The Film Noir File: Orson Welles taps Kafka in ‘The Trial’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

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

Pick of the Week

The Trial posterThe Trial” (1962, Orson Welles). 8 p.m. (5 p.m.). Friday, Aug. 8.

Director-writer-actor Orson Welles presents an extremely faithful film adaptation of novelist Franz Kafka’s darkly comic and ultimately terrifying tale set in the Byzantine legal system of a nameless European country. A jittery, bumptious, unlikable guy (Anthony Perkins as Joseph K, who may be Kafka’s surrogate and dream self) wakes up one morning to find that he has been plunged into a bad dream: two tough cops invading his bedroom and accusing him of crimes they refuse to detail or explain.

He is persecuted by poker-faced nameless agents and subject to totalitarian police tactics as well as the brutal whims of an utterly arbitrary court. Defended by a sybarite lawyer (played by Welles), who rarely gets out of bed, K seems caught in an inescapable trap, facing inevitable punishment. But K keeps arguing with his accusers, protesting his innocence (which is clearly irrelevant) and trying to make sense out of a situation that is defiantly senseless from first moment to last.

“The Trial” translates Kafka’s masterpiece into eloquent words and icy, shadowy images of dread, underscored by a melancholy Baroque dirge, the Adagio in G by Albinoni. The movie is hampered by its low budget, much of which evaporated during shooting, and by its lack of Welles’ usual brilliant sound. But it has great visuals – shot by cinematographer Edmond Richard (“The Red Balloon”) in wide-screen black and white on mostly real Parisian locations.

And the film boasts a great cast: Perkins, Welles, Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider, Akim Tamiroff, Elsa Martinelli, Madeleine Robinson, Katina Paxinou, Gert Frobe and Michael Lonsdale.

“The Trial” is sometimes dismissed as a Welles failure. But it’s actually one of his most underrated movies, one of the most faithful of all adaptations of great 20th century literature, and a classic tale that, as Welles says in the prologue, has “the logic of a nightmare.”

Friday, Aug. 8: Jeanne Moreau Day

Jeanne Moreau

Jeanne Moreau

10:15 p.m. (7:15 p.m.): “Elevator to the Gallows” (“Frantic!”) (1958, Louis Malle). Louis Malle’s mesmerizing thriller about a desperate couple (Moreau, Maurice Ronet), trying to murder her husband and cover their tracks in a nearly empty office building at night. It’s no “Double Indemnity,” but it’s close. With a score by jazz master Miles Davis. (In French, with subtitles.)

Saturday, Aug. 9: William Powell Day

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Thin Man” (1934, W. S. Van Dyke). With William Powell, Myrna Loy, Maureen O’Sullivan and Cesar Romero. Reviewed in FNB on July 28, 2012.

9:45 p.m. (6:45 p.m.): “After the Thin Man” (1936, W. S. Van Dyke). With William Powell, Myrna Loy, James Stewart and Joseph Calleia. Reviewed in FNB on June 6, 2013.

Monday, Aug. 11: Marlon Brando Day

Marlon Brando redefined the art of acting.

Marlon Brando redefined the art of acting.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951, Elia Kazan). Kazan’s peerless staging of Tennessee Williams’ play showcases Marlon Brando’s brilliant, massively influential lead performance as the brutal but charming Stanley Kowalski. Set in steamy New Orleans where Eros and death (“Flores para las muertos!”) dance their tango, this movie has one of the all-time great casts (three of whom, though not Brando, won Oscars).

Vivien Leigh plays Blanche DuBois, Stanley’s fragile, sensual, haunted prey. Kim Hunter is Stanley’s wife and Blanche’s sister, the screamed-over Stella. Karl Malden is Blanche’s kind and respectful suitor, mom-dominated Mitch. This is Kazan’s preferred cut, with the more downbeat ending, which gives full power to Blanche’s wrenchingly poignant last line “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” A masterpiece.

The Wild One poster10:15 p.m. (7:15 p.m.): “The Wild One” (1953, Laslo Benedek). With Brando, Lee Marvin and Mary Murphy. Reviewed in FNB on May 1, 2013.

11:45 p.m. (8:45 p.m.). “On the Waterfront” (1954, Elia Kazan). With Brando, Lee J. Cobb, Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden and Rod Steiger. Reviewed in FNB on June 5, 2014.

Tuesday, Aug. 12: Alexis Smith Day

10:15 a.m. (7:15 a.m.): “Split Second” (1953, Dick Powell). With Stephen McNally, Alexis Smith and Jan Sterling. Reviewed in FNB on March 5, 2013.

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “Conflict” (1945, Curtis Bernhardt). Marriage and murder, with Humphrey Bogart in one of his villain roles. Lesser Bogey; but still worth a look. With Sydney Greenstreet.

Wednesday, August 13: Cary Grant Day

9:30 a.m. (6:30 a.m.): “His Girl Friday” (1940, Howard Hawks). With Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy and Gene Lockhart. Reviewed in FNB on Jan. 22, 2013.

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AFI Fest 2012 starts tonight with ‘Hitchcock’ world premiere

I’m very much looking forward to the 26th annual AFI Fest, which starts tonight in Hollywood with the world premiere of “Hitchcock” directed by Sacha Gervasi and starring Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren and Scarlett Johansson.

Other galas include: “Life of Pi” (in 3D), “Lincoln,” “On the Road,” “Rise of the Guardians” (in 3D) and “Rust and Bone.” For an overview of the festival, read Anne Thompson and Sophia Savage’s nifty preview piece here. AFI Fest 2012 is presented by Audi.

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Frank DeCaro dishes up heaping helpings of camp in ‘The Dead Celebrity Cookbook’

“Highly offensive and exceedingly faggy.” It's all good for retro cookbook author Frank DeCaro.

“There’s a name for someone who says, ‘I can’t watch a movie in black and white.’ Stupid!”

So said Frank DeCaro, author of “The Dead Celebrity Cookbook,” last night at a book signing in West Hollywood. A writer, critic and performer, DeCaro hosts a morning call-in program on Sirius XM satellite radio and writes the Icons column for CBS’ Watch! magazine.

He also likes to cook and throw parties. When the celebs were kind enough to die, as he puts it, the book seemed a natural. Highlights from noiristas include: Otto Preminger’s Deviled Eggs, Joan Crawford’s Poached Salmon, Bette Davis’ Red Flannel Hash, Lucille Ball’s Sunday Night Goulash, Fred MacMurray’s Flemish Pot Roast, Truman Capote’s Fettuccine, Anthony Perkins’ Tuna Salad, Alfred Hitchcock’s Quiche Lorraine, Janet Leigh’s Gâteau Doré, Agnes Moorehead’s Lobster Mousse, William Holden’s Hamburgers à la Hong Kong and Gregory Peck’s Ratatouille.

DeCaro’s favorite: Liberace’s Sticky Buns. “If Liberace didn’t know how funny that was, then the whole world crumbles,” said DeCaro. He is up front that he did not test every recipe, particularly Don Ho’s pigs’ feet soup. DeCaro suggests not picking Crawford’s salmon as a first effort. “Don’t start with Joan Crawford; that’s always good advice.”

And be warned: because many of the recipes are retro, they might call for fat-gram disasters like canned cream of mushroom soup. “You have to remember that frozen and canned food was not considered tacky,” he said. “It was considered modern, instant, groovy!”

Frank DeCaro and FNB at Book Soup in West Hollywood

Having spent 15 years collecting recipes, DeCaro also has plenty of noshing trivia. Did you know that per capita Hawaii eats the most SPAM and Utah eats the most JELL-O?

Granted, the book might cause some to wince or groan (he includes a pie recipe from Karen Carpenter). One detractor told DeCaro she thought his book was “highly offensive and exceedingly faggy,” which pleases DeCaro to no end. He is now working on a Christmas edition.

Speaking of maximizing opportunity, DeCaro’s domestic advice was not limited to the kitchen. He’s fond of telling his husband Jim Colucci: “You cannot sleep with anyone but me. Unless it’s good for your career.”

“The Dead Celebrity Cookbook: A Resurrection of Recipes from More Than 145 Stars of Stage and Screen” (HCI Books, $19.95)

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Still crazy about iconic, scary ‘Psycho’ after all these years

Psycho/1960/Universal/109 min.

For a 51-year-old, “Psycho” looks fantastic.

The 1960 masterwork, perhaps the most famous of all Alfred Hitchcock‘s movies, is still smart, funny and beautiful to watch.

Janet Leigh

A low-budget, experimental film for Hitchcock (he was greatly influenced by Henri-Georges Clouzot’s “Diabolique” from 1955), “Psycho” wasn’t well received by critics. But the movie was a huge hit with the public and has remained popular ever since. Norman Bates, played by Anthony Perkins, is No. 2 on the AFI’s list of greatest villains, second only to Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter. “Psycho” singlehandedly spawned the slasher genre and, together with Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil” from 1958, also starring Janet Leigh, marks the end of classic film noir.

Leigh plays Marion Crane, a secretary at Lowery Real Estate in sunny Phoenix. On a whim, Marion leaves town with a load of cash – $40,000 from her firm’s client, wealthy good ole boy Tom Cassidy (Frank Albertson). She’s hoping it will pave her way to the altar with her delectable but debt-laden boyfriend Sam Loomis (John Gavin).

Not far into her road trip, she feels pangs of guilt, but before she can turn around and give the money back, she stops at The Bates Motel where she meets uber-polite proprietor Norman and hears his mother screeching from the old dark house next door. After sharing sandwiches with Norman, Marion takes a shower and Norman’s gray-haired mother suddenly appears, knife in hand. It’s one of the most iconic scenes in cinematic history.

Later, Sam, Marion’s sister Lila Crane (Vera Miles), and Detective Milton Arbogast (Martin Balsam) launch a search for Marion. Arbogast perishes as he puzzles over the secrets within the Bates Motel, but eventually Sam and Lila unravel the core of the family craziness. Here’s a hint: It was all Mommy’s fault. Still, she’s a survivor, you might say, who gets the last laugh.

Hitchcock took a chance with first-time screenwriter Joseph Stefano who worked from Robert Bloch’s novel “Psycho.” The book was loosely based, many feel, on real-life Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein. Stefano, a psychoanalysis aficionado, borrowed liberally from Freud 101 to write his script. (Stefano later became the head writer for the classic TV horror show, “The Outer Limits.”)

Because he worried that the audience would get impatient with not seeing Norman’s mother for so long, Stefano peppered the dialogue with references to mothers so that at least the idea of Mrs. Bates was present. Sam refers to turning a picture of Marion’s mother to the wall; Marion’s office colleague Caroline (Patricia Hitchcock) mentions her mother twice in a brief conversation at the office. [Read more…]

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‘Psycho’ quick hit

Psycho/1960/Universal/109 min.

One of the most famous movies ever made, Alfred Hitchcock’s experimental masterpiece immortalizes messed-up man-boy Norman Bates, chillingly played by Anthony Perkins. Janet Leigh stars, though her screen time is brief, as the good girl who gives into temptation. Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam and Patricia Hitchcock round out the cast. A must-see!

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