Film Noir File: Beautiful young Brando blazes in ‘Waterfront’

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).


On the Waterfront
(1954, Elia Kazan). 8 p.m. (5 p.m.), Saturday, June 7.

Elia Kazan’s socially conscious film noir masterpiece “On the Waterfront” is a touchstone of the American cinema, one of those movies you never forget. This powerhouse social drama, a film loaded with heart, brains and guts, pulls you into the crime-ravaged docks of New York City in the 1950s.

Karl Malden, as the crusading priest, talks with Brando's ex-pug, Terry Malloy.

Karl Malden, as the crusading priest, talks with Brando’s ex-pug, Terry Malloy.

Shot in New Jersey and based on actual events, adapted by writer Budd Schulberg from a series of articles by Malcolm Johnson, the movie portrays an exploited band of longshoremen battling for their rights on a dock run by a corrupt union, gangsters and killers. Kazan, Schulberg and a wonderful ensemble give this story a stinging realism few other films of the ’50s can match.

In “Waterfront,” we get a ringside seat at a battle between good and evil, crime and the law. Pitted against the brutal, crooked union-boss, Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb), is an idealistic, courageous priest, Father Barry (Karl Malden), and a washed-up, but eventually heroic ex-boxer, Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando).

Eva Marie Saint and Brando, gorgeously framed by cinematographer Boris Kaufman.

Eva Marie Saint and Brando, gorgeously framed by cinematographer Boris Kaufman.

Among the movie’s other indelible characters: Rod Steiger as Charlie, Terry Malloy’s fancy-dressing mouthpiece-for-the-mob brother, and Eva Marie Saint, in her Oscar-winning movie debut as Edie Doyle, whose brother was murdered by Johnny Friendly’s thugs, and with whom Terry falls in love.

“On the Waterfront” is a knockout on all levels. It has great direction (Kazan), a great tough script (Schulberg), great black-and-white photography (Boris Kaufman), great naturalistic art direction (Richard Day), a great score (Leonard Bernstein), and, most of all, that perfect ensemble cast, with the extraordinary Brando at his youthful peak.

Brando makes every one of his scenes come alive, breathe and bleed, especially when Terry cries out to his brother Charlie (Steiger): “You don’t understand! I coulda had class! I coulda been a contender! I coulda been somebody! Instead of a bum, which is what I am.”

We’ll always remember that electrifying confession of failure and pain in the back of that cab, coming from the young brilliant actor playing the gentle-hearted, beaten-down ex-pug. He moves us so deeply because he was more than a contender; he was the champ. He had more than class; he had genius. He was more than somebody. He was Brando.

You can watch “On the Waterfront” on TCM of course. But if you’re lucky enough to be in Los Angeles this weekend, you can see the film on the big screen at 7:30 p.m., Friday, June 6, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Appearing on stage at that showing, to discuss the movie, will be one of its eight Oscar-winners, Eva Marie Saint.

Thursday, June 5

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “The Tarnished Angels” (1957, Douglas Sirk).

Dorothy Malone stars as a restless wife; Rock Hudson plays a roving reporter.

Dorothy Malone stars as a restless wife; Rock Hudson plays a roving reporter.

The setting: New Orleans at Mardi Gras. The source: William Faulkner’s novel “Pylon.” Scripted by George Zuckerman, who also penned Sirk’s “Written on the Wind” (1956).

The stars (who also played in “Wind”): Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone are a married couple; Rock Hudson is Burke Devlin, a drunken newspaper reporter at the Times-Picayune, who becomes enamored of them both.

With compassion and high style, “Tarnished Angels” focuses on life’s fringes and the ironies of heroism. Brilliantly shot by Irving Glassberg (who also shot Sirk’s “Captain Lightfoot”), it’s one of the best-looking black-and-white/widescreen movies of its era, a dark gem of noir style.

The one flaw is Hudson’s mostly un-drunk Devlin. But it’s not his fault; Hudson began the movie playing Devlin as soused, but Universal, fearful of harm to their big star’s image, ordered him to play it sober.

The film is a classic anyway. It was Sirk’s favorite of the films he directed and Faulkner preferred it to all the other movies made from his work, even the acknowledged 1949 classic “Intruder in the Dust.” Faulkner, no stranger to booze himself, even liked Hudson’s cold-sober Devlin.

Saturday, June 7

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “On the Waterfront” (1954, Elia Kazan). See Pick of the Week.

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “Rumble on the Docks” (1956, Fred F. Sears). A poor man’s mash-up of “On the Waterfront” and “Crime in the Streets,“ with rebel rocker James Darren (“Gidget”), Laurie Carroll and Robert Blake.

11:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.): “The Mob” (1951, Robert Parrish). Broderick Crawford is an undercover cop, playing a bad guy to infiltrate a poisonous waterfront mob. The Mob includes Richard Kiley, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson and Neville Brand. Lesser known, but a good noir.

Sunday, June 8

Notorious movie poster6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “Notorious” (1946, Alfred Hitchcock). With Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains and Louis Calhern. Reviewed in FNB on Feb. 12, 2013 and Feb. 20, 2012.

Tuesday June 10

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Woman in the Window” (1944, Fritz Lang). With Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Raymond Massey and Dan Duryea. Reviewed in FNB on Nov. 24, 2011.

10 p.m. (7. P.m.): “Scarlet Street” (1945, Fritz Lang). With Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea. Reviewed in FNB on Nov. 24, 2011.

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On the radar: photo l.a. show returns to Santa Monica, Lynch and Sirk films at the Aero, Carole Lombard classics on DVD

© Julius Shulman, Case study number 22, Playboy Image, C-print, 1960, Courtesy of Be-hold

Focus on style: photo l.a., now in its 22nd year, opens Thursday, Jan. 17, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. Work from 70 galleries and photography dealers from around the world will be on display. The show closes Jan. 21.

Auteurs at the Aero: On Friday, Jan. 18, at 7:30 p.m., the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica has a cool double-feature: David Lynch’s 1986 neo-noir “Blue Velvet,” starring Kyle MacLachlan, Laura Dern, Isabella Rossellini and Dennis Hopper, and “All That Heaven Allows” (1955, Douglas Sirk), a subversive love story about the romance between a lonely widow (Jane Wyman) and her gardener (Rock Hudson).

The Carole Lombard DVD set

Lombard love: TCM is bringing three early and rarely seen Carole Lombard performances to DVD. Carole Lombard in the ’30s will be available exclusively through TCM’s online store beginning Monday, Jan. 21.

With her sparkling presence and sharp timing, the stunning Lombard delighted audiences in some of the greatest screwball comedies ever made, but she spent the early part of her brief career playing dramatic roles and romantic ingénues. (Lombard died in a plane crash in 1942.)

Highlighting her lesser-known films, this DVD set includes fully restored and re-mastered editions of “No More Orchids” (1932), “Brief Moment” (1933) and “Lady By Choice” (1934).

The collection also features an introduction by TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz and bonus materials, including production stills, behind-the-scenes photos, lobby cards and movie posters.

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‘Naked Kiss’ crowns queen of beautiful bald leading ladies

The Naked Kiss/1964/F & F Productions/90 min.

What better way to celebrate hump day than with a Sam Fuller double feature?

As part of the UCLA Wednesdays Classic Film Series, the Million Dollar Theater in downtown Los Angeles will show “Shock Corridor” (1963) and “The Naked Kiss” (1964) at 7:30 p.m. this Wednesday, Jan. 18. The Million Dollar Theater is at 307 S. Broadway Ave., Los Angeles, 90013; tickets are $10.

By Michael Wilmington

This Sam Fuller movie begins with one of the great shocker low-budget opening scenes: Kelly, a beautiful bald prostitute (played by Constance Towers) beating the crap out of her procurer, losing her wig, pulling out the cash he owes her, and dumping the rest on his whimpering chest. Fuller, freed of any strictures of big studio propriety, has Kelly aiming her purse at the camera and battering us movie voyeurs right along with her ex-pimp.

But “The Naked Kiss” is also a romance (of sorts) and a woman’s picture (of a particularly dark kind). And soon we see Kelly in a typical ’50s-early ’60s American small town, called Grantville, trying to escape her violent past by becoming a nurse’s aide: a care-giver specializing in adorable children, who sing sentimental songs. Kelly also happens to love Beethoven, especially “Moonlight Sonata.” Can she escape the past? Maybe not. The only movie playing in Grantville’s cinema is Fuller’s own previous Constance Towers picture, 1963’s “Shock Corridor.”

Kelly’s nemesis seems to be a salty cop named Griff (played growlingly by Anthony Eisley, of TV’s “Hawaiian Eye”). He beds her right off the incoming bus, pays $20, and then directs her to the nearest brothel (a bordello run by film-noir regular Virginia Grey).

Her salvation seems to be the strangely gentle playboy/philanthropist/Lothario (and Griff’s Korean War buddy) Grant (Michael Dante). Like Kelly, he loves Beethoven and Lord Byron. And something else. In the end, the appearances of her apparent nemesis and salvation prove to be deceiving. As it turns out, the naked kiss is the kiss of a pervert.

Like Fuller’s “Shock Corridor” the year before, “The Naked Kiss” was cheaply but strikingly art-directed by Eugène Lourié (Renoir’s “The Rules of the Game”) and gorgeously shot in black and white by Stanley Cortez (“The Night of the Hunter”).

“The Naked Kiss” is a fine showcase for Constance Towers.

Full of sock and sensation, “The Naked Kiss” has qualities we don’t see as much in “Shock Corridor” – a bizarre tenderness, a tough romanticism, and something part way between schmaltz and weltschmerz. “The Naked Kiss” is also Fuller’s most stylishly soap-operatic work in the Douglas Sirk tradition, just as 1949’s “Shockproof” (co-written by Fuller) was Sirk’s most Fullerian movie.

“The Naked Kiss” is also a fine showcase for Constance Towers, an underrated leading lady who worked for John Ford (in “The Horse Soldiers” and “Sergeant Rutledge”), but whom Alfred Hitchcock unfortunately missed. She’ll never be forgotten for that opening scene, though. Among bald prostitute pimp-battering leading ladies, Constance Towers is the queen.

The movie is also available from Criterion and includes these extras: New interview with Constance Towers; 1967 and 1987 French television interviews with Sam Fuller; trailer. Booklet with Robert Polito essay, excerpt on “The Naked Kiss” from Fuller’s autobiography “A Third Face,” and illustrations by the great cartoonist and comic artist Daniel Clowes.

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