Los Angeles celebrates Orson Welles centennial

Orson Welles was born May 6, 1915.

Orson Welles was born May 6, 1915.

He hailed from the small Midwestern town of Kenosha, Wisc.

Chubby cheeked and heavy-set, he was not classically good looking. He frequently ran afoul of the Hollywood studio execs. He was considered a genius of theater, radio and film, but many of his movies were not financially successful. He had a hard time staying faithful to one woman.

His appetite was prodigious. Younger viewers might remember him as a TV spokesman for Gallo wine.

Orson Welles, who was born 100 years ago today, experienced unparalleled ups and downs over the course of his impressive career. And he is arguably the single most important influence in 20th century cinema. It’s clear that, 30 years after his death on October 10, 1985, his impact is still felt and still refracted in what we watch on the big screen. There’s been no one quite like Welles, and it’s hard to imagine someone besting him any time soon.

Touch of Evil posterIn honor of his centennial, the Crest Theater in Westwood is showing “Touch of Evil” tonight (May 6) at 7:30 p.m.

The American Cinematheque is running a series, starting Thursday, May 7, at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica called Touch of Genius: Orson Welles at 100.

Films to be shown are: “The Lady from Shanghai,” “The Stranger,” “Citizen Kane,” “The Magnificent Ambersons,” “Chimes of Midnight,” “Othello,” “Touch of Evil” and a new documentary, “Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles.” Reviews for most of these titles are on FNB — just hit the search bar on the right.

Film historian F.X. Feeney will sign copies of his new book Orson Welles: Power, Heart, and Soul and introduce each night in the series.

Feeney will also appear at a free screening of “Chimes of Midnight” at 5 p.m. Monday, May 11, at the Will & Ariel Durant Branch Library in Hollywood, 323-876-2741.

Touch of Evil” also screens at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, May 12, at Lacma’s Bing Theater.


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COLCOA French fest opens and Noir City Hollywood closes

It’s a busy time for film buffs in Los Angeles.

The COLCOA French Film Festival opens tonight, Monday, April 20, with an elegant reception and the opening night film, a thriller called “A Perfect Man,” directed and co-written by Yann Gozlan and starring Pierre Niney and Ana Girardot.

Pierre Niney plays the wily writer in  “A Perfect Man.”

Pierre Niney plays the wily writer in “A Perfect Man.”

It’s a story of shifting identities as a struggling author stumbles upon a wildly unethical way to make the best-seller list.

With echoes of Patricia Highsmith’s Mr. Ripley, “A Perfect Man” strikes us as a divinely decadent way to kick off this wonderful festival, now in its 19th year.

There is much to see this year (check the COLCOA site for info on free screenings and cool events) and we are counting the days until Friday’s Film Noir Series.

The fest takes place at the Directors Guild of America, 7920 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, 90046.

Sunday was the closing day of an essential film fest, for noiristas and others: Noir City Hollywood, presented by the American Cinematheque in collaboration with the Film Noir Foundation. The foundation’s urbane noirphiles Eddie Muller and Alan K. Rode were on hand throughout the fest to introduce the movies. This year, they brought another excellent selection (heavy on adaptations of the great master of pulp suspense Cornell Woolrich).

The lineup included a real find: the American debut of three almost unknown but brilliantly done and stunningly visualized film noirs from Argentina: “The Black Vampire” (Roman Vinoly Barreto, 1953), a remake of Fritz Lang’s “M,” and superb adaptations of Woolrich stories in “Never Open That Door” (Carlos Hugo Christensen, 1952) and “If I Should Die Before I Wake” (Christensen, 1952).

Dorothy MacKaill lights up the screen in “Safe in Hell” (1931, William Wellman).

Dorothy MacKaill lights up the screen in “Safe in Hell” (1931, William Wellman).

The fest wrapped up with a four-movie proto-noir marathon:

The Ninth Guest” (1934, Roy William Neill) a mystery with a generous dollop of Deco glam.

Let Us Live” (1939, John Brahm) featuring the great Henry Fonda as a wrongly identified killer and a riveting performance from Maureen O’Sullivan as his girlfriend.

Heat Lightning” (1934, Mervyn LeRoy) a pre-Code delight about two sisters (Aline MacMahon and Ann Dvorak) running a garage and car-repair shop in the desert and ridding the place of rats, such as fleeing criminal and old flame (Preston Foster).

Safe in Hell” (1931, William Wellman) Dorothy MacKaill is unforgettable as a sparkling blonde siren who spends the entire movie fighting off men as she waits in vain on a Caribbean island to be with the guy she truly loves (Donald Cook).

Don Castle was a Clark Gable lookalike.

Don Castle was a Clark Gable lookalike.

My attendance was spotty this year because I had to leave town unexpectedly (such is life for a femme fatale) but my colleague Mike Wilmington caught quite a few.

Other highlights from this year’s fest were: “Woman on the Run,” “The Underworld Story,” “Abandoned,” “Circle of Danger,” “Berlin Express,” “Ride the Pink Horse,” “The Fallen Sparrow,” and “The Guilty” as well as that triple bill of Argentinian film noir.

The closing-weekend party was loads of fun, especially since I won a nifty raffle prize! I definitely needed my drink tickets that night. Why? By the small but mighty curveball in “The Guilty” when the lead character (Don Castle) reveals that he is studying “commercial geography” to land a good job.

What??? Education and hard work to get ahead? Was the movie going to start preaching about the virtues of a work ethic? Aaargh! Thankfully, this was, in fact, a temporary glitch and the character turned out to be crazy-bad.

Phew! I was freaked out there for a moment but everything was just as it should be in Noirville.

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Noir City Hollywood kicks off with Ann Sheridan double bill

Woman on the Run posterNoir City Hollywood starts Friday at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. The famed fest, now in its 17th year, kicks off with an Ann Sheridan double feature: “Woman on the Run” (1950, Norman Foster) and “The Unfaithful” (1947, Vincent Sherman).

In “Woman on the Run,” police believe Sheridan can lead them to a key witness in a San Francisco gangland killing. The snag is she doesn’t want to feed them info. The witness is her husband (Ross Elliott), but she’s done with him. To hell with helping out! Dennis O’Keefe plays an enterprising (is there any other kind?) newspaperman.

In “The Unfaithful,” Sheridan has a dalliance that leads to death. Not hers, natch. David Goodis and James Gunn wrote the script (based on W. Somerset Maugham’s “The Letter”) and set the story in Los Angeles. Featuring Zachary Scott, Lew Ayres and the always-delightful Eve Arden.

The Unfaithful posterNoir City Hollywood will screen 26 films over 12 nights! The fest, which is presented by the American Cinematheque in collaboration with the Film Noir Foundation, runs through April 19. Eddie Muller and Alan K. Rode of the Film Noir Foundation will introduce the movies.

Woman on the Run” was restored in 2014 by the Film Noir Foundation in conjunction with the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Restoration funding for “Woman on the Run” was provided by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Charitable Trust through the Film Noir Foundation. “The Unfaithful” screens in a 35mm print.

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‘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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Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining,’ noir as they come, plays Saturday at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica

The Shining/1980/Warner Bros./144 min.

By Mike Wilmington

The Shining poster Jack Nicholson“Heeeere’s JOHNNNY!!!!” screams the ferociously demented-looking hotel caretaker Jack Torrance as he axes open a door to get at his terrified wife Wendy and their child Danny, in the frightening final scenes of “The Shining“ – Stanley Kubrick’s flawed yet unforgettable 1980 film of what may be Stephen King’s best novel.

“The Shining” is revived on Saturday, Nov. 22, at the American Cinematheque’s Aero Theatre.

In the movie, Jack (played to the hilt by Jack Nicholson) is snowbound with his family (played by Shelley Duvall and Danny Lloyd) in the mountainous and isolated Overlook Lodge. It’s a vast spooky place, decorated with somber Native American motifs and infested with a creepy set of ghosts, including a sardonic bartender and a lecherous nude old lady and the previous caretaker who murdered his own family long ago in these same eerie corridors and rooms.

Wendy and Danny have watched Jack going crazier and crazier. Now, Mad Jack has hit his frenzied peak  and there‘s no one at Overlook to stop his axe-swinging rampage.

“The Shining” is not only based on King‘s best novel; it‘s probably the best movie ever adapted from any of King’s books. Even so, it’s flawed, and King was right to be somewhat disappointed with it. Here’s the problem: Kubrick and his fellow screenwriter, novelist Diane Johnson (“Le Divorce”) wrote Jack as crazy as a loon the moment he stepped into the Overlook (and even before).

King, more movingly, wrote his main character as a sympathetic but haunted alcoholic and failed novelist who loved his family and gradually sank into madness, fighting, as the ghosts and demons took over. In retrospect, Kubrick probably should have hired King as his co-writer rather than Johnson. The original story would have made a better movie and an even better role for Nicholson.

That said, “The Shining” is still one hell of a show, noir as they come, and one of the most horrifyingly visual of all classic American horror movies.

The Aero Theatre is at 1328 Montana Ave. in Santa Monica.

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Noir City Hollywood: Don’t miss the final days!

Noir City: Hollywood, the 16th annual festival of film noir, at the Egyptian Theatre will be over before you know it! So plan to take a prowl …

There are double features on Thursday and Friday. On Saturday, “Detour” screens, followed by the festival’s wrap party.

M posterOn Sunday is this rare treat: Joseph Losey’s 1951 version of “M” and “The Hitch-Hiker,” which is the only American film noir directed by a woman: Ida Lupino.

Losey’s American remake of Fritz Lang’s classic from 1931 follows a child murderer being simultaneously hunted by the police and the underworld. “M” stars David Wayne, Howard Da Silva, Luther Adler, Steve Brodie, Raymond Burr, Norman Lloyd, Walter Burke and Jim Backus.

Next up is “The Hitch-Hiker” (1953), a groundbreaking, fact-based story of two pals on a Mexican fishing trip kidnapped by a serial killer. Edmond O’Brien, Frank Lovejoy, William Talman and José Torvay star.

Both films screen in newly restored 35mm prints thanks to the Library of Congress. The fest is co-presented by the American Cinematheque and the Film Noir Foundation.

See you in the dark!

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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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Film noir greats ‘Shadow of a Doubt,’ In a Lonely Place,’ Double Indemnity’ and more on the big screen in LA

By Film Noir Blonde and Michael Wilmington

Shadow of a Doubt” (1943, Alfred Hitchcock) is the 1 p.m. matinee Tuesday, Feb. 4, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

A bright and beautiful small town girl named Charlotte “Charlie” Newton (Teresa Wright) is bored. Bored with her well-ordered home in her Norman Rockwellish little city of Santa Rosa, Calif., – where trees line the sunlit streets, everyone goes to church on Sunday and lots of them read murder mysteries at night. Charlie has more exotic dreams. She adores her globe-trotting, urbane Uncle Charlie Oakley (Joseph Cotten) – for whom she was nicknamed – and is deliriously happy when he shows up in Santa Rosa for a visit.

Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright play kindred spirits, sort of, in “Shadow.”

Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright play kindred spirits, sort of, in “Shadow.”

But Uncle Charlie has some secrets that no one in his circle would guess – not Uncle Charlie’s adoring sister (Patricia Collinge), nor his good-hearted brother-in-law (Henry Travers), nor their mystery-loving neighbor Herbie (Hume Cronyn), nor Charlie herself. Uncle Charlie, who conceals a darker personality and profession beneath his charming persona, is on the run, pursued by a dogged police detective (Macdonald Carey), who suspects him of being a notorious serial killer who seduces rich old widows and kills them for their money. As handsome, cold-blooded Uncle Charlie, Cotten, who also called “Shadow” his personal favorite film, is, with Robert Walker and Anthony Perkins, one of the three great Hitchcockian psychopaths.

“Shadow of a Doubt,” released in 1943, was Hitchcock’s sixth American movie and the one he often described as his favorite. As he explained to François Truffaut, this was because he felt that his critical enemies, the “plausibles,” could have nothing to quibble about with “Shadow.” It was written by two superb chroniclers of Americana, Thornton Wilder (“Our Town”) and Sally Benson (“Meet Me in St. Louis”), along with Hitch’s constant collaborator, wife Alma Reville. The result is one of the supreme examples of Hitchcockian counterpoint: with a sunny, tranquil background against which dark terror erupts.

Barbara Stanwyck book

On Thursday night at 7:30 p.m., the American Cinematheque presents a Nicholas Ray night at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood: “Johnny Guitar,” starring Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden, and “In a Lonely Place,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame. As Jean-Luc Godard said: “Nicholas Ray is the cinema.” And speaking of Godard, the AC’s Aero Theatre is hosting a Godard retrospective, starting Feb. 20.

Femmes fatales don’t particularly like birthdays, but here’s an exception:  “Double Indemnity” turns 70 this year! Did you know Raymond Chandler made a cameo in the film? Read the story here.

And be sure to attend on Sunday, Feb. 9, at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica: Barbara Stanwyck biographer Victoria Wilson will sign her book and introduce a screening of “Double Indemnity” and “The Bitter Tea of General Yen.” The signing starts at 6:30 p.m. and the show starts at 7:30 p.m.

Wilson has two other signings coming up; for details, call Larry Edmunds Bookshop at 323-463-3273.

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Film noir events crowd the calendar this month

There is much to entice noiristas this month in Los Angeles and elsewhere. So much, in fact, that I’ve compiled this handy list.

Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame star in "The Big Heat."

Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame star in “The Big Heat.”

Tues., Oct. 8 @ 1 p.m.: “The Big Heat” (1953, Fritz Lang) plays on the big screen at the Bing Theater, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036.

Additionally, “The Golden Age of Mexican Cinema,” featuring the work of cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa, runs at LACMA through Oct. 11. “Luis Buñuel and Gabriel Figueroa: A Surreal Alliance” runs Oct. 12-19.

Wed., Oct. 9 @ 7:30 p.m.: Writers Bloc hosts a conversation with Valerie Plame, memoir author and former CIA Operations Officer. At the Ann and Jerry Moss Theater at New Roads School, 3131 Olympic Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90404.

Also starting Oct. 9: The Aero and Egyptian theaters host the inaugural Beyond Fest, “an international buffet of badass cinema” that showcases recent horror gems along with classics. In-person guests, live music. Beyond Fest runs through Oct. 31.

Thurs., Oct. 10: The 49th Chicago International Film Festival opens with a gala screening of “The Immigrant.” This year’s fest is dedicated to the late great Roger Ebert. The CIFF runs through Oct. 24. The fest’s After Dark slate of titles never fails to intrigue.

"Sunset Blvd." will screen Oct. 19.

“Sunset Blvd.” will screen Oct. 19 at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.

Sat., Oct. 12 @ 6 p.m.: Redcat in downtown LA hosts a panel discussion on the controversial French filmmaker Henri-Georges Clouzot and his contribution to 1960s aesthetics. Screening of “La Vérité” (1960 Oscar nominee and Golden Globe winner for Best Foreign Language Film).

Sat., Oct. 12 & Sun. Oct. 13: The Vintage Fashion Expo premieres at its new home in Los Angeles at The LA Convention Center.

Thurs., Oct. 17 @ 7:30 p.m.: Writers Bloc hosts a conversation with Norwegian author Jo Nesbø (“Headhunters”) whose new novel is Police: A Harry Hole Novel. At the Goethe-Institut, 5750 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036.

“Moonrise” plays Oct. 21 at the Billy Wilder Theater at UCLA in Westwood.

“Moonrise” plays Oct. 21 at the Billy Wilder Theater at UCLA in Westwood.

Sat., Oct. 19 @ 2 p.m.: Illustrated presentation on “The Corner” and screening of “Sunset Blvd.” (1950, Billy Wilder) at the Egyptian Theatre (part of the Egyptian’s 91st anniversary weekend). Los Angeles historian Marc Chevalier will discuss the social nexus of Hollywood in the golden age: Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Heights (now West Hollywood). Followed by “Sunset Blvd.,” which features Schwab’s Pharmacy as a location.

Mon., Oct. 21 @ 7:30 p.m.: “Moonrise” (1948, Frank Borzage) at the Billy Wilder Theater at UCLA in Westwood. A luminous and rarely screened crime drama starring Dane Clark, Gail Russell and Ethel Barrymore.

Tues., Oct. 22 @ 1 p.m.: “Shockproof” (1949, Douglas Sirk) plays at LACMA’s Bing Theater. Written by Helen Deutsch and Samuel Fuller; starring Cornel Wilde and Patricia Knight.

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The Aero hosts an evening with Sofia Coppola in person

Sofia Coppola

Having just seen “The Bling Ring,” Sofia Coppola’s terrific new neo-noir based on real events, I am especially excited about An Evening with Sofia Coppola, presented by the American Cinematheque.

The night begins with 2003’s “Lost in Translation,” starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, as two Americans who cross paths one night in a luxury hotel bar in Tokyo and form an unlikely friendship. The film earned Coppola an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

Next up is “The Virgin Suicides,” Coppola’s adaption of Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel exploring adolescent repression and rebellion in an upper-class Detroit suburb in the 1970s. The local boys are mesmerized by the mysterious Lisbon sisters, who are kept on a short leash by overprotective parents James Woods and Kathleen Turner. When one of the girls (Kirsten Dunst) strikes up a relationship with one of the guys (Josh Hartnett), it sets in motion a chain of events that ends in tragedy.

There will be a discussion between films with Coppola.

An Evening with Sofia Coppola takes place on Wednesday, June 5 at 7:30 p.m. at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica.

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