The Film Noir File: Crawford at her finest, one of Lang’s best

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

Mildred Pierce posterMildred Pierce (1945, Michael Curtiz). Tuesday, Nov. 19; 10 p.m. (7 p.m.). With Joan Crawford, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott and Ann Blyth.

Sunday, Nov. 17

10:15 a.m. (7:15 a.m.): “The Big Heat” (1953, Fritz Lang). With Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame and Lee Marvin.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Johnny Eager” (1941, Mervyn LeRoy). With Robert Taylor, Lana Turner and Van Heflin. Reviewed in FNB on August 4, 2012.

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “Johnny Apollo” (1940, Henry Hathaway). Tyrone Power and Edward Arnold undergo father-and-son traumas and reversals as two wealthy Wall Street family members gone bad. Directed with Hathaway’s usual tough expertise. Co-starring Dorothy Lamour, Lloyd Nolan and Charley Grapewin.

Lee Marvin and Gloria Grahame create one of the most iconic scenes in all of film noir.

In “The Big Heat” from 1953, Lee Marvin and Gloria Grahame create one of the most iconic scenes in all of film noir. It plays Sunday morning.

Tuesday, Nov. 19

4:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m.): “Man in the Attic” (1953, Hugo Fregonese). With Jack Palance and Constance Smith. Reviewed in FNB on March 5, 2013.

10 p.m. (7 p.m.). See “Pick of the Week.”

8 p.m. (5 p.m.). “The Maltese Falcon” (1941, John Huston). With Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and Elisha Cook, Jr. Reviewed in FNB on November 10, 2012.

Thursday, Nov. 21

3:45 p.m. (12:45 p.m.): “Jeopardy” (1943, John Sturges). With Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan and Ralph Meeker. Reviewed in FNB on July 21, 2012.

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The Noir File: ‘The Big Heat’ tells a searing story

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), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

PICK OF THE WEEK

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

The Big Heat” (1953: Fritz Lang). Tuesday, July 9: 9:15 a.m. (6:15 a.m.).

“When a barfly gets killed, it could be for any one of a dozen crummy reasons,” says Police Lt. Ted Wilks (Willis Bouchey) in “The Big Heat.” Fritz Lang’s grim but gratifying crime drama from 1953 is laced with violence that’s still a bit shocking even by today’s standards.

Lee Marvin plays Gloria Grahame’s gangster boyfriend.

Easy on the eyes Glenn Ford, the incomparable Gloria Grahame and ever-glowering Lee Marvin star in this unforgettable noir.

You can read the full FNB review here.

Friday, July 5

2:30 p.m. (11:30 a.m.): “Hangmen Also Die!” (1943, Fritz Lang). With Brian Donlevy, Walter Brennan and Anna Lee. Reviewed on FNB Feb. 27, 2012.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Four Hundred Blows” (1959, François Truffaut). Noir-lover Truffaut’s astonishing Cannes prize-winning feature film debut: the semi-autobiographical tale of the write-director’s boyhood life of parental neglect, explorations of Paris, street play, movie-going and petty crime, with Jean-Pierre Léaud as the young Truffaut character, Antoine Doinel. Truffaut and Doinel made four more Doinel films, and they might be making them still, but for the great French filmmaker’s untimely death in 1984. (In French, with English subtitles.)

The beginning of a month-long Friday night Truffaut retrospective, hosted by New York Magazine movie critic David Edelstein.

Saturday, July 6

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Key Largo” (1958, John Huston). With Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Edward G. Robinson and Claire Trevor. Reviewed on FNB August 10, 2012.

Sunday, July 7

4 p.m. (1 p.m.): “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955, Nicholas Ray). With James Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo. Reviewed on FNB April 18, 2013.

4:30 a.m. (1:30 a.m.): “The Fugitive” (1947, John Ford). With Henry Fonda, Dolores Del Rio and Ward Bond. Reviewed on FNB July 28, 2012. [Read more...]

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‘Gilda’ shows that if you’ve got it, you might as well flaunt it

“Gilda” is all about Gilda and that’s the way it should be – for any femme fatale and particularly for Rita Hayworth the most popular pinup girl of WWII, a talented entertainer and Columbia Pictures’ top female star in the mid-1940s. This 1946 movie by director Charles Vidor is essentially a vehicle for the drop-dead gorgeous Hayworth to play a sexy free spirit who lives and loves entirely in the present moment.

Longtime friends Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth had a brief affair during the making of “Gilda.”

Hayworth revels in the sexual power she wields over any man who crosses her path, despite the fact that in post-war America a woman with a mind (and body) of her own spelled nothing but trouble. As the Time Out Film Guide points out: “Never has the fear of the female been quite so intense.” That said, the “independent” Gilda is only briefly without a husband and has to endure a lengthy punishment from her true love.

She first appears, after a devastatingly dramatic hair toss, as the wife of husband Ballin Mundson (George Macready). Suave, but aloof and asexual, Ballin runs a nightclub in Buenos Aires. Gilda passes the time plucking out tunes on her guitar and propositioning other men. Nice work if you can get it.

Enter Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford), an American gambler who runs Ballin’s club. Johnny’s job extends to keeping an eye on Gilda when she’s carousing on the dance floor. Ballin isn’t around much because he’s off trying to form a tungsten cartel with some ex-Nazi pals. But babysitting the boss’ wife (Ballin calls her a “beautiful, greedy child”) is especially tough for Johnny because he and Gilda used to be an item and endured a bitter breakup.

Ballin (George Macready) and Johnny (Glenn Ford) have a tense relationship.

The script is laced with taunts, barbs and innuendo. For example, Gilda tells him: “Hate is a very exciting emotion, hadn’t you noticed? I hate you, too, Johnny. I hate you so much I think I’m going to die from it.” (And some see homosexual undertones in Farrell and Ballin’s relationship.)

Director Vidor, whose other films include 1944’s “Cover Girl” (also starring Hayworth), “A Farewell to Arms” and “The Joker Is Wild” (both 1957), holds his own in the noir genre. “Gilda” is a dark tale (alluding to sexual perversion and repression) and there’s some moody cinematography, courtesy of Rudolph Maté. But Marion Parsonnet’s script, despite many sharp, clever lines, doesn’t hold together and that throws off the pacing. The first third meanders along too slowly while the ending seems abrupt and slapped together.

The plot is thin and vaguely confusing – Ballin is up to no good and at one point is thought to be dead, only to turn up later at a pivotal point in Johnny and Gilda’s romance. They reunite of course and their push-pull tension is the engine that drives the story. Luckily, that tension, combined with solid direction and acting, save the movie.

(The legendary Ben Hecht is an uncredited writer on “Gilda” and if the storyline rings a bell, you might be thinking of “Notorious” also from 1946, written by Hecht, which is another story of ex-Nazis up to no good in South America. Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant play the wary, mistrustful lovers in Alfred Hitchcock’s superior rendering of similar material.)

The chemistry between Ford and Hayworth is about as real as it gets. Longtime friends, they had a brief affair during the making of the movie. In his book, “A Life,” Glenn Ford’s son Peter writes that Vidor coached Glenn and Rita with “outrageously explicit suggestions.” Peter Ford quotes his father as saying: “[Vidor’s] instructions to the two of us were pretty incredible. I can’t even repeat the things he used to tell us to think about before we did a scene.”

Hayworth performs “Put the Blame on Mame,” choreographed by Jack Cole.

According to Peter Ford, this off-screen fling stemmed from Hayworth’s unhappy marriage to Orson Welles. The romance also drew the ire of Columbia Pictures chief Harry Cohn, who reportedly lusted after Hayworth and whom Hayworth rejected. “Gilda” was the second film Hayworth and Ford appeared in together; they worked together three more times afterward as well.

“Gilda” wasn’t a critical hit, but it proved popular with audiences, especially the famous “Put the Blame on Mame” scene.

Choreographed by Jack Cole, a bold and brilliant innovator, the number is as close to a strip tease as was possible in 1946. Hayworth was dubbed by Anita Ellis in that number, though there is some debate as to whether it’s Hayworth’s voice when she runs through the song with Uncle Pio (Steven Geray) earlier in the movie.

Though “Gilda” cemented Hayworth’s celebrity status, her fame came at a price. “Every man I’ve known has fallen in love with Gilda and wakened with me,” she said. But, despite her career ups and downs, five failed marriages and a long struggle with Alzheimer’s, she kept her sense of humor. In the 1970s, Hayworth was asked, “What do you think when you look at yourself in the mirror after waking up in the morning?” Her reply: “Darling, I don’t wake up till the afternoon.”

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‘Gilda’ quick hit

Gilda/1946/Columbia Pictures/110 min.

Nightclub singer and dancer Gilda (Rita Hayworth), a prototypical sex symbol before the term came into vogue, carries on a perverse relationship with two men – her husband (George Macready) and her ex (Glenn Ford) in South America. Best of all, she puts on Hollywood’s most elegant strip tease ever, courtesy of bold and brilliant choreographer Jack Cole.

Is it Gilda’s fault that men fall in love with her left, right and center? Ask her and she’ll explain: you can “Put the Blame on Mame.” Directed by Charles Vidor with luscious cinematography by Rudolph Maté.

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The Noir File: Monroe, Welles, Heflin and more

By Michael Wilmington

A noir-lover’s guide to classic film noir on cable TV. All the movies listed below are from the current schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

CO-PICKS OF THE WEEK: “The Asphalt Jungle” and “The Lady from Shanghai”

“The Asphalt Jungle” has a near-perfect cast.

The Asphalt Jungle
(1950, John Huston)
Saturday, Aug. 4. at 6 a.m. (3 a.m.): Huston’s classic heist movie, scripted by Ben Maddow from W. R. Burnett’s novel, has a near-perfect cast: Sterling Hayden (the muscle), Jean Hagen (the moll), Sam Jaffe (the brains), James Whitmore (the lookout), Anthony Caruso (the safe man), Marc Lawrence (the backer), Brad Dexter (the torpedo), John McIntire (the cop), Louis Calhern (the double-crosser) and Marilyn Monroe (the mistress). One of Jean-Pierre Melville’s three favorite films.

The Lady from Shanghai” (1948, Orson Welles)Wednesday, Aug. 8. at 10:45 a.m. (7:45 a.m.): Adventurer/sailor Welles gingerly woos a very blonde Rita Hayworth, wife of the wealthy, evil Frisco lawyer Everett Sloane, and victim of Glenn Anders as the very weird George Grisby. A flop in its day, now considered one of the greatest noirs and a Welles masterpiece. The highlights include an amazingly crooked trial scene and the wild chase and shoot-out in a hall of mirrors.

Richard Allan plays Marilyn’s lover in “Niagara.”

Sat., Aug. 4: Marilyn Monroe Day

8 a.m. (5 a.m.): “Clash by Night” (1952, Fritz Lang) Lang’s cool, underrated adaptation of Clifford Odets’ smoldering play. With Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Ryan, Paul Douglas and Monroe.

10 a.m. (7 a.m.): “Niagara” (1953, Henry Hathaway) One of Monroe’s sexiest roles was as the faithless wife of tormented Joseph Cotten, the two 0f them trapped together in a cabin at Niagara Falls. Jean Peters is the good wife next-door.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Some Like It Hot” (1959, Billy Wilder) Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, two dance-band musicians in drag, flee the Chicago mob and George Raft after witnessing The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre; Monroe is waiting for them aboard the Miami train. Only part film noir – the rest is gangster movie parody and screwball comedy – but noir can be proud to claim even a portion of the greatest American sound comedy. [Read more...]

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‘A Little Prince’ recalls Ford family’s ‘perfect’ Hollywood life

Peter Newton Ford, son of Glenn Ford and Eleanor Powell, grew up among Hollywood royalty. His father rose to stardom with Rita Hayworth in the film noir classic “Gilda” (made by Charles Vidor in 1946, the year after Peter was born). His mother was known as “The Queen of Tap” at MGM.

Life in the Fords’ Beverly Hills mansion looked picture perfect. But, says Peter Ford, much was hidden behind the warm, charming, cheerful exterior and, as his parents’ marriage dissolved, he found himself divided between fantasy and reality. The documentary “A Little Prince” explores his family relationships against the backdrop of Hollywood’s Golden Age, with its mighty magic and sweeping illusions.

“A Little Prince” by Alexander Roman, plays June 29 to July 5 at Laemmle Noho 7, 5240 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA, 91601. There will be a Q&A with Ford and Roman on Saturday, June 30, and Sunday, July 1.

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In ‘Human Desire,’ Gloria Grahame as a devious temptress gives us raw sexuality, a glimpse of tragedy

Human Desire/1954/Columbia/Sony/91 min.

By Michael Wilmington

Gloria Grahame

Gloria Grahame was a film noir doll and movie moll of the first rank – and in Fritz Lang’s 1954 “Human Desire,” she gave one of her most fetchingly sultry, and powerful, performances. As a tricky, trapped, unfaithful but resourceful railroad wife named Vicki, she seduces the camera, the audience and her co-stars (one in real life), in one of the two noir classics she made with Glenn Ford for noir master and reputed on-set tyrant, Fritz Lang.

1952’s “The Big Heat,” that great scalding saga of gangsterism and revenge, is the more famous Lang-Ford-Grahame collaboration, and rightly so. But “Human Desire” is a moody little classic as well, one of Lang’s last American films, and among the most complex and chilling roles ever for Grahame and Ford – who spiced up the movie this time with an offstage affair.

“Human Desire” is one of two Lang American remakes of French film classics directed by Lang‘s great colleague Jean Renoir, a generous-hearted, humanistic Frenchman who seems at first, the temperamental opposite of the icy-eyed Lang. But Lang’s 1945 noir masterpiece “Scarlet Street” was derived from Renoir’s 1931 “La Chienne,” and “Human Desire” is a remake (and a softening) of Renoir’s great dark, violent crime drama/romance “La Bête Humaine” (1938), a noir precursor adapted from the classic 19th century novel by Émile Zola.

Jean Gabin and Simone Simon in “La Bête Humaine”

“La Bete Humaine” and “Human Desire” are both set mostly in grim gray railroad yards, the shadowy surrounding cities and on the trains – and both Renoir and Lang get great mileage out of the hypnotic scenes they both shot of speeding trains, landscapes rushing past and train tracks merging and diverging inexorably below, echoing the characters’ headlong plunge into madness.

Ford, like “La Bete Humaine’s” Jean Gabin, plays an all-too-human train engineer: in Ford’s case, returning Korean War vet Jeff Warren, a good guy tormented by illicit, adulterous desire. (Gabin’s fireman and train sidekick was the ebullient Julien Carette, the imp of “Grand Illusion” and “The Rules of the Game.” Ford’s is crusty old westerner Edgar Buchanan.)

The desire of course, is for Grahame’s provocative, minx-eyed blonde Vicki, the persecuted wife of brutal, alcoholic, insanely jealous yard boss Carl Buckley, played by Broderick Crawford five years after his “All the King’s Men” best actor Oscar. (Another great French actor, Fernand Ledoux, played the equivalent part for Renoir.) And, as Vicki, Grahame touches many noir bases: tempting cutie-pie, disturbed and abused wife, haunted adulteress, lady in distress, and classic scheming femme fatale (a note she didn’t strike in “The Big Heat,” when she played coffee-scorched Debby, Lee Marvin’s tragic moll.)

Ford was a great brooder, as was “Bete Humaine’s” Gabin. And, when Jeff broods over Vicki, as she pulls him into her sexual web, the whole screen heats up and then darkens and goes cold. The original “Bete Humaine” adulteress was the legendary French sex kitten Simone Simon (in a role that made her an international star and eventually brought her to America for “Cat People”).

Grahame is scarier and deeper and more human (and desirable) than Simon – mostly because, in the beginning, we like Vicki. We sympathize with her, feel sorry for her because of her violent mistreatment by the obviously pathological Carl, whose jealousy drives him to murder and drink, and puts him on a collision course with Ford’s glowering, love-drunk Jeff. [Read more...]

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One of Fritz Lang’s finest films, ‘The Big Heat’ is a lean, gripping suspense story

Fritz Lang

The Big Heat/1953/Columbia Pictures/89 min.

“When a barfly gets killed, it could be for any one of a dozen crummy reasons,” says Police Lt. Ted Wilks (Willis Bouchey) in “The Big Heat.” Fritz Lang’s grim but gratifying crime drama from 1953 is laced with violence that’s still a bit shocking even by today’s standards.

Barflys don’t get much sympathy in the fictional city of Kenport, an upstanding community full of white-picket fences and happy homemakers that also harbors a flourishing criminal empire and rampant police corruption.

Wilks is talking to an upright cop, Det. Sgt. Dave Bannion (easy on the eyes Glenn Ford), about the torture and murder of Lucy Chapman (Dorothy Green). Lucy was the girlfriend of police sergeant Tom Duncan, also dead; his suicide is the film’s opening scene.

Tom’s widow Bertha (Jeanette Nolan) is not what you’d call crushed at her husband’s demise and she’s martini-dry as she answers questions from Bannion. Bertha claims her husband was ill, hence the suicide. Bannion got a rather different story from Lucy Chapman.

Unlike Tom Duncan, Bannion seems to have a perfect wife, the golden-haired Katie (Jocelyn Brando, Marlon’s sister), and a cute little daughter, named Joyce. As Mr. and Mrs. Bannion share smokes, sips of drinks and steaks, they banter easily and make each other laugh.

In addition to questioning barflies and ungrieving widows, Bannion noses into the business of an oily mobster named Mike Lagana (Alexander Scourby), a vicious operator whose right-hand man is the lithe and snarling Vince Stone (Lee Marvin).

Gloria Grahame and Glenn Ford in "The Big Heat."

The incomparable Gloria Grahame plays Debby Marsh, Stone’s inamorata. Debby spends most of her time shopping, drinking and looking at herself in the mirror. What’s not to like? As she tells Bannion: “I’ve had it rich and I’ve had it poor. Believe me, rich is better.”

(In, 1954, Ford and Grahame starred in another Lang noir, “Human Desire,” a film version of Émile Zola’s novel “La Bête Humaine”/“The Human Beast.”)

Shortly after the exchange in Lagana’s living room, a car bomb meant for Bannion kills the lovely Katie. Bannion doesn’t take much time to mourn; instead, with eyes glazed, he’s hellbent on proving the link between the police and Lagana’s mob. Suspended from the force, he seeks vengeance on his own, setting the pace for ’70s vigilante cops such as Clint Eastwood‘s Dirty Harry. As Bannion obsesses over hate and revenge, in a chilling transformation of character, he becomes the moral equivalent of the gangsters he despises.

Known for stark, intense visuals, here director Lang contrasts gloomy, barlike shadows that bind the characters to their destiny with shocks of scouring white light suggesting revelation. Lang was also known for being difficult with cast and crew, but Ford for one never saw Lang’s tyrannical side.

In “Glenn Ford: A Life” by Peter Ford, the famed actor describes his experience: “Fritz Lang came out of the old German studio system, where the director was like a dictator, barking commands and making people jump. He had a pretty nasty reputation in some quarters. There were people in Hollywood who had worked with him who hated his guts, especially some of the crew guys down the line. I mean, there were stories of people throwing lights at him and threatening to kill him for the way he treated them.

“So I head into this picture wondering how bad it’s going to be. And then Fritz and I met and had a couple of cocktails, and he couldn’t have been sweeter. He treated me with great respect. A wonderful friend, and I learned so much from him. We’re talking about one of the real geniuses of the movie business.”

Gloria Grahame and Lee Marvin: a couple with, um, a problem or two.

“The Big Heat” drew inspiration from real-life events a few years before the film was made. When the U.S. Senate set up the Kefauver Committee to probe organized crime, televised hearings brought the Mafia into the consciousness of the American public. Sydney Boehm wrote the script from a serial by William P. McGivern in the Saturday Evening Post.

And of course, any time crime’s on the rise, you know loose women are involved, which brings me to the pièce de résistance: Grahame as Debby. Though she doesn’t get a huge amount of screentime, she’s funny and fresh, and brims over with sexpot charm – striking the perfect balance between waifish, wide-eyed vulnerability and pleasure-seeking sophistication.

Once Debby realizes the depth of Vince’s depravity – burning a young woman’s hand with his cigarette is small potatoes to this guy – she switches her loyalty to the righteous but rigid Bannion. And when Vince learns of her betrayal, she gets burned, literally, with a pot of boiling coffee. We hear, but don’t see, Debby’s wounded reaction in one of the most famous moments in the movies.

With her looks gone, Debby tells Bannion everything she knows and commits the murder that will bring down the syndicate. Oh, and throwing coffee? Two can play at that game. I’d like to see a Starbucks barrista do better.

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‘The Big Heat’ quick hit

The Big Heat/1953/Columbia Pictures/89 min.

Fritz Lang’s expose of a crooked police force reveals the painful price of corruption. Glenn Ford is the clean cop bucking the system; Lee Marvin scores as a sadistic villain and Gloria Grahame shines as a vamp who slowly wakes up to the badness all around her. Well since when is there a law against sleeping till noon?

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‘Glenn Ford: A Life’ is an intimate view of a star

Peter Ford will discuss and sign his book “Glenn Ford: A Life” at 7 p.m. Friday at Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, CA, 90069, 310-659-3110. The foreword is by Patrick McGilligan.

Some background on the book, provided by event organizers:

Glenn Ford – star of such now-classic films as “Gilda,” “Blackboard Jungle,” “The Big Heat,” “3:10 to Yuma,” and “The Rounders” – had rugged good looks, a long and successful career, and a glamorous Hollywood life. Yet the man who could be accessible and charming on screen retreated to a deeply private world he created behind closed doors.

This biography by Ford’s son, Peter, offers an intimate view of a star’s private and public life. Included are exclusive interviews with family, friends, and professional associates, and snippets from the Ford family collection of diaries, letters, audiotapes, unpublished interviews, and rare candid photos.

This biography tells a cautionary tale of Glenn Ford’s relentless infidelities and long, slow fade-out, but it also embraces his talent-driven career. The result is an authentic Hollywood story that isn’t afraid to reveal the truth.

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