After a TCM film fest screening of “Fall Guy,” a rare film noir from 1947 starring Leo Penn (Sean’s dad), producer Walter Mirisch (right) talked with author Foster Hirsch. Mirisch went on to produce “The Magnificent Seven,” “West Side Story,” “The Great Escape,” “The Pink Panther” and “In the Heat of the Night,” among many others. The screening and talk were Saturday, April 14, at the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood.
Producer Walter Mirisch talks with author Foster Hirsch after ‘Fall Guy,’ a rare film noir, at TCM fest
One of the strengths of the TCM Classic Film Festival is that you can watch timeless favorites on the big screen and discover rare gems that are difficult to see elsewhere.
That was the case with 1947’s “Fall Guy,” a little-known film noir whose world premiere restoration screened on Saturday morning. It’s a wonderful example of a low-budget B-movie that tackled dark topics, such as drug use and the struggle of World War II vets to readjust to civilian life.
Jerry Warner’s script is adapted from “Cocaine,” a short story by pulp-fiction master Cornell Woolrich. The action in “Fall Guy” revolves around a disaffected ex-soldier named Tom (Leo Penn, Sean’s dad, credited as Clifford Penn) who wakes up one morning with a hell of a hangover, bloodstains on his clothes and little memory of the night before. He doesn’t remember killing anyone but in his drug-addled state, anything’s possible.
Helping him piece together his fragmented recollections are his girlfriend Lois (Rita Hayworth-lookalike Teala Loring) and his brother-in-law, a tough cop named Mac (Robert Armstrong, of “King Kong” fame.) Elisha Cook Jr. and Virginia Dale spur his downward spiral; Iris Adrian is memorable as the brassy party girl.
In 2012, the rough and ready production values and pat story make “Fall Guy” a bit dated, it’s true. What’s fascinating about this release from Monogram Pictures, a quintessential Poverty Row studio, is the fact that because the budget was so limited, director Reginald Le Borg and the script could fly under the radar, exploring risqué and unsettling subject matter.
The censors still had their say, of course, and by today’s standards, the storyline is tame, but the creators of “Fall Guy” had a certain freedom and flexibility not found at glossy, high-end studios like MGM.
And though Monogram was small, it was smart about cross-branding. The studio’s 1946 noir classic “Decoy” is playing on a movie marquee in “Fall Guy.”
At Saturday’s screening, the film’s producer Walter Mirisch, now 90, talked with author Foster Hirsch. Mirisch offered an apology, noting that “Fall Guy” was the first film he produced and that he was still learning at the time, but the audience still gave the movie enthusiastic applause. Mirisch (and brothers Harold and Marvin) went on to produce “The Magnificent Seven,” “West Side Story,” “The Great Escape,” “The Pink Panther” and “In the Heat of the Night,” among many others.
Opening night is a double feature: 1947’s “High Wall” by director Curtis Bernhardt, starring Robert Taylor and Audrey Totter, and “The Dark Mirror” (1946, Robert Siodmak) in which Olivia de Havilland plays twin sisters, one of whom is deranged. Shocker!
Other highlights include: “Sorry Wrong Number” (1948, Anatole Litvak) and “The Glass Key” (1942, Stuart Heisler) as well as lesser-known films like “Loophole” (1954, Harold D. Schuster) and “The Hunted” (1948, Jack Bernhard), recently saved from extinction by the foundation.
Authors Alan K. Rode and Foster Hirsch will be on hand to discuss these classic noirs.
Having worked at the Chicago Tribune for many years before heading to the West Coast, I always remember this sage editing adage: “If your mother says she loves you, you’d better doublecheck.”
Speaking of checking, you can see the full Noir City: Chicago 3 lineup here.
The Long Goodbye/1973/United Artists/112 min.
One of the best films of the ’70s or an ugly, boring travesty of a well respected detective novel?
Decide for yourself as you watch Robert Altman’s 1973 movie of “The Long Goodbye,” by Raymond Chandler. The film, starring Elliott Gould as private investigator Philip Marlowe, divided critics, earning the above-mentioned rave from Time Out and the snooty slam from Leslie Halliwell.
It was primarily Gould’s free-wheeling interpretation of the beloved PI that drew ire. Charles Champlin called him an “untidy, unshaven, semi-literate dimwit slob.”
An entertaining yarn, soaked in ’70s atmosphere, the movie captures the sunny, scruffy, solipsistic mood and look of Malibu, Calif., at the start of the Me Decade. Marlowe’s next door neighbors, for example, are pot-brownie-baking, clothing-optional candlemakers. We only see them from a distance but in a way they are timeless party girls, a ’70s version of “The Girls Next Door.”
And “The Long Goodbye” stretches the vocabulary of film noir. As Foster Hirsch, author of “Detours and Lost Highways: A Map of Neo Noir,” writes: “For all its self-indulgence and contradiction – the film both satirizes and seeks acceptance as a cool, contemporary L.A. mystery story – Altman’s ‘new age’ noir suggested the genre’s elasticity at a time when it was considered passé. Produced before nouveau noir had taken root, ‘The Long Goodbye’ anticipates the full-force genre revival of the 1980s and 1990s.”
We meet Marlowe late one night as he’s trying to round up food for his hungry cat (Morris the Cat in the role that launched him to stardom). The story spices up when Marlowe’s friend Terry Lennox (Jim Bouton) asks him, after a marital spat, to drive him to Tijuana.
Marlowe doesn’t have much else going on (besides cat care, of course) and so they make the trip; Marlowe heads back on his own to find that Lennox’s wife is dead. The police press Marlowe for info on Terry’s whereabouts, hoping that a little jail time will jog his memory (David Carradine plays Marlowe’s cellmate). They ease up after Terry Lennox commits suicide, having first written a letter confessing to the murder.
Marlowe’s not buying the suicide, but turns his attention to a new client. The sun-kissed and sophisticated Eileen Wade (Nina van Pallandt) wants Marlowe to find her missing hubby Roger Wade, a boozy writer, (played by the wonderful Sterling Hayden, a veteran of film noirs like “Asphalt Jungle” and “The Killing”).
Searching for Roger isn’t all that challenging, but Marlowe has his hands full with a visit from psychopathic gangster Marty Augustine (director Mark Rydell) and his hoods (including young Arnold Schwarzenegger). They’re sniffing around for a load of cash that Terry Lennox was supposed to deliver to Mexico. Surprise, surprise, the cash never made it. So the surly, anti-social Marlowe plods on toward the truth, trying not to get any sand on the shag carpets. [Read more...]
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.”
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.)
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.