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 Woman in the Window,’ one of Fritz Lang’s best films, screens tonight at the Skirball Cultural Center

The Intriguante—Women of Intrigue in Film Noir series starts tonight at the Skirball Cultural Center in West Los Angeles with “The Woman in the Window.” See previous post for more details about the series.

The Woman in the Window/1944/Christie Corp./99 min.

When you least expect your life to unravel is exactly when your life will unravel, at least in a Fritz Lang film. Take “The Woman in the Window” from 1944. Professor Richard Wanley (Edward G. Robinson) lives a cozy bourgeois life – he gives lectures on Freud by day, enjoys after-dinner port and cigars by night. But by the end of this night, Richard will be covering up a murder.

Sipping and smoking with him at their Manhattan men’s club are his friends, District Attorney Frank Lalor (Raymond Massey) and Dr. Michael Barkstane (Edmund Breon), who’s fond of barking “Great Scott!”

Richard leaves the club after their booze-fueled yack-fest and lingers at the window of the art gallery next door. While he gazes at the creamy-skinned, raven-haired lady peering out from the canvas, another creamy-skinned, raven-haired lady materializes – it’s the model, a woman named Alice Reed (Joan Bennett).

Alice (Joan Bennett) is the woman in the painting Richard (Edward G. Robinson) and his friends admire.

After chatting over drinks, she invites him back to her splendidly appointed place. Just as they’re getting to know each other, her flashy peacock boyfriend Claude Mazard (Arthur Loft) barges in. Clearly, Alice and Claude haven’t had that “Are we seeing each other exclusively?” talk and violence erupts.

Claude’s rumored “disappearance” doesn’t fool people for long – the cops are digging for info, Richard’s pals Frank and Michael chatter about the case endlessly, and a sleazy associate of Mazard’s named Heidt (Dan Duryea) sees a plum opportunity for blackmail.

Alice and Richard are randomly bound together.

Sharply written and brilliantly acted, “The Woman in the Window” proved a box-office hit. Nunnally Johnson produced the movie and wrote the script from the J.H. Wallis novel “Once Off Guard.” The movie’s original score, a group effort led by Arthur Lange and Hugo Friedhofer, received an Oscar nom.

Vienna-born Lang infuses the film with fatalism, despite its upbeat ending. “I always made films about characters who struggled and fought against the circumstances and traps in which they found themselves,” he said.

And, as usual, Lang pulls out all the visual stops, suggesting powerlessness, alienation and doom. A signature noir shot is Claude entering the shadowy lobby of Alice’s apartment building, against the backdrop of a lonely, rainy nightscape pierced by the glare of a neon clock. Later his body will be draped in more shadows, in the back seat of Richard’s car.

Inside Alice’s pristine white apartment, mirrors splice and distort images, contributing to a fractured sense of reality. The effect may have helped inspire Orson Welles to create the fun-house mirrors sequence in 1948’s “Lady From Shanghai.”

Alice and Heidt (Dan Duryea) make a bad but beautiful team.

Alice and Heidt (Dan Duryea) make a bad but beautiful team.

Though he got typically great work from his actors, Lang also had a reputation for being difficult. But he clicked with Bennett. Maybe he appreciated the sacrifices she made for her art – a natural blonde, Bennett dyed her hair black. ;) She also had lots of drama offscreen – she married four times and endured a scandal after her third husband, producer Walter Wanger, shot her lover in the groin. (Her second husband was producer Gene Markey).

Lang and Bennett made four (almost five) films together: another famous noir, 1945’s “Scarlet Street” (which also starts Robinson and Duryea, and is definitely the darker of the two), “Man Hunt” 1941, and “Secret Beyond the Door” 1948. Bennett also starred in “Confirm or Deny” 1941, but director Archie Mayo was brought in to replace Lang.

Later in her career, Bennett portrayed Elizabeth Collins Stoddard in the ’60s TV series “Dark Shadows” and she appeared in the 1970 movie “House of Dark Shadows.”

The mood of “The Woman in the Window” is pure Lang, and much of that mood comes from the actors. Duryea convincingly plays a slimy loser while, in reality, he was a standup guy. It’s a testament to his versatility that Robinson, though famous for his tough gangster roles, is completely at ease as the innocent, cultured professor caught in a film-noir web.

Best of all is Bennett, noir to the nines, spinning that web.

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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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Chicago welcomes Noir City 6: It’s a Bitter Little World

Too Late for Tears posterNoir City 6: It’s a Bitter Little World hits Chicago’s Music Box Theatre on Friday, Aug. 29. The fest, presented in partnership with the Film Noir Foundation, features classic noir films from France, Japan, Argentina, Spain, Italy and Britain as well as a sampling of homegrown Hollywood rarities.

“Our desire to expand the scope of the Noir City festival has resulted in our most ambitious program ever,” says Film Noir Foundation president Eddie Muller. “The 14 films in the series reveal that the cinematic movement known as noir spanned the globe, and its style, sexiness and cynicism crossed all international borders.”

The festival will kick off with the foundation’s latest 35mm film restoration, “Too Late for Tears” (1949, Byron Haskin), starring Lizabeth Scott and Dan Duryea, and a newly struck 35mm print of the tough-as-nails “Roadblock” (1951, Harold Daniels), starring noir favorite Charles McGraw.

The fest runs through Sept. 4.

Grab some Garrett’s popcorn, a Chicago tradition since 1949, and you’ll in be in retro-movie heaven!

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Noir City returns; program includes French, British, Italian films

Rififi posterIt’s almost time to take one of our favorite trips of the year: A one-way ticket to Noir City at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood!

Starting Friday, the American Cinematheque and the Film Noir Foundation will present their 16th annual festival of film noir. Jaded gumshoes, femmes fatale and menacing heavies will reign supreme in gloriously gritty black and white. The fest runs through April 6, with a stand-out celebration on April 5.

We at FNB are especially excited to see the fest expand to include film noir from abroad with evenings devoted to French (“Two Men in Manhattan,” “Rififi,” “Jenny Lamour), British (“It Always Rains on Sunday,” “Brighton Rock”) and Italian (“Ossessione”) noir.

Ossessione posterThe program pays tribute to a trio of talented actresses who died in 2013 with noir nights devoted to Joan Fontaine (“Born to Be Bad”, “Ivy”), Eleanor Parker (“Caged,” “Detective Story”) and Audrey Totter (“Tension,” “Alias Nick Beal”).

Actor Dan Duryea will be honored on opening night, March 21, with this enticing double feature: “Too Late for Tears” (a new 35mm restoration) and “Larceny.” Also to be honored (on other nights): writer David Goodis and director Hugo Fregonese.

Be sure to join FNF co-directors Eddie Muller and Alan K. Rode as they host another exciting excursion into the dark recesses of Hollywood’s most lasting artistic movement, film noir.

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The Noir File: Dark treats from Preminger, Dassin and Lang

Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney are one of film noir’s great couples.

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

Where the Sidewalk Ends” (1950, Otto Preminger). Thursday, Dec. 27, 1:15 a.m. (10:15 p.m.).
While investigating a murder, a smart but sometimes savage Manhattan police detective named Mark Dixon (Dana Andrews) accidentally kills an innocent suspect (Craig Stevens). Dixon tries to cover it up, but his relentless new boss Lt. Thomas (Karl Malden) keeps pushing the evidence toward an affable cabbie named Jiggs (Tom Tully). And Dixon has fallen in love with Jiggs’ daughter, model Morgan Taylor (Gene Tierney). Gary Merrill plays a crook/gambler.

Scripted by Ben Hecht from William Stuart’s book “Night Cry.” If you want to know what film noir is all about, check this one out.

Thursday, Dec. 27

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Black Widow” (1954, Nunnally Johnson). Crime among the Broadway elite, from one of Patrick Quentin’s mystery novels. Not much style, but the cast includes Van Heflin, Ginger Rogers, Gene Tierney, George Raft and Peggy Ann Garner.

4:30 a.m. (1:30 a.m.): “Night and the City” (1950, Jules Dassin). In shadow-drenched, dangerous London, crooked fight promoter Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) double-crosses everyone he encounters as he tries to outrace the night. The night is faster. This is a top film noir, a masterpiece of style and suspense. From Gerald Kersh’s novel; with Gene Tierney, Herbert Lom, Francis L. Sullivan and Googie Withers.

Sunday, Dec. 30

8:15 a.m. (5:15 a.m.): “Bunny Lake is Missing” (1965, Otto Preminger). Bunny Lake is an American child kidnapped in London, Carol Lynley her terrified mother, Keir Dullea her concerned uncle, Anna Massey her harassed teacher, Noel Coward her sleazy landlord, and Laurence Olivier the brainy police detective trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together. The most important of those pieces: Was Bunny ever really there at all? A neglected gem; based on Evelyn Piper’s novel.

4 a.m. (1 a.m.): “Ministry of Fear” (1944, Fritz Lang). Ray Milland, just released from a British mental institution, wins the wrong cake at a charity raffle and becomes ensnared in a nightmarish web of espionage and murder. The source is one of novelist Graham Greene’s “entertainments.” Co-starring Marjorie Reynolds and Dan Duryea.

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Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Besides film, one of my great loves is food and in particular French food. (Not that I don’t love the classics, turkey, dressing, pumpkin pie & the rest.) For the feasting holiday, I’m sharing these gorgeous pictures from my treasured friend of many years and beyond-gracious hostess, Veronique Tourneux. Veronique lives in Paris – she shot these on a recent trip to Toulouse.

If, after stuffing, you are inclined to read some movie reviews, I refer you to my Thanksgiving special from last year where I gave thanks for the film noir talents of Fritz Lang, Joan Bennett, Edward G. Robinson and Dan Duryea in “The Woman in the Window” and “Scarlet Street.”

For the rest of the weekend, I am following the lead of Bennett’s character in “Scarlet Street” a.k.a. Lazy Legs and letting the dishes pile up in the sink while I lounge around eating bonbons.

Some of the local specialties, not yet all tested.

Foie gras is just one of the goodies at the covered market.

Terrific those cèpes, especially with a magret de canard and a Cahors red wine.

The open-air market and its seasonal products.

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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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Free stuff from FNB: Win ‘Criss Cross’ and a TCM mug!

This month, I am giving away a copy of Robert Siodmak’s “Criss Cross” from 1949. Quintessential noir viewing, the film stars Burt Lancaster, Yvonne De Carlo and Dan Duryea. “Criss Cross” plays on the big screen next Thursday in Hollywood at the TCM Classic Movies Festival, kicking off a fine slate of noir films.

So, in addition to the movie, I am adding a souvenir TCM coffee mug as part of the prize. (More on the TCM fest’s noir lineup and a review of “Criss Cross” in upcoming posts.)

(Marya is the winner of the March reader giveaway, a Criterion DVD set of “Anatomy of a Murder.” Congrats to Marya and thanks to all who entered!)

To enter the April giveaway, just leave a comment on any FNB post from April 1-30. Or, if you are on twitter, retweet one of my giveaway posts. We welcome comments and RTs, but please remember that, for the purposes of the giveaway, there is one entry per person, not per comment/RT.

The winner will be randomly selected at the end of the month and announced in early May. Include your email address in your comment so that I can notify you if you win. Your email will not be shared. Good luck!

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