‘Falcon’ still flies high at age 75

The Maltese Falcon,’ directed by John Huston and arguably the first film noir, turns 75 this year. To honor that milestone, the movie will screen in select cities nationwide on Sunday, Feb. 21, and Wednesday, Feb. 24. TCM and Fandango are presenting the Warner Bros. film. It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.

The Maltese Falcon/1941/Warner Bros./100 min.

Maltese Falcon poster“The Maltese Falcon,” a spectacularly entertaining and iconic crime film, holds the claim to many firsts.

It’s a remarkable directorial debut by John Huston, who also wrote the screenplay. It’s considered by many critics to be the first film noir. (Another contender is “Stranger on the Third Floor” see below.) It was the first vehicle in which screen legend Humphrey Bogart and character actor Elisha Cook Jr. appeared together – breathing life into archetypal roles that filled the noir landscape for decades to come.

It was veteran stage actor Sydney Greenstreet’s first time before a camera and the first time he worked with Peter Lorre. The pair would go on to make eight more movies together. Additionally, “Falcon,” an entry on many lists of the greatest movies ever made, was one of the first films admitted to the National Film Registry in its inaugural year, 1989.

Based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett, Huston’s “Falcon” is the third big-screen version of the story (others were in 1931 and 1936) and it’s by far the best. Huston follows Hammett’s work to the letter, preserving the novel’s crisp, quick dialogue. If a crime movie can be described as jaunty, this would be it. Huston’s mighty achievement earned Oscar noms for best adapted screenplay, best supporting actor (Greenstreet) and best picture.

According to former New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther: “The trick which Mr. Huston has pulled is a combination of American ruggedness with the suavity of the English crime school – a blend of mind and muscle – plus a slight touch of pathos.”

A few more of Huston’s tricks include striking compositions and camera movement, breathtaking chiaroscuro lighting, and a pins-and-needles atmosphere of excitement and danger. (Arthur Edeson was the cinematographer; Thomas Richards served as film editor.)

For the few who haven’t seen “Falcon,” it’s a tale of ruthless greed and relentless machismo centered around the perfect marriage of actor and character: Humphrey Bogart as private detective Sam Spade – the ultimate cynical, streetwise, I-did-it-my-way ’40s alpha-male. As famed noir author Raymond Chandler once put it: “All Bogart has to do to dominate a scene is to enter it.” Bogart appears in just about every scene in “Falcon.”

As Raymond Chandler put it: “All Bogart has to do to dominate a scene is to enter it.”

As Raymond Chandler put it: “All Bogart has to do to dominate a scene is to enter it.”

As Spade, he sees through the malarkey, cuts to the chase and commands every situation, even when the odds are stacked against him. At one point he breaks free of a heavy, disarms him and points the guy’s own gun at him, all while toking on his cig. He’s equally adept at using wisecracks and one-liners to swat away the cops, who regularly show up at his door.

Mary Astor plays leading lady Brigid O’Shaughnessy to Bogart’s Sam Spade and it is she who sets the story in motion when she walks into Spade’s San Francisco office. Brigid asks Spade and his partner Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) to trail a man named Thursby who, she says, is up to no good with her sister. They accept the job and Archer takes the first shift of following Thursby. Next morning, Archer’s dead. Turns out that Brigid doesn’t have a sister and Archer’s widow (Gladys George) has the hots for Spade.

Spade’s ultra-reliable and resourceful secretary, Effie (Lee Patrick) is the one gal he can trust and it’s clear she means the world to him. At one point he tells her, “you’re a good man, sister,” which in Spade-speak is a downright gushfest. He might like the look of Brigid and her little finger, but he won’t be wrapped around it anytime soon.

Humphrey Bogart owns the movie, but he has a stellar support cast. From left: Bogart, Peter Lorre, Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet.

Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade owns the movie, but he has a stellar support cast. From left: Bogart, Peter Lorre, Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet.

Astor, a Hollywood wild child of her time, who left a long string of husbands and lovers in her wake and generated much fodder for the tabloids, was brilliant casting for the part of bad-girl Brigid O. True to form, Astor allegedly was having an affair with Huston during the making of the film.

There is no doubt that Bogart owns this guy’s-guy male-fantasy picture, but Astor and the stellar support cast are unforgettable in their roles. As a good-luck gesture to his son, John, actor Walter Huston plays the part of the old sea captain. Peter Lorre drips malevolence as the effeminate and whiny Joel Cairo, and he has a foreign accent, which in Hollywood is usually shorthand for: he’s a bad’un.

Making his film debut at 61, Greenstreet’s Kasper Gutman is both debauched and debonair, a refined reprobate with a jolly cackle and tubby physique (he was more than 350 pounds!). Warner Bros. had to make an entire wardrobe for Greenstreet; Bogart wore his own clothes to save the studio money. One more Bogart contribution was adding the line: “The stuff that dreams are made of” at the end of the film, paraphrasing a line in “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare.

Tough-guy Sam Spade (Bogart) and wimpy Wilmer Cook (Elisha Cook Jr.) are perfect foils.

Tough-guy Sam Spade (Bogart) and wimpy Wilmer Cook (Elisha Cook Jr.) are perfect foils.

And honing the sort of performance that would become his trademark, Elisha Cook Jr. stamps the character of warped thug Wilmer Cook with code for “psycho” (darting eyes, bubbling rage, edgy desperation) as if it were a neon light attached to his forehead.

Much has been written about the homosexual subtext of the Cairo, Gutman and Cook characters – I will just say they’re all part of the flock that covets and vies for possession the falcon, a jewel-laden statue of a bird that’s the treasure at the core of this tense and serpentine story. When it’s suggested that Wilmer Cook be sacrificed for the good of the gang, Greenstreet’s Kasper Gutman explains that, though Wilmer is like a son, “If you lose a son, it’s possible to get another. There’s only one Maltese Falcon.”

Though there were two other celluloid versions of Hammett’s story, in my view, there’s only one “Maltese Falcon” and this is it.

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Happy birthday, Tippi Hedren! ‘Marnie’ is a marvelous yarn

By Film Noir Blonde

Marnie/1964/Universal Pictures/130 min.

In honor of Tippi Hedren’s 86th birthday on Jan. 19, we are running a review of “Marnie.” In 1983, Hedren, a Minnesota native of Scandinavian descent, founded the Roar Foundation to support abandoned exotic felines at the Shambala Preserve in Acton, Calif.

Most cynics have romantic souls and if there’s one Hitchcock film that works on this premise it’s “Marnie.” Though the legendary auteur frequently featured redemptive, romantic endings, here a pair of feuding lovers must work through many an issue before they hit happily ever after. It’s also a portrait of a wayward woman struggling with a tortured psyche, stemming from an unresolved childhood trauma.

Marnie (Tippi Hedren) and Mark (Sean Connery) must work through many an issue.

In the opening scene we meet impeccably dressed, raven-haired career girl Marnie Edgar (Tippi Hedren) carrying a citron-colored handbag that’s as covetable today as it was in 1964. (Hedren starred in Hitchcock’s “The Birds” one year earlier.)

Marnie has just finished doing what she does best: stealing from her employer, then donning a new disguise so she can pull the same scam at another company.

Besides her sizable clothing and hair-color budget, Marnie wants money to give to her poor frumpy Mama (Louise Latham), telling her: “That’s what money’s for. To spend.” (Especially when it’s someone else’s cash.) But despite these handouts, which Marnie personally delivers, Mama’s uptight and hard to please, preferring to lavish her attention on a little girl from the neighborhood (Kimberly Beck) instead of on her daughter.

At her next job, Marnie sports auburn up-do’s and sensible shoes. It’s here that she meets devastatingly handsome businessman Mark Rutland (Sean Connery). Intense and domineering, Mark is quickly smitten but ice-queen Marnie has no interest in him or in any man, though she does weaken long enough to kiss him.

Diane Baker plays sassy Lil.

Not so impressed with Marnie is the sharp and sassy Lil (Diane Baker). Packed with interesting women, the cast also includes Mariette Hartley as Marnie’s office colleague and Melody Thomas Scott as young Marnie.

Marnie’s coldness just makes Mark more determined – he is used to getting what he wants – and once he finds out about her criminal past, he uses this info to hasten their marriage.

The fact that Marnie can’t stand his touch doesn’t make for the most romantic honeymoon. Perhaps if he were a tad less controlling …

Will Mark help Marnie confront her past before her spate of Dior-collar crime catches up with her? That’s the movie’s source of suspense. It’s loosely based on a novel by Winston Graham but Hitchcock typically used the literary source material as merely a starting point to create a tension-filled, sometimes terrifying, reality and render his unique vision. The script came from Jay Presson Allen, a former actress and writer, who also worked with Sidney Lumet.

Hitchcock enjoyed exploring psychosexual theory in his films, sometimes with a smirk, sometimes not. In this case, Dr. Hitch diagnoses frigidity, rescue fantasies, control issues bordering on obsession, repressed memories and of course a major power struggle.

The movie was trashed upon its release. Critics called Hitchcock sloppy and unfairly pounced on Hedren’s acting. The editing is occasionally choppy, some of the backdrops look fake, the screen goes red when Marnie sees the color red, there are thunderstorms aplenty. Though they might seem flawed or slightly old-hat, these noirish devices reflect Marnie’s off-kilter world, her confused and anguished psychological state.

And Hitchcock’s personality was too controlling and perfectionistic to have coasted through this movie. Conscious of every detail of every frame, he sometimes shopped for and selected accessories like hats and handbags because even these seemingly minor visual elements affected the color palette of each shot. He also wanted classic lines for the clothes so that in years to come they wouldn’t look dated.

Always engaging, sometimes thrilling, “Marnie” is a complex, thoughtful and satisfying story.

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‘Life’ is rough when you look for the film noir elements

It’s a Wonderful Life/ 1946/ Paramount/130 min

Michael Wilmington provides a fresh look at essential Christmas Eve viewing: “It’s a Wonderful Life.” If you’ve dismissed this film as sappy, watch the last act one more time and you’ll likely appreciate anew its noir mood and atmosphere.

Michael Wilmington

Scenario for Christmas: A whimsical guardian angel shows a good-hearted small-town guy, on the brink of suicide, what would have happened if he’d never lived and what a difference his life really made to everyone around him. You’ve seen it before, but it always works. And it always will.

Frank Capra‘s holiday masterpiece “It’s a Wonderful Life” is an exhilarating mix of angelic fantasy and small-town comedy, of political fable and poetic license, of Norman Rockwell and film noir.

The last act of this beloved Christmas classic — where George Bailey (James Stewart, in his favorite role) sees his beloved hometown of Bedford Falls turned into a dark semi-urban nightmare, as it would have been if it were run by George’s rich, greedy nemesis, Old Man Potter (Lionel Barrymore) — is a pure film-noir nightmare, with a tormented protagonist, a world bent into bad-dreams-come-true and a fate that (temporarily) can’t be escaped.

James Stewart falls into a Christmas nightmare in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

James Stewart falls into a Christmas nightmare in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

There are lots of real film-noir mainstays in the cast, people who fit easily into the noir universe — notably Gloria Grahame (“In a Lonely Place,” “Human Desire,” “The Big Heat”) as the town’s blonde bombshell Violet; Thomas Mitchell (“Dark Waters,” “The Dark Mirror,” “While the City Sleeps”) as George’s absent-minded Uncle Billy; Barrymore (“Key Largo”) as the evil banker Potter; and Sheldon Leonard (“Decoy”) as tough Nick the bartender.

The movie’s crack Capra ensemble also boasts Ward Bond (“The Maltese Falcon,” “On Dangerous Ground,” “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye”) and Frank Faylen (“The Blue Dahlia,” “Detective Story,” “The Sniper”) as cop and cabbie (and “Sesame Street” namesakes) Bert and Ernie. And of course there’s the great, shy, stammering Stewart himself, who went on to make such classic noirs as “Call Northside 777,” plus, for Hitchcock, “Rope,” “Rear Window” and “Vertigo.”

It's a Wonderful Life posterThe script, by turns witty and sentimental, was adapted from a Christmas fable by poet Philip Van Doren Stern. “Life” had a raft of A-list writers, namely Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, the husband-wife team who adapted Dashiell Hammett‘s “Thin Man” for the movies. On “Life,” they received uncredited assistance from such stalwart noir writers as Jo Swerling (“Leave Her to Heaven”), Dalton Trumbo (“Gun Crazy”), Clifford Odets (“Sweet Smell of Success”) and the famously acerbic Dorothy Parker (you heard me right).

Lead cinematographer Joe Biroc (“Cry Danger,” “The Killer That Stalked New York”) gives the movie a distinctly nightmarish look.

The point of cataloging “Life’s” noir vets is that most of the talent in the movie were known more for film noir than the simplistic goody-two-shoes stuff people mistakenly feel is the essence of both “It’s a Wonderful Life” and Capra-corn. Capra wanted smart, sophisticated collaborators who knew what happened when the lights went off. Noir people.

Capra had already experimented with a mixture of humor, sentiment and noir in his 1944 comedy of murders, with Cary Grant, “Arsenic and Old Lace” but “Wonderful Life” has the style down pat. We see George’s kindness, generosity and sometimes-antic humor shining throughout his difficult but rewarding life as recounted up above to his guardian angel Clarence (Henry Travers). But then we see him in a downpour of terror and anguish when he suddenly faces financial ruin, flees his family, wrecks his car, stands on a bridge and contemplates suicide. And finally at the “Auld Lang Syne” end, we get the Bailey family pride and joy when the nightmare ends. Well, some great noirs have happy endings too …

In many ways, of course, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is Charles Dickens‘ “A Christmas Carol” in reverse. (Barrymore was famous for his interpretation of Ebenezer Scrooge, which he reprised every year at Christmas on radio and which he probably would have played for the 1938 MGM movie, had he not been wheelchair-bound by the time of its production.)

Anyway, it all jelled into a movie and an experience, both spinetingling and heartwarming, that nobody ever forgets: On a magical Christmas Eve, a good man understands the meaning of his life and the effects of selflessness, just as Dickens’ Scrooge sees the consequences of his own selfishness.

Most importantly, “Life” had Frank Capra, a directorial magician who could mix comedy and drama, move audiences deeply and also make them laugh, like almost no one else in Hollywood history. Capra always thought this was his best movie, even though it was a horrible disappointment to him financially and professionally. The original 1946 audiences and critics were mixed, and the film’s receipts failed to support the new company, Liberty Films, that Capra was trying to set up with his friends George Stevens, William Wyler and John Huston. Largely because of “Life,” they lost their Liberty.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” takes you right over the edge. Almost. It’s a wonderful picture: a very funny, often charming, but also terrifying movie about life’s most horrible disappointments, about all your nightmares coming true and all your dreams being torn apart. And that was echoed in real life. George Bailey failed (for a while), and Frank Capra failed (for a while) too.

But Capra was right. This is his best movie. I can’t keep a dry eye when George’s brother Harry (Todd Karns) toasts him under the Christmas tree as “the richest man in town,” the Bedford Falls crowd sings “Auld Lang Syne” and they find Zuzu’s petals. I don’t even want to.

If you’ve never been moved, even slightly, when Harry raises that glass, everybody sings and George hears the bell — well, the hell with you. “Bah, Humbug,” as Potter would say. But the Bedford Falls folks are still going to shout: “Merry Christmas everyone!”

Noir people too.

You can read more of Michael Wilmington’s reviews at Movie City News.

Author photo by Victor Skrebneski; copyright Victor Skrebneski

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Happy birthday, Gloria Grahame, top film noir femme fatale

Gloria Grahame is one of our favorite bad girls.

Gloria Grahame is one of our favorite bad girls.

While lounging this holiday weekend or perhaps while shopping (for yourself, who else?) or having a tad more chocolate and champagne, be sure to remember one of our favorite bad girls: the inimitable Miss Gloria Grahame, kittenish with a slight lisp and sexy as hell. She could play a vixen like no one else and she courted scandal off-screen as well.

Gloria was born today (Nov. 28) in Los Angeles in 1923. She died on Oct. 5, 1981.

A few years ago, we decided to honor Ms. Grahame with her own special day (in addition to her b’day because one day was simply not enough) and we invite you to revisit our praise: http://bit.ly/1NUZLMo

You will also find links to several GG film noir classics.

Enjoy!

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AFI FEST delights film noir fans

Film noir aficionados were gratified to see Pablo Trapero’s “The Clan,” a grisly crime story about the infamous Puccio family, featured at AFI FEST presented by Audi. “The Clan” is Argentina’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

Other AFI FEST highlights:

By the Sea,” directed by Angelina Jolie-Pitt, who also stars in the film with husband Brad Pitt. Dark and moody and sexy, just the way we like ’em.

Concussion,” starring Will Smith as a doctor who takes on the NFL. Co-starring Alec Baldwin and directed by Peter Landesman.

Director Patricia Riggen’s “The 33,” a tense drama about the 2010 collapse of a Chilean mine and the rescue attempts that followed.

The Big Short,” a comedy/drama about a Wall Street wild man who cashed in on the housing market and defaulting subprime home loans. Directed by Adam McKay, based on real events. Starring Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling and Steve Carell.

The full lineup included 17 docs and 10 Foreign Language Oscar entries among 127 total films from 45 countries.

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Truffaut’s choice as the greatest film noir: ‘Rififi’

By Michael Wilmington & Film Noir Blonde

Rififi” (1954, Jules Dassin) starts today at the Laemmle Royal in West Los Angeles. It runs through Sept. 17.

Midway through director Jules Dassin’s French crime classic “Rififi” (“Trouble”), Dassin stages a 33-minute-long masterpiece of suspense: a sequence the most critics regard as the most perfect of all movie heist scenes. It’s a brilliantly designed set-piece of excruciating tension and the only sound is the thieves at work.

Probably no one who sees that scene ever forgets it. Here it is: In the early morning hours, a small band of crooks – which include legendary bank robber Tony le Stephanois (Jean Servais), his young married friend Jo Jo (Carl Mohner), a good thief named Mario (Robert Manuel) and the loose-lipped safecracker Cesar (played by Dassin himself, under the stage name Perlo Vita) – break into an exclusive Parisian jewelry store by drilling though the floor of the room above. They work carefully, quietly, methodically. For the entire scene, there is not a word of dialogue, not a note of background music. A tour de force of moviemaking technique, it helped win Dassin the Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Later, François Truffaut called “Rififi” the greatest of all film noirs.

That heist scene also sets up the grim, fatalistic last act of “Rififi,” which is about how thieves fall apart, set in a Paris that seems shrouded in perpetual clouds and drizzling rain. “Rififi” was regarded as an almost instant classic, and it wiped out the stigma of Dassin’s blacklisting by Hollywood. If you’ve never seen this movie and that scene, you won’t forget them either. (In French, with subtitles.)

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The Film Noir File: Terrence Malick’s stunning debut ‘Badlands’ is a timeless love-on-the-run classic

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard). All films without a new review have been covered previously in Film Noir Blonde and can be searched in the FNB archives (at right).

PICK OF THE WEEK

Badlands posterBadlands” (1973, Terrence Malick). Monday, Aug. 24. 8 p.m. (5 p.m.). The late 1960s and early 1970s, in America, were marked by violence and loneliness, war and craziness, and wild beauty. We see a portrait of a lot of that trauma, in microcosm, in Terrence Malick’s shattering 1973 classic, “Badlands.”

Set in the American West of the 1950s, it’s the story of two young people on the run: Kit, who works on a trash truck and tries to model himself after James Dean, and Holly, a high-school baton twirler with a strange blank stare, who thinks Kit is the handsomest boy she’s ever seen. Read the full review here.

Friday, Aug. 21 2:15 a.m. (11:15 p.m.): “Freebie and the Bean” (1974, Richard Rush). Funny, violent and politically incorrect buddy-buddy cop thriller, co-starring Alan Arkin and James Caan as the buddies.

Saturday, Aug. 22: Marlene Dietrich Day

Putty in her hands: The magnificent Marlene Dietrich and the malleable Emil Jannings star in “The Blue Angel.”

Putty in her hands: The magnificent Marlene Dietrich and the malleable Emil Jannings star in “The Blue Angel.”

9:15 a.m. (6:15 a.m.): “The Blue Angel” (1930, Josef von Sternberg). (Repeat FNB mini-review.) (In German, with subtitles.) Marlene Dietrich plays a stunning and saucy singer who leads a fuddy-duddy teacher (Emil Jannings) to doom and destruction, natch.

2:45 p.m. (11:45 a.m.): “Stage Fright” (1950, Alfred Hitchcock). A backstage theater drama with Jane Wyman as an acting student, who tries to help a man on the run (Richard Todd). He’s accused of murdering the husband of a swooningly beautiful actress (Marlene Dietrich). “Stage Fright” is usually considered one of the lesser Hitchcocks, but second-tier Hitch is still better than most films.

The always-ravishing always-entertaining Marlene Dietrich.

The always-ravishing always-entertaining Marlene Dietrich.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Witness for the Prosecution” (1957, Billy Wilder). A stylish and entertaining whodunit starring Charles Laughton, Tyrone Power and Elsa Lanchester. And of course a very versatile Marlene Dietrich.

Monday, Aug. 23: Warren Oates Day

7:45 a.m. (4:45 a.m.): “The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond” (1960, Budd Boetticher). In just five years, working with paltry budgets on miniscule shooting schedules, ex-matador and B-movie master Budd Boetticher made the five Western masterpieces or near-masterpieces (from “The Tall T” to “Comanche Station”) known as “The Ranown Cycle” — all with stoic-looking cowboy star Randolph Scott in the saddle, and most with producer Harry Joe Brown. As if that weren’t enough, Boetticher had time during the same span to make another two top Scott vehicles, one of them another masterpiece (the 1956 “Seven Men From Now”) as well as that hard-boiled classic of film noir and the gangster genre, “The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond.”

Wild Bunch posterShot in brilliant black and white by ace of aces cinematographer Lucien Ballard (“The Killing,” “The Wild Bunch“), and starring the ruthless-looking, poker-faced glamour guy Ray Danton as the real-life mobster Diamond, “Legs” is prime Boetticher: taut, hard, perfectly shaped. It’s a sharp-eyed tale of brutal men, their fast ladies and their hapless victims, with a supporting cast that includes Karen Steele, Simon Oakland and that later wild triggerman on “The Wild Bunch,” Warren Oates.

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia” (1974, Sam Peckinpah). One of Peckinpah’s bloodiest neo-noirs, with Warren Oates as the morally weary American bounty hunter who brings a head to Mexico.

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “The Wild Bunch” (1969, Sam Peckinpah). The greatest neo-noir Western. Peckinpah at his finest and most brutally exciting. With William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Ben Johnson and Warren Oates.

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The Film Noir File: Our Lady, Queen Joan

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard). All films without a new review have been covered previously in Film Noir Blonde and can be searched in the FNB archives (at right).

Pick of the Week: An Evening with Joan, Monday, Aug. 10

Joan Crawford in her glory days, shot by George Hurrell.

Joan Crawford in her glory days, shot by George Hurrell.

Of all the immortal Hollywood queens of classical film noir (a short list that includes Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, Lauren Bacall, Gene Tierney and Claire Trevor) the most glamorous, and one of the best at “suffering in satin,” was Joan Crawford.

Joan’s stellar five-decade-long career took her from being a Roaring Twenties flapper princess (and dancing daughter) to being one of the pre-eminent noir queen bees and ladies-in-distress.

No one wore gowns, or eye makeup, quite like Joan, and no one stood up more gamely and steadfastly to a major villain. Or a major villainess, like Davis in “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” And few of the great glamour dames held up better, longer, more memorably or more seductively.

Four of Lady Joan’s best noir vehicles are playing Monday night on Turner Classic Movie’s Joan Crawford Day, Aug. 10, as part of the monthlong Summer under the Stars series. If you haven’t seen them, get ready for a dark treat. Miss Crawford is a great noir broad who rarely lets you down.

JC plays the consummate crazy lady in “Possessed,” which co-stars the great Van Heflin.

Joan Crawford plays the consummate crazy lady in “Possessed,” which co-stars the great Van Heflin.

Possessed” (1947, Curtis Bernhardt). 8 p.m. (5 p.m.).

Flamingo Road” (1949, Michael Curtiz). 10 p.m. (7 p.m.).

The Damned Don’t Cry” (1950, Vincent Sherman). 11:45 p.m. (8:45 p.m.).

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” (1962, Robert Aldrich).

Sunday, Aug. 9

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Strangers on a Train” (1951, Alfred Hitchcock).

Wednesday, Aug. 12

10:45 p.m. (7:45 p.m.): “Thunder Road” (1958, Arthur Ripley). Producer-star Robert Mitchum’s cult Southern backwoods moonshine-runners thriller. (He also sings the title song, which he wrote.) Co-starring Gene Barry and hip songbird Keely Smith.

Thursday, Aug. 13

10 a.m. (7 a.m.): “Once a Thief” (1965, Ralph Nelson). This likable heist thriller from the director of “Requiem for a Heavyweight” failed in its bid to make French noir star Alain Delon an American star as well, despite valuable help from Ann-Margret, Jack Palance and Van Heflin.

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Film Noir File: Summer of Darkness wraps up with four Lang classics, plus ‘Criss Cross,’ ‘Brute Force’ and ‘Asphalt Jungle’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Film Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard). All films without a new review have been covered previously in Film Noir Blonde and can be searched in the FNB archives (at right).

Pick of the Week: TCM’s Summer of Darkness wraps up

Friday, July 31

They’ve saved some of the best for last.

Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame sizzle in “The Big Heat.”

Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame sizzle in “The Big Heat.”

The last chapter of TCM’s Summer of Darkness binge-a-thon is one of the best of the whole series. During the day, the schedule includes a quartet of moody Teutonic-style thrillers directed by the great German Hollywood émigré suspense-meister Fritz Lang (the creator of “M”). It starts with the grim little mob masterpiece “The Big Heat,” featuring Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame and Lee Marvin in the cinema’s most memorable sadistic hot-coffee triangle.

Completing the Lang lineup are crime sagas “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt,” “While the City Sleeps” and “The Blue Gardenia.” In the evening, Summer of Darkness deepens the shadows with Jules Dassin’s “Brute Force” (a definitive prison picture), Robert Siodmak’s “Criss Cross” and John Huston’s “The Asphalt Jungle“ (two definitive heist thrillers), Anthony Mann’s “Desperate“ (a definitive B chase movie) and Hitchcock’s “The Wrong Man.”

Curated and hosted in the evening by the Czar of Noir himself, Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation and the Noir City film festivals, TCM’s Summer of Darkness, right up to the last breath, is one festival of broken dreams and movie nightmares you won’t want to miss. Tell ’em Fritz sent you.

6 a.m. (3 a.m.): “The Big Heat” (1953, Fritz Lang).

7:45 a.m. (4:45 a.m.): “Suddenly” (1954, Lewis Allen).

Blue Gardenia poster9:30 a.m. (6:30 a.m.): “I Died a Thousand Times” (1955, Stuart Heisler).

11:30 a.m. (8:30 a.m.): “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” (1956, Fritz Lang).

1 p.m. (10 a.m.): “The Harder They Fall” (1956, Mark Robson).

2:45 p.m. (11:45 a.m.): “While the City Sleeps” (1956, Fritz Lang).

4:45 p.m. (1:45 p.m.): “The Blue Gardenia” (1953, Fritz Lang).

6:15 pm. (3:15 p.m.): “Party Girl” (1958, Nicholas Ray).

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Criss Cross” (1949, Robert Siodmak).

9:45 p.m. (6:45 p.m.): “Brute Force” (1947, Jules Dassin).

11:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.): “Desperate” (1947, Anthony Mann).

Brute Force movie poster color

1 a.m. (10 p.m.): “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950, John Huston).

3 a.m. (12 a.m.): “The Wrong Man” (1956, Alfred Hitchcock).

Saturday, Aug. 1

2 p.m. (11 a.m.): “Whirlpool” (1949, Otto Preminger).

3:45 p.m. (12:45 p.m.): “Laura” (1944, Otto Preminger).

Sunday, Aug. 2

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte” (1964, Robert Aldrich). This is the macabre follow-up to 1962’s Grand Guignol suspense classic “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” But in this Robert Aldrich-directed, Henry Farrell-written Gothic soufflé featuring dueling divas Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, Crawford didn’t make it to the finishing line. Taken ill (or something), she was a no-show when the shooting started and was replaced by Bette’s longtime Warner Brothers buddy Olivia de Havilland.

The resulting chemistry isn’t nearly as potent in this Deep South chiller, which is a kind of grisly sub-Faulkner lady-in-distress murder-in-the-magnolias shocker. But those ace movie villainesses Agnes Moorehead and Mary Astor lend some extra “Sunset Boulevard”-style grande dame atmosphere. And so does the movie’s stylish misfit male contingent of Joseph Cotten, Bruce Dern, Cecil Kellaway and the great fat mama’s boy from “Baby Jane,” Victor Buono. The title song is sung, with a “Tennessee Waltz” warble, by Patti Page.

Monday, Aug. 3

2:45 a.m. (11:45 p.m.): “The Tall Target” (1951, Anthony Mann).

Tuesday, Aug. 4

9:15 a.m. (6:15 a.m.): “The Steel Trap” (1952, Andrew L. Stone).

4:30 a.m. (1:30 a.m.): “Count the Hours” (1953, Don Siegel). Crisp courtroom thriller about migrant workers framed for murder and defended by Macdonald Carey. Siegel’s direction is B-movie sharp. Teresa Wright and Jack Elam are the film’s Beauty and Beast, respectively.

Wednesday, Aug. 5

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “The Band Wagon” (1953, Vincente Minnelli).

Thursday, Aug. 6

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Get Carter” (1971, Mike Hodges).

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Film Noir File: Classic so-good sleepers ‘The Narrow Margin,’ ‘The Locket’ and ‘Angel Face’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Film Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard). All films without a new review have been covered previously in Film Noir Blonde and can be searched in the FNB archives (at right).

Pick of the Week: TCM’s Summer of Darkness continues to delight

Friday, July 24

The next-to-last chapter of TCM’s deluxe film-noir binge-a-thon Summer of Darkness commences today. It’s another feast for film noir buffs. As we know by now, Turner Classic Movies has been sharing its great shadowy treasure trove of classic film noir on Friday nights.

Marie Windsor

Marie Windsor

This week’s dark list includes Richard Fleischer’s terrific low-budget death-rides-the-train sleeper, “The Narrow Margin,“ starring Charles McGraw and Marie Windsor — one of director Billy Friedkin’s faves. You’ll also see Hollywood expressionist John Brahm’s stylish triple-flashback thriller, “The Locket” with Robert Mitchum. And don’t even think about missing Otto Preminger’s French critical favorite “Angel Face“ (one of Jean-Luc Godard’s picks for his all-time Best American Talkies list). This time Mitchum is smitten with Jean Simmons. Bitch-slap trivia: “Angel Face” is the movie where Mitchum punched Preminger for being mean to Jean.

Also on Friday’s all-day bill of noir: highlights with ace actors like Ida Lupino, Robert Ryan, Mitchum, Barbara Stanwyck, Mickey Rooney, Evelyn Keyes, Jane Russell, Jeanne Moreau, Vincent Price, John Payne and Raymond Burr, and directors like Nick Ray, Josef von Sternberg (on the same show), Louis Malle, Phil Karlson and Fritz Lang.

Curated and hosted in the evening by the Czar of Noir himself, Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation and the Noir City film festivals, TCM’s Summer of Darkness is a standout fest of classic killings, broken dreams and movie nightmares. All that and Marilyn Monroe (in “Clash by Night”) too.

We don’t want this summer to end!

6:45 a.m. (3:45 a.m.): “Roadblock” (1950, Harold Daniels). Charles McGraw and Joan Dixon in a poor man‘s “Double Indemnity.”

8 a.m. (5 a.m.): “The Strip” (1951, Leslie Kardos). Mickey Rooney is a luckless jazz drummer who gets in a bad fix trying to help Hollywood hopeful Sally Forrest. The great guest musical stars here include Louis Armstrong, and Satchmo’s longtime friends and sidemen Jack Teagarden and Earl Hines.

9:30 a.m. (6:30 a.m.): “Beware, My Lovely” (1952, Harry Horner). Ida Lupino and Robert Ryan strike sparks in an icy domestic suspenser.

Robert Ryan and Marilyn Monroe are bored with small-town life in “Clash by Night.”

Robert Ryan and Marilyn Monroe are bored with small-town life in “Clash by Night.”

11:15 a.m. (8:15 a.m.): “Clash by Night” (1953, Fritz Lang). Barbara Stanwyck is an independent woman in 1950s America. Trouble, here we come! She can’t keep a man, but then who’d want to when edgy Robert Ryan is around to get in trouble with? Marilyn Monroe is splendid as a small-town factory girl.

1:15 p.m. (10:15 a.m.): “Kansas City Confidential” (1952, Phi Karlson). A good crisp Karlson heist, pulled off by a mob that includes Preston Foster and Colleen Gray.

3 p.m. (12 p.m.): “Macao” (1952, Josef von Sternberg & Nicholas Ray).

4:45 p.m. (1:45 p.m.): “Talk About a Stranger” (1952, David Bradley). Gossipers wreak havoc in a talky small town. A look at U. S. Senator George Murphy and First Lady Nancy Davis (Reagan) in their movie days.

6:15 p.m. (3:15 p.m.): “Split Second” (1953, Dick Powell). In this nerve-racking thriller, outlaw Stephen McNally and hostages Alexis Smith, Jan Sterling and others are trapped together in a desert nuclear bomb testing site.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Narrow Margin” (1952, Richard Fleischer).

9:30 p.m. (6:30 p.m.): “His Kind of Woman” (1951, John Farrow).

11:45 p.m. (8:45 p.m.): “The Locket” (1946, John Brahm).

1:30 a.m. (10:30 p.m.): “Angel Face” (1953, Otto Preminger).

3:30 a.m. (12:30 p.m.): “Elevator to the Gallows” (1958, Louis Malle).

[Read more…]

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