Skirball Cultural Center shows ‘The File on Thelma Jordon’ starring the grande dame of film noir

The Intriguante—Women of Intrigue in Film Noir series at the Skirball Cultural Center continues at 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 12, with a movie starring the grande dame of film noir: Barbara Stanwyck.

Thelma Jordon (Barbara Stanwyck) asks: Why evade the law when you can simply seduce a lawman?

Thelma Jordon (Barbara Stanwyck) asks: Why bother to evade the law when you can simply seduce a lawman? Wendell Corey plays her snoozing companion.

In “The File on Thelma Jordon” (1950, Robert Siodmak), a film-noir melodrama, Stanwyck’s Thelma is a woman with a past and an ex-boyfriend who convinced her walk on the bad side. But rather than try to evade the law, she decides instead to seduce a married district attorney (Wendell Corey). When Thelma’s aunt is murdered, the DA is definitely the dude to have on her side. Still, guilt has a way of getting the best of a person, and it even gets to the cool, clever and mightily destructive Ms. Jordon.

Siodmak’s crisp, stylish directing paired with a tight script and Stanwyck’s powerful characterization make “The File on Thelma Jordon” a delightful big-screen treat.

Six years before “Thelma Jordon,” Stanwyck made “Phantom Lady” with Siodmak. Of course, one of Stanwyck’s most famous roles was as the murderous Phyllis Dietrichson in 1944’s “Double Indemnity,” directed by Billy Wilder.  Stanwyck and co-star Fred MacMurray took a risk by playing such dark characters in that they might alienate their fan base. But the risk paid off and they proved remarkably capable of playing a range of roles.

The exhibitions close on Sunday, March 1.

The exhibitions close on Sunday, March 1.

Stanwyck went on to star in many more film-noir titles, including “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers,” “The Two Mrs. Carrolls,” “Sorry, Wrong Number,” “No Man of Her Own,” “Clash by Night,” and “Crime of Passion.”

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 exhibitions close on Sunday, March 1. If you haven’t seen them yet, what are you waiting for?! At 11 a.m. on March 1, the center will screen the PBS documentary Cinema’s Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood, which explores the impact of movie icons such as Wilder, Fritz Lang, Fred Zinnemann and Marlene Dietrich.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

Comments

Remembering Lizabeth Scott, a film noir stalwart

Lizabeth Scott was born Emma Matzo on Sept. 29, 1922, in Scranton, Pa.

Lizabeth Scott was born Emma Matzo on Sept. 29, 1922, in Scranton, Pa.

Actress Lizabeth Scott died Jan. 31 of congestive heart failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. She was 92.

Dead_Reckoning poster

Scott was born Emma Matzo on Sept. 29, 1922, in Scranton, Pa., one of six children. Her parents emigrated from the Ukraine.

Sculpted, slim and statuesque, Scott was a film noir stalwart, known for such classics as “Dead Reckoning,” “Pitfall andThe Strange Love of Martha Ivers.” Other notable ’40s flicks include: “Desert Fury,” “I Walk Alone,”  “Too Late for Tears” and “The Racket.”

Scott tended to play alluring, brassy girls who lived by their wits and worldly charms, having been born on the wrong side of the tracks. That said, she was equally adept at portraying tough cookies who revealed hearts of gold. Underrated in her time, she was able to lend complexity to many of her roles.

Simply put, she was a trooper.  Her other credits include: “Easy Living,” “Paid in Full,” “Dark City,” “The Company She Keeps,” “Two of a Kind,” “Red Mountain,” “A Stolen Face,” “Scared Stiff,” “Bad for Each Other” and “Silver Lode.”

You can read a full obituary here.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

Comments

Film Noir File: Siodmak’s ‘The Killers’ is a must-see heist film, Hemingway style

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

Burt Lancaster instantly falls for Ava Gardner in “The Killers.”

Burt Lancaster instantly falls for Ava Gardner in “The Killers.”

The Killers” (1946, Robert Siodmak). Tuesday, Feb. 10, 10:15 p.m. (7:15 p.m.). Of all film noir’s femmes fatales, Ava Gardner as Kitty Collins in “The Killers” ranks as the most devastatingly efficient. She doesn’t waste time chit-chatting or getting to know a guy. Just a glance gets them hooked and firmly planted in the palm of her hand. “Swede” Andreson (Burt Lancaster) takes all of 10 seconds to fall for her and then get lured into “a double-cross to end all double-crosses.” Read the full review here.

Saturday, Feb. 7

11:45 p.m. (8:45 p.m.): “Citizen Kane” (1941, Orson Welles). A dark look at the sensational, profligate life of one of the world’s most powerful and egotistical newspaper magnates, the late Charles Foster Kane (modeled on William Randolph Hearst and acted by George Orson Welles). Still the greatest movie of all time, it’s also a virtual lexicon of film-noir visual and dramatic style, as seminal in its way as “The Maltese Falcon” or “M.” Scripted by Welles and one-time Hearst crony Herman Mankiewicz, photographed by Gregg Toland, with music by Bernard Herrmann and ensemble acting by the Mercury Players: Welles, Joseph Cotten, Everett Sloane, Dorothy Comingore, Agnes Moorehead, George Coulouris, Ruth Warrick, Paul Stewart, et al.

Sunday, Feb. 8

Bogart and Bergman play Rick and Ilsa, who are perhaps Hollywood’s most famous on-screen lovers.

Bogart and Bergman play Rick and Ilsa, who are perhaps Hollywood’s most famous on-screen lovers.

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “Casablanca” (1942, Michael Curtiz).

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Gaslight” (1944, George Cukor). Set in foggy Victorian gas-lit London, this is the best of all the melodramas and noirs where a bad husband tries to drive his wife insane (or vice versa). Here, Charles Boyer gives the treatment to Oscar-winner Ingrid Bergman. Joseph Cotten, Dame May Whitty and teenage Angela Lansbury are among the bystanders. Based on the Patrick Hamilton stage play (and film) “Angel Street.”

Monday, Feb. 9

Laura poster 2141 a.m. (10 p.m.): “Laura” (1944, Otto Preminger).

3 a.m. (12 a.m.): “Mildred Pierce” (1945, Michael Curtiz).

Tuesday, Feb. 10

7 a.m. (4 a.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.

9 a.m. (6 a.m.): “Crossfire” (1947, Edward Dmytryk).

10:30 a.m. (7:30 a.m.): “Suspicion” (1941, Alfred Hitchcock).

12:30 p.m. (9:30 a.m.): “Mystery Street” (1950, John Sturges). A good, smart police procedural, set partly at Harvard University, with a homicide cop and forensic scientist (Ricardo Montalban and Bruce Bennett), trying to crack a murder with sexual overtones.

Cary Grant was Hitch’s favorite actor.

Cary Grant was Hitch’s favorite actor.

2:15 p.m. (11:15 a.m.): “The Fallen Idol” (1948, Carol Reed). In 1948, a year before they made the nonpareil thriller “The Third Man,” director Carol Reed and screenwriter Graham Greene collaborated on another tilted-camera film-noir classic: this mesmerizing story of a French diplomat’s son(Bobby Henrey) , who hero-worships the embassy butler (Ralph Richardson). The boy mistakenly comes to believe his idol has murdered his wife and keeps unintentionally incriminating him. With Michele Morgan, Jack Hawkins and Bernard Lee. Stunning cinematography by Georges Perinal.

4 p.m. (1 p.m.): “After The Thin Man” (1936, W. S. Van Dyke). The first of many sequels to the smash hit 1934 movie of Hammett’s last novel “The Thin Man,” with William Powell and Myrna Loy as the peerlessly witty and stylishly sloshed Nick and Nora Charles. Here, they visit Nora’s San Francisco cousin and investigate a string of murders among her rich elite family. With Jimmy Stewart in one of his most atypical roles.

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “Charade” (1963, Stanley Donen). Director Donen and screenwriter Peter Stone’s lush, polished and witty Hitchcock imitation stars Hitch’s favorite actor Cary Grant in perhaps his most Cary Grantian performance. Here, he’s a romantic detective/spy (or is he?) in an ultra-posh comedy thriller co-starring Audrey Hepburn, at her most winsomely, delicately beautiful. The movie, probably Donen’s best-loved after his great musicals “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Funny Face,” seems to be composed of equal parts of “North by Northwest,” “Notorious,” “To Catch a Thief” and Donen’s own Cary Grant movies (like “Indiscreet” and “The Grass is Greener”), with a dash of ’60s New Wave sauce and sass.

Cary Grant (shown with Audrey Hepburn) is one of FNB’s favorite actors.

Cary Grant (shown with Audrey Hepburn) is one of FNB’s favorite actors.

The movie couldn’t exist without Grant, who, mostly in a very Hollywoodish Paris, woos lady-in-distress Audrey (or does she woo him?). Both of them are threatened by a stellar band of villains and nemeses that includes Walter Matthau, James Coburn, George Kennedy and Ned Glass. The moody title song (Henry Mancini /Andy Williams) earned an Oscar nom. No Oscars went to Grant, of course. The next year, while picking up his Academy Award for writing the Grant comedy vehicle “Father Goose,” Stone said, “Cary just keeps winning these things for other people.”

Wednesday, Feb. 11

Treasure of the Sierra Madre poster8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “All the King’s Men” (1949, Robert Rossen).

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (1948, John Huston). “Treasure” is perhaps the finest work by writer-director (and here, for the first time, actor), John Huston. It’s a supreme western noir and one of the great Humphrey Bogart pictures.

Bogart is Fred C. Dobbs, a down and out American in 1925 in Tampico, Mexico, who hooks up with two other Yanks: tough but decent Bob Curtin (Tim Holt) and fast-talking, grizzled, expert prospector Howard (John’s father Walter Huston; he won the Oscar). The three treasure hunters strike gold in the Sierra Madre mountains, but they also hit a vein of darkness: the discord and violence that sudden riches can bring.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

Comments

Happy birthday, Ida Lupino!

Ida Lupino in halterIda Lupino was born Feb. 4, 1918 in London and died, age 77, on Aug. 3, 1995 in Los Angeles.

Says the New Yorker’s Richard Brody on Lupino: “As an independent producer, director and screenwriter, she exercised an exceptional degree of authority over her films, and it shows in their coherence, consistency and originality.”

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

Comments

‘Libeled Lady’ is funny and fresh at 79 years old

Myrna Loy, William Powell, Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracy in “Libeled Lady.”

Myrna Loy, William Powell, Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracy in “Libeled Lady.”

The ever-delightful “Libeled Lady” (1936, Jack Conway) kicked off a private screening series from the lovely people at Black Maria on Friday night at the Cinefamily in Los Angeles. The idea is to show films on the big screen in unique venues around the country.

The inaugural event included free food (plus popcorn and soda), drinks, a raffle with great prizes, free DVDS from Warner Bros. Archives and music from Elana James.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

Comments

Film Noir File: A Tuesday trio on TCM

Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint share a swanky cocktail.

Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint share a swanky cocktail.

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).

Tuesday, Feb. 3

3:15 p.m. (12:15 p.m.): “Foreign Correspondent” (1940, Alfred Hitchcock).

North by Northwest poster5:30 p.m. (2:30 p.m.): “North by Northwest” (1959, Alfred Hitchcock). One of Hitchcock’s two great spy-chase thrillers (the other is “The 39 Steps”), “North by Northwest” follows a suave but beleaguered Manhattan advertising executive (Cary Grant), who’s mistaken for a spy who doesn’t exist, charged with a murder he didn’t commit, pursued by bad guys (James Mason, Martin Landau) whose machinations bewilder him. Oh and he’s involved with a blonde beauty (Eva Marie Saint) who may want him dead. And then there’s that pesky crop-dusting plane “dustin’ where there ain’t no crops.” One of the best, most typical and most beautifully made Hitchcocks. Ingeniously scripted by Ernest Lehman.

12:45 a.m. (9:45 p.m.): “The Thin Man” (1934, W. S. Van Dyke). The first and best of all the plush M.G.M. films in which William Powell and Myrna Loy played Nick and Nora Charles, the slightly pixilated and urbanely witty couple who alternated screwball romps with tough, brainy detective work, solving murders and finishing champagne bottles with equal flair. That golden couple was inspired by the relationship between Dashiell Hammett and his longtime companion, playwright/screenwriter Lillian Hellman.

This is the only one of the Thin Man movies actually based on a Hammett novel. The adaptor/scenarists were another witty couple, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett (“It’s a Wonderful Life”). The supporting cast includes Maureen O’Sullivan and Cesar Romero.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

Comments

TV legend Norman Lear, 92, honored by Television Academy

Norman Lear talks with Touré, Russell Simmons and D-Nice.

Norman Lear talks with Touré, Russell Simmons and D-Nice.

Strong women, sharp insight, social consciousness and stand-out comedy define the work of legendary TV writer and producer Norman Lear, creator of hit shows such as “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons,” “Good Times,” “Sanford and Son,” “Maude,” “One Day at a Time,” and “The Facts of Life,” among many others.

The sit-coms and their beloved characters – particularly those with grit and swagger à la George Jefferson (Sherman Hemsley) and “J.J.” Evans (Jimmie Walker) of “Good Times” – inspired many hip-hop musicians, who grew up watching the shows, to pursue their artistic and entrepreneurial dreams. That was the premise of Wednesday night’s “An Evening with Norman Lear” at the Montalbán Theatre in Hollywood, presented by the Television Academy.

Norman Lear kept the audience laughing on Wednesday night.

Norman Lear kept the audience laughing on Wednesday night.

George Jefferson’s feisty humor, financial success and Upper East Side address, not to mention his cocky strut, spoke to Russell Simmons, co-founder of the Def Jam record label and one of several contributors to the program.

Said Simmons: “[George] was a successful black man. He didn’t bite his tongue. He wasn’t no punk. He’d tell the truth. And that was inspiring ’cause, you know, you didn’t see that.”

(Hemsley appeared on “All in the Family” from 1973-1975 and starred in “The Jeffersons” from 1975-1985.)

Other guests included Common, Baratunde Thurston, D-Nice, Kenya Barris and Steve Stoute. Touré of MSNBC’s “The Cycle” moderated the panel.

At the end of the evening, there were surprise guests: the still-hilarious Marla Gibbs (who played Florence on “The Jeffersons”) and actress Regina King.

Lear, relaxed and remarkably nimble at 92, took a few opportunities to plug his 2014 autobiography titled “Even This I Get to Experience.” (He signed copies after the discussion.)

But he was quick to deflect any hyperbole about his stellar six-decade career, changing the topic by brandishing his caustic wit. His dry asides often made the audience roar with laughter. “I take life seriously and I find humor in everything,” he said. “At a funeral, the person suffering the most is also the one scratching his ass. Because it itches. That’s the way life is.”

Lear said the keys to his success were that he listened, he paid attention and he thought he had something to say.

Lear said the keys to his success were that he listened, he paid attention and he thought he had something to say.

Lear said the keys to his success were that he listened, he paid attention and he thought he had something to say. Luckily his shows were launched when viewers wanted meatier fare than what they were seeing on the tube.

“The roast is ruined and the boss is coming to dinner was seen as a real problem,” he deadpanned, referring to fun but lightweight TV comedies, such as “Green Acres,” that preceded his work.

Was the TV business easier back in the day? Not so much. “Nobody ever lost money underestimating the arrogance of a network executive,” he said.

He was equally candid about the ironies in his own life. Tending to his five families on TV, a source of “joyful stress” that was often all-consuming, meant that he “was out to lunch for years” as a father to his own six children.

And clearly Lear remains young at heart. Upon hearing that Common was performing later that evening, Lear said: “Really? Let’s all go.”

A replay of the live webcast of the panel can be viewed here.

Photos by Invision for Television Academy/AP Images by Danny Moloshok

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

Comments

Film Noir File: ‘Sweet Smell of Success’ and a Buñuel bundle are this week’s baubles on TCM

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

Sweet Smell of Success” (1957, Alexander Mackendrick). Sunday, Jan. 25, 10 p.m. (7 p.m.).

Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster star in “Sweet Smell of Success.”

Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster star in “Sweet Smell of Success.”

“Sweet Smell of Success,” an American movie masterpiece and one of the best and gutsiest of all the classic film noirs, is a sleek killer comedy/drama about Broadway in the ’50s.

It centers around two influential New Yorkers: megalomaniac star gossip columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) and one of his more energetic publicist-sources, scummy but fashionable Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis).

And yes that is actor David White aka Larry Tate from TV’s  “Bewitched”as Otis Elwell (uncredited). Watching  “Sweet Smell of Success” now, you naturally think of “Mad Men” and an elite long-ago world of white men climbing the ladder of success: ruthless and glamorous, cut-throat and captivating.

Yes, that is actor David White (right) aka Larry Tate from TV’s  “Bewitched”as Otis Elwell (uncredited).

Yes, that is actor David White (right) aka Larry Tate from TV’s “Bewitched”as Otis Elwell (uncredited).

Read the full review here.

Monday, Jan. 26

Five by Luis Buñuel

Five superb films, from his middle and later years, by the great dark Spanish movie surrealist Luis Buñuel, whose extraordinary films, whether made in Spain, France Mexico or the U.S., are as noir as they come.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Belle de Jour” (1967, Luis Buñuel). The most beautiful movie actress alive directed by the world’s most brilliantly rebellious and surreal filmmaker. That was the incendiary match-up of star Catherine Deneuve and director Luis Buñuel, most notably in their classic 1967 French erotic noir drama “Belle de Jour.”

In that great film, Deneuve – so lovely and so classically, radiantly, sexily blonde – played Severine, the icy, ravishing Parisian wife, who becomes a prostitute during the day to escape her boring bourgeois life and her handsome but boring husband (Jean Sorel). Severine then falls into a mad world of crime, hypocrisy, dreamlike perversity and mad peril. “Belle de Jour,” adapted from the novel by Joseph Kessel, was the most popular, sensational and best-remembered film of Buñuel’s entire career. In French. with English subtitles.

Catherine Deneuve is unforgettable in 1967’s noir drama “Belle de Jour.”

Catherine Deneuve is unforgettable in 1967’s noir drama “Belle de Jour.”

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” (1972, Luis Buñuel). Buñuel’s sly, surreal Oscar-winner (for Best Foreign Language Picture of 1972), about a bourgeois dinner party that gets constantly interrupted and a world that is increasingly out of joint. The splendid cast includes Delphine Seyrig, Michel Piccoli, Fernando Rey, Stephane Audran, Bulle Ogier and Jean-Pierre Cassel. Buñuel and Jean-Claude Carriere co-wrote the script. In French, with subtitles.

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Diary of a Chambermaid” (1964, Luis Buñuel). Jeanne Moreau is a sultry chambermaid in a perverse French household, surrounded by exploitation and erotic menace. Adapted by Buñuel and Carriere from the novel by Octave Mirbeau (previously filmed in 1946 by director Jean Renoir and star Paulette Goddard). In French, with subtitles.

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “Viridiana” (1961, Luis Buñuel). A young convent woman returns to her wealthy and lascivious uncle’s elegant house and learns, unhappily, that the world of man and the will of God are often at odds. Buñuel’s return to Spanish filmmaking after decades of exile was then banned in Spain, but was otherwise a worldwide art house hit and a Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or winner. With Silvia Pinal, Fernando Rey and Francisco (”Paco”) Rabal. In Spanish, with subtitles.

3:45 a.m. (12:45 a.m.): “The Exterminating Angel” (1962, Luis Buñuel). One of Buñuel’s greatest dark jokes: A Mexican upper-class family and their friends stage a posh dinner party, but then discover that they somehow, mysteriously, maddeningly, can’t leave the dining room. They must stay there, suffer, degenerate and perhaps die. An incredible piece of stylish nightmare : pure Buñuel. With Silvia Pinal and Enrique Rambal. In Spanish, with subtitles.

9:45 a.m. (6:45 a.m.): “Zazie dans le Metro” (1960, Louis Malle). Reviewed in FNB on June 24, 2011.

Tuesday, Jan. 27

12:30 a.m. (9:30 p.m.): “Three Days of the Condor” (1975, Sydney Pollack). Robert Redford is a U. S. government reader and analyst whose world suddenly opens under his feet one day, when most of his colleagues are killed and he becomes a wanted man on the run. The quintessential paranoid anti-C.I.A. thriller, this is a modern variant on the prototypical Hitchcockian “wrong man“ suspenser. Based on James Grady’s novel “Six Days of the Condor,” it’s been copied endlessly, especially by novelist John Grisham. With Faye Dunaway, Max Von Sydow, Cliff Robertson and John Houseman. [Read more...]

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

Comments

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.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

Comments

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.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

Comments