‘The Long Goodbye’ is a highlight of Altman at the Aero

On Friday, March 20, the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica will present “The Long Goodbye” (1973, Robert Altman) as part of a weekend tribute to this stellar director. This event is free to all current American Cinematheque members, with regular pricing for non-members. There will be an introduction by Kathryn Altman, who will sign her book Altman in the lobby at 6:30 p.m. The movie is at 7:30 p.m.

The Long Goodbye/1973/United Artists/112 min.

One of the best films of the ’70s or an ugly, boring travesty of a well respected detective novel?

Elliott Gould and Nina Van Pallandt in “The Long Goodbye.”

Decide for yourself as you watch Robert Altman’s 1973 movie of “The Long Goodbye,” by Raymond Chandler. The film, starring Elliott Gould as private investigator Philip Marlowe, divided critics, earning the above-mentioned rave from Time Out and the snooty slam from Leslie Halliwell.

It was primarily Gould’s free-wheeling interpretation of the beloved PI that drew ire. Charles Champlin called him an “untidy, unshaven, semi-literate dimwit slob.”

An entertaining yarn, soaked in ’70s atmosphere, the movie captures the sunny, scruffy, solipsistic mood and look of Malibu, Calif., at the start of the Me Decade. Marlowe’s next door neighbors, for example, are pot-brownie-baking, clothing-optional candlemakers. We only see them from a distance but in a way they are timeless party girls, a ’70s version of “The Girls Next Door.”

And “The Long Goodbye” stretches the vocabulary of film noir. As Foster Hirsch, author of “Detours and Lost Highways: A Map of Neo Noir,” writes: “For all its self-indulgence and contradiction – the film both satirizes and seeks acceptance as a cool, contemporary L.A. mystery story – Altman’s ‘new age’ noir suggested the genre’s elasticity at a time when it was considered passé. Produced before nouveau noir had taken root, ‘The Long Goodbye’ anticipates the full-force genre revival of the 1980s and 1990s.”

We meet Marlowe late one night as he’s trying to round up food for his hungry cat (Morris the Cat in the role that launched him to stardom). The story spices up when Marlowe’s friend Terry Lennox (Jim Bouton) asks him, after a marital spat, to drive him to Tijuana.

Marlowe doesn’t have much else going on (besides cat care, of course) and so they make the trip; Marlowe heads back on his own to find that Lennox’s wife is dead. The police press Marlowe for info on Terry’s whereabouts, hoping that a little jail time will jog his memory (David Carradine plays Marlowe’s cellmate). They ease up after Terry Lennox commits suicide, having first written a letter confessing to the murder.

Marlowe’s not buying the suicide, but turns his attention to a new client. The sun-kissed and sophisticated Eileen Wade (Nina van Pallandt) wants Marlowe to find her missing hubby Roger Wade, a boozy writer, (played by the wonderful Sterling Hayden, a veteran of film noirs like “Asphalt Jungle” and “The Killing”).

Searching for Roger isn’t all that challenging, but Marlowe has his hands full with a visit from psychopathic gangster Marty Augustine (director Mark Rydell) and his hoods (including young Arnold Schwarzenegger). They’re sniffing around for a load of cash that Terry Lennox was supposed to deliver to Mexico. Surprise, surprise, the cash never made it. So the surly, anti-social Marlowe plods on toward the truth, trying not to get any sand on the shag carpets. [Read more...]

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Feast your eyes: TCMFF, Noir City and COLCOA

Over the next several weeks, there will be lots to see on the big screen in Los Angeles.

First, the TCM Classic Film Festival runs March 26-29 in Hollywood. This year’s theme is history as portrayed by Hollywood. Noir treats include: “Too Late for Tears,” “Nightmare Alley” and “Psycho.” More info is here.

The festival takes place at various venues in Hollywood.

Ride the Pink Horse posterTickets are now on sale for Noir City Hollywood. The 17th annual edition of the fest runs April 3-19 at the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre. There’s so much noir goodness – oops, I mean badness – to choose from. I am particularly looking forward to the Humphrey Bogart programming as well as the Dorothy B. Hughes double feature: “Ride the Pink Horse” and “The Fallen Sparrow.” Criterion just released “Ride the Pink Horse” on Blu-ray and DVD, which is great, but I can’t wait to see this at the Egyptian.

The Egyptian Theater is at 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90028.

Mais oui! The always-outstanding City of Angels City of Lights (COLCOA) festival runs April 20-28. “The Soft Skin” restored? I’m in! Check the web site for more info starting March 31. This is a first-rate festival and should not be missed!

The COLCOA festival is held at the Directors Guild of America, 7920 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, 90046.

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Film Noir File: Carol Reed’s ‘Odd Man Out’ is a great Irish drama and a great thriller

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). The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard). All films without a new review have been covered previously and can be searched in the FNB archives (at right).

Pick of the Week

Odd Man Out” (U.K.; 1947, Carol Reed). Tuesday, March 17, 8 p.m. (5 p.m.).

Carol Reed’s 1947 British thriller “Odd Man Out” is one of the great suspense dramas and one of the great film noirs. It’s an Irish odyssey that wrings every drop of tension from its subject. It’s also a story of love and death that plunges you into deepest night, and cracks your heart as you watch it.

James Mason always considered Johnny his best performance,

James Mason always considered Johnny his best performance,

The film revolves around Irish revolutionary Johnny McQueen, played by James Mason in a near-perfect performance.

As the film follows its dying protagonist – shot during an I. R. A. bank robbery and desperately trying to make his way to safety while being hunted by both the police and his friends – it creates an indelible portrait of a city at night, populated by a gallery of unforgettable characters.

That city is Belfast, though it’s never named as such. It’s a metropolis torn into bloody fragments, yet also seething with humanity, humor, embattled faith, bloody conflict and mad poetry. The city is stunningly photographed in rich blacks and ivory whites by cinematographer Robert Krasker in nearly the same palette he and Reed later used for 1949’s “The Third Man.”

Mason’s Johnny is not a naturally violent outlaw, but an idealist who is simply trying to hold onto life.  The wounded IRA man runs a gauntlet of terror, escaping from the bank where he was shot, wandering from place to place, from homes to bars to city scrapheaps, constantly a fugitive, sometimes helped, often recognized, safe only for fleeting moments.

Kathleen Ryan plays Johnny’s love interest.

Kathleen Ryan plays Johnny’s love interest.

Johnny’s main contacts are his lover Kathleen (Kathleen Ryan), also loved by the stern police inspector (Denis O’Dea) on Johnny’s trail; the elderly, frail, art fancier Father Tom (W. G. Fay); and an opportunistic little man named Shell (F. J. McCormick), who lives in an attic with two fellow eccentrics – Robert Newton as the alcoholic painter Lukey, and Elwyn Brooke-Jones as the failed medical student Tober.

Johnny’s suffering keeps bringing out the best and the worst in the people he encounters. The first act of “Odd Man Out” is a near-Hitchcockian masterpiece of suspense. The final act hits a mixture of irony, poignancy and terror that few films reach.

Mason always considered Johnny his best performance, and it may well be – though other Mason performances are in the same class: Humbert Humbert in “Lolita,” Norman Maine in “A Star is Born,” Ed Avery in “Bigger Than Life,” Trigorin in “The Sea Gull” and Sir Randolph in “The Shooting Party.” McCormick’s Shell is a magnificent portrayal as well – beautifully restrained and sly, full of fallibility, weakness and a near-demonic will. You’ll never forget Shell even if you didn’t know or won’t remember this superb actor’s name.

The script, a gem, was adapted from his bestselling novel by F. L. Green, who was born in England and died (in 1949) in Belfast, and playwright R. C. Sherriff (“Journey’s End”). It was produced and directed by Reed, then at the peak of his powers as a filmmaker.

If you’ve never seen “Odd Man Out,” try to catch it this time: a great Irish drama and film noir, a great Carol Reed film and James Mason performance, and a great story of suffering and redemption, while running and hiding in Belfast, city of night.

Saturday, March 14

Killer's Kiss poster7 a.m. (4 a.m.): “Killer’s Kiss” (Stanley Kubrick, 1955).

8:15 a.m. (5:15 a.m.): “The Big Clock” (John Farrow, 1948).

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Dead End” (William Wyler, 1937).

2 a.m. (11 p.m.). “The Town that Dreaded Sundown” (Charles B. Pierce, 1976). Based on fact, this indie low-budget movie about a Texas serial killer influenced a host of less factual slasher movies later on. With Ben Johnson and Dawn Wells.

3:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m.): “In Cold Blood” (Richard Brooks, 1967).

Monday, March 16

10 a.m. (7 a.m.): “Fury” (Fritz Lang, 1936).

11:45 a.m. (8:45 a.m.): “Saboteur” (Alfred Hitchcock, 1942).

1:45 p.m. (10:45 a.m.) “The Wages of Fear” (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1953). One of the greatest of all suspense films, this legendary French shocker is Clouzot’s nerve-rending account of four expatriate drivers trying to escape a horrible little South American backwater by driving two truckloads of nitroglycerin to a burning oil field over dangerous mountain roads.

A masterpiece of dark cynicism and blazing suspense, it’s even tenser and scarier than Clouzot’s more famous thriller “Diabolique.” The film boasts an incredible script (by Clouzot and Jerome Geronimi, from Georges Arnaud’s novel), amazing camerawork and razor-sharp editing. There’s also a fantastic cast: Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Peter Van Eyck, Folco Lulli, Daniel Gelin and the director’s long-suffering wife, Vera Clouzot.

“You sit there, waiting for the theater to explode!” claimed the 1954 American theater ads, and they weren’t far wrong. William Friedkin’s 1977 remake “Sorcerer,” with Roy Scheider, though a fine, underrated film, pales by comparison. (French, with subtitles.)

Also available from Criterion in DVD and Blu-ray with a documentary as well as interviews with Montand and others.

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Laura Linney plays Patricia Highsmith, Rendez-Vous with French Cinema opens at the Crest Theater in Westwood

Laura Linney

Laura Linney plays the role of crime writer Patricia Highsmith in the new stage drama “Switzerland,” by Joanna Murray-Smith, at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood. The play opens Friday and runs through April 19.

Highsmith (1921-1995), a Texas-born novelist and short-story writer, was much admired in Europe and is considered part of the Existentialist tradition started by Dostoyevsky, Conrad, Kafka and Camus. Alfred Hitchcock’s 1951 film adaptation of her novel, “Strangers on a Train,” which she published in 1950, put her career on the fast track.

In the play, Highsmith is near the end of her life and residing in the Swiss Alps. A visit from a young American man (played by Seth Numrich) sets the drama in motion.

“There’s something sort of exotic about [doing theater in Los Angeles],” Linney told the LA Times.

The Geffen Playhouse is at 10886 Le Conte Ave. in Westwood.

Also starting Friday in Westwood: The Crest Theater, in association with Emerging Pictures, will present the 20th annual Rendez-Vous with French Cinema – a first-time look at some of France’s most exciting modern cinema. Rendez-Vous runs through March 19.

The Crest Theater is 1262 Westwood Blvd.

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Celebrate Joan Crawford’s birthday at Laemmle’s NoHo 7

See “Possessed” & “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” on the big screen!

Laemmle NoHo7 - 140Laemmle Theatres and Film Noir Blonde are pleased to present a double feature on Monday, March 23, at Laemmle’s NoHo 7, to mark Joan Crawford’s birthday.

A gifted actress and the ultimate movie star, Joan Crawford found that by the mid-1940s, her career had stalled. She restarted it with the help of film noir, namely 1945’s “Mildred Pierce,” by director Michael Curtiz, for which she won the Best Actress Oscar. Whether she played a tough broad or a lady in distress, Crawford was especially well suited for the genre’s expressionistic intensity. She starred in many film-noir titles between 1945 and 1962.

Possessed movie poster -- 140What Ever Happened to Baby Jane poster - SmallerOn Monday, March 23, Laemmle’s NoHo 7 will pay tribute to her legacy with a special double bill from Warner Bros.: “Possessed” (1947, Curtis Bernhardt) and “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” (1962, Robert Aldrich).

The program will start at 7:30 p.m., with “Possessed” and “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” at 9:55. Tickets are $11 each, $15 for the double feature.

There will be a special birthday cake for Ms. Crawford’s fans and Warner Bros. Archive will provide select prizes. Laemmle’s NoHo 7 is at 5240 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601, 818-762-4600. Laemmle’s main number is 310-478-3836.

Film Noir Blonde

Film Noir Blonde

Joining the party will be Jacqueline Fitzgerald, founder and editor of FilmNoirBlonde.com. Fitzgerald will introduce the movies.

In “Possessed” (also starring Van Heflin and Raymond Massey) Crawford gives a memorable performance as a woman who can’t get over a bad relationship. In “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” she is Blanche Hudson, a once-glamorous Hollywood actress who lives with her demented sister (Bette Davis), a former child star.

Full reviews are available here:

“Possessed” http://bit.ly/1saxBHV

“Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” http://bit.ly/1z7ctQ7


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Film Noir File: Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ still gives us chills

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). The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard). All films without a new review have been covered previously in Film Noir Blonde and can be searched in the FNB archives (at right).

Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh star in “Psycho.”

Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh star in “Psycho.”

Pick of the Week

Psycho”(1960, Alfred Hitchcock). Saturday, March 7, 4:15 p.m. (1:15 p.m.)

Saturday, March 7

2 p.m. (11 a.m.): “A Face in the Crowd” (1957, Elia Kazan).

6:15 p.m. (3:15 p.m.): “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (1964, Stanley Kubrick).

Sunday, March 8

Gun Crazy poster narrow8:30 a.m. (5:30 a.m.). “Gun Crazy” (1950, Joseph H. Lewis).

4:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m.): “The Defiant Ones” (1958, Stanley Kramer).

Tuesday, March 10

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “A Place in the Sun” (1951, George Stevens).

Wednesday, March 11

6 a.m. (3 a.m.): “Stage Fright” (1950, Alfred Hitchcock).

8 a.m. (5 a.m.): “Ministry of Fear” (1944, Fritz Lang).

9:45 a.m. (6:45 a.m.): “Lured” (1947, Douglas Sirk).

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Celebrate Women in Film Noir: Saturday at the Durant Library

Patricia Highsmith

Patricia Highsmith

Did you know:

* A woman named Czenzi Ormonde co-wrote the script for “Strangers on a Train” (1951, Alfred Hitchcock). The film was based on Patricia Highsmith’s first novel, published in 1950.

* In the early days of Hollywood, film editors, or cutters as they were known, were mostly women. The job was considered menial labor and on-screen credit was rare.

* In a Lonely Place” (1950, Nicholas Ray) was the third movie based on a novel by Dorothy B. Hughes. The others were: “The Fallen Sparrow,” (1943, Richard Wallace) and “Ride the Pink Horse,” (1947, Robert Montgomery).

Come out and learn more at 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 7, at the Will & Durant Library in Hollywood. I will be talking about women’s contributions to film noir in honor of Women’s History Month. The Durant Library will be showing films on March 9, 16, 23. See my post from Feb. 24 (below) for more details.

The Durant Library is at 7140 W. Sunset Blvd. (one block west of La Brea), Los Angeles, CA 90046, 323-876-2741.

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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and so do vets!

Pin-Ups for Vets

The Crest Theater in Westwood and Pin-Ups on Tour are co-hosting Blonde Bombshells: A Tribute to Screen Sirens on Saturday, March 7.

Billed as a celebration of Hollywood glamour, the night will feature blonde burlesque performers, a pin-ups bar, a raffle and a screening of the Marilyn Monroe classic “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1953, Howard Hawks).

Proceeds from the event will benefit the non-profit Pin-Ups for Vets, which helps support hospitalized veterans and deployed troops. Since 2006, Pin-Ups for Vets has raised money for under-funded hospital programs that support America’s veterans and recovering military service members.

The program starts at 7 p.m. and the movie starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20. The Crest is at 1262 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90024. Built in 1940, the historic Crest Theater now specializes in interactive entertainment and film.

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UCLA’s Preservation Fest to screen ‘Too late for Tears’ and ‘The Guilty’ as part of monthlong run of restored films

The LA TimesKenneth Turan recently gave high praise indeed to the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s Festival of Preservation.

Too Late for Tears posterThe Guilty posterAs he put it: “Forget Cannes, Sundance, even the Oscars: This is the cinematic event I look forward to most of all. That’s because no other movie festival comes close to it in the magnificent breadth of neglected but compelling American film material it puts on display.”

Hmm. Forget Sundance? Sure. Forget the Oscars? Done. But Cannes? Not so much. That said, however, I am also very much looking forward to UCLA’s terrific monthlong lineup, which begins on March 5 with Anthony Mann’s “Men in War.” This year marks the 17th edition of the festival.

For noir fans, the double feature on Saturday, March 7, should not be missed. It starts at 7:30 p.m.

In “Too Late for Tears” (1949, Byron Haskin), noir badness bursts from the screen as Lizabeth Scott plays a housewife who comes across a suitcase stuffed with $60,000 in cash. Scott seizes the chance to say goodbye to cooking meatloaf, washing dishes and doing laundry. Duh! Besides, it turns out that she’s a much better murderess than she was a homemaker. Arthur Kennedy plays her husband and the always-great Dan Duryea shines as a private eye.

Next up is “The Guilty” (1947, John Reinhardt), based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich. Here, Don Castle and Wally Cassell are lured into trouble by Bonita Granville, who plays twin sisters, one good and one bad, natch. When the nice girl is found murdered, both men are under suspicion. “The Guilty” is reminiscent of Robert Siodmak’s “The Dark Mirror” from 1946.

Film historian Alan K. Rode will discuss the films.

Films will be screened at the Hammer Museum’s Billy Wilder Theater in Westwood.

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Classic ‘Rashomon’ kicks off Kurosawa tribute at the Crest

By Mike Wilmington

Akira Kurosawa of Japan is the “sensei” (or master): a genius of filmmaking and the father of the modern action-adventure movie.

Rashomon poster largeHe was one of the three giants of the Japanese Cinema’s Golden Age (with Yasujiro Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi). He was also a devotee of American action cinema, of film noir and of American Westerns, especially the films of his friend and mentor John Ford.

Kurosawa pioneered an explosive, ingenious cinematic style of multiple camera use and rapid-fire editing that went beyond Ford and revolutionized action moviemaking, enormously influencing Sam Peckinpah (“The Wild Bunch”), Arthur Penn (“Bonnie and Clyde”), Sergio Leone (“A Fistful of Dollars,” a remake of “Yojimbo”), John Sturges (“The Magnificent Seven,” a remake of “Seven Samurai”), Don Siegel (“Dirty Harry”), Clint Eastwood (“The Outlaw Josey Wales”) and many others.

High and Low posterBut Kurosawa’s incandescent scenes of violence do not exist in a moral void. Instead, the sensei’s films are infused with a truly adult and humane perspective on life, a mature observation of character and humanity, and a deep sense of the tragedy that faces us all.

Kurosawa has his cinematic peers: Bergman, Fellini, Renoir, Hitchcock, Welles. But he has no superiors, not even his idol John Ford. His films are, like Kurosawa himself, matchless.

You can see five of them on the big screen at the Crest Theater in Westwood during a monthlong tribute to Akira Kurosawa as a part of their salute to foreign filmmakers. The theater will screen one of Kurosawa’s samurai classics every Sunday at 5 p.m. The schedule is as follows:

Sunday, March 1: “Rashomon” – 1950 (1 hr. 28m) The legendary classic about four contradictory views of a murder: the film masterpiece that put Kurosawa, and Japanese cinema, on the international map.

Seven Samurai poster

Seven Samurai poster

Sunday, March 8: “The Hidden Fortress” – 1958 (2 hr. 6m) The most comical of Kurosawa’s samurai adventure epics, about a warrior who helps rescue a princess. One of the films that most inspired  “Star Wars.”

Sunday, March 15: “High and Low” – 1963 (2 hr. 23m) Inspired by an American crime novel by Ed McBain, this great film noir is about a kidnapping and a businessman who will lose everything if he pays the ransom.

Sunday, March 22: “Yojimbo” – 1961 (1 hr. 50m) The great samurai film, revolving around a cynical warrior who plays both sides in a town feud against each other.

Sunday, March 29: “Seven Samurai” – 1954 (3 hr. 27m) Seven gutsy independent samurai, led by an idealistic veteran warrior, defend a village against vicious marauding bandits. One of the greatest and most exciting films ever made.

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