On the radar: ‘Lee Miller in Fashion,’ front-row seats at MBFW, Toronto film fest in full swing, 3-D film noir in Hollywood

Model, muse and photographer Lee Miller

I’m looking forward to reading Becky E. Conekin’s new book, “Lee Miller in Fashion.” The NYT’s Cathy Horyn says the book is very engaging and nicely researched.

Want front-row seats at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in New York? You can watch the shows here. MBFW started Thursday, Sept. 5, and runs through Sept. 12.

Jim Jarmusch’s new movie, a vampire romance called “Only Lovers Left Alive,” screened Thursday, Sept. 5, at the Toronto International Film Fest. The fest runs Sept. 5-15.

The World 3-D Film Fest starts Friday, Sept. 6, at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. “Dial M for Murder” shows Sunday and there is a special film-noir night on Sept. 12! The fest runs through Sept. 15.

Meanwhile, the Hitch fest continues on TCM. “Vertigo” ran Thursday, as noted on the FNB facebook/twitter feeds, and the Sunday schedule is packed with great titles.

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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.

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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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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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Perfect, posh fodder for a Hitchcock mind game

Dial M for Murder/1954/Warner Bros. Pictures/105 min.

A streetwise femme fatale she’s not. Grace Kelly is too refined, too ladylike, too exquisitely beautiful. But in “Dial M for Murder,” her first movie with Alfred Hitchcock, she proves herself to be a smart and capable heroine in this film that’s nearly as ravishing to look at as she is.

Ray Milland as Tony Wendice brims with confidence and charm.

We first see her character Margot Wendice, in a demure white dress, as she reads the London Times over breakfast with her debonair husband Tony (Ray Milland). Tony’s a former tennis champ who now sells sports equipment. But it’s Margot’s family money that pays for their posh lifestyle and elegant flat in Maida Vale.

Minutes after her breakfast, we see Margot with her lover, a mystery writer named Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings), this time in a bright red dress that signals where her real passion lies. Margot is fretting a bit because she’s received letters from an anonymous blackmailer who knows about her affair and threatens to tell Tony.

Turns out, though, the “blackmailer” is suave old Tony himself. He’s known for quite a while that Margot and Mark are an item and he’s hatched a plan to do away with his wife, get her money and use her lover as his alibi. It’s a very clever plan and Tony has worked out every detail. But as I mentioned Margot is no slouch. She proves quite skilled at surviving and improvising with weapons. A little trick she picked up at boarding school, I expect. Still, Tony sees a chance to achieve his goal using a new ploy.

Mark (Robert Cummings) is the writer with whom Margot (Grace Kelly) begins an affair.

Like most Hitchcock noirs, the story takes place in a world in which manners and titles and accents count for a great deal – in which fate is determined over champagne cocktails and glasses of brandy by a roaring fire. This chi-chi, upper-crust milieu is far removed from the gritty, urban, angst-ridden territory of much of the film noir canon. But a common thread of film noir, regardless of setting, is that its writers and directors were intensely aware of class differences and divisions, of society’s inequalities and injustices.

With a screenplay by Frederick Knott (based on his Broadway and West End hit), “Dial M for Murder” boasts a very civilized, very English, very cozy atmosphere, at least on the surface. Whereas Hitchcock often tended to use novels and short stories as gestalts for his own uniquely original narratives, when he chose to film a play, he left them virtually unaltered. In fact, he considered “Dial M” a minor work, something to do while he recharged his creative batteries.

That said, he shot the movie in 3-D, in vibrant color with extreme camera angles to keep us from getting too claustrophobic (the action takes places almost entirely in the Wendices’ well appointed flat). The lush look, upbeat mood, romantic music by Dimitri Tiomkin and charming characters all belie the darkness at the core of the story.

Milland is magnetic, confident, perfectly composed with just a shimmer of vulnerability. Kelly, the flawless incarnation of ’50s femininity, seems the perfect wife for him. (The supporting cast is splendid as well. Anthony Dawson plays the college acquaintance whom Tony ropes into his scheme. John Williams is urbane as ever as Chief Inspector Hubbard.) But, as sumptuous as these appearances are, they are nevertheless deceiving.

A pawn in the game: Anthony Dawson tries to strangle Margot (Grace Kelly).

“Dial M for Murder” is an excellent example of one of Hitch’s favorite mind games – inviting us to get swept up in this picture-perfect world and then upending our expectations and revealing his (and perhaps our) mistrust of the upper classes, particularly through the use of subversive casting.

For instance, Margot and Mark’s fling is surely one of the most tasteful and thoroughly dull affairs in movie history (despite the red dress). I reckon any woman would take sexy, athletic Tony over sweet but insipid Mark. Of course, Hitchcock knows this. He uses Milland’s humor and appeal to build the audience’s sympathy for the wrong person, to get us to identify with a would-be killer, to subtly underscore the moral ambiguities and deep flaws that make us human.

Hitch liked to play cat and mouse with the audience, to entice us with wit, gloss and visual flair, then slyly expose our delusions and hypocrisies. Or as Francois Truffaut put it: “Hitchcock loves to be misunderstood, because he has based his whole life around misunderstandings.”

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‘Dial M for Murder’ quick hit

Dial M for Murder/1954/Warner Bros. Pictures/105 min.

Alfred Hitchcock’s “Dial M for Murder” boasts a very civilized, very English, very cozy atmosphere, at least on the surface. But under the elegant façade, a spurned husband (Ray Milland) crafts an intricate plan to murder his rich wife (Grace Kelly) and use her lover (Robert Cummings) as his alibi. Based on a play by Frederick Knott, this gorgeous-looking film is an excellent example of a classic Hitchcockian trope – subversive casting.

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What’s new at the Aero and the Egyptian in January

There’s much for noir aficionados to see this month at the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles. Highlights at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica and the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood include:

That Special Something: A Tribute to Great Screen Icons, spotlighting “film actors [who] transcend the realm of mere celebrity, reaching a more profound level of cultural significance.” The series honors Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, John Wayne, James Dean, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Elvis.

Humphrey Bogart

Film noir entries include: “In a Lonely Place,” 7:30 p.m. Jan. 7 at the Egyptian as well as Hitchcock gems “Rear Window” and “Dial M for Murder” starting at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 14 at the Egyptian. The Screen Icons series runs Jan. 5-29.

“Chinatown” and “The Tenant” will show at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 28, at the Egyptian as part of Traumatic Rendition: A Roman Polanski Retrospective.

William Friedkin’s “The French Connection” and “To Live and Die in L.A.,” will run at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 22, at the Aero. This double-bill is part of Strangle-Hold: The Gripping Films of William Friedkin.

This is just scratching the surface, so be sure to check complete schedule. The Egyptian Theatre is at 6712 Hollywood Blvd. The Aero Theatre is at 1328 Montana Ave. General admission is $11; members pay $7.

Meanwhile, I just booked my ticket to attend the Film Noir Foundation’s Noir City 9 in San Francisco, Jan. 21-30 at the Castro Theatre. Looking forward to the excellent lineup of films!

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