‘Where Danger Lives’ should reside in your film noir library

Boldly over the top and irresistibly campy, film noir posters are endlessly fascinating and fun. So, I’m very excited to tell you about a terrific new study of classic movie posters and lobby cards that were used to entice viewers around the world.

Film Noir Graphics: Where Danger Lives” (CreateSpace, $39.95) by Alain Silver and James Ursini is an essential book for any noir library. The esteemed historians and authors of “The Noir Style” – as well as eight other volumes about film noir – here focus on a commercial art form that memorably represents the moods and mores of its era.

Says Ursini: “We have always wanted to do a book on noir posters and lobby cards. The graphics in these ads reflect many of the themes and iconography of noir in a very vivid way.”

Using more than 300 color illustrations never before reproduced in book form, Silver and Ursini trace the sometimes-lurid line of graphics from pulp magazines like Black Mask and the dust jackets of hard-boiled novels to the earliest examples of film noir. They also touch on sidebar topics such as fashion and Humphrey Bogart’s face on posters in the U.S. and abroad.

Primarily, though, the authors use these striking visuals to explore the genre’s context and subtext in an entertaining way. For example, in the chapter titled “Deadly is the Female,” they write: “There are some brunettes, the occasional red-head, but … the deadliest females in film noir are most often blonde.

“They don’t all have cigarettes dangling from their lips, a jaunty beret, or a pair of six guns in their hands, but the poses leave no question about what they’re selling. For the hapless victims, the dim-witted guys who take the bait and get caught in their mantraps, it really is ‘the kind of mistake a man can make only once!’ ”

Consider yourself warned. ;) And definitely consider buying this book that is a rare combination: dazzling eye candy and compelling commentary from two of the best in the business.

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Silver and Ursini reflect on the mighty influence of film noir

Alain Silver (left) and James Ursini discuss their book, “Film Noir: The Directors.”

Historians/authors/editors Alain Silver and James Ursini discussed and signed their new work, “Film Noir: The Directors” (Limelight Editions, $24.99, multiple contributors) on Saturday afternoon at Larry Edmunds Bookshop in Hollywood.

James Ursini

Ursini maintains that film noir is the most important artistic movement Hollywood has produced, and one that’s perfectly capable of jumping genres from Westerns to sci-fi to the traditional women’s picture.

Said Ursini: “Film noir is the overwhelming influence on directors today, in film, TV, comic books … in America and worldwide. Though it went into a sort of remission in the late ’50s, by the ’70s it was back and it never stopped. It’s an incredibly vibrant movement that’s as influential today as it was in the ’40s and ’50s.”

Though appreciated by French critics, most film noir titles (especially low-budget B movies) were widely snubbed by America’s cinematic elite. Ursini recalled that as a UCLA film-school student in the late ’60s, he had to push hard to be allowed to write a paper on director Henry Hathaway.

Alain Silver

Silver pointed out that though the two most frequently cited factors in film noir’s development are the exodus of European filmmaking talent to the U.S. starting in the 1930s and the canon of hard-boiled American literature by authors such as James M. Cain, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, the real story is more complicated.

Specifically, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what inspired these very different directors (the book covers 30) to pursue this unique aesthetic, often self-consciously borrowing and sharing ideas. One certainty, though: Billy Wilder’s “Double Indemnity” (1944) was the prototype for the genre.

He added that because of World War II, the production code loosened and the American public developed a taste for realism. Were audiences of the ’40s and ’50s shocked by these cynical, gritty, fateful stories on the screen? It’s hard to say. Silver said the most interesting contextual endeavor now would be to compare the audiences’ expectations against their reactions.

Photos copyright of Film Noir Blonde

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Book these dates with noir authors in Hollywood

5 p.m. Saturday, April 28, at Larry Edmunds Bookshop, 6644 Hollywood Blvd.
Noir historians Alain Silver and James Ursini will discuss and sign their book “Film Noir: The Directors” (Limelight Editions, $24.99).

A number of authors have contributed to this work and there are chapters on: Robert Aldrich, John Brahm, Jules Dassin, André de Toth, Edward Dmytryk, John Farrow, Felix Feist, Sam Fuller, Henry Hathaway, Alfred Hitchcock, John Huston, Fritz Lang, Joseph H. Lewis, Joseph Losey, Ida Lupino, Anthony Mann, Max Ophuls, Gerd Oswald, Otto Preminger, Nicholas Ray, Don Siegel, Robert Siodmak, Jacques Tourneur, Edgar G. Ulmer, Raoul Walsh, Orson Welles, Billy Wilder and Robert Wise. The book also features more than 500 photographs.

Given the inclusion of Ophuls (“Letter from an Unknown Woman”), it seems really odd that Howard Hawks, Richard Fleischer and Stanley Kubrick were excluded. That’s one for the Q&A with the authors.

6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 28, at the Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd.
Actress Julie Adams who will sign “Reflections from the Black Lagoon” (Hollywood Adventures, $29.95) in the lobby prior to that evening’s Noir City Hollywood double bill of “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” (in which she stars) and “Edge of the City.” There will be a Q&A with Adams, 85, between the films.

6 -11 p.m. Monday, April 30, at Musso & Frank Grill, 6667 Hollywood Blvd.
The Los Angeles Visionaries Association and Esotouric Tours are hosting a literary salon featuring author John Buntin and his 2009 book, “L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City” (Price varies by format, starting at about $10).

Buntin’s book interweaves two stories, that of gangster Mickey Cohen and police chief William Parker. Tickets to the salon are $100 and include a three-course meal. TNT is developing a new series based on this book.

Additionally, I just got my review copy of “Mickey Cohen: The Life and Crimes of L.A.’s Most Notorious Mobster” by Tere Tereba (ECW Press, $16.95). Looking forward to reading this and interviewing the author.

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Lucille Ball turns her talents to crimestopping in ‘Dark Corner’

The Dark Corner/1946/Twentieth Century Fox/99 min.

Lucille Ball

If you know Lucille Ball from “I Love Lucy” and other TV shows, she may seem an unlikely noir actress. But before she played the zany wife of Cuban bandleader Ricky Ricardo, Ball was the Queen of B Movies. In “Dark Corner,” she stars as Kathleen, a perky secretary with a crush on her boss, NYC private eye Bradford Galt (Mark Stevens). It’s a solid noir with spot-on direction from Henry Hathaway and superb cinematography from Joseph MacDonald, both of whom were A-list talent.

Brad, equal parts Marlowe and Milquetoast, is appealingly human because we see chinks of weakness under his tough-guy exterior. Like many noir heroes, his past comes back to haunt him. Fittingly, his “ghost” is a heavy in a white suit named Stauffer (William Bendix) who seems to be on the payroll of Brad’s ex-partner, lusciously Nordic-looking Tony Jardine (Kurt Kreuger).

Clifton Webb

There’s bad blood with Tony because he framed Brad for a crime he didn’t commit, which led to jail time. But Tony, now more gigolo than gumshoe, is merely a puppet; pulling the strings is an effete, silver-haired art dealer named Hardy Cathcart (Clifton Webb). The lovely Mrs. Cathcart (Cathy Downs) is a patron of many arts, including a dalliance with Tony.

As Brad’s life becomes more of a nightmare, chipper and ever-loyal Kathleen is there to help him get to the bottom of the mess. What’s in it for her? If she’s lucky, maybe some nylons and a trip to the altar at the end assuming Brad can get out from under his fate.

Destiny, darkness, persecution, paranoia, surface vs. reality, existential angst, the depravity of high society, ie rich, folk – all these classic noir concerns are nicely woven into “The Dark Corner.” Much of the unease and tension is conveyed by Hathaway’s crisp direction and MacDonald’s moody visuals, especially the intense shadows and high contrast MacDonald creates with one dominant light source, such as a lamp on a desk.

This master lensman also worked on “Call Northside 777” from 1948 and 1953’s “Niagara” (both directed by Hathaway) as well as “Panic in the Streets” (Elia Kazan, 1950), “Pickup on South Street (Sam Fuller, 1953) and John Ford’s 1946 Western masterpiece “My Darling Clementine.”

Jay Dratler and Bernard Schoenfeld wrote “The Dark Corner” script based on a story by Leo Rosten. As film noir writers James Ursini and Alain Silver point out in their fine DVD commentary, Dratler also worked on Fox’s 1944 noir hit “Laura” by director Otto Preminger. Webb acted in both films, in “Dark Corner” essentially reprising his earlier role, a wonderfully decadent uppercrust character obsessed with Gene Tierney as Laura.

These writers give us some classic noir lines, such as “I could be framed easier than Whistler’s mother” and “I feel all dead inside, backed up in a dark corner and I don’t know who’s hitting me.” [Read more...]

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Hard-edged ‘Kiss Me Deadly’ is a brutal beauty

Kiss Me Deadly/1955/United Artists/105 min.

If you fancy a sci-fi chaser with your classic noir, be sure to check out 1955’s “Kiss Me Deadly,” recently rereleased by Criterion.

Director/producer Robert Aldrich’s evocation of popular pulp writer Mickey Spillane’s apocalyptic novel (with a script from A.I. Bezzerides) has dazzled critics and influenced directors from the French New Wave to Quentin Tarantino and Steven Spielberg. (Aldrich also directed the campy noirs “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” from 1962 and “Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte,” 1964)

The story of ultra-macho Los Angeles gumshoe Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) smiting bad guys and spurning women as he wrestles with a whodunit is a tad misogynistic, but I’ll let that pass because this is a portrayal of a rough and violent, sometimes sadistic, world overall.

Besides, there is much to enjoy – the intense cinematography, for starters, from Ernest Laszlo, also the superb eye of 1950’s “D.O.A.” The film looks great and there are some unforgettable shots, from the arresting opening to the amazing finale. Laszlo creates a harsh, almost merciless, world. “Kiss Me Deadly” also features a fast-paced, hairpin-turn plot, a sexy score, sharp LA location shooting and excellent acting from the entire cast.

Actress Cloris Leachman (who later played the wacky neighbor Phyllis on “The Mary Tyler Moore” show) makes her debut in the film as Christina Bailey, a hitchhiker who snags a late-night ride with Hammer. Christina has just escaped from an insane asylum, in the nude except for a trench coat. She says she was dumped at the asylum and really doesn’t belong there. Oh, that old line.

She gives Hammer vague answers to his questions and tells him to remember her. She’d be a bit hard to forget, actually. The two are run off the road, taken to a house where Christina is tortured and Hammer is punched out, then put back in Hammer’s car and pushed over a cliff. [Read more...]

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