‘Life Itself’ Roger Ebert doc offers insight, candor, inspiration

Billy Wilder doesn’t go for the obvious arc. He isn’t interested in the same things the characters are interested in. He wants to know what happens to them after they do what they think is so important. He doesn’t want truth but consequences. Few other directors have made so many films that were so taut, savvy, cynical, and, in many ways and tones, funny. …

Double Indemnity’ was his third film as a director. That early in his career, he was cocky enough to begin a thriller with the lines ‘I killed him for money – and for a woman. I didn’t get the money. And I didn’t get the woman.’ And end it with the hero saying ‘I love you too’ to Edward G. Robinson.”

Life Itself posterSo writes Roger Ebert (1942-2013), the Pulitzer-prize-winning film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times, in his book “The Great Movies.” If you knew Ebert mainly from his hugely successful and world-famous TV show “Two Thumbs Up” (co-starring Gene Siskel), it might surprise you to know quite what a prolific writer he was. He published more than 20 books as well as many collections of reviews. (He started at the Sun-Times in 1966.)

Ebert used his staggering intelligence and covert sensitivity to get under the skin of a movie, to approach a film as both a tenacious reporter and a Spartan poet –baldly pointing out flaws, rapturously praising beauty and incisively assessing the director, cast and crew. He also championed little-known filmmakers and obscure movies, including more than a few film-noir titles.

In 2002, Ebert was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and, though it was removed, his battles with cancer would continue over the next decade. Ebert took his health problems in stride, refusing to let his mighty passion wane.

But it wasn’t just movies that he was enthusiastic about. He was passionate about politics and social justice, sports and travel, and he was deeply devoted to his wife Chaz Ebert (a trial attorney whom he met in AA) and their family. In 2011, Ebert published “Life Itself: A Memoir,” which spurred director Steve James to make a movie about Ebert’s extraordinary life journey.

The result is a film that is engaging, entertaining, fiercely honest and truly inspiring.

“Life Itself” opens Friday in theaters, on iTunes and on Demand.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

FNB tributes to ‘Double Indemnity’ continue: Look on twitter

In honor of the 70th anniversary of “Double Indemnity,” we at FNB are hosting intermittent tributes. On Valentine’s Day, we compiled  a list of 14 reasons we adore the flick. Yesterday, we started tweeting the novel (by James M. Cain). Not sure how long that will take, but it should be fun. And here we are rerunning a review. Next, we should host a party in the Hollywood Hills. Until then …

Double Indemnity/1944/Paramount/106 min.

Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck

She’s got a plan, she just needs a man. And that’s a welcome challenge for a femme fatale, especially one with an ankle bracelet.

In Billy Wilder’s film noir masterpiece, “Double Indemnity,” from 1944 Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) wants out of her marriage to rich, grumpy oldster, Mr. Dietrichson (Tom Powers). Poor Phyllis doesn’t get much love from Dietrichson’s adult daughter, Lola (Jean Heather) either. Fresh-faced and feisty, Lola is hung up on her temperamental boyfriend Nino Zachetti (Byron Barr).

For Phyllis, seducing a new guy to help make hubby disappear is so much more cost-effective than hiring a divorce lawyer. A smart insurance man is even better. Along comes Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) trying to sell a policy, just as Phyllis finishes a session of sunbathing, wearing an ankle bracelet and not much more. That’s about as much bait as Walter needs.

They flirt, fall for each other and eventually arrange to bump off Mr. Dietrichson, making it look like he fell from a train. It’s a one-in-a-million way to go with a huge payoff from a double-indemnity insurance policy issued by Walter’s company. After that, they play it cool and wait for the check. They’ve planned it like a military campaign, so they’re in the clear until Walter starts to suspect that he’s not the only guy who’s been drooling at Phyllis’ ankles.

Edward G. Robinson

Besides his lust for the blonde (and their chemistry truly sizzles), Walter’s real love is the platonic father/son relationship he has with his boss at the insurance company, Barton Keyes, sharp, cynical and married to his job, played brilliantly by Edward G. Robinson.

Critic Richard Schickel says “Double Indemnity” is the first true noir. I disagree – what about 1941’s “The Maltese Falcon” and “Stranger on the Third Floor” from 1940? Or even Fritz Lang‘s “M” from Germany in 1931? But the point is “Double Indemnity” was the standard against which every subsequent noir was measured. It’s a glorious treat visually. John Seitz’s luscious lighting and captivating use of shadow bring to mind Vincent Van Gogh’s observation: “There are no less than 80 shades of black.” The score by Miklos Rozsa works perfectly with the visuals to build and sustain atmosphere.

The performances (Stanwyck, MacMurray and Robinson) are tremendous. Though Stanwyck was nominated for the best actress Oscar and “Double Indemnity” was also nominated in six other categories (picture, director, screenplay, cinematography, sound recording and score), MacMurray and Robinson were not in the running and the film didn’t win any Oscars. In retrospect, their work in this movie is some of the best acting of the decade. MacMurray (who might be most familiar as the father in TV’s “My Three Sons”) is such a natural as the easily tempted yet very likeable Neff, it’s surprising now to learn that the role was a major departure from his usual nice-guy parts.

As James Pallot of “The Movie Guide” writes: “Robinson … beautifully gives the film its heart. His speech about death statistics, rattled off at top speed, is one of the film’s highlights.” When Keyes realizes that Walter has betrayed him, it’s heartbreaking in a way that few other noirs are.

Wilder co-wrote the script with Raymond Chandler, based on the taut little novel by James M. Cain, published in 1936. (The novel was inspired by the real-life 1927 Snyder-Gray case.) In the book “Double Indemnity,” smitten Walter says of Phyllis’ physical charms, “I wasn’t the only one that knew about that shape. She knew about it herself, plenty.”

The dark, witty script follows the book pretty closely, but Chandler’s contributions are key. For example, check out this bit of simmering dialogue:

Phyllis: There’s a speed limit in this state, Mr. Neff, 45 miles an hour.

Walter: How fast was I going, Officer?

Phyllis: I’d say around 90.

Walter: Suppose you get down off your motorcycle and give me a ticket.

Phyllis: Suppose I let you off with a warning this time.

Walter: Suppose it doesn’t take.

Phyllis: Suppose I have to whack you over the knuckles.

Walter: Suppose I bust out crying and put my head on your shoulder.

Phyllis: Suppose you try putting it on my husband’s shoulder.

Walter: That tears it…

Chatting things over while Mr. Dietrichson is away.

Now it seems egregious that Wilder (1906-2002) and “Double Indemnity” were snubbed at the Oscars. Born in what is now Poland, Wilder escaped the Nazis, but his mother and other family members perished in a concentration camp. He knew firsthand the dark, sometimes horrific, side of life and that knowledge imbued his work with an unparalleled richness and depth. He was also hilarious. If I could have martinis with any film noir director, living or dead, it would be Billy.

I’ve seen interview footage of him where he punctuated his conversation with deep and frequent laughter. And I’ve heard stories about him playing practical jokes – apparently he when he lost the 1944 best director Oscar to Leo McCarey (who won for “Going My Way” starring Bing Crosby) Billy stuck out his foot and tripped McCarey as he walked down the aisle to pick it up. Maybe if I get that fantasy date with the spirit of Billy, I’ll bring Dick Schickel along too. He might benefit from a girly martini and tagging along with Billy and me.

So, suppose you do yourself a favor and watch “Double Indemnity” the first chance you get. You won’t be sorry.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

Another great time at the TCM Classic Film Fest

Thanks to everyone at the TCM Classic Film Festival. It was a great time: Movies, events, staff and fans were amazing! I’ll be writing a more detailed overview but for now, I just wanted to mention a noir factoid I recently uncovered.

“Double Indemnity” (1944, Billy Wilder) was a highlight of the fest. Both Walter’s place (the Bryson Apartments) and Phyllis’ house are still in LA. In the film, Walter reckons the house cost about $30,000; it would now cost more than $1.5 million. Read more about the house here.

Phyllis’ house was and is at 6301 Quebec Drive in the Hollywood Hills.

Phyllis’ house was and is at 6301 Quebec Drive in the Hollywood Hills.

In 1944, Fred MacMurray bought the Bryson building for $600,000. Built in 1913 by real estate developer Hugh W. Bryson, the 10-story Beaux Arts stunner was where MacMurray’s character Walter Neff lived in “Double Indemnity.”

The Bryson building is at 2701 Wilshire Blvd. in the MacArthur Park section of Los Angeles.

The Bryson building is at 2701 Wilshire Blvd. in the MacArthur Park section of Los Angeles.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

Film noir giants Ray, Welles, Wilder, Coppola highlighted at TCM Classic Film Festival 2014

The fifth annual TCM Classic Film Festival opens Thursday night with “Oklahoma” (in which femme fatale Gloria Grahame forays into the musical genre) and runs through Sunday.

The central theme of this year’s festival is Family in the Movies: The Ties that Bind. In keeping with this theme, organizers say, the fest will showcase on-screen clans of all types – big and small, happy and imperfect, musical and dramatic. Additionally, the festival will spotlight Hollywood’s first families and dynasties and will explore the kinship that connects close-knit groups of professionals behind the camera.

Johnny Guitar posterWe at FNB are excited about the film-noir slate: “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” “Johnny Guitar,” “The Thin Man,” “Touch of Evil,” “Double Indemnity,” “The Godfather II,” “The Naked City,” “Freaks” and “The Lady From Shanghai.” Also not to be missed: The Film Noir Foundation’s czar of noir Eddie Muller will interview neo-noir master director William Friedkin. These are just a few highlights – the fest is packed with cinematic treats and cool events.

Meanwhile, TCM came up with a terrific way to celebrate the network’s 20th birthday: the free (yes, free!) TCM Movie Locations Tour, running in Los Angeles. Created in Partnership with Starline Tours, the nifty bus rides started last month and will run through April 14, overlapping with the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival.

The tours use comfy new buses with stadium-style seating, skylight windows and a 65”-inch HDTV to show movie clips and commentary from TCM host Ben Mankiewicz. (There’s also a Starline tour guide onboard.)

Featured sites include Echo Park (“Chinatown”), the 2nd Street Tunnel (“Blade Runner,” “The Terminator”), Bryson Apartments (“Double Indemnity,” “The Grifters”) and the Gilmore Gas Station (“L.A. Story”), the Bradbury Building (“Blade Runner,” “The Artist”) and Union Station (“The Way We Were,” “Silver Streak”).

This marks TCM’s second sightseeing bus tour. Last August, the network launched the “TCM Classic Film Tour” in New York.

We are told the Los Angeles trips are sold out but it’s possible the schedule will be expanded. Check here for more info: www.tcm.com/20. The FNB team attended the press trip last month and even as Los Angeles residents we were mightily impressed at what we saw and what we learned. Here are a few shots we snapped along the way:

TCM bus 1

The TCM bus is cool and breezy.

bus 2

Paramount Studios on Melrose Avenue

The Bryson apartments, home to Walter Neff in "Double Indemnity."

The Bryson apartments, home to Walter Neff in “Double Indemnity.”

The Bradbury building,  304 Broadway, was built in 1893.

The Bradbury building, 304 Broadway, was built in 1893.

Los Angeles city hall, downtown

Los Angeles city hall, downtown

Union Station

Union Station

The Wiltern Theatre at Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue

The Wiltern Theatre at Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue

Formosa Cafe was and is a popular hangout. It was founded in 1925 by prize-fighter Jimmy Bernstein.

Formosa Cafe, founded in 1925 by prize-fighter Jimmy Bernstein, was and is a popular hangout.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

On Valentine’s Day: 14 reasons we love ‘Double Indemnity’

Double Indemnity poster

Yes, we’re still gushing about “Double Indemnity,” the film noir classic from 1944. Deal with it. Oh, and happy Valentine‘s weekend, btw!

Billy Wilder‘s great prototype film noir turns 70 this year and yet it never gets old. Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson, the movie boasts a screenplay that Wilder co-wrote with Raymond Chandler, based on James M. Cain‘s novel, which was inspired by actual events.

Here’s why we hold the picture dear to our hearts, dearies.

14. As film noir historian and author Foster Hirsch put it, at a recent screening at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, “It’s the quintessential film noir. This is the mother lode, primary source film noir. It’s the basis for every film noir you’ve ever loved.”

13. Someone with the name Walter Neff turns out to be a tough guy.

12. All Walter has to do to escape punishment is sit tight. Yet, his ego drives him toward a final confrontation with his lover/partner in crime.

11. Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyllis Dietrichson is a fashion victim. If you need convincing, read the piece below re: her awful wig.

10. The first time Phyllis shows up at Walter’s apartment, she says she is returning his hat (which he supposedly left at her house) but the previous scene clearly shows him taking his hat as he leaves. Still, there’s so much tension between them, who cares?!

9. The door to Walter’s apartment opens the wrong way (it shields Phyllis on one of her visits) but you’re so caught up in the story you hardly notice.

As Billy Wilder acknowledged, no door in the world would open this way.

As Billy Wilder acknowledged, no door in the world would open this way.

8. You could buy Phyllis Dietrichson’s house for $30,000, even if that took a lifetime to pay off.

7. You could have a beer at a drive-in restaurant, served by a car-hop, no less.

6. The look of supreme satisfaction on Phyllis’s face at the moment her husband is murdered.

5. Stanwyck and MacMurray both took a risk and played against type.

4. Edward G. Robinson almost steals the show and it’s really a bromance between his character and MacMurray’s Walter Neff.

3. Raymond Chandler makes a cameo appearance, about 16 minutes into the movie, at Walter’s office building.

2. It’s perfectly paced – you can watch it over and over and it moves along lickety split every time, leaving you wanting more.

1. It truly ranks as a classic flick – it’s as fresh, sexy and funny today as it was in 1944. The writing, acting, directing cinematography, lighting, art direction are matchless.

Do you love “Double Indemnity” as much as we do? Then let us know!

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

Stanwyck a fashion victim? Heck yeah, look at the wig

Very few actresses truly deserve accolades like stellar, peerless, magnificent and amazing. Barbara Stanwyck, who had a stage, film and TV career spanning more than 50 years, is surely one of that select group. She might have cringed at such lofty praise, however, referring to herself as “a tough old broad from Brooklyn.”

Adjectives aside, Stanwyck stands out for the range of parts she played, her discipline as an artist, and the subtlety and strength of her performances. Tonight, she is honored at the Aero Theatre with a screening of  Double Indemnity” (1944, Billy Wilder) and “The Bitter Tea of General Yen” (1933, Frank Capra). Before the movies, Victoria Wilson, author of a new Stanwyck biography, will discuss and sign her book, “A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940.

It is the 70th birthday of Double Indemnityand so I am rerunning this post on Phyllis Dietrichson’s tawdry blonde wig. The piece also includes some observations from master director Billy Wilder on working with Barbara – born Ruby Catherine Stevens on July 16, 1907, and later nicknamed Babs, Missy and The Queen. She still rules today.

Double Indemnity posterIf I ever need assurance that every femme fatale has a styling glitch from time to time, I look at Barbara Stanwyck’s awful wig in “Double Indemnity,” a quintessential noir from 1944, directed by Billy Wilder.

Paramount production head Buddy DeSylva said of the stiff blonde ’do, “We hired Barbara Stanwyck and here we get George Washington.”

It also reminded me that it had been ages since I’d looked at my copy of “Conversations with Wilder” by Cameron Crowe, published in 1999. Of course, I flipped right to Wilder’s answer to Crowe’s question about the direction given to Barbara Stanwyck in “Double Indemnity” for the silent shot on her face while the murder is occurring.

Said Wilder: Sure, that was a highly intelligent actress, Miss Stanwyck. I questioned the wig, but it was proper, because it was a phony wig. It was an obviously phony wig. And the anklet – the equipment of a woman, you know, that is married to this kind of man. They scream for murder.

Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray star in "Double Indemnity" from 1944. Both played against type.

Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray star in “Double Indemnity” from 1944. Both played against type.

Yeah, naturally we rehearsed this thing. But I rehearsed it with her once or twice, that’s the maximum, and it was not that much different from the way she would have done it. She was just an extraordinary woman. She took the script, loved it, right from the word go, didn’t have the agent come and say, “Look, she’s to play a murderess, she must get more money, because she’s never going to work again.”

With Stanwyck, I had absolutely no difficulties at all. And she knew the script, everybody‘s lines. You could wake her up in the middle of the night and she’d know the scene. Never a fault, never a mistake – just a wonderful brain she had.

Crowe asked if the part had been written for Stanwyck. Wilder said: Yeah. And then there there was an actor by the name of Fred MacMurray at Paramount, and he played comedies. Small dramatic parts, big parts in comedies. I let him read it, and he said, “I can’t do that.” And I said, “Why can’t you?” He said, “It requires acting!” [Laughs.] I said, “Look, you have now arrived in comedy, you’re at a certain point where you either have to stop, or you have to jump over the river and start something new.” He said, “Will you tell me when I’m no good?” [He nods: a partnership is born.] And he was wonderful because it’s odd casting.

Paramount image of “Double Indemnity”

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

Film noir greats ‘Shadow of a Doubt,’ In a Lonely Place,’ Double Indemnity’ and more on the big screen in LA

By Film Noir Blonde and Michael Wilmington

Shadow of a Doubt” (1943, Alfred Hitchcock) is the 1 p.m. matinee Tuesday, Feb. 4, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

A bright and beautiful small town girl named Charlotte “Charlie” Newton (Teresa Wright) is bored. Bored with her well-ordered home in her Norman Rockwellish little city of Santa Rosa, Calif., – where trees line the sunlit streets, everyone goes to church on Sunday and lots of them read murder mysteries at night. Charlie has more exotic dreams. She adores her globe-trotting, urbane Uncle Charlie Oakley (Joseph Cotten) – for whom she was nicknamed – and is deliriously happy when he shows up in Santa Rosa for a visit.

Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright play kindred spirits, sort of, in “Shadow.”

Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright play kindred spirits, sort of, in “Shadow.”

But Uncle Charlie has some secrets that no one in his circle would guess – not Uncle Charlie’s adoring sister (Patricia Collinge), nor his good-hearted brother-in-law (Henry Travers), nor their mystery-loving neighbor Herbie (Hume Cronyn), nor Charlie herself. Uncle Charlie, who conceals a darker personality and profession beneath his charming persona, is on the run, pursued by a dogged police detective (Macdonald Carey), who suspects him of being a notorious serial killer who seduces rich old widows and kills them for their money. As handsome, cold-blooded Uncle Charlie, Cotten, who also called “Shadow” his personal favorite film, is, with Robert Walker and Anthony Perkins, one of the three great Hitchcockian psychopaths.

“Shadow of a Doubt,” released in 1943, was Hitchcock’s sixth American movie and the one he often described as his favorite. As he explained to François Truffaut, this was because he felt that his critical enemies, the “plausibles,” could have nothing to quibble about with “Shadow.” It was written by two superb chroniclers of Americana, Thornton Wilder (“Our Town”) and Sally Benson (“Meet Me in St. Louis”), along with Hitch’s constant collaborator, wife Alma Reville. The result is one of the supreme examples of Hitchcockian counterpoint: with a sunny, tranquil background against which dark terror erupts.

Barbara Stanwyck book

On Thursday night at 7:30 p.m., the American Cinematheque presents a Nicholas Ray night at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood: “Johnny Guitar,” starring Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden, and “In a Lonely Place,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame. As Jean-Luc Godard said: “Nicholas Ray is the cinema.” And speaking of Godard, the AC’s Aero Theatre is hosting a Godard retrospective, starting Feb. 20.

Femmes fatales don’t particularly like birthdays, but here’s an exception:  “Double Indemnity” turns 70 this year! Did you know Raymond Chandler made a cameo in the film? Read the story here.

And be sure to attend on Sunday, Feb. 9, at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica: Barbara Stanwyck biographer Victoria Wilson will sign her book and introduce a screening of “Double Indemnity” and “The Bitter Tea of General Yen.” The signing starts at 6:30 p.m. and the show starts at 7:30 p.m.

Wilson has two other signings coming up; for details, call Larry Edmunds Bookshop at 323-463-3273.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

Stanwyck and Colbert kick off new DVD line from TCM

Barbara Stanwyck and Claudette Colbert are the featured stars in TCM Showcase, a new line of DVD sets, launched today by TCM and Universal Studios Home Entertainment.

TCM Showcase: Barbara Stanwyck shows the tough and versatile actress in “The Lady Eve” (1941), perhaps the greatest film noir of all “Double Indemnity” (1944), “All I Desire” (1953) and “There’s Always Tomorrow” (1956).

TCM Showcase: Claudette Colbert features the playful and sophisticated Colbert in “Cleopatra” (1934), “Imitation of Life” (1934), “Midnight” (1939) and “The Palm Beach Story” (1942).

TCM Showcase: Barbara Stanwyck and TCM Showcase: Claudette Colbert are on sale now from the TCM online store. Each set is available for $24.99, 17 percent off the suggested retail price.

TCM and Universal’s collaboration began in 2009 with the launch of the TCM Vault Collection. While the vault collection focuses on rare and hard-to-find titles, the showcase collection offers Hollywood’s greatest stars in the roles that made them legends.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

Happy b’day, Babs! FNB joins Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon

Very few actresses truly deserve accolades like stellar, peerless, magnificent and amazing. Barbara Stanwyck, who had a stage, film and TV career spanning more than 50 years, is surely one of that select group. She might have cringed at such lofty praise, however, referring to herself as “a tough old broad from Brooklyn.”

Adjectives aside, Stanwyck stands out for the range of parts she played, her discipline as an artist, and the subtlety and strength of her performances. That’s why I was so pleased when Aubyn at The Girl with the White Parasol let me join this month’s Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon, which runs through July 22.

For my contribution, I’m highlighting a fluffy detail from the great “Double Indemnity” (1944): Phyllis Dietrichson’s tawdry blonde wig. The piece also includes some observations from master director Billy Wilder on working with Barbara – born Ruby Catherine Stevens on July 16, 1907, and later nicknamed Babs, Missy and The Queen. She still rules today.

A Babs Stanwyck moment for FNB

On Phyllis Dietrichson’s wig: Looking through some photos the other day, I noticed how often I lost the fight with my fine, curly hair and let it go wild (left). Not every day can be a good hair day.

If I ever need assurance that every femme fatale has a styling glitch from time to time, I look at Barbara Stanwyck’s awful wig in “Double Indemnity,” a quintessential noir from 1944, directed by Billy Wilder.

Paramount production head Buddy DeSylva said of the stiff blonde ’do, “We hired Barbara Stanwyck and here we get George Washington.”

It also reminded me that it had been ages since I’d looked at my copy of “Conversations with Wilder” by Cameron Crowe, published in 1999. Of course, I flipped right to Wilder’s answer to Crowe’s question about the direction given to Barbara Stanwyck in “Double Indemnity” for the silent shot on her face while the murder is occurring.

Said Wilder: Sure, that was a highly intelligent actress, Miss Stanwyck. I questioned the wig, but it was proper, because it was a phony wig. It was an obviously phony wig. And the anklet – the equipment of a woman, you know, that is married to this kind of man. They scream for murder.

Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray star in “Double Indemnity” from 1944. Both played against type.

Yeah, naturally we rehearsed this thing. But I rehearsed it with her once or twice, that’s the maximum, and it was not that much different from the way she would have done it. She was just an extraordinary woman. She took the script, loved it, right from the word go, didn’t have the agent come and say, “Look, she’s to play a murderess, she must get more money, because she’s never going to work again.”

With Stanwyck, I had absolutely no difficulties at all. And she knew the script, everybody‘s lines. You could wake her up in the middle of the night and she’d know the scene. Never a fault, never a mistake – just a wonderful brain she had.

Crowe asked if the part had been written for Stanwyck. Wilder said: Yeah. And then there there was an actor by the name of Fred MacMurray at Paramount, and he played comedies. Small dramatic parts, big parts in comedies. I let him read it, and he said, “I can’t do that.” And I said, “Why can’t you?” He said, “It requires acting!” [Laughs.] I said, “Look, you have now arrived in comedy, you’re at a certain point where you either have to stop, or you have to jump over the river and start something new.” He said, “Will you tell me when I’m no good?” [He nods: a partnership is born.] And he was wonderful because it’s odd casting.

Paramount image of “Double Indemnity”

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

‘The Last Seduction’ is smart, funny and unforgettable

The Last Seduction/1994/ITC/ 110 min.

Several years ago, I wrote a weekly column for the Chicago Tribune. Each week, I interviewed experts on ways women could work smart and climb the corporate ladder. Most of the time, no matter what the obstacle or dilemma was – job hunting, negotiating a raise, getting a promotion – the bottom line was: do your homework, highlight your achievements and ask for what you want.

In 1994’s “The Last Seduction” by director John Dahl and writer Steve Barancik, Linda Fiorentino as Bridget Gregory takes this advice to dazzling new heights. As the story unfolds, this career maven excels in not just one job, but several. In the opening scene, she’s a supervisor at a telemarketing sales firm in New York City, where she doesn’t ask, she demands. Then she needles her hapless sales guys mercilessly, calling them “maggots, eunuchs and bastards.”

At least they know where they stand. That pat-on-the-back stuff is way overrated.

Later she becomes Director of Lead Generation at an insurance company in a small town in New York state. Under her own steam (at night, of course, this being a noir) she researches prospects for a telemarketing murder business. Hey, it’s not like there isn’t a market.

And she launches an entrepreneurial venture in which she steals a boatload of cash from her husband, malleable Clay (Bill Pullman) and taps loyal-to-a-fault Mike, her lover/investment partner (Peter Berg), to help her. Neither of these dudes is much of a match for her – their chief virtue (besides being good looking) is that they are good at following orders, which is especially true in Mike’s case.

Bill Pullman and Linda Fiorentino play husband and wife.

When one of Mike’s friends asks him: “whadd’ya see in her?” he replies: “a new set of balls.” Her résumé also includes legs that never stop, bedroom eyes and a ready laugh, especially at the expense of doofuses or dumpy small-town mores. Just when you think an interfering man is going to impede her climb to the top, she flicks him away like a speck of lint from her sleek pinstripe suit.

Having done her due diligence, she’s hoping to close the deal in such a way that neither Clay nor Mike can claim a penny of the profit. Talk about multi-tasking. It’s understandable that so much juggling might make Bridget a little irritable from time to time.

Luckily, Mike is nothing if not supportive and just turns the other (butt) cheek when she calls him a rural Neanderthal. When he suggests they go on a date and chat sometime; she asks: “What for?”

When Mike (Peter Berg) suggests going on an actual date, Bridget (Linda Fiorentino) asks, “What for?”

To say that Fiorentino, a Philly native with a fiery intensity, nails the part is an understatement. She is one of the fiercest femmes fatales in all of neo-noir moviemaking. If I were a guy, I think seeing this performance would surely give me an uneasy night’s sleep. I would have loved to see Fiorentino work with Quentin Tarantino, but her career short-circuited fairly early. I have heard she was a tad hard to work with – shocker! Pullman, Berg and the rest of the cast more than hold their own, underplaying their parts and letting Fiorentino hold bitchy court.

Director Dahl is a neo-noir specialist (he also directed “Red Rock West,” “Kill Me Again and “Rounders”) and the sharp, funny script is peppered with references to noir classics. For instance, Dahl tips his hat to “Double Indemnity” by having Bridget and Mike both work at an insurance company and, when Bridget calls the police to falsely accuse a guy of exposing himself (so she can make a getaway), she gives her name as “Mrs. Neff.”

I suppose that could be evidence of her truly tender heart – in her imagination, the doomed lovers Walter Neff and Phyllis Dietrichson get married and live happily ever after. Yeah, right. But, if Bridget said it, you might believe her.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter