back Steve might have been hatching his plan and to what extent it grew out of Slim’s wider and stickier web of deceit.

When Slim and his gang invade Steve’s place, Steve outlines his plan.

Beginning with a magnificent shot that lands us in the middle of the story, we witness a clandestine meeting, a few minutes in a parking lot, of lovers Steve and Anna.

Then, as Siodmak backtracks to fill us in on their story, it’s one ravishing chiaroscuro composition after another, often shot from high above and suggesting a sense of encroaching peril or shot low to create a feeling of dominance, danger and power. Entrapping shadows abound.

Siodmak and cinematographer Franz Planer were at the top of their game in “Criss Cross. “ It’s hard to beat the panoramic opening scene and the pieta-like closing shot. Another striking scene: when Steve sees Anna dancing the rhumba (with an uncredited Tony Curtis) as Esy Morales’ band gives it their all. I also love the alternating high and low shots as Anna and Steve discover that Slim and his gang have infiltrated Steve’s place, quiet as cats, save for the refrigerator that pounds shut as they help themselves to beers. “You know,” says Dan Duryea’s Slim, in a cool, silky voice, “it don’t look right. You can’t exactly say it looks right now can you?”

Was there anyone better in 1940s than Duryea as the cheap, sleazy, misogynistic gangster-type who never failed to be dressed to the nines in the flashiest and gaudiest of garb?

Steve and Anna hope to reunite after she extricates herself from Slim.

Additionally, it’s a testament to Lancaster’s power of expression – his graceful physicality, measured, calm voice and what seems to be an innate kindness and intelligence – that you continue to root for him knowing that every step he takes is the wrong one.

And you can see how De Carlo as Anna could sear a man’s heart. (De Carlo later starred as the quirky matriarch in TV’s “The Munsters,” 1964-66.) While some would write Anna off as a conniving shrew who causes Steve’s downfall, and it’s pretty hard to argue otherwise, she at least never plays too coy – she wants him, yes, but she wants money too and she’s entirely clear that she’ll get it with or without him. It’s his choice (as much as you have a choice in film noir) to execute a heist to get a bunch of cash. As for the heist, particularly the planning of, I think there is much here that influenced John Huston when he made “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950).

Also memorable in their performances are Percy Helton as the bartender, Alan Napier as Finchley, the stately, dignified crook consultant who works for liquor and Griff Barnett as Pop, the co-worker whom Steve betrays. “Criss Cross” also features Raymond Burr, uncredited, as a gangster.

Steven Soderbergh remade “Criss Cross” as “The Underneath” in 1995 and it’s a good film. But just as Lancaster’s Steve likens his love to getting a bit of apple stuck in his teeth, “Criss Cross” similarly lodges in your psyche. Like a lurking temptation, it’s hard to let go.

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Skirball Cultural Center offers a double dose of intrigue on the big screen this Sunday

The Intriguante—Women of Intrigue in Film Noir series at the Skirball Cultural Center continues at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 25, with an excellent double feature.

Dick Powell and Lizabeth Scott face Raymond Burr in “Pitfall.”

Dick Powell and Lizabeth Scott face Raymond Burr in “Pitfall.”

The first film is “Pitfall” (1948, André de Toth), featuring Dick Powell, Lizabeth Scott and Jane Wyatt in a classic noir love triangle. Just a few years before, Powell, a song and dance man, reinvented his screen persona when he played detective Philip Marlowe in “Murder, My Sweet” (1944, Edward Dmytryk). Powell then became a regular on the film noir slate.

In “Pitfall,” he plays John Forbes, a happily married husband and father with a good job. Problem is, John is bored and it’s not long before he risks everything by getting tangled up with an irresistible femme fatale named Mona Stevens (Scott).

Further complicating the situation is Raymond Burr as a private investigator who also covets Ms. Stevens. Powell and Wyatt are spot-on, Scott lends humanity to what could be a two-dimensional role and this is one of Burr’s best performances.

You can read the full FNB review here.

Yvonne De Carlo and Burt Lancaster can’t stay away from each other in “Criss Cross.”

Yvonne De Carlo and Burt Lancaster can’t stay away from each other in “Criss Cross.”

Next up: “Criss Cross” (1949, Robert Siodmak) is a spare, chilling story that zooms along at breakneck speed with characters you’ll never forget.

Here, the stunning Yvonne De Carlo (whom you might remember from TV’s “The Munsters”) lures her ex-husband Burt Lancaster into a high-stakes heist. The sleazy bad guy is played perfectly by Dan Duryea.

Lancaster’s Steve is essentially a good guy who just can’t get his ex-wife out of his system. Some would call him crazy. The French would term it “amour fou.” But what would film noir be without obsessive love? This somewhat neglected movie completely holds its own with any other title from the film noir canon. “Criss Cross” plays particularly well on the big screen and it’s great fun to see the Los Angeles locales. The opening shot is tremendous and look out for a young Tony Curtis.

You can read the full FNB review here.

Admission is $10 general; $7 seniors and full-time students; $5 members.

The exhibitions Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950 and The Noir Effect will remain open until 8 p.m.

The File on Thelma Jordon posterThe Intriguante series concludes on Feb. 12 with “The File on Thelma Jordon” (1950, Robert Siodmak), a crime drama starring the inimitable Barbara Stanwyck.

Additionally, there are two more free Tuesday matinees at the Skirball Cultural Center. On Feb. 3 is 1939’s “Confessions of a Nazi Spy,” directed by Anatole Litvak and starring Edward G. Robinson as an FBI investigator. On Feb. 10, “Act of Violence” (1948, Fred Zinnemann) looks at the plight of returning World War II vets in a captivating film noir brimming with dark secrets, betrayal and revenge. Van Heflin, Robert Ryan and Janet Leigh lead the cast.

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Oscar nominations are announced!

Oscar statuetteDirectors Alfonso Cuarón and J.J. Abrams, actor Chris Pine and Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs announced the nominations for the 87th Academy Awards® today (Jan. 15).  For the first time, nominees in all 24 categories were announced live.

Academy members from each of the 17 branches vote to determine the nominees in their respective categories.  In the Animated Feature Film and Foreign Language Film categories, nominees are selected by a vote of multi-branch screening committees.  All voting members are eligible to select the Best Picture nominees.

The 87th Academy Awards ceremony will take place at 7 p.m. (EST)/4 p.m. (PST) Sunday, Feb. 22, at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. Produced by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, the show will be broadcast live on ABC and televised live in more than 225 countries worldwide.

See the full list here.

 

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Film noir news: Come out & see her this time, Noir City opens, ‘Dog Day’ turns 40, Poverty Row book party, Cecil B. DeMille showcased and ‘Sunset’ in Sherman Oaks

Mae West

Mae West

“It’s not the men in my life, it’s life in my men.” The original bad girl Mae West will be honored at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 14., with a special program at the Hollywood Heritage Museum.

Happily ever after. Not. Noir City: The Film Noir Festival returns to the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, Jan. 16–25, with a program of 25 titles depicting the darker side of marriage. The fest will travel to several other cities, including Los Angeles, later in the year.

Catch this dog. The singular neo-noir “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975, Sidney Lumet), starring Al Pacino, screens at 7:30 p.m. Friday night at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. It’s on a double bill with “The Dog,” (2013, Allison Berg, Frank Keraudren). The story behind “Dog Day Afternoon” (a man robbing a bank to pay for his lover’s sex-change operation) was true, and this doc explores the off-screen drama, providing a riveting look at New York in the 1970s and the early days of the gay liberation movement.

Early Poverty Row StudiosLocation, location, location. Though it’s a myth that the classic film noir canon consisted entirely of B-movies, the genre’s writers, directors, cinematographers and set designers often worked on minuscule budgets. Hey, it wasn’t all bad. They had more room to experiment and defy the censors that way – just look at Edgar Ulmer.

Many of them were regular denizens of the scrappy little Hollywood studios known as Poverty Row and so we are eagerly looking forward to Marc Wanamaker and E.J. Stephens’ new book: “Early Poverty Row Studios.”

The authors will discuss the book at 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 17, at Larry Edmunds Bookshop in Hollywood. See you there!

UCLA honors DeMille, a Hollywood pioneer. Starting Sunday, Jan. 18, the UCLA Film & Television Archive presents the film series, “The Greatest Showman: Cecil B. DeMille,” at the Billy Wilder Theater in Westwood Village.

This retrospective of one of cinema’s greatest storytellers will showcase 10 films restored by the archive, including “The Ten Commandments” (1956), “The Plainsman” (1937) and “The Buccaneer” (1938). A legendary producer and director, DeMille (1881-1959) helped put Hollywood on the map and set a high bar in terms of both artistry and showmanship. The series ends Feb. 28.

Joe (William Holden) lets Norma (Gloria Swanson) dry him after a swim.

Joe (William Holden) lets Norma (Gloria Swanson) dry him after a swim.

“I’m ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille.” Arguably, Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Blvd.” is the finest movie ever made about Hollywood. Inarguably, it’s deliciously noir. Aging Hollywood star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) is admittedly a little cut off from reality. She fawns over her pet monkey, has rats in her pool, autographs pile after pile of 8 x 10 glossies for her fans, even though she hasn’t made a picture in years. But, like so many women of film noir, she was ahead of her time. Norma was a veteran movie star who wanted to create her own roles, look her best and date a younger, sexy man. Anything wrong with that?

Robert Walker is hard to top in 1951’s “Strangers on a Train.” So is co-star Farley Granger.

Robert Walker is hard to top in 1951’s “Strangers on a Train.” So is co-star Farley Granger.

Luscious William Holden plays Joe, Norma’s younger lover, and it’s worth watching just to lust after Holden. See it on the big screen at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 19, at the ArcLight Cinema in Sherman Oaks. Co-presented with the Skirball Cultural Center, in conjunction with its outstanding film noir exhibitions.

Read the FNB review here.

Just the ticket? Meanwhile, Ben Affleck and others from the “Gone Girl” team are remaking Alfred Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train.” Hmm. Hope they can do it justice. Or at least give the Robert Walker character a few flashy suits. ;)

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The Intriguante—Women of Intrigue in Film Noir series starts Thursday at the Skirball Cultural Center

If you’re feeling slightly sluggish after a whirlwind of holiday activity, remember that watching a feisty femme fatale on the big screen might be just what you need to feel newly energized and thoroughly entertained.

Alice (Joan Bennett) has Professor Richard Wanley (Edward G. Robinson) wrapped around her little finger in “The Woman in the Window.”

Alice (Joan Bennett) has Professor Richard Wanley (Edward G. Robinson) wrapped around her little finger in “The Woman in the Window.”

You can start this Thursday, Jan. 8, at 8 p.m., when the Skirball Cultural Center in West Los Angeles starts its four-film series, The Intriguante—Women of Intrigue in Film Noir. As the organizers note: “During World War II, many women took up jobs in previously male-dominated industries, which imbued them with a new sense of independence. These four movies – all made by émigré directors and featuring strong female leads – widely appealed to this newly empowered audience, as well as soldiers abroad.”

The series starts with 1944’s “The Woman in the Window,” directed by Fritz Lang. When you least expect your life to unravel is exactly when your life will unravel, at least in a Lang film. That’s the lesson Professor Richard Wanley (Edward G. Robinson) learns the hard way after he’s lured into the depraved world of street hustlers Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea. “Woman” is an excellent film and well worth seeing. You can read the full FNB review here.

Pitfall posterAdmission is $10 general; $7 seniors and full-time students; $5 members. The exhibitions Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950 and The Noir Effect will remain open until 8 p.m.

The Intriguante series continues on Jan. 25 with an afternoon double-feature: “Pitfall” (1948, André de Toth), featuring Dick Powell, Lizabeth Scott and Jane Wyatt in a classic noir love triangle, and the taut thriller “Criss Cross” (1949, Robert Siodmak), in which a temptress (Yvonne De Carlo) leads her ex (Burt Lancaster) to his doom.  The series concludes on Feb. 12 with “The File on Thelma Jordon” (1950, Robert Siodmak), a crime drama starring the inimitable Barbara Stanwyck.

Additionally, the Skirball Cultural Center is hosting a series of free film-noir matinees on Tuesday afternoons, starting Jan. 6 with “Somewhere in the Night” (1946, Joseph L. Mankiewicz), starring John Hodiak as an amnesic World War II soldier.

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Baby Jane wants an Oscar and she wants it right now!

Bette Davis, Jack Warner and Joan Crawford in 1962.

Bette Davis, Jack Warner and Joan Crawford in 1962.

Some trivia on Baby Jane and the golden guy …

Oscar statuetteBette Davis earned an Oscar and Golden Globe Best Actress nomination for her work in “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” She lost the Oscar to Anne Bancroft in “The Miracle Worker” and lost the Globe to Geraldine Page in “Sweet Bird of Youth.”

Davis desperately coveted that Oscar as it would have made her the first performer to win three Best Actress awards; she later claimed that Joan Crawford had campaigned against her. (Davis won in 1935 for “Dangerous” and in 1938 for “Jezebel”).

At the ceremony, Crawford (who had one Best Actress Oscar for 1945’s “Mildred Pierce”) accepted for the absent Bancroft. Crawford brushed by Davis, saying, “I have an Oscar to accept.”

In the category of Best Supporting Actor, Buono contended for both an Oscar and Golden Globe, but Ed Begley snagged the Oscar for “Sweet Bird of Youth” and Omar Sharif got the Globe for “Lawrence of Arabia.” (Interestingly, the handsome and charming Peter Lawford had been the first choice for Buono’s part and, by some accounts, even filmed a few scenes before dropping out.)

Bette Davis kisses her daughter B.D., who married at age 16.

Bette Davis kisses her daughter B.D., who married at age 16.

Director Robert Aldrich (along with Robert Mulligan for “To Kill a Mockingbird”) was nominated for the Palme D’Or director’s prize at the Cannes Film Festival, but that went to Luchino Visconti for “The Leopard.” It was at the film fest that Bette’s daughter B. D. met husband-to-be Jeremy Hyman; she married at age 16, with her mother’s approval.

Ernest Haller got an Oscar nod for best B&W cinematography. He lost to the lensmen behind “The Longest Day.” But “Baby Jane” is great looking and full of choice compositions, such as the shot of Jane’s bleary face shot through a cupboard full of empty liquor bottles.

“Baby Jane’s” wardrobe designer Norma Koch took home the prized statuette for B&W costume design. Blanche has a slightly Victorian vibe, wearing her dark silk dresses with oversize bows (Crawford insisted on wearing falsies) and an old-fashioned up-do. Jane fills out her faded, frilly frocks and scuffs around resentfully in shabby slippers. Hey, at least she’s practical – with all her boozing, heels might precipitate a tumble. Unbeknownst to Davis, the ratty blonde wig Jane wore was reportedly the same one Crawford wore in “The Ice Follies of 1939.”

Astonishingly, there was no Oscar for best makeup and hairstyling. That category was not introduced until 1981.

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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 birthday boys honored on TCM and getTV

Frank Sinatra and Edward G. Robinson star in 1959’s “A Hole in the Head,” directed by Frank Capra.

Frank Sinatra and Edward G. Robinson star in 1959’s “A Hole in the Head,” directed by Frank Capra.

Frank Sinatra and Edward G. Robinson were both born Dec. 12. So, on Friday, TCM is running a b’day tribute to EGR. And getTV is celebrating Sinatra’s 99th birthday with a programming marathon and Twitter party.

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Film noir fashion lives on with contemporary style-setters

Lana Turner, Ava Gardner, Veronica Lake, Lauren Bacall, Rita Hayworth and Joan Crawford.

Lana Turner, Ava Gardner, Veronica Lake, Lauren Bacall, Rita Hayworth and Joan Crawford.

“I saw ‘Rear Window’ and I swear I felt my brain chemistry change,” says film and fashion educator Kimberly Truhler, explaining how she acquired her love of movies and clothes. “I thought why doesn’t everyone  dress like that today?”

Kimberly Truhler

Kimberly Truhler

Gabriela Hernandez

Gabriela Hernandez

Truhler’s comment was part of a terrific talk she delivered Sunday at the Skirball Cultural Center in West Los Angeles. (Her lecture on the history of fashion in film noir was part of the Skirball’s ongoing “Light & Noir” exhibit.)

During World War II, film industry designers were affected by shortages of fashion materials, such as silk and rubber. Additionally, they had to work around the strict codes of the censors, ensuring that no navels were shown and that legs were properly covered. Carefully constructed two-piece ensembles and thigh-high slits were a few of the ways to circumvent the wardrobe strictures set down by the Hays Office.

Vera West

Vera West

And, of course, designers had to disguise any figure flaws of their leading ladies and men. For example, in “This Gun for Hire” (1942, Frank Tuttle) Edith Head found subtle ways to elongate Veronica Lake’s diminutive (4’ 11”) frame.

Truhler dissected several other classic offerings: “Casablanca” (1942, Michael Curtiz, costume design by Orry-Kelly), “To Have and Have Not” (1944, Howard Hawks, costume design by Milo Anderson), “Mildred Pierce” (1945, Michael Curtiz, costume design by Milo Anderson), “Gilda” (1946, Charles Vidor, costume design by Jean Louis), “The Killers” (1946, Robert Siodmak, costume design by Vera West), “The Postman Always Rings Twice” (1946, Tay Garnett, costume design by Irene Lentz) and “Sunset Blvd.” (1950, Billy Wilder, costume design by Edith Head).

Surprising, given the importance of clothes in establishing character and mood, the Academy did not award an Oscar for costume design until 1948.

Irene Lentz

Irene Lentz

Truhler, who sees 1946 as a stand-out year for film noir, discussed the iconic look of each movie and showed how the designer’s influence is still keenly felt on contemporary runways and with today’s style-setters. She also elaborated on the challenges and pressures costume designers face, pointing out that the legendary Ms. Head “borrowed” work from other people to snag her job at Paramount.

On a sad note, three great talents of the costume-design business (West, Lentz and Robert Kalloch) committed suicide.

We at FNB are looking forward to Truhler’s books – one on the history of film and fashion and another on Jean Louis, who was married to Loretta Young from 1993-1997.

Following Truhler’s talk, Gabriela Hernandez, founder of Bésame Cosmetics, gave a great lecture on the evolution of makeup in the movies (it all started with Max Factor) and how cosmetics were used in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s to create the look of a siren. A raffle winner got a demonstration on how to amp up her film noir allure with Bésame products.

Event photos by Roxanne Brown

Ginger Pauley is known as the Vintage Girl.

Ginger Pauley is known as the Vintage Girl.

Margot Gerber and a fellow retro enthusiast at the Skirball Cultural Center.

Margot Gerber and a fellow retro enthusiast at the Skirball Cultural Center.

Erin Cherry perfectly pulls off a film noir look.

Erin Cherry perfectly pulls off a film noir look.

Redheads rule!

Redheads rule!

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History of fashion in film noir highlighted Sunday at the Skirball Cultural Center

Mildred Pierce (1945). Shown: Joan Crawford and Ann Blyth. Photo © Warner Bros.

“Mildred Pierce” (1945, Michael Curtiz). Shown: Joan Crawford and Ann Blyth. Photo © Warner Bros.

Who doesn’t admire the polish and panache of ’40s fashion, particularly as worn by the leading ladies of film noir?

Kimberly Truhler will discuss the era’s influences and evolution in a lecture at 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 7, at the Skirball Cultural Center in West Los Angeles.

During World War II, the film industry was affected by shortages of fashion materials. Truhler will examine how in spite of these restrictions – and sometimes in response to them – costume designers managed to create some of the most iconic looks of the time, worn by stars such as Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner and Lana Turner. These innovations not only defined much of 1940s style, but also continue to influence our fashion today.

Truhler is a historian, educator and founder of GlamAmor, a website dedicated to preserving the history of fashion in film.

Following the program, Gabriela Hernandez, founder of Bésame Cosmetics, will talk about the history of makeup and show how to achieve that film noir look.

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Jeanne Carmen

Jeanne Carmen

At 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6, at the West Hollywood Library, Brandon James (author and son of Jeanne Carmen) will discuss his book Jeanne Carmen: My Wild Wild Life as a New York Pin Up Queen, Trick Shot Golfer & Hollywood Actress.

James documents his mother’s encounters and friendships with Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Lenny Bruce, Howard Hughes, Bob Hope, Joe DiMaggio, Sam Giancana, Johnny Roselli and many more.

We wrote about Jeanne Carmen’s legacy here and Brandon James kindly shared copies of his mom’s movie posters, which we displayed here.

This program will take place in the library’s community meeting room and parking validation will be provided. The library is at 625 N. San Vicente Blvd., West Hollywood, CA, 90069. 310-652-5340.

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