Nancy Olson to appear at ‘Sunset Blvd.’ screening in LA

Sunset b & wAcademy Award Nominee Nancy Olson Livingston will participate in a Q&A with film critic Stephen Farber at a 65th anniversary screening of “Sunset Blvd.” The event starts at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 21, at the Laemmle Royal in West LA. By popular demand, an additional 7:30 p.m. show has been added.

For our part, we offer our top 10 favorite lines from this magnificent film noir movie, directed and co-written by Billy Wilder, and starring (along with Nancy Olson) the incomparable Gloria Swanson, William Holden and Erich von Stroheim. The film garnered 11 Oscar nominations and won three (script, music and art direction).

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‘Double Indemnity’ plays nationwide on the big screen

Cissy and Raymond Chandler were married for 30 years.

Cissy Chandler (1870-1954) was married to Raymond Chandler for 30 years.

Just this morning, I finished reading “The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved” (Pantheon Books, 2007) by Judith Freeman. It’s a look at Chandler’s work and his 30-year marriage to a mysterious woman named Cissy Hurlburt Porcher Pascal, a sexy but refined redhead from the Midwest who was 18 years his senior. (It was her third marriage; his first and only.)  Not that she bothered to tell him her real age, natch. Details, details …

Double Indemnity July 19-20In the book, Freeman describes a turning point in Chandler’s career: When he received the offer from Paramount Studios to adapt James M. Cain’s novel “Double Indemnity” for the big screen, working in partnership with writer/director Billy Wilder.

The film, starring Fred Mac Murray, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson, was released in 1944. It earned seven Oscar noms, including screenplay, which was extremely rare for a film noir title.

Freeman writes:

“Ray didn’t get the idea of the whole thing at first. When Joe Sistrom, the producer, called and offered him the job, Ray said he could probably do it, but he wouldn’t be able to turn in the screenplay for a couple of weeks, and it would cost them a thousand bucks. Sistrom laughed. Was the guy being funny, or was he really that naïve about the way the movie business worked? Sistrom told him he’d be working with Wilder, in an office on the studio lot, that he’d have ten weeks to do the screenplay, and he’d be getting seven hundred and fifty bucks a week. Ray did the math. Ray liked the result. Ray saw the future … and Ray said, Yes. Sure. Why not?”

Precisely! So, why not treat yourself to a big-screen viewing of this genre-defining film? TCM, Fathom Events and Universal Pictures Home Entertainment are partnering to bring this classic to select cinemas nationwide on Sunday, July 19 and Monday, July 20.

“That tears it,” as Walter Neff would say.

See you there, noiristas. Meanwhile, you can read our review as well as 14 reasons we adore this flick.

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Film Noir File: Sit back and enjoy a night with Bogie & Bacall

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 Classi  c 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).

Pick of the Week: Bogie and Bacall night is Tuesday, April 7

“To Have and Have Not” was the couple’s first film together.

“To Have and Have Not” was the couple’s first film together.

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall – the King and Queen of film noir – make for a royally cool evening. First: A documentary-memoir by Bacall, followed by two of the nonpareil pair’s top shows, adapted from books by Ernest Hemingway and David Goodis. Sit back, pour yourself a cold one, and enjoy. And remember: Another vintage Bogart, “Casablanca,” plays (again Sam), Tuesday morning on TCM. (See below.)

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “Bacall on Bogart” (David Heeley, 1988). A bio-pic gem. Baby on Bogie – and who knew him better?

3:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m.): “To Have and Have Not” (Howard Hawks, 1944).

5:15 a.m. (2:15 a.m.): “Dark Passage” (Delmer Daves, 1947).

Saturday, April 4

Marlene Dietrich

Marlene Dietrich

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Witness for the Prosecution” (Billy Wilder, 1957). “Witness for the Prosecution” (1957, Billy Wilder) From the famous Agatha Christie short story, Billy Wilder expertly fashions one of the screen’s trickiest trial-drama/murder mysteries – with Charles Laughton as the wily, wheelchair-bound barrister, his real-life wife Elsa Lanchester as his long-suffering nurse, and Tyrone Power and Marlene Dietrich as the incendiary couple caught up in a legendary triple-reverse surprise ending.

10:15 p.m. (7:15 p.m.): “Laura” (Otto Preminger, 1944).

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Klute” (Alan Pakula, 1971). Jane Fonda as a brainy hooker (her first Oscar-winning performance) being pursued by a psycho killer. Donald Sutherland plays Klute, the cop who tries to help and save her. A classy, first-class neo-noir.

Monday, April 6

“His Kind of Woman” is a tongue-in-cheek noir, down Mexico way.

“His Kind of Woman” is a tongue-in-cheek noir, down Mexico way.

1:45 a.m. (10:45 p.m.): “Macao” (Josef von Sternberg, 1952). Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell strike sultry sparks in this exotic thriller from Howard Hughes’ RKO.

Directed by Josef Von Sternberg, with uncredited reshooting by Nick Ray. Co-starring Gloria Grahame, William Bendix and Thomas Gomez.

3:15 a.m. (12:15 a.m.): “His Kind of Woman” (John Farrow, 1951). Down Mexico way, in a Hollywood-style resort, Jane Russell is his kind of woman. And Robert Mitchum is her kind of man.

Gangster Raymond Burr and overripe actor Vincent Price are our kind of heavies in this breezy, funny tongue-in-cheek noir.

Tuesday, April 7

11:45 a.m. (8:45 a.m.): “Casablanca” (Michael Curtiz, 1942).

4 p.m. (1 p.m.): “Passage to Marseille” (Michael Curtiz, 1944).

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “Mildred Pierce” (Michael Curtiz, 1945).

The classic trio of “Casablanca.”

The classic trio of “Casablanca.”

See Pick of the Week above.

Wed., April 8

2 p.m. (11 a.m.): “Bunny Lake Is Missing” (Otto Preminger, 1965). Bunny Lake is an American child kidnapped in London, Carol Lynley her terrified mother, Keir Dullea her concerned uncle, Anna Massey her harassed teacher, Noel Coward her sleazy landlord, and Laurence Olivier the shrewd police detective trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together. The most important of those pieces: Was Bunny ever really there at all? A neglected gem; based on Evelyn Piper’s novel.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “La Strada” (Federico Fellini, 1954).

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “Requiem for a Heavyweight” (Ralph Nelson, 1962).

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Skirball Cultural Center screens ‘Cinema’s Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood’

The exhibitions close on Sunday, March 1.

The exhibitions close on Sunday, March 1.

Time flies, that’s for sure. The Skirball Cultural Center’s superb exhibitions Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950 and The Noir Effect, which began last October, will close Sunday, March 1.

The closing day (March 1) is an ideal opportunity to head up to the Skirball. That way you can see “Cinema’s Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood,” a 2009 PBS documentary about members of the German film industry who left Europe and re-created their careers in Los Angeles, forever changing the way American movies were made. More than 800 filmmakers fled the Nazis; some found great success in the U.S., but others were less fortunate. Sigourney Weaver narrates the movie.

Film excerpts include: “The Bride of Frankenstein,” “Fury,” “Ninotchka,” “To Be or Not To Be,” “Casablanca,” “The Wolf Man,” “Double Indemnity,” “Phantom Lady,” “Sunset Blvd.,” “High Noon,” “The Big Heat” and “Some Like It Hot.” Also covered will be classics of early German cinema, including “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” “Metropolis,” “The Blue Angel” and “M.”

Additionally, “Cinema’s Exiles” features behind-the-scenes archival footage of director Fritz Lang in Germany and Marlene Dietrich’s “Blue Angel” screen test as well as home-movie footage and photographs. Eyewitness accounts of this era are provided by screen actress Lupita Kohner, author Peter Viertel and (via archive statements) Lang, Billy Wilder and Fred Zinnemann, among others.

“Cinema’s Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood” (90 min.) will start at 11 a.m. Sunday. It is free with museum admission. Museum tickets are available at the door.

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Top reasons we love ‘Double Indemnity’

Double Indemnity poster

Yes, we’re still gushing about “Double Indemnity,” the film noir classic from 1944. And why not? It can still draw an audience, after all. ArcLight and the Skirball Cultural Center are showing “Double Indemnity” Monday night in Sherman Oaks.

Billy Wilder‘s great prototype film noir turns 71 this year and yet it never gets old. Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson, the movie boasts a screenplay that Wilder co-wrote with Raymond Chandler, based on James M. Cain‘s novel, which was inspired by actual events.

Here’s why we hold the picture dear to our hearts, dearies.

14. As film noir historian and author Foster Hirsch once put it: “It’s the quintessential film noir. This is the mother lode, primary source film noir. It’s the basis for every film noir you’ve ever loved.”

13. Someone with the name Walter Neff turns out to be a tough guy.

12. All Walter has to do to escape punishment is sit tight. Yet, his ego drives him toward a final confrontation with his lover/partner in crime. He’s so damn human.

11. Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyllis Dietrichson is a fashion victim. She’s so damn human.

10. The first time Phyllis shows up at Walter’s apartment, she says she is returning his hat (which he supposedly left at her house) but the previous scene clearly shows him taking his hat as he leaves. Still, there’s so much tension between them, who cares?!

9. The door to Walter’s apartment opens the wrong way (it shields Phyllis on one of her visits) but you’re so caught up in the story you hardly notice.

As Billy Wilder acknowledged, no door in the world would open this way.

As Billy Wilder acknowledged, no door in the world would open this way.

8. You could buy Phyllis Dietrichson’s house for $30,000.

7. You could have a beer at a drive-in restaurant, served by a car-hop, no less.

6. The look of supreme satisfaction on Phyllis’s face at the moment her husband is murdered.

5. Stanwyck and MacMurray both took a risk and played against type.

4. Edward G. Robinson almost steals the show and it’s really a bromance between his character and MacMurray’s Walter Neff.

3. Raymond Chandler makes a cameo appearance, about 16 minutes into the movie, at Walter’s office building.

2. It’s perfectly paced – you can watch it over and over and it moves along lickety split every time, leaving you wanting more.

1. It truly ranks as a classic flick – it’s as fresh, sexy and funny today as it was in 1944. The writing, acting, directing cinematography, lighting, art direction are matchless.

Do you love “Double Indemnity” as much as we do? Then let us know!

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Film noir news: Come out & see her this time, Noir City opens, ‘Dog Day’ turns 40, Poverty Row book party, Cecil B. DeMille showcased and ‘Sunset’ in Sherman Oaks

Mae West

Mae West

“It’s not the men in my life, it’s life in my men.” The original bad girl Mae West will be honored at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 14., with a special program at the Hollywood Heritage Museum.

Happily ever after. Not. Noir City: The Film Noir Festival returns to the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, Jan. 16–25, with a program of 25 titles depicting the darker side of marriage. The fest will travel to several other cities, including Los Angeles, later in the year.

Catch this dog. The singular neo-noir “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975, Sidney Lumet), starring Al Pacino, screens at 7:30 p.m. Friday night at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. It’s on a double bill with “The Dog,” (2013, Allison Berg, Frank Keraudren). The story behind “Dog Day Afternoon” (a man robbing a bank to pay for his lover’s sex-change operation) was true, and this doc explores the off-screen drama, providing a riveting look at New York in the 1970s and the early days of the gay liberation movement.

Early Poverty Row StudiosLocation, location, location. Though it’s a myth that the classic film noir canon consisted entirely of B-movies, the genre’s writers, directors, cinematographers and set designers often worked on minuscule budgets. Hey, it wasn’t all bad. They had more room to experiment and defy the censors that way – just look at Edgar Ulmer.

Many of them were regular denizens of the scrappy little Hollywood studios known as Poverty Row and so we are eagerly looking forward to Marc Wanamaker and E.J. Stephens’ new book: “Early Poverty Row Studios.”

The authors will discuss the book at 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 17, at Larry Edmunds Bookshop in Hollywood. See you there!

UCLA honors DeMille, a Hollywood pioneer. Starting Sunday, Jan. 18, the UCLA Film & Television Archive presents the film series, “The Greatest Showman: Cecil B. DeMille,” at the Billy Wilder Theater in Westwood Village.

This retrospective of one of cinema’s greatest storytellers will showcase 10 films restored by the archive, including “The Ten Commandments” (1956), “The Plainsman” (1937) and “The Buccaneer” (1938). A legendary producer and director, DeMille (1881-1959) helped put Hollywood on the map and set a high bar in terms of both artistry and showmanship. The series ends Feb. 28.

Joe (William Holden) lets Norma (Gloria Swanson) dry him after a swim.

Joe (William Holden) lets Norma (Gloria Swanson) dry him after a swim.

“I’m ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille.” Arguably, Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Blvd.” is the finest movie ever made about Hollywood. Inarguably, it’s deliciously noir. Aging Hollywood star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) is admittedly a little cut off from reality. She fawns over her pet monkey, has rats in her pool, autographs pile after pile of 8 x 10 glossies for her fans, even though she hasn’t made a picture in years. But, like so many women of film noir, she was ahead of her time. Norma was a veteran movie star who wanted to create her own roles, look her best and date a younger, sexy man. Anything wrong with that?

Robert Walker is hard to top in 1951’s “Strangers on a Train.” So is co-star Farley Granger.

Robert Walker is hard to top in 1951’s “Strangers on a Train.” So is co-star Farley Granger.

Luscious William Holden plays Joe, Norma’s younger lover, and it’s worth watching just to lust after Holden. See it on the big screen at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 19, at the ArcLight Cinema in Sherman Oaks. Co-presented with the Skirball Cultural Center, in conjunction with its outstanding film noir exhibitions.

Read the FNB review here.

Just the ticket? Meanwhile, Ben Affleck and others from the “Gone Girl” team are remaking Alfred Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train.” Hmm. Hope they can do it justice. Or at least give the Robert Walker character a few flashy suits. 😉

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Film Noir File: When ‘The Apartment’ invites us in, we can’t say no

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 Apartment posterThe Apartment” (1960, Billy Wilder). Friday, December 19; 5:45 p.m. (2:45 p.m.),

Laugh-wise, it’s one of the classic American romantic comedies. But “The Apartment’s” high-style black and white look, mordant script, pungent dialogue, sense of entrapment, and sharp savvy urban mood are all very noir. So, of course, is the co-writer/director, the great Billy (“Double Indemnity”) Wilder.

The Apartment” is Wilder’s comic-romantic ’60s masterpiece: a funny, stinging, dark portrayal of American corporate culture circa 1960 and the behind-the-scenes sexism, sex and sleaze that fuels it all, success-wise. Jack Lemmon, at his ebullient best, is C. C. (Buddy) Baxter, a rising young insurance-company employee who lends his apartment to his bosses for their extramarital shenanigans, in return for favorable job reports.

Shirley MacLaine is Fran Kubelik, the winsome drop-dead gorgeous elevator girl of Baxter’s dreams. And Fred MacMurray is Jeff Sheldrake, his boss, her married lover, and the man who (job-wise and infidelity-wise) holds the keys and calls the shots.

The movie takes place during the Christmas season, a not-so-joyous holiday time that Baxter’s horny bosses and tenants treat with little sentiment and much cynicism – a background that only emphasizes Baxter’s loneliness.

Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon play colleagues who are well versed in the seamier side of Corporate America.

Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon play colleagues who are well versed in the seamier side of Corporate America.

There are two main settings, co-designed by Alexander Trauner (ingenious art director of the French classic “Children of Paradise”). First: Baxter’s slightly worn brownstone digs on Central Park West, where he strains spaghetti through a tennis racket and can’t quite get “Grand Hotel” on his dinky TV.

And second: the gleaming high-rise building and the floor where Baxter toils, among a sea of co-workers, modeled after King Vidor’s vast impersonal office space in “The Crowd.” It is there that our boy Baxter will learn, step by risqué step, that you can’t get a key to the executive washroom without getting your hands dirty.

Wilder’s main cinematic inspiration here, besides Vidor, Ernst Lubitsch and some of Billy’s fellow expatriate noir-masters, was David Lean’s and Noel Coward’s peerless 1945 extramarital romance “Brief Encounter,” starring Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson, who have a chance to rendezvous in a friend’s pad but don’t end up doing so. In “The Apartment,” Wilder lets his imagination run wild and the results, comedy-wise, are bittersweet, hilarious and marvelous.

I.A.L. Diamond, Wilder’s witty fellow scribe on “Some Like It Hot,” co-wrote the script; Adolph Deutsch composed the effulgent score. Jack Kruschen (as Baxter’s mensch of a Jewish doctor neighbor), Ray Walston, Edie Adams and Hope Holiday ably support the three stars – who are all at their absolute best. A multiple Oscar winner and an enduring classic that can still make you tear up, nod in recognition or laugh your bum off, it’s one of own personal favorites. Wilder-wise. [Read more…]

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Light & Noir at the Skirball Cultural Center tells a spellbinding story of immigration and innovation, set in Hollywood

Joan Bennett entraps Edward G. Robinson in 1944’s “The Woman in the Window,” directed by Fritz Lang. The film will screen at the Skirball Cultural Center as part of Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950.

Joan Bennett entraps Edward G. Robinson in 1944’s “The Woman in the Window,” directed by Fritz Lang. The film will screen at the Skirball Cultural Center as part of Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950.

“Making movies is a little like walking into a dark room,” said legendary director Billy Wilder, who made more than 50 films and won six Academy Awards. “Some people stumble across furniture, others break their legs but some of us see better in the dark than others.”

“Sunset Blvd.” won three Oscars: writing, music and art direction. Shown: Gloria Swanson and Billy Wilder.

“Sunset Blvd.” won three Oscars: writing, music and art direction. Shown: Gloria Swanson and Billy Wilder.

By the time the Austrian-born journalist, screenwriter and director came to America in 1934, he’d seen more than his share of darkness, on screen and off. Wilder left Europe to escape the Nazis; his mother died in Auschwitz.

He joined many other prominent Jewish artists (such as directors Fritz Lang, Otto Preminger and Fred Zinnemann, composer Franz Waxman, and writers Salka Viertel and Franz Werfel) as they left their homes and careers in German-speaking countries to build new lives and find work in Hollywood.

Starting on Thursday, Oct. 23, a new exhibition at the Skirball Cultural Center in West Los Angeles Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950 highlights the experiences of these émigré actors, directors, writers and composers.

They came to California at a pivotal time in the world’s history and in the evolution of the movie-making capital, greatly contributing to Hollywood’s Golden Age and raising the artistic bar for its productions.

In particular, film noir was born when the talents of these European émigrés merged with the hard-boiled stories of American pulp crime fiction and the subtle sensibilities of French Poetic Realism.

Lizabeth Scott and Dick Powell star in “Pitfall.”

Lizabeth Scott and Dick Powell star in “Pitfall.”

Films, concept drawings, costumes, posters, photographs and memorabilia will help tell the story of Hollywood’s formative era through the émigré lens. Accompanying the show is a plethora of events: film screenings, readings, talks, tours, courses (photography and cooking with a Café Vienne installation), comedy, family programs, a holiday pop-up shop and more.

Organized by the Skirball Cultural Center and co-presented with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the exhibition will run through March 1, 2015.

Running in conjunction with the show is The Noir Effect, which explores how the film noir genre gave rise to major contemporary trends in American popular culture, art and media. (More on that in an upcoming post.)

Of course, I’m especially looking forward to the impressive lineup of films. On Oct. 30, Jan-Christopher Horak, a German-exile cinema historian and director of the UCLA Film and Television Archives, will describe how Hollywood became the prime employer of European émigré filmmakers as Nazi persecution grew. The lecture will be followed by a screening of Austrian émigré Fritz Lang’s “Hangmen Also Die!”

Yvonne De Carlo and Burt Lancaster play doomed lovers in “Criss Cross,” (1949, Robert Siodmak). The movie will play in January.

Yvonne De Carlo and Burt Lancaster play doomed lovers in “Criss Cross,” (1949, Robert Siodmak). The movie will play in January.

(Additionally, continuing through April 26, 2015, at the Los Angeles County Museum is Haunted Screens: German Cinema in the 1920s. The series explores approximately 25 masterworks of German Expressionist cinema, a national style that had international impact.)

At the Skirball Cultural Center, on Dec. 7, fashion expert Kimberly Truhler will discuss the effect of World War II on film costume design and American fashion in the 1940s. Gabriela Hernandez, founder of Bésame Cosmetics, will share the history of make-up and tips on achieving the film noir look.

And in January, the Skirball Cultural Center will host the film series “The Intriguante: Women of Intrigue in Film Noir,” which will feature: “The Woman in the Window,” “Pitfall,” “Criss Cross,” “The File on Thelma Jordon” and the 2008 documentary “Cinema’s Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood.”

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Film noir feast this weekend: ‘Sin City,’ Exile Noir and ‘Pickup’

“Double Indemnity” and “Pitfall” will open UCLA’s Exile Noir series.

“Double Indemnity” and “Pitfall” will open UCLA’s Exile Noir series.

There are several delectable film noir offerings this weekend in Los Angeles. First, a sequel worth seeing! That would be “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” by directors Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez. It’s a follow-up to 2005’s “Sin City.” (Miller adapted both scripts from his graphic novels.)

Sin City 2“Sin City 2” stars Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The movie opens Friday.

Following closely behind its Hollywood Exiles in Europe series, UCLA is hosting Exile Noir, a lineup that explores the major contribution to film noir by German-speaking émigrés in Hollywood, all of whom were schooled in German expressionist cinema. Exiled from Nazi Germany, Jewish writers and directors brought a dark vision to their work, informed by staggering loss, pain, fear and betrayal.

Their arrival in Los Angeles permanently altered the city’s creative landscape. As Jan-Christopher Horak, director of the UCLA Film & Television Archive, recently told Susan King of the LA Times: “[Their arrival] changed not just the film industry and the kind of films that were being made, it changed the intellectual life. You have people who are not in the film industry but came here because of the weather and perceived opportunities, like [composer] Arnold Schoenberg and [author] Thomas Mann. They changed the intellectual character of Southern California.”

Pitfall poster 214The program, which runs through Sept. 28, kicks off with an impressive double bill: the prototype of the genre, “Double Indemnity” (1944, Billy Wilder) and “Pitfall” (1948, André De Toth), starring Dick Powell, Lizabeth Scott and Jane Wyatt. In honor of “Double Indemnity” turning 70 this year, on Valentine’s Day, we compiled a list of 14 reasons we love this flick.

This series is presented in anticipation of the Skirball Cultural Center exhibit, Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950, running Oct. 23–March 1, 2015. More on that in the next few weeks.

Also, as I mentioned earlier this week, the Egyptian Theatre is showing Sam Fuller’s film noir masterpiece “Pickup on South Street” and “White Dog.” His daughter Samantha Fuller will introduce the movies.

There’s no doubt: Life is good for noiristas in Los Angeles!

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With thanks and sadness, let’s raise a glass to Kate

I think of my spiritual ancestors as Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, Gloria Grahame, Lauren Bacall, Joan Bennett and Bette Davis. Their hard-won independence, their juicy scandals and their irrepressible willful streaks on and off screen laid the groundwork for all of us femmes fatales to call the shots, own our dramas and embrace the concept of high maintenance. Put simply: to be a bitch.

Kate's, at the corner of Wilshire and Doheny, opened in 1987.

Kate’s, at the corner of Wilshire and Doheny, opened in 1987.

That said, there are many other vixens, vamps and troublemakers who, though far less famous, are equally inspirational. One of these role models by extension, as it were, was Kate Mantilini, the namesake of a terrific Beverly Hills restaurant that is closing its doors on June 14, after 27 years in business.

Owner Marilyn Lewis says a recent rent increase prompted her decision.

Kate Mantilini was a feisty woman of the 1940s and the mistress of Marilyn Lewis’ uncle. (Marilyn and her late husband Harry Lewis were also the founders of the enormously popular Hamburger Hamlet chain. Harry died last June; he was 93.)

Says Marilyn Lewis: “My mother wouldn’t let me speak to her, nobody would allow us to mention her name, but she was a very strong woman and I wanted to name my restaurant after her.”

Actors, writers and execs gathered at the famous Beverly Hills restaurant.

Actors, writers and industry execs gathered at the famous Beverly Hills restaurant.

Of Irish and Italian descent, the unconventional Kate reportedly liked to do things her way and one of the things she really liked to do was to run businesses. The restaurant’s boxing mural is a nod to the fact that Kate worked in the male-dominated field of fight promotion.

The first time I went to the famous spot was for a late-night supper after seeing a Murnau double-bill at Lacma’s Bing Theater. I was visiting from Chicago and my friend Mickey Cottrell, a veteran film publicist and top-notch performer, suggested to the little group that had gathered that we nosh there. “Let’s head to Kate’s,” he said, as if Kate were a friend who had missed the movie but invited us to her place afterward.

Kate’s hasn’t changed much since it opened in 1987. Outside, by night, a blazing red neon sign pierces the inky blackness of Wilshire Boulevard. The building sits on the northwest corner of Wilshire and Doheny. Kate’s is walking distance from the Academy; the Weinstein Company is across the street.

Michael Mann shot a scene of "Heat" here.

Michael Mann shot a scene of “Heat” here.

Inside, the long, narrow room pulses with talk and laughter; fleet servers fly by, their crisp white aprons flash against the muted gray and cream walls. Glasses, plates and silverware clink and chime.

“I’m definitely moving here,” I thought to myself as we walked in that night, now long-ago. “This is so much cooler than Chicago.”

Mickey had a regular booth he liked; he suggested I order the sand dabs. Delightful. Our party was delightful too. Boisterous, funny, quick to argue fine points about films.

The kind and generous writer/producer/filmmaker Myron Meisel picked up the tab. Critic Michael Wilmington pointed out that the character actor Wallace Shawn was sitting in another booth.

Kate’s has always been popular with industry folk; celebs like Billy Wilder and Mel Brooks were regulars. Writers too, such as Susan Orlean and Tere Tereba, stopped by. Michael Mann, a master of filming Los Angeles by night, chose Kate’s for the scene in “Heat” (1995) when Al Pacino and Robert De Niro talk about their lives as cop and criminal.

Heat posterHarry Lewis was in the entertainment business before he and his wife became restaurateurs. As a contract player with Warner Bros. in the ’40s; Harry had a part in the film-noir classics “Key Largo” starring Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson as well as in “Gun Crazy” with John Dall and Peggy Cummins.

My friends and I may have been the last ones out that night and I’ve been back many times since. (I moved to Los Angeles in November of 2007.) I celebrated birthdays there, met girlfriends for drinks, marked triumphs big and small, stopped by for a slice of lemon ice-box pie and a cup of coffee after seeing a film at the Wilshire screening room.

It’s tough to think that after next Saturday I won’t be able to go to Kate’s anymore. I was a fan of the food (in particular the Cannes Film Festival salad and the split-pea soup) and the building and the vibe. By vibe I mean a sort of magic that’s absent from lots of trendy new restaurants.

Dessert is a must! Shown: the candy bar ice cream pie.

Dessert is a must! Shown: the candy bar ice cream pie.

You felt when you went to Kate’s that you were truly “in” – you might rub shoulders with Hollywood power brokers – but more importantly you were in for really good food and a really good time. Every time you went.

The Beverly Hills Cultural Heritage Commission is considering the property for landmark status to protect the building in the event that new owners decide to remodel. The land parcel (9101, 9107 and 9111 Wilshire Blvd.) features the work of architects Pereira and Luckman, Maxwell Starkman and Thom Mayne.

I hope that happens. But in the meantime, I’m going to raise a glass to Kate – who liked a good fight – and to the strong women she inspired – who doubtless have healthy appetites and never skip dessert.

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