Film Noir File: Siodmak’s ‘The Killers’ is a must-see heist film, Hemingway style

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

Burt Lancaster instantly falls for Ava Gardner in “The Killers.”

Burt Lancaster instantly falls for Ava Gardner in “The Killers.”

The Killers” (1946, Robert Siodmak). Tuesday, Feb. 10, 10:15 p.m. (7:15 p.m.). Of all film noir’s femmes fatales, Ava Gardner as Kitty Collins in “The Killers” ranks as the most devastatingly efficient. She doesn’t waste time chit-chatting or getting to know a guy. Just a glance gets them hooked and firmly planted in the palm of her hand. “Swede” Andreson (Burt Lancaster) takes all of 10 seconds to fall for her and then get lured into “a double-cross to end all double-crosses.” Read the full review here.

Saturday, Feb. 7

11:45 p.m. (8:45 p.m.): “Citizen Kane” (1941, Orson Welles). A dark look at the sensational, profligate life of one of the world’s most powerful and egotistical newspaper magnates, the late Charles Foster Kane (modeled on William Randolph Hearst and acted by George Orson Welles). Still the greatest movie of all time, it’s also a virtual lexicon of film-noir visual and dramatic style, as seminal in its way as “The Maltese Falcon” or “M.” Scripted by Welles and one-time Hearst crony Herman Mankiewicz, photographed by Gregg Toland, with music by Bernard Herrmann and ensemble acting by the Mercury Players: Welles, Joseph Cotten, Everett Sloane, Dorothy Comingore, Agnes Moorehead, George Coulouris, Ruth Warrick, Paul Stewart, et al.

Sunday, Feb. 8

Bogart and Bergman play Rick and Ilsa, who are perhaps Hollywood’s most famous on-screen lovers.

Bogart and Bergman play Rick and Ilsa, who are perhaps Hollywood’s most famous on-screen lovers.

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “Casablanca” (1942, Michael Curtiz).

12 a.m. (9 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.”

Monday, Feb. 9

Laura poster 2141 a.m. (10 p.m.): “Laura” (1944, Otto Preminger).

3 a.m. (12 a.m.): “Mildred Pierce” (1945, Michael Curtiz).

Tuesday, Feb. 10

7 a.m. (4 a.m.): “Julie” (1956, Andrew L. Stone). The same year she sang “Que Sera, Sera” for Hitchcock as the menaced mom in Hitch’s remake of “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” Doris Day played a comely stewardess stalked by her psycho ex-husband, Louis Jourdan, in this lady-in-distress thriller from the poor man’s Hitchcock, Andrew Stone.

9 a.m. (6 a.m.): “Crossfire” (1947, Edward Dmytryk).

10:30 a.m. (7:30 a.m.): “Suspicion” (1941, Alfred Hitchcock).

12:30 p.m. (9:30 a.m.): “Mystery Street” (1950, John Sturges). A good, smart police procedural, set partly at Harvard University, with a homicide cop and forensic scientist (Ricardo Montalban and Bruce Bennett), trying to crack a murder with sexual overtones.

Cary Grant was Hitch’s favorite actor.

Cary Grant was Hitch’s favorite actor.

2:15 p.m. (11:15 a.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 French diplomat’s son(Bobby Henrey) , who hero-worships the embassy butler (Ralph Richardson). The boy mistakenly comes to believe his idol has murdered his wife and keeps unintentionally incriminating him. With Michele Morgan, Jack Hawkins and Bernard Lee. Stunning cinematography by Georges Perinal.

4 p.m. (1 p.m.): “After The Thin Man” (1936, W. S. Van Dyke). The first of many sequels to the smash hit 1934 movie of Hammett’s last novel “The Thin Man,” with William Powell and Myrna Loy as the peerlessly witty and stylishly sloshed Nick and Nora Charles. Here, they visit Nora’s San Francisco cousin and investigate a string of murders among her rich elite family. With Jimmy Stewart in one of his most atypical roles.

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “Charade” (1963, Stanley Donen). Director Donen and screenwriter Peter Stone’s lush, polished and witty Hitchcock imitation stars Hitch’s favorite actor Cary Grant in perhaps his most Cary Grantian performance. Here, he’s a romantic detective/spy (or is he?) in an ultra-posh comedy thriller co-starring Audrey Hepburn, at her most winsomely, delicately beautiful. The movie, probably Donen’s best-loved after his great musicals “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Funny Face,” seems to be composed of equal parts of “North by Northwest,” “Notorious,” “To Catch a Thief” and Donen’s own Cary Grant movies (like “Indiscreet” and “The Grass is Greener”), with a dash of ’60s New Wave sauce and sass.

Cary Grant (shown with Audrey Hepburn) is one of FNB’s favorite actors.

Cary Grant (shown with Audrey Hepburn) is one of FNB’s favorite actors.

The movie couldn’t exist without Grant, who, mostly in a very Hollywoodish Paris, woos lady-in-distress Audrey (or does she woo him?). Both of them are threatened by a stellar band of villains and nemeses that includes Walter Matthau, James Coburn, George Kennedy and Ned Glass. The moody title song (Henry Mancini /Andy Williams) earned an Oscar nom. No Oscars went to Grant, of course. The next year, while picking up his Academy Award for writing the Grant comedy vehicle “Father Goose,” Stone said, “Cary just keeps winning these things for other people.”

Wednesday, Feb. 11

Treasure of the Sierra Madre poster8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “All the King’s Men” (1949, Robert Rossen).

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (1948, John Huston). “Treasure” is perhaps the finest work by writer-director (and here, for the first time, actor), John Huston. It’s a supreme western noir and one of the great Humphrey Bogart pictures.

Bogart is Fred C. Dobbs, a down and out American in 1925 in Tampico, Mexico, who hooks up with two other Yanks: tough but decent Bob Curtin (Tim Holt) and fast-talking, grizzled, expert prospector Howard (John’s father Walter Huston; he won the Oscar). The three treasure hunters strike gold in the Sierra Madre mountains, but they also hit a vein of darkness: the discord and violence that sudden riches can bring.

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Film Noir File: ‘Sweet Smell of Success’ and a Buñuel bundle are this week’s baubles on TCM

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

Sweet Smell of Success” (1957, Alexander Mackendrick). Sunday, Jan. 25, 10 p.m. (7 p.m.).

Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster star in “Sweet Smell of Success.”

Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster star in “Sweet Smell of Success.”

“Sweet Smell of Success,” an American movie masterpiece and one of the best and gutsiest of all the classic film noirs, is a sleek killer comedy/drama about Broadway in the ’50s.

It centers around two influential New Yorkers: megalomaniac star gossip columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) and one of his more energetic publicist-sources, scummy but fashionable Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis).

And yes that is actor David White aka Larry Tate from TV’s  “Bewitched”as Otis Elwell (uncredited). Watching  “Sweet Smell of Success” now, you naturally think of “Mad Men” and an elite long-ago world of white men climbing the ladder of success: ruthless and glamorous, cut-throat and captivating.

Yes, that is actor David White (right) aka Larry Tate from TV’s  “Bewitched”as Otis Elwell (uncredited).

Yes, that is actor David White (right) aka Larry Tate from TV’s “Bewitched”as Otis Elwell (uncredited).

Read the full review here.

Monday, Jan. 26

Five by Luis Buñuel

Five superb films, from his middle and later years, by the great dark Spanish movie surrealist Luis Buñuel, whose extraordinary films, whether made in Spain, France Mexico or the U.S., are as noir as they come.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Belle de Jour” (1967, Luis Buñuel). The most beautiful movie actress alive directed by the world’s most brilliantly rebellious and surreal filmmaker. That was the incendiary match-up of star Catherine Deneuve and director Luis Buñuel, most notably in their classic 1967 French erotic noir drama “Belle de Jour.”

In that great film, Deneuve – so lovely and so classically, radiantly, sexily blonde – played Severine, the icy, ravishing Parisian wife, who becomes a prostitute during the day to escape her boring bourgeois life and her handsome but boring husband (Jean Sorel). Severine then falls into a mad world of crime, hypocrisy, dreamlike perversity and mad peril. “Belle de Jour,” adapted from the novel by Joseph Kessel, was the most popular, sensational and best-remembered film of Buñuel’s entire career. In French. with English subtitles.

Catherine Deneuve is unforgettable in 1967’s noir drama “Belle de Jour.”

Catherine Deneuve is unforgettable in 1967’s noir drama “Belle de Jour.”

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” (1972, Luis Buñuel). Buñuel’s sly, surreal Oscar-winner (for Best Foreign Language Picture of 1972), about a bourgeois dinner party that gets constantly interrupted and a world that is increasingly out of joint. The splendid cast includes Delphine Seyrig, Michel Piccoli, Fernando Rey, Stephane Audran, Bulle Ogier and Jean-Pierre Cassel. Buñuel and Jean-Claude Carriere co-wrote the script. In French, with subtitles.

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Diary of a Chambermaid” (1964, Luis Buñuel). Jeanne Moreau is a sultry chambermaid in a perverse French household, surrounded by exploitation and erotic menace. Adapted by Buñuel and Carriere from the novel by Octave Mirbeau (previously filmed in 1946 by director Jean Renoir and star Paulette Goddard). In French, with subtitles.

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “Viridiana” (1961, Luis Buñuel). A young convent woman returns to her wealthy and lascivious uncle’s elegant house and learns, unhappily, that the world of man and the will of God are often at odds. Buñuel’s return to Spanish filmmaking after decades of exile was then banned in Spain, but was otherwise a worldwide art house hit and a Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or winner. With Silvia Pinal, Fernando Rey and Francisco (”Paco”) Rabal. In Spanish, with subtitles.

3:45 a.m. (12:45 a.m.): “The Exterminating Angel” (1962, Luis Buñuel). One of Buñuel’s greatest dark jokes: A Mexican upper-class family and their friends stage a posh dinner party, but then discover that they somehow, mysteriously, maddeningly, can’t leave the dining room. They must stay there, suffer, degenerate and perhaps die. An incredible piece of stylish nightmare : pure Buñuel. With Silvia Pinal and Enrique Rambal. In Spanish, with subtitles.

9:45 a.m. (6:45 a.m.): “Zazie dans le Metro” (1960, Louis Malle). Reviewed in FNB on June 24, 2011.

Tuesday, Jan. 27

12:30 a.m. (9:30 p.m.): “Three Days of the Condor” (1975, Sydney Pollack). Robert Redford is a U. S. government reader and analyst whose world suddenly opens under his feet one day, when most of his colleagues are killed and he becomes a wanted man on the run. The quintessential paranoid anti-C.I.A. thriller, this is a modern variant on the prototypical Hitchcockian “wrong man“ suspenser. Based on James Grady’s novel “Six Days of the Condor,” it’s been copied endlessly, especially by novelist John Grisham. With Faye Dunaway, Max Von Sydow, Cliff Robertson and John Houseman. [Read more…]

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Skirball Cultural Center offers a double dose of intrigue on the big screen this Sunday

The Intriguante—Women of Intrigue in Film Noir series at the Skirball Cultural Center continues at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 25, with an excellent double feature.

Dick Powell and Lizabeth Scott face Raymond Burr in “Pitfall.”

Dick Powell and Lizabeth Scott face Raymond Burr in “Pitfall.”

The first film is “Pitfall” (1948, André de Toth), featuring Dick Powell, Lizabeth Scott and Jane Wyatt in a classic noir love triangle. Just a few years before, Powell, a song and dance man, reinvented his screen persona when he played detective Philip Marlowe in “Murder, My Sweet” (1944, Edward Dmytryk). Powell then became a regular on the film noir slate.

In “Pitfall,” he plays John Forbes, a happily married husband and father with a good job. Problem is, John is bored and it’s not long before he risks everything by getting tangled up with an irresistible femme fatale named Mona Stevens (Scott).

Further complicating the situation is Raymond Burr as a private investigator who also covets Ms. Stevens. Powell and Wyatt are spot-on, Scott lends humanity to what could be a two-dimensional role and this is one of Burr’s best performances.

You can read the full FNB review here.

Yvonne De Carlo and Burt Lancaster can’t stay away from each other in “Criss Cross.”

Yvonne De Carlo and Burt Lancaster can’t stay away from each other in “Criss Cross.”

Next up: “Criss Cross” (1949, Robert Siodmak) is a spare, chilling story that zooms along at breakneck speed with characters you’ll never forget.

Here, the stunning Yvonne De Carlo (whom you might remember from TV’s “The Munsters”) lures her ex-husband Burt Lancaster into a high-stakes heist. The sleazy bad guy is played perfectly by Dan Duryea.

Lancaster’s Steve is essentially a good guy who just can’t get his ex-wife out of his system. Some would call him crazy. The French would term it “amour fou.” But what would film noir be without obsessive love? This somewhat neglected movie completely holds its own with any other title from the film noir canon. “Criss Cross” plays particularly well on the big screen and it’s great fun to see the Los Angeles locales. The opening shot is tremendous and look out for a young Tony Curtis.

You can read the full FNB review here.

Admission is $10 general; $7 seniors and full-time students; $5 members.

The exhibitions Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950 and The Noir Effect will remain open until 8 p.m.

The File on Thelma Jordon posterThe Intriguante series concludes on Feb. 12 with “The File on Thelma Jordon” (1950, Robert Siodmak), a crime drama starring the inimitable Barbara Stanwyck.

Additionally, there are two more free Tuesday matinees at the Skirball Cultural Center. On Feb. 3 is 1939’s “Confessions of a Nazi Spy,” directed by Anatole Litvak and starring Edward G. Robinson as an FBI investigator. On Feb. 10, “Act of Violence” (1948, Fred Zinnemann) looks at the plight of returning World War II vets in a captivating film noir brimming with dark secrets, betrayal and revenge. Van Heflin, Robert Ryan and Janet Leigh lead the cast.

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The Intriguante—Women of Intrigue in Film Noir series starts Thursday at the Skirball Cultural Center

If you’re feeling slightly sluggish after a whirlwind of holiday activity, remember that watching a feisty femme fatale on the big screen might be just what you need to feel newly energized and thoroughly entertained.

Alice (Joan Bennett) has Professor Richard Wanley (Edward G. Robinson) wrapped around her little finger in “The Woman in the Window.”

Alice (Joan Bennett) has Professor Richard Wanley (Edward G. Robinson) wrapped around her little finger in “The Woman in the Window.”

You can start this Thursday, Jan. 8, at 8 p.m., when the Skirball Cultural Center in West Los Angeles starts its four-film series, The Intriguante—Women of Intrigue in Film Noir. As the organizers note: “During World War II, many women took up jobs in previously male-dominated industries, which imbued them with a new sense of independence. These four movies – all made by émigré directors and featuring strong female leads – widely appealed to this newly empowered audience, as well as soldiers abroad.”

The series starts with 1944’s “The Woman in the Window,” directed by Fritz Lang. When you least expect your life to unravel is exactly when your life will unravel, at least in a Lang film. That’s the lesson Professor Richard Wanley (Edward G. Robinson) learns the hard way after he’s lured into the depraved world of street hustlers Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea. “Woman” is an excellent film and well worth seeing. You can read the full FNB review here.

Pitfall posterAdmission is $10 general; $7 seniors and full-time students; $5 members. The exhibitions Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950 and The Noir Effect will remain open until 8 p.m.

The Intriguante series continues on Jan. 25 with an afternoon double-feature: “Pitfall” (1948, André de Toth), featuring Dick Powell, Lizabeth Scott and Jane Wyatt in a classic noir love triangle, and the taut thriller “Criss Cross” (1949, Robert Siodmak), in which a temptress (Yvonne De Carlo) leads her ex (Burt Lancaster) to his doom.  The series concludes on Feb. 12 with “The File on Thelma Jordon” (1950, Robert Siodmak), a crime drama starring the inimitable Barbara Stanwyck.

Additionally, the Skirball Cultural Center is hosting a series of free film-noir matinees on Tuesday afternoons, starting Jan. 6 with “Somewhere in the Night” (1946, Joseph L. Mankiewicz), starring John Hodiak as an amnesic World War II soldier.

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The Noir File: Burt Lancaster Wednesdays in November

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

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).

Note: The Noir File has been on temporary hiatus recently while one of its co-authors, Mike Wilmington, moved from Chicago to Los Angeles. Now, with Mike ensconced in Hollywood, in the neighborhood where Philip Marlowe once roamed (in spirit), we’re happy to welcome the File back to Film Noir Blonde.

The Killers posterPICK OF THE WEEK

“The Killers”

(1946, Robert Siodmak). With Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner and Edmond O’Brien. Wednesday, Nov. 6, 8 p.m. (5 p.m.).

Of all film noir’s femmes fatales, Ava Gardner as Kitty Collins in “The Killers” ranks as the most devastatingly efficient. She doesn’t waste time chit-chatting or getting to know a guy. Just a glance gets them hooked and firmly planted in the palm of her hand. “Swede” Andreson (Burt Lancaster) takes all of 10 seconds to fall for her and then get lured into “a double-cross to end all double-crosses.”

Based on the famous Ernest Hemingway short story, this 1946 film is the crowning achievement of one of Hollywood’s most prolific noir directors, Robert Siodmak, earning him an Oscar nomination for best director and leaving us with some of the genre’s most memorable characters.

You can read the full review here.

Ava Gardner and Burt Lancaster

Kitty (Ava Gardner) has Swede (Burt Lancaster) wrapped around her little finger in no time.

Wednesday, Nov. 6

4:15 p.m. (1:15 p.m.): “Colorado Territory” (1949, Raoul Walsh). One of the peaks of Western noir: Raoul Walsh’s Old West version of his 1941 gangster classic, “High Sierra,” with Joel McCrea and Virginia Mayo filling the Bogart and Lupino roles, and Dorothy Malone and Henry Hull (who was also in the original) in support.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Killers” (1946, Robert Siodmak). See Pick of the Week.

Friday, Nov. 8
 
6:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m.): “The Front Page” (1931, Lewis Milestone). First of the three stellar movie versions of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s terrific newspaper comedy “The Front Page.” A wily editor, Walter Burns, (Adolphe Menjou) tries to keep his star reporter Hildy Johnson (Pat O’Brien), from leaving their paper, the Chicago Examiner, on the night before the hanging of hapless radical murderer Earl Williams (George E. Stone). Howard Hawks, who remade “The Front Page” as “His Girl Friday,” said that this play had the best American comedy dialogue ever written and it’s hard to argue.

Cornered posterSaturday, Nov. 9

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Cornered” (1945, Edward Dmytryk). Star Dick Powell, director Dmytryk, and writer John Paxton, all of the hit Raymond Chandler adaptation “Murder My Sweet,” reunite for a tough international thriller, with ex-WW2 pilot Powell tracking down his French wife’s fascist murderers. The marvelously slimy or ruthless villains include Walter Slezak and Luther Adler.

Sunday, Nov. 10

4 p.m. (1 p.m.): “Casablanca” (1942, Michael Curtiz). With Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains and Paul Henreid. Reviewed in FNB on August 25, 2012.

 

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More Burt on the big screen at UCLA’s Billy Wilder Theater

The Billy Wilder Theater at UCLA will present a choice double bill on Sunday, June 2, at 7 p.m.: two film-noir titles starring Burt Lancaster. First is the prison drama “Brute Force” (1947, Jules Dassin), in which Lancaster plays an angry inmate desperate to escape his sadistic captors.

Variety’s review of “Brute Force” noted that “Yvonne De Carlo, Ann Blyth, Ella Raines and Anita Colby are the women on the ‘outside’ whose machinations, wiles or charms accounted for their men being on the ‘inside.’ ” Natch. (Lancaster and De Carlo were paired again in 1949’s “Criss Cross,” directed by Robert Siodmak.)

“Brute Force” will be followed by “Kiss the Blood Off My Hands” (1948, Norman Foster). Lancaster plays a traumatized and violent ex-prisoner of war living in London and trying, unsuccessfully of course, to get his life together. Co-starring Joan Fontaine.

The evening is part of the Lancaster centennial celebration presented by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Hugh M. Hefner Classic American Film Program. The celebration of Lancaster’s movies runs through June 30. Author Kate Buford is the special guest on June 2.

Additionally, on Monday, June 3, at 7:30 p.m., the Archive’s look at emerging voices in Czech cinema comes to a close with director David Ondříček in person for his taut neo-noir police thriller, “In the Shadow” (2012), which was the Czech Republic’s official Oscar entry for 2013.

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Burt Lancaster on the big screen: ‘The Killers’ and ‘Criss Cross’

UCLA’s Billy Wilder Theater will present a terrific double bill on Saturday, May 4: two works from film-noir master Robert Siodmak, starring Burt Lancaster.

Burt Lancaster made his screen debut in “The Killers,” co-starring Ava Gardner.

In addition to being handsome and lithe, Lancaster projected intelligence, sensitivity and depth. He made his screen debut in “The Killers” (1946), adapted from an Ernest Hemingway short story and co-starring Ava Gardner. Lancaster can’t break Yvonne De Carlo’s spell in “Criss Cross” (1949), a brooding narrative of betrayal set in the back alleys of post-war downtown Los Angeles.

The evening is part of the Lancaster centennial celebration presented by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Hugh M. Hefner Classic American Film Program. The celebration of Lancaster’s movies runs through June 30. The Film Noir Foundation’s Alan K. Rode is the special guest on May 4.

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Seeking ‘recline’ inspiration from film noir’s injured characters

I recently experienced a little setback: I fractured my toe (one in from the pinkie on the right foot). I didn’t teeter as I tried on Loubou’s or tumble on a treacherous chunk of pavement. Nor was I hang-gliding or training for a 5k run. Please. Have we met? No, in typical femme fatale fashion, à la Mae West, I tripped over a pile of men.

Sporting hideous footwear.

Of course I don’t mind being ordered by doctors to rest and relax. In fact, I relish the opportunity. And if ever there were a time to be waited on hand and foot, bark out orders and be completely catered to, honey this is it! I’m also grateful that the toe (underrated little body part that it is) wasn’t broken or more severely damaged – it should heal nicely as long as I’m patient.

But the thing I really miss is going to yoga. Feeling a little blue and kicking myself (pun intended) for not being more careful, I called my friend Anne who pointed out that what’s bad in life is good on the page. She suggested that as I recuperate I commiserate with noir characters – like nostril-impaired Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) in “Chinatown” – who sustain and recover from injuries. (You can always trust a Gemini to come up with a creative approach.)

As I lounge on my sofa, I also find myself pondering existential questions, such as: Can I now fulfill my long-held fantasy of going to yoga and resting in child’s pose for the entire class? Will wine and ice cream provide the same benefits as shavasana? What about cupcakes? Does Susie Cakes deliver? Is it possible to dance while using crutches? How long can a girl go without shaving her legs?

Aah, more than my peabrain can process right now. So, with many thanks to Anne, here are my favorite mending moments of film noir.

Dick Powell as Philip Marlowe is temporarily blinded in “Murder, My Sweet.”

 

Phony, schmony. The dude still hobbled around on crutches: Fred MacMurray in “Double Indemnity.”

 

Decoy”’s Frank Armstrong recovers from the ultimate “accident.” Cold-hearted Jean Gillie sees a way to get her hands on a wad of cash by bringing her criminal boyfriend back to life following his visit to the gas chamber. Absurd? Absolutely. Still, it’s all in a day’s work for film noir’s toughest femme fatale.

 

“Dark Passage”: Unjustly sentenced prison escapee Humphrey Bogart undergoes plastic surgery to alter his looks. He co-stars with real-life wife Lauren Bacall.

 

Burt Lancaster sustains major injuries after a heist gets fouled up in “Criss Cross.” (In “The Killers” Lancaster plays a boxer whose career folded after hurting his hand.)

 

The Big Heat” contains one of film noir’s most famous violent scenes. Lee Marvin throws a pot of boiling coffee at Gloria Grahame and disfigures her face. She gets even in the end.

 

Jimmy Stewart is a photojournalist who watches his neighbors to pass the time (with gorgeous Grace Kelly for company) while his leg heals in “Rear Window.”

 

Jack Nicholson wears his bandage for most of “Chinatown.” Director Roman Polanski plays the menacing punk who cuts Nicholson’s nose.

 

“Misery”’s Kathy Bates is the nurse-from-hell to wounded writer James Caan.

 

Viggo Mortensen gets stabbed in his foot after fending off two thugs in “A History of Violence.”

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Stellar ‘Criss Cross’ tells a riveting story of cursed love

Criss Cross/1949/Universal Pictures/88 min.

What would film noir be without obsessive love? (Or “amour fou” as the French would say.) Just a bunch of caring and sharing among equal partners with no cause for discontent? How frightfully dull.

My favorite example is “Criss Cross” from 1949. Director Robert Siodmak helped define noir style and in this flick you can see what an unerring eye he had.

Anna (Yvonne De Carlo) and Steve (Burt Lancaster) find it impossible to say goodbye.

“Criss Cross” tells the story of a nice guy from a modest background who, try as he might, just cannot break ties with his sexy but venal ex-wife. They are one of noir’s most stunningly gorgeous couples.

Burt Lancaster as Steve Thompson takes your breath away with his arresting features and beautiful build. Equally captivating is exquisite Yvonne De Carlo (Lily Munster on the ’60s TV show, “The Munsters”) as Anna.

Lancaster and De Carlo were also paired in Jules Dassin’s prison film “Brute Force” from 1947. And in 1946, Siodmak helped catapult Lancaster and Ava Gardner to stardom in “The Killers,” another seminal film noir. Miklós Rózsa wrote original music for both Siodmak films.

Back to “Criss Cross.” Having returned to his native Los Angeles after more than a year of roaming around the country, working odd jobs, Steve’s convinced that he’s over Anna and can move on from their failed marriage.

He gets his old job back (as a driver for Horten’s, an armored car service) and reconnects with his family (a very unusual touch – most noir heroes are total loners). There’s Mom (Edna Holland), brother Slade (Richard Long) and his brother’s fiancée Helen (Meg Randall). They’re all anti-Anna, natch, and so is Steve’s childhood friend Det. Lt. Pete Ramirez (Stephen McNally).

Anna likes the perks that her sugar daddy Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea) can provide.

It’s only a matter of time (and fate, of course) before Steve sees Anna again, only to learn she has a new love interest, an unctuous gangster and sugar daddy named Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea), whom she abruptly marries.

But Anna can’t quite tear herself away from Steve – he is Burt bloody Lancaster, after all. When Slim catches the pair together, Steve stays calm and says he’s figured out a way to pull a heist – an inside job at Horten’s – but he needs some help to carry it out. Things don’t go quite according to plan, however, and the caper turns into a smoke-filled shootout, which lands Steve in the hospital and launches Slim on the lam.

Noir master Daniel Fuchs adapted “Criss Cross” from a Don Tracy novel. While the script’s references to Steve’s imminent doom are a little over the top, the movie is still an excellent showcase for the talents of German-émigré Siodmak, an auteur largely underrated in postwar Hollywood, as well as for his cast and crew. “Criss Cross” is both a tense, lean crime thriller and a textured, haunting story about relationships and human nature.

Much as I like “The Killers,” I prefer “Criss Cross” and its probing into questions of fate, our inherent human capacity for perversity and self-destruction, our tendencies toward paranoia, greed and guilt, and our willingness to trust, trick and manipulate others and ourselves. Basically, everything we hate to think about and try to repress.

We see romantic relationships that run the gamut from sweet to steamy to sadistic, with Siodmak and Fuchs reminding us of the violence that can lurk just under a tranquil surface. It’s also interesting to speculate, upon repeat viewings, just how far back Steve might have been hatching his plan and to what extent it grew out of Slim’s wider and stickier web of deceit.

When Slim and his gang invade Steve’s place, Steve outlines his plan.

Beginning with a magnificent shot that lands us in the middle of the story, we witness a clandestine meeting, a few minutes in a parking lot, of lovers Steve and Anna.

Then, as Siodmak backtracks to fill us in on their story, it’s one ravishing chiaroscuro composition after another, often shot from high above and suggesting a sense of encroaching peril or shot low to create a feeling of dominance, danger and power. Entrapping shadows abound.

Siodmak and cinematographer Franz Planer were at the top of their game in “Criss Cross. “ It’s hard to beat the panoramic opening scene and the pieta-like closing shot. Another striking scene: when Steve sees Anna dancing the rhumba (with an uncredited Tony Curtis) as Esy Morales’ band gives it their all. I also love the alternating high and low shots as Anna and Steve discover that Slim and his gang have infiltrated Steve’s place, quiet as cats, save for the refrigerator that pounds shut as they help themselves to beers. “You know,” says Dan Duryea’s Slim, in a cool, silky voice, “it don’t look right. You can’t exactly say it looks right now can you?”

Was there anyone better in 1940s than Duryea as the cheap, sleazy, misogynistic gangster-type who never failed to be dressed to the nines in the flashiest and gaudiest of garb?

Steve and Anna hope to reunite after she extricates herself from Slim.

Additionally, it’s a testament to Lancaster’s power of expression – his graceful physicality, measured, calm voice and what seems to be an innate kindness and intelligence – that you continue to root for him knowing that every step he takes is the wrong one.

And you can see how De Carlo as Anna could sear a man’s heart. (De Carlo later starred as the quirky matriarch in TV’s “The Munsters,” 1964-66.) While some would write Anna off as a conniving shrew who causes Steve’s downfall, and it’s pretty hard to argue otherwise, she at least never plays too coy – she wants him, yes, but she wants money too and she’s entirely clear that she’ll get it with or without him. It’s his choice (as much as you have a choice in film noir) to execute a heist to get a bunch of cash. As for the heist, particularly the planning of, I think there is much here that influenced John Huston when he made “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950).

Also memorable in their performances are Percy Helton as the bartender, Alan Napier as Finchley, the stately, dignified crook consultant who works for liquor and Griff Barnett as Pop, the co-worker whom Steve betrays. “Criss Cross” also features Raymond Burr, uncredited, as a gangster.

Steven Soderbergh remade “Criss Cross” as “The Underneath” in 1995 and it’s a good film. But just as Lancaster’s Steve likens his love to getting a bit of apple stuck in his teeth, “Criss Cross” similarly lodges in your psyche. Like a lurking temptation, it’s hard to let go.

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‘Criss Cross’ quick hit

Criss Cross/1949/Universal Pictures/88 min.

Before she was Lily Munster of TV fame, Yvonne De Carlo was a ’40s hottie and the object of Burt Lancaster’s eternal lust in “Criss Cross,” director Robert Siodmak’s and writer Daniel Fuchs’ tale of love, obsession and betrayal. To win her love once and for all, Lancaster cooks up a daring heist with gangster Dan Duryea. What could go wrong? Only everything. Noir filmmaking at its finest.

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