The Film Noir File: Belafonte and Ryan bet it all on ‘Odds’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

Pick of the Week

“Odds Against Tomorrow”
(1959, Robert Wise). 1 a.m. (10 p.m.) Monday, Jan. 20

Robert Ryan and Harry Belafonte lead a stellar cast in "Odds Against Tomorrow."

Robert Ryan and Harry Belafonte lead a stellar cast in “Odds Against Tomorrow.”

Here is one of the great, underrated film noirs – a movie whose reputation and stature was recognized early on by French critics and has continued to grow over the past half century.

Based on a novel by suspense specialist William McGivern (“The Big Heat”), “Odds Against Tomorrow” boasts a riveting and exciting story, unforgettable characters and a social/political allegory that’s pointed and powerful. With Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan, Shelley Winters and Gloria Grahame. Read the full review here.

Thursday, Jan. 16

Joan Crawford plays a crime boss in this remake of a 1939 Swedish thriller.

Joan Crawford plays a crime boss in this remake of a 1939 Swedish thriller.

12:30 a.m. (9:30 p.m.): “A Woman’s Face” (1941, George Cukor). A crime boss (Joan Crawford) with a ruined face has her physical damage repaired by plastic surgery. Embarking on another crime, she must decide whether to pursue the evil she knows or the good that beckons. Remade from the 1939 Swedish thriller by director Gustaf Molander, with Ingrid Bergman in Crawford’s part. The original was better, but the remake is good. The supporting cast includes Melvyn Douglas, Conrad Veidt (in his Hollywood specialty, a smooth sadistic villain), Reginald Owen, Marjorie Main and Henry Daniell. Script by Donald Ogden Stewart and mystery writer Elliot Paul.

4:15 a.m. (1:15 a.m.): “These are the Damned” (1963, Joseph Losey). Expatriate American director Losey, a Black List victim, was still in Britain when he made this scintillatingly shot mix of neo-noir, juvenile delinquent thriller, and “Village of the Damned”-style anti-war science fiction. MacDonald Carey is the boat enthusiast/ businessman at a coastal British city, who falls for a Teddy Girl (Shirley Anne Field). Her gang-boss brother (played by sullen young Oliver Reed) is touchy, jealous and dangerous. Chased by the gang (whose signature song is the bizarrely uncatchy psychotic-sounding pseudo-rock ballad “Black Leather! Black Leather! Kill! Kill! Kill!”), the couple escapes to an island in the grip of a doomsday scientific experiment with irradiated children, run by Alexander Knox. It’s a pretty crazy show, but it really grips you, and it looks great. Written by Losey regular Evan Jones (“Eva” and “King and Country”).

Saturday, Jan. 18

The one and only Tallulah Bankhead stars in "Lifeboat."

The one and only Tallulah Bankhead stars in “Lifeboat.”

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Lifeboat” (1944, Alfred Hitchcock). During World War II, an American ocean liner is torpedoed by a Nazi submarine. The survivors – now trapped in the lifeboat and in the vast waters – have to decide whether to trust the only person among them who knows how to navigate the boat: the Nazi captain of the sub that sunk them (Walter Slezak). This anti-Fascist parable/thriller and character study, the most political and left-wing movie Alfred Hitchcock ever made, was originally written by John Steinbeck; Ben Hecht and Jo Swerling also had hands in it. Shot basically in one studio tank and in the lifeboat, this underrated flick features a shocker of an ending and a first-rate cast, including Tallulah Bankhead, John Hodiak, William Bendix, Canada Lee, Hume Cronyn and Henry Hull.

Sunday, Jan. 19

6 a.m. (3 a.m.): “The Two Mrs. Carrolls” (1947, Peter Godfrey). With Humphrey Bogart, Barbara Stanwyck and Alexis Smith. Reviewed in FNB on June 27, 2012. [Read more...]


Calling all wily women, sly guys, assorted freaks and zombies:

FNB Happy Halloween 2013 pw  c 2013


Film noir delights in the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema

"Another Dawn" will play Saturday night at the LA County Museum of Art.

“Another Dawn” will play Saturday night at the LA County Museum of Art.

I am greatly looking forward to seeing the LA County Museum of Art (LACMA) exhibition and film program Under the Mexican Sky: Gabriel Figueroa—Art and Film.

Mexico was home to a vibrant, commercially stable film industry in the early 1930s through the 1950s. The Golden Age of Mexican Cinema series will explore Figueroa’s contributions as a groundbreaking cinematographer, a master of light and contrast.

Figueroa spent time on the set of Soviet master Sergei Eisenstein’s “¡Que Viva México!,” had an apprenticeship with Hollywood cinematographer Gregg Toland, and was friends with painters such as Diego Rivera. (The series is co-presented by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.)

"Autumn Days" will screen first on Saturday.

“Autumn Days” will screen first on Saturday night.

This weekend, two film noir delights are screening: “Dias de Otoño” (Autumn Days, 1963, Roberto Gavaldón) and “Distinto Amanecer” (Another Dawn, 1941, Julio Bracho). You can read the museum’s synopses here.

Upcoming film series will highlight Figueroa’s work with Spanish surrealist Luis Buñuel, the Hollywood films that the cinematographer shot over his 50-year career for directors such as John Huston and John Ford, the films of the early 1930s that spurred Figueroa, and contemporary Mexican filmmakers whose work invokes Figueroa’s legacy.

Meanwhile, the New York Film Festival opened today with “Captain Phillips.” Manohla Dargis of the New York Times gives her assessment here.



‘Chinatown’ screens to mark aqueduct’s 100th anniversary

Chinatown posterThe Natural History Museum in downtown Los Angeles will mark the 100th anniversary of the Los Angeles Aqueduct by hosting a screening of the neo-noir masterpiece ”Chinatown,” directed by Roman Polanski and written by Robert Towne. Doors open at 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27; the screening starts at 7 p.m.

David Ulin, book critic of the Los Angeles Times, will moderate a brief panel discussion with history professor William Deverell, cultural commentator Sandra Tsing Loh and Christine Mulholland. They will discuss the facts and fiction in Polanski and Towne’s iconic look at greed, power, lust and the rise of modern Los Angeles. This event is free, but space is limited. RSVP HERE. Use the Exposition entrance. You can bring a picnic or buy dinner from on-site food trucks.

We love this film so much we reviewed it twice: FNB’s review and Mike Wilmington’s review.


Despite having the perfect ingredients for a cinematic soufflé, French-Canadian comedy ‘Starbuck’ falls flat

Starbuck/2011/Caramel Films, Les Films Christal, Entertainment One/109 min.

Every once in a while, I need a break from the double-dealing dark side and so I indulge in lighter fare. The premise of “Starbuck,” a French-Canadian comedy co-written and directed by Ken Scott, promises an offbeat angle for its humor.

Based on real events, it’s the story of a 42-year-old man-boy named David Wosniak (Patrick Huard) who, on the brink of having a child with his girlfriend (Julie Le Breton), discovers that in fact he already has 533 children, thanks to his frequent sperm donations (under the name Starbuck) at a fertility clinic near his home. His offspring are now adults and 142 of them file a class-action lawsuit to determine the identity of their biological father.

Huard is an extremely appealing actor and is ideally cast as the good-hearted bumbler; Le Breton and the rest of the cast offer solid support. The problem is that “Starbuck” – primarily due to its clumsy, sometimes forced, script – doesn’t live up to its potential. As the stuff-happens plot unfolds, David’s life becomes slightly more chaotic. But it wasn’t particularly orderly to begin with and, since he’s open to meeting these strangers/children and involving himself in their lives, there’s not a whole lot at stake.

Again and again, we see that despite being a little reckless and a lot feckless, he’s a decent guy with a big heart. Nice. And now he’s going to make that 534 kids. Also nice, except that there’s so little dramatic tension, it’s very hard to get swept up in what should be a crazy adventure (but isn’t) and even harder to play the laughs.

Despite having the perfect ingredients for a cinematic soufflé, “Starbuck” falls flat. There is a U.S. version in the works called “The Delivery Man,” slated for a fall release, which just might be that rare instance in which a Hollywood remake of a foreign film yields a classic confection.

“Starbuck” opens today in New York and LA, with a national rollout to follow. (In French with subtitles.)


Languid, noirish ‘Tabu’ blends romantic drama, visual beauty

Tabu/2012/Adopt Films/118 min.

“I was interested in characters we don’t usually meet in films, female characters with distinguishing temperaments and peculiarities” says Portuguese director Miguel Gomes of his film “Tabu.”

Indeed, the finely drawn yet ordinary characters are what drive the story in this languid, sometimes lyrical, film with a neo-noir love triangle at its core. “Tabu” starts slowly, introducing us to newly retired and somewhat restless Pilar (Teresa Madruga) and Santa (Isabel Cardoso), a maid to the elderly Aurora (Laura Soveral), who asks to see a mysterious man from her past once more before she dies.

Her request spurs an exploration of the dramatic life she led and the memorable men she charmed (Ivo Müller and Carloto Cotta) 50 years ago on a colonial farm in Africa, at the foothill of Mount Tabu. (Ana Moreira plays young Aurora.)

The flashback deftly mixes poetry, rock ’n’ roll, amour, adultery and, of course, societal taboos in a compelling and ultimately poignant yarn. By the end, we know Aurora, and the people around her, past and present.

Shot in black and white (35 mm for the first part, 16 mm for the second), “Tabu” has been snaring international awards for its unique blend of romantic drama and visual beauty. Though its unhurried pacing may not be everyone’s cup of tea, Gomes’ “Tabu” rewards the patient viewer.

“Tabu” opens today at Laemmle’s Royal in West LA and Laemmle’s Playhouse 7 in Pasadena.


Ways to help Sandy Hook victims, families, other survivors

On Friday, Dec. 14, the horrific, unthinkable and heart-wrenching news broke that a gunman opened fire in a Connecticut school and killed 26 people – 20 of them children. All of the children were either 6 or 7 years old. The gunman also killed his mother.

The tragedy brought to mind the first stanza of W.B. Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming.”

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

The question of why this happened can never be adequately answered. Yet there is perhaps some solace to be found in reflecting on the actions of the school’s principal Dawn Hochsprung, along with staff members and teachers such as Victoria Soto, who proved to be heroes of rare unselfishness and uncommon courage.

There are a number of ways to lend your support in the wake of this terrible tragedy. The Sandy Hook Elementary School victims, their families and other survivors will be forever in our thoughts and prayers.


My favorite birthday greeting …

Today is my birthday and my friend Randy sent me this image. Love the question mark!


Doc depicts an artist’s fight for free speech in China

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry/2012/Sundance Selects, IFC Films/91 min.

“Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” is, on one level, a study in inspiration – what motivates artists and how they spark ideas in other people. A case in point: the serendipitous meeting of first-time filmmaker Alison Klayman and her subject: Ai Weiwei, 55, China’s most celebrated contemporary artist, a political dissident and a grass-roots hero who gained the support of millions with his blog posts and tweets.

Klayman, a young American journalist working in Beijing, stumbled onto the story when her roommate asked her if she’d be interested in making a video of Ai Weiwei’s photographs at a local gallery. “So many of the inherent tensions in modern China were in his story. He’s a perfect bellwether,” said Klayman at a recent press conference, adding that she aimed to represent the diversity of opinion that exists there in addition to introducing people to Ai Weiwei and getting them interested in his case.

Ai Weiwei’s critiques of China’s repressive regime range from photographs of his raised middle finger in front of Tiananmen Square to memorials of the more than 5,000 schoolchildren who died in allegedly shoddy government construction in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. He rose to international prominence in 2008 after helping design Beijing’s iconic Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium; afterward he publicly denounced the games as party propaganda.

In the years she filmed (end of 2008-2011), government authorities shut down his blog, beat him up, bulldozed his newly built studio and held him in secret detention. In July 2012, he lost his appeal in his tax case; a court in Beijing upheld a $2.4 million fine for tax evasion. Supporters of the artist believe the fine is an attempt by Chinese officials to penalize him for his political activism. “The truth is things are getting worse,” says Klayman. “There is less space for dissent.”

Klayman creates a compelling, textured picture of a fascinating subject, whose personality seems equal parts deadpan and dogged. She shows us shards of his public and private life, glimpses of his contradictions and flaws as well as his determination. Fundamentally, it’s a film about individual courage and expression, and using your voice, Klayman says. “The take-away message is how to be an engaged citizen.”

“Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” opens today in LA.


Ways to help the families, friends of Aurora shooting victims

Today’s shocking massacre at an Aurora, Colo., showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” has left us shaken and deeply sad. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and friends. The movie’s director Christopher Nolan released the following statement:

“Speaking on behalf of the cast and crew of ‘The Dark Knight Rises,’ I would like to express our profound sorrow at the senseless tragedy that has befallen the entire Aurora community. I would not presume to know anything about the victims of the shooting but that they were there last night to watch a movie. I believe movies are one of the great American art forms and the shared experience of watching a story unfold on screen is an important and joyful pastime.

“The movie theatre is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me. Nothing any of us can say could ever adequately express our feelings for the innocent victims of this appalling crime, but our thoughts are with them and their families.”

There are several ways to help. To learn more, click here.