Jules Dassin dazzles with double bill in Hollywood Exiles series

Jules Dassin’s ‘Rififi,’ a heist film set in Paris, is a cinematic masterpiece.

Jules Dassin’s ‘Rififi,’ a heist film set in Paris, is a cinematic masterpiece.

Paranoia marks many a film noir masterpiece. One reason in particular is that in the late 1940s, Hollywood directors, writers and actors faced political persecution as a result of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his harrowing witch hunt to uncover Communists. One of his most damning tools was a blacklist of people thought to be active in the Communist party, which, in his mind, was tantamount to threatening democracy and the American way.

Many of those under fire became voluntary exiles, hoping to rebuild their lives and careers abroad. While some left for Mexico, others, including Jules Dassin, Joseph Losey, Cy Endfield, Ben and Norma Barzman, and Donald Ogden Stewart, relocated in London, Paris and Rome. Drawing on film noir, neo-realism and modernist art cinema influences, Dassin and Losey were standout success stories. But, still hounded by the U.S. government and exploited by European producers looking for Hollywood talent on the cheap, the exiles found it was not an easy road.

To explore this unique era of filmmaking, UCLA is hosting the series Hollywood Exiles in Europe, which opens Friday, July 25, and runs to Sunday, Aug. 17. This series was co-curated by Rebecca Prime, author of the book “Hollywood Exiles in Europe: The Blacklist and Cold War Film Culture.” Prime and Norma Barzman will attend Friday’s opening feature: Christ in Concrete (1950, UK/US, Edward Dmytryk), a depiction of hardships endured by Italian-American construction workers.

On Saturday, July 26, there’s a top-notch film noir offering from Dassin: “Rififi” (France, 1955) and “Night and the City” (UK/US, 1950). In shadow-drenched, dangerous London, crooked fight promoter Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) double-crosses everyone he encounters as he tries to outrace the night. The night is faster. This is a top film noir, a stunning achievement of style and suspense. From Gerald Kersh’s novel; with Gene Tierney, Herbert Lom, Francis L. Sullivan and Googie Withers.

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Femmes Noirs series hits NYC’s Film Forum

“Postman” kicks off the Femmes Noirs series this weekend in NYC.

“Postman” kicks off the Femmes Noirs series this weekend in NYC.

I’ll go to Manhattan at the drop of a hat. And my stylish chapeau is now officially earthbound because there’s a three-week Femmes Noirs series running at Film Forum! Yes, my silver-screen sisters in crime are radiating duplicity and depravity in classic flicks, programmed by Bruce Goldstein, through Aug. 7.

Titles include: “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” “Mildred Pierce,” “Leave Her to Heaven,” “Out of the Past,” “Pandora’s Box,” “Niagara,” “Angel Face” “The Killers,” “Gilda,” “The Lady from Shanghai,” “Scarlet Street,” “Murder, My Sweet,” “The Maltese Falcon,” “Kiss Me Deadly,” “The Killing,” “Gun Crazy,” “Detour,” “Dead Reckoning,” “Pitfall,” “Sudden Fear,” “Tension,” “Body Heat,” “Fatal Attraction,” “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers,” “Too Late for Tears” and the prototype for the genre, “Double Indemnity.”

It pains me to write this list and think I might miss some of these! And, to top it off, the forum’s neighboring restaurant, Clarkson, is offering a complimentary Manhattan Noir cocktail when patrons present a ticket stub. And here I am left to rough it in LA, sipping champagne poolside. But maybe I can finagle a way to head east on someone else’s dime or lure Goldstein to LA for a second run of the series. There is of course one major omission in the forum’s lineup: the irredeemably bad Jean Gillie in “Decoy.” As Leonard Maltin put it: She makes Barbara Stanwyck’s character in “Double Indemnity” look like Snow White.”

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Ballet noir: Pretty and pernicious in pink

Specter of the Rose posterTrue film noir fans know that back alleys, lonely streets and bar rooms aren’t the only place for angst-ridden protagonists to play out their sagas of doom and struggles against Fate.

In fact, dance critic Debra Levine over at http://artsmeme.com has coined a name for a new sub-genre: ballet noir. Well, I can attest that most femmes fatales and their fall guys have done their pirouettes with temptation and pas de deux with The Law. And of course I’ve always been partial to pink.

For her main proof point, Levine points to “Specter of the Rose,” a 1946 passion project of legendary Hollywood screenwriter Ben Hecht and a rare “prestige” offering from Republic Pictures.

Set in the world of classical ballet, “Specter” is a psychological melodrama about an aging dance instructor and a scurrilous impresario who promote the comeback of a stupendous dancer, also suspected to be mad—and possibly murderous.

Judith Anderson, Michael Chekhov, Ivan Kirov star. Hecht wrote, directed and produced. Cinematographer Lee Garmes co-produced and shot the flick.

See “Specter of the Rose” for yourself this Saturday, July 19, at 7:30 p.m. at the Billy Wilder Theater in Westwood. Levine and her partner in crime Bryan Cooper of the Hollywood Heritage Museum will introduce the film. http://www.cinema.ucla.edu/events/2014-07-19/specter-rose-1946

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The late great Sharon Tate receives tribute at the Egyptian

SharonTate_jacket.inddGet your blonde on this Sunday at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. Debra Tate will sign copies of her book “Sharon Tate: Recollection” ($30) and introduce a bombshell double bill of “Valley of the Dolls” (1967, Mark Robson) and “The Fearless Vampire Killers” (1967, Roman Polanski). Tate was nominated for a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer in her role as a B-movie queen in “Valley of the Dolls.”

The event starts at 6:30 p.m. in the lobby. The book features a foreword by Polanski and never-before-seen images of the ethereal beauty and talented actress, who was murdered in 1969 in her Benedict Canyon home by the Charlie Manson family. She was 26, married to Polanski and pregnant at the time of her death.

Tate was an icon of the ‘60s innate elegance and charm continue to draw admirers today. In the photo book, Sharon Tate’s story emerges through quotes and short essays by her sister, Debra Tate, as well as by those who knew and have been influenced by her, including:

A foreword by Sharon’s husband Polanski

Previously unseen childhood photos from the Tate family album

Original quotes and recollection essays written specially for this book by Jane Fonda, Kelly Osbourne, Bert Stern, Michelle Phillips, Patty Duke, Lee Grant, Elke Sommer, Joan Collins, Viva, Tony Scotti and Trina Turk.

Retrospective quotes by Truman Capote, Diana Vreeland, Richard Avedon, Dominick Dunne, Warren Beatty, Mia Farrow, Orson Welles, Barbara Parkins, George Harrison, David Niven, Deborah Kerr, Yul Brynner and Kirk Douglas.

Rare and classic photographs by David Bailey, Milton Greene, Philippe Halsman, Shahrokh Hatami, Terry O’Neill, Peter Basch, John Engstead, Peter Brüchmann, Neal Barr and Jean Jacques Bugat.

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‘Life Itself’ Roger Ebert doc offers insight, candor, inspiration

Billy Wilder doesn’t go for the obvious arc. He isn’t interested in the same things the characters are interested in. He wants to know what happens to them after they do what they think is so important. He doesn’t want truth but consequences. Few other directors have made so many films that were so taut, savvy, cynical, and, in many ways and tones, funny. …

Double Indemnity’ was his third film as a director. That early in his career, he was cocky enough to begin a thriller with the lines ‘I killed him for money – and for a woman. I didn’t get the money. And I didn’t get the woman.’ And end it with the hero saying ‘I love you too’ to Edward G. Robinson.”

Life Itself posterSo writes Roger Ebert (1942-2013), the Pulitzer-prize-winning film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times, in his book “The Great Movies.” If you knew Ebert mainly from his hugely successful and world-famous TV show “Two Thumbs Up” (co-starring Gene Siskel), it might surprise you to know quite what a prolific writer he was. He published more than 20 books as well as many collections of reviews. (He started at the Sun-Times in 1966.)

Ebert used his staggering intelligence and covert sensitivity to get under the skin of a movie, to approach a film as both a tenacious reporter and a Spartan poet –baldly pointing out flaws, rapturously praising beauty and incisively assessing the director, cast and crew. He also championed little-known filmmakers and obscure movies, including more than a few film-noir titles.

In 2002, Ebert was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and, though it was removed, his battles with cancer would continue over the next decade. Ebert took his health problems in stride, refusing to let his mighty passion wane.

But it wasn’t just movies that he was enthusiastic about. He was passionate about politics and social justice, sports and travel, and he was deeply devoted to his wife Chaz Ebert (a trial attorney whom he met in AA) and their family. In 2011, Ebert published “Life Itself: A Memoir,” which spurred director Steve James to make a movie about Ebert’s extraordinary life journey.

The result is a film that is engaging, entertaining, fiercely honest and truly inspiring.

“Life Itself” opens Friday in theaters, on iTunes and on Demand.

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A centennial party for the Man who set the movies in motion

The Squaw Man posterAny idea who Dustin Farnum, Monroe Salisbury and Winifred Kingston were? In fact, they hold a prestigious claim in Hollywood history. They starred in 1914’s “The Squaw Man,” co-written and co-directed by Cecil B. DeMille. The 74-minute flick was the first U.S. feature-length movie.

DeMille, the brilliant (now legendary) director, was somewhat reluctant to take on the project. The best jobs come through networking and, in this case, DeMille had a great contact – his mother got him the gig.

But, once he agreed to make the picture, he was quick to recognize the potential of Los Angeles’ dramatically beautiful scenery for exterior shots. For interiors, DeMille rented a barn at Selma and Vine streets in Hollywood for $200 a month. DeMille’s western saga turned out to be a commercial success and helped establish Hollywood as the world’s top spot for movie making.

The old barn now stands at 2100 N. Highland Ave. and is home to the Hollywood Heritage Museum, which is hosting a “Squaw Man” centennial party on Tuesday, July 1, from 5-8 p.m. The event will include a continuous screening of the movie, special presentations from authors and historians, and a party with retro touches, such as antique cars. Barbeque and beverages will be served.

Border Incident posterThe Hollywood Chamber of Commerce is co-hosting the event. Admission for chamber and museum members is free. Tickets for the general public are $10 for adults (free for kids under 10). There is free parking in Lot D off of Odin St. Register for the party here.

Also of note: “Border Incident” (1949, Anthony Mann), starring Ricardo Montalban, George Murphy and Howard Da Silva, plays tonight at the Ricardo Montalban Theatre, 1615 Vine St., in Hollywood! And there’s more Montalban noir next month. See the site for more info. 

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Power suits, stylin’ pumps: Working girls’ wardrobes on display

I have a retro kitchen magnet that declares: “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you do your hair.” And how you wear your clothes.

The Best of Everything posterFor proof, just look at “The Best of Everything” (1959, Jean Negulesco), which screens at 3 p.m. Saturday at Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre. In this slick and sexy melodrama, based on a Rona Jaffe novel, Joan Crawford holds court in a New York City publishing house. She’s dressed to the nines in every scene, natch. Her perfectly appointed co-stars are Hope Lange, Diane Baker and Suzy Parker (and look out for a young Robert Evans).

At 2 p.m., there will be an illustrated talk called “Working Women’s Fashion,” which organizers describe as follows:  From Rosie the Riveter to Mary Tyler Moore, explore how working women have influenced fashion from the 1940s to the 1970s. Using period images from myvintagevogue.com and a runway show of vintage examples from clevervintageclothing.com, clothing historian Dave Temple will discuss how working women changed the fashion landscape forever.

A fashion show will follow the talk. Additionally, there will be a clothing sale in the Egyptian’s courtyard from noon to 6 p.m.

Now put it in your planner and don’t be late!

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With thanks and sadness, let’s raise a glass to Kate

I think of my spiritual ancestors as Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, Gloria Grahame, Lauren Bacall, Joan Bennett and Bette Davis. Their hard-won independence, their juicy scandals and their irrepressible willful streaks on and off screen laid the groundwork for all of us femmes fatales to call the shots, own our dramas and embrace the concept of high maintenance. Put simply: to be a bitch.

Kate's, at the corner of Wilshire and Doheny, opened in 1987.

Kate’s, at the corner of Wilshire and Doheny, opened in 1987.

That said, there are many other vixens, vamps and troublemakers who, though far less famous, are equally inspirational. One of these role models by extension, as it were, was Kate Mantilini, the namesake of a terrific Beverly Hills restaurant that is closing its doors on June 14, after 27 years in business.

Owner Marilyn Lewis says a recent rent increase prompted her decision.

Kate Mantilini was a feisty woman of the 1940s and the mistress of Marilyn Lewis’ uncle. (Marilyn and her late husband Harry Lewis were also the founders of the enormously popular Hamburger Hamlet chain. Harry died last June; he was 93.)

Says Marilyn Lewis: “My mother wouldn’t let me speak to her, nobody would allow us to mention her name, but she was a very strong woman and I wanted to name my restaurant after her.”

Actors, writers and execs gathered at the famous Beverly Hills restaurant.

Actors, writers and industry execs gathered at the famous Beverly Hills restaurant.

Of Irish and Italian descent, the unconventional Kate reportedly liked to do things her way and one of the things she really liked to do was to run businesses. The restaurant’s boxing mural is a nod to the fact that Kate worked in the male-dominated field of fight promotion.

The first time I went to the famous spot was for a late-night supper after seeing a Murnau double-bill at Lacma’s Bing Theater. I was visiting from Chicago and my friend Mickey Cottrell, a veteran film publicist and top-notch performer, suggested to the little group that had gathered that we nosh there. “Let’s head to Kate’s,” he said, as if Kate were a friend who had missed the movie but invited us to her place afterward.

Kate’s hasn’t changed much since it opened in 1987. Outside, by night, a blazing red neon sign pierces the inky blackness of Wilshire Boulevard. The building sits on the northwest corner of Wilshire and Doheny. Kate’s is walking distance from the Academy; the Weinstein Company is across the street.

Michael Mann shot a scene of "Heat" here.

Michael Mann shot a scene of “Heat” here.

Inside, the long, narrow room pulses with talk and laughter; fleet servers fly by, their crisp white aprons flash against the muted gray and cream walls. Glasses, plates and silverware clink and chime.

“I’m definitely moving here,” I thought to myself as we walked in that night, now long-ago. “This is so much cooler than Chicago.”

Mickey had a regular booth he liked; he suggested I order the sand dabs. Delightful. Our party was delightful too. Boisterous, funny, quick to argue fine points about films.

The kind and generous writer/producer/filmmaker Myron Meisel picked up the tab. Critic Michael Wilmington pointed out that the character actor Wallace Shawn was sitting in another booth.

Kate’s has always been popular with industry folk; celebs like Billy Wilder and Mel Brooks were regulars. Writers too, such as Susan Orlean and Tere Tereba, stopped by. Michael Mann, a master of filming Los Angeles by night, chose Kate’s for the scene in “Heat” (1995) when Al Pacino and Robert De Niro talk about their lives as cop and criminal.

Heat posterHarry Lewis was in the entertainment business before he and his wife became restaurateurs. As a contract player with Warner Bros. in the ’40s; Harry had a part in the film-noir classics “Key Largo” starring Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson as well as in “Gun Crazy” with John Dall and Peggy Cummins.

My friends and I may have been the last ones out that night and I’ve been back many times since. (I moved to Los Angeles in November of 2007.) I celebrated birthdays there, met girlfriends for drinks, marked triumphs big and small, stopped by for a slice of lemon ice-box pie and a cup of coffee after seeing a film at the Wilshire screening room.

It’s tough to think that after next Saturday I won’t be able to go to Kate’s anymore. I was a fan of the food (in particular the Cannes Film Festival salad and the split-pea soup) and the building and the vibe. By vibe I mean a sort of magic that’s absent from lots of trendy new restaurants.

Dessert is a must! Shown: the candy bar ice cream pie.

Dessert is a must! Shown: the candy bar ice cream pie.

You felt when you went to Kate’s that you were truly “in” – you might rub shoulders with Hollywood power brokers – but more importantly you were in for really good food and a really good time. Every time you went.

The Beverly Hills Cultural Heritage Commission is considering the property for landmark status to protect the building in the event that new owners decide to remodel. The land parcel (9101, 9107 and 9111 Wilshire Blvd.) features the work of architects Pereira and Luckman, Maxwell Starkman and Thom Mayne.

I hope that happens. But in the meantime, I’m going to raise a glass to Kate – who liked a good fight – and to the strong women she inspired – who doubtless have healthy appetites and never skip dessert.

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Eva Marie Saint to appear at 60th anniversary screening of ‘On the Waterfront’

Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint both won Oscars for their work.

Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint both won Oscars for their work.

Think of “On the Waterfront” (1954, Elia Kazan) and, most times, Marlon Brando springs to mind, with his famous line: “I coulda been a contender.”

But don’t forget that behind the great Brando was a great blonde: Eva Marie Saint, who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her work. Her award was one eight wins for the film: Picture, Director, Editing, Actor, Writing (Story and Screenplay), B&W Art Direction/Set Decoration, B&W Cinematography.

With its expressionistic black and white visuals, and its story of crime in the lower depths of New York City, “On the Waterfront” more than qualifies as film noir.

On Friday, June 6, the Academy and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Lacma) is presenting a special screening in honor of the film’s 60th birthday at the museum’s Bing Theater. Eva Marie Saint will make an appearance. We at FNB are looking forward to hearing about her memories of making the flick.

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Film noir genius Fritz Lang’s work honored at the Aero

Fritz Lang was said to be tough on actors. You vere expecting othervise?

Fritz Lang was said to be tough on actors. You vere expecting othervise?

“In my opinion, there were only two directors in Hollywood who made films without regard to box-office success: Erich Von Stroheim and myself.”

So said Vienna-born noir master Fritz Lang (1890-1976). Lang came to Tinseltown in the mid-1930s after training as a painter, making landmark movies (“Metropolis” and “M”), and turning down an offer from Joseph Goebbels to head the German film studio UFA. In sunny California, the purveyor of angst and gloom snagged a contract with MGM.

For the next two decades, Lang, who was often difficult and demanding, directed many films with A-list stars for various studios, but never earned the acclaim he deserved. His career fizzled and he headed to Germany in the late 1950s to direct his final three movies, none of which resurrected his professional standing.

His work, however, was championed by Cahiers du cinéma critics and is highly regarded today. You can indulge in your own little Lang-fest starting Thursday when the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica starts Master of Darkness: The Testaments of Fritz Lang with “Scarlet Street” and “Hangmen Also Die!”

This delightfully dark series is must-see viewing for fans of film noir!

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