Celebrating the 70th anniversary of groundbreaking ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’ at the Lasky-DeMille Barn

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Hollywood Heritage Museum and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association will present on Wednesday, April 12: An Evening at the Barn – “Gentleman’s Agreement”: Hollywood’s Stand Against Anti-Semitism.

Directed by Elia Kazan and starring Gregory Peck and Dorothy McGuire, “Gentleman’s Agreement” was a critical and box-office hit. The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards and was named Best Picture of 1947, additionally winning Oscars for Best Supporting Actress for Celeste Holm and Best Director for Kazan.

Few critics would rank it that high today – it’s perhaps too much a message picture. That said, many of its performances are vastly underrated.

For Peck, it was one of his most curious, controversial movie roles: a New York City magazine writer named Philip Schuyler Green, who (at first reluctantly) takes on the assignment of writing an exposé of contemporary American anti-Semitism.

Phil decides to personalize the piece by posing as a Jewish man and recording how he’s treated or mistreated in the posh sections of Manhattan, Darien, Conn., and elsewhere – places that usually welcome him, or anyone else who looks like Gregory Peck, with open arms.

Kathy (Dorothy McGuire) and Phil (Gregory Peck) have the ideal romance. Or do they?

Peck’s Phil, who renames himself Phil Greenberg, gets more than he bargained for, from restaurateurs, real-estate agents, hotels, and from his increasingly skittish girlfriend, Kathy Lacy (McGuire) and her parents and friends.

Meanwhile, with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) operating in high gear, the postwar movie audience got a lesson in tolerance of unusual candor – from a first-class director (Kazan), Laura Z. Hobson’s highly acclaimed and best-selling source novel, a brilliant screenwriter (Moss Hart) and top actors (including Holm, Albert Dekker, Anne Revere, Dean Stockwell, June Havoc and Jane Wyatt.)

From left: John Garfield, Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire and Celeste Holm.

Stealing every scene he’s in, is a bona-fide New York Jewish actor, John Garfield, who begged to do the film and gives a powerhouse performance. Peck, McGuire, Revere and Hart received Oscar noms, as did Harmon Jones for editing.

Ironically, though many of the 1947 Hollywood moguls were themselves Jewish, they all shied away from the project. It took the 20th Century Fox head Darryl F. Zanuck (a Gentile) to get “Gentleman’s Agreement” on the screen.

(And it should be noted: in 1952, Kazan gave HUAC the names of eight actors who had been members with him of a Communist Party unit in the Group Theatre.)

At Wednesday’s event, film historian Claudine Stevens will discuss the book and the movie, with clips, and Cecilia Peck, daughter of Gregory Peck, will talk about her father and his part in the film.

Reserve your tickets now for this special event, which will take place in the historic Lasky-DeMille Barn. Free parking is available in Hollywood Bowl Lot D, which is directly adjacent to the museum.

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Film Noir File: Kazan taps TV’s evil in ‘A Face in the Crowd’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

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

Pick of the Week

A Face in the Crowd” (1957, Elia Kazan). Tuesday, Jan. 20, 3 p.m. (12 p.m.).

Andy Griffith gives a mesmerizing performance.

Andy Griffith gives a mesmerizing performance.

Three years after they collaborated on the great noir “On the Waterfront,” screenwriter Budd Schulberg and director Elia Kazan joined forces brilliantly again, on another classic noirish drama: “A Face in the Crowd.”

Andy Griffith stars as a guitar-playing, propaganda-spewing vicious bum named Lonesome Rhodes, whom a bunch of TV types transform into a folksy national superstar – a crazy mixture of Arthur Godfrey, Hank Williams and Senator Joe McCarthy.

Not as famous or as influential as Waterfront, Face is nevertheless another American masterpiece. Thanks to Kazan and Schulberg it had another gutsy, gut-punching script, a similar sense of life in all its intensity and complexity, and another very strong (if not quite as remarkable) cast: Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau, Anthony Franciosa, Lee Remick, Kay Medford, Burl Ives, Mike Wallace, Walter Winchell.

Patricia Neal leads an excellent support cast.

Patricia Neal leads an excellent support cast.

As for Griffith, he was as essential to “Face in the Crowd” as Marlon Brando was to “On the Waterfront.” There were few movie and TV actors more specifically, joyously American back in the ’50s and ’60s than Andy Griffith, a hugely talented small-town North Carolina guy who could so aptly play both good men and bad.

And as Lonesome Rhodes, he gives an explosive, mesmerizing rendition of pure guile and homespun brutality.

Saturday, Jan. 17

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): Foreign Correspondent (1940, Alfred Hitchcock). Saturday, Jan. 17, 8 p.m. (5 p.m.). Read the full review here.

Foreign Corr poster10:15 p.m. (7:15 p.m.): “Contraband” (1940, Michael Powell). A Danish ship captain (Conrad Veidt) and a British beauty (Valerie Hobson) get mixed up in spy high jinx at the onset of World War II. Masterminded by Powell and writer Emeric Pressburger, who would make some of the most offbeat movie masterpieces of the World War II era.

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Above Suspicion” (1943, Richard Thorpe). This glamorous MGM chase thriller sends Joan Crawford and Fred MacMurray (a pretty odd couple) on a honeymoon in terror, with villainous Nazis (including Conrad Veidt, of “Casablanca” fame) as their tour guides. Crawford shines off-type as a smart and loyal wife.

Monday, Jan. 19

6 a.m. (3 a.m.): “Intruder in the Dust” (1949, Clarence Brown). A stately, graceful adaptation of the Mississippi murder mystery by William Faulkner, in which a brave boy (Claude Jarman, Jr.) helps a stubborn, heroic old black man stand up to a lynch mob. A very atypical film for the elegant metteur-en-scene Clarence Brown, Greta Garbo’s most frequent director. But it’s probably the best film he ever made.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Defiant Ones” (1958, Stanley Kramer). Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis as escaped chain gang prisoners, shackled together and on the run, in the most Stanley Kramerish of all Stanley Kramer pictures.

4:15 a.m. (1:15 a.m.): “Edge of the City” (1957, Martin Ritt). With John Cassavetes, Sidney Poitier, Jack Warden and Ruby Dee. Brilliant acting – pitched in an “On the Waterfront” key and set in the same kind of grim dockside milieu – stands out in this tough yet humane film.

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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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Eva Marie Saint to appear at 60th anniversary screening of ‘On the Waterfront’

Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint both won Oscars for their work.

Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint both won Oscars for their work.

Think of “On the Waterfront” (1954, Elia Kazan) and, most times, Marlon Brando springs to mind, with his famous line: “I coulda been a contender.”

But don’t forget that behind the great Brando was a great blonde: Eva Marie Saint, who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her work. Her award was one eight wins for the film: Picture, Director, Editing, Actor, Writing (Story and Screenplay), B&W Art Direction/Set Decoration, B&W Cinematography.

With its expressionistic black and white visuals, and its story of crime in the lower depths of New York City, “On the Waterfront” more than qualifies as film noir.

On Friday, June 6, the Academy and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Lacma) is presenting a special screening in honor of the film’s 60th birthday at the museum’s Bing Theater. Eva Marie Saint will make an appearance. We at FNB are looking forward to hearing about her memories of making the flick.

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The Noir File: Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, dueling noir queens in ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?’

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).


Saturday, July 28

Bette Davis earned an Oscar nom for this role; Crawford was overlooked. When Anne Bancroft won but was not there to accept, Crawford was poised to stand in and accept on her behalf.

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.”

Henry Fonda stars as an alcoholic, conflicted priest fleeing the police in “The Fugitive,” which is based on Graham Greene’s novel “The Power and the Glory.” John Ford directs.

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.

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Guest programmer Spike Lee picks four great titles for TCM

Andy Griffith and Patricia Neal star in “A Face in the Crowd.”

Director, producer, writer and actor Spike Lee, guest programming for TCM, has selected four excellent films, all of which have strong film-noir elements and social/political themes. The movies will play at various times this month, starting on Thursday, July 5.

Ace in the Hole” (1951, Billy Wilder) Kirk Douglas stars as a sleazy reporter who will go to any length to restart his career.

On the Waterfront” (1954, Elia Kazan) A washed-up boxer and mob member (Marlon Brando) tries to redeem himself when he falls in love with a victim of the mob (Eva Marie Saint).

A Face in the Crowd” (1957, Elia Kazan) The unlikely rise of a brutal drifter (Andy Griffith) to a media/TV sensation is set against the background of the South in the 1950s. Also stars Patricia Neal and Walter Matthau.

The Night of the Hunter” (1955, Charles Laughton) Another Southern saga: Robert Mitchum plays a murderous preacher, specializing in seducing and killing widows. The outstanding cast includes Shelley Winters and Lillian Gish.

Read Michael Wilmington’s tribute to Andy Griffith here.

Meanwhile, a very happy Fourth of July to everyone!

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Happy birthday, Marilyn

For what would have been Marilyn Monroe’s 86th birthday, I’ve compiled quotations from her and about her. If you have a favorite quotation from or about MM, please send it and I will add it to the list. I have credited the photographers wherever possible; copyright of all photos belongs to the photographers and/or their estates/representatives. (Note: Film noir horoscopes will return next month.)

An early shot of Marilyn on the beach; she loved the water.


“The real lover is the man who can thrill you by touching your head or smiling into your eyes or just staring into space.”

“I love champagne – just give me champagne and good food, and I’m in heaven and love.”

Marilyn started out as a model.

“The body is meant to be seen, not all covered up.”

“Sex is part of nature. I go along with nature.”

“My illusions didn’t have anything to do with being a fine actress, I knew how third rate I was. I could actually feel my lack of talent, as if it were cheap clothes I was wearing inside. But, my God, how I wanted to learn, to change, to improve!”

Marilyn shot by Milton Greene

“I don’t mind living in a man’s world as long as I can be a woman in it.”

“Husbands are chiefly good as lovers when they are betraying their wives.”

“People had a habit of looking at me as if I were some kind of mirror instead of a person. They didn’t see me, they saw their own lewd thoughts, then they white-masked themselves by calling me the lewd one.”

Marilyn shot by Milton Greene

“All the men I know are spending the day with their wives and families, and all the stores in Los Angeles are closed. You can’t wander through looking at all the pretty clothes and pretending to buy something.” – on why she hated Sundays

“Everyone’s just laughing at me. I hate it. Big breasts, big ass, big deal. Can’t I be anything else? Gee, how long can you be sexy?”

I love this shot and the elegant hat.

“Looking back, I guess I used to play-act all the time [as a child]. For one thing, it meant I could live in a more interesting world than the one around me.”

“No one ever told me I was pretty when I was a little girl. All little girls should be told they’re pretty, even if they aren’t.”

Marilyn in New York, shot by Ed Feingersh

“I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.”

“My problem is that I drive myself … I’m trying to become an artist, and to be true, and sometimes I feel I’m on the verge of craziness. I’m just trying to get the truest part of myself out, and it’s very hard. There are times when I think, ‘All I have to be is true.’ But sometimes it doesn’t come out so easily. I always have this secret feeling that I’m really a fake or something, a phony.”

Marilyn shot by Richard Avedon

“Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul.”


“Our marriage was a good marriage … it’s seldom a man gets a bride like Marilyn. I wonder if she’s forgotten how much in love we really were.” – Jim Dougherty talking to Photoplay magazine, 1953; they were married from 1942-46.

Marilyn and Joe DiMaggio were married less than a year.

“It’s like a good double-play combination. It’s just a matter of two people meeting and something clicks.” – Joe DiMaggio; he was married to Marilyn from Jan. 14, 1954 to Oct. 27, 1954

Marilyn and Arthur Miller, her third husband

“She was a whirling light to me then, all paradox and enticing mystery, street-tough one moment, then lifted by a lyrical and poetic sensibility that few retain past early adolescence. …

“She had no common sense, but what she did have was something holier, a long-reaching vision of which she herself was only fitfully aware: humans were all need, all wound. What she wanted most was not to be judged but to win recognition from a sentimentally cruel profession, and from men blinded to her humanity by her perfect beauty. She was part queen, part waif, sometimes on her knees before her own body and sometimes despairing because of it. …

“To have survived, she would have had to be either more cynical or even further from reality than she was. Instead, she was a poet on a street corner trying to recite to a crowd pulling at her clothes.” – Arthur Miller, her husband from 1956-61

Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller in front of the Queensboro Bridge, New York, 1957. Sam Shaw/ Shaw Family Archives, Ltd.

“There’s a beautiful blonde name of Marilyn Monroe who makes the most of her footage.” xxxxxLiza Wilson of Photoplay magazine, writing about “The Asphalt Jungle,” 1950

She was, “a female spurt of wit and sensitive energy who could hang like a sloth for days in a muddy-mooded coma; a child girl, yet an actress to loose a riot by dropping her glove at a premiere; a fountain of charm and a dreary bore … she was certainly more than the silver witch of us all.” – Norman Mailer

Marilyn shot by Bert Stern, 1962

‘‘From families that owned little but their own good names, she had inherited the fierce pride of the poor. Because she was sometimes forced to give in, to sell herself partially, she was all the more fearful of being bought totally.’’ – Gloria Steinem

“She deeply wanted reassurance of her worth, yet she respected the men who scorned her, because their estimate of her was her own.” – Elia Kazan

Marilyn shot by Bert Stern, 1962

All the sex symbols were endowed with a large portion of earthy coarseness. Marilyn had the most. … Only an inherent whore could walk like Marilyn and dress like Marilyn. … She had a trick of making all men feel she could be in love with them and I think she could be, a sort of saving each one for a rainy day, for when things would get tough again in her life and she would need help. … I saw the hope and the disappointments. The longing to give what the people wanted and, at the same time, to become a complete person herself. She was also selfish, rude, thoughtless, completely self-centered. She kept people waiting for hours.” – Hollywood columnist Sheilah Graham

Marilyn shot by Bert Stern, 1962

“The luminosity of that face! There has never been a woman with such voltage on the screen, with the exception of Garbo.” – Billy Wilder

“If she’d been dumber, she’d have been happier.” – Shelley Winters

“Everything Marilyn does is different from any other woman, strange and exciting, from the way she talks to the way she uses that magnificent torso.” – Clark Gable, her co-star of 1961’s “The Misfits,” about which he said: “This is the best picture I have made and it’s the only time I’ve been able to act.

Marilyn shot by Lawrence Schiller on the set of “Something’s Got to Give,” 1962

“Her mixture of wide-eyed wonder and cuddly drugged sexiness seemed to get to just about every male; she turned on even homosexual men. And women couldn’t take her seriously enough to be indignant; she was funny and impulsive in a way that made people feel protective. She was a little knocked out; her face looked as if, when nobody was paying attention to her, it would go utterly slack – as if she died between wolf calls.” – Pauline Kael

“What I particularly liked about Marilyn was that she didn’t act like a movie star. She was down to earth. Although she was 28, she looked and acted like a teenager. … I was most impressed that Marilyn was always polite and friendly to everyone on the set. She was no phony or snob. … Marilyn always seemed determined to talk to me about her childhood. We would be discussing a subject of current interest to her and she would somehow bring up an incident from her bygone days.” – Photographer George Barris

Marilyn shot by George Barris, 1962

“I liked her. She was a good kid. But when you looked into her eyes, there was nothing there. No warmth. No life. It was all illusion. She looked great on film, yeah. But in person … she was a ghost.” – Dean Martin, her co-star in 1962’s (unfinished) “Something’s Got to Give”

“Nobody could be as miserable as she was in such a loving, good-natured way. No matter how sad she may have been, she was never mean, never lashed out at me. Instead she just wanted to hug me and have me hug her and tell her it was all going to work out. That it didn’t, broke my heart.” – George Jacobs, who was Frank Sinatra’s valet

“Marilyn Monroe was a legend. In her lifetime she created a myth of what a poor girl from a deprived background could attain. For the entire world she became a symbol of the eternal feminine.” – Lee Strasberg in his eulogy

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In his short life, Jean Vigo helped ignite a cinematic uprising

October’s reader giveaway, announced earlier this month, is Criterion’s anthology of French filmmaker Jean Vigo and a Chicago film fest T-shirt. To enter, just comment on any post this month. Here, critic Michael Wilmington discusses the director and his work.

He died at 29: Jean Vigo, the spirit of youth, of art, of cinematic rebellion, of France between the wars. He was a citizen of the world cinema, even though he directed only four films: two documentary shorts, a featurette, and one feature, all of them to some degree commercial and critical failures. And yet Vigo lives.

The son of a revolutionary who died in a prison, Vigo helped ignite an artistic and cinematic uprising. He and his co-conspirators, Jean Renoir, Pierre Chenal, Julien Duvivier, and Marcel Carné, created Poetic Realism, beautiful stylized portrayals of marginalized, often doomed characters, such as criminals. This style of filmmaking, along with German Expression, greatly influenced film noir.

Jean Vigo

The look of Vigo’s films inspired 1940s and ’50s Hollywood. His great collaborator was the cinematographer Boris Kaufman, a poet of light, who later shot “On the Waterfront” for Elia Kazan and Sidney Lumet’s “12 Angry Men.”

Vigo’s works are records of the real – love and sex, wealth and poverty, French culture, French life as it was lived in the 1930s – and documents of the surreal, that mysterious land of our dreams.

He made movies about sunny resort cities and the bourgeoisie at play (1930’s “À propos de Nice), about a real-life Olympic champion swimmer (1931’s “Taris”), about schoolboys in revolt in a school run by monsters (1933’s “Zéro de Conduite”) and about two lovers and a wild old man on a barge on the river (1934’s “L’Atalante”).

“Zéro de Conduite,” a 44-minute featurette was based on Vigo’s memories of boarding school days, a nightmare of absurdities, tangled up with lyrical flights of freedom. The sarcastic treatment given the school’s bizarre academics is probably partly responsible for the film’s long banning in France (1933-45).

Dita Parlo and Michel Simon star in "L'Atalante."

“L’Atalante” remains one of the most hypnotically beautiful and lyrical films ever made. Twice, in 1962 and 1992, “L’Atalante” was voted one of the 10 greatest films of all time in the Sight and Sound International film poll. It is now a national treasure in France.

Vigo died in 1934. His work was trashed and forgotten, then resurrected and restored a decade after his death, and seen all over the world. If you see these films, they will make you feel more alive. They will flood your heart with love, your eyes with beauty and your mind with poetry, mad comedy and dreams. There are only four Jean Vigo films, but they open up a world for us. If we let them.

This Criterion anthology offers excellent special features and of course the films:

“À propos de Nice” (1930, silent, English intertitles)

“Taris” (1931, English subtitles) With Jean Taris.

“Zéro de Conduite” (1933, English subtitles) With Jean Daste, Louis Lefebvre.

“L’Atalante” (1934, English subtitles) With Michel Simon, Dita Parlo, Jean Daste, Louis Lefebvre.

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Lucille Ball turns her talents to crimestopping in ‘Dark Corner’

The Dark Corner/1946/Twentieth Century Fox/99 min.

Lucille Ball

If you know Lucille Ball from “I Love Lucy” and other TV shows, she may seem an unlikely noir actress. But before she played the zany wife of Cuban bandleader Ricky Ricardo, Ball was the Queen of B Movies. In “Dark Corner,” she stars as Kathleen, a perky secretary with a crush on her boss, NYC private eye Bradford Galt (Mark Stevens). It’s a solid noir with spot-on direction from Henry Hathaway and superb cinematography from Joseph MacDonald, both of whom were A-list talent.

Brad, equal parts Marlowe and Milquetoast, is appealingly human because we see chinks of weakness under his tough-guy exterior. Like many noir heroes, his past comes back to haunt him. Fittingly, his “ghost” is a heavy in a white suit named Stauffer (William Bendix) who seems to be on the payroll of Brad’s ex-partner, lusciously Nordic-looking Tony Jardine (Kurt Kreuger).

Clifton Webb

There’s bad blood with Tony because he framed Brad for a crime he didn’t commit, which led to jail time. But Tony, now more gigolo than gumshoe, is merely a puppet; pulling the strings is an effete, silver-haired art dealer named Hardy Cathcart (Clifton Webb). The lovely Mrs. Cathcart (Cathy Downs) is a patron of many arts, including a dalliance with Tony.

As Brad’s life becomes more of a nightmare, chipper and ever-loyal Kathleen is there to help him get to the bottom of the mess. What’s in it for her? If she’s lucky, maybe some nylons and a trip to the altar at the end assuming Brad can get out from under his fate.

Destiny, darkness, persecution, paranoia, surface vs. reality, existential angst, the depravity of high society, ie rich, folk – all these classic noir concerns are nicely woven into “The Dark Corner.” Much of the unease and tension is conveyed by Hathaway’s crisp direction and MacDonald’s moody visuals, especially the intense shadows and high contrast MacDonald creates with one dominant light source, such as a lamp on a desk.

This master lensman also worked on “Call Northside 777” from 1948 and 1953’s “Niagara” (both directed by Hathaway) as well as “Panic in the Streets” (Elia Kazan, 1950), “Pickup on South Street (Sam Fuller, 1953) and John Ford’s 1946 Western masterpiece “My Darling Clementine.”

Jay Dratler and Bernard Schoenfeld wrote “The Dark Corner” script based on a story by Leo Rosten. As film noir writers James Ursini and Alain Silver point out in their fine DVD commentary, Dratler also worked on Fox’s 1944 noir hit “Laura” by director Otto Preminger. Webb acted in both films, in “Dark Corner” essentially reprising his earlier role, a wonderfully decadent uppercrust character obsessed with Gene Tierney as Laura.

These writers give us some classic noir lines, such as “I could be framed easier than Whistler’s mother” and “I feel all dead inside, backed up in a dark corner and I don’t know who’s hitting me.” [Read more…]

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