Film Noir Blonde, Durant Library celebrate Women in Film Noir

I am very pleased to announce that I have programmed a series for the Will & Ariel Durant Library in Hollywood called Women in Film Noir. The series runs in March to honor Women’s History Month. We are highlighting women’s contribution to the genre at a time when there were many barriers to working outside the home.

Ida Lupino juggled work and family. Shown: Ida with her husband Howard Duff and daughter Bridget.

Ida Lupino juggled work and family. Shown: Ida with her husband Howard Duff and their daughter, Bridget, who was born in 1952.

The library will screen five films, starting March 2.

I will be giving a talk at the library at 1 p.m.  Saturday, March 7. The opening night double feature is a spotlight on Ida Lupino, actress, director, writer and producer.

5 p.m. March 2: “On Dangerous Ground” (1951, 82 min.): Ida Lupino plays a blind country girl who lives with her brother. She meets a psychologically scarred cop (Robert Ryan) when her brother becomes a suspect in a murder. With a taut script by A. I. Bezzerides (“Kiss Me Deadly”) and moody, poetic direction from Nicholas Ray, “On Dangerous Ground” is an unforgettable film noir.

Nightmare Alley poster 214The Hitch-Hiker” (1953, 71 min.): Fate isn’t smiling when two guys on vacation give a lift to a man who turns out to be serial killer. “The Hitch-Hiker,” starring Edmond O’Brien, Frank Lovejoy and William Talman, is the only classic film noir directed by a woman, the great Ida Lupino. Best known as an actress, Lupino was also a director, writer and producer. She co-wrote “The Hitch-Hiker.”

5 p.m. March 9: “Nightmare Alley” (1947, 110 min.) A film noir set in the seedy world of a carnival, “Nightmare Alley” tracks an ambitious performer (Tyrone Power) as he pursues a better life. Crucial to his rise and fall are three women: Joan Blondell, Coleen Gray and Helen Walker. Unusual for time, Walker plays an upper-class working woman who is not a teacher, nurse or secretary.

Based on William Lindsay Gresham’s novel and directed by Edmund Goulding, “Nightmare Alley” is unusually cerebral and rich with subtext. Also unusual for that time: Barbara McLean served as editor – by 1947, many women had been pushed out of film editing jobs, despite the fact that in the early days of the industry they dominated that function.

In a Lonely Place poster5 p.m. March 16:  “Strangers on a Train” (1951, 101 min.) With standout performances from Robert Walker and Farley Granger, “Strangers” stands as an excellent example of Alfred Hitchcock’s subversive casting. The film is based on the novel of the same name by master of suspense Patricia Highsmith. Czenzi Ormonde (aka Gladys Lucille Snell) co-wrote the script with Raymond Chandler. Pat Hitchcock plays a small but memorable part.

5 p.m. 23: In a Lonely Place” (1950, 94 min.) Based on a novel by Dorothy B. Hughes, “In a Lonely Place” tells the story of a screenwriter (Humphrey Bogart) and an actress (Gloria Grahame) who live in the same Hollywood apartment building and fall in love. All is not well, however, when it seems the writer might also be a deranged killer. Masterfully directed by Nicholas Ray and edited by Viola Lawrence, sometimes called “Hollywood’s first lady film cutter.”

The Durant Library is at 7140 W. Sunset Blvd. (one block west of La Brea), Los Angeles, CA 90046, 323-876-2741.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

Catch ‘Nightmare Alley’ on the big screen in Westwood

Nightmare Alley posterNightmare Alley” (1947, Edmund Goulding) plays at 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 24, at UCLA’s Billy Wilder Theater in Westwood. You will not be disappointed!

Lest you think classic noir is limited to private-eye offices, police stations and penthouse apartments, director Edmund Goulding’s flick transports us to the seedy world of traveling carnivals. Tyrone Power is Oscar-worthy as Stan Carlisle, a charismatic hustler looking to break into the big time. The excellent cast includes Joan Blondell, Coleen Gray, Helen Walker, Ian Keith and Mike Mazurki. Based on William Lindsay Gresham’s novel.

This is one of my all-time fave film-noir titles!

You can read the full review here.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

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…]

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

Film noir flourishes at TCM film festival in Hollywood

Grauman’s Chinese Theatre was a prime location at the TCM fest. Photo by John Nowak

From Marie Windsor’s character in “The Killing” telling her wounded husband (played by Elisha Cook, Jr.) to cab to the hospital because she doesn’t feel like calling an ambulance to Grace Kelly fending off her attacker and foiling the eponymous plot in “Dial M for Murder,” on-screen femmes fatales claimed their power at the TCM Classic Film Festival April 25-28 in Hollywood.

Marie Windsor

The film noir slate was particularly rich as was the experience of seeing these film on the big screen – the lighting, the compositions, the close-ups all popped in a way that just doesn’t happen when you watch these titles on TV. Additionally, the festival does a splendid job of finding guests to introduce the films.

At Thursday’s screening of “The Killing,” actress Coleen Gray shared memories of working with director Stanley Kubrick on what would turn out to be his break-though movie. “I knew he was good,” she said. “The cast is wonderful. The story, the director and the actors are in tune. And look at the cutting – it was cut to create a masterpiece. You go and see it and you bow to Mr. Kubrick.” She added that Kubrick spent much of his directorial energy working with Marie Windsor on her hard-as-nails dame Sherry Peatty.

There was film noir aplenty at the TCM festival as well as special guests, panels, a poolside screening and parties. Photo by Edward M. Pio Roda

Fans of Ms. Windsor’s got another chance to connect with her at Friday’s screening of “The Narrow Margin.” The special guest was actress Jacqueline White. Also during that time slot producer Stanley Rubin reminisced about Marilyn Monroe, Robert Mitchum and Otto Preminger before a showing of 1954’s “River of No Return,” a stunning example of CinemaScope’s capabilities.

“[Marilyn] and Otto didn’t like each other and so we became very friendly. She was a perfect lady,” he said, adding that she was friendly and professional with Mitchum as well.

Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe in “River of No Return.”

Watching Monroe and Mitchum, at the height of their physical radiance in this picture, ignited in me a newfound passion for Westerns. (Believe me, this is quite a feat.)

It’s always a toss-up when deciding between a beloved classic and a little-screened rarity. We at FNB decided to mix it up a little and forgo “Notorious,” which I often liken to a glass of Veuve Clicquot, for the chance to see a 1956 Jean Gabin black comedy “La Traversée de Paris.” Gabin is always good, but the film is uneven, without much tension or humor, a bit like a flabby claret.

A much better rare treat was the definitive British film noir “It Always Rains on Sunday,” (1947, Robert Hamer), set in London’s East End, featuring a Jewish family and starring John McCallum as prison escapee Tommy Swann and tough yet oddly dainty Googie Withers as his ex-gf. The Film Noir Foundation’s Eddie Muller introduced the film, noting that it was less a crime flick than an effective portrayal of the plight of the poor and downtrodden.

We watched this with our friend Debra Levine of artsmeme.com. Our verdict: It’s a good, engaging film but what makes it great is the sleek, striking cinematography. “Tommy made some poor choices,” Ms. Levine overheard someone saying as we left the theater. Aah, but we all know that “choice” is but a futile joke in the world of film noir!

Eva Marie Saint discussed “On the Waterfront” with Bob Osborne on Friday night. Photo by John Nowak

Another Friday highlight: the lovely and gracious Eva Marie Saint discussing “On the Waterfront.”

The next morning, early birds were rewarded with a talk by Polly Bergen at the screening of “Cape Fear,” one of Robert Mitchum’s most menacing roles. Later-risers could head to the Egyptian Theatre for the West Coast restoration premiere of 1929’s “The Donovan Affair” with live actors (from Bruce Goldstein and company) and sound effects to recreate the lost soundtrack.

Eddie Muller interviewed Susan Ray at the screening of “They Live by Night.” Photo by John Nowak

Next up was a film noir must-see: “They Live by Night” (1949, Nicholas Ray), the quintessential young-lovers-on-the-run story, with an appearance by his widow Susan Ray and introduction by Eddie Muller. Commenting on Ray’s exploratory directing style, she said: “He did not go in with a preconceived idea of what should happen in a scene. He would set it up, light a fuse and watch. He would prod or provoke if necessary. He didn’t impose truth, he looked for it.”

And on Ray’s interest in telling the stories of young people, often loners or societal outcasts, she noted: “He saw the juice, potential, openness and flexibility of youth and he loved it.” Nick Ray’s gift as a visual poet is never more apparent than when you see “They Live by Night” on the big screen.

Continuing the noir mood was “Tall Target” (1951, Anthony Mann), a period noir, starring Dick Powell, Paula Raymond and Ruby Dee, based on an actual plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln before he could take the oath office in 1861. Film historian Donald Bogle gave an insightful introduction.

Bob Osborne chats with Ann Blyth before Saturday night’s screening of “Mildred Pierce.” Photo by John Nowak

Then it was back to the Egyptian, where the line for “Mildred Pierce,” snaked down a busy side street of Hollywood Boulevard. Special guest actress Ann Blyth said of Joan Crawford, the film’s mega-star: “I have nothing but wonderful memories of her. She was kind to me during the making of the movie and she was kind to me for many years after.”

Popcorn, Coke, Raisinets and watching Crawford pull out all the shoulder-padded stops – what more could a noirista wish for?

Sunday morning kicked off with a choice between “Badlands,” “Gilda,” or sleeping in a bit and we hit snooze. Sorry. They don’t call me Lazy Legs for nothing. Our first movie was 1973’s “Scarecrow,” starring Al Pacino and Gene Hackman – it was one of the best and most resonant films we’ve seen in a long time. The acting is tremendous in this great-looking film, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Director Jerry Schatzberg discussed his work in a pre-film chat with Leonard Maltin.

Anthony Dawson and Grace Kelly in “Dial M for Murder.”

Afterward, we managed to catch the very noirish “Safe in Hell” (1931, William Wellman), starring Dorothy Mackaill as a streetwise blonde who holds her own among a slew of unsavory men while she’s hiding out in the Caribbean. Donald Bogle introduced the movie and William Wellman, Jr. answered questions afterward.

A great way to wrap up the fest, before heading to the after-party at the Roosevelt Hotel, was a 3-D presentation of “Dial M for Murder.” Leonard Maltin and the always-entertaining actor-producer-director Norman Lloyd, 98, discussed 3-D and the working methods of Alfred Hitchcock. This Hitchcock gem, a perfect example of his subversive casting, is often underrated so we particularly enjoyed seeing it; we noticed that just about every seat was taken.

Hats off to TCM for another superb film festival! The staff does an excellent job running every aspect of this event and it is much appreciated.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

‘Nightmare Alley’ star and story dare to go against the grain

Nightmare Alley/1947/Twentieth Century Fox/110 min.

There’s a fateful moment in the beautifully lit “Nightmare Alley” in which cinematographer Lee Garmes creates a latticework of light, with neat bands of shadow slicing the room to bits. Performer/con artist Stan Carlisle (Tyrone Power) is at the height of his success, having built himself up from nothing, but he’s about to get trapped by a soigné spider woman who’s far sharper and more ruthless than he.

Molly (Coleen Gray) and Stan (Tyrone Power) take their code on the road.

Stan is handsome, charismatic and ambitious, a born player. He hones his craft by working in a seedy carnival and taking what he can from his fellow performers. He cozies up to Zeena (Joan Blondell), a matronly “mentalist” who’s seen better days, angling to get her secret code designed for a mindreader and an assistant.

Her former co-star and now-alcoholic husband Pete (Ian Keith) opposes the idea, but Zeena relents after Pete dies from drinking wood alcohol.

Helping Stan learn the code is Molly (Coleen Gray), easy on the eyes, eager to please and smitten with him. Zeena and Bruno the strong-man (Mike Mazurki) push Stan to marry Molly; the newlyweds form an act and leave the carnival for Chicago.

Helen Walker

At the upscale Spode Room, Stan does a reading for cooly elegant Lilith Ritter (Helen Walker), a psychologist with a roster of wealthy clients. He senses that, despite her diploma and pedigree, Lilith is a player just like he is. (Maybe it’s her slightly mannish outfits that tip him off.)

Together they see a way to cheat Lilith’s clients and rake in hundreds of thousands in cash as Stan morphs into a spiritual healer. The still-devoted Molly does her best to stand by him.

But Stan can’t compete with Lilith’s level of deception and treachery. The trap evoked in Lilith’s office by the latticework shadow is now real. Starting with a bottle of gin in a dingy hotel room, Stan begins to self-destruct.

Pete (Ian Keith) talks shop with Stan (Tyrone Power).

Based on a novel by William Lindsay Gresham (Jules Furthman wrote the script) and directed by Edmund Goulding, this is an incredibly sophisticated and well made film, though it fared poorly at the box office. It may have been easy for viewers to dismiss as strange or sordid because Power plays an anti-hero and Goulding refuses to shy away from showing alcoholism and addiction.

The film revels in ambiguity and mystery, exploring questions of morality and spirituality, particularly when we see Stan layer his act with a preacher’s rhetoric, masking his cynicism and contempt for his faithful believers.

“Nightmare Alley” owes its existence and budget (this is not a B movie) to its leading man and his clout at Twentieth Century Fox. Hugely popular for his swashbuckler and romantic heroes, Tyrone Power was one of Fox’s top stars in the mid 1940s. Coming from a family of stage actors (his heritage was Irish and French), he craved more challenging projects and roles. In 1946, Power and Goulding made “The Razor’s Edge,” based on the W. Somerset Maugham novel.

Goulding, of “Grand Hotel” fame, was known as a women’s director and for throwing lavishly wild Hollywood parties. He gets outstanding work from the “Nightmare Alley” cast with Power giving subtlety and depth to a dark, complicated character. His performance as the unrepentant hustler likely helped pave the way for 1970s anti-heroes such as Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman in “Midnight Cowboy.”

Power’s popularity and success continued, and he had another noir role in 1957’s “Witness for the Prosecution” by Billy Wilder. Sadly, it was the last film he completed. While filming “Solomon and Sheba” in Madrid, Power, 44, died from a heart attack on Nov. 15, 1958. Handsome opportunist Stan Carlisle in “Nightmare Alley” remains one of his greatest achievements.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

‘Nightmare Alley’ quick hit

“Nightmare Alley” plays today, Nov. 9, at 4:30 p.m. at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood as part of AFI FEST 2011.

Nightmare Alley/1947/Twentieth Century Fox/110 min.

Lest you think classic noir is limited to private-eye offices, police stations and penthouse apartments, director Edmund Goulding’s flick transports us to the seedy world of traveling carnivals. Tyrone Power is Oscar-worthy as Stan Carlisle, a charismatic hustler looking to break into the big time. The excellent cast includes Joan Blondell, Coleen Gray, Helen Walker, Ian Keith and Mike Mazurki. Based on William Lindsay Gresham’s novel.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

Earthy, sexy and wry, Marie Windsor was born to play fatales

Let’s be fair. Marie Windsor as femme fatale Sherry Peatty in “The Killing” by Stanley Kubrick may seem venal, treacherous and manipulative. And yes she hatches a scheme to feather her nest that’s a bit dangerous. But is it right that she’s punished for being as smart, decisive and daring as the men?

Sherry is married, need I say unhappily, to George (Elisha Cook, Jr.), a nervous, Milquetoast cashier at a racetrack. Through George, she gets wind of a heist taking place at the track by Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) and his gang. Sherry tips off her lover Val (Vince Edwards) and comes up with this idea: let George and his friends do the heavy lifting, then she and Val can take off with the stolen cash, about $2 million.

In "The Killing," Marie Windsor as Sherry Peatty is so over her dreary husband George (Elisha Cook, Jr.).

Of course, you could argue that the deeply flawed Sherry is downright immoral. And so are the men. But Sherry only gets as far as she does because of George’s colossal ego. Or perhaps it’s his tremendous capacity for denial. Clearly, she’s been after money all along and she’s tired of George not coming through with it. C’mon, George, did you really think she was into your swagger? (Offscreen, Windsor and Cook were chums. She said of him in a 1992 interview, “Elisha Cook was a darling and full of the devil.”)

Earthy, sexy and wry, Windsor was an actress born to play femmes fatales – with her huge, restless eyes, slightly cynical smile and lean but curvy body. Regardless of how many lines or how many scenes Windsor was in, she had a quality both luminous and tawdry, an expressiveness bordering on vulgarity that meshed perfectly with noir sensibility.

Windsor won an award from Look magazine for her role in "The Killing."

Born and raised in Utah, Windsor was especially popular with directors of Westerns and of noirs (in particular, “Force of Evil,” 1948, by Abraham Polonsky; “The Narrow Margin,” 1952, by Richard Fleischer; and “The Sniper,” 1952, by Edward Dmytryk). Once Windsor had been cast, the director had one less thing to worry about, knowing that she’d nail the character.

Kubrick so wanted Windsor for “The Killing” that he delayed filming until she had wrapped up 1955’s “Swamp Women” by Roger Corman. She was worth the wait; for playing Sherry in “The Killing,” Windsor was rewarded with a 1956 Best Supporting Actress award from Look magazine, a prestigious honor at the time.

Windsor worked steadily in movies and TV through the early 1990s. She was married to Jack Hupp for 46 years, from 1954 until her death in 2000.

Despite Sherry’s, um, blemished character, I prefer her gumption to Johnny’s girlfriend, the desperately needy Fay (Coleen Gray). As Fay tells Johnny: “I’m not very pretty and I’m not smart so please don’t leave me alone any more. I’ll go along with anything you say, Johnny. I always will.”

Ever heard of a spine, lady? Well, Sherry has.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

Kubrick creates his defining template with ‘The Killing’

The Killing/1956/United Artists/85 min.

A DVD copy of “The Killing” from Criterion is this month’s Film Noir Blonde reader giveaway. Newly digitally restored, the two-disc set contains many extras, including Kubrick’s 1955 noir, “Killer’s Kiss,” also reviewed below.

By Michael Wilmington

It takes guts and brains to pull the perfect heist. Or to shoot the perfect heist movie.

In 1956, at the age of 28, Stanley Kubrick, a New Yorker who grew up in the Bronx, traveled to Hollywood and San Francisco to direct the movie that would not only make his reputation but would provide the template – the clockwork nightmare with humans caught in the machinery – that defines most of the films he made from then on.

A Kubrick self-portrait, 1950

Those later films include acknowledged masterpieces: “Paths of Glory” (1957), “Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (1964), “2001: a Space Odyssey” (1968), “A Clockwork Orange” (1971). But none of them is more brilliantly designed or more perfectly executed than that inexpensive film, “The Killing.”

Kubrick and nonpareil pulp novelist Jim Thompson (“The Killer Inside Me”) wrote the script, based on Lionel White’s neatly plotted crime novel “Clean Break.” The great cinematographer Lucien Ballard (“The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond”) photographed the film.

That cast – a Who’s Who of noir types – includes Sterling Hayden (“The Asphalt Jungle”), Coleen Gray (“Kiss of Death”), Elisha Cook, Jr. (“The Maltese Falcon”), Marie Windsor (“The Narrow Margin”), Ted De Corsia (“The Naked City”), Timothy Carey (“Crime Wave”), James Edwards (“The Phenix City Story”), Joe Sawyer (“Deadline at Dawn”), Vince Edwards (“Murder by Contract”), Jay Adler (“Sweet Smell of Success”) and Jay C. Flippen (“They Live By Night”).

Perhaps inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 art-house classic “Rashomon,” Kubrick’s movie repeatedly circles back to the fictional Lansdowne race track (actually the Bay Meadows in San Francisco) during a fictional race. It’s a “jumbled jigsaw puzzle,” as one character calls it, that will supposedly end with a $2 million score of Lansdowne’s Saturday gambling receipts.

Immaculately orchestrated by a brusque criminal mastermind named Johnny Clay (Hayden), the heist kicks off when crack rifleman Nikki Arcane (Carey), shoots the favorite, Red Lightning, from a parking lot outside the track, at one of the turns. Thanks to Johnny, the robbery has been cleverly designed and planned to the last detail with each of the participants keenly aware of his part, executing it with precision and together getting away with the cash.

But like almost all great movie heists, like the robberies in “Rififi” and “The Asphalt Jungle” and “Le Cercle Rouge,” the one in “The Killing” has to unravel. And it does. The flaw in this system is the dysfunctional marriage between mousy cashier George (Cook, Jr., in his archetypal role) and George’s lazily sexy, unfaithful wife Sherry (Windsor, in hers).

Vince Edwards and Marie Windsor as the lovers.

George, desperate to keep his wayward wife interested, hints at an upcoming windfall. Sherry shares the leak with loverboy Val Cannon (Vince Edwards) – that has to be one of the great adulterous boyfriend movie names – and we can feel doom coming up fast on the outside.

The show clicked. It conquered audiences, especially critics. “The Killing” was immediately hailed by many as a classic of its kind, the very model of a high-style, low-budget thriller. “Kubrick is a giant,” said Orson Welles and it was the young Welles, of “Citizen Kane,” to whom the young Kubrick was most often compared.

If anything, his third feature’s reputation has grown over the years, as has the stature of the type of movie it embodies: the lean, swift, shadowy, cynical, hard-boiled crime genre we call film noir.

Also includes: “Killer’s Kiss”/1955/United Artists/67 min. This was Kubrick’s second feature and his first collaboration with producer James Harris. One of the most gorgeous-looking B movies ever, Kubrick shot in a style that effortlessly mixes the street-scene poetic realism of movies like “Little Fugitive” and “On the Waterfront” with film noir expressionism.

Jamie Smith plays a boxer in "Killer's Kiss."

But Kubrick’s script is subpar, mostly in the dialogue. It creaks, while his cinematography soars. A nearly washed-up boxer (Jamie Smith) falls in love with the woman across the courtyard (Irene Kane, aka Chris Chase), a dance hall girl who’s tyrannized by her obsessively smitten gangster boss (Frank Silvera).

The story sounds trite and that’s how it plays. But Silvera is good and the classy visuals give “Killer’s Kiss” a power that holds you. All Kubrick needed was a writer and a cast, and in “The Killing,” he got them.

Stanley Kubrick photo from Vanity Fair, courtesy of the Look Magazine Photograph Collection/The Library of Congress.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

Free stuff: Win ‘The Killing’ and try Cafecito Organico

The winner of the August reader giveaway has been selected. For September, I am giving away a copy of Criterion’s new DVD release of “The Killing” (1956).

Stanley Kubrick directed this racetrack-robbery noir; pulp novelist Jim Thompson wrote dialogue. The impressive cast includes Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Timothy Carey, Elisha Cook Jr., and Marie Windsor.

Criterion’s new digital restoration features a slew of great special features, namely:

*a new interview with producer James B. Harris

*excerpted interviews with Hayden from the French TV series “Cinéma cinemas”

*a new interview with author Robert Polito about Thompson

*restored high-definition digital transfer of Kubrick’s 1955 noir feature “Killer’s Kiss” and a video appreciation of “Killer’s Kiss” featuring film critic Geoffrey O’Brien

*trailers and a booklet featuring an essay by film historian Haden Guest as well as a reprinted interview with Windsor.

Additionally, I am giving away a T-shirt and 12-ounce bag of Espresso Clandestino from Los Angeles-based Cafecito Organico. Their coffee is sustainably grown and locally roasted, which results in a rich, robust flavor that’s also uncommonly smooth – there’s no trace of bitterness or harsh acidity.

Perfecting summing up how many noir denizens feel first thing in the morning, Cafecito’s motto is Café o Muerte (Coffee or Death).

To enter the September giveaway, just leave a comment on any FNB post from Sept. 1-30. The winner will be randomly selected at the end of the month and announced in early October. Include your email address in your comment so that I can notify you if you win. Your email will not be shared. Good luck!

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter