A few of FNB’s fave posts from 2012

Happy 2013, all! Here’s a look at FNB highlights from 2012.

Marilyn Monroe shot by Bert Stern

Top 10 FNB posts (misc.)

Remembering Beth Short, the Black Dahlia, on the 65th anniversary of her death

TCM festival in Hollywood

Interview with Tere Tereba, author of “Mickey Cohen: The Life and Crimes of L.A.’s Notorious Mobster”

Marilyn Monroe birthday tribute

Marilyn Monroe exhibit in Hollywood

Film noir feline stars: The cat in “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers”

Famous injuries in film noir, coinciding with my fractured toe, or broken foot, depending on how dramatic I am feeling

Panel event on author Georges Simenon with director William Friedkin

History Channel announcement: FNB to curate film noir shop page

Retro restaurant reviews: Russell’s in Pasadena

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REVIEWS: 2012 neo-noirs or films with elements of noir

Crossfire Hurricane” documentary

Hitchcock

Holy Motors

Killing Them Softly

Momo: The Sam Giancana Story” documentary

Polisse

Rust and Bone

Searching for Sugar Man” documentary

Unforgivable

Wuthering Heights

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REVIEWS: Classic film noir

Anatomy of a Murder

Criss Cross

Decoy

Gilda

Gun Crazy

Murder, My Sweet

The Postman Always Rings Twice

Possessed

Sunset Blvd.

They Drive By Night

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REVIEWS: Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Dial M for Murder

The Lady Vanishes

Marnie

Notorious

The 39 Steps

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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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‘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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Jean Gillie in ‘Decoy’ is classic noir’s hardest, greediest and most daring femme fatale

Decoy/1946/Monogram Pictures/76 min.

Jean Gillie as Margot is tougher than any American femme fatale of the era.

Talk about raw deals. The hardest, greediest, most daring femme fatale in all of classic film noir – England’s Jean Gillie in “Decoy” – is not widely known today, beyond a fervent cult following.

But rest easy, fatale fans, I am joining the charge to get the word out on Ms. Gillie. I may even become motivated to get off my famously comfy sofa and take to the streets to spread the word. Though that seems a tad drastic, especially since I’ve just achieved the perfect arrangement for my pillows …

Well, let me start by telling you about it. Made in 1946 by director Jack Bernhard, who also directed “Blonde Ice,” this is another hard-core noir story with a totally heartless seductress, a wildly improbable plot and a grimly pessimistic take on human nature.

First, the dame: Dainty, devious and always dressed to a T, Margot Shelby (Gillie) wants the $400,000 that her jailed boyfriend, an old codger named Frank (Robert Armstrong of “King Kong”), has hidden in a buried suitcase. But Frank is awaiting execution and he’s squirreled away the map to the treasure.

Gangster Jim (Edward Norris), Margot and prison doctor Lloyd (Herbert Rudley) band together to find the $400,000 in cash that Frank has buried.

Hmm, that’s a drag. What to do? Margot figures, after he gets the lethal gas, my pals and I will just bring him back to life. Then, he can lead us to the cash. Margot’s helpers are gangster Jim Vincent (Edward Norris) and prison doctor Lloyd Craig (Herbert Rudley), both of whom are crazy about her. So is nosy police sergeant Joe Portugal (Sheldon Leonard) or Jo-Jo as Margot calls him when she’s flirting with him.

Like any good ringleader, Margot keeps abreast of all kinds of news, and she learns about a chemical called methylene blue, which can be used as an antidote to gas poisoning. So, all they have to do is grab Frank after the execution, pop another body in the hearse and hightail it to the doctor.

Selling Jim, a fully oozing sleaze-atron, on her absurd plan is easy. Earnest and upright Dr. Lloyd is a bit trickier. “I had to smash that shield of ideals,” says Margot. Helping people, healing the sick and making the world a better place? Puhleeze. As she points out, how could they possibly be happy on Lloyd’s paltry $75/week salary when one bottle of Margot’s fave perfume costs $75?

By the time Margot is digging for dollars under the moonlight, her motley gang has dwindled to one, ie Margot. Nothing makes Margot laugh more than bumping somebody off. Her gleeful chortling punctuates the action throughout, but it’s most memorable as a defiant final gesture toward Jo-Jo the cop. She may get what’s coming to her but she also gets the last laugh. Sorry? Penitent? Remorseful? Not a chance!

As the take-no-prisoners Margot, Jean Gillie is amazing to watch – tougher than Barbara Stanwyck, Jane Greer, Joan Bennett or even snarling Ann Savage in “Detour.” In neo noir, her closest equivalent is diabolical Linda Fiorentino in “The Last Seduction.”

“There are very few femmes fatales who don’t have a little time for love and seduction, and she really doesn’t,” says critic Molly Haskell in the Warner Bros. DVD featurette. “Not to any man who comes across her path is she loyal. The only thing she wants is the money.”

Writer/producer Stanley Rubin

In the DVD commentary, historian Glenn Erickson and writer Stanley Rubin note that as an English actress, Gillie was new to Hollywood and didn’t have to worry that by being a total bitch she would lose favor with her fan base. So, she’s a total bitch and then some. (Rubin conceived the “Decoy” story; Ned Young wrote the script.)

Gillie’s is the standout performance, but the guys certainly hold their own, especially Sheldon Leonard as the conflicted cop. (Leonard also played Nick the bartender in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”) I love the part in “Decoy” when Leonard’s Jo-Jo sits on a bar stool munching a snack – not a burger or fries, but a hard-boiled egg. Mmm, what could be better than a beer and a yolk? Another great moment is when he bums a “stay-awake” pill  from Dr. Lloyd.

Like most B-movies, “Decoy” was cheap and churned out quickly, yet director and co-producer Jack Bernhard’s artistic style distinguishes this film from run-of-the-mill, mediocre B-fare. “Decoy” was out of commission for several decades after its release; a screening at the American Cinematheque about 10 years ago earned fresh appreciation for the film and director.

Bernhard discovered Gillie in England while he was serving in World War Two. They married, made this film and split up. Sadly, Gillie died of pneumonia in 1949, at age 33. Bernhard disappeared from the Hollywood scene shortly after and little is known about the rest of his life.

So, have I convinced you – are you going to give Jean Gillie a chance? If I haven’t, guess I’ll have to pry myself off the sofa and hit the pavement. Just as soon as I finish my nap and book my massage.

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‘Decoy’ quick hit

Decoy/1946/Monogram Pictures/76 min.

She’s hard-boiled and thoroughly heartless. But did I mention that she looks good and gets all the money for herself? English actress Jean Gillie as Margot Shelby in “Decoy” shows American femmes fatales a thing or two about seduction, scheming and betrayal. She’s tougher than any Yank and more creative – tapping science fiction to come up with her brilliant plan to steal her boyfriend’s hidden cash. Discovered and directed by husband Jack Bernhard, Gillie delivers a knock-out performance.

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Perfect winter viewing: ‘Blonde Criminal. Ice in her veins. Icicles in her heart.’

Blonde Ice/1948/Martin Mooney Productions/73 min.

Leslie Brooks stars as newspaper woman and gold digger Claire Cummings in "Blonde Ice."

If you asked angelic-looking Claire Cummings (Leslie Brooks) of “Blonde Ice” the secret to a happy marriage, her answer would be “Money, duh!” And if you happen to be a reasonably successful dude or perhaps just own a wallet, she’d probably hand you a cigarette case reading “All my love, Claire.”

This cookie-cutter approach has served her well with ex-boyfriends obnoxious Al Herrick (James Griffith) and regular-guy Les Burns (Robert Paige), both of whom were colleagues at the San Francisco Tribune, where she covered (what else?) society news. She’s still friendly with Al and Les, and they attend her wedding to wealthy businessman Carl Hanneman (John Holland).

But Claire doesn’t let little things like marriage vows get in the way of having it all. At her wedding, she’d much rather kiss Les than Carl. So, she does. Then it’s off to married life and a bit of a bumpy road with Carl when he objects to her blowing his money at a racetrack. Being a stick in the mud does not go over well with Claire, especially since she’d rather be with Les.

Nothing if not efficient, Claire comes up with a clever alibi before shooting Carl and making it look like suicide. The police find this hard to swallow, but there’s no evidence to contradict her story. Now she’s got wads of cash, a nice house and a new wardrobe for her dates with Les.

It’s while they’re awaiting their chicken-salad dinners at a posh restaurant that she gets a look at attorney and aspiring politician Stanley Mason (Michael Whalen). Les is a sweetheart, of course, but this Congressman-to-be could offer her so much more. Besides wads of cash, a nice house and a new wardrobe, she really needs status, influence and power. Naturally, Mason is smitten within minutes of meeting her, and she easily juggles him and Les.

Unfortunately for Claire, Mason’s network of supporters includes psychiatrist Dr. Geoffrey Kippinger (David Leonard) who’s apparently the first man on Earth to suss her out and resist her charm. Even so, he’s not much of a match for her ever-devious mind and, by the end, three more people are dead at her hands. She’s exposed as the treacherous, conniving killer and, just for good measure, receives this wounding assessment, “She wasn’t even a good newspaper woman.” Hilarious!

David Leonard plays a psychiatrist named Dr. Kippinger, one man who sees through Claire and doesn't fall for her.

“Blonde Ice” is a great B movie that makes the most of its limited budget. Veteran lensman George Robinson lends visual flourish (strong composition, lots of ominous, claustrophobic shadow) and Kenneth Gamet’s screenplay crackles along with lines like: “Darling, let’s not quarrel. We can do that after we’re married.” And “I hated you because you were the first man who ever saw inside my mind. And I’m going to kill you.” Gamet wrote the screenplay from Whitman Chambers’ novel “Once Too Often.”

Brooks offers wide-eyed looks, innocent smiles and arched eyebrows aplenty. But it’s easy to overlook her restraint, considering that she’s playing a preposterous role. Griffith as Al exudes the right amount of sleaze; Paige as Les is human and likeable; Holland and Whalen as Claire’s husband and husband-to-be are, fittingly, a bit stiff. Emory Parnell does a nice turn as Police Capt. Bill Murdock and Russ Vincent is convincingly slimy as blackmailer Blackie Talon. Great name, no?

Unlike the shrink, Al (James Griffith) and Les (Robert Paige) are putty in Claire's pretty hands.

The most noirish element of “Blonde Ice” is the mystery of its director Jack Bernhard, also a writer and producer. Once on-staff at Universal, he worked steadily through the 1940s and made 12 B-movies (including “Decoy,” 1946; “Appointment for Murder” and “Search for Danger,” both from 1948; and 1949’s “Alaska Patrol”) before dropping out of sight.

Though perhaps not an accomplished stylist, Bernhard’s movies nonetheless have a distinctive stamp, particularly in “Decoy” and “Blonde Ice,” that reveals Bernhard’s uncommon ability to wrap outlandish material around a sordid core and keep a completely straight face. He draws solid performances and he’s a deft, never draggy, storyteller. “Blonde Ice” and “Decoy” are marvelously entertaining and make an excellent double bill.

Bernhard was briefly married to England’s Jean Gillie, who starred in “Decoy” as the hard-as-nails (one of the hardest in all film noir) femme fatale. Maybe without a bad girl at his side, Bernhard felt he wasn’t a bad enough boy, noirwise.

Note: You can watch the full movie at imdb.

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