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.

***

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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Happy birthday, Gloria Grahame, goddess of film noir

Gloria Grahame plays Robert Ryan’s sultry neighbor in “Odds Against Tomorrow.”

Gloria Grahame plays Robert Ryan’s sultry neighbor in “Odds Against Tomorrow.”

Aah, Black Friday … Sure you could shop until you drop, but why not put your feet up and take it easy in true femme fatale style? (Besides, all that decadent face-stuffing yesterday was a tad exhausting.) While lounging, pay tribute to one of our favorite bad girls: the incomparable Miss Gloria Grahame, who could play a vixen like no one else and who courted scandal off-screen as well.

She was born today (Nov. 28) in Los Angeles in 1923. She died on Oct. 5, 1981.

Such is our devotion that a while back we decided to honor Ms. Grahame with her own special day (in addition to her b’day because one day was simply not enough) and we invite you to revisit our praise by reading this little ditty: http://www.filmnoirblonde.com/fnb-proclaims-gloria-grahame-day-july-13/ You will also find links to several GG film noir classics.

Enjoy!

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Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Retro Thanksgiving 2014

Hope you have a thoroughly decadent holiday.

Among the many things I am grateful for: all the people who read and support the site. Thank you!

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Film noir news and notes: SF gears up for darkness

NC13_Teaser[1]The Film Noir Foundation has announced that Noir City 13 in San Francisco will run Jan. 16-25, 2015. The fest comes to Los Angeles in the spring and travels to several other cities around the country. We’re eagerly awaiting the announcement of the movies that will screen.

SF fans don’t have to wait until the new year to get a big-screen noir fix. Noir City Xmas, featuring “O. Henry’s Full House” and “The Curse of the Cat People,” is on Dec. 17.

Earlier this month, Noir City made its first trip to Kansas City. To promote the fest, the foundation’s Eddie Muller talked on the radio with “Gun Crazy” actress Peggy Cummins and other guests.

We loved this snippet from the chat. Muller told listeners: “I’ve always said that in film noir, women were allowed to be, for once, completely the equal of men. By which I mean equally tempted, equally compromised and equally guilty.”

Exactly!

Meanwhile, if you are lucky enough to be in London during the holidays, there’s a must-see stop for photography lovers. The definitive retrospective of the work of Horst P. Horst (1906-99), one of the 20th century’s master photographers, continues through Jan. 4 at London’s V&A Museum.

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Dark Crimes: Film Noir Thrillers Vol. 2 collection is a great way to welcome Black Friday

Dark-crimes-film-noir-thrillers-volume-2-dvd_360[1]Just in time for next week’s Black Friday shopping binge is Dark Crimes: Film Noir Thrillers Vol. 2, a DVD collection from TCM and Universal released earlier this year.

The set includes two Fritz Lang films. “You and Me” (1938) is an offbeat gangster comedy/romance starring George Raft and Sylvia Sydney, with music  by Kurt Weill of “The 3 Penny Opera” fame.

The always delightful Ray Milland plays a man desperately trying to stop a Nazi spy ring in Lang’s “Ministry of Fear” (1944). Graham Greene wrote the source novel.

Two William Castle movies complete the set. “Undertow (1949) tells the story of a fall guy framed for murder (Scott Brady) who pursues the real culprits. “Undertow” also stars Bruce Bennett.

Castle’s “Hollywood Story” (1951) stars Richard Conte and Julie Adams.  In this backstage murder mystery, a producer makes a movie about an old crime, hoping to uncover the perp.

Dark Crimes Vol. 2 contains multiple digital bonus features, including an introduction by TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, behind-the-scenes photos, production stills, poster and lobby card galleries, an original essay by Film Noir Foundation founder and president Eddie Muller, and interviews with Muller and actress Julie Adams.

The collection is available exclusively through TCM’s online store: shop.tcm.com.

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Happy birthday, Veronica Lake!

Veronica Lake in black dressShe was born today in 1922 in Brooklyn. Lake was almost as popular for her sexy long peek-a-boo hairstyle as she was for the film noir titles she starred in with Alan Ladd: “This Gun for Hire,” “The Glass Key,” “The Blue Dahlia” and “Saigon.”

She died July 7, 1973.

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