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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FNB tributes to ‘Double Indemnity’ continue: Look on twitter

In honor of the 70th anniversary of “Double Indemnity,” we at FNB are hosting intermittent tributes. On Valentine’s Day, we compiled  a list of 14 reasons we adore the flick. Yesterday, we started tweeting the novel (by James M. Cain). Not sure how long that will take, but it should be fun. And here we are rerunning a review. Next, we should host a party in the Hollywood Hills. Until then …

Double Indemnity/1944/Paramount/106 min.

Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck

She’s got a plan, she just needs a man. And that’s a welcome challenge for a femme fatale, especially one with an ankle bracelet.

In Billy Wilder’s film noir masterpiece, “Double Indemnity,” from 1944 Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) wants out of her marriage to rich, grumpy oldster, Mr. Dietrichson (Tom Powers). Poor Phyllis doesn’t get much love from Dietrichson’s adult daughter, Lola (Jean Heather) either. Fresh-faced and feisty, Lola is hung up on her temperamental boyfriend Nino Zachetti (Byron Barr).

For Phyllis, seducing a new guy to help make hubby disappear is so much more cost-effective than hiring a divorce lawyer. A smart insurance man is even better. Along comes Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) trying to sell a policy, just as Phyllis finishes a session of sunbathing, wearing an ankle bracelet and not much more. That’s about as much bait as Walter needs.

They flirt, fall for each other and eventually arrange to bump off Mr. Dietrichson, making it look like he fell from a train. It’s a one-in-a-million way to go with a huge payoff from a double-indemnity insurance policy issued by Walter’s company. After that, they play it cool and wait for the check. They’ve planned it like a military campaign, so they’re in the clear until Walter starts to suspect that he’s not the only guy who’s been drooling at Phyllis’ ankles.

Edward G. Robinson

Besides his lust for the blonde (and their chemistry truly sizzles), Walter’s real love is the platonic father/son relationship he has with his boss at the insurance company, Barton Keyes, sharp, cynical and married to his job, played brilliantly by Edward G. Robinson.

Critic Richard Schickel says “Double Indemnity” is the first true noir. I disagree – what about 1941’s “The Maltese Falcon” and “Stranger on the Third Floor” from 1940? Or even Fritz Lang‘s “M” from Germany in 1931? But the point is “Double Indemnity” was the standard against which every subsequent noir was measured. It’s a glorious treat visually. John Seitz’s luscious lighting and captivating use of shadow bring to mind Vincent Van Gogh’s observation: “There are no less than 80 shades of black.” The score by Miklos Rozsa works perfectly with the visuals to build and sustain atmosphere.

The performances (Stanwyck, MacMurray and Robinson) are tremendous. Though Stanwyck was nominated for the best actress Oscar and “Double Indemnity” was also nominated in six other categories (picture, director, screenplay, cinematography, sound recording and score), MacMurray and Robinson were not in the running and the film didn’t win any Oscars. In retrospect, their work in this movie is some of the best acting of the decade. MacMurray (who might be most familiar as the father in TV’s “My Three Sons”) is such a natural as the easily tempted yet very likeable Neff, it’s surprising now to learn that the role was a major departure from his usual nice-guy parts.

As James Pallot of “The Movie Guide” writes: “Robinson … beautifully gives the film its heart. His speech about death statistics, rattled off at top speed, is one of the film’s highlights.” When Keyes realizes that Walter has betrayed him, it’s heartbreaking in a way that few other noirs are.

Wilder co-wrote the script with Raymond Chandler, based on the taut little novel by James M. Cain, published in 1936. (The novel was inspired by the real-life 1927 Snyder-Gray case.) In the book “Double Indemnity,” smitten Walter says of Phyllis’ physical charms, “I wasn’t the only one that knew about that shape. She knew about it herself, plenty.”

The dark, witty script follows the book pretty closely, but Chandler’s contributions are key. For example, check out this bit of simmering dialogue:

Phyllis: There’s a speed limit in this state, Mr. Neff, 45 miles an hour.

Walter: How fast was I going, Officer?

Phyllis: I’d say around 90.

Walter: Suppose you get down off your motorcycle and give me a ticket.

Phyllis: Suppose I let you off with a warning this time.

Walter: Suppose it doesn’t take.

Phyllis: Suppose I have to whack you over the knuckles.

Walter: Suppose I bust out crying and put my head on your shoulder.

Phyllis: Suppose you try putting it on my husband’s shoulder.

Walter: That tears it…

Chatting things over while Mr. Dietrichson is away.

Now it seems egregious that Wilder (1906-2002) and “Double Indemnity” were snubbed at the Oscars. Born in what is now Poland, Wilder escaped the Nazis, but his mother and other family members perished in a concentration camp. He knew firsthand the dark, sometimes horrific, side of life and that knowledge imbued his work with an unparalleled richness and depth. He was also hilarious. If I could have martinis with any film noir director, living or dead, it would be Billy.

I’ve seen interview footage of him where he punctuated his conversation with deep and frequent laughter. And I’ve heard stories about him playing practical jokes – apparently he when he lost the 1944 best director Oscar to Leo McCarey (who won for “Going My Way” starring Bing Crosby) Billy stuck out his foot and tripped McCarey as he walked down the aisle to pick it up. Maybe if I get that fantasy date with the spirit of Billy, I’ll bring Dick Schickel along too. He might benefit from a girly martini and tagging along with Billy and me.

So, suppose you do yourself a favor and watch “Double Indemnity” the first chance you get. You won’t be sorry.

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Another great time at the TCM Classic Film Fest

Thanks to everyone at the TCM Classic Film Festival. It was a great time: Movies, events, staff and fans were amazing! I’ll be writing a more detailed overview but for now, I just wanted to mention a noir factoid I recently uncovered.

“Double Indemnity” (1944, Billy Wilder) was a highlight of the fest. Both Walter’s place (the Bryson Apartments) and Phyllis’ house are still in LA. In the film, Walter reckons the house cost about $30,000; it would now cost more than $1.5 million. Read more about the house here.

Phyllis’ house was and is at 6301 Quebec Drive in the Hollywood Hills.

Phyllis’ house was and is at 6301 Quebec Drive in the Hollywood Hills.

In 1944, Fred MacMurray bought the Bryson building for $600,000. Built in 1913 by real estate developer Hugh W. Bryson, the 10-story Beaux Arts stunner was where MacMurray’s character Walter Neff lived in “Double Indemnity.”

The Bryson building is at 2701 Wilshire Blvd. in the MacArthur Park section of Los Angeles.

The Bryson building is at 2701 Wilshire Blvd. in the MacArthur Park section of Los Angeles.

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