The Noir File: Widmark is unforgettable as Tommy Udo

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

Grinning gangster Tommy Udo was a career-defining role for Richard Widmark.

Kiss of Death” (1947, dir. Henry Hathaway). Tuesday, May 14; 8 p.m. (5 p.m.). One of the most memorable, and scariest, of all film noir villains is Tommy Udo from “Kiss of Death,” as played by the young Richard Widmark. Tommy was a constantly grinning, giggling gunman with a pale, thin, deadly-looking face, topped by a trim fedora – a face and a chuckle that carried the promise of cold-blooded murder.

In “Kiss of Death” – another of director Henry Hathaway’s semi-true crime movies, this time co-scripted by the great Ben HechtVictor Mature plays Nick Bianco, an ex-crook trying to go straight, for his sweet wife Nettie (Coleen Gray). To escape his past, Nick becomes a mole recruited by the cops (including Brian Donlevy and Karl Malden) to infiltrate Udo’s mob and get the goods on this gangster. Udo falls for his new mob-mate, giggling, like a ton of bricks. Obviously, something very bad will happen when this psychopathic hood discovers that his new gun buddy is a traitor.

“Kiss of Death” is a classic, vintage Hollywood crime thriller, one of the film noirs that everyone has to see – to savor Hecht’s smart script and Hathaway’s taut direction, and to enjoy the terrific work of the entire killer cast and company. But mostly, you have to see it for Widmark. His Tommy Udo is an impersonation of pure evil so right-on that it almost freezes your blood to watch and hear him – and so convincing that a real-life member of the Mob, the notorious killer “Crazy Joey” Gallo, patterned his entire public personality after Widmark’s performance.

“Crazy Joey” Gallo

The role made Widmark a star, and, though he tried never to repeat it, and played mostly good guys for the rest of his career, he could never really get away from Tommy Udo and his pale, cold eyes, and what James Agee called his “falsetto baby talk, laced with tittering laughs.”

Tommy Udo is the last guy in the world you want to have his eye on you, the last guy whose laugh you want to hear on a dark street. And he’s the last guy you want to see standing behind a sick old lady, in a wheelchair, at the top of a staircase. Giggling.

Friday, May 10

6 a.m. (3 a.m.): “The Informer” (1935, John Ford). With Victor McLaglen, Preston Foster and Heather Angel. Reviewed on FNB December 12, 2012.

11 p.m. (8 p.m.): “Under Capricorn” (1949, Alfred Hitchcock). With Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten and Margaret Leighton. Reviewed on FNB November 17, 2012. [Read more...]

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The Noir File: John Ford’s ‘The Informer’ is a great precursor

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).

PICK OF THE WEEK

The Informer” (1935, John Ford). Friday, Dec. 14, 6:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m.). Gypo Nolan – a hulking, good-natured, almost childlike brute of a Dubliner (played by Victor McLaglen) – has betrayed his I.R.A. friend to the British police. Now, with the reward in his pocket, he prowls the dark, fog-shrouded streets of his city.

Victor McLaglen plays Gypo, a hulking, good-natured, almost childlike brute of a Dubliner.

At first Gypo pushes aside his anxiety and remorse, and spends the blood money, carousing and drinking with his instant new “friends.”

But gradually, fate and darkness, along with Gypo’s old comrades and his conscience, begin to close in – as the I.R.A. and their just but relentless commander (Preston Foster) track down the informer.

Of all the great film noir precursors of the ’30s – “M,” “The 39 Steps,” “You Only Live Once,” “Scarface,” “Le jour se lève” and “Public Enemy” – John Ford’s Oscar-winning masterpiece, “The Informer,” is one of the darkest, most powerful and most noirish.

Based on the much-admired Irish novel by Liam O’Flaherty, “The Informer” won Oscars for Ford’s superb direction, for Dudley Nichols’ taut, dramatic script, for Max Steiner’s haunting music and for McLaglen’s unforgettable performance as Gypo – a doomed man alone, surrounded by danger, tormented by his own guilt-ridden, fear-lashed soul. (In 1968, Jules Dassin remade “The Informer,” not as effectively, as “Up Tight.”)

Wednesday, Dec. 12

Barbara Stanwyck as Dixie Daisy in “Lady of Burlesque.”

11:15 a.m. (8:15 a.m.): “The Man I Love” (1947, Raoul Walsh). Jack Warner once said “Raoul Walsh’s idea of a tender love scene is to burn down a whorehouse.” Here is Walsh’s idea of a tender love story: the tough, racy tale of a sultry, wised-up night club singer (Ida Lupino) and the man who loves her: slick gangster Robert Alda.

5 a.m. (2 a.m.): “Lady of Burlesque” (1943, William Wellman). A salty murder mystery set in the world of strip-tease shows, with Barbara Stanwyck as the stripper-sleuth. Based on the best-seller “The G-String Murders,” a book credited to legendary peeler Gypsy Rose Lee, ghosted by crackerjack comedy/mystery writer Craig Rice (“Home Sweet Homicide”).

Friday, Dec. 14

1:45 p.m. (10:45 a.m.): “Citizen Kane” (1941, Orson Welles).

Saturday, Dec. 15

8:45 a.m. (5:45 a.m.): “Impact” (1949, Arthur Lubin). Infidelity and murder plots, with Brian Donlevy, Ella Raines, Helen Walker, Anna May Wong and Charles Coburn.

Sunday, Dec. 16

2 p.m. (11 a.m.): “Wait Until Dark” (1967, Terence Young). From the hit stage play by Frederick (“Dial M for Murder”) Knott. Blind woman Audrey Hepburn sees no evil and tries to stave off Alan Arkin, Richard Crenna and Jack Weston.

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “The Unholy Three” (1925, Tod Browning). A shivery thriller about three crooks who meet at the circus and form an unholy gang: a strong man (Victor McLaglen), a midget (Harry Earles) and a cross-dressing ventriloquist (Lon Chaney). One of the eeriest of all Browning’s macabre collaborations with Chaney (Silent with music track.)

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Film noir titles to release on DVD from TCM and Universal, thriller marathon in January

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and Universal Studios Home Entertainment (USHE) are releasing a terrific three-disc DVD collection on Dec 3. Dark Crimes: Film Noir Thrillers highlights the work of legendary mystery writers Dashiell Hammett, Cornell Woolrich and Raymond Chandler.

The set includes:

“The Glass Key” (1942, Stuart Heisler) – Brian Donlevy, Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake star in this stylish remake of the 1935 film based on Hammett’s popular novel. The story follows a ruthless political boss and his personal adviser, who become entangled in a web of organized crime and murder involving the daughter of a rising gubernatorial candidate. Akira Kurosawa once claimed this film to be the inspiration for his classic samurai flick “Yojimbo” (1961).

“Phantom Lady” (1944, Robert Siodmak) – A man arrested for murdering his wife is unable to produce his only alibi – a mysterious woman he met in a bar – in this adaptation of a Woolrich novel. Now his loyal secretary must go undercover to locate her. Ella Raines, Franchot Tone, Thomas Gomez, Alan Curtis and Elisha Cook Jr. star. A sexually charged drumming scene was reportedly dubbed by legendary musician Buddy Rich.

“The Blue Dahlia” (1946, George Marshall) – A WWII veteran who has been accused of killing his unfaithful wife races against time to find the real murderer with the help of a sympathetic stranger. Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, William Bendix, Howard da Silva and Hugh Beaumont star in this John Houseman production. Chandler’s original screenplay earned an Oscar nomination.

Veronica Lake and Howard da Silva share a tense moment in “The Blue Dahlia.”

Dark Crimes: Film Noir Thrillers will be available from TCM’s online store, which is currently accepting pre-orders. TCM will show “The Glass Key” on Dec. 2.

Additionally, on Jan. 17, author and noir expert Eddie Muller will join TCM host Robert Osborne to present five memorable thrillers from the 1950s. The lineup is set to feature “Cry Danger” (1951, Robert Parrish) with Dick Powell and Rhonda Fleming; “99 River Street” (1953, Phil Karlson) starring John Payne and Evelyn Keyes; “Tomorrow is Another Day” (1951, Felix E. Feist) with Ruth Roman and Steve Cochran; “The Breaking Point” (1950, Michael Curtiz), starring John Garfield and Patricia Neal; and “The Prowler” (1951, Joseph Losey), starring Van Heflin and Evelyn Keyes.

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