The Noir File: ‘The Third Man’ ranks as one of Britain’s best

By Michael Wilmington and Film Noir Blonde

The Noir File is FNB’s weekly guide to classic film noir and neo noir on cable TV. All the movies below 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 Third Man” (1949, Carol Reed) Saturday, Oct. 13, at 8 p.m. (5 p.m.)

“The Third Man” is a noir masterpiece with a perfect cast and Oscar-winning cinematography.

Graham Greene and Carol Reed’s “The Third Man” is one of the all-time film noir masterpieces. Greene’s script – about political corruption in post-World War II Vienna, a naïve American novelist named Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) and his search for the mysterious “third man” who may have witnessed the murder of his best friend, suave Harry Lime (Orson Welles) – is one of the best film scenarios ever written. Reed never directed better, had better material or tilted the camera more often.

“The Third Man” also has one of the all-time perfect casts: Cotten, Welles (especially in his memorable “cuckoo clock” speech, which he wrote), Trevor Howard (as the cynical police detective), Alida Valli (as Lime’s distressed ladylove), and Jack Hawkins and Bernard Lee (as tough cops). Oscar-winner Robert Krasker does a nonpareil job of film noir cinematography – especially in the film’s climactic chase through the shadowy Vienna sewers. And nobody plays a zither like composer/performer Anton Karas.

Sunday, Oct. 14

6:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m.): “Deadline at Dawn” (1945, Harold Clurman). Bill Williams is a sailor on leave who has just one New York City night to prove his innocence of murder. Susan Hayward and Paul Lukas are the shrewd dancer and philosophical cabbie trying to help him. Clifford Odets’ script is from a Cornell Woolrich novel; directed by Group Theater guru Harold Clurman (his only movie).

8 a.m. (5 a.m.): “Crime in the Streets” (1956, Don Siegel). This streetwise drama of New York juvenile delinquents (John Cassavetes, Sal Mineo and Mark Rydell) and a frustrated social worker (James Whitmore) is an above-average example of the ’50s youth crime cycle that also included “Rebel Without a Cause” and “The Blackboard Jungle.” Reginald Rose (“12 Angry Men”) wrote the script based on his TV play. Punchy direction by Siegel and a lead performance of feral intensity by Cassavetes.

1:30 a.m. (10:30 p.m.): “The Unknown” (1927, Tod Browning). One of Lon Chaney’s most sinister roles: as a traveling carnival’s no-armed wonder (really an escaped con). With the young Joan Crawford.

2:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m.): “The Testament of Dr. Mabuse” (1933, Fritz Lang). Fritz Lang and writer Thea von Harbou (Lang’s wife) bring back their famous silent-movie crime czar, Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge). This time, he’s a seeming lunatic, running his empire from an insane asylum. According to some, it’s an analogue of the Nazis’ rise to power.

Monday, Oct. 15

11:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.): “Bad Day at Black Rock” (1955, John Sturges).

Tuesday, Oct. 16

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Eyes in the Night” (1942, Fred Zinnemann). A good B-movie mystery with Edward Arnold as blind detective Duncan Maclain, co-starring Donna Reed, Ann Harding and Stephen McNally.

3:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m.) “Wait Until Dark” (1967, Terence Young).

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Non-stop film noir on the big screen in Los Angeles

The enduring appeal of film noir shows no signs of waning – there are scads of noir screenings in and around LA over the next several weeks.

Noir City Hollywood continues at the Egyptian Theatre through May 6. Tonight, actress Julie Adams will talk with Alan K. Rode between the films 1957’s “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” (in which Adams co-stars with Richard Egan, Jan Sterling, Dan Duryea, Walter Matthau and Charles McGraw) and “Edge of the City” (1957).

And a must-see for me: Ida Lupino in “Private Hell 36” (1954) by director Don Siegel. Lupino also co-wrote this flick, which runs on Wednesday, May 2, after “Shield for Murder” (1954), co-directed by Howard Koch and star Edmond O’Brien.

In conjunction with the Herb Ritts: L.A. Style exhibition, running through Aug. 26 at the Getty Museum, a companion (free!) film series starts today. Ritts (1952–2002) was a top 1980s photographer and his preference for outdoor locations such as the desert and the beach helped to distinguish his work from his New York-based peers.

Admittedly, “Gilda” is the only true noir on the roster, but Ritts’ work taps retro Hollywood glamour. As the Getty puts it: “Ritts’ relationship with his subjects echoes certain director-actor relationships dating from the silent era and the eight films in this series showcase this special relationship.”

On Friday, May 4, the New Beverly Cinema is showing John Frankenheimer’s sci-fi neo-noir from 1966 “Seconds,” which stars Rock Hudson; cinematography by James Wong Howe. “Seconds” is paired with 1997’s “Face/Off” by director John Woo starring John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Joan Allen, Dominique Swain and Nick Cassavetes. Screenwriters Mike Werb and Michael Colleary are scheduled to appear in person.

Also worth a watch: Universal Pictures celebrates its centennial with a series of screenings (“The Black Cat” and “The Birds” caught my eye) at UCLA’s Billy Wilder Theater in Westwood from May 4 to June 24.

You’ll certainly get a full-on noir lineup at the 12th annual Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival, which runs in Palm Springs from May 10-13.

Van Heflin and Joan Crawford star in “Possessed” from 1947.

Festival programmer and film historian Alan K. Rode has selected a great lineup, including Fritz Lang’s “The Big Heat” (1953), starring Glenn Ford, and “Possessed” (1947) by Curtis Bernhardt.

Ford’s son Peter will attend “The Big Heat” screening. “Possessed” earned Joan Crawford her second Oscar nom (she won for 1945’s “Mildred Pierce”); co-starring are Van Heflin, Raymond Massey and Geraldine Brooks.

Other titles, screened from new 35 mm prints, include: “Shield for Murder” (1954), “I Love Trouble” (1948), “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” (1957) and “The Face Behind the Mask” (1941), starring Peter Lorre.

I’m also very much looking forward to The Sun Sets in the West: Mid-Century California Noir at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), from May 18-26.

Says LACMA: “Experience the dark side of modern living with this series of mid-century film noirs. Shot on location and set amid the bustle of major cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco – as well as their sun-soaked periphery, beach cities, and desert oases – these 10 films inject the Golden State’s benign climate with a heady dose of postwar angst.”

The titles in the series are: “Kiss Me Deadly” (1955, by director Robert Aldrich); “The Crimson Kimono” (1959, Sam Fuller) “Experiment in Terror (1962, Blake Edwards); “Criss Cross” (1949, Robert Siodmak); “M” (1951, Joseph Losey); “The Damned Don’t Cry” (1950, Vincent Sherman); “Slightly Scarlet” (1956, Allan Dwan); “Murder by Contract” (1958, Irving Lerner); “Nightfall” (1957, Jacques Tourneur) and “The Prowler” (1951, Joseph Losey).

The one and only Bogart

Additionally, UCLA’s Film & Television Archive and the Million Dollar Theater are presenting three interesting double bills in downtown Los Angeles:

Brian De Palma in the 1970s (“Sisters,” his first Hitchcockian thriller, and “Phantom of the Paradise”) on Wednesday, May 2.

“The hunted and the hunter” film-noir night, featuring “Mickey One” (1965, Arthur Penn) and “Blast of Silence (1961, Allen Baron) on Wednesday, May 16.

Nicholas Ray directs Humphrey Bogart in “Knock on Any Door” (1949) and “In a Lonely Place” (1950) on Wednesday, May 23.

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Free stuff from FNB: Win ‘The Killers’ two-disc set

Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner

Screening at AFI FEST 2011 is one of the all-time great film-noir works: “The Killers.” Based on an Ernest Hemingway short story and directed by Robert Siodmak, the movie instantly established stardom for Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner. “The Killers” will screen at 4 p.m. on Nov. 7 at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.

The winner of November’s reader giveaway will receive a copy of Criterion’s DVD edition of “The Killers,” which includes the Siodmak version and Don Siegel’s 1964 made-for-TV feature, starring Lee Marvin, John Cassavetes, Angie DickinsonRonald Reagan and Clu Gulager. You can read more about the special features here.

(The winner of the October reader giveaway is Ruslan, congrats to the winner and thanks to all who entered!)

To enter the November giveaway, just leave a comment on any FNB post from Nov. 1-30. The winner will be randomly selected at the end of the month and announced in early December. 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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