‘Red Rock West’ still rocks, 21 years later

Red Rock West posterRed Rock West/1993/Red Rock Films/98 min.

Nicolas Cage’s new movie “Joe” is being hailed as Cage’s comeback. It’s a meaty role in a dark film about desperate people doing bad things, to be sure.  But I like my degenerates a bit more clever and I kept thinking of Cage’s terrific turn in the smart and stylish neo-noir “Red Rock West.” It’s now 21 years old and I think it improves with age.

In playing Michael Williams, an ex-Marine looking for a job in a dusty Wyoming town, Cage creates an uncommonly sympathetic character. Rejected for a spot on an oil-drilling crew because of his bad leg, Michael figures he’s got nothing to lose by stopping into the Red Rock West tavern, the hub of a bustling metropolis of 200 people.

Brooding tavern-owner Wayne Brown (J.T. Walsh) mistakes Michael for a hitman known as Lyle from Dallas (damn those Texas license plates). Wayne wants his wife, Suzanne (Lara Flynn Boyle), out of his hair forever. Before Michael’s picked up a buzz, he stumbles into a quagmire of serpentine deception and murder for hire.

Since he accepted the cash, Michael gives it a go, but changes his mind when he gets an eyeful of the raven-haired, fine-boned Suzanne – a flinty, ferocious femme fatale – and hears her side of the story, including a chapter in which she wants Michael to kill Wayne. “Being married does strange things to people,” she tells him.

Nic Cage and Lara Flynn Boyle remind us of Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer.

Nic Cage and Lara Flynn Boyle remind us of Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer.

Michael hits the road but comes to a screeching halt as he nearly drives over a body, who, it turns out, is Suzanne’s ex-lover. Then the real Lyle from Dallas (the inimitable Dennis Hopper) shows up. Lyle from Dallas don’t take kindly to another man messin’ with his hard-earned hit money. Natch.

It also turns out that Wayne works two jobs – tavern owner and, gulp, town sheriff. Actually make that three – pre-Red Rock, he and Suzanne robbed a bank in Illinois for about $2 million. Suzanne don’t take kindly to anybody messin’ with her haul from the robbery so, with Michael in tow, she sets out to stake her claim, then vamoose South of the Border. But, in the end, Michael isn’t quite the slave to cash that she is and when she finally heads out of town, it’s not quite in the style she’d been planning.

Dennis Hopper plays the "real" hitman from Texas.

Dennis Hopper plays the “real” hitman from Texas.

At 98 minutes, “Red Rock West” is a taut, sexy, funny story that lingers at the right spots and lurches forward just when you were getting cozy. The scene in the graveyard where the four principals dig up bills and duke it out, then plug and pierce the night away is stellar. As they go through bullets, blades, a sword and chains, Hopper snarls, Cage seethes, and Boyle shows prowess with a pistol. Fine performances, all around.

Director John Dahl, who co-wrote the script with his brother Rick, taps 1940s film noir roots with their exploration of shifting identities, appearance vs. reality and the range of motivations that drive people to create their own moral codes. Cage’s disillusioned dreamer recalls the laconic sadness of a young Robert Mitchum, though Cage’s part doesn’t quite allow him to plumb the depths of darkness. Boyle recalls the regal beauty of Gene Tierney and the cool intensity of Jane Greer.

The story is set in a dusty Wyoming town.

The story is set in a dusty Wyoming town.

Infused with humor, the script meditates on the role that luck plays in our lives. We see that Cage has borne Fortune’s smiles and blows. At one point, upon finding his gas tank near empty, he mutters, “F’ing story of my life.”

Natives of Billings, Montana, the Dahls set the film not in a claustrophobic or hostile big city but in sunny Western climes, which work well to highlight Cage’s isolation and desperation. Country singer and actor Dwight Yoakam plays a grimy a truck driver who gives Cage a lift and Yoakam’s mournful “Thousand Miles From Nowhere” is a fitting conclusion to the film’s score. (Dahl started his career directing shorts and music videos.)

After 1989’s “Kill Me Again” and “Red Rock,” John Dahl made “The Last Seduction” in 1994 as well as “Rounders” in 1998 and “You Kill Me” in 2007. He’s also worked on many high-profile TV shows like “Breaking Bad,” “True Blood” and “Dexter.” We hope he and Nic Cage can hook up again – a slick thriller, or a jet-black TV series, perhaps? We’re waiting impatiently.

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The Film Noir File: Otto Preminger paints it black, twice

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

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: Preminger Noir on Saturday, April 19

Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney star in “Laura” and “Where the Sidewalk Ends.”

Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney star in “Laura” and “Where the Sidewalk Ends.”

Otto Preminger, a prickly auteur with a sometimes mean disposition, claimed not to know what “film noir” meant and often ridiculed interviewers who asked him about it. But in the ’40s and ’50s, the Viennese émigré and nemesis of censors and philistines directed a string of stylish black-and-white, gloomily fatalistic crime pictures that epitomized the whole genre. Two of Otto’s best are showing this Saturday, and you can watch them as a double feature, starting at 8 p.m. EST/5 p.m. PST.

First up is Preminger’s adaptation of Vera Caspary’s best-selling novel of murder and romance in high-style ’40s New York City, “Laura.” This classic is followed by the sharp, moody Ben Hecht-scripted drama of obsessive police and ruthless gangsters “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” Both movies star Dana Andrews as a tough cop and Gene Tierney as a glamour girl, and both of them helped define noir – even if Preminger couldn’t or wouldn‘t.

Laura” (1944, Otto Preminger). 8 p.m. (5 p.m.), Saturday, April 19. With Tierney, Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price and Judith Anderson.

Where the Sidewalk Ends” (1950, Otto Preminger). Saturday, April 19. With Andrews, Tierney, Gary Merrill and Karl Malden. [Read more...]

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‘Leave Her to Heaven’ flaunts an upper-crust femme fatale

Leave Her to Heaven/1945/ Twentieth Century Fox/110 min.

“Leave Her to Heaven” shows a glossy new strand of film noir: a domestic-based story shot in color. Of course, there were mixed-up families all along and melodrama was nothing new – Joan Crawford won the Best Actress Oscar for “Mildred Pierce,” also from 1945. But here we are immersed in the inner-workings of an upper- middle-class, superficially happy clan and witness the deadly consequences of Daddy complexes. (Yes, there is a family-size helping of obvious Freudian psychology.)

Gene Tierney tackles the role of Ellen Berent – ravishingly beautiful, rich as a princess, and smart as a tack. (Rita Hayworth reportedly turned the part down.) Shortly after the death of her father, she meets a handsome novelist named Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde) who looks and acts like Dad. Ellen’s quickly heads over heels and in short order she dumps her fiancé, aspiring politician Russell Quinton (Vincent Price), and marries Richard.

Breaking the noir convention that a femme fatale typically has a tough childhood and few remaining family ties, Ellen comes from a wealthy and well respected East Coast family. Ellen’s mom (Mary Philips) says: “There’s nothing wrong with Ellen. It’s just that she loves too much. She loved her fahhhther too much.”

Richard (Cornel Wilde) and Ellen (Gene Tierney) meet on a train.

We also learn that Richard has a younger brother Danny (Darryl Hickman) who’s an invalid and, in Ellen’s view, really a bit of a third wheel. For you see, the lovely Ellen is turning out to be a green-eyed monster fond of sticking to her husband like glue.

To top it off, Richard has the irritating notion that he’s The Writer of the House and needs some time to himself To Write. Seriously, Richard?

As Ellen’s paranoia and possessiveness grow, her cousin Ruth (Jeanne Crain) appears strikingly sane by contrast and hence more competition for Richard’s attention. Ellen may be clinical, but she’s not stupid, so once she decides that Richard no longer wants her, she sets an If-I-can’t-have-him … trap. She also commits one of the most cold-blooded killings in the film-noir canon.

A big-budget production with a strong cast, “Leave Her to Heaven” is immensely entertaining. (Price and Tierney had worked together in 1944’s “Laura” as well.) For one thing, it’s drop-dead gorgeous. Shot in luscious Technicolor by cinematographer Leon Shamroy (he won an Oscar for this film) with frothy art direction by Maurice Ransford and Lyle Wheeler, “Leave Her to Heaven” is a feast for the eyes.

Ellen commits an atrocious crime. But at least she has chic eyewear.

Another highlight: John M. Stahl’s elegant direction. Known for women’s films such as “Back Street (1932), “Imitation of Life” (1934) and “Magnificent Obsession” (1935) as well as the MGM flop “Parnell” (1937), Stahl could make a stylish soap opera like nobody’s business. The executive producer was Darryl F. Zanuck (uncredited).

(Following in Stahl’s soap-opera tradition was the great Douglas Sirk, known for his lavish productions underpinned with stinging social criticism. He remade “Magnificent Obsession” in 1954 with Rock Hudson and “Imitation of Life” in 1959 with Lana Turner.)

The source for “Leave Her to Heaven” was Ben Ames Williams’ novel “Leave Her to Heaven” (a line from “Hamlet”). The book was a best seller that prompted a bidding war among studios wanting to make the movie. Jo Swerling wrote the screenplay.

In the DVD version, actor Hickman and film critic Richard Schickel provide commentary. Hickman tells us that Tierney didn’t give him the time of day and he couldn’t seem to please Stahl, then picks on Tierney’s acting. But then he did apparently get pneumonia from shooting the famous lake scene so that might sour one just a tad.

Schickel’s comments are far more interesting, especially his insightful observation about fashion. Despite her issues, Ellen is dressed to a T in every scene, looking icy cool, highly polished and timeless. And when you come down it, what’s more important than that? Neurotic, schmurotic.

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The Noir File: Wilder’s dark favorite is an American nightmare

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

Ace in the Hole” (1951, Billy Wilder). Friday, May 17, 8 p.m. (5 p.m.).

Kirk Douglas plays Chuck Tatum, a star reporter exiled from his big-city paper.

In the Golden Age of Hollywood and film noir, no one was better than Kirk Douglas at playing anti heroes, heels and villains. In movies like “Champion,” “The Bad and the Beautiful,” “I Walk Alone” and “Out of the Past,” he channeled the amoral climber who knifes you with a smile, or steps on almost everyone on his way to the top. The best (or worst) of all Douglas’s movie heels is Chuck Tatum in Billy Wilder’s “Ace in the Hole” – a slick-operator star newspaper reporter who messes up, gets exiled from his big-city paper and is now stuck in Albuquerque, N.M., in a desert dead-end.

When Chuck learns of a local miner named Leo Mimosa trapped in a cave-in in a Native American holy area, he sees a chance to ratchet up the drama and revive his career. A master manipulator, Chuck talks Leo and his rescuers into taking a longer, more dangerous escape route, then plays the story to the hilt, planning to sell it to the big outlets back east. With Leo’s life on the line and the clock ticking, this master of hype and hoopla turns the story into a circus and the circus into a nightmare.

A master manipulator, Chuck ratchets up the drama in an effort to revive his career.

Chuck Tatum, brought to stinging life by Douglas, was the brainchild of Billy Wilder, who had just dissolved his decades-long writing partnership with Charles Brackett after their hit, “Sunset Blvd.” Walter Newman, who later wrote “The Man with the Golden Arm” and “Cat Ballou,” was one of Wilder’s new co-writers and, though they never collaborated again, Wilder must have liked some of what they did.

Many times, Wilder cited “Ace in the Hole” as one of his favorites among his films, “the runt of my litter” as he affectionately called it. The runt is one of the darkest of all Wilder’s films: a portrait of American society, culture and media, a ruthless exposé of Tatum and his fellow opportunists.

The more conservative Brackett (who had refused to work with Wilder on “Double Indemnity”) had been something of a brake on Billy’s cynicism, which is fully unleashed here. Perhaps Brackett had a point. Many critics and audiences in 1951 didn’t much care for the acrid darkness and lacerating social indictment of Wilder’s “Ace in the Hole,” which was such a flop that it had to be pulled and re-released as “The Big Carnival.”

It didn’t come to be regarded as a classic of American cinema and social criticism until years later. Maybe the picture was just too noir for ’50s moviegoers. But it’s not too noir for us.

Friday, May 17

3 p.m. (12 p.m.): “Where Danger Lives” (1953, John Farrow). Love on the run, with infatuated Bob Mitchum falling for dangerous Faith Domergue, and the two of them heading for Mexico. A standard but engrossing “femme fatale” noir, from the director of “The Big Clock.”

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Ace in the Hole” (1951, Billy Wilder). See PICK OF THE WEEK.

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “Our Man in Havana” (1960, Carol Reed). The third of the three film thriller collaborations between writer Graham Greene and director Carol Reed. (The others are “The Third Man” and “The Fallen Idol.”) It’s also the least admired by critics, and the team’s only comedy, with Alec Guinness playing a British vacuum cleaner salesman in Cuba inexplicably involved in a batty spy intrigue. The crack cast also includes Maureen O’Hara, Ralph Richardson, Ernie Kovacs, Noel Coward and Burl Ives.

Joan Crawford and Cliff Robertson star in “Autumn Leaves.”

4 a.m. (1 a.m.): “Autumn Leaves” (1956, Robert Aldrich.) With Joan Crawford, Cliff Robertson and Vera Miles. Reviewed on FNB December 4, 2012.

Sunday, May 19

12 p.m. (9 p.m.): “Johnny O’Clock” (1947, Robert Rossen). Rossen’s directorial debut: a solid noir with a gambling backdrop and a vintage tough Dick Powell performance.

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “Leave Her to Heaven” (1945, John M. Stahl). With Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde, Jeanne Crain and Vincent Price. Reviewed on FNB April 18, 2013.

3 p.m. (12 p.m.): “Night Must Fall” (1937, Richard Thorpe). Emlyn Williams’ famed suspense play about a seductive young psycho (Robert Montgomery) and his rich lady target (Dame May Whitty) is given a plush MGM treatment. With Rosalind Russell. [Read more...]

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The Noir File: Gene Tierney is the deadliest of femmes fatales in ‘Leave Her to Heaven’

By Mike Wilmington and Film Noir Blonde

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film 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

Gene Tierney exudes cool menace in “Leave Her to Heaven.”

Leave Her to Heaven” (1945, John M. Stahl). Monday, April 22, 10 p.m. (7 p.m.).

What’s the most important thing a woman can give to a man? Staggering beauty, brains and breeding? Check, check, check. Sanity, however, does not always make the list, at least in the case of Ellen Berent (Gene Tierney) and Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde), the principal characters in “Leave Her to Heaven.” The two meet on a train and marry, tad hastily. Richard soon discovers that beneath his wife’s exquisite surface is a green-eyed monster with murder on her mind.

John M. Stahl’s stylish adaptation of Ben Ames Williams’ best-selling novel of romance and suspense is one of the most unusual of all ’40’s film noirs. For one thing, it isn’t photographed in expressionistic black and white, but in gorgeous color, all the better to set off Tieney’s delicate beauty and that of Jeanne Crain, the gal Richard mistakenly didn’t marry. It takes place not in the city, but in a pastoral lake home, surrounded by green trees and blue sky. Ellen comes from an affluent family; Richard is a writer.

Still, “Leave Her to Heaven” does boast a classic film noir plot and one of the supreme movie femme fatales who’s not the person you want standing behind you on a high staircase, with no witnesses. (With Vincent Price.)

James Dean

Friday, April 19

1:30 p.m. (10:30 a.m.): “Blackboard Jungle” (1955, Richard Brooks). A movie/pop culture trail-blazer, adapted by writer-director Brooks (“In Cold Blood”) from Evan Hunter’s novel of New York City juvenile delinquency. Glenn Ford is the dedicated new teacher, Anne Francis is his supportive wife, Louis Calhern is the faculty snob and Richard Kiley is the enthusiastic fellow teacher who gets his vintage jazz record collection smashed by his students. Among the juveniles, a stellar bunch, Vic Morrow is the bad kid, Sidney Poitier is the good kid and Paul Mazursky is a creepy little hood. The credits song was the smashing debut of Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock.”

3:15 p.m. (12:15 p.m.): “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955, Nicholas Ray). James Dean became the movies’ all-time romantic teen-age icon when he pulled on his red jacket and played a confused knife-wielding kid named Jim Stark in this lyrical and violent drama of high school crime in the L. A. suburbs. Natalie Wood as Judy and Sal Mineo as Plato make up the rest of the movie’s main threesome of outsiders, the teen hoods include Corey Allen as Buzz, Dennis Hooper as Moose and Jim Backus is the father whom Jim wants to stand up for him. In 1955, Nick Ray’s most famous film was adored by American teenagers and by French intellectual cinephiles and cineastes. It still plays like a fever dream of movie love and violence.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “His Girl Friday” (1940, Howard Hawks). With Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell and Ralph Bellamy.

Saturday, April 20

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Freaks” (1932, Tod Browning). With Olga Baclanova, Harry Earles and Wallace Ford.

Jessica Rabbit

Sunday, April 21

10 a.m. (7 a.m.); “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (1988, Robert Zemeckis & Richard Williams). If Raymond Chandler and Chuck Jones had ever sat down together over a few beers, this is what they might have come up with: a fantastic amalgam of classic private eye mystery and brilliant razzle-dazzle Looney Tunes cartoonery – undoubtedly the greatest animated film noir feature ever made. The movie creates an alternate world and a different 1947 Los Angeles, where humans and cartoons co-exist.

Most of the noir detective story archetypes are here – the tough shamus (Bob Hoskins as Eddie Valiant), the murder suspect (Charles Fleischer as long-eared fugitive Roger Rabbit), the femme fatale (Kathleen Turner as cartoon bombshell Jessica Rabbit), the suspicious boss (Stubby Kaye as studio head Marvin Acme) and the formidable lawman (Christopher Lloyd as Judge Doom).

These characters then wonderfully rub elbows with the royalty of cartoondom: the likes of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Betty Boop. The live action and animated stuff are expertly blended and the result is classic neo-noir for the nostalgic and the young at heart. It’s an absolute detecto-delight.

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Susan Andrews to introduce ‘Laura’ at the Egyptian Theatre

The delightful, urbane and unapologetically posh film noir “Laura” (1944, Otto Preminger) screens at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 20, at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.

Here’s a quick synopsis from the event organizers: Investigating a murder, chain-smoking Detective McPherson (Dana Andrews) falls in love with the dead woman, only to find out it wasn’t she who was murdered. The brilliant cast includes Gene Tierney as the gorgeous Laura, Clifton Webb as Waldo Lydecker and Vincent Price as Laura’s fiancé, Shelby Carpenter. The film is said to have been an inspiration for David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks.”

You can read my full review of “Laura” here.

Dana Andrews’ daughter, Susan Andrews, will introduce the movie. Author Carl Rollyson will sign copies of his book “Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews” at 6:30 p.m. in the lobby. (“Laura” was recently released on Blu-ray and is a great addition to your film library.)

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The Noir File: Dark treats from Preminger, Dassin and Lang

Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney are one of film noir’s great couples.

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).

PICK OF THE WEEK

Where the Sidewalk Ends” (1950, Otto Preminger). Thursday, Dec. 27, 1:15 a.m. (10:15 p.m.).
While investigating a murder, a smart but sometimes savage Manhattan police detective named Mark Dixon (Dana Andrews) accidentally kills an innocent suspect (Craig Stevens). Dixon tries to cover it up, but his relentless new boss Lt. Thomas (Karl Malden) keeps pushing the evidence toward an affable cabbie named Jiggs (Tom Tully). And Dixon has fallen in love with Jiggs’ daughter, model Morgan Taylor (Gene Tierney). Gary Merrill plays a crook/gambler.

Scripted by Ben Hecht from William Stuart’s book “Night Cry.” If you want to know what film noir is all about, check this one out.

Thursday, Dec. 27

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Black Widow” (1954, Nunnally Johnson). Crime among the Broadway elite, from one of Patrick Quentin’s mystery novels. Not much style, but the cast includes Van Heflin, Ginger Rogers, Gene Tierney, George Raft and Peggy Ann Garner.

4:30 a.m. (1:30 a.m.): “Night and the City” (1950, Jules Dassin). In shadow-drenched, dangerous London, crooked fight promoter Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) double-crosses everyone he encounters as he tries to outrace the night. The night is faster. This is a top film noir, a masterpiece of style and suspense. From Gerald Kersh’s novel; with Gene Tierney, Herbert Lom, Francis L. Sullivan and Googie Withers.

Sunday, Dec. 30

8:15 a.m. (5:15 a.m.): “Bunny Lake is Missing” (1965, Otto Preminger). Bunny Lake is an American child kidnapped in London, Carol Lynley her terrified mother, Keir Dullea her concerned uncle, Anna Massey her harassed teacher, Noel Coward her sleazy landlord, and Laurence Olivier the brainy police detective trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together. The most important of those pieces: Was Bunny ever really there at all? A neglected gem; based on Evelyn Piper’s novel.

4 a.m. (1 a.m.): “Ministry of Fear” (1944, Fritz Lang). Ray Milland, just released from a British mental institution, wins the wrong cake at a charity raffle and becomes ensnared in a nightmarish web of espionage and murder. The source is one of novelist Graham Greene’s “entertainments.” Co-starring Marjorie Reynolds and Dan Duryea.

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Happy Valentine’s Day from FNB!

Gene Tierney

On Valentine’s Day, I’m reminded of a line from 1945’s “Leave Her to Heaven,” starring Gene Tierney as Ellen Berent, a socialite who marries writer Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde). “There’s nothing wrong with Ellen,” says her mother (Mary Philips). “It’s just that she loves too much.”

In this case, Mumsy’s really in denial because Ellen’s idea of love is flat-out obsession, which of course leads to trouble. But, no matter, “Leave Her to Heaven” is a wonderful film noir (directed by John M. Stahl, it also stars Jeanne Crain and Vincent Price) and, for today, too much seems just right.

As Oscar Wilde said, “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.”

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Lucille Ball turns her talents to crimestopping in ‘Dark Corner’

The Dark Corner/1946/Twentieth Century Fox/99 min.

Lucille Ball

If you know Lucille Ball from “I Love Lucy” and other TV shows, she may seem an unlikely noir actress. But before she played the zany wife of Cuban bandleader Ricky Ricardo, Ball was the Queen of B Movies. In “Dark Corner,” she stars as Kathleen, a perky secretary with a crush on her boss, NYC private eye Bradford Galt (Mark Stevens). It’s a solid noir with spot-on direction from Henry Hathaway and superb cinematography from Joseph MacDonald, both of whom were A-list talent.

Brad, equal parts Marlowe and Milquetoast, is appealingly human because we see chinks of weakness under his tough-guy exterior. Like many noir heroes, his past comes back to haunt him. Fittingly, his “ghost” is a heavy in a white suit named Stauffer (William Bendix) who seems to be on the payroll of Brad’s ex-partner, lusciously Nordic-looking Tony Jardine (Kurt Kreuger).

Clifton Webb

There’s bad blood with Tony because he framed Brad for a crime he didn’t commit, which led to jail time. But Tony, now more gigolo than gumshoe, is merely a puppet; pulling the strings is an effete, silver-haired art dealer named Hardy Cathcart (Clifton Webb). The lovely Mrs. Cathcart (Cathy Downs) is a patron of many arts, including a dalliance with Tony.

As Brad’s life becomes more of a nightmare, chipper and ever-loyal Kathleen is there to help him get to the bottom of the mess. What’s in it for her? If she’s lucky, maybe some nylons and a trip to the altar at the end assuming Brad can get out from under his fate.

Destiny, darkness, persecution, paranoia, surface vs. reality, existential angst, the depravity of high society, ie rich, folk – all these classic noir concerns are nicely woven into “The Dark Corner.” Much of the unease and tension is conveyed by Hathaway’s crisp direction and MacDonald’s moody visuals, especially the intense shadows and high contrast MacDonald creates with one dominant light source, such as a lamp on a desk.

This master lensman also worked on “Call Northside 777” from 1948 and 1953’s “Niagara” (both directed by Hathaway) as well as “Panic in the Streets” (Elia Kazan, 1950), “Pickup on South Street (Sam Fuller, 1953) and John Ford’s 1946 Western masterpiece “My Darling Clementine.”

Jay Dratler and Bernard Schoenfeld wrote “The Dark Corner” script based on a story by Leo Rosten. As film noir writers James Ursini and Alain Silver point out in their fine DVD commentary, Dratler also worked on Fox’s 1944 noir hit “Laura” by director Otto Preminger. Webb acted in both films, in “Dark Corner” essentially reprising his earlier role, a wonderfully decadent uppercrust character obsessed with Gene Tierney as Laura.

These writers give us some classic noir lines, such as “I could be framed easier than Whistler’s mother” and “I feel all dead inside, backed up in a dark corner and I don’t know who’s hitting me.” [Read more...]

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8mm sizzles with noir-tinged rock: Friday at the Roxy

With a haunting voice, retro-glam sexiness, and material both subtle and raw, Juliette Beavan of 8mm melds a femme fatale’s sophistication with flinty rock energy. From the first searing notes, often punctuated by smoke and shadow, the songs draw you in like a Hitchcock thriller; lyrics linger in your head well beyond the show’s end. This part of “Crawl,” for instance, is hard to forget: “or maybe there’s another/ trick, another spell/ and I could change you/ and I’d draw you to me/ pull you to me, crawl to me./ draw you to me/ pull you to me/ call you to me/crawl to me.”
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Her bandmates include her husband Sean Beavan (guitar, vocals) and Jon Nicholson (drums). They describe their sound as “trip-hop influenced pop-rock.” First-rate musicians, the guys are the perfect complement to Juliette’s vocals and keyboard.
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Juliette Beavan of 8mm. Photo by Critter Newell

“That’s right, blame it on the girl,” she might tease them between songs, before adjusting her mic or straightening a cord. A New Orleans native, she’s fond of bringing beads, candy and banter to toss to the eager crowd, many of whom clutch cameras the way people used to flick lighters as preface to an encore.
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Together since 2004, 8mm has an impressive resume that includes four albums and several tours (the US, Canada, the UK and Chile). Sean Beavan, who hails from Cleveland, formerly worked with bands such as Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails and God Lives Underwater. He and Juliette write the songs; their work has been featured in the 2005 film “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” as well as in a number of TV shows, including “One Tree Hill,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Moonlight,” “Dirt,” Road Rules,” and “The Real World: Sydney.”
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You can see 8mm for yourself Friday, June 3, at the Roxy Theatre, with the Kidney Thieves, Cage 9, The Shakers and DJ High Voltage. The show starts at 8 p.m. and 8mm goes on at 9 p.m.
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I caught up with Juliette recently to chat about the band’s penchant for noir.
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Film Noir Blonde: The band’s name is a film reference, your shows are richly atmospheric and your songs often deal with mystery, secrets, betrayal and hidden desire, much as a film noir would. Can you talk about how the aesthetic of film noir in general has been an influence for you?
Juliette Beavan: Yes, a reference to the film stock, because for us, 8mm film brings to mind smoky back rooms of 1930s Berlin, the first stag films, the early home movies … in other words, secrets, memories, longings (secret and professed) and decadence … all the things we try to bring to our music. They also happen to be things that are part and parcel to any good film noir. In addition, the look, the sleek styling, elegant and dangerous players, well, that sounds like a band to us!

8mm plays the Viper Room. Photo by Billy Howerdel

FNB: Any femmes fatales that stand out for you?
JB: Hahaha, are you gonna ask any questions with short answers? Where to start … Marlene Dietrich, Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe, Gene Tierney, Lauren Bacall, Joan Crawford, Anne Baxter, Nora Zehetner in “Brick” does a wonderful job, not to mention (I know they’re not femmes fatales, but I would be remiss to leave the men out) Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives Bogey a run for his money in that film. And for the men, of course, there is the one and only Humphrey Bogart.

FNB: Of ’40s and ’50s singers or bands, who are your top favorites?
JB: Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf, Bing Crosby, to name a few.

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8mm's Jon Nicholson, Juliette Beavan and Sean Beavan. Photo by Herwig Maurer

FNB: Do you essentially get into character when you perform, especially Juliette as the frontwoman?
JB: In a sense, yes, and it varies from song to song, because each one is a different story, character, sort of mini movie for us. I’m a storyteller not a character (like a GaGa or Madonna), so the approach is a little different. It only takes a note or two for me “see it” in my head again, to step into “her” shoes … from there it’s just natural.

You kind of have to use your whole body to tell the story, and the story becomes my own for that time.

FNB: Raymond Chandler said a good story cannot be devised; it has to be distilled. Do you think that’s true for writing songs and music?
JB: Certainly at times … what Sean plays makes me see stories, so I suppose you could say that is a bit of a distilling process to bring the story down into its key emotional components for a 3 minute song. However, there are other times when you get a “cosmic FedEx” (a term we’re stealing from Scott Russo of Unwritten Law). That’s where the song comes to you almost writing itself and you have to grab and get it down before it moves on. You know, the muse will find another host if you aren’t paying attention.

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