The Noir File: Edgar Ulmer’s ‘Detour’ and Friday Night with Dashiell Hammett

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).

PICK OF THE WEEK

Ann Savage and Tom Neal star in the ultra low-budget “Detour.”

Detour” (1945, Edgar G. Ulmer). Tuesday, June 11: 2:45 p.m. (11:45 a.m.).

Luck so bad it borders on absurd, a story as flimsy as cardboard, a femme fatale who’s downright feral. That would be 1945’s “Detour,” a B classic that director Edgar Ulmer shot in less than a month for about $30,000.

Despite these limitations (or maybe because of them) Ulmer manages to work some visual miracles. Those foggy scenes where you can’t see the street? He didn’t have a street so he filled in with mist. Born in what is now the Czech Republic, Ulmer came to the US in 1923. He brought a high-art, painterly disposition to this tawdry little flick, as he did to most of his work.

You can read the full FNB review here.

Friday, June 7

11:15 a.m. (8:15 a.m.): “Stranger on the Third Floor” (1940, Boris Ingster). With Peter Lorre, Margaret Tallichet and Elisha Cook, Jr. Reviewed on FNB Nov. 3, 2012.

NOIR WRITERS SERIES: DASHIELL HAMMETT

Dashiell Hammett

All this month, on its Friday Night Spotlight screenings, TCM will show a series of classic film noirs – with each Friday devoted to movies based on or written by (or both) one of four top-notch noir authors – Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain and Cornell Woolrich.

Tonight the spotlight is on the matchless hard-boiled crime writer Dashiell Hammett – who, along with Ernest Hemingway, was probably one of the most influential American writers of the decades after World War I, and since. Terse, lean and brutally direct, empty of flourish, cliché or artifice, Hammett’s style owed a lot to his own years as a Pinkerton detective.

He decisively reveals a world of greed, murder, illicit sex, gangsterism, corruption and treachery among the rich and the crooked, telling it all with a flair and a punch that was copied endlessly but rarely recaptured. (The “Noir Writers” films were curated and will be introduced by film noir expert Eddie Muller.)

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Maltese Falcon” (1931, Roy Del Ruth). The first movie adaptation of Hammett’s classic dark private-eye novel, with Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade, Bebe Daniels as the femme fatale and Dudley Digges as Gutman – all chasing the priceless black bird. It pales beside John Huston’s great version of course (see below). But it’s not bad, in a raunchy pre-Code way.

9:30 p.m. (6:30 p.m.): “City Streets” (1931, Rouben Mamoulian). Hammett’s only original movie story: an underworld romance stylishly directed by Mamoulian, who was in his most innovative period. With Gary Cooper and Sylvia Sidney as lovers caught in a vicious world of big-city crime, and Paul Lukas and Guy Kibbee as off-type bad guys. [Read more...]

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UCLA’s Festival of Preservation delivers two rare film noir titles

I’m looking forward to seeing two rarely screened noirs – “The Chase” (1946, Arthur D. Ripley) and “High Tide” (1947, John Reinhardt) – at 7 p.m. Sunday, March 10, at UCLA’s Billy Wilder Theater in Westwood. The special guest is Harold Nebenzal, son of producer Seymour Nebenzal, who worked on “The Chase.”

The titles are part of UCLA’s Festival of Preservation, which opened last weekend with a special screening of “Gun Crazy” (1950, Joseph H. Lewis), and runs through March 30.

Based on a Cornell Woolrich novel, “The Chase” tells the tale of a returning World War Two solider named Chuck Scott (Robert Cummings) who’s short of cash and job prospects. Enter Eddie Roman (Steve Cochran), a Miami businessman in need of a chauffeur. Chuck’s cool with the new uniform but before long finds himself in a murderous love triangle with Eddie’s wife (Michèle Morgan). Co-starring Peter Lorre, lensed by Frank F. Planer. (Preservation funded by the Film Foundation and the Franco-American Cultural Fund.)

“High Tide” was the second of two independent crime thrillers produced in 1947 by Texas oil tycoon Jack Wrather. It shares with “The Guilty” the same cameraman and screenwriter (Henry Sharp and Robert Presnell), the same protagonist (actor Don Castle plays a Los Angeles newspaper reporter turned private dick), and the same director, Austrian-born John Reinhardt. Lee Tracy co-stars in “High Tide” as a cynical editor. (Preservation funded by the Packard Humanities Institute and the Film Noir Foundation.)

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Free stuff from FNB! Win Dark Crimes: Film Noir Thrillers set

The winner of the November giveaway has been contacted. (The prize is “Sunset Blvd.”)

The December giveaway is terrific three-disc DVD collection from Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and Universal Studios Home Entertainment (USHE). 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 novel.

“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 secretary must go undercover to locate her. Ella Raines, Franchot Tone, Thomas Gomez, Alan Curtis and Elisha Cook Jr. star.

“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. Chandler’s original screenplay earned an Oscar nomination.

Dark Crimes: Film Noir Thrillers, a great gift idea, is also available from TCM’s online store.

To enter this month’s giveaway, just leave a comment on any FNB post from Dec. 1-31. We welcome comments, but please remember that, for the purposes of the giveaway, there is one entry per person, not per comment.

The December winner will be randomly selected at the end of the month and announced in early January. 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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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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The Noir File: Non-stop tension from pulp-fiction king Woolrich

By Mike Wilmington and Film Noir Blonde

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

Pick of the Week

The Window” (1949, Ted Tetzlaff). Monday, Sept. 17, 2012, 1:45 a.m. (10:45 p.m.)

On a sweltering New York City night, a 9-year-old named Tommy (Bobby Driscoll) witnesses a murder committed by neighbors (Paul Stewart and Ruth Roman).

Unfortunately Tommy is known for crying wolf and his parents (Barbara Hale and Arthur Kennedy) don’t believe him. As he keeps trying to tell his story, the killers become more and more aware of the threat he poses and more determined to shut him up.

Of all the great noir writers – Hammett, Chandler, Cain, Goodis, Thompson – no one could generate sheer screaming suspense like pulp-fiction king Cornell Woolrich. And this picture, along with Hitchcock’s 1954 “Rear Window,” are the most tension-packed, unnerving movies made from Woolrich’s stories.

Cornell Woolrich (1903-1968)

“The Window,” shot largely on location, has grittily evocative street scenery and the cast is letter-perfect. (Driscoll won a special Juvenile Oscar for his performance.) The director was Ted Tetzlaff, an ace cinematographer who shot Hitchcock’s “Notorious,” and he does a wonderful job here.

This movie seethes with atmosphere and character, crackles with fear and dread. There are some classic film noirs that are underrated, and – perhaps because the protagonist here is, atypically, a child – this is one of them.

Saturday, Sept. 15

10 p.m. (7 p.m.) “Strangers on a Train” (1951, Alfred Hitchcock)

12 a.m. (9 p.m.) “Dial M for Murder” (1954, Alfred Hitchcock)

2 a.m. (11 p.m.) “Niagara” (1953, Henry Hathaway)

3:45 a.m. (12:45 a.m.): “The Postman Always Rings Twice” (1946, Tay Garnett). See Noir File, 6/29/12

Sunday, Sept. 16

3:30 p.m. (12:30 p.m.): “Point Blank” (1967, John Boorman). “Point Blank” is one of the quintessential neo noirs. Lee Marvin is a thief betrayed and left for dead in Alcatraz. When he takes off after his treacherous associates and their bosses (Carroll O’Connor and Lloyd Bochner), with the help of a mysterious guide (Keenan Wynn) and a glamorous pal (Angie Dickinson), it’s a magnetic, terrifying sight.

Based on a novel by “Richard Stark” (aka Donald Westlake), the movie is steeped in its Los Angeles locale: a deadly city of noir that’s also a surprisingly beautiful sunlit-vision of LA circa 1967. With Boorman going all out, this classic movie plays like a grand collaboration among Don Siegel, Alain Resnais, Phil Karlson and Jean-Pierre Melville. As for Lee Marvin, he’s at the top of his game. So is Angie.

Wednesday, Sept. 19

6:15 p.m. (3:15 p.m.): “The Breaking Point” (1950, Michael Curtiz). Based on Hemingway’s “To Have and Have Not,” and starring John Garfield in the Bogie part, this is a more faithful adaptation than the 1944 Howard Hawks picture, but not quite as good a movie. (Then again, some buffs prefer it.) Curtiz gives it speed, atmosphere and a dark overview. The rest of the cast includes Patricia Neal, Phyllis Thaxter and, in the Walter Brennan part, the matchless Juano Hernandez.

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Noir City festival returns to Chicago with darkness aplenty

The Music Box Theatre will host Noir City: Chicago.

The Film Noir Foundation’s Noir City festival returns for the fourth time to Chicago’s Music Box Theatre, from Aug. 17-23.

The FNF’s Alan K. Rode and noted writer/historian Foster Hirsch will share hosting duties. All titles are presented on the big screen in glorious 35mm prints.

This year’s lineup looks great! Highlights include:

William Castle’s “Undertow” (1949), which was shot on location in the Windy City.

Alan Ladd x 2: “The Great Gatsby” (1949, Elliot Nugent) and “This Gun for Hire” (1942, Frank Tuttle).

Jean Negulesco’s “Three Strangers” (1946) starring Geraldine Fitzgerald, Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. Screenplay by John Huston and Howard Koch.

Cornell Woolrich x 3: Noir master Robert Siodmak directs Ella Raines and Elisha Cook Jr. in “Phantom Lady” (1944). Based on a Woolrich novel. “Black Angel” (1946, Roy William Neil) More suspense from Woolrich, this time starring Dan Duryea, June Vincent, Broderick Crawford and Peter Lorre. “The Window” (1949) Ted Tetzlaff directs an adaptation of Woolrich’s “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.”

Virginia Mayo and James Cagney star in "White Heat," directed by Raoul Walsh.

Phil Karlson’s “99 River Street” (1953) Evelyn Keyes comes to the rescue when her buddy John Payne, a washed-up boxer, is framed for the murder of his wife.

Robert Ryan x 2: “Caught” (Max Ophuls, 1949) and “On Dangerous Ground” (Nicholas Ray, 1952).

Kiss Me Deadly” (1955, Robert Aldrich) Screenwriter A. I. Bezzerides adapted Mickey Spillane’s detective novel to create this film noir classic. Ralph Meeker stars.

White Heat” (1949, Raoul Walsh) James Cagney is unforgettable in one of noir’s greatest roles, outlaw and killer Cody Jarrett. The superb cast also includes Edmond O’Brien, Virginia Mayo, Steve Cochran and Margaret Wycherly as the bad-ass mama at the core of it all.

Also, be sure to check out the FNF’s Marsha Hunt interview. The actress joined Eddie Muller and Alan K. Rode at the 14th annual Noir City: Hollywood for a rare screening of “Mary Ryan, Detective” (1950, Abby Berlin). Hunt discussed her work with Fred Zinnemann, Jules Dassin, Orson Welles and others. I watched the event live and it’s terrific – it’s hard to believe she is 94! You can watch the interview at the FNF Video Archives.

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Stanwyck makes implausible seem inevitable in ‘No Man’

By Michael Wilmington

No Man of Her Own/1950/Paramount Pictures/98 min.

The first of three wildly divergent movie versions of Cornell Woolrich’s novel “I Married a Dead Man,” this bizarre blend of domestic drama and film noir stars noir queen Barbara Stanwyck as Helen Ferguson, a ruthlessly abused, jilted (by Lyle Bettger as slimy Steve) and pregnant city gal, who, on a train ride home, tumbles into a bog of false identity and blackmail.

After Bettger gives Babs the boot (preferring blonde femme fatale Carole Mathews), Helen meets a generous young couple, Patrice and Hugh Harkness (Phyllis Thaxter and Richard Denning) on the train, and then is mistaken for Patrice, after the train crashes and many (including the nice couple) die.

Directed by Mitchell Leisen, “No Man” has a prototypical Woolrich “trap” plot.  Since no one in the immediate Harkness family ever met Patrice, Helen more or less falls into the deception. The Harkness household, especially matriarch Mrs. Harkness (Jane Cowl), accepts Helen as their new kin. And Hugh’s brother Bill (John Lund of Billy Wilder’s “A Foreign Affair”) falls in love with her. What happens next? Well, I doubt if you realize how slimy Lyle Bettger can get.

Stanwyck suffers wonderfully here, and she almost single-handedly makes the implausible seem inevitable. Jane Cowl, a one-time Queen of Broadway, who crammed in a few movie roles at the end of her life (she was dying of cancer when she made this one), is touching as Mrs. Harkness. The movie doesn’t really start cooking until Bettger reappears, and by then, they seem to expect us to swallow anything. (Even if you can’t, it’s murderous fun.)

Babs Stanwyck is abused and jilted by Lyle Bettger as slimy Steve.

The original novel “I Married a Dead Man,” which Woolrich signed with his preferred pen name William Irish, makes more sense than the “No Man” script (co-written by that estimable small-town scribe Sally Benson of “Meet Me in St. Louis.”)

The other film adaptations of “Dead Man” include a 1982 French version called “I Married a Shadow” by Robin Davis, starring Nathalie Baye and Madeleine Robinson, and a weird 1996 comedy version, directed by Richard Benjamin, starring Ricki Lake and (as the mother) the wondrous Shirley MacLaine. That one is called “Mrs. Winterbourne.” A better title might have been “I Married a Madhouse.”

The French “Shadow” is the best of them so far. There’s room for another, though “No Man of Her Own” isn’t bad. As for “Mrs. Winterbourne,” turning the nightmarish “I Married a Dead Man” into a kooky comedy seems misguided. The results are a little forced and even a little slimy – but not as slimy as Lyle Bettger.

Olive Films recently released “No Man of Her Own” on DVD.

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‘Fall Guy’ world premiere restoration a highlight of TCM fest

One of the strengths of the TCM Classic Film Festival is that you can watch timeless favorites on the big screen and discover rare gems that are difficult to see elsewhere.

That was the case with 1947’s “Fall Guy,” a little-known film noir whose world premiere restoration screened on Saturday morning. It’s a wonderful example of a low-budget B-movie that tackled dark topics, such as drug use and the struggle of World War II vets to readjust to civilian life.

Jerry Warner’s script is adapted from “Cocaine,” a short story by pulp-fiction master Cornell Woolrich. The action in “Fall Guy” revolves around a disaffected ex-soldier named Tom (Leo Penn, Sean’s dad, credited as Clifford Penn) who wakes up one morning with a hell of a hangover, bloodstains on his clothes and little memory of the night before. He doesn’t remember killing anyone but in his drug-addled state, anything’s possible.

Helping him piece together his fragmented recollections are his girlfriend Lois (Rita Hayworth-lookalike Teala Loring) and his brother-in-law, a tough cop named Mac (Robert Armstrong, of “King Kong” fame.) Elisha Cook Jr. and Virginia Dale spur his downward spiral; Iris Adrian is memorable as the brassy party girl.

Foster Hirsch (left) interviews producer Walter Mirisch. Photo by Adam Rose

In 2012, the rough and ready production values and pat story make “Fall Guy” a bit dated, it’s true. What’s fascinating about this release from Monogram Pictures, a quintessential Poverty Row studio, is the fact that because the budget was so limited, director Reginald Le Borg and the script could fly under the radar, exploring risqué and unsettling subject matter.

The censors still had their say, of course, and by today’s standards, the storyline is tame, but the creators of “Fall Guy” had a certain freedom and flexibility not found at glossy, high-end studios like MGM.

And though Monogram was small, it was smart about cross-branding. The studio’s 1946 noir classic “Decoy” is playing on a movie marquee in “Fall Guy.”

At Saturday’s screening, the film’s producer Walter Mirisch, now 90, talked with author Foster Hirsch. Mirisch offered an apology, noting that “Fall Guy” was the first film he produced and that he was still learning at the time, but the audience still gave the movie enthusiastic applause. Mirisch (and brothers Harold and Marvin) went on to produce “The Magnificent Seven,” “West Side Story,” “The Great Escape,” “The Pink Panther” and “In the Heat of the Night,” among many others.

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