Prescription for retro glamour: A look back at Schwab’s

Sunset b & wHeading to the West Hollywood Rite-Aid to do a little schmoozing? Not bloody likely. But, in Tinseltown’s golden age, Schwab’s Pharmacy, at 8024 Sunset Blvd., ranked as one of the city’s top spots to meet, greet, mix and mingle.

A program Saturday at the Egyptian Theatre highlighted the pivotal role Schwab’s played in Hollywood networking from the 1930s to the 1960s. Teacher/history buff Marc Chevalier delivered a photo-driven presentation, followed by a short that was filmed at Schwab’s to promote a 1946 bio-pic, “The Jolson Story,” and the exquisite movie “Sunset Blvd.” (1950, Billy Wilder), which features the drugstore in a key scene.

Chevalier started his talk with a cherchez la femme angle. The property – on the south side of Sunset Boulevard, between Laurel Avenue and Crescent Heights – first belonged to Dr. George E. Paddleford and his wife, Genevieve McKinney Toomey Teal Paddleford, a “international adventuress and love pirate,” with a string of duped husbands.

The Sunset Medical Building complex opened its doors in 1931.

The Sunset Medical Building in the 1930s. Schwab’s was to the right of the window awning (far right).

The Paddlefords owned lots 1, 2 and 29 of the Crescent Heights tract and built a mansion on lot 2. Fond of giving Dr. Paddleford’s expensive cuff links and other valuable belongings to her lovers, Genevieve drew her husband’s ire and the couple divorced around 1920. She left for Europe where she continued to live the high life, charm men, court scandal, oh and steal stuff from Ritz-Carlton hotels.

Dr. Paddleford (an associate of oil magnate Edward L. Doheny) sold the property and in 1931 architects Alvan Norstrom and Milton Anderson designed the Sunset Medical Building for developers C.H. Thomsen and W.L. Easley. The year before, for the same developers, Norstrom and Anderson designed a building directly across the street. It’s in use today as the Laugh Factory and Greenblatt’s Deli.

Schwab’s was a place to see and be seen.

Schwab’s was a place to see and be seen.

Despite the prosaic name (it became known as the Crescent Heights Shopping Center and later simply “The Corner”), the new building turned out to be a modern-day palace. Its front and side facades were clad in dark tan marble from Southern France and trimmed in rosso levanto Italian marble. (At the time, the only other commercial structure in Los Angeles that boasted so much marble was downtown’s Merritt Building from 1915.) Inside The Corner, rooms were paneled and floored in mahogany; some had terrazzo marble floors. Doctors’ and dentists’ offices were on the second level. A covered-bridge walkway allowed patients to cross from one wing to another. The back court had a 30-space parking lot.

Nearby was the Spanish-Moorish style Garden of Allah apartment complex, originally owned by actress Alla Nazimova in 1919; the Garden was torn down in 1959. Many residents from this chic residence supported businesses at The Corner.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was among the notable residents at the Garden of Allah.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was among the notable residents at the Garden of Allah.

Norstrom and Anderson’s marble stunner housed several merchants on the ground floor, including Richard Talmadge, former actor and stuntman for Douglas Fairbanks, who ran a flower shop, and the owner of the Crescent Heights Market, Ben Ruben, known for insulting his customers at no extra charge. Howard Hughes treated his girlfriends to makeovers at the beauty salon.

In 1932, the Schwab brothers (Bernard, Leon, Jack and Martin) took over a failing drugstore in the complex; they would eventually own six pharmacies. But Schwab’s on Sunset wasn’t just a place to drop off a prescription or buy toiletries. Open from 7 a.m. to midnight, the gathering spot served meals as well as soda-fountain drinks. The store had five phone booths and frequently offered automatic credit. Customers could also buy high-end liquor, tobacco, chocolate, perfume and cosmetics. There was no charge for deliveries.

Billy Wilder filmed the Schwab’s  scene at Paramount.

Billy Wilder filmed the Schwab’s scene at Paramount.

In the movie “Sunset Blvd.,” William Holden’s character, a struggling screenwriter named Joe Gillis, tells us the pharmacy is his headquarters, explaining: “That’s the way a lot of us think about Schwab’s. Kind of a combination office, coffee klatch and waiting room. Waiting, waiting for the gravy train.” (Though it would seem the ideal location shoot, Wilder had the interior recreated and filmed on a Paramount lot.)

Arguably, what made Schwab’s the place to network and nosh was the fact that journalist/actor/producer Sidney Skolsky wrote his Photoplay column “From a Stool at Schwab’s” in a second-floor office, by arrangement with the Schwab family.

Sidney Skolsky and Marilyn Monroe attend an industry function.

Sidney Skolsky and Marilyn Monroe attend an industry function.

Among Skolsky’s many talents was a knack for nicknames and he dubbed the drugstore Schwabadero’s, an allusion to the Trocadero nightclub down the street. (Even more famously, in 1934, he was the first journalist to write a story using Oscar to refer to the Academy Award.) As a producer on the 1946 movie “The Jolson Story,” it was Skolsky’s idea to shoot the after-party at Schwab’s and use the footage as a publicity short.

Robert Mitchum, Clark Gable, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mickey Cohen, Gloria Swanson, Judy Garland, the Marx Brothers, Cesar Romero and Shelley Winters were regular Schwabadero’s customers. Marilyn Monroe, another loyal patron, reportedly left messages for Skolsky, under the name Miss Caswell. Charlie Chaplin and Ava Gardner stopped in and made their own milkshakes.

Though it’s widely thought that Lana Turner was discovered sipping a soda at Schwab’s, in fact it was at the Top Hat malt shop, several blocks east on Sunset, that in 1937, at age 16, she attracted the attention of Hollywood Reporter publisher William Wilkerson.

Debunking the myth: Lana Turner was discovered at a malt shop down the street from Schwab’s.

Lana Turner was discovered at a malt shop down the street from Schwab’s.

By the time Schwab’s had its closeup in “Sunset Blvd.,” Russian immigrant/Beverly Hills businessman Martin Belousoff owned the property. In 1949, Googie’s coffee shop, designed by architect John Lautner in Space Age/midcentury modern style, was built nearby and served customers such as James Dean, Marlon Brando and beat-generation poets. (Googie’s lasted until 1989.)

Compared with Googie’s, Schwab’s looked passé and in 1955 Belousoff decided to remodel inside and out, commissioning architects Louis Armet and Eldon Davis for the job. But not long after Schwab’s updated, new Sunset Strip venues were opening up and gaining popularity with aspiring stars and ’60s hipsters.

Schwab’s, which had been in business for 50 years and earned worldwide fame as a Hollywood hive of activity, closed its doors in 1983 and was torn down in 1988. But it remains Hollyood’s most famous drugstore – a legendary place to sip sodas, schmooze, spot stars and, like many a prospective Lana Turner, strut your stuff.

Schwab's was open from 7 a.m. to midnight.

Schwab’s was open from 7 a.m. to midnight.

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Happy b’day, Babs! FNB joins Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon

Very few actresses truly deserve accolades like stellar, peerless, magnificent and amazing. Barbara Stanwyck, who had a stage, film and TV career spanning more than 50 years, is surely one of that select group. She might have cringed at such lofty praise, however, referring to herself as “a tough old broad from Brooklyn.”

Adjectives aside, Stanwyck stands out for the range of parts she played, her discipline as an artist, and the subtlety and strength of her performances. That’s why I was so pleased when Aubyn at The Girl with the White Parasol let me join this month’s Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon, which runs through July 22.

For my contribution, I’m highlighting a fluffy detail from the great “Double Indemnity” (1944): Phyllis Dietrichson’s tawdry blonde wig. The piece also includes some observations from master director Billy Wilder on working with Barbara – born Ruby Catherine Stevens on July 16, 1907, and later nicknamed Babs, Missy and The Queen. She still rules today.

A Babs Stanwyck moment for FNB

On Phyllis Dietrichson’s wig: Looking through some photos the other day, I noticed how often I lost the fight with my fine, curly hair and let it go wild (left). Not every day can be a good hair day.

If I ever need assurance that every femme fatale has a styling glitch from time to time, I look at Barbara Stanwyck’s awful wig in “Double Indemnity,” a quintessential noir from 1944, directed by Billy Wilder.

Paramount production head Buddy DeSylva said of the stiff blonde ’do, “We hired Barbara Stanwyck and here we get George Washington.”

It also reminded me that it had been ages since I’d looked at my copy of “Conversations with Wilder” by Cameron Crowe, published in 1999. Of course, I flipped right to Wilder’s answer to Crowe’s question about the direction given to Barbara Stanwyck in “Double Indemnity” for the silent shot on her face while the murder is occurring.

Said Wilder: Sure, that was a highly intelligent actress, Miss Stanwyck. I questioned the wig, but it was proper, because it was a phony wig. It was an obviously phony wig. And the anklet – the equipment of a woman, you know, that is married to this kind of man. They scream for murder.

Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray star in “Double Indemnity” from 1944. Both played against type.

Yeah, naturally we rehearsed this thing. But I rehearsed it with her once or twice, that’s the maximum, and it was not that much different from the way she would have done it. She was just an extraordinary woman. She took the script, loved it, right from the word go, didn’t have the agent come and say, “Look, she’s to play a murderess, she must get more money, because she’s never going to work again.”

With Stanwyck, I had absolutely no difficulties at all. And she knew the script, everybody‘s lines. You could wake her up in the middle of the night and she’d know the scene. Never a fault, never a mistake – just a wonderful brain she had.

Crowe asked if the part had been written for Stanwyck. Wilder said: Yeah. And then there there was an actor by the name of Fred MacMurray at Paramount, and he played comedies. Small dramatic parts, big parts in comedies. I let him read it, and he said, “I can’t do that.” And I said, “Why can’t you?” He said, “It requires acting!” [Laughs.] I said, “Look, you have now arrived in comedy, you’re at a certain point where you either have to stop, or you have to jump over the river and start something new.” He said, “Will you tell me when I’m no good?” [He nods: a partnership is born.] And he was wonderful because it’s odd casting.

Paramount image of “Double Indemnity”

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Noirish ‘Some Like It Hot’ at Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Marilyn Monroe as Sugar Kane in “Some Like It Hot.”

To celebrate Marilyn Monroe’s birthday, on Saturday, June 1, Cinespia.org will present “Some Like It Hot” (1959, Billy Wilder) at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Though the film is considered one of Tinseltown’s all-time best comedies, Marilyn reportedly objected to the fact that her character, Sugar Kane, actually believed her fellow musicians (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemon dressed in drag) were women. No girl is that dumb, she said. Nevertheless, the movie was a hit and her performance is unforgettable. You can read Mike Wilmington’s review here.

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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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