Long-awaited Curtiz book hits Hollywood; Egyptian Theatre hosts signing and screening

Alan K. Rode

Film noir expert Alan K. Rode has released “Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film,” published by the University Press of Kentucky. To mark the book’s launch, the American Cinematheque is hosting a book signing and screening of two Curtiz gems on Thursday night in Hollywood at the Egyptian Theatre.

The Sea Wolf” (1941) stars Edward G. Robinson, John Garfield, Ida Lupino, Gene Lockhart and Barry Fitzgerald in a tense and moody adaption of Jack London’s anti-fascist adventure novel. Robert Rossen (“The Hustler”) wrote the screenplay.

The Breaking Point” (1950) takes Ernest Hemingway’s tragic novel “To Have and Have Not” as its source material. Though the setting is changed from Key West to Newport Beach, Calif., Curtiz delivers a more faithful version of the book than the famous Howard Hawks vehicle starring Bogart and Bacall.

Here, John Garfield expertly plays Skipper Harry Morgan. Gravel-voiced Patricia Neal is the alluring vamp; Phyllis Thaxter, Wallace Ford and Juano Hernandez round out the cast.

Rode set himself quite the task when he decided to write about this master director. Uncommonly prolific across many genres (including Westerns, swashbucklers and musicals), Hungarian-born Curtiz made more than 60 movies in Europe and more than 100 in Hollywood, arriving in 1926 at the behest of Warner Bros. Studio.

He won the Best Director Oscar for 1942’s noir-tinged “Casablanca” and for a short called “Sons of Liberty” from 1939. He was nominated for Oscars five times and directed 10 actors to Oscar nominations. James Cagney and Joan Crawford received their only Academy Awards under Curtiz’s direction.

Crawford won for her comeback role, “Mildred Pierce,” a domestic film noir from 1945. With a screenplay by Ranald MacDougall, the movie improves and heightens the drama of James M. Cain’s novel.

Co-starring Ann Blyth, Zachary Scott, Jack Carson, Eve Arden and Bruce Bennett, “Mildred Pierce” ranks as one of our all-time favorite films.

For tonight, however, we’ll just have to swoon over John Garfield. Life’s rough.

Rode will sign his book in the lobby at 6:30 p.m. He will also introduce the films, slated to start at 7:30 p.m.

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Noir City Hollywood kicks off with Ann Sheridan double bill

Woman on the Run posterNoir City Hollywood starts Friday at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. The famed fest, now in its 17th year, kicks off with an Ann Sheridan double feature: “Woman on the Run” (1950, Norman Foster) and “The Unfaithful” (1947, Vincent Sherman).

In “Woman on the Run,” police believe Sheridan can lead them to a key witness in a San Francisco gangland killing. The snag is she doesn’t want to feed them info. The witness is her husband (Ross Elliott), but she’s done with him. To hell with helping out! Dennis O’Keefe plays an enterprising (is there any other kind?) newspaperman.

In “The Unfaithful,” Sheridan has a dalliance that leads to death. Not hers, natch. David Goodis and James Gunn wrote the script (based on W. Somerset Maugham’s “The Letter”) and set the story in Los Angeles. Featuring Zachary Scott, Lew Ayres and the always-delightful Eve Arden.

The Unfaithful posterNoir City Hollywood will screen 26 films over 12 nights! The fest, which is presented by the American Cinematheque in collaboration with the Film Noir Foundation, runs through April 19. Eddie Muller and Alan K. Rode of the Film Noir Foundation will introduce the movies.

Woman on the Run” was restored in 2014 by the Film Noir Foundation in conjunction with the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Restoration funding for “Woman on the Run” was provided by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Charitable Trust through the Film Noir Foundation. “The Unfaithful” screens in a 35mm print.

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Film noir and shoulder pads spur Crawford’s comeback

Wanted to share my talk on “Mildred Pierce” (1945, Michael Curtiz) on Saturday, Sept. 20, at the West Hollywood Library. The library’s Corey Roskin introduced me. Hope you enjoy!

The movie was popular with critics and audiences, and it garnered six Academy Award nominations including best picture. Joan Crawford won for best actress. The superb cast members (Eve Arden, Ann Blyth, Jack Carson, Bruce Bennett, Zachary Scott) balance Crawford beautifully. Arden and Blyth both got Oscar nods for supporting actress.

The screening was part of WeHo Reads, a noir-themed month-long literary program.

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Film Noir Blonde to introduce ‘Mildred Pierce’ Saturday in West Hollywood

“Mildred Pierce” has an outstanding cast, including Eve Arden (left), Ann Blyth and, of course, the divine Ms. Crawford.

“Mildred Pierce” has an outstanding cast, including Eve Arden (left), Ann Blyth and, of course, the divine Ms. Crawford.

More noir news to share: I will be introducing “Mildred Pierce” (1945, Michael Curtiz) at 2 p.m. this Saturday, Sept. 20, at the West Hollywood Library Community Meeting Room, 625 N. San Vicente Blvd.

The movie was popular with critics and audiences, and it garnered six Academy Award nominations including best picture. Joan Crawford won for best actress. The superb cast members (Eve Arden, Ann Blyth, Jack Carson, Bruce Bennett, Zachary Scott) balance Crawford beautifully. Arden and Blyth both got Oscar nods for supporting actress. They lost to Anne Revere in “National Velvet.”

This free screening is part of WeHo Reads, a noir-themed month-long literary program. On Saturday, Sept. 27, there will be a day of panels, music and film.

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‘Anatomy of a Murder:’ Preminger’s crowning achievement

Anatomy of a Murder/1959/Columbia Pictures/160 min.

Criterion’s DVD rerelease of “Anatomy of a Murder” is this month’s giveaway prize. To be entered in the draw to win, just make a comment on any post this month.

By Michael Wilmington

Lee Remick is sexy and flirtatious Laura Manion, a part originally intended for Lana Turner. Laura's dog Muff is frequently at her side.

One of the best and most true-to-life of all courtroom dramas, “Anatomy of a Murder” is also the best film producer-director Otto Preminger ever made. And he was a master – of film noir (“Laura,” “Fallen Angel,” “Whirlpool,” “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” “Angel Face”), of urban drama (“The Man with the Golden Arm”), of romance (“Bonjour Tristesse,” “Daisy Kenyon”), of historical epics (“Exodus”), of spy dramas (“The Human Factor”), of musicals (“Carmen Jones”) and, most characteristically, of dramas that examine big, complex institutions: “Advise and Consent,” “The Cardinal,” “In Harm’s Way.”

“Anatomy” is a great, realistic film on a great subject, with writing that cuts to the bone. It also has one of the most famous title sequences (by Saul Bass) in movie history. And one of the most influential scores, original jazz, composed and played by Duke Ellington.

The film’s source material was a best-selling book by John D. Voelker, a Michigan State Supreme Court Justice, using the pen name Robert Traver. He based the book on an actual murder case in which he’d been the prosecuting attorney. In that trial, an Army man shot and killed a popular small-town bar-owner who, he said, had raped his wife.

From left: James Stewart plays a lawyer defending an Army lieutenant (Ben Gazzara) with help from his old friend and fellow lawyer (Arthur O'Connell).

Voelker/Traver and Wendell Mayes adapted the book and a phenomenal cast brought the story to the screen. We see Jimmy Stewart at his best as the wily and ingenious old-school defense lawyer Paul Biegler, Ben Gazzara as his cocky murder-trial defendant/client Army Lieutenant Frederick Manion, Lee Remick as Manion’s sexy wife Laura, George C. Scott as the icily astute prosecutor Claude Dancer, Eve Arden and Arthur O’Connell as Paul’s sharp-tongued secretary Maida Rutledge and Paul’s amiably soused fellow counsel Parnell McCarthy. The trial’s owlish, chatty but punctiliously fair Judge Weaver is played unforgettably by famed attorney Joseph Welch. Kathryn Grant is also memorable as the sweet but mysterious Mary Pilant.

If Paul is going to get Manion off, the only defense that is likely to work is Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity – an “irresistible impulse” that drove Manion to kill his wife’s rapist. The movie makes clear that Paul is not necessarily seeking the truth, but a victory for his client. So the trial becomes, in some sense, a piece of theater. Paul is creating a dramatic scenario that we know is a slanted one. Judge Weaver is there to mediate, but also to be a kind of commentator and chorus.

At the same time, Preminger (the son of a Viennese trial lawyer and a law school graduate who never practiced law himself) gives us a course in what happens during a trial and why the American legal system, for all its seeming flaws, is a model of both legal science and human compassion.

We want Paul Biegler to win, but mostly because he’s played by Jimmy Stewart – who brilliantly manipulates his movie persona as the stammering, sincere, dryly funny hero, while also showing us a somewhat devious side beneath the mask. It’s an incredibly adroit performance, as good as Stewart’s signature roles as George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Scottie Ferguson in “Vertigo,” and Jeff Smith in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

And Stewart anchors an eminently satisfying cast. Remick is wonderful as Manion’s flirtatious, cheerfully brazen and narcissistic wife Laura, a part originally intended for Lana Turner. The prosecution’s arrogant head lawyer Claude Dancer is played with nerveless intensity by Scott. Stewart, O’Connell and Scott got Oscar noms for their work.

Preminger shot the movie in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (Marquette, Ishpeming, Big Bay and Michigamme). The streets, the bar and the courthouse are real. And the scenes in Paul’s home (with its books, fishing gear and record collection) were shot in Voelker’s own house. “Anatomy” has the flavor of a semi-documentary, or of one of those Henry Hathaway crime dramas/noirs of the ’40s: “The House on 92nd Street,” “Call Northside 777” (with Stewart as a crusading Chicago reporter) and “Kiss of Death.”

Laura (Lee Remick) and her husband share pathology as well as passion.

Preminger’s filmmaking style is often called “objective.” He doesn’t try to force reactions on us, instead leaving us free to observe and judge. “Anatomy of a Murder” is especially ripe for such analysis, since the audience is essentially the jury.

But there’s a catch. Does anyone really watch a Preminger movie without knowing who the good guys and bad guys are? Even in “Anatomy of a Murder” we sense Paul might be defending a guilty client, but we also know he’s upholding the law, and his vision of it: the depth, mercy and grandeur of the law in which he deeply believes.

The fact is that Preminger is never completely objective. A lawyer as well as a man of the theater, he is always arguing a viewpoint, letting us know whom he likes and whom he doesn’t. He just does it in a subtler, more stylish, less forced manner than most other directors.

What’s special about Preminger’s cinematic style is his propensity for long takes and single shots with an unobtrusively moving camera. Preminger once said that, ideally, every scene should be done in a single shot. And that’s often what he often tries to do, for the sake of the actors (who don’t get their performances chopped up) and to preserve the feel of realism.

Lee Remick, Eve Arden and James Stewart appear in a courtroom scene.

To some in 1959, “Anatomy” looked like an opportunistic and deliberately sensational shocker, with a script that contained words such as “rape,” “bitch” and panties.” The film was even banned temporarily in Chicago. But Preminger played anti-censorship battles with such shrewd facility that it sometimes seemed he had gulled the censors into being his unofficial P.R. team.

“Anatomy of a Murder” may have raised hackles in its day, but it’s survived as a movie treasure and is one of the top films from 1959 – a year that also saw the release of classics like Billy Wilder’s “Some Like It Hot,” Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest,” William Wyler’s “Ben-Hur,” Howard Hawks’ “Rio Bravo,” George Stevens’ “The Diary of Anne Frank” and Vincente Minnelli’s “Some Came Running.”

Preminger’s trial drama can stand with any of them.

“Anatomy” will play Friday and Saturday at the New Beverly in LA.

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Free stuff from FNB: Win ‘Anatomy of a Murder’

Lee Remick plays Laura Manion. Remick’s co-stars (Stewart, Scott and O’Connell) earned Oscars noms for their performances.

This month, I am giving away a copy of Criterion’s rerelease of the Otto Preminger classic “Anatomy of a Murder” from 1959. Nominated for seven Oscars, including best picture, the film features a Duke Ellington score and an all-star cast: James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Arthur O’Connell, Eve Arden and George C. Scott.

In what is arguably the best role of his career, Stewart plays a small-town Michigan lawyer defending an army lieutenant (Gazzara) accused of murdering a tavern owner, who he believes raped his wife (Remick).

As Criterion puts it: “This gripping envelope-pusher, the most popular film by Hollywood provocateur Otto Preminger, was groundbreaking for the frankness of its discussion of sex – but more than anything else it is a striking depiction of the power of words.” This two-DVD special edition is packed with special features.

(Syd is the winner of the February reader giveaway, a DVD copy of “Notorious.” Congrats to Syd and thanks to all who entered!)

To enter the March giveaway, just leave a comment on any FNB post from March 1-31. We welcome comments, but please remember that, for the purposes of the giveaway, there is one entry per person, not per comment.

The winner will be randomly selected at the end of the month and announced in early April. 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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