Another great time at the TCM Classic Film Fest

Thanks to everyone at the TCM Classic Film Festival. It was a great time: Movies, events, staff and fans were amazing! I’ll be writing a more detailed overview but for now, I just wanted to mention a noir factoid I recently uncovered.

“Double Indemnity” (1944, Billy Wilder) was a highlight of the fest. Both Walter’s place (the Bryson Apartments) and Phyllis’ house are still in LA. In the film, Walter reckons the house cost about $30,000; it would now cost more than $1.5 million. Read more about the house here.

Phyllis’ house was and is at 6301 Quebec Drive in the Hollywood Hills.

Phyllis’ house was and is at 6301 Quebec Drive in the Hollywood Hills.

In 1944, Fred MacMurray bought the Bryson building for $600,000. Built in 1913 by real estate developer Hugh W. Bryson, the 10-story Beaux Arts stunner was where MacMurray’s character Walter Neff lived in “Double Indemnity.”

The Bryson building is at 2701 Wilshire Blvd. in the MacArthur Park section of Los Angeles.

The Bryson building is at 2701 Wilshire Blvd. in the MacArthur Park section of Los Angeles.

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On Valentine’s Day: 14 reasons we love ‘Double Indemnity’

Double Indemnity poster

Yes, we’re still gushing about “Double Indemnity,” the film noir classic from 1944. Deal with it. Oh, and happy Valentine‘s weekend, btw!

Billy Wilder‘s great prototype film noir turns 70 this year and yet it never gets old. Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson, the movie boasts a screenplay that Wilder co-wrote with Raymond Chandler, based on James M. Cain‘s novel, which was inspired by actual events.

Here’s why we hold the picture dear to our hearts, dearies.

14. As film noir historian and author Foster Hirsch put it, at a recent screening at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, “It’s the quintessential film noir. This is the mother lode, primary source film noir. It’s the basis for every film noir you’ve ever loved.”

13. Someone with the name Walter Neff turns out to be a tough guy.

12. All Walter has to do to escape punishment is sit tight. Yet, his ego drives him toward a final confrontation with his lover/partner in crime.

11. Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyllis Dietrichson is a fashion victim. If you need convincing, read the piece below re: her awful wig.

10. The first time Phyllis shows up at Walter’s apartment, she says she is returning his hat (which he supposedly left at her house) but the previous scene clearly shows him taking his hat as he leaves. Still, there’s so much tension between them, who cares?!

9. The door to Walter’s apartment opens the wrong way (it shields Phyllis on one of her visits) but you’re so caught up in the story you hardly notice.

As Billy Wilder acknowledged, no door in the world would open this way.

As Billy Wilder acknowledged, no door in the world would open this way.

8. You could buy Phyllis Dietrichson’s house for $30,000, even if that took a lifetime to pay off.

7. You could have a beer at a drive-in restaurant, served by a car-hop, no less.

6. The look of supreme satisfaction on Phyllis’s face at the moment her husband is murdered.

5. Stanwyck and MacMurray both took a risk and played against type.

4. Edward G. Robinson almost steals the show and it’s really a bromance between his character and MacMurray’s Walter Neff.

3. Raymond Chandler makes a cameo appearance, about 16 minutes into the movie, at Walter’s office building.

2. It’s perfectly paced – you can watch it over and over and it moves along lickety split every time, leaving you wanting more.

1. It truly ranks as a classic flick – it’s as fresh, sexy and funny today as it was in 1944. The writing, acting, directing cinematography, lighting, art direction are matchless.

Do you love “Double Indemnity” as much as we do? Then let us know!

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Happy b’day, Babs! FNB joins Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon

Very few actresses truly deserve accolades like stellar, peerless, magnificent and amazing. Barbara Stanwyck, who had a stage, film and TV career spanning more than 50 years, is surely one of that select group. She might have cringed at such lofty praise, however, referring to herself as “a tough old broad from Brooklyn.”

Adjectives aside, Stanwyck stands out for the range of parts she played, her discipline as an artist, and the subtlety and strength of her performances. That’s why I was so pleased when Aubyn at The Girl with the White Parasol let me join this month’s Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon, which runs through July 22.

For my contribution, I’m highlighting a fluffy detail from the great “Double Indemnity” (1944): Phyllis Dietrichson’s tawdry blonde wig. The piece also includes some observations from master director Billy Wilder on working with Barbara – born Ruby Catherine Stevens on July 16, 1907, and later nicknamed Babs, Missy and The Queen. She still rules today.

A Babs Stanwyck moment for FNB

On Phyllis Dietrichson’s wig: Looking through some photos the other day, I noticed how often I lost the fight with my fine, curly hair and let it go wild (left). Not every day can be a good hair day.

If I ever need assurance that every femme fatale has a styling glitch from time to time, I look at Barbara Stanwyck’s awful wig in “Double Indemnity,” a quintessential noir from 1944, directed by Billy Wilder.

Paramount production head Buddy DeSylva said of the stiff blonde ’do, “We hired Barbara Stanwyck and here we get George Washington.”

It also reminded me that it had been ages since I’d looked at my copy of “Conversations with Wilder” by Cameron Crowe, published in 1999. Of course, I flipped right to Wilder’s answer to Crowe’s question about the direction given to Barbara Stanwyck in “Double Indemnity” for the silent shot on her face while the murder is occurring.

Said Wilder: Sure, that was a highly intelligent actress, Miss Stanwyck. I questioned the wig, but it was proper, because it was a phony wig. It was an obviously phony wig. And the anklet – the equipment of a woman, you know, that is married to this kind of man. They scream for murder.

Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray star in “Double Indemnity” from 1944. Both played against type.

Yeah, naturally we rehearsed this thing. But I rehearsed it with her once or twice, that’s the maximum, and it was not that much different from the way she would have done it. She was just an extraordinary woman. She took the script, loved it, right from the word go, didn’t have the agent come and say, “Look, she’s to play a murderess, she must get more money, because she’s never going to work again.”

With Stanwyck, I had absolutely no difficulties at all. And she knew the script, everybody‘s lines. You could wake her up in the middle of the night and she’d know the scene. Never a fault, never a mistake – just a wonderful brain she had.

Crowe asked if the part had been written for Stanwyck. Wilder said: Yeah. And then there there was an actor by the name of Fred MacMurray at Paramount, and he played comedies. Small dramatic parts, big parts in comedies. I let him read it, and he said, “I can’t do that.” And I said, “Why can’t you?” He said, “It requires acting!” [Laughs.] I said, “Look, you have now arrived in comedy, you’re at a certain point where you either have to stop, or you have to jump over the river and start something new.” He said, “Will you tell me when I’m no good?” [He nods: a partnership is born.] And he was wonderful because it’s odd casting.

Paramount image of “Double Indemnity”

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The Noir File: Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray star in the all-time great film noir: ‘Double Indemnity’

By Michael Wilmington & Film Noir Blonde

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir, sort of noir and pre-noir on cable TV. All movies below are from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

PICK OF THE WEEK

Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck) figures that having Walter (Fred MacMurray) get rid of her husband will be far more cost-effective than hiring a divorce lawyer.

Double Indemnity” (1944, Billy Wilder). Thursday, Feb. 21, 8 p.m. (5 p.m.).

She’s got a plan, she just needs a man. And that’s a welcome challenge for a femme fatale, especially one with an ankle bracelet.

In Billy Wilder’s film noir masterpiece, “Double Indemnity,” from 1944 Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) wants out of her marriage to rich, grumpy oldster, Mr. Dietrichson (Tom Powers). For Phyllis, seducing a new guy to help make hubs disappear is so much more cost-effective than hiring a divorce lawyer. A smart insurance man is even better. Along comes Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) trying to sell a policy, just as Phyllis finishes a session of sunbathing, wearing an ankle bracelet and not much more. That’s about as much bait as Walter needs. Read the full FNB review here.

Thursday, Feb. 21

3:45 p.m. (12:45 pm): “The Long Voyage Home” (1940, John Ford). Superb film noir cinematography by the matchless Gregg Toland (“Citizen Kane”) graces this dark, moody John Ford-Dudley Nichols adaptation of four of Eugene O’Neill’s great, gloomy sea plays. The themes and mood are noir too. With Thomas Mitchell, Barry Fitzgerald, Ward Bond, Mildred Natwick and John Wayne – who always called “The Long Voyage Home” one of his favorite films.

5:45 p.m. (2:45 p.m.): “Foreign Correspondent” (1940, Alfred Hitchcock). After “Rebecca,” his Oscar-winning 1940 American debut, Alfred Hitchcock’s second Hollywood movie was more truly Hitchcockian. It’s an ingeniously crafted spy melodrama, scripted by Charles Bennett, Joan Harrison and (uncredited) Ben Hecht. Joel McCrea plays a foreign correspondent who gets enmeshed in pre-WW2 intrigue; co-starring Laraine Day, George Sanders, Edmund Gwenn and Robert Benchley. This very anti-Nazi picture was intended to encourage the U.S.’s entrance into the war, to help rescue Hitch’s British countrymen, and it probably did. It’s also a corking Hitchcock spy thriller in the “39 Steps”-”Lady Vanishes” tradition.

Saturday, Feb. 23

1:30 p.m. (10:30 a.m.): “Anatomy of a Murder” (1959, Otto Preminger). With James Stewart, Lee Remick and Ben Gazzara. Reviewed in FNB March 14, 2012

“On the Waterfront” won eight Oscars.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “On the Waterfront” (1954, Elia Kazan). One of the great ’50s American social dramas is also one of the great ’50s film noirs, with director Elia Kazan, screenwriter Budd Schulberg and cinematographer Boris Kaufman giving us a two-fisted, beautifully shot and acted drama of a corrupt labor union gang. The star is Marlon Brando, as the slightly punchy, fight-scarred ex-boxer and dockworker Terry Malloy (Brando’s greatest performance), whose brother Charley (Rod Steiger) is a mouthpiece for the crooked union run by mobster Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb). Terry has to decide whether he’ll rat out all the rats to a government investigating committee – exposing the thugs who killed the dockworker father of Edie (Eva Marie Saint) with whom Terry has fallen in love.

All the actors above were nominated for Oscars. (Brando and Saint won, along with Kazan, Schulberg, composer Leonard Bernstein and the movie). Also a nominee was supporting actor Karl Malden as the fighting pro-worker priest, Father Barry. And, in addition to the film’s many prizes, several generations of actors all wanted passionately to be like Brando and to play a scene like the one in “On the Waterfront,” acted with Steiger in a taxicab, where Terry says, heart-rendingly: “Charley, Charley, you don’t understand, I coulda had class….I coulda been a contender.” They never matched that scene, and neither did Brando.

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “The Harder They Fall” (1956, Mark Robson). Humphrey Bogart’s last movie, and a good one. He’s a respected sports reporter turned unrespectable publicist, hired by a crooked boxing promoter (Rod Steiger) to bilk the public and exploit a huge but naive and ill-skilled South American boxer, Toro Moreno (Mike Lane). Based on a book by boxing aficionado Budd Schulberg.

Jack Nicholson

4:30 a.m. (1:30 a.m.): “The Last Detail” (1973, Hal Ashby). Jack Nicholson gave one of his best performances as “Bad Ass” Buddusky, an astonishingly foul-mouthed and cynical Navy lifer who pulls guard duty and has to escort a hapless Navy thief named Meadows (Randy Quaid) to eight years of hard time at Leavenworth. Bad Ass decides (unwisely) to let the kid live a little along the way. One of director Hal Ashby’s best movies, and one of Robert (“Chinatown”) Towne’s greatest scripts, adapted from a novel by Navy man Darryl Ponicsan.

Sunday, Feb. 24

2:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m.): “Midnight Express” (1978, Alan Parker). Oliver Stone wrote the no-punches-pulled screenplay for this searing Alan Parker-directed biographical thriller about real-life American tourist/smuggler Billy Hayes (Brad Davis) and his hellish times in a Turkish prison. With John Hurt and frequent jailbird (in this column at least) Randy Quaid.

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The Noir File: All noir, all day, with Stanwyck and Mitchum

Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell star in “His Kind of Woman.”

By Michael Wilmington & Film Noir Blonde

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on cable TV. All movies below are from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard). This month, TCM pays tribute to one of the great noir dames, Barbara “Missy” Stanwyck. All the Stanwyck film noirs are on Wednesday (Film Noir Day) and Thursday. Robert Mitchum gets a noir tribute on Wednesday too.

PICK OF THE WEEK

Double Indemnity” (1944, Billy Wilder). Wednesday, Dec. 19, 8 p.m. (5 p.m.). “Yes, I killed him. I killed him for money. And a woman. And I didn’t get the money and I didn’t get the woman. Pretty, isn’t it?” — Walter Neff in “Double Indemnity.”

Sometime before dawn. A dying man, the bullet still in his gut, staggers into his shadowy insurance company office, slumps in a chair, picks up the Dictaphone receiver, and begins to talk. It’s a confession of murder, probably the greatest confession in the history of film noir. The dying man is Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), a bright, handsome, good-natured insurance salesman who’s sold one policy too many.

He sold it to the husband of Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) – the sexiest, blackest hearted dame who ever lit up a cigarette, slipped on (or off) an ankle bracelet, or took out a double indemnity insurance policy on her sap of a husband, prepared by her sap of a salesman/lover. The confession is to his best friend, “hot potato” claims investigator Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson). That hurts as much as the bullet. But it doesn’t really matter. There’s not much time left to tell the story. And it’s a hell of a story…

“Double Indemnity” – directed by Billy Wilder, scripted by Wilder and Raymond Chandler from James M. Cain’s great, knife-sharp novel, photographed by John Seitz, with music by Miklos Rozsa – is the pinnacle of film noir. There simply is no better, deeper, darker noir than this one.

Wednesday, Dec. 19

BARBARA STANWYCK AND ROBERT MITCHUM NOIR DAY

Note: For entries that don’t have descriptions, use the search bar on the upper-right side of this page to find previous reviews.

6 a.m. (3 a.m.) “Undercurrent” (Vincente Minnelli, 1946). Mitchum untangles repressions with Katharine Hepburn and Robert Taylor.

8:30 a.m. (5:30 a.m.): “Where Danger Lives” (John Farrow, 1950). Mitchum on the run with psycho flirt Faith Domergue.

10 a.m. (7 a.m.): “His Kind of Woman” (John Farrow, 1951). Mitchum and Jane Russell live it up at a pleasure spot hideaway with mobster Raymond Burr.

12:15 p.m. (9:15 a.m.): “My Forbidden Past” (Robert Stevenson, 1951). Mitchum messes up Ava Gardner and Melvyn Douglas.

1:30 p.m. (10:30 a.m.): “Angel Face” (Otto Preminger, 1953). A Preminger classic with Mitchum and Jean Simmons.

3:15 p.m. (12:15 p.m.): “Second Chance” (Rudolph Maté, 1953). More Mexican high jinks with Mitchum, Linda Darnell and Jack Palance.

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers” (Lewis Milestone, 1946).

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Sorry, Wrong Number” (Anatole Litvak, 1948). Tense movie adaptation of the famed Lucille Fletcher radio play about an invalid woman (Stanwyck) terrorized by phone calls.

1:45 a.m. (10:45 p.m.): “Clash by Night” (Fritz Lang, 1952).

3:45 a.m. (12:45 a.m.): “Jeopardy” (John Sturges, 1953).

5 a.m. (2 a.m.): “Witness to Murder” (Roy Rowland, 1954). Did Stanwyck witness a murder? George Sanders and Gary Merrill wonder.

Thursday, Dec. 20

6:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m.): “Crime of Passion” (Gerd Oswald, 1957).

8 a.m. (5 a.m.): “Barbara Stanwyck: Fire and Desire” (Richard Schickel, 1991). Dick Schickel documentary on Stanwyck’s life and career. With Sally Field.

9 a.m. (6 a.m.): “The Two Mrs. Carrolls” (Peter Godfrey, 1947).

Saturday, Dec. 22

2:15 a.m. (11:15 p.m.): “Anatomy of a Murder” (Otto Preminger, 1959).

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Seeking ‘recline’ inspiration from film noir’s injured characters

I recently experienced a little setback: I fractured my toe (one in from the pinkie on the right foot). I didn’t teeter as I tried on Loubou’s or tumble on a treacherous chunk of pavement. Nor was I hang-gliding or training for a 5k run. Please. Have we met? No, in typical femme fatale fashion, à la Mae West, I tripped over a pile of men.

Sporting hideous footwear.

Of course I don’t mind being ordered by doctors to rest and relax. In fact, I relish the opportunity. And if ever there were a time to be waited on hand and foot, bark out orders and be completely catered to, honey this is it! I’m also grateful that the toe (underrated little body part that it is) wasn’t broken or more severely damaged – it should heal nicely as long as I’m patient.

But the thing I really miss is going to yoga. Feeling a little blue and kicking myself (pun intended) for not being more careful, I called my friend Anne who pointed out that what’s bad in life is good on the page. She suggested that as I recuperate I commiserate with noir characters – like nostril-impaired Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) in “Chinatown” – who sustain and recover from injuries. (You can always trust a Gemini to come up with a creative approach.)

As I lounge on my sofa, I also find myself pondering existential questions, such as: Can I now fulfill my long-held fantasy of going to yoga and resting in child’s pose for the entire class? Will wine and ice cream provide the same benefits as shavasana? What about cupcakes? Does Susie Cakes deliver? Is it possible to dance while using crutches? How long can a girl go without shaving her legs?

Aah, more than my peabrain can process right now. So, with many thanks to Anne, here are my favorite mending moments of film noir.

Dick Powell as Philip Marlowe is temporarily blinded in “Murder, My Sweet.”

 

Phony, schmony. The dude still hobbled around on crutches: Fred MacMurray in “Double Indemnity.”

 

Decoy”’s Frank Armstrong recovers from the ultimate “accident.” Cold-hearted Jean Gillie sees a way to get her hands on a wad of cash by bringing her criminal boyfriend back to life following his visit to the gas chamber. Absurd? Absolutely. Still, it’s all in a day’s work for film noir’s toughest femme fatale.

 

“Dark Passage”: Unjustly sentenced prison escapee Humphrey Bogart undergoes plastic surgery to alter his looks. He co-stars with real-life wife Lauren Bacall.

 

Burt Lancaster sustains major injuries after a heist gets fouled up in “Criss Cross.” (In “The Killers” Lancaster plays a boxer whose career folded after hurting his hand.)

 

The Big Heat” contains one of film noir’s most famous violent scenes. Lee Marvin throws a pot of boiling coffee at Gloria Grahame and disfigures her face. She gets even in the end.

 

Jimmy Stewart is a photojournalist who watches his neighbors to pass the time (with gorgeous Grace Kelly for company) while his leg heals in “Rear Window.”

 

Jack Nicholson wears his bandage for most of “Chinatown.” Director Roman Polanski plays the menacing punk who cuts Nicholson’s nose.

 

“Misery”’s Kathy Bates is the nurse-from-hell to wounded writer James Caan.

 

Viggo Mortensen gets stabbed in his foot after fending off two thugs in “A History of Violence.”

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Billy Wilder superbly skewers Tinseltown in ‘Sunset Blvd.’

Sunset Blvd./1950/Paramount Pictures/110 min.

Joe Gillis (William Holden) is found dead in Norma Desmond’s pool.

Without a doubt, Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Blvd.” is one of the greatest movies ever made about Hollywood, perhaps one of the greatest movies ever made.

Aging Hollywood star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) is admittedly a little cut off from reality. She fawns over her pet monkey, has rats in her pool, autographs pile after pile of 8 x 10 glossies for her fans, even though she hasn’t made a picture in years. But, like so many women of film noir, the “Sunset Blvd.” heroine was ahead of her time. She was a veteran movie star who wanted to create her own roles, look her best and date a younger, sexy man. Anything wrong with that?

Unfortunately, though, she spins out of control and winds up shooting this boy toy in a jealous pique. There’s always a downside to being a visionary, I guess. By mentioning the murder, I’m not spoiling anything because the movie opens with Joe Gillis (William Holden) floating lifelessly in Norma’s pool, having stumbled in after she plugged him. He then narrates the movie via flashback, a favorite film-noir technique, but Wilder was the first to let the voice belong to a dead guy. In fact, there are two (perfectly merged) narratives – dead Joe reflecting on the past and in-the-moment Joe, unaware of his fate.

Norma (Gloria Swanson) tries to keep Joe entertained.

An Ohio newspaperman, Joe has come to LA to be a screenwriter but his career has stalled and he’s short on money. Looking for a place to stash his car so that the finance company won’t repossess it, he spots an old mansion on Sunset Boulevard.

It’s an old home, but it’s not deserted – Norma lives there with her butler and former director, Max von Mayerling (real-life director Erich von Stroheim). Once she learns Joe is a writer – a tall, buff, gorgeous writer – she asks him to collaborate on a screenplay that she hopes will relaunch her career. They seal the deal over a glass of champagne and Norma decides he should move in with her. Joe agrees but occasionally sneaks away to slum it with his young, aspiring movie-maker friends, including earnest, ambitious and fresh-faced Betty Schaefer (Wisconsin-native Nancy Olson).

Aspiring writer Betty (Nancy Olson) connects with Joe at a party.

Betty and Joe decide to co-write a script in their free time, but Norma isn’t one to share her man. In her final dramatic encounter with Joe, Norma ironically achieves her long-held dream of hearing “Lights, camera, action!” once more.

“Sunset Blvd.” is rich with irony. Von Stroheim is just one of many Hollywood greats playing parts that were very close to their own lives. (Von Stroheim, a major silent-film director most renowned for “Greed” from 1924, directed Swanson in 1929’s “Queen Kelly,” a few frames of which are shown in “Sunset Blvd.”) Famed director Cecil B. DeMille and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper play themselves as do actors Buster Keaton, H. B. Warner and Anna Q. Nilsson as Norma’s friends from her glory days.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched “Sunset Blvd.” but each time I view, it seems fresh, funny and contemporary, which is the mark of a truly classic film. From the rich, shadow-laden visuals (I love the first time we see Norma – coiled like a viper, clutching her antique cigarette holder, peeking out from behind Venetian blinds) to the perfect, snappy pacing to the outstanding score by Franz Waxman, Wilder left not one detail to chance.

Butler and driver Max (Erich Von Stroheim) takes Norma and Joe to a meeting at Paramount with legendary director Cecil B. DeMille.

Most importantly, Wilder elicited tremendous performances from his actors – Swanson is not only deluded and desperate and vain, she’s funny (especially when she impersonates Charlie Chaplin) and determined and strangely endearing. Holden wins us over, even though there’s very little to like about his character. Of course, a big part of great acting is precise casting and Wilder was lucky on that front.

There was of course no way he could have foreseen how indelibly Swanson and Holden would stamp their parts on the pop-culture landscape. Mae West, Mary Pickford and Pola Negri reportedly turned down the Norma role. Montgomery Clift and Fred MacMurray passed on the chance to add Joe Gillis to their list of credits. (Marlon Brando and Gene Kelly were also considered.)

Wilder and his longtime creative partner Charles Brackett wrote the first-rate script with help from D.M. Marshman, Jr. Relentlessly cynical and unforgiving of Hollywood’s callous, cruel and exploitative side, the story ruffled studio- exec feathers but resonated with critics and audiences.

“Sunset Blvd.” received Oscar noms for best picture, director, actor (Holden), actress (Swanson), supporting actor (Von Stroheim) and supporting actress (Olson) as well as for editing and cinematography (John F. Seitz). It won three – for story/screenplay, art direction and score.

Though perhaps not quintessential film noir, Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond is nonetheless an unforgettable femme fatale, whose life might’ve unfolded very differently had she but Botox enough and time.

“Sunset Blvd.” plays tonight at 7:30 p.m. (in a double bill with David Lynch’s “Mulholland Dr.”) at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica.

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Frank DeCaro dishes up heaping helpings of camp in ‘The Dead Celebrity Cookbook’

“Highly offensive and exceedingly faggy.” It's all good for retro cookbook author Frank DeCaro.

“There’s a name for someone who says, ‘I can’t watch a movie in black and white.’ Stupid!”

So said Frank DeCaro, author of “The Dead Celebrity Cookbook,” last night at a book signing in West Hollywood. A writer, critic and performer, DeCaro hosts a morning call-in program on Sirius XM satellite radio and writes the Icons column for CBS’ Watch! magazine.

He also likes to cook and throw parties. When the celebs were kind enough to die, as he puts it, the book seemed a natural. Highlights from noiristas include: Otto Preminger’s Deviled Eggs, Joan Crawford’s Poached Salmon, Bette Davis’ Red Flannel Hash, Lucille Ball’s Sunday Night Goulash, Fred MacMurray’s Flemish Pot Roast, Truman Capote’s Fettuccine, Anthony Perkins’ Tuna Salad, Alfred Hitchcock’s Quiche Lorraine, Janet Leigh’s Gâteau Doré, Agnes Moorehead’s Lobster Mousse, William Holden’s Hamburgers à la Hong Kong and Gregory Peck’s Ratatouille.

DeCaro’s favorite: Liberace’s Sticky Buns. “If Liberace didn’t know how funny that was, then the whole world crumbles,” said DeCaro. He is up front that he did not test every recipe, particularly Don Ho’s pigs’ feet soup. DeCaro suggests not picking Crawford’s salmon as a first effort. “Don’t start with Joan Crawford; that’s always good advice.”

And be warned: because many of the recipes are retro, they might call for fat-gram disasters like canned cream of mushroom soup. “You have to remember that frozen and canned food was not considered tacky,” he said. “It was considered modern, instant, groovy!”

Frank DeCaro and FNB at Book Soup in West Hollywood

Having spent 15 years collecting recipes, DeCaro also has plenty of noshing trivia. Did you know that per capita Hawaii eats the most SPAM and Utah eats the most JELL-O?

Granted, the book might cause some to wince or groan (he includes a pie recipe from Karen Carpenter). One detractor told DeCaro she thought his book was “highly offensive and exceedingly faggy,” which pleases DeCaro to no end. He is now working on a Christmas edition.

Speaking of maximizing opportunity, DeCaro’s domestic advice was not limited to the kitchen. He’s fond of telling his husband Jim Colucci: “You cannot sleep with anyone but me. Unless it’s good for your career.”

“The Dead Celebrity Cookbook: A Resurrection of Recipes from More Than 145 Stars of Stage and Screen” (HCI Books, $19.95)

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Billy Wilder on Barbara Stanwyck’s ‘Double Indemnity’ wig, her wonderful brain, casting Fred MacMurray

 This post is part of the For the Love of Film (Noir) Preservation Blogathon, a fundraiser hosted by Ferdy on Films and The Self-Styled Siren to benefit the non-profit Film Noir Foundation; their event last year raised $30,000. I hope you will consider making a donation. If you give, you help save a film: 1950’s “The Sound of Fury” starring Lloyd Bridges and directed by Cy Endfield.

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A Babs Stanwyck moment for FNB

Looking through some photos the other day, I noticed that back in the late 90s, I often lost the fight with my fine, curly hair and just let it go wild (left). Not every day can be a good hair day. If I ever need assurance that every femme fatale has a styling glitch from time to time, I just look at Barbara Stanwyck’s awful wig in “Double Indemnity,” a quintessential noir from 1944, directed by Billy Wilder. 

Paramount production head Buddy DeSylva said of the stiff blonde ‘do, “We hired Barbara Stanwyck and here we get George Washington.”

It also reminded me that it had been ages since I’d looked at my copy of “Conversations with Wilder” by Cameron Crowe, published in 1999. The jacket states: “Here, in a Q&A format — a nod to Truffaut’s unforgettable Hitchcock — Billy Wilder, Hollywood’s legendary writer-director, talks to Cameron Crowe, one of today’s best-known writer-directors, about screenwriting and camera work, set design and the stars, his peers and their movies, the old studio system and filmmaking today.

Of course, I flipped right to Wilder’s answer to Crowe’s question about the direction given to Barbara Stanwyck in “Double Indemnity” for the silent shot on her face while the murder is occurring. 

Said Wilder: Sure, that was a highly intelligent actress, Miss Stanwyck. I questioned the wig, but it was proper, because it was a phony wig. It was an obviously phony wig. And the anklet — the equipment of a woman, you know, that is married to this kind of man. They scream for murder.

Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray star in "Double Indemnity" from 1944. Both played against type.

Yeah, naturally we rehearsed this thing. But I rehearsed it with her once or twice, that’s the maximum, and it was not that much different from the way she would have done it. She was just an extraordinary woman. She took the script, loved it, right from the word go, didn’t have the agent come and say, “Look, she’s to play a murderess, she must get more money, because she’s never going to work again.”

With Stanwyck, I had absolutely no difficulties at all. And she knew the script, everybody‘s lines. You could wake her up in the middle of the night and she’d know the scene. Never a fault, never a mistake — just a wonderful brain she had.

Crowe asked if the part had been written for Stanwyck. Wilder said: Yeah. And then there there was an actor by the name of Fred MacMurray at Paramount, and he played comedies. Small dramatic parts, big parts in comedies. I let him read it, and he said, “I can’t do that.” And I said, “Why can’t you?” He said, “It requires acting!” [Laughs.] I said, “Look, you have now arrived in comedy, you’re at a certain point where you either have to stop, or you have to jump over the river and start something new.” He said, “Will you tell me when I’m no good?” [He nods: a partnership is born.] And he was wonderful because it’s odd casting.

Paramount image of “Double Indemnity”

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‘Double Indemnity’ proves accessories are make or break

Double Indemnity/ 1944/ Paramount/106 min

Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck

She’s got a plan, she just needs a man. And that’s a welcome challenge for a femme fatale, especially one with an ankle bracelet.

In Billy Wilder’s film noir masterpiece, “Double Indemnity,” from 1944 Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) wants out of her marriage to rich, grumpy oldster, Mr. Dietrichson (Tom Powers). Poor Phyllis doesn’t get much love from Dietrichson’s adult daughter, Lola (Jean Heather) either. Fresh-faced and feisty, Lola is hung up on her temperamental boyfriend Nino Zachetti (Byron Barr).

For Phyllis, seducing a new guy to help make hubby disappear is so much more cost-effective than hiring a divorce lawyer. A smart insurance man is even better. Along comes Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) trying to sell a policy, just as Phyllis finishes a session of sunbathing, wearing an ankle bracelet and not much more. That’s about as much bait as Walter needs.

They flirt, fall for each other and eventually arrange to bump off Mr. Dietrichson, making it look like he fell from a train. It’s a one-in-a-million way to go with a huge payoff from a double-indemnity insurance policy issued by Walter’s company. After that, they play it cool and wait for the check. They’ve planned it like a military campaign, so they’re in the clear until Walter starts to suspect that he’s not the only guy who’s been drooling at Phyllis’ ankles.

Edward G. Robinson

Besides his lust for the blonde (and their chemistry truly sizzles), Walter’s real love is the platonic father/son relationship he has with his boss at the insurance company, Barton Keyes, sharp, cynical and married to his job, played brilliantly by Edward G. Robinson.

Critic Richard Schickel says “Double Indemnity” is the first true noir. I disagree – what about 1941’s “The Maltese Falcon” and “Stranger on the Third Floor” from 1940? Or even Fritz Lang‘s “M” from Germany in 1931? But the point is “Double Indemnity” was the standard against which every subsequent noir was measured. It’s a glorious treat visually. John Seitz’s luscious lighting and captivating use of shadow bring to mind Vincent Van Gogh’s observation: “There are no less than 80 shades of black.” The score by Miklos Rozsa works perfectly with the visuals to build and sustain atmosphere.

The performances (Stanwyck, MacMurray and Robinson) are tremendous. Though Stanwyck was nominated for the best actress Oscar and “Double Indemnity” was also nominated in six other categories (picture, director, screenplay, cinematography, sound recording and score), MacMurray and Robinson were not in the running and the film didn’t win any Oscars. In retrospect, their work in this movie is some of the best acting of the decade. MacMurray (who might be most familiar as the father in TV’s “My Three Sons”) is such a natural as the easily tempted yet very likeable Neff, it’s surprising now to learn that the role was a major departure from his usual nice-guy parts.

As James Pallot of “The Movie Guide” writes: “Robinson … beautifully gives the film its heart. His speech about death statistics, rattled off at top speed, is one of the film’s highlights.” When Keyes realizes that Walter has betrayed him, it’s heartbreaking in a way that few other noirs are.

Wilder co-wrote the script with Raymond Chandler, based on the taut little novel by James M. Cain, published in 1936. (The novel was inspired by the real-life 1927 Snyder-Gray case.) In the book “Double Indemnity,” smitten Walter says of Phyllis’ physical charms, “I wasn’t the only one that knew about that shape. She knew about it herself, plenty.”

The dark, witty script follows the book pretty closely, but Chandler’s contributions are key. For example, check out this bit of simmering dialogue:

Phyllis: There’s a speed limit in this state, Mr. Neff, 45 miles an hour.

Walter: How fast was I going, Officer?

Phyllis: I’d say around 90.

Walter: Suppose you get down off your motorcycle and give me a ticket.

Phyllis: Suppose I let you off with a warning this time.

Walter: Suppose it doesn’t take.

Phyllis: Suppose I have to whack you over the knuckles.

Walter: Suppose I bust out crying and put my head on your shoulder.

Phyllis: Suppose you try putting it on my husband’s shoulder.

Walter: That tears it…

Chatting things over while Mr. Dietrichson is away.

Now it seems egregious that Wilder (1906-2002) and “Double Indemnity” were snubbed at the Oscars. Born in what is now Poland, Wilder escaped the Nazis, but his mother and other family members perished in a concentration camp. He knew firsthand the dark, sometimes horrific, side of life and that knowledge imbued his work with an unparalleled richness and depth. He was also hilarious. If I could have martinis with any film noir director, living or dead, it would be Billy.

I’ve seen interview footage of him where he punctuated his conversation with deep and frequent laughter. And I’ve heard stories about him playing practical jokes – apparently he when he lost the 1944 best director Oscar to Leo McCarey (who won for “Going My Way” starring Bing Crosby) Billy stuck out his foot and tripped McCarey as he walked down the aisle to pick it up. Maybe if I get that fantasy date with the spirit of Billy, I’ll bring Dick Schickel along too. He might benefit from a girly martini and tagging along with Billy and me.

So, suppose you do yourself a favor and watch “Double Indemnity” the first chance you get. You won’t be sorry.

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