The Noir File: Wilder’s dark favorite is an American nightmare

By Mike Wilmington and Film Noir Blonde

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

PICK OF THE WEEK

Ace in the Hole” (1951, Billy Wilder). Friday, May 17, 8 p.m. (5 p.m.).

Kirk Douglas plays Chuck Tatum, a star reporter exiled from his big-city paper.

In the Golden Age of Hollywood and film noir, no one was better than Kirk Douglas at playing anti heroes, heels and villains. In movies like “Champion,” “The Bad and the Beautiful,” “I Walk Alone” and “Out of the Past,” he channeled the amoral climber who knifes you with a smile, or steps on almost everyone on his way to the top. The best (or worst) of all Douglas’s movie heels is Chuck Tatum in Billy Wilder’s “Ace in the Hole” – a slick-operator star newspaper reporter who messes up, gets exiled from his big-city paper and is now stuck in Albuquerque, N.M., in a desert dead-end.

When Chuck learns of a local miner named Leo Mimosa trapped in a cave-in in a Native American holy area, he sees a chance to ratchet up the drama and revive his career. A master manipulator, Chuck talks Leo and his rescuers into taking a longer, more dangerous escape route, then plays the story to the hilt, planning to sell it to the big outlets back east. With Leo’s life on the line and the clock ticking, this master of hype and hoopla turns the story into a circus and the circus into a nightmare.

A master manipulator, Chuck ratchets up the drama in an effort to revive his career.

Chuck Tatum, brought to stinging life by Douglas, was the brainchild of Billy Wilder, who had just dissolved his decades-long writing partnership with Charles Brackett after their hit, “Sunset Blvd.” Walter Newman, who later wrote “The Man with the Golden Arm” and “Cat Ballou,” was one of Wilder’s new co-writers and, though they never collaborated again, Wilder must have liked some of what they did.

Many times, Wilder cited “Ace in the Hole” as one of his favorites among his films, “the runt of my litter” as he affectionately called it. The runt is one of the darkest of all Wilder’s films: a portrait of American society, culture and media, a ruthless exposé of Tatum and his fellow opportunists.

The more conservative Brackett (who had refused to work with Wilder on “Double Indemnity”) had been something of a brake on Billy’s cynicism, which is fully unleashed here. Perhaps Brackett had a point. Many critics and audiences in 1951 didn’t much care for the acrid darkness and lacerating social indictment of Wilder’s “Ace in the Hole,” which was such a flop that it had to be pulled and re-released as “The Big Carnival.”

It didn’t come to be regarded as a classic of American cinema and social criticism until years later. Maybe the picture was just too noir for ’50s moviegoers. But it’s not too noir for us.

Friday, May 17

3 p.m. (12 p.m.): “Where Danger Lives” (1953, John Farrow). Love on the run, with infatuated Bob Mitchum falling for dangerous Faith Domergue, and the two of them heading for Mexico. A standard but engrossing “femme fatale” noir, from the director of “The Big Clock.”

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Ace in the Hole” (1951, Billy Wilder). See PICK OF THE WEEK.

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “Our Man in Havana” (1960, Carol Reed). The third of the three film thriller collaborations between writer Graham Greene and director Carol Reed. (The others are “The Third Man” and “The Fallen Idol.”) It’s also the least admired by critics, and the team’s only comedy, with Alec Guinness playing a British vacuum cleaner salesman in Cuba inexplicably involved in a batty spy intrigue. The crack cast also includes Maureen O’Hara, Ralph Richardson, Ernie Kovacs, Noel Coward and Burl Ives.

Joan Crawford and Cliff Robertson star in “Autumn Leaves.”

4 a.m. (1 a.m.): “Autumn Leaves” (1956, Robert Aldrich.) With Joan Crawford, Cliff Robertson and Vera Miles. Reviewed on FNB December 4, 2012.

Sunday, May 19

12 p.m. (9 p.m.): “Johnny O’Clock” (1947, Robert Rossen). Rossen’s directorial debut: a solid noir with a gambling backdrop and a vintage tough Dick Powell performance.

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “Leave Her to Heaven” (1945, John M. Stahl). With Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde, Jeanne Crain and Vincent Price. Reviewed on FNB April 18, 2013.

3 p.m. (12 p.m.): “Night Must Fall” (1937, Richard Thorpe). Emlyn Williams’ famed suspense play about a seductive young psycho (Robert Montgomery) and his rich lady target (Dame May Whitty) is given a plush MGM treatment. With Rosalind Russell. [Read more...]

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Kim Novak, natural-born star, honored with TCM tribute

One way to Kim Novak’s heart was through first editions.

Airing tonight: Kim Novak: Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival. Taped at last year’s festival in Hollywood, this one-hour interview special kicks off a tribute night to Novak. Here, Michael Wilmington shares his appreciation for this actress.

My favorite Kim Novak line comes in “Pal Joey,” Columbia’s dubiously altered, shamefully bowdlerized but still entertaining adaptation of the great musical classic. Novak’s Linda English says to Frank Sinatra’s cabaret Casanova Joey Evans, in a girlish, amused, deliberately non-provocative voice, “You’re right. I do have a great shape. Confidentially, I’m stacked.”

Kim Novak as Judy in Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” (1958).

Stacked she certainly was: a willowy but sumptuous blonde bombshell with short-cropped platinum hair and a 37-inch bosom that never knew a brassiere (“That’s right!” her “Vertigo” director Alfred Hitchcock once said tartly to François Truffaut. “She’s particularly proud of that!”)

Novak, born in 1933, was a Chicago railroad worker’s daughter and a natural beauty with haunting eyes and a vulnerable air, who became a movie star in her early twenties, with 1954’s film noir “Pushover” directed by her lover Richard Quine.

She then became a megastar with 1955’s “Picnic,” directed by the explosive Joshua Logan, in which – as playwright William Inge’s small-town Kansas princess Madge – Novak danced her way into the hearts and loins of William Holden’s ex-football star/drifter Hal, and many more of the males of a susceptible nation.

Her movies of course capitalize on the classic Novak image: a gorgeous fair-haired girl who’s a little troubled by her own long-legged, statuesque beauty, a bit hesitant about pushing herself forward, slinky and self-conscious, sometimes suspicious of men, a traffic-stopping but vulnerable glamour girl with brains and surprising sensitivity.

Like Marilyn Monroe, who often played it dumb, the real-life Novak was a reader. (Sinatra, one of her dates, wooed her with first editions, while Sammy Davis Jr. hit the jackpot in one of the more famous secret love affairs of the ’50s.)

Kim Novak became a megastar with 1955’s “Picnic.” By 1964, she was considered past her prime.

By 1964, she was considered past her prime and, when she played Polly the Pistol, the girlish hooker (with the belly-button jewel and the requisite heart of gold) in Billy Wilder’s “Kiss Me, Stupid,” she shared in the movie’s lousy notices.

Today “Kiss Me” is rightly regarded as a flawed classic, and if original star Peter Sellers hadn’t had his heart attack and dropped out in mid shooting, we might see it as a masterpiece, as some of the French do (“Embrasse-moi, Idiote!”)

But maybe she was too much a creation of the ’50s, of the last fugitive years of the Golden Age, a kind of platinum blonde Jekyll and Hyde. Kim Novak could play it naïve and lower class, or tony and glamorous, and sometimes she played both in the same movie, as in her masterpiece, as Madeleine/Judy in Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.”

She perhaps wasn’t a natural actress. She gave some awkward performances. But she was a natural-born star. Kim was one of the movie dream girls of my youth, and I still get a pang looking at her. Confidentially, she’s stacked.

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The Noir File: Marilyn, Jack and Tony: Still the best threesome in Billy Wilder’s classic ‘Some Like It Hot’

By Michael Wilmington & Film Noir Blonde

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

PICK OF THE WEEK

Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe and Jack Lemmon star in this noir comedy.

Some Like It Hot” (1959, Billy Wilder). Saturday, March 2, 1:15 p.m. (10:15 a.m.)

The place: Chicago. The color: a film noirish black and white. The caliber: 45. The proof: 90. The time: 1929, the Capone Era and the Roaring Twenties, roaring their loudest. We’re watching “Some Like It Hot” and Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are playing Joe and Jerry: two talented but threadbare Chicago jazz musicians working in a speak-easy fronted as a funeral parlor. Joe, who plays saxophone, is a smoothie and a champ ladies’ man. Jerry is your classic Jack Lemmon schnook, with a couple of kinks thrown in.

Curtis and Monroe on the beach, filmed at San Diego’s  Hotel del Coronado.

After getting tossed out of their speak-easy band jobs by a police raid and accidentally witnessing the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (ordered by their ex-employer, George Raft as natty gangster Spats Colombo), they flee to Miami. They’re chased by the gangsters and the cops (Pat O’Brien as Detective Mulligan) but the guys are disguised as Josephine and Daphne, musicians in an all-female jazz orchestra.

The star of Sweet Sue and her Society Syncopators, songbird and ukulele player Sugar Kane, is the Marilyn Monroe of our dreams. Sugar has a weakness for saxophone players. Josephine and Daphne have a weakness, period. Director Billy Wilder, who made lots of gay jokes in his time, deliberately keeps his two cross-dressing stars straight.

Read the full review here.

Wednesday, Feb. 27

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “The Third Man” (1949, Carol Reed). With Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles. [Read more...]

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The Noir File: Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray star in the all-time great film noir: ‘Double Indemnity’

By Michael Wilmington & Film Noir Blonde

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

PICK OF THE WEEK

Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck) figures that having Walter (Fred MacMurray) get rid of her husband will be far more cost-effective than hiring a divorce lawyer.

Double Indemnity” (1944, Billy Wilder). Thursday, Feb. 21, 8 p.m. (5 p.m.).

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). For Phyllis, seducing a new guy to help make hubs 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. Read the full FNB review here.

Thursday, Feb. 21

3:45 p.m. (12:45 pm): “The Long Voyage Home” (1940, John Ford). Superb film noir cinematography by the matchless Gregg Toland (“Citizen Kane”) graces this dark, moody John Ford-Dudley Nichols adaptation of four of Eugene O’Neill’s great, gloomy sea plays. The themes and mood are noir too. With Thomas Mitchell, Barry Fitzgerald, Ward Bond, Mildred Natwick and John Wayne – who always called “The Long Voyage Home” one of his favorite films.

5:45 p.m. (2:45 p.m.): “Foreign Correspondent” (1940, Alfred Hitchcock). After “Rebecca,” his Oscar-winning 1940 American debut, Alfred Hitchcock’s second Hollywood movie was more truly Hitchcockian. It’s an ingeniously crafted spy melodrama, scripted by Charles Bennett, Joan Harrison and (uncredited) Ben Hecht. Joel McCrea plays a foreign correspondent who gets enmeshed in pre-WW2 intrigue; co-starring Laraine Day, George Sanders, Edmund Gwenn and Robert Benchley. This very anti-Nazi picture was intended to encourage the U.S.’s entrance into the war, to help rescue Hitch’s British countrymen, and it probably did. It’s also a corking Hitchcock spy thriller in the “39 Steps”-”Lady Vanishes” tradition.

Saturday, Feb. 23

1:30 p.m. (10:30 a.m.): “Anatomy of a Murder” (1959, Otto Preminger). With James Stewart, Lee Remick and Ben Gazzara. Reviewed in FNB March 14, 2012

“On the Waterfront” won eight Oscars.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “On the Waterfront” (1954, Elia Kazan). One of the great ’50s American social dramas is also one of the great ’50s film noirs, with director Elia Kazan, screenwriter Budd Schulberg and cinematographer Boris Kaufman giving us a two-fisted, beautifully shot and acted drama of a corrupt labor union gang. The star is Marlon Brando, as the slightly punchy, fight-scarred ex-boxer and dockworker Terry Malloy (Brando’s greatest performance), whose brother Charley (Rod Steiger) is a mouthpiece for the crooked union run by mobster Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb). Terry has to decide whether he’ll rat out all the rats to a government investigating committee – exposing the thugs who killed the dockworker father of Edie (Eva Marie Saint) with whom Terry has fallen in love.

All the actors above were nominated for Oscars. (Brando and Saint won, along with Kazan, Schulberg, composer Leonard Bernstein and the movie). Also a nominee was supporting actor Karl Malden as the fighting pro-worker priest, Father Barry. And, in addition to the film’s many prizes, several generations of actors all wanted passionately to be like Brando and to play a scene like the one in “On the Waterfront,” acted with Steiger in a taxicab, where Terry says, heart-rendingly: “Charley, Charley, you don’t understand, I coulda had class….I coulda been a contender.” They never matched that scene, and neither did Brando.

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “The Harder They Fall” (1956, Mark Robson). Humphrey Bogart’s last movie, and a good one. He’s a respected sports reporter turned unrespectable publicist, hired by a crooked boxing promoter (Rod Steiger) to bilk the public and exploit a huge but naive and ill-skilled South American boxer, Toro Moreno (Mike Lane). Based on a book by boxing aficionado Budd Schulberg.

Jack Nicholson

4:30 a.m. (1:30 a.m.): “The Last Detail” (1973, Hal Ashby). Jack Nicholson gave one of his best performances as “Bad Ass” Buddusky, an astonishingly foul-mouthed and cynical Navy lifer who pulls guard duty and has to escort a hapless Navy thief named Meadows (Randy Quaid) to eight years of hard time at Leavenworth. Bad Ass decides (unwisely) to let the kid live a little along the way. One of director Hal Ashby’s best movies, and one of Robert (“Chinatown”) Towne’s greatest scripts, adapted from a novel by Navy man Darryl Ponicsan.

Sunday, Feb. 24

2:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m.): “Midnight Express” (1978, Alan Parker). Oliver Stone wrote the no-punches-pulled screenplay for this searing Alan Parker-directed biographical thriller about real-life American tourist/smuggler Billy Hayes (Brad Davis) and his hellish times in a Turkish prison. With John Hurt and frequent jailbird (in this column at least) Randy Quaid.

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The Noir File: All noir, all day, with Stanwyck and Mitchum

Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell star in “His Kind of Woman.”

By Michael Wilmington & Film Noir Blonde

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on cable TV. All movies below are from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard). This month, TCM pays tribute to one of the great noir dames, Barbara “Missy” Stanwyck. All the Stanwyck film noirs are on Wednesday (Film Noir Day) and Thursday. Robert Mitchum gets a noir tribute on Wednesday too.

PICK OF THE WEEK

Double Indemnity” (1944, Billy Wilder). Wednesday, Dec. 19, 8 p.m. (5 p.m.). “Yes, I killed him. I killed him for money. And a woman. And I didn’t get the money and I didn’t get the woman. Pretty, isn’t it?” — Walter Neff in “Double Indemnity.”

Sometime before dawn. A dying man, the bullet still in his gut, staggers into his shadowy insurance company office, slumps in a chair, picks up the Dictaphone receiver, and begins to talk. It’s a confession of murder, probably the greatest confession in the history of film noir. The dying man is Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), a bright, handsome, good-natured insurance salesman who’s sold one policy too many.

He sold it to the husband of Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) – the sexiest, blackest hearted dame who ever lit up a cigarette, slipped on (or off) an ankle bracelet, or took out a double indemnity insurance policy on her sap of a husband, prepared by her sap of a salesman/lover. The confession is to his best friend, “hot potato” claims investigator Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson). That hurts as much as the bullet. But it doesn’t really matter. There’s not much time left to tell the story. And it’s a hell of a story…

“Double Indemnity” – directed by Billy Wilder, scripted by Wilder and Raymond Chandler from James M. Cain’s great, knife-sharp novel, photographed by John Seitz, with music by Miklos Rozsa – is the pinnacle of film noir. There simply is no better, deeper, darker noir than this one.

Wednesday, Dec. 19

BARBARA STANWYCK AND ROBERT MITCHUM NOIR DAY

Note: For entries that don’t have descriptions, use the search bar on the upper-right side of this page to find previous reviews.

6 a.m. (3 a.m.) “Undercurrent” (Vincente Minnelli, 1946). Mitchum untangles repressions with Katharine Hepburn and Robert Taylor.

8:30 a.m. (5:30 a.m.): “Where Danger Lives” (John Farrow, 1950). Mitchum on the run with psycho flirt Faith Domergue.

10 a.m. (7 a.m.): “His Kind of Woman” (John Farrow, 1951). Mitchum and Jane Russell live it up at a pleasure spot hideaway with mobster Raymond Burr.

12:15 p.m. (9:15 a.m.): “My Forbidden Past” (Robert Stevenson, 1951). Mitchum messes up Ava Gardner and Melvyn Douglas.

1:30 p.m. (10:30 a.m.): “Angel Face” (Otto Preminger, 1953). A Preminger classic with Mitchum and Jean Simmons.

3:15 p.m. (12:15 p.m.): “Second Chance” (Rudolph Maté, 1953). More Mexican high jinks with Mitchum, Linda Darnell and Jack Palance.

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers” (Lewis Milestone, 1946).

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Sorry, Wrong Number” (Anatole Litvak, 1948). Tense movie adaptation of the famed Lucille Fletcher radio play about an invalid woman (Stanwyck) terrorized by phone calls.

1:45 a.m. (10:45 p.m.): “Clash by Night” (Fritz Lang, 1952).

3:45 a.m. (12:45 a.m.): “Jeopardy” (John Sturges, 1953).

5 a.m. (2 a.m.): “Witness to Murder” (Roy Rowland, 1954). Did Stanwyck witness a murder? George Sanders and Gary Merrill wonder.

Thursday, Dec. 20

6:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m.): “Crime of Passion” (Gerd Oswald, 1957).

8 a.m. (5 a.m.): “Barbara Stanwyck: Fire and Desire” (Richard Schickel, 1991). Dick Schickel documentary on Stanwyck’s life and career. With Sally Field.

9 a.m. (6 a.m.): “The Two Mrs. Carrolls” (Peter Godfrey, 1947).

Saturday, Dec. 22

2:15 a.m. (11:15 p.m.): “Anatomy of a Murder” (Otto Preminger, 1959).

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Free stuff from FNB: Win ‘Sunset Blvd.’

The winner of the October giveaway has been contacted. (The prize is “Body and Soul.”)

The November giveaway is an undisputed masterpiece, a stellar noir and one of the best-ever insider looks at Hollywood: “Sunset Blvd.” (1950, Billy Wilder) released today on Blu-ray. Starring William Holden and Gloria Swanson, “Sunset Blvd.” was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won three. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen this, but I had it on the brain this week because it was a special presentation at AFI Fest.

To enter this month’s giveaway, just leave a comment on any FNB post from Nov. 1-30. We welcome comments, but please remember that, for the purposes of the giveaway, there is one entry per person, not per comment.

The November winner will be randomly selected at the end of the month and announced in early December. Include your email address in your comment so that I can notify you if you win. Also be sure to check your email – if I don’t hear from you after three attempts, I will choose another winner. Your email will not be shared. Good luck!

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Classic Cain, power plays, Turner and Garfield in ‘Postman’

The Postman Always Rings Twice/1946/MGM/113 min.

In the opening of “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” a sign reading “MAN WANTED” flashes at us twice. This man, John Garfield as it happens, is really wanted. But you wouldn’t know it from Lana Turner’s imperious entrance.

She drops a tube of lipstick, then deigns to let him pick it up and return it to her. He decides to let her get it herself. She’s unruffled and he’s hooked. In a way, these first few minutes of the film foreshadow the sexual power play between Garfield’s Frank and Turner’s Cora.

The godless-like Cora, with her platinum hair, pouty lips and gorgeous curves, is arguably Turner’s most memorable role. One of film noir’s most famous femmes fatales, she is by turns a come-hither, passionate seductress and an icy blonde who likes to be the boss. Notice how often she wears white, sometimes from head to toe.

Lana Turner as Cora and John Garfield as Frank cook up trouble in the restaurant Cora runs with her husband.

Garfield as Frank gives her a run for her money, both in looks and attitude. Ephraim Katz writes of Garfield (born Julius Garfinkle, the son of a poor immigrant Jewish tailor): “[His] screen character was … not much at variance with his own personality – that of a cynical, defiant young man from the other side of the tracks, a resilient rebel with a chip on his shoulder who desperately tries to charm and muscle his way onward and upward.

“Despite the mediocrity of many of his films, Garfield’s boyish virility and his ability to project a soulful interior underneath a pugnacious façade made him an attractive star to many filmgoers. When given a proper vehicle, he proved himself a sensitive and solid interpreter.” (Garfield was later blacklisted for refusing to name friends as Communists in response to a House Un-American Activities Committee investigation.)

“Postman” more than qualifies as a proper vehicle. Frank, a hitchhiker at loose ends, stops at a roadside restaurant on the outskirts of LA and sees the MAN WANTED sign, posted by the owner, Cora’s chubby, cheerful, and much older, husband Nick (Cecil Kellaway). Nick persuades Frank to stay and work; not a bad deal considering that he also gets room and board.

Love on the rocks: Notice how often Cora wears white.

Before long, Nick and Cora become lovers and decide to do away with Nick so that they can start their new life together with a fat pile of cash. From there, things get darker and more diabolical. They botch their first attempt (death by electrocution) and their second try (they fake a car crash) results in charges being brought against them, which may or may not stick.

“Postman,” based on the James M. Cain novel and directed by Tay Garnett, is about as jet-black and unrelentingly bleak as they come. Harry Ruskin and Niven Busch wrote the script. There is no comic relief or guy-buddy subplot of the kind that you get in Billy Wilder’s “Double Indemnity,” also based on a Cain novel and written by Wilder and Raymond Chandler.

Also, the character of Nick gets a fair amount of screen time and, far from being a dire wretch of a husband (like the husband in “Double Indemnity,” played by Tom Powers), he’s affable and kind. He knows she doesn’t love him and even seems inclined to turn a blind eye if Cora and Frank want a romp in the hay. The dour vision of their betrayal, ill-fated reconciliation and their dogged determination to kill him feels far more uncomfortable – queasy even.

Because Garnett isn’t as visually stylish as many of the noir directors, “Postman” is a more blunt rendering than other essential noirs. But it’s also possible that Garnett, who was also a writer, was more interested in exploring the nuances of Cain’s book. Garnett and Cain grapple with the deepest issues of noir – for example, upending the myth that America is a classless society.

Cecil Kellaway (left) plays Nick, Cora’s husband, who is not bad as portly older husbands go. This lends his murder much gravity.

Only slightly less chilling than the violence perpetrated by the waitress and the manual worker, Garnett suggests, is the cavalier, snarky attitude of these two bourgeois buddies on the “right” side of the law (Leon Ames as district attorney Kyle Sackett and Hume Cronyn as defense lawyer Arthur Keats).

The case is nothing more than a game to them and they place a $100 bet on who will win. They’re not above using questionable methods to yield their desired results. Yet, they are considered upstanding members of society, whereas Cora and Frank are common criminals who must be punished.

Another point in Garnett’s favor: He gets excellent work from the leads and supporting players (also look out for noirista Audrey Totter). Cora and Frank are complicated parts that require range, depth and the ability to project irony.

Their love may be twisted, it’s true, but it goes through many incarnations and we sense that they are drawn to each other from mutual desperation and shared disappointment. As Frank tells her: “We’re chained to each other, Cora.”

Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange made a steamier version of the story in 1981, directed by Bob Rafelson.

To be sure, there’s no shortage of gloom. But, with leads as gorgeous and sexy as Garfield and Turner, every minute makes compelling viewing.

When Bob Rafelson remade the movie in 1981 with Jessica Lange and Jack Nicholson, replete with raunchy sex scenes, Frank and Cora sizzled once more.

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Hitchcock blends noir, Americana in ‘Shadow of a Doubt’

By Michael Wilmington and Film Noir Blonde

A guide to classic film noir and neo-noir on cable TV. All the movies below are from the current schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

PICK OF THE WEEK

Shadow of a Doubt” (1943, Alfred Hitchcock). Thursday, Oct. 4, 3:15 a.m. (12:15 a.m.)

A bright and beautiful small town girl named Charlotte “Charlie” Newton (Teresa Wright) is bored, bored with her well-ordered home in her pretty 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.”

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, beguiling background against which dark terror erupts.

Saturday, Sept. 29

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Fallen Idol” (1948, Carol Reed). In 1948, a year before they made the nonpareil thriller “The Third Man,” director Carol Reed and screenwriter Graham Greene collaborated on another tilted-camera film-noir classic: this mesmerizing story of a little French boy (Bobby Henrey), a French diplomat’s son, who hero-worships the embassy butler (Ralph Richardson), but mistakenly comes to believe his idol has murdered his wife, and keeps unintentionally incriminating him. With Michele Morgan, Jack Hawkins and Bernard Lee – and stunning cinematography by Georges Perinal.

Sunday, Sept. 30

12 p.m. (9 a.m.): “Carmen Jones” (1954, Otto Preminger). From Georges Bizet’s great, tuneful, massively popular opera, based on Prosper Merimee’s novel about a lusty cigarette girl and the soldier who is obsessed with her, unwisely: A compelling noir musical, with an African-American cast (headed by Dorothy Dandridge as femme fatale Carmen and Harry Belafonte as soldier Joe), lyrics and libretto by Oscar Hammerstein II, and direction by Otto Preminger. The rest of the cast includes Pearl Bailey, Diahann Carroll and Brock Peters.

Monday, Oct. 1

2 p.m. (11 a. m.): “The Fortune Cookie” (1966, Billy Wilder). Billy Wilder, mastermind of that quintessential film noir “Double Indemnity,” comes up with another ingenious insurance swindle in this dark, very funny comedy noir. Jack Lemmon is Harry Hinkle, a likable pro- football TV cameraman who is run down before millions of spectators on a punt return. Walter Matthau won the Oscar playing Harry’s brother-in-law, a sneaky, cynical, loot-smelling lawyer.

Thursday, Oct. 4

1:30 a.m. (10:30 p.m.): “Marked Woman” (1937, Lloyd Bacon). Bette Davis plays a feisty “hostess” and Humphrey Bogart plays a crusading D. A. Together with Bette’s pals, other “hostesses” (aka ladies of the evening), they go up against the mob, in this feminist pre-noir crime classic, co-scripted by Robert Rossen. Based on a famous real-life New York City prostitution case. The Bogart and Eduardo Ciannelli characters are modeled on Thomas Dewey and Lucky Luciano. With Lola Lane, Allen Jenkins and Mayo Methot (Mrs. Bogart).

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The Noir File: As time goes by, ‘Casablanca’ remains sublime

By Michael Wilmington

A noir-lover’s guide to classic film noir on cable TV. All the movies listed below are from the current schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

PICK OF THE WEEK

Casablanca” (1942, Michael Curtiz) Wednesday, Aug. 29, 10 p.m. (7 p.m.) On the Warner Brothers back lot, in an exotic city that hums with intrigue, we watch one of the movies’ immortal affairs and grandest pictures: “Casablanca” is, in some respects, the perfect Hollywood Golden Age studio movie.

Stuck in the middle: Ilse (Ingrid Bergman) is torn between duty (Paul Henreid) and love (Humphrey Bogart) in “Casablanca,” one of the best Hollywood Golden Age studio movies.

We see the frustrated and tormented but finally sublime passion of gloomy hard-case cabaret owner Rick (Humphrey Bogart, in his most popular role) for scared, on-the-run Ilse (Ingrid Bergman, in hers). Ilse is the emotionally torn woman of mystery whom Rick loved and lost, the angel who won his heart and left him in Paris. She now belongs body and soul, it seems, to the idealistic underground anti-Fascist leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid). Around them swirl the ideological storms of Nazi-ravaged Europe, at least as Warners saw them.

Humphrey Bogart and Dooley Wilson

And backing them up is one of the all-time great Hollywood supporting casts: Claude Rains as the suave and lecherous Vichy police head Renault; Conrad Veidt as the elegant, murderous Nazi commander Strasser; Sydney Greenstreet as the vaguely sinister rival cabaret owner; Peter Lorre as Ugati, the rat with the papers; S. Z. “Cuddles” Sakall as the lovable fat busybody; Marcel Dalio as the nimble croupier; Curt Bois as the ferret-like pickpocket (“Vultures everywhere!”); and of course that indefatigable piano man Sam (Dooley Wilson) – the fellow who plays (or doesn’t) “As Time Goes By.”

“Casablanca,” which expertly melds several key ’40s Hollywood genres (drama, comedy, noir, spy thriller, love story) was adapted from a truly lousy play “Everybody Goes to Rick’s,” reworked by the Epstein brothers (Julius and Philip) and Howard Koch, and directed by that sometimes underrated master, Michael Curtiz. A big hit in its day and also a multiple Oscar winner, this picture has never stopped pleasing and rousing audiences. It probably never will. (Also available in Warners’ three-disc 70th anniversary edition DVD and Blu-ray.)

Saturday, Aug. 25: Tyrone Power Day

2:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m.): “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.

Ava Gardner co-stars with Robert Taylor in “The Bribe.”

Tuesday, Aug. 28: Ava Gardner Day

10:45 p.m. (7:45 p.m.): “The Bribe” (1949, Robert Z. Leonard) Robert Taylor, Ava Gardner, Charles Laughton and Vincent Price in the smoky noir tale of a federal guy and a femme fatale. A lot of it wound up in the 1982 Steve Martin-Carl Reiner film noir parody “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.”

Wednesday, Aug. 29: Ingrid Bergman Day

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “Gaslight” (1944, George Cukor) Set in foggy Victorian gas-lit London, this is the best of all the melodramas and noirs where a bad husband tries to drive his wife insane (or vice versa). Here, Charles Boyer gives the treatment to Oscar-winner Ingrid Bergman. Joseph Cotten, Dame May Whitty and teenage Angela Lansbury are among the bystanders. Based on the Patrick Hamilton stage play (and film) “Angel Street.”

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The Noir File: Monroe, Welles, Heflin and more

By Michael Wilmington

A noir-lover’s guide to classic film noir on cable TV. All the movies listed below are from the current schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

CO-PICKS OF THE WEEK: “The Asphalt Jungle” and “The Lady from Shanghai”

“The Asphalt Jungle” has a near-perfect cast.

The Asphalt Jungle
(1950, John Huston)
Saturday, Aug. 4. at 6 a.m. (3 a.m.): Huston’s classic heist movie, scripted by Ben Maddow from W. R. Burnett’s novel, has a near-perfect cast: Sterling Hayden (the muscle), Jean Hagen (the moll), Sam Jaffe (the brains), James Whitmore (the lookout), Anthony Caruso (the safe man), Marc Lawrence (the backer), Brad Dexter (the torpedo), John McIntire (the cop), Louis Calhern (the double-crosser) and Marilyn Monroe (the mistress). One of Jean-Pierre Melville’s three favorite films.

The Lady from Shanghai” (1948, Orson Welles)Wednesday, Aug. 8. at 10:45 a.m. (7:45 a.m.): Adventurer/sailor Welles gingerly woos a very blonde Rita Hayworth, wife of the wealthy, evil Frisco lawyer Everett Sloane, and victim of Glenn Anders as the very weird George Grisby. A flop in its day, now considered one of the greatest noirs and a Welles masterpiece. The highlights include an amazingly crooked trial scene and the wild chase and shoot-out in a hall of mirrors.

Richard Allan plays Marilyn’s lover in “Niagara.”

Sat., Aug. 4: Marilyn Monroe Day

8 a.m. (5 a.m.): “Clash by Night” (1952, Fritz Lang) Lang’s cool, underrated adaptation of Clifford Odets’ smoldering play. With Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Ryan, Paul Douglas and Monroe.

10 a.m. (7 a.m.): “Niagara” (1953, Henry Hathaway) One of Monroe’s sexiest roles was as the faithless wife of tormented Joseph Cotten, the two 0f them trapped together in a cabin at Niagara Falls. Jean Peters is the good wife next-door.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Some Like It Hot” (1959, Billy Wilder) Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, two dance-band musicians in drag, flee the Chicago mob and George Raft after witnessing The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre; Monroe is waiting for them aboard the Miami train. Only part film noir – the rest is gangster movie parody and screwball comedy – but noir can be proud to claim even a portion of the greatest American sound comedy. [Read more...]

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