By Michael Wilmington
A noir lover’s guide to classic film noir on cable TV. All the following movies are from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).
PICK OF THE WEEK
Saturday, July 28
8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” (1962, Robert Aldrich) Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, rivals for most of their careers, got two of their greatest roles when they were cast by director Robert Aldrich as the house-bound Hudson sisters, Blanche (Crawford) and Baby Jane (Davis) – two ex-film-stars turned eccentric recluses – in this mesmerizing, darkly funny, sometimes-touching suspense classic. Together with Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Blvd.,” it’s the cinematic definition of Hollywood Grand Guignol. With Victor Buono as the fat mama’s boy pianist, Marjorie Bennett as mama, Maidie Norman as the good housekeeper and Anna Lee as the kind neighbor.
Adapted by Lukas Heller from Henry Farrell’s novel; shot and edited by two masters, Ernest Haller (“Gone with the Wind”) and Michael Luciano (“Kiss Me Deadly”). A grisly, poignant masterpiece. If you aren’t both chilled and moved by Baby Jane’s line “You mean all these years we could have been friends?” you may have a heart of stone.
Sunday, July 29
10:15 a.m. (7:15 a.m.): “Boomerang!” (1947, Elia Kazan) True-crime drama thrillers, shot in real locations (“Kiss of Death,” “Naked City“) , are among the gems of film noir. Here’s a top-notch example, based on fact, about a prosecutor (Dana Andrews) and his crusade for justice for a defendant he’s convinced is wrongly accused. Scripted by Richard Murphy.
The superb cast of Kazan regulars includes Lee J. Cobb, Arthur Kennedy, Karl Malden and Ed Begley, Jane Wyatt and Sam Levene.
4 a.m. (1 a.m.): “The Fugitive” (1947, John Ford) John Ford usually isn’t ranked among noir directors, though 1935’s grim I.R.A. film “The Informer,” is definitely a noir precursor. “The Fugitive” – based on Graham Greene’s great novel “The Power and the Glory” and one of Ford’s own favorites of his work – qualifies as Western noir just as much as Raoul Walsh’s “Pursued” or William Wellman’s “The Ox-Bow Incident.”
With Henry Fonda as a sinful and alcoholic man of God fleeing the police in a tyrannical, anti-clerical Latin American state, Pedro Armendariz as his relentless pursuer, Dolores Del Rio as their mutual love (a point fudged in this censor-bound film), and Ward Bond as the gringo outlaw.
The sublime monochrome cinematography is by Mexican genius Gabriel Figueroa (“Los Olvidados”). The script is by Ford regular, master dramatist and occasional noir scribe Dudley Nichols (“Scarlet Street,” “The Informer,” “Stagecoach”).
Incidentally, the other Fords I would classify as Western noir are “Stagecoach” (1939), “The Searchers” (1956), “Sergeant Rutledge” (1960) and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (1962). “Stagecoach” and “The Searchers” are on TCM on Wednesday, Aug. 1, as part of the John Wayne tribute.
Thursday, Aug. 2
11 p.m. (8 p.m.): “The Thin Man” (1934, W. S. Van Dyke) The first and best of all the plush M.G.M. films in which William Powell and Myrna Loy impersonated Nick and Nora Charles, the slightly pixilated and urbanely witty couple who alternated screwball romps with tough, brainy detective work, solving murders and finishing champagne bottles with equal flair. That golden couple was inspired by the relationship between Dashiell Hammett and his longtime companion, playwright/screenwriter Lillian Hellman.
This is the only one of the Thin Man movies actually based on a Hammett novel. The adaptor/scenarists were another witty couple, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett (“It’s a Wonderful Life”). The supporting cast includes Maureen O’Sullivan and Cesar Romero.