Jeanne Carmen’s life-of-the-party legacy lives on

Jeanne Carmen was a sultry pin-up model and seasoned B-movie actress.

So, at the memorial service for Marilyn Monroe last month, I met Brandon James. Brandon is the son of Jeanne Carmen, a pin-up model, ace golfer, B-movie actress and friend of Marilyn’s.

Jeanne was born Aug. 4, 1930 in Paragould, Ark., to a family of cotton pickers. After winning a beauty contest at 13, she left home to pursue her dream of Hollywood stardom. Though she never became a top-tier actress, she most definitely left her mark and had a good time – clinking glasses and climbing under the covers with the likes of Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Johnny Roselli.

After Marilyn died on Aug. 5, 1962, mobsters told Jeanne to keep quiet about Marilyn’s connection to the Kennedy clan, according to her son. Jeanne heeded the warning and, leaving her party-girl life behind, became a wife and mother in Scottsdale, Ariz. She died Dec. 20, 2007.

Her name appears in Christopher Andersen’s new book, “These Few Precious Days,” which details JFK’s last year with Jackie, including his presumed affair with Marilyn and use of amphetamines provided by “Dr. Feelgood.” Andersen writes that Marilyn frequently confided in Jeanne during this time, reportedly asking her, “Can’t you just see me as first lady?”

Additionally, a clip of Jeanne in “The Monster of Piedras Blancas” (1959) is used in American Standard’s new at-home movie marathon commercial, which, btw, also features an adorable cat. ;) The ad will run for four months.

For more info about Jeanne, you can visit Brandon’s site and watch this edition of E! True Hollywood Story. Perhaps more off-screen than on, she was a femme fatale and blonde bombshell who was the scribe and star of her own fascinating drama.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

‘Murder by Contract,’ ‘Nightfall’ and ‘The Prowler’ close LACMA Mid-century California Noir series

Van Heflin

Louis B. Mayer once looked at me and said, ‘You will never get the girl at the end.’ So I worked on my acting.” – Van Heflin

I’m glad he did. Heflin, one of my favorite ’40s/’50s actors, had charisma and presence to spare, even if he wasn’t classically handsome. A case in point is 1951’s “The Prowler” by Joseph Losey, which played Saturday night at LACMA, after “Murder by Contract” and “Nightfall,” the last in the Mid-century California Noir series.

My favorite was “The Prowler,” recently restored by UCLA and the Film Noir Foundation. Here, Heflin plays Webb Garwood, a sleazy cop who’s called to a posh, Spanish-style Los Angeles home by lovely and lonely Susan Gilvray (Evelyn Keyes) after she has a vague suspicion that an intruder is lurking in the garden. Turns out, there’s no one there, but Webb and Susan hit it off and soon begin an affair. Susan’s nights are often free because her DJ husband, John, is at the radio station broadcasting his show.

Evelyn Keyes, John Maxwell and Van Heflin in "The Prowler."

It’s a love triangle in the vein of “Double Indemnity” and “The Postman Always Rings Twice” though here it’s Webb, not the femme fatale, who seizes the opportunity to do away with the wealthy husband and snag some money. Webb shoots John, apparently in the line of duty, leaving him free to marry Susan, ditch police work and move to Vegas.

When Susan announces she’s preggers, it crimps the plan rather a lot because the birth will reveal the true timing of their relationship. (This is actually a shocking plot turn because it reveals beyond a doubt that their relationship was sexual – other noirs hint at this, of course, but I can’t think of another example where it is so explicitly established. Not sure how they got that past the censors.) The two take off for a remote mountain town so she can secretly bear the child with no witnesses around. Once there, however, Webb reveals his knavish, venal nature and Susan takes action of her own.

Heflin perfectly inhabits this deeply flawed character, lending him charm and complexity, even making you sort of like him at times. He could play a snake so memorably – he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar as a gangster’s pal in “Johnny Eager” and he was excellent in both “Possessed” with Joan Crawford and “Act of Violence,” where he played an Army traitor. Another noir highlight was playing Philip Marlowe on NBC radio in the late 1940s.

Heflin was just as adept at playing average Joes and good guys, most notably in “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers” (a film noir with Barbara Stanwyck and Kirk Douglas), “Shane” and “3:10 to Yuma.”

Keyes’ Susan is no vampy seductress. Instead, she plays the character as written – bland, bored and slightly feckless. Perhaps a fish out of water in the big city; she and Webb bond because they both hail from Terra Haute, Ind., albeit from different sides of the tracks. Keyes conveys that Susan is more than just bored – she yearns for children and perhaps something more than she finds in her cushy but unhappy marriage. And to her credit Keyes completely abandons her glamorous exterior when she’s sweating it out in the mountains.

Dalton Trumbo relaxes in Cannes, 1971.

Blacklisted writers Dalton Trumbo and Hugo Butler produced the script based on a story by Robert Thoeren and Hans Wilhelm. Trumbo provided the voice for Susan’s DJ husband; he is completely uncredited on the film.

It’s a movie that grabs you quickly and doesn’t let go – a testament to Losey’s marvelous direction. Cahiers du cinema pointed to “The Prowler” as the moment Losey became a true auteur. And Losey, who suffered professionally because of his supposed ties to the Communist Party, put it this way: “‘The Prowler’ to me is, and always has been, a film about false values. About the means justifying the end and the end justifying the means. $100,000 bucks, a Cadillac and a blonde were the sine qua non of American life at that time and it didn’t matter how you got them.”

For me, “The Prowler” was the hit of the LACMA triple-bill, though “Murder by Contract” (1958, Irving Lerner) and “Nightfall” (1957, Jacques Tourneur) also made compelling viewing. In “Murder,” written by Ben Maddow and Ben Simcoe, luscious Vince Edwards gives a thoroughly haunting performance as a smart, precise, driven hitman; slick cinematography by the brilliant Lucien Ballard and original guitar music by Perry Botkin add to the mood of tension and doom. The film was a key influence on Martin Scorsese and “Taxi Driver.”

Evocative visuals and location shooting in LA and Wyoming, courtesy of Tourneur and first-rate cinematographer Burnett Guffey, make “Nightfall” easy on the eyes. Given that the movie is based on a David Goodis novel (Stirling Siliphant wrote the script), I was disappointed that I found myself drifting in and out of the slightly thin story. Perhaps a dynamic lead actor, like Van Heflin, could have injected more drama, but Aldo Ray as an innocent man on the run just didn’t do it for me. His one-note realization lacked depth and nuance.

That said, I liked Brian Keith as his bad-guy nemesis (Keith probably could have played Ray’s part quite well) and Anne Bancroft as Ray’s romantic interest, a model and sometime bar-fly. Chris Fujiwara, author of “The Cinema of Nightfall: Jacques Tourneur,” calls her “one of Tourneur’s most distinctive heroines.”

And any film noir that features a sumptuous fashion show at the Beverly Hills Hilton is more than all right by me.

“Murder by Contract” and “Nightfall” are available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in the Film Noir Classics series; “The Prowler” from VCI Entertainment.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

Film noir gifts for the holidays: Makeup and fragrance

Bulletproof notes include tea, woods and cedar.

With socializing and chic travel in full swing, you may be looking for a few new additions to your makeup bag or stand-out presents for your beauty-addict chums. Here are my suggestions.

Tailor-made for wicked women is Tokyo Milk’s Femme Fatale collection, eight new fragrances with names like Crushed, Excess, Arsenic and, my favorite, Bulletproof. Fragrance notes too are uncommon: smoked tea, coconut milk, crushed cedar and ebony woods define Bulletproof, for instance. And the design is divine!

A three-piece Femme Fatale set runs $65 and includes 2 ounces of eau de parfum, 3.4 ounces of shea-butter hand cream and one .70 ounce lip elixir/balm. You can also buy items individually. (The photo shows two versions of the hand cream.)

No-fuss drama by Hourglass.

Dior plays the blues.

Hourglass Film Noir Lash Lacquer, $28. Take your look up a notch for nighttime by creating high-drama eyes. Like gloss for the lashes, this Vitamin E-enriched lacquer can be worn alone or over mascara to add a little (or a lot of) shine. “The results are stunning, almost cinematic,” says Hourglass CEO and founder Carisa Janes.

OK, so frosty blue became a hideous icon of the ’70s. But midnight blue has always given inky black a run for its money. Look at the gorgeous color in Dior Blue Tie Essentials and you’ll see why. The gleaming chunky container also houses a square of pretty pink lip color. Regularly $70, this is selling online for $40, but is going fast! Try Bloomingdale’s.

Metallics, martinis. Life's good.

Lancome's lovely set.

Pressed for time? Add instant glitz with a quick metallic dusting on your brow bones and cheekbones with Bobbi Brown’s Martini Shimmer Brick, $40. Also makes a festive gift for a friend.

Hypnôse Drama mascara is the star of this four-piece set from Lancôme, selling at Nordstrom for $29.50 ($68 value). That said, the amazing eye-makeup remover very nearly steals the show and I’m so excited to find it in a travel size! The set includes:

- Hypnôse Drama mascara in Excessive Black
- Travel-size Cils Booster XL mascara base
- Le Crayon khol eyeliner in Black Ebony
- Travel-size Bi-Facil Double-Action eye-makeup remover (1.7 ounces).

L’Oréal Infallible gives a soft sheen and lasts several hours.

Chanel's coveted gloss.

Smoky eyes call for subtle lips and L’Oréal Infallible lip gloss, $12, does the trick. Designed to last for six hours, it’s also a lip plumper. For me, Infallible hasn’t quite lasted the full six hours but it’s easy to apply, feels good on, and comes in a bunch of cool colors. Shown here is Suede.

Chanel’s holiday 2011 collection is breathtaking! You’ll find there’s much to covet and, if struggling to decide, you can’t go wrong with Glossimer lip gloss in Sparkle D’Or, $28.50. On its own or over a red lipstick, Glossimer is sleek, smooth and vibrant.

Being good is so overrated.

Be red-carpet ready with Revlon's Silver Screen.

Want to inject more zest into your office holiday party? Mix it up a little with Good Girl Gone Bad nail polish by Deborah Lippmann, $16. Or choose from the new holiday shades, which are “dripping in glittery excess,” as noted on her company’s site. Gotta love that this time of year, no?

I also love Lippmann’s success: she started her own line of products in 1998 after her flair for nails and color caught on with celebrities and fashion houses (Versace, Valentino, Balenciaga, Donna Karan and Zac Posen).

A stunning red by Nails Inc.

Revlon Silver Screen polish, $6, is a versatile metallic that picks up tints of pewter, shiny gray and muted lavender depending on the light. I can’t find this shade on Revlon’s site, which I found plodding and cumbersome, so I would suggest buying it at your local drug store.

Need a gift for your mani-pedi buddy? Try Nails Inc. London polish in Charing Cross – an irresistible red that Santa’s elves must be scurrying to stock. Company founder Thea Green was honored in June with a MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) for her outstanding contribution to the beauty industry. This polish is $19.50 at Sephora.

Precious Oud is a perfect holiday splurge.

Fracas evokes vintage charm.

Tuberose, jasmine, jonquil, lily of the valley, white iris and pink geranium – must be Fracas, the classic fragrance by Robert Piguet, a legendary French designer who mentored Hubert de Givenchy and Christian Dior among others. Said Dior: “Robert Piguet taught me the virtues of simplicity through which true elegance must come.”

Neiman Marcus is selling Fracas sets (3.4-ounce eau de parfum spray and a 6.5-ounce body lotion) for $120. It’s a super deal because that’s the usually the price for the eau de parfum alone.

Such a pretty bottle and an uncommonly sophisticated, slightly exotic, scent (spicy florals with vetiver, wood and patchouli): Precious Oud eau de parfum by Van Cleef & Arpels, $185, at Neiman Marcus.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

Earthy, sexy and wry, Marie Windsor was born to play fatales

Let’s be fair. Marie Windsor as femme fatale Sherry Peatty in “The Killing” by Stanley Kubrick may seem venal, treacherous and manipulative. And yes she hatches a scheme to feather her nest that’s a bit dangerous. But is it right that she’s punished for being as smart, decisive and daring as the men?

Sherry is married, need I say unhappily, to George (Elisha Cook, Jr.), a nervous, Milquetoast cashier at a racetrack. Through George, she gets wind of a heist taking place at the track by Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) and his gang. Sherry tips off her lover Val (Vince Edwards) and comes up with this idea: let George and his friends do the heavy lifting, then she and Val can take off with the stolen cash, about $2 million.

In "The Killing," Marie Windsor as Sherry Peatty is so over her dreary husband George (Elisha Cook, Jr.).

Of course, you could argue that the deeply flawed Sherry is downright immoral. And so are the men. But Sherry only gets as far as she does because of George’s colossal ego. Or perhaps it’s his tremendous capacity for denial. Clearly, she’s been after money all along and she’s tired of George not coming through with it. C’mon, George, did you really think she was into your swagger? (Offscreen, Windsor and Cook were chums. She said of him in a 1992 interview, “Elisha Cook was a darling and full of the devil.”)

Earthy, sexy and wry, Windsor was an actress born to play femmes fatales – with her huge, restless eyes, slightly cynical smile and lean but curvy body. Regardless of how many lines or how many scenes Windsor was in, she had a quality both luminous and tawdry, an expressiveness bordering on vulgarity that meshed perfectly with noir sensibility.

Windsor won an award from Look magazine for her role in "The Killing."

Born and raised in Utah, Windsor was especially popular with directors of Westerns and of noirs (in particular, “Force of Evil,” 1948, by Abraham Polonsky; “The Narrow Margin,” 1952, by Richard Fleischer; and “The Sniper,” 1952, by Edward Dmytryk). Once Windsor had been cast, the director had one less thing to worry about, knowing that she’d nail the character.

Kubrick so wanted Windsor for “The Killing” that he delayed filming until she had wrapped up 1955’s “Swamp Women” by Roger Corman. She was worth the wait; for playing Sherry in “The Killing,” Windsor was rewarded with a 1956 Best Supporting Actress award from Look magazine, a prestigious honor at the time.

Windsor worked steadily in movies and TV through the early 1990s. She was married to Jack Hupp for 46 years, from 1954 until her death in 2000.

Despite Sherry’s, um, blemished character, I prefer her gumption to Johnny’s girlfriend, the desperately needy Fay (Coleen Gray). As Fay tells Johnny: “I’m not very pretty and I’m not smart so please don’t leave me alone any more. I’ll go along with anything you say, Johnny. I always will.”

Ever heard of a spine, lady? Well, Sherry has.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

‘Tabloid’ by Errol Morris tells the bizarre tale of a femme fatale who refuses to give up

Tabloid/2010/IFC Films/88 min.

Celluloid femmes fatales, though they may lack morals and dabble in deadly sins, are nevertheless pretty easy to like. They have brains, beauty, ambition and style. And it’s just a movie, a 90-minute diversion from reality.

In the real world, however, manipulative, self-absorbed and conniving narcissists typically don’t receive our admiration; if they’re lucky, they might get our compassion. That’s the case with Joyce McKinney, the subject of the latest film from Errol Morris, one of America’s greatest documentarians. It’s a story that’s funny, frenzied and nothing short of astounding.

I was part of a roundtable interview with Morris last Friday and learned more about the film. About three years ago, browsing through the Boston Globe, Morris happened to see a wire story about McKinney, who made headlines most recently for having her dog cloned in South Korea. The story also noted that 30 years before, McKinney had been a front-page fixture in the British tabloids.

Why? Oh, she just wanted her man back. McKinney, a former beauty queen, fell head-over-heels in love with a clean-cut guy named Kirk Anderson. They had discussed marriage and even what to name their kids, McKinney says. But Anderson was (and apparently still is – he refused to be interviewed) a Mormon and was assigned to a mission in England.

According to a 2008 report in London’s Sunday Times: In 1977, the former Miss Wyoming stalked her lover, a Mormon missionary, to a tabernacle in East Ewell, Surrey, allegedly kidnapped him and held him in a cottage in Devon. There, the 17-stone [238 pounds] Kirk Anderson claimed, his petite, busty admirer tied him to a bed using mink-trimmed handcuffs, slipped into a see-through nightie and forced him into sex. At a remand hearing she declared her love for the Mormon with the immortal line: “I’d ski naked down Mount Everest with a carnation up my nose if he asked me.”

Once the story broke, Fleet Street journalists had a field day and McKinney’s bizarre mission was prime Page-One fodder. “Joyce’s story had all the qualities of a crazy B-movie,” says producer Mark Lipson.

Joyce McKinney in an undated photo.

Fast forward to today to a McKinney who did not move on. She didn’t particularly want to. “I think she’s an amazing romantic heroine,” says Morris. “She’s this incredibly romantic soul – an absurdist, romantic figure pursuing some quixotic, hopeless love or the idea of love. She’s remarkable as a person who refuses to give up.”

Morris also likes “Tabloid”’s element of film noir. “I love film noir. … People don’t really have control over their lives in noir. They’re part of some infernal tapestry of design. There’s a sense of inexorability and there’s a sense of inexorability in this story.”

“Tabloid” opens July 15 in Los Angeles and New York.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

‘Hangover Square’ is a deliciously warped little gem

Hangover Square/1945/20th Century-Fox/77 min.

Linda Darnell

Last Thursday at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, I saw “Hangover Square” from 1945 and what a deliciously warped little gem it is! (It was on a double bill with “Psycho” as part of the series honoring composer Bernard Herrmann.) “Hangover Square” stars the spellbindingly sexy and exquisitely stunning Linda Darnell as Netta Longdon, an ambitious music-hall singer in need of good songs.

Enter Laird Cregar playing composer George Harvey Bone, a sweet, lumbering Teddy Bear of a guy. Both are residents of a fictitious square in London, a curious Hollywood-esque dwelling where almost every voice you hear has an American accent.

Femme fatale Netta easily wraps George Bone around her little finger, distracting him from writing more serious music and using him as a babysitter for her long-haired, evil-eyed cat. Of course she has a menacing, demanding cat – who else is going to make sure George gets the songs done by jumping into his lap and glaring at him? Not Netta, she’s out on the town every night.

There’s just one small snag. George has a strange condition, stemming from overwork, that causes him to black out and possibly become violent. Possibly not, but he doesn’t remember. We learn early on in the film that George is on Scotland Yard’s radar, having been examined by Dr. Allan Middleton (the delightfully smarmy George Sanders), but he’s not deemed to be a threat to anyone. Besides, George is adored by the upper crust Sir Henry Chapman (Alan Napier) and his pretty daughter Barbara (Faye Marlowe).

But that was before Netta and her cat entered the picture and insisted George work his chubby fingers to the, well, bone. Strain + strange condition does not bode well for this ill-fated pair. George takes advantage of a Guy Fawkes bonfire to cover up the crime he commits before blithely succumbing to the ravaging flames of another fire.

Skillfully directed by John Brahm (he also directed Cregar in “The Lodger,” 1944) and gorgeously shot by Joseph LaShelle, “Hangover Square” is full-on film noir, even though the story is set around 1900. The shadow-drenched urban nightscapes, themes of alienation and sexual obsession, and Herrmann’s edgy score draw us into the dark, ambiguous, dangerously skewed noir world.

Barré Lyndon wrote the screenplay, based on a 1941 novel by English writer Patrick Hamilton, who also wrote the plays “Gaslight” and “Rope,” which became Hollywood classics. “Gaslight” was directed by George Cukor (1944) and “Rope” by Alfred Hitchcock (1948). In the novel, George Bone was a borderline alcoholic and the story was set in 1939.

But perhaps most chilling is the off-screen story of the stars. [Read more...]

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

This month’s reader giveaway: Experience the elegance of Bulgari’s Jasmin Noir body cream

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” said Leonardo da Vinci. Somehow I don’t think he had beauty routines or vanity tables in mind when he said this but you never know. He was a Renaissance man, after all.

Bulgari's new body cream absorbs easily, leaving an intoxicating scent.

I recently found a new product that’s really rather captivating in its simplicity, Bulgari’s Jasmin Noir body cream. The plain black jar, minimally adorned with a single gold band, catches the eye. The rich, yet light, cream is a joy to use, keeps skin summer-soft and eliminates the need for any other fragrance.

Earlier this week, I slathered some on after a shower and then dashed out the door for a blowout. “You smell fantastic. What is that?” Nava, the stylist, asked me as she washed my hair. Leaning back, with my feet up, it was the perfect way to relish the feeling of well being and pampering.

Bulgari says it was drawn to jasmine for its “intriguing ambivalence and complexity,” noting that the flower’s scent changes hour by hour. “At dawn, the translucent white flower has a fresh and delicate scent, then at midday it releases a citrusy fragrance that recalls orange blossoms, which then transforms in the evening into the characteristically warmer, more seductive notes.”

Perfect for a femme fatale, no? Also available: soap, bath & shower gel, body lotion and perfume. Bulgari’s Jasmin Noir Body Cream is $90 for 6.9 ounces. To buy it, visit Neiman Marcus.

Best of all, I have an extra jar for this month’s reader giveaway! To enter, just leave a comment on any FNB post, June 1-30. The winner will be randomly selected at the end of the month and announced in early July. Include your email address in your comment so that I can notify you if you win. Your email will not be shared. (The winner of the April giveaway has been selected and contacted.)

Product Source: Bulgari has provided a product for review and a product to give away to a reader. I did not receive compensation.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

Married to the mob, Crawford style: ‘The Damned Don’t Cry’

The Damned Don’t Cry/1950/Warner Bros./103 min.

Joan Crawford was known for her gorgeous gams.

In “The Damned Don’t Cry,” which is full of sharp dialogue, this line cuts to the chase. Jacqueline DeWit asks Joan Crawford: “What else do we got to sell but a face and figure? And anyone who can make a peplum move like you do don’t need anything else.”

DeWit’s Sandra, a model by day and escort by night, briefly takes Crawford’s character, Ethel Whitehead, under her wing as Ethel learns to fend for herself in New York City. But, in addition to her modeling ability, Ethel has brains and ambition in spades and she soon surpasses Sandra to become the ultimate hard-as-nails femme fatale in this classic Crawford film noir.

Like many femmes fatales, Ethel has humble roots. A downtrodden housewife with a cranky husband (Richard Egan), she eventually rises to the top of a national crime syndicate and lives the high life – travel, the best restaurants, a great apartment, a closet full of swanky clothes. Key to her climb is cultivating contacts such as mild-mannered accountant Martin Blackford (Kent Smith). Ethel is impressed by the letters CPA after his name, even though she’s not quite sure what they mean.

Martin helps her gain entry into the world of tough but urbane George Castleman (David Brian), the leader of the syndicate. “I like men with brains,” Ethel tells George. Finding him far more impressive than number-crunching Marty, she shows up at his office the next day, proves she’s as gutsy as he is and gets a job with his racket. Never one to think twice about mixing business and pleasure, Ethel seals the deal with a kiss.

A quick study, Ethel devotes herself to the syndicate, then takes on a new identity. With polished and distinguished Patricia Longworth (Selena Royle) guiding her, Ethel transforms herself into wealthy socialite Lorna Hansen Forbes. It’s Ethel’s equivalent of an MBA.

But her toughest assignment is when George asks her for some due diligence on gangster Nick Prenta (Steve Cochran). Despite her new name, old habits die hard and Ethel/Lorna falls for Prenta. Naturally, it’s only a matter of time before George susses her out and decides to set things straight.

With its A-list performances, crackling script, crisp pace and striking cinematography by Ted McCord, “The Damned Don’t Cry,” is an ideal noir vehicle for Crawford. The movie is based on an original story by Gertrude Walker; Harold Medford and novelist Jerome Weidman and wrote the script. Also fodder for the story was the real-life affair of Virginia Hill and gangster Bugsy Siegel. The title comes from a line in “Mourning Becomes Electra” by Eugene O’Neill. [Read more...]

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

Coen Brothers’ ‘Man’ is darkly moody, handsomely shot

The Man Who Wasn’t There/2001/Good Machine, et al/116 min.

Scarlett Johansson plays a high-school student in this 2001 film.

What would life be without a dark and handsome companion at night? One I highly recommend is “The Man Who Wasn’t There” by master filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen. This homage to vintage film noir, gorgeously shot in black and white by cinematographer Roger Deakins, conjures a guy you’ll always remember.

Set in 1949, the film introduces us to a choice cast of characters. Top of the list is introspective and blasé Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton), who has fallen into a comfortable, if dull, life in Santa Rosa, Calif. He’s fond of his wife Doris (Frances McDormand), both cynical and oddly sweet, but there’s never been any passion between them.

To earn a living, Ed cuts hair with his brother-in-law Frank (Michael Badalucco) at the family barbershop. (“I don’t talk much,” Ed tells us. “I just cut the hair.”) Doris is a bookkeeper at Nirdlinger’s, the town’s big department store, and together they have it “made” – after all, Ed points out dryly, they have a garbage grinder built into the sink.

When he’s not working or tossing scraps down their fancy drain, Ed kills time mainly by smoking and taking care of Doris after she’s had too much to drink, which is quite often. Doris passes the hours of their lives by playing bingo and having an affair with her boss at Nirdlinger’s, Big Dave Brewster (James Gandolfini), a blustery WW2 vet. Dave’s married to Ann Nirdlinger (Katherine Borowitz), whose family owns the store. Ed knows about the affair but, as he does with everything, takes it in stride.

Ed’s life changes forever the day that unctuous big-mouth businessman Creighton Tolliver (Jon Polito) walks into the barbershop as it’s about to close, gets a very quick trim and happens to mention that he’s in town trying to raise money to invest in drycleaning, which he’s convinced is “the biggest business opportunity since Henry Ford.”

Ed decides later that night that he wants in on the putative drycleaning empire and figures he can raise the requisite $10,000 by anonymously blackmailing Dave. No sooner does Ed get the cash than Tolliver takes off with it. And because Tolliver is so quick to bend ears and beg for money, Dave gets to the bottom of the blackmail scheme and intends to get his money back.

What Dave doesn’t count on is that Ed’s mild facade hides nerves of cold steel; when cornered, Ed’s response to him is quick, instinctive and deadly. But, after news breaks of Doris and Dave’s affair, Doris is arrested for Dave’s murder. [Read more...]

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter

Noir delights abound at TCM Classic Film Festival

"An American in Paris" opened the festival.

Four days of devouring big-screen classics has left me deliciously sated! At least until my next film fest.

About 25,000 people attended this year’s sold-out TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood, which featured more than 70 films and special events. Stars who made appearances included Julie Andrews, Alec Baldwin, Drew Barrymore, Warren Beatty, Leslie Caron, Kirk Douglas, Angela Lansbury, Hayley Mills, Peter O’Toole, Jane Powell, Debbie Reynolds and Mickey Rooney.

Before the screening of 1940’s “Fantasia,” in Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Sunday night, TCM’s Bob Osborne announced that there will be a third fest in 2012. He also announced a new event: the TCM Classic Cruise, Dec. 8-12, 2011, a five-day/four-night event aboard Celebrity Millennium. The cruise will sail from Miami to Key West and Cozumel.

Most important for me was getting my noir fix and, happily, dark delights abounded. For example, there was the chance to see Nicholas Ray’s “Bigger Than Life” with James Mason as a teacher struggling with an addiction to prescription cortisone. As co-star Barbara Rush told Osborne before the screening, this 1956 psychological drama has been programmed in several film noir festivals “because it’s so dark and so scary.”

Bob Osborne talks with Barbara Rush.

As you’d expect from Ray, it’s very well done and the performances are excellent. Despite telling the audience that she was “very old,” Rush is very lively. When Osborne asked her to talk about her leading men, she replied, “I had them all!”

Another noir high point was meeting the charming Marya of Cinema_Fanatic and chatting with renowned author Foster Hirsch at the screening of 1953’s “Niagara,” directed by Henry Hathaway and starring Marilyn Monroe (as a murderous wife), Joseph Cotten (as her off-kilter husband) and Jean Peters (as a plucky, pretty brunette). Hirsch told the audience that film noir can absolutely be in color, describing “Niagara” both as a “minor masterpiece” and a “pulp-fiction paperback come to life.”

He pointed out the contrast in lighting between the bright exteriors and dark interiors, ending with the comment: “If you’ve come for laughs and joyous uplift, you’ve come to the wrong place.”

Also a treat was seeing “The Man with the Golden Arm” from 1955. Adapted from a Nelson Algren novel, it’s a story about drug addiction in a gritty urban setting, by master noir director Otto Preminger. I’d seen it before but, as with “Niagara,” the big screen really intensifies the storytelling. It is definitely Frank Sinatra’s best performance and one of Kim Novak’s finest as well. In attendance were Preminger’s daughter Vicki Preminger and Sinatra’s daughters Nancy Sinatra and Tina Sinatra. Rounding out the noir programming were “The Third Man” (Carol Reed, 1950), “Gaslight” (George Cukor, 1944) and “Taxi Driver” (Martin Scorsese, 1976).

Other films with noir elements included Orson Welles’ masterpiece “Citizen Kane” (1941), “The Tingler” (1959), “The Mummy” (1932), “Went the Day Well (1942) and “Whistle Down the Wind (1961). (I saw all but “Kane,” which I’ve seen several times before.)

Ana Alexander and Anya Monzikova of Cinemax's new series, "Femme Fatales," which starts May 13.

The festival also honored master composer Bernard Herrmann, who scored  “Citizen Kane” and “Taxi Driver” as well as “Psycho,” “Vertigo,” “Cape Fear” and many others.

On the neo-noir front, I’ll be excited to see Cinemax’s upcoming “Femme Fatales” anthology series “about powerful, sexy and dangerous women” starring Ana Alexander and Anya Monzikova, both of whom walked the fest’s red carpet to promote show.

The first of 13 stand-alone episode starts May 13 and I hope to catch up with the actresses sometime soon.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on RedditEmail this to someoneTweet about this on Twitter