Noirish sci-fi ‘Under the Skin’ is both artful and annoying

Under the Skin posterUnder the Skin/2013/Film4, BFI et al/108 min.

“Under the Skin,” a noirish sci-fi film by Jonathan Glazer (“Sexy Beast,” “Birth”) is austere and visually striking, inscrutable and haunting. It’s also a meditation on what it’s like to be a woman in contemporary society. Or not.

The “woman” here is an alien in disguise, played by Scarlett Johansson, who has come to Earth to hunt men. After climbing into the pretty skin of an expired human, she dons a fluffy black wig and tarty clothes, and applies a bright pop of color to those famous pouty lips.

Her trap set, she drives a van through the streets of Glasgow and seduces her victims, leading them, zombielike, into pools of black gunk. Then the tables turn; she shows vulnerability and becomes the hunted.

Shot on a low-budget often with hidden cameras and using a mix of professionals (like Johansson) and non-actors, “Under the Skin” feels dually creepy – it tells a strange story and, reportedly, the everyday Scotsmen she picks up didn’t recognize the raven-haired, English-accented Johansson or know that a movie was being made.

Glazer artfully creates a mood of anxiety, dread and mystery – to that end, he puts dashes of Polanski, Hitchcock, Kubrick, DePalma, Scorsese, Cocteau and Buñuel into this cinematic stew. What’s not in the recipe is meat – we get virtually nothing in the way of back story, exposition or even a suggestion as to why any of this is happening (a question that is answered in the source novel by Michel Faber).

Though the spare dialogue adds to the tension, it also keeps us in the dark in terms of a traditional narrative. But perhaps that is Glazer’s point: since we are watching a story of an alien it’s fitting that it unfolds not in a common language but in ambiguous images.

Depending on your taste, “Under the Skin” will be exquisitely harrowing or peculiarly maddening.

“Under the Skin” opens April 4 in New York at the Regal Union Square 14 and AMC Empire 25 and in Los Angeles at the ArcLight Hollywood and AMC Century City 15. On April 4 and April 5, at the Regal in NYC, director Jonathan Glazer will do a Q&A after the 7:20 p.m. shows. The film will expand nationwide throughout April.

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The Film Noir File: Sam Fuller takes us down ‘Shock Corridor’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Film 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

Shock Corridor” (1963, Samuel Fuller). 10 p.m. (7 p.m.), Saturday, March 29.

Reviewed in FNB on Nov. 16, 2011.

Friday, March 28

12:15 p.m. (9:15 a.m.): “The Racket” (1928, Lewis Milestone). The first movie version of playwright/screenwriter/Chicago crime reporter Bartlett Cormack’s tense play about the war of nerves between a tough, obsessed police captain and a brutal mob boss. With Thomas Meighan, Louis Wolheim and Marie Prevost. The movie was remade in 1951 at Howard Hughes’ RKO (by director John Cromwell), with Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan.

Night of the Living Dead poster1:45 a.m. (10:45 p.m.): “Night of the Living Dead” (1968, George Romero). With a plague of blood-thirsty, lurching, relentlessly oncoming zombies rampaging all over the Pittsburgh area, a group of bickering and sometimes hysterical survivors barricade themselves in a suburban house near a graveyard, and try to survive the longest night of their lives. One of the most noirish – and certainly one of the scariest – of all low-budget horror classics, directed (and written) by George Romero with nerve-rending, savage black-and-white pseudo-realism and some macabre humor. Starring Duane Jones and Judith O’Dea.

3:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m.): “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” (1962, Robert Aldrich). With Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Victor Buono and Anna Lee. Reviewed in FNB on July 28, 2012.

Saturday, March 29

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “His Girl Friday” (1940, Howard Hawks). With Cary Grant. Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy, Gene Lockhart and John Qualen. Reviewed in FNB on Jan. 22, 2013.

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “Shock Corridor” (1963, Samuel Fuller). See Pick of the Week.

Rhonda Fleming and Vincent Price are supporting players in "While the City Sleeps."

Rhonda Fleming and Vincent Price are supporting players in “While the City Sleeps.”

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “While the City Sleeps” (1956, Fritz Lang). The great film noir director Fritz Lang worked even longer in Hollywood than he did in Germany, and of all the pictures of his American career, his two favorites were reportedly the 1936 lynch-mob classic “Fury” (starring Spencer Tracy and scripted by Bartlett Cormack), and the lesser-known crime thriller “While The City Sleeps.” Set in a big metropolitan newspaper which is in the throes of transition and a possible take-over, the movie’s complex plot revolves around both the corporate battles at the paper, and the big news story that is consuming the city and the newsroom: a series of vicious serial slayings by an unknown psychopathic killer. It’s an engrossing melodrama, steeped in stark, boozy, big-city ’50s atmosphere.

The remarkable cast is headed by noir mainstays Dana Andrews and Ida Lupino (as star reporters). Andrews and Lupino bring a whole raft of urban noir memories along with them. So does the supporting cast of journalists, executives and crime-fighters, played by George Sanders, Vincent Price, Thomas Mitchell, Howard Duff, Rhonda Fleming, James Craig, Sally Forrest and Mae Marsh. The young leather-jacketed psycho-killer they’re after is played by John Barrymore, Jr. (aka John Drew Barrymore, John Barrymore’s son and Drew Barrymore’s dad.)

That all-star cast and Lang’s moody mastery of big-city tension and cynicism keep you on the hook. Though we wouldn’t rank this picture above “Scarlet Street” and “The Big Heat” (which Lang apparently did), it’s an underseen, underrated gem of film noir, hot off the presses, from the genre’s heyday.

The Lady from Shanghai posterSunday, March 30

12:15 p.m. (9:15 a.m.): “The Lady from Shanghai” (1948, Orson Welles). With Welles, Rita Hayworth, Everett Sloane and Glenn Anders. Reviewed in FNB on Dec. 26, 2013.

Monday, March 31

9 p.m. (6 p.m.): “On the Waterfront” (1954, Elia Kazan). With Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden and Rod Steiger. Reviewed in FNB on Feb. 20, 2013.

3:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m.): North by Northwest” (1959, Alfred Hitchcock). With Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason and Martin Landau. Reviewed in FNB on Nov. 17, 2012.

 

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Hitch’s second U.S. film sets the bar for the rest of his career

“Foreign Correspondent” (1940) was recently released on Blu-ray/DVD (dual edition) by Criterion.

By Michael Wilmington

Foreign Corr posterAlfred Hitchcock started his American filmmaking career with a bang, directing a Best Picture Oscar winner and an inarguable classic: his 1940 David O. Selznick-produced film of Daphne du Maurier’s immensely popular Gothic romantic novel “Rebecca.” Though he was under the control of Selznick at his zenith (the year after “Gone With the Wind”), Hitch executed the assignment with near-flawless skill  and panache.

He beautifully dramatizes du Maurier’s romantic tale of a naïve young wife (Joan Fontaine) taken to a mansion by her wealthy new husband (Laurence Olivier), who may have murdered his haunting first wife, Rebecca.

But “Rebecca” wasn’t Hitch’s only 1940 film. Nor is it the one that some Hitchcock critics (and maybe even Hitchcock himself) consider the inarguable classic. Shortly after completing “Rebecca,” and freeing himself from the fealty Selznick felt was owed to du Maurier’s novel, Hitchcock made a second American movie.

This new work was a continuation of the style and technique of the delightfully frightening suspense thrillers he’d made in England in the ’30s: notably “The 39 Steps,” “The Man Who Knew Too Much” and “The Lady Vanishes.”

That second Hitchcock movie was “Foreign Correspondent,” produced by Walter Wanger: a top-notch melodrama of international intrigue and nail-biting suspense that was set in the early days of World War II. Starring the sturdily all-American guy Joel McCrea (Hitch had wanted Gary Cooper) and love interest Laraine Day (Hitch had wanted Fontaine), it was a movie that unabashedly called  for the U.S. to enter the war against Germany, on the side of Hitchcock’s beleaguered homeland Great Britain.

That’s the conclusion McCrea’s pugnacious but immensely likable reporter Johnny Jones (pen name: Huntley Haverstock) reaches after being sent overseas as The New York Globe’s foreign correspondent and witnessing Germany’s murderous espionage and sabotage. As bodies and evidence accumulate, Johnny/Haverstock chases down a Nazi spy ring in England and Holland.

In company with Johnny: the head of an ambiguous peace organization (Herbert Marshall), his beauteous daughter (Day), a suave and plucky British fellow reporter (George Sanders), a kidnapped Dutch diplomat (Albert Bassermann), and assorted spies, officials, killers and bystanders (Edmund Gwenn, Robert Benchley, Eduardo Ciannelli and others). They race from one hair-raising Hitchcockian set-piece to the next; finally culminating in a plane crash, with McCrea and others in the cockpit.

It’s the sort of  convulsively paced, thoroughly engrossing and purely entertaining tale Hitchcock loved to make, with an audience-pleasing flair and imagination that would have been entirely out of place in a faithful classic adaptation like “Rebecca.” But “Foreign Correspondent” was a clear precursor of Hitchcock’s later career and also of the James Bond spy thrillers of the ’60s and beyond, which were partly inspired by his work.

Selznick would not allow Hitchcock to change any of “Rebecca” (except for his habitual joke-cameo appearance). While Selznick has probably been proven right by the film’s 1940 Oscars and continued classic status, “Foreign Correspondent” (which was nominated for six Oscars), has also been validated as the more truly Hitchcockian movie.

It’s full of virtuoso set-pieces, like the windmills that are turning against the wind, the climactic plane crash, the famed umbrella-knocking assassination scene, and other logic-defying moments inserted in defiance of the critics and carpers whom The Master of Suspense dismissively called “The Plausibles.”

Hitch makes his cameo in "Foreign Correspondent."

Hitch makes his cameo in “Foreign Correspondent.”

“Foreign Correspondent” was scripted by Hitchcock’s regular collaborators Charles Bennett and Joan Harrison, with dialogue by James Hilton (the novelist who wrote “Goodbye Mr. Chips”) and the Algonquin Round Table’s resident wit Robert Benchley (who also appears in the cast as a fellow reporter). The source was an actual foreign correspondent’s memoir, “Personal History” by Vincent Sheean.

One of the uncredited writers on “Foreign Correspondent” was Richard Maibaum, who was later the main Bond series screenwriter. Besides Maibaum, the remarkable gallery of uncredited writers on the project includes Ben Hecht, Harold Clurman, John Howard Lawson, John Lee Mahin and Budd Schulberg, or almost everyone in Hollywood, it seems, but William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Of course, there was the script-shaping genius of Hitchcock himself (and of his wife Alma): Hitchcock, who of all non-actor movie directors, is perhaps the most visibly present in his films. We sense him in and behind nearly every shot.

But he’s more present in “Foreign Correspondent” than in “Rebecca.” Freed for the moment from Selznick (they would make two more pictures together), Hitch charts the major direction he would follow right up to the end of his career: the ingenious set-pieces, the games with the audience, the personal touches and brilliant identification devices.

He also produced a film proselytizing for America’s entrance into the war with the Allies and against the Nazi juggernaut that was admired as propaganda by no less an expert than Joseph Goebbels himself.

Criterion’s extras include a 1972 interview with Hitchcock by Dick Cavett and a 1946 radio adaptation of “Foreign Correspondent” with Joseph Cotten.

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The Film Noir File: Say hello to Chandler’s sizzling ‘Farewell’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

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

Murder My Sweet posterPick of the Week

Murder, My Sweet” (1944, Edward Dmytryk). 12:15 p.m. (9:15 a.m.); Monday, March 24. You can read the full review here.

Friday, March 21

12:15 a.m. (9:15 p.m.): “The Loved One” (1965, Tony Richardson). With Robert Morse, Rod Steiger, Jonathan Winters and John Gielgud. Reviewed in FNB on Dec. 16, 2013.

2:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m.): “Cool Hand Luke” (1967, Stuart Rosenberg). One of Paul Newman’s best-liked roles and movies came when he played the lovable convict-rebel Luke, in this tough, brash, jocular comedy-drama of life on a Southern chain gang – and how to make it more livable by staging egg-eating contests, standing up to the Man and breaking loose.

George Kennedy won an Oscar as Luke’s jail mate tormentor-turned-sidekick Dragline, and Strother Martin won immortality in the Memorable Lines Dept. as the weaselly prison boss who lectures the convicts about “failure t’ communicate.”

Newman himself makes one of the toniest, best-looking chain gang convicts ever. His Luke could probably walk into a cotillion ball in his prison duds and walk out with any woman in the place. Based on a novel by chain gang vet Donn Pearce, the movie has a terrific supporting cast, including Dennis Hopper, Joe Don Baker, Harry Dean Stanton, and, as Luke’s dying old mother, Jo Van Fleet.

Sunday, March 23

6 a.m. (3 a.m.): “Lady in the Lake” (1947, Robert Montgomery). With Montgomery, Audrey Totter Lloyd Nolan and Leon Ames. Reviewed in FNB on Dec. 3, 2012.

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “Notorious” (1946, Alfred Hitchcock). With Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, Claude Rains and Louis Calhern. Reviewed in FNB on Feb. 12, 2013 and on Feb. 20, 2012.

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “Fists in the Pocket” (1965, Marco Bellocchio). Italian writer-director Marco Bellocchio burst on the international film scene in 1965 with this savage, dark-hued look at a psychopathic young epileptic (Lou Castel) who embarks on a murderous campaign against his own family. The subject matter of this classic noir seethes with evil and frenzy, but Bellocchio’s treatment is cool and brilliantly controlled. Castel makes a memorable mad killer. (In Italian, with English subtitles.)

Dick Powell was a song-and-dance man before this flick.

Dick Powell (center) was a song-and-dance man before he starred in “Murder, My Sweet,” a seminal film noir.

Monday, March 24

12:15 p.m. (9:15 a.m.): “Murder. My Sweet” (1944, Edward Dmytryk). See Pick of the Week.

2 p.m. (11 a.m.): “To Have and Have Not” (1944, Howard Hawks). With Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Walter Brennan and Marcel Dalio. Reviewed in FNB on July 21, 2012.

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Noir City returns; program includes French, British, Italian films

Rififi posterIt’s almost time to take one of our favorite trips of the year: A one-way ticket to Noir City at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood!

Starting Friday, the American Cinematheque and the Film Noir Foundation will present their 16th annual festival of film noir. Jaded gumshoes, femmes fatale and menacing heavies will reign supreme in gloriously gritty black and white. The fest runs through April 6, with a stand-out celebration on April 5.

We at FNB are especially excited to see the fest expand to include film noir from abroad with evenings devoted to French (“Two Men in Manhattan,” “Rififi,” “Jenny Lamour), British (“It Always Rains on Sunday,” “Brighton Rock”) and Italian (“Ossessione”) noir.

Ossessione posterThe program pays tribute to a trio of talented actresses who died in 2013 with noir nights devoted to Joan Fontaine (“Born to Be Bad”, “Ivy”), Eleanor Parker (“Caged,” “Detective Story”) and Audrey Totter (“Tension,” “Alias Nick Beal”).

Actor Dan Duryea will be honored on opening night, March 21, with this enticing double feature: “Too Late for Tears” (a new 35mm restoration) and “Larceny.” Also to be honored (on other nights): writer David Goodis and director Hugo Fregonese.

Be sure to join FNF co-directors Eddie Muller and Alan K. Rode as they host another exciting excursion into the dark recesses of Hollywood’s most lasting artistic movement, film noir.

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Vive le Cherbourg! Deneuve dazzles! Go, Goldblum, go!

Umbrellas posterThe Umbrellas of Cherbourg/1964/91 min.

A visual confection. A musical with a vibe both joyful and pensive. Catherine Deneuve’s break-through role. Superb music by Michel Legrand. One of France’s most famous and highly regarded films, “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” this year celebrates the 50th anniversary of its U.S. release.

Jacques Demy, a New Wave director, brings his distinctive vision to the movie musical resulting in a film that’s wistful and tender, exuberant and operatic. It’s a simple tale of harsh reality intruding on two gorgeous young lovers (Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo). Demy lends depth and resonance by conjuring a poetic mood and letting the story unfold at a meandering pace.

I imagine that watching Deneuve back in 1964 meant immediately recognizing her star power, perhaps like watching Marilyn Monroe (Deneuve’s favorite actress) in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” For Deneuve’s longtime admirers or those still discovering her, this lovely digital restoration is a must-see treat.

“The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” opens Friday, March 14, at Landmark’s Nuart Theatre, showing through Thursday, March 20, for an exclusive one-week engagement. On March 14, at the 7:30 p.m. show, dance critic Debra Levine will talk with actor/dancer George Chakiris, who worked in collaboration with Demy, Deneuve and Legrand in 1967’s “The Young Girls of Rochefort.”

 

On My Way posterOn My Way/2014/Cohen Media Group/113 min.

Catherine Deneuve at 70 is just as captivating to watch, maybe more so, as when she was a teenager. Her natural elegance infuses “On My Way,” a road movie in which she plays Bettie, a provincial French restaurateur and long-ago beauty-pageant queen trying to recover after she is jilted by her lover.

Or as director/co-writer Emmanuelle Bercot says: “It is the story of a woman who goes out for a drive and repeatedly finds reasons not to go back home.” One thing that sidetracks her is the fact that her grandson (Nemo Schiffman) happens to needs a ride to the home of his paternal grandfather (Gérard Garouste). Bettie agrees to drive him, though she is not on particularly good terms with the boy or his mother (the singer Camille).

The film feels realistic (an oafish fellow traveler calls Bettie a dog) and sometimes implausible (there are a few plot holes to be overlooked). It’s also very charming (the cast includes many non-actors such as Garouste as well as a porcine farmer, who rolls a cigarette for Bettie as he tells her why he never married) and very French (a leisurely family gathering includes cooking, singing, squabbling, smoking and drinking a nice glass of wine).

With Deneueve in the driver’s seat, “On My Way” is a trip you’ll want to take.

“On My Way” opens Friday, March 14, in New York and Friday, March 21, in LA.

 

Le Week-End posterLe Week-End/2013/Music Box Films/93 min.

Jeff Goldblum provides a welcome burst of obnoxious energy in the dark(ish) “Le Week-End,” a British comedy/drama set in Paris. Directed by Roger Michell and written by Hanif Kureishi, the film stars Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent as an English couple who spend a few nights in the City of Lights to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary.

Celebrate, however, is not be quite the right word. The accumulated disappointments and frustrations of their three decades together have yielded a fair amount of friction between domineering Meg and Milquetoast Nick. As Meg points out, love can turn to hate like the flip of a switch. That said, a grudging but abiding affection seeps through Meg and Jim’s disillusioned, resentful exteriors – thanks to graceful acting from Duncan and Broadbent, and seamless direction from Michell.

Goldblum shines as Morgan, a smarmy New Yorker (now living in Paris with a much younger second wife), who knew Nick when they were students at Cambridge. In the years since, Morgan has seemingly achieved the success that has eluded Nick. A chance meeting on the street leads to a rekindling of the friendship.

Though I felt Duncan’s part was somewhat underwritten, “Le Week-End” is a sharp, unvarnished portrayal of a frayed relationship at a turning point in the world’s prettiest city.

“Le Week-End” opens Friday, March 14, at Landmark Theatres in West Los Angeles and at Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas in New York.

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The perfect excuse to preen is the wearin’ o’ the green

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, all! Need a little justification to treat yourself to some spring beauty products? Never fear, FNB is here. St. Pat’s comes but once a year and you deserve some brand-new gear. Here are a few ideas to get your green on this weekend.

Shiseido’s Luminizing Satin eye-color trios were inspired by Makeup Artistic Director Dick Page’s global travel. Shown here is Jungle.

Shiseido’s Luminizing Satin eye-color trios were inspired by Makeup Artistic Director Dick Page’s global travel. Shown here is Jungle.

 

Merle Norman’s Soft Touch waterproof eye pencil is smooth and creamy but stays put. You can use it to line or as a full-on shadow. A built-in smudger makes it easy to define and blend. Jaded is a subtle khaki green that you can wear every day, not just on March 17.

Merle Norman’s Soft Touch waterproof eye pencil is smooth and creamy but stays put. You can use it to line or as a full-on shadow. A built-in smudger makes it easy to define and blend. Forest is a classic green. Jaded is a subtle khaki green that you can wear every day, not just on March 17.

 

Malin + Goetz taps natural botanicals to create products for sensitive skin. To celebrate its 10th anniversary, the company is holding a gift-box giveaway. Enter for a chance to win on their facebook/twitter pages: http://tinyurl.com/l56xfbq.

Malin + Goetz taps natural botanicals to create products for sensitive skin. To celebrate its 10th anniversary, the company is holding a gift-box giveaway. Enter for a chance to win on their facebook/twitter pages: http://tinyurl.com/l56xfbq.

 

Looking for a fresh floral fragrance that’s also polished and sophisticated? Try Carven L’Eau de Toilette. This new and lighter version of Carven Le Parfum recently launched at Saks.

Looking for a fresh floral fragrance that’s also polished and sophisticated? Try Carven L’Eau de Toilette. This new and lighter version of Carven Le Parfum recently launched at Saks.

 

Dolce&Gabbana’s limited edition Emeraldo won’t be around for long. Stock up on this stunning shade while you can. The companion green lipstick, we’re told, flew off the shelves in a matter of hours. Not sure about green lips but, if you want to give it a go, St. Pat’s the ideal time. Experts agree: a bit of gold gloss makes green lipstick much more wearable.

Dolce & Gabbana’s limited edition Emeraldo won’t be around for long. Stock up on this stunning shade while you can. The companion green lipstick, we’re told, flew off the shelves in a matter of hours. Not sure about green lips but, if you want to give it a go, St. Pat’s the ideal time. Experts agree: a bit of gold gloss makes green lipstick much more wearable.

 

If you fancy a sparkly seafoam situation, Mermaid’s Dreams by Deborah Lippmann should do nicely. One snag: Glitter polish takes a long time to remove. A non-sparkle alternative is DL’s pretty pale green called Spring Buds, part of the Spring Reveries Collection 2014. (Limited edition)

If you fancy a sparkly seafoam situation, Mermaid’s Dreams by Deborah Lippmann should do nicely. One snag: Glitter polish takes a long time to remove. A non-sparkle alternative is DL’s pretty pale green called Spring Buds, part of the Spring Reveries Collection 2014. (Limited edition)

 

 Nothing sets off the peaches-and-cream complexion of an Irish lass like a classic red lipstick. Our pick: Scoundrel, new from Tory Burch.


Nothing sets off the peaches-and-cream complexion of an Irish lass like a classic red lipstick. Our pick: Scoundrel, new from Tory Burch.

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The Film Noir File: Huston helms, Bogarts stars in ‘Falcon’ et al

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Film 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

Maltese-Falcon-poster[1]

The Maltese Falcon
(1941, John Huston). 8 p.m. (5 p.m.); Wednesday, March 12. With Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre and Elisha Cook, Jr. See previous post for the review.

Wednesday, March 12

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Maltese Falcon” (1941, John Huston). See review in previous post.

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “Across the Pacific” (1942, John Huston). With Bogart, Astor and Greenstreet. Reviewed in FNB on June 6, 2012.

Friday, March 14

10:45 a.m. (7:45 a.m.): “Beat the Devil” (1953, John Huston). Humphrey Bogart and John Huston’s last movie together was a commercial failure but a triumph of silliness, satire and pseudo-noir. Bogart stars as the sly, grinning kingpin of a group of uranium-mine swindlers that includes Robert Morley, Peter Lorre and Italian bombshell Gina Lollobrigida. Jennifer Jones and Edward Underdown are two naïve British vacationers who fall guilelessly into their hands.

Beat the Devil posterBased on a novel by Claud Cockburn, the film, a cult movie if there ever was one, was adapted with tongue completely in cheek, by Truman Capote, who wrote (or rewrote) it on location in Italy. Apparently, Capote got the script done each day with barely enough time for the actors to learn their lines. (They have fun with them anyway.) The settings on the Italian coast, in prime tourist territory, are gorgeous — as are bad girl Lollobrigida and good girl Jones. The cast look as if they‘re not quite sure what’s going on but are having an absolutely marvelous time. As will you.

4 a.m. (1 a.m.): “The Public Enemy” (1931, William Wellman). With James Cagney, Jean Harlow and Mae Clarke. Reviewed in FNB on Aug. 10, 2012.

Saturday, March 15

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Sugarland Express” (1974, Steven Spielberg). With Goldie Hawn, Ben Johnson and William Atherton. Reviewed in FNB on Nov. 23, 2013.

Sunday, March 16

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “After the Thin Man” (1936, W. S. Van Dyke). With William Powell, Myrna Loy and James Stewart. Reviewed in FNB on June 6, 2013.

Monday, March 17

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Outfit” (1973, John Flynn). With Robert Duvall, Karen Black and Robert Ryan. Reviewed in FNB on May 22, 2013.

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There’s only one ‘Maltese Falcon’ and this is it

The Maltese Falcon/1941/Warner Bros./100 min.

Maltese Falcon poster“The Maltese Falcon,” a spectacularly entertaining and iconic crime film, holds the claim to many firsts.

It’s a remarkable directorial debut by John Huston, who also wrote the screenplay. It’s considered by many critics to be the first film noir. (Another contender is “Stranger on the Third Floor” see below.) It was the first vehicle in which screen legend Humphrey Bogart and character actor Elisha Cook Jr. appeared together – breathing life into archetypal roles that filled the noir landscape for decades to come.

It was veteran stage actor Sydney Greenstreet’s first time before a camera and the first time he worked with Peter Lorre. The pair would go on to make eight more movies together. Additionally, “Falcon,” an entry on many lists of the greatest movies ever made, was one of the first films admitted to the National Film Registry in its inaugural year, 1989.

Based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett, Huston’s “Falcon” is the third big-screen version of the story (others were in 1931 and 1936) and it’s by far the best. Huston follows Hammett’s work to the letter, preserving the novel’s crisp, quick dialogue. If a crime movie can be described as jaunty, this would be it. Huston’s mighty achievement earned Oscar noms for best adapted screenplay, best supporting actor (Greenstreet) and best picture.

According to former New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther: “The trick which Mr. Huston has pulled is a combination of American ruggedness with the suavity of the English crime school – a blend of mind and muscle – plus a slight touch of pathos.”

A few more of Huston’s tricks include striking compositions and camera movement, breathtaking chiaroscuro lighting, and a pins-and-needles atmosphere of excitement and danger. (Arthur Edeson was the cinematographer; Thomas Richards served as film editor.)

For the few who haven’t seen “Falcon,” it’s a tale of ruthless greed and relentless machismo centered around the perfect marriage of actor and character: Humphrey Bogart as private detective Sam Spade – the ultimate cynical, streetwise, I-did-it-my-way ’40s alpha-male. As famed noir author Raymond Chandler once put it: “All Bogart has to do to dominate a scene is to enter it.” Bogart appears in just about every scene in “Falcon.”

As Raymond Chandler  put it: “All Bogart has to do to dominate a scene is to enter it.”

As Raymond Chandler put it: “All Bogart has to do to dominate a scene is to enter it.”

As Spade, he sees through the malarkey, cuts to the chase and commands every situation, even when the odds are stacked against him. At one point he breaks free of a heavy, disarms him and points the guy’s own gun at him, all while toking on his cig. He’s equally adept at using wisecracks and one-liners to swat away the cops, who regularly show up at his door.

Mary Astor plays leading lady Brigid O’Shaughnessy to Bogart’s Sam Spade and it is she who sets the story in motion when she walks into Spade’s San Francisco office. Brigid asks Spade and his partner Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) to trail a man named Thursby who, she says, is up to no good with her sister. They accept the job and Archer takes the first shift of following Thursby. Next morning, Archer’s dead. Turns out that Brigid doesn’t have a sister and Archer’s widow (Gladys George) has the hots for Spade.

Spade’s ultra-reliable and resourceful secretary, Effie (Lee Patrick) is the one gal he can trust and it’s clear she means the world to him. At one point he tells her, “you’re a good man, sister,” which in Spade-speak is a downright gushfest. He might like the look of Brigid and her little finger, but he won’t be wrapped around it anytime soon.

Humphrey Bogart owns the movie, but he has a stellar support cast. From left: Bogart, Peter Lorre, Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet.

Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade owns the movie, but he has a stellar support cast. From left: Bogart, Peter Lorre, Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet.

Astor, a Hollywood wild child of her time, who left a long string of husbands and lovers in her wake and generated much fodder for the tabloids, was brilliant casting for the part of bad-girl Brigid O. True to form, Astor allegedly was having an affair with Huston during the making of the film.

There is no doubt that Bogart owns this guy’s-guy male-fantasy picture, but Astor and the stellar support cast are unforgettable in their roles. As a good-luck gesture to his son, John, actor Walter Huston plays the part of the old sea captain. Peter Lorre drips malevolence as the effeminate and whiny Joel Cairo, and he has a foreign accent, which in Hollywood is usually shorthand for: he’s a bad’un.

Making his film debut at 61, Greenstreet’s Kasper Gutman is both debauched and debonair, a refined reprobate with a jolly cackle and tubby physique (he was more than 350 pounds!). Warner Bros. had to make an entire wardrobe for Greenstreet; Bogart wore his own clothes to save the studio money. One more Bogart contribution was adding the line: “The stuff that dreams are made of” at the end of the film, paraphrasing a line in “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare.

Tough-guy Sam Spade (Bogart) and wimpy Wilmer Cook (Elisha Cook Jr.) are perfect foils.

Tough-guy Sam Spade (Bogart) and wimpy Wilmer Cook (Elisha Cook Jr.) are perfect foils.

And honing the sort of performance that would become his trademark, Elisha Cook Jr. stamps the character of warped thug Wilmer Cook with code for “psycho” (darting eyes, bubbling rage, edgy desperation) as if it were a neon light attached to his forehead.

Much has been written about the homosexual subtext of the Cairo, Gutman and Cook characters – I will just say they’re all part of the flock that covets and vies for possession the falcon, a jewel-laden statue of a bird that’s the treasure at the core of this tense and serpentine story. When it’s suggested that Wilmer Cook be sacrificed for the good of the gang, Greenstreet’s Kasper Gutman explains that, though Wilmer is like a son, “If you lose a son, it’s possible to get another. There’s only one Maltese Falcon.”

Though there were two other celluloid versions of Hammett’s story, in my view, there’s only one “Maltese Falcon” and this is it.

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Book ’em: From big-screen secrets to adoring your amazing body, we’ve got it covered

It’s good when you have a few spare minutes and find yourself near a bookstore. In my case, I was browsing at Diesel Books in Brentwood and saw these yummy titles. Can’t wait to dig in.

 “I Used to be in Pictures: An Untold Story of Hollywood” by Austin Mutti-Mewse and Howard Mutti-Mewse with a foreword by Dominick Fairbanks. Austin and Howard curated the show Worth Exposing Hollywood, showcasing the work of Hollywood's first paparazzi photographer Frank Worth, in London and LA, and a book followed.

“I Used to be in Pictures: An Untold Story of Hollywood” by Austin Mutti-Mewse and Howard Mutti-Mewse with a foreword by Dominick Fairbanks. Austin and Howard curated the show Worth Exposing Hollywood, showcasing the work of Hollywood’s first paparazzi photographer Frank Worth, in London and LA, and a book followed.

“Roman Polanksi: A Retrospective” by editor and film critic James Greenberg, foreword by Roman Polanski. The book covers every one of Polanski’s movies, from “Knife in the Water” (1962) to “Carnage” (2011). Illustrated with more than 250 images.

“Roman Polanksi: A Retrospective” by editor and film critic James Greenberg, foreword by Roman Polanski. The book covers every one of Polanski’s movies, from “Knife in the Water” (1962) to “Carnage” (2011). Illustrated with more than 250 images.

“Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler,” a true love story by Trudi Kanter. Says Booklist: “From Paris to Vienna to London, Kanter creates a vibrant tapestry of her incredible odyssey through one of the darkest periods in contemporary history.” (Originally published in England in 1984.)

“Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler,” a true love story by Trudi Kanter. Says Booklist: “From Paris to Vienna to London, Kanter creates a vibrant tapestry of her incredible odyssey through one of the darkest periods in contemporary history.” (Originally published in England in 1984.)

GirlsofAtomicCity[1]

“The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War Two” by Denise Kiernan. The author tells the true story of the top-secret World War II town of Oak Ridge, Tenn., and the young women who (unknowingly) helped build the atomic bomb.

“Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasures from the Nazis” by Robert M. Edsel, author of “The Monuments Men.”

“Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasures from the Nazis” by Robert M. Edsel, author of “The Monuments Men.”

In “Moneywood: Hollywood in Its Last Age of Excess,” William Stadiem tells the inside story of Hollywood producers in the ’80s.

In “Moneywood: Hollywood in Its Last Age of Excess,” William Stadiem recounts the craziness of Hollywood producers in the ’80s.

Cockroaches

“Cockroaches: The Second Inspector Harry Hole Novel” is by Norwegian noirista Jo Nesbø (winner of the Glass Key award).

“The Black-Eyed Blonde: A Philip Marlowe Novel” by Benjamin Black. I read the first chapter and enjoyed it, though honestly it made want to reread Chandler. Benjamin Black is the nom de plume for the Man Booker Prize winner John Banville, considered to be one of the best writers in Ireland.

“The Black-Eyed Blonde: A Philip Marlowe Novel” by Benjamin Black. I read the first chapter and enjoyed it, though honestly it made me want to reread Chandler. Benjamin Black is the nom de plume for the Man Booker Prize winner John Banville, considered to be one of the best writers in Ireland.

“The Body Book: The Law of Hunger, the Science of Strength, and Other Ways to Love Your Amazing Body” by Cameron Diaz. Do share, Cameron, dahling! I look forward to learning her secrets.

“The Body Book: The Law of Hunger, the Science of Strength, and Other Ways to Love Your Amazing Body” by Cameron Diaz. Do share, Cameron, dahling! I look forward to learning her secrets.

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