The Film Noir File: ‘Strangers on a Train’ is one you must catch

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

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).

Pick of the Week

Farley Granger (left) and Robert Walker give pitch-perfect performances in "Strangers."

Farley Granger (left) and Robert Walker give pitch-perfect performances in “Strangers.”

Strangers on a Train (1951, Alfred Hitchcock). Monday, March 10: 4 p.m. (1 p.m.). With Farley Granger, Robert Walker and Ruth Roman.

Hitchcock starts the story by contrasting the shiny, two-toned spats of Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) with the sensible black dress shoes of Guy Haines (Farley Granger) as each emerges from a Diamond cab. We follow these parallel footsteps as they board the same train, hence the title.

These brief shots contain the crux of the film: Model citizens often hide hard-core badness and the most unsavory renegades and reprobates can surprise you with a virtue or two (especially if we count charm and fashion sense as virtues). Read the full review here.

Thursday, March 6

A Kiss Before Dying poster6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “A Kiss Before Dying” (1956, Gerd Oswald). With Robert Wagner, Jeffrey Hunter and Joanne Woodward. Reviewed in FNB, on May 17, 2011 and Nov. 10, 2012.

Friday, March 7

11 a.m. (8 a.m.): “The MacomberAffair” (1947, Zoltan Korda). Widely regarded as one of the cinema’s best films ever taken from an Ernest Hemingway story, this simmeringly tense, darkly faithful adaptation of Hemingway’s African tale “The Short Happy Like of Francis Macomber” focuses on a dangerous triangle on safari. The potent threesome are a cynical Great White Hunter (Gregory Peck), his boyishly enthusiastic rich neophyte hunter of an employer, Macomber (Robert Preston), and Macomber’s sultry-eyed seemingly ready-to-be-faithless wife (Susan Hayward). They enact a timeless drama surrounded by wild animals and scorching real-life African settings. Few filmmakers are better with jungle beasts and jungle people than director Zoltan Korda (’The Jungle Book,’ “Elephant Boy,” “Four Feathers”), and this may be his best movie.

5 p.m. (2 p.m.): “Count the Hours” (1953, Don Siegel). Tough, lean Siegel “B” about a migrant worker accused of murder in a prejudiced town, and the inferno of a trial into which he and his idealistic lawyer (MacDonald Carey) are thrown. With Teresa Wright and Jack Elam. [Read more...]

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The Noir File: A plan to swap murders in Alfred Hitchcock’s great thriller ‘Strangers on a Train’

By Michael Wilmington and Film Noir Blonde

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir, sort of noir and pre-noir on cable TV. All movies below 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

Farley Granger and Robert Walker chat over lunch in “Strangers on a Train.”

Strangers on a Train” (1951, Alfred Hitchcock). Tuesday, April 2, 8 p.m. (5 p.m.).

Tuesday, March 26

6 a.m. (3 a.m.): “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950, John Huston). With Sterling Hayden, Sam Jaffe and Marilyn Monroe.

12:45 p.m. (9:45 a.m.): “Crime Wave” (1954, Andre De Toth). One of De Toth’s best noirs. In this grim L.A.-shot cops-and-robbers thriller, Gene Nelson plays an ex-con trying to go straight, but stymied by a brutal cop (Sterling Hayden), who wants to nail him for a stick-up and murder committed not by Nelson but by his old prison mates. (The gang, a top-notch crock of crooks, includes Ted De Corsia, Charles Bronson and Timothy Carey). As for Hayden, this is one of his great “heavy” roles. As a cop who won’t give up, while confidently ruining the life of an innocent man, he’s maniacal, terrifying.

Thursday, March 28

7:45 a.m. (4:45 a.m.): “Dead Ringer” (1964, Paul Henreid). Two twin sisters, one obscenely rich, and one financially strapped, have been off each other’s radar for years, ever since bitchy rich Margaret stole bitter not-rich Edith’s wealthy fiancé. Then they meet up at the hubby’s L. A. funeral. Since both sisters are played by Bette Davis, we can expect the same kind of elegant switcheroo (one twin playing another) she pulled in the superior “A Stolen Life” (1946, Curtis Bernhardt), which plays at 11:30 a.m. (8:30 a.m.). Expect to have some fun, despite the fact, or maybe because of it, that the whole story is so implausible, even William Castle might have ducked it.

Bette manages the double role with skill, style and sizzle – though her “Now Voyager” co-star/chum Paul Henreid directs the whole thing without much inspiration, or even inspired silliness. But then again, why ask for the moon, when you have the stars? [Read more...]

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The Noir File: Young lovers on the run in ‘They Live by Night’

By Michael Wilmington and Film Noir Blonde

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on cable TV. All movies below 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

Cathy O’Donnell and Farley Granger play the beautiful young couple.

They Live by Night” (1949, Nicholas Ray). Wednesday, Dec. 5, 10:30 a.m. (7:30 a.m.). “Gentle” and “romantic” might seem odd words to apply to film noir. But Nicholas Ray’s “They Live By Night” is one of the gentlest, saddest and most romantic of all noirs, and an inarguable classic as well. It’s the familiar but potent story of two naïve young outlaw lovers-on-the-run: Bowie, a kid with a gun and Keechie, a girl with a heart to be broken (played by Farley Granger and Cathy O’Donnell, an unusually beautiful young movie couple). Bowie and Keechie are two nice, ordinary kids who‘ve fallen in with the crookedly paternal T-Dub (Jay C. Flippen) and his violent partner Chickamaw (Howard Da Silva) to form a gang of traveling thieves.

Ray was a famous American film outlaw romantic. He and producer John Houseman and screenwriter Charles Schnee derived their legendary gangster love story from Edward Anderson’s harder-bitten Depression novel “Thieves Like Us.” Robert Altman later remade “They Live By Night,” in 1974, under its original title, with Keith Carradine and Shelley Duvall as Bowie and Keechie (and Louise Fletcher as the two-faced Mattie). That was one of his neo-noir ’70s gems, but “They Live By Night” – often cited, with “Gun Crazy,” as a direct precursor of “Bonnie and Clyde” – has a tenderness and poetic quality that are unique for the crime movie genre. And never more so than in the remarkable nocturnal wedding-on-the-run of Bowie and Keechie, with Ian Wolfe as the wily justice of the peace reeling off a ceremony, paid witnesses, and the sense of a disappointed but wildly loving heart beating beneath it all.

Tuesday, Dec. 4

4 a.m. (1 a.m.):“Night and the City” (1950, Jules Dassin). Crooked fight promoter Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) tries to outrace the night. One of the all-time best film noirs, from Gerald Kersh’s London novel. With Gene Tierney, Herbert Lom and Googie Withers.

Wednesday, Dec. 5

12:15 p.m. (9:15 a.m.): “Gun Crazy” (1949, Joseph H. Lewis).

Thursday, Dec. 6

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Casablanca” (1942, Michael Curtiz).

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “The Third Man” (1949, Carol Reed).

Saturday, Dec. 8

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “Autumn Leaves” (1956, Robert Aldrich). Cougar Joan Crawford falls for an unstable younger man (Cliff Robertson); co-starring Vera Miles.

Sunday, Dec. 9

3 p.m. (12 p.m.): “Harper” (1966, Jack Smight). Paul Newman, at his most attractively laid-back, plays one of detective literature’s most celebrated private eyes, Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer, in this brainy thriller based on MacDonald’s novel “The Moving Target.” One catch: Archer has been renamed “Lew Harper,” so Newman could have (he hoped) another hit movie with an “H” title, like “The Hustler” and “Hud.” He got one. The stellar cast includes Lauren Bacall, Janet Leigh, Julie Harris, Shelley Winters, Robert Wagner, Arthur Hill, Robert Webber and Strother Martin. Scripted by William Goldman.

5:15 p.m. (2:15 p.m.): “Anatomy of a Murder” (1959, Otto Preminger).

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “Lady in the Lake” (1947, Robert Montgomery).

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The Noir File: Hawks, Hemingway, Bogie and Bacall Have it

By Michael Wilmington

A noir-lover’s guide to classic film noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). The times are Pacific Standard (listed first) and Eastern Standard.

Saturday, July 21

Bogie and Bacall create one of the most magical moments in movies.

5 p.m. (8 p.m.): “To Have and Have Not” (1944, Howard Hawks). One of my all-time favorite movies is this crackling adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s novel of boating and gunplay, reset in wartime Martinique and legendary for its incendiary love scenes between co-stars Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. (They met on the set here and later married.) Bogie is at his toughest and most likeable as Harry Morgan, a charter fishing boat captain torn between Vichy government thugs and French partisans.

The sensational 19-year-old Bacall plays singer/adventuress Marie (a.k.a. Slim), who memorably asks Harry “You know how to whistle, don’t you?” The supporting cast includes piano man Hoagy Carmichael, Marcel Dalio (“Grand Illusion”), Dan Seymour and Walter Brennan (great as Harry’s pal, Eddie the Rummy). Two Nobel Prize winners, both friends of Hawks, were among the writers here: original author Hemingway (whose book was considerably changed) and screenwriter William Faulkner.

Tuesday, July 24

7:15 a.m. (10:15 a.m.): “Strangers on a Train” (1951, Alfred Hitchcock). Two strangers meet on a train: social-climbing tennis pro Guy Haines (Farley Granger) and charming rich-kid psychopath Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker). Since they both have someone “ruining” their lives (Guy’s estranged wife and Bruno’s father) Bruno proposes, seemingly playfully, that they swap murders. Guy thinks it’s a joke, but Bruno is dead serious. One of Hitchcock’s best: a superb noir adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s classic literary thriller, with an amazing performance – blood-chilling, hilarious and strangely moving – by Walker. Ruth Roman, Leo G. Carroll, Marion Lorne and Hitch’s daughter Patricia Hitchcock are in the supporting cast. Raymond Chandler was one of the screenwriters.

9 a.m. (12 p.m.): “Jeopardy” (1953, John Sturges). Barbara Stanwyck, desperately trying to save endangered hubby Barry Sullivan – trapped by an accident and the rising tide under a Pacific Ocean pier – is herself kidnapped by Ralph Meeker, a ruthless outlaw with a yen for Stanwyck. A real nail-biter, directed by John Sturges (“The Great Escape,” “The Magnificent Seven”). Scripted by Mel Dinelli.

1:30 p.m. (4:30 p.m.): “D.O.A.” (1950, Rudolph Maté). Quintessential noir. Edmond O’Brien, as an accountant visiting San Francisco, is slipped a dose of slow-acting poison; he has only a day to find his mysterious killers. With Luther Adler, Pamela Britton, Beverly Garland and Neville Brand. Co-scripted by Russell Rouse.

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Tense one-take ‘Silent House’ undercut by lack of depth

Silent House/2012/LD Entertainment, et al/88 min.

Does the average moviegoer care if a movie seems to be shot in one continuous take? Maybe, maybe not. To create the appearance of a one-take thriller, “Silent House,” directed by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, was filmed on one Canon 5D camera with two operators in 13 total shots.

Whether you know or care about tricky production, the point is to try to make you feel the fear of the main character Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) a girl who’s in for a bad night at her family’s dark, isolated, creaky, spooky (natch) summer home. “The continuous take in itself is really what builds the tension,” said Lau at a recent press day in Beverly Hills. “She’s trapped in terror.”

(Similarly, Alfred Hitchcock crafted the illusion of a continuous shot in his first color film, 1948’s “Rope,” starring James Stewart, John Dall and Farley Granger.)

Kentis and Lau (co-directors of 2003’s “Open Water”) remade “Silent House” from Gustavo Hernández’s “La Casa Muda” (2010), which was inspired by events that occurred in a Uruguayan village in the 1940s. For their version, Lau wrote a new script, working late at night and listening to Nine Inch Nails. In addition to Trent Reznor, the filmmakers said they drew inspiration from psychological thrillers like Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion” (1965).

“Silent House” also features Adam Trese and Eric Sheffer Stevens as Sarah’s father and uncle, and Julia Taylor Ross as a family friend, but ultimately it’s Olsen’s movie. Because she’s rarely offscreen, the film hinges on her presence and acting.

Expressive, vulnerable and luminous, Olsen is compelling to watch. “I felt like I was part of the editing process,” said Olsen at the press day. “It was like dancing with the DP [Igor Martinovic] and figuring out a rhythm.”

The drama hinges on a devastating secret, long hidden within the walls of this sinister summer home. Though “Silent House” is swift and slick, unfortunately, the twist that’s supposed to lend psychological depth feels clumsy and lame, like a thin slap of paint on a faded front door.

“Silent House” opens today nationwide.

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‘Strangers on a Train’ brings out the bad in the best of us

Farley Granger and Robert Walker

Strangers on a Train/1951/Warner Bros. Pictures/101 min.

A friend of mine once went on a second date with a guy who showed up wearing saddle shoes. Let’s just say there wasn’t a third date. If only he’d seen 1951’s “Strangers on a Train.”  Alfred Hitchcock understood the importance of footwear and it shows in this stellar film.

He starts the story by contrasting the shiny, two-toned spats of Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) with the sensible black dress shoes of Guy Haines (Farley Granger) as each emerges from a Diamond cab. We follow these parallel footsteps as they board the same train, hence the title.

These brief shots contain the crux of the film: Model citizens often hide hard-core badness and the most unsavory renegades and reprobates can surprise you with a virtue or two (especially if we count charm and fashion sense as virtues).

Marion Lorne

Despite their differences, Bruno and Guy both have monkeys on their backs. Bruno is a spiffy playboy with psychopathic tendencies. Besides drinking and gambling, he spends his time hatching schemes for space travel and blowing up the White House. Even though Bruno has his wealthy and wacky mother (Marion Lorne) wrapped around his little finger, his father (Jonathan Hale) isn’t so flexible. In fact, he keeps threatening to have Bruno “taken care of, if necessary, put under restraint.”

Guy is a pro tennis player who wants to marry his dream girl Anne Morton (Ruth Roman), daughter of Senator Morton (Leo G. Carroll). Hitch’s daughter Patricia plays Anne’s little sister, Barbara. Unluckily for Guy, he’s already married to venal and unfaithful Miriam (Kasey Rogers, credited as Laura Elliott).

So, during their train trip, Bruno strikes up a conversation with Guy, telling him: “I certainly admire people who do things.” Over drinks, smokes and a lamb-chop lunch, Bruno proposes a daring, if absurd, solution to both of their glitches: If Bruno murders Miriam, that would leave Guy free to marry Anne. In exchange, Guy would bump off Mr. Anthony. Guy laughs it off, but Bruno takes it as mutual pledge and proceeds to carry out his part of the deal, trailing Miriam to a carnival and murdering her.

When he hears the news, Guy’s shocked, but if he tells the police, Bruno will claim that Guy was an accomplice. Besides, he had motive. As the police investigate, Bruno pressures Guy to fulfill his part of the plan.

Guy resists, but Bruno won’t back down and turns into a bit of a stalker. Bruno also has an ace in the hole: he nabbed Guy’s engraved cigarette lighter when Guy left it behind after their lunch on the train. Guy may lack Bruno’s warped brilliance but he pushes back when cornered and he’s determined to set things right.

If you don’t love “Strangers on the Train,” I’ll be shocked. It’s a gloriously suspenseful story, based on a Patricia Highsmith novel. Raymond Chandler wrote the screenplay, but most of that was trashed and rewritten by Czenzi Ormonde, with uncredited help from Ben Hecht. (Whitfield Cook adapted.) Hitch and Chandler apparently had a hate/hate relationship. [Read more...]

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Quick hit: ‘Strangers on a Train’

Strangers on a Train/1951/Warner Bros. Pictures/101 min.

Of the noir genre’s many chance meetings on trains, this is tops. Clean-cut tennis star Guy (Farley Granger) and loony playboy Bruno (Robert Walker) get to chatting. Turns out, they both have thorns in their sides, in the form of Guy’s wife and Bruno’s father. Bruno suggests each of them murder the other’s nemesis and shortly after follows through with his end of the bargain. One of Hitchcock’s best.

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Farley Granger (1925-2011): A face born for film noir and a movie immortal

By Michael Wilmington

Farley Granger

Farley Granger, who died at 85 on March 27, was the darkly handsome, sensitive-looking lead in four indisputable noir classics: Nicholas Ray’s “They Live by Night” (1949), Anthony Mann’s “Side Street” (1950), and by Alfred Hitchcock: “Rope” (1948) and “Strangers on a Train” (1951).

Blessed (or sometimes cursed) with pretty-boy looks, dark curly hair and an expression that could vary from bruised innocence and outright anguish to wary bemusement and dissolute sadism, Granger became a Hollywood movie star at 18, right out of North Hollywood High, when Samuel Goldwyn decided to sign him and groom him.

The teenager was cast in two Lewis Milestone World War II movies, “North Star” (1943) and “The Purple Heart” (1944). Goldwyn signed him again when Granger returned from WWII service in 1948.

It’s his noirs that make Farley Granger a movie immortal. We remember him best as the murderous but conscience-plagued college boy modeled on thrill-killer Nathan Leopold in “Rope”; as the desperate young husband caught in a web of crime in “Side Street”; as the bank-robbing outlaw, Bowie, part of a Bonnie-and-Clyde team with Cathy O’Donnell’s Keechie in “They Live By Night” (O’Donnell also co-starred with him in “Side Street”); and as socially ambitious tennis star Guy Haines, bedeviled by the persistent “criss-cross” killer, Bruno Anthony (the magnificently deranged Robert Walker), in Hitchcock’s masterpiece “Strangers on a Train.”

After a minor noir “The Naked Street” and a lush period crime drama “The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing” (both 1955), Granger returned far less often to the big screen, though he remained a permanent part of Hollywood’s historical landscape.

And of the international film landscape. One of his finest performances was as the handsome, seductive and amoral Austrian Army officer, Lt. Franz Mahler, the wastrel who ruins Alida Valli’s life, in Luchino Visconti’s great operatic Italian period drama from 1954 “Senso” – a role that Marlon Brando had wanted and read for.

(“Senso” has just been released in a splendid Criterion edition, complete with a documentary, interviews and a bonus disc of the English-language version, “The Wanton Contessa,” with Granger’s voice.)

Farley Granger starred in "Side Street" from 1950 directed by Anthony Mann.

Sensitive or troubled in most of his famous parts, Granger may have suffered in ’50s Hollywood, a time and place where his bisexuality – hinted at in his “Rope” and “Strangers” roles – could be something of a career killer. (Among his lovers: “Rope’s” screenwriter Arthur Laurents, composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein, Shelley Winters and Ava Gardner.) [Read more...]

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