“I’d do anything for those kids, do you understand?” — Joan Crawford as Mildred Pierce.
By Mike Wilmington and Film Noir Blonde
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
“Kiss of Death” (1947, dir. Henry Hathaway). Tuesday, May 14; 8 p.m. (5 p.m.). One of the most memorable, and scariest, of all film noir villains is Tommy Udo from “Kiss of Death,” as played by the young Richard Widmark. Tommy was a constantly grinning, giggling gunman with a pale, thin, deadly-looking face, topped by a trim fedora – a face and a chuckle that carried the promise of cold-blooded murder.
In “Kiss of Death” – another of director Henry Hathaway’s semi-true crime movies, this time co-scripted by the great Ben Hecht – Victor Mature plays Nick Bianco, an ex-crook trying to go straight, for his sweet wife Nettie (Coleen Gray). To escape his past, Nick becomes a mole recruited by the cops (including Brian Donlevy and Karl Malden) to infiltrate Udo’s mob and get the goods on this gangster. Udo falls for his new mob-mate, giggling, like a ton of bricks. Obviously, something very bad will happen when this psychopathic hood discovers that his new gun buddy is a traitor.
“Kiss of Death” is a classic, vintage Hollywood crime thriller, one of the film noirs that everyone has to see – to savor Hecht’s smart script and Hathaway’s taut direction, and to enjoy the terrific work of the entire killer cast and company. But mostly, you have to see it for Widmark. His Tommy Udo is an impersonation of pure evil so right-on that it almost freezes your blood to watch and hear him – and so convincing that a real-life member of the Mob, the notorious killer “Crazy Joey” Gallo, patterned his entire public personality after Widmark’s performance.
The role made Widmark a star, and, though he tried never to repeat it, and played mostly good guys for the rest of his career, he could never really get away from Tommy Udo and his pale, cold eyes, and what James Agee called his “falsetto baby talk, laced with tittering laughs.”
Tommy Udo is the last guy in the world you want to have his eye on you, the last guy whose laugh you want to hear on a dark street. And he’s the last guy you want to see standing behind a sick old lady, in a wheelchair, at the top of a staircase. Giggling.
Friday, May 10
6 a.m. (3 a.m.): “The Informer” (1935, John Ford). With Victor McLaglen, Preston Foster and Heather Angel. Reviewed on FNB December 12, 2012.
11 p.m. (8 p.m.): “Under Capricorn” (1949, Alfred Hitchcock). With Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten and Margaret Leighton. Reviewed on FNB November 17, 2012. [Read more...]
As a retro-obsessed scribe, I often dream of steno pads, fountain pens and carbon copies. (Think “Mad Men” or Tippi Hedren’s office job in “Marnie.”) And of course I recall the marvelous clack, smack and ding of a vintage Smith Corona.
I am not alone in my nostalgia. Turns out, the good old-fashioned typewriter is experiencing a revival of popularity with users young and old. Just ask director Christopher Lockett and producer Gary Nicholson. Their documentary, “The Typewriter in the 21st Century,” opens in Los Angeles on Friday.
Inspired by a 2010 Wired magazine story called “Meet The Last Generation of Typewriter Repairman,” Lockett and Nicholson interviewed more than 30 typewriter devotees – writers, collectors, journalists, teachers, students, artists, inventors and repair men and women.
Among these old-school loyalists are non-fiction authors Robert Caro and David McCullough, who between them claim four Pulitzer Prizes, three National Book Awards and a Presidential Medal of Freedom. For Caro and McCullough (he has been writing on the same machine since 1965), the thoughtfulness and precision that a typewriter demands is integral to the writing and editing process.
And perhaps the creative process. It stands to reason that typewriters might have influenced the way literary heavyweights wrote, back in the day when a wordsmith might form a visceral connection with keys, carriage and ribbon. The film shows us machines once owned by the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, Tennessee Williams, John Steinbeck, Jack London, Sylvia Plath, George Bernard Shaw, John Updike, Ray Bradbury and Ernie Pyle. Certainly, all the great film noir novelists and screenwriters composed on typewriters.
The filmmakers also explore the history (typewriters with a QWERTY keyboard date from 1873) and societal impact of these trusty devices. It’s easy to forget in our contemporary plugged-in cocoons, but typewriters changed the landscape of the business world. “The typewriter is the one piece of office technology that allowed women to move from the home to the professional work force,” says author Lynn Peril.
Whether drafting a work of art or just embracing a low-tech lifestyle, the connection to these machine endures. Singer-songwriter Marian Call uses a typewriter as a percussion instrument. “Nothing else makes that sound,” she says. “And it brings with it a flood of memories.”
Soldiers Peter Meijer and Alan Beck sent typewritten letters from the front lines in Afghanistan and Iraq. As Meijer put it: “One woman I sent letters to, when I visited her on leave, carried those letters around with her in her purse. You don’t get that with email.”
“The Typewriter in the 21st Century” runs May 10-16 at the Downtown Independent, 251 S. Main St., 213-617-1033. On May 10, the filmmakers will hold a Q&A between the 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. screenings.
Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs kicks off with ‘Three Strangers,’ a cynical tale of a trio bonded by fate
“Three Strangers” (1946, Jean Negulesco) will open the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs on Thursday, May 16. The fest, which runs through Sunday, May 19, will close with “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950, John Huston); a total of 12 films is scheduled. The lineup is a mix of landmark and obscure vintage movies from the classic film noir era.
Negulesco’s “Three Strangers” tells the cynical tale of a trio bonded by fate and a winning lottery ticket: Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre and Geraldine Fitzgerald star. To read more about this film, I recommend this piece by my friend, writer/producer Barry Grey.
In addition to the screenings, the festival will include special guests and receptions. Ticket and festival information are available online or by calling 760-325-6565. Producer and host Alan K. Rode will be there to introduce films and make sure everyone is having a dark and decadent good time. Having attended in 2011, I can highly recommend this fest.
From Marie Windsor’s character in “The Killing” telling her wounded husband (played by Elisha Cook, Jr.) to cab to the hospital because she doesn’t feel like calling an ambulance to Grace Kelly fending off her attacker and foiling the eponymous plot in “Dial M for Murder,” on-screen femmes fatales claimed their power at the TCM Classic Film Festival April 25-28 in Hollywood.
The film noir slate was particularly rich as was the experience of seeing these film on the big screen – the lighting, the compositions, the close-ups all popped in a way that just doesn’t happen when you watch these titles on TV. Additionally, the festival does a splendid job of finding guests to introduce the films.
At Thursday’s screening of “The Killing,” actress Coleen Gray shared memories of working with director Stanley Kubrick on what would turn out to be his break-though movie. “I knew he was good,” she said. “The cast is wonderful. The story, the director and the actors are in tune. And look at the cutting – it was cut to create a masterpiece. You go and see it and you bow to Mr. Kubrick.” She added that Kubrick spent much of his directorial energy working with Marie Windsor on her hard-as-nails dame Sherry Peatty.
Fans of Ms. Windsor’s got another chance to connect with her at Friday’s screening of “The Narrow Margin.” The special guest was actress Jacqueline White. Also during that time slot producer Stanley Rubin reminisced about Marilyn Monroe, Robert Mitchum and Otto Preminger before a showing of 1954’s “River of No Return,” a stunning example of CinemaScope’s capabilities.
“[Marilyn] and Otto didn’t like each other and so we became very friendly. She was a perfect lady,” he said, adding that she was friendly and professional with Mitchum as well.
Watching Monroe and Mitchum, at the height of their physical radiance in this picture, ignited in me a newfound passion for Westerns. (Believe me, this is quite a feat.)
It’s always a toss-up when deciding between a beloved classic and a little-screened rarity. We at FNB decided to mix it up a little and forgo “Notorious,” which I often liken to a glass of Veuve Clicquot, for the chance to see a 1956 Jean Gabin black comedy “La Traversée de Paris.” Gabin is always good, but the film is uneven, without much tension or humor, a bit like a flabby claret.
A much better rare treat was the definitive British film noir “It Always Rains on Sunday,” (1947, Robert Hamer), set in London’s East End, featuring a Jewish family and starring John McCallum as prison escapee Tommy Swann and tough yet oddly dainty Googie Withers as his ex-gf. The Film Noir Foundation’s Eddie Muller introduced the film, noting that it was less a crime flick than an effective portrayal of the plight of the poor and downtrodden.
We watched this with our friend Debra Levine of artsmeme.com. Our verdict: It’s a good, engaging film but what makes it great is the sleek, striking cinematography. “Tommy made some poor choices,” Ms. Levine overheard someone saying as we left the theater. Aah, but we all know that “choice” is but a futile joke in the world of film noir!
Another Friday highlight: the lovely and gracious Eva Marie Saint discussing “On the Waterfront.”
The next morning, early birds were rewarded with a talk by Polly Bergen at the screening of “Cape Fear,” one of Robert Mitchum’s most menacing roles. Later-risers could head to the Egyptian Theatre for the West Coast restoration premiere of 1929’s “The Donovan Affair” with live actors (from Bruce Goldstein and company) and sound effects to recreate the lost soundtrack.
Next up was a film noir must-see: “They Live by Night” (1949, Nicholas Ray), the quintessential young-lovers-on-the-run story, with an appearance by his widow Susan Ray and introduction by Eddie Muller. Commenting on Ray’s exploratory directing style, she said: “He did not go in with a preconceived idea of what should happen in a scene. He would set it up, light a fuse and watch. He would prod or provoke if necessary. He didn’t impose truth, he looked for it.”
And on Ray’s interest in telling the stories of young people, often loners or societal outcasts, she noted: “He saw the juice, potential, openness and flexibility of youth and he loved it.” Nick Ray’s gift as a visual poet is never more apparent than when you see “They Live by Night” on the big screen.
Continuing the noir mood was “Tall Target” (1951, Anthony Mann), a period noir, starring Dick Powell, Paula Raymond and Ruby Dee, based on an actual plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln before he could take the oath office in 1861. Film historian Donald Bogle gave an insightful introduction.
Then it was back to the Egyptian, where the line for “Mildred Pierce,” snaked down a busy side street of Hollywood Boulevard. Special guest actress Ann Blyth said of Joan Crawford, the film’s mega-star: “I have nothing but wonderful memories of her. She was kind to me during the making of the movie and she was kind to me for many years after.”
Popcorn, Coke, Raisinets and watching Crawford pull out all the shoulder-padded stops – what more could a noirista wish for?
Sunday morning kicked off with a choice between “Badlands,” “Gilda,” or sleeping in a bit and we hit snooze. Sorry. They don’t call me Lazy Legs for nothing. Our first movie was 1973’s “Scarecrow,” starring Al Pacino and Gene Hackman – it was one of the best and most resonant films we’ve seen in a long time. The acting is tremendous in this great-looking film, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Director Jerry Schatzberg discussed his work in a pre-film chat with Leonard Maltin.
Afterward, we managed to catch the very noirish “Safe in Hell” (1931, William Wellman), starring Dorothy Mackaill as a streetwise blonde who holds her own among a slew of unsavory men while she’s hiding out in the Caribbean. Donald Bogle introduced the movie and William Wellman, Jr. answered questions afterward.
A great way to wrap up the fest, before heading to the after-party at the Roosevelt Hotel, was a 3-D presentation of “Dial M for Murder.” Leonard Maltin and the always-entertaining actor-producer-director Norman Lloyd, 98, discussed 3-D and the working methods of Alfred Hitchcock. This Hitchcock gem, a perfect example of his subversive casting, is often underrated so we particularly enjoyed seeing it; we noticed that just about every seat was taken.
Hats off to TCM for another superb film festival! The staff does an excellent job running every aspect of this event and it is much appreciated.
By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington
The Noir File is FNB’s guide to pre-noir, classic noir and neo-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
“Out of the Past” (1947, Jacques Tourneur). Tuesday, May 7; 11:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.) With Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas and Jane Greer. As famed critic James Agee put it: “Robert Mitchum is so sleepily self-confident with the women that when he slopes into clinches you expect him to snore in their faces.”
While none of my Robert Mitchum fantasies involve snoring, I can’t say I’d kick him out of bed just for a few noisy ZZZs. One of Mitchum’s finest vehicles is “Out of the Past” (1947) by French-born director Jacques Tourneur.
If I happened to meet someone who wanted to know film noir and only had 97 minutes to live, this is the film I’d recommend. But pay close attention, little dying chum, because there are plot twists aplenty. Read the rest of the review here.
2 p.m. (11 a.m.): “The Locket” (1946, John Brahm). Flashbacks within flashbacks adorn this stylish psychological noir about a troubled seductress (Laraine Day). With Robert Mitchum and Brian Aherne.
3:30 p.m. (12:30 p.m.): “Macao” (1952, Josef von Sternberg & Nicholas Ray). Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell strike sultry sparks in this exotic thriller from Howard Hughes’ RKO. Directed by Josef Von Sternberg, with uncredited reshooting by Nick Ray. Co-starring Gloria Grahame, William Bendix and Thomas Gomez.
Saturday, May 4
7:30 a.m. (4:30 a.m.): “The Gangster” (1947, Gordon Wiles). An underrated, unjustly neglected crime drama about a gangster (Barry Sullivan) at twilight. The pungent atmosphere, story and characters come from screenwriter/novelist Daniel Fuchs’ superb Brooklyn novel “Low Company.” With Akim Tamiroff, John Ireland, Shelley Winters and Harry Morgan.
2 p.m. (11 a.m.): “Ocean’s Eleven” (1960, Lewis Milestone). Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop – the gang of elite show biz chums variously known as The Clan, The Rat Pack and The Summit – pull a super-heist in Las Vegas. (Shirley MacLaine does a cameo.) OK, but it could have used more songs. (Dino and Sammy sing; Frank doesn’t.)
6:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m.): “The Wild One” (1953, Laslo Benedek). One of Marlon Brando’s most iconic performances – as mumbling, charismatic motorcycle gang leader Johnny – came in this pungent noir about a chopper-riding wild bunch taking over a small California city. Loosely based on a true story, it’s the source of this memorable exchange: Girl in bar: “What are you rebelling against?” Brando: “What have you got?” With Mary Murphy, Robert Keith and, as the wildest one of all, Lee Marvin. [Read more...]
UCLA’s Billy Wilder Theater will present a terrific double bill on Saturday, May 4: two works from film-noir master Robert Siodmak, starring Burt Lancaster.
In addition to being handsome and lithe, Lancaster projected intelligence, sensitivity and depth. He made his screen debut in “The Killers” (1946), adapted from an Ernest Hemingway short story and co-starring Ava Gardner. Lancaster can’t break Yvonne De Carlo’s spell in “Criss Cross” (1949), a brooding narrative of betrayal set in the back alleys of post-war downtown Los Angeles.
The evening is part of the Lancaster centennial celebration presented by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Hugh M. Hefner Classic American Film Program. The celebration of Lancaster’s movies runs through June 30. The Film Noir Foundation’s Alan K. Rode is the special guest on May 4.
“She’s so beautiful, you can’t believe she’s in her ’80s, and she’s so nice,” said TCM’s Robert Osborne about actress Ann Blyth, who co-starred with Joan Crawford in the classic domestic film noir “Mildred Pierce.”
Blyth will discuss the role when the movie screens at the TCM Film Festival, which starts Thursday at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. Osborne told journalists at a roundtable on Wednesday that he was surprised that Blyth wasn’t typecast. “She was so effective as the mean daughter [Veda] that you hated. Why didn’t that affect her career? She played sweet ingénues after that.”
Other festival highlights for Osborne include interviews with other guests and screenings of “Funny Girl,” “Razor’s Edge,” “Cluny Brown,” and “Desert Song.”
The schedule features a strong film-noir component. “The mood is so rich, it’s a prominent part of the festival,” said TCM’s head programmer Charlie Tabesh. “We noticed that it was immensely popular last year. The theme was style and it fit in very well so we wanted to keep it up this year. People like to see these films on the big screen.”
TCM host Ben Mankiewicz also touched on the popularity of noir and guest programming by the Film Noir Foundation’s Eddie Muller. Mankiewicz said he wants to suggest a night dedicated to neo-noir director John Dahl (“Kill Me Again,” “Last Seduction” and “Red Rock West.”)
“Dahl clearly had a keen appreciation of ’40s and ’50s noir,” Mankiewicz said.
We at FNB would love to see a Dahl night. Until then, we can get our fill of these fantastic screenings. And there’s a plethora of photos and memorabilia on display at the Roosevelt. For example, today, before opening night, there’s a special presentation of a suit Humphrey Bogart wore in “The Big Sleep.”
So now it’s back to the Roosevelt! We will be updating on twitter for the rest of the fest.
All photos TM & (C) Turner Entertainment Networks, Inc.
The City of Lights City of Angels (COL•COA) film fest at the Directors Guild in Los Angeles ends Monday night. On the slate are free screenings as well as announcements about awards and contest winners.
In the mood for a trip to Paris? In addition to the City of Light’s usual coolness, I found out about these two shows. Also, as always, there are noteworthy noirista events in New York and Los Angeles.
“The Enchanted World of Jacques Demy,” at Cinémathèque française, presents film clips alongside costumes, photographs, paintings, drawings and sculptures created by artists who were influenced by the New Wave director. Closes Aug. 4.
A 200-foot long garden, created by landscape designer Piet Oudolf, marks the entrance to “No. 5 Culture Chanel,” an exhibition opening May 5 at the Palais de Tokyo. Coco Chanel launched No. 5, now a world-famous fragrance, in 1921. This show surveys art, photographs, films and music from that era, and highlights her plummy social network. (High-profile chums included Picasso and Jean Cocteau). Curated by Jean-Louis Froment. Closes June 5.
The Plaza Hotel in New York is hosting “The Great Gatsby Getaway” contest. One winner and a guest will win film-premiere tickets, a night at The Plaza, plus an f&b credit. The movie hits theaters May 10. Broadway nitty gritty: Alec Baldwin plays a gangster on the lam in “Orphans,” a revival of Lyle Kessler’s 1985 play at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. Closes June 30.
The American Film Institute (AFI) Night at the Movies, a one-night-only event, takes place Wednesday, April 24, at the ArcLight Hollywood, 6360 W. Sunset Blvd. This is a chance to see classic movies with the filmmakers and stars who made them. It’s a great lineup, boasting some top-notch noirs. You can also see the schedule for Classics in the Dome, eight films that will show early next month.
The much-anticipated Turner Classic Movies Film Festival starts Thursday, April 25, and runs through Sunday, April 28. This year’s theme is cinematic journeys. We at FNB will be out at this fest in full force, natch.
The Los Angeles Visionaries Association (LAVA) will host a Dashiell Hammett evening on Saturday, April 27, at the Los Angeles Athletic Club (downtown). Hammett is remembered for for his contributions to hard-boiled crime fiction and his stand against McCarthyism. Join Hammett scholar and granddaughter Julie M. Rivett as she explores her grandfather’s controversial political life, his relationship with Lillian Hellman, and the decades of consequent troubles that have tangled Hammett’s estate. Ticket includes dinner and parking; cash bar.
“In the House,” a new thriller by François Ozon, made me think of this quotation from Alfred Hitchcock: “I’m a writer and, therefore, automatically a suspicious character.”
In Ozon’s story-within-a-story film, there are two writers – a 16-year-old student named Claude (Ernst Umhauer), precocious and a bit of a pretty boy, and jaded, middle-aged Germain (Fabrice Luchini). With one poorly received novel under his belt, Germain now teaches in a French high school and struggles to endure his students’ mediocre essays.
But his passion for teaching is reignited when he reads some of Claude’s writing –personal, thoughtful and fresh – and certainly far more promising than the work his classmates produce. Germain shares his enthusiasm with his wife Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas) when he brings the assignments home at the end of the day and discusses them with her.
Claude has picked a provocative topic: a voyeuristic account of a classmate’s everyday home life, cozy and comfy, unlike Claude’s apparently more deprived situation. By tutoring Rapha (Bastien Ughetto), Claude gains up-close access to the family, observing their seeming contentment as well as sensing the underlying frustrations of Rapha’s sexy and mysterious mom (Emmanuelle Seigner) and his easygoing, jocular dad (Denis Ménochet).
Against his better judgment, Germain encourages and evaluates Claude’s literary efforts, even though he knows it is a risky experiment. Germain lectures him on the process of writing, the purpose of literature. As Claude’s creative muscle builds, the line between reality and fantasy is blurred, and the stakes are gradually, dangerously raised for all the players in this riveting domestic drama.
I am always curious about the work of director-writer François Ozon, perhaps most famous for “Potiche,” “Swimming Pool,” and “8 Women.” He has an easy touch with bold subject matter, a knack for humor (whether deadpan, dark or absurd) and a talent for making well paced, well acted thrillers that reflect his inventive, sometime s cheeky, vision while paying subtle homage to old-school suspense masters like Hitchcock, Henri-Georges Clouzot and Claude Chabrol.
Where Ozon falters slightly with “In the House” is in the movie’s visuals. Perhaps because it’s based on Juan Mayorga’s play, “The Boy in the Last Row,” Ozon’s version feels a bit too theatrical and stagebound. That said, telling the tales are terrific actors (Luchini, Scott Thomas and Seigner in particular). And, driving the suspense, Claude’s true motivation remains intriguingly elusive throughout.
“In the House” opened Friday in New York and LA at the Landmark.