On the radar: James Garner remembered; Grace Kelly set released; ‘Gun Crazy’ and ‘The Lineup’ on the big screen

RIP James Garner: April 7, 1928 – July 19, 2014.

RIP James Garner: April 7, 1928 – July 19, 2014.

Who didn’t love hunky James Garner? The plain-talking, straight-shooting Oklahoma boy was best known for his roles as TV’s wry Western gambler Bret Maverick and as private eye Jim Rockford on the 1970s show “The Rockford Files.” Garner died in Los Angeles on Saturday, July 19. He was 86. TCM remembers Garner on July 28 with an all-day marathon, including 1969’s “Marlowe.” Click here to see TCM’s tribute video.

The Grace Kelly Collection box setWarner Bros. has released a divine Grace Kelly box set.  The collection includes six of  Kelly’s most popular films brought together for the first time on DVD: “Mogambo” (1953, John Ford), “Dial M for Murder” (1954, Alfred Hitchcock), “The Country Girl” (1954, George Seaton), for which she won the Best Actress Oscar, “The Bridges at Toko-Ri” (1954, Mark Robson), “To Catch a Thief” (1955, Alfred Hitchcock) and “High Society” (1956, Charles Walters).

Essential viewing for any sultry blonde or princess-type. It’s easy to dismiss Kelly as a pretty, privileged face but she was, in fact, a fine actress and a bold woman, especially in “Dial M” where she fights off her attacker.

Don’t get too excited about the special-feature interview with Pierre Salinger, conducted in 1982, just months before she died. Salinger shows a knack for asking inane questions and, though the still-lovely Kelly makes the best of it, the result is very dull viewing indeed.

The Alex Theatre in Glendale will show a “car-crazy” film noir double feature on Saturday night: “Gun Crazy” (1950, Joseph H. Lewis) and “The Lineup” (1958, Don Siegel). You can read more here.

The Film Noir Foundation’s Alan K. Rode will introduce the films.

 

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Film noir fashionistas in the spotlight

Edith Head worked on film noir titles such as “Double Indemnity,” “Sunset Blvd.,” “Rear Window” and “Vertigo.”

Edith Head worked on film noir titles such as “Double Indemnity,” “Sunset Blvd.,” “Rear Window” and “Vertigo.”

Happy birthday, Edith Head! She was born October 28, in San Bernardino, Calif. In her 60-year career, at Paramount and Universal, she worked on more than 1,131 films, received 35 Academy Award nominations and won eight Oscars, more than any other woman. (Walt Disney, with 22 Oscars, holds the record for a man.)

Grace Kelly was born on Nov. 12, 1929 in Philadelphia. She died on Sept. 14, 1982 in Monaco.

Grace Kelly was born on Nov. 12, 1929 in Philadelphia. She died on Sept. 14, 1982 in Monaco.

The exhibition From Philadelphia to Monaco: Grace Kelly Beyond the Icon opens today at the James A. Michener Art Museum, near Philadelphia.

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Hollywood Dogs highlighted in well heeled new book

There’s a photospread in Vanity Fair on a new book from ACC Editions called Hollywood Dogs: Photographs from the John Kobal Foundation. Looks like a fun book.

Snuffy, Frank Sinatra’s four-legged co-star in the 1957 musical “Pal Joey,” reportedly aced his audition. Asked to eat a bagel off a plate, the Cairn terrier took it in his mouth, dipped it in some soup, and ate the soggy part.

Also shown here: Marilyn Monroe and her Maltese, whom she named Mafia (the dog was a gift from Sinatra), and Grace Kelly with her Weimaraner.

VF Dogs Sinatra

VF Dogs Monroe

VF Dogs Kelly

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Film noir flourishes at TCM film festival in Hollywood

Grauman’s Chinese Theatre was a prime location at the TCM fest. Photo by John Nowak

From Marie Windsor’s character in “The Killing” telling her wounded husband (played by Elisha Cook, Jr.) to cab to the hospital because she doesn’t feel like calling an ambulance to Grace Kelly fending off her attacker and foiling the eponymous plot in “Dial M for Murder,” on-screen femmes fatales claimed their power at the TCM Classic Film Festival April 25-28 in Hollywood.

Marie Windsor

The film noir slate was particularly rich as was the experience of seeing these film on the big screen – the lighting, the compositions, the close-ups all popped in a way that just doesn’t happen when you watch these titles on TV. Additionally, the festival does a splendid job of finding guests to introduce the films.

At Thursday’s screening of “The Killing,” actress Coleen Gray shared memories of working with director Stanley Kubrick on what would turn out to be his break-though movie. “I knew he was good,” she said. “The cast is wonderful. The story, the director and the actors are in tune. And look at the cutting – it was cut to create a masterpiece. You go and see it and you bow to Mr. Kubrick.” She added that Kubrick spent much of his directorial energy working with Marie Windsor on her hard-as-nails dame Sherry Peatty.

There was film noir aplenty at the TCM festival as well as special guests, panels, a poolside screening and parties. Photo by Edward M. Pio Roda

Fans of Ms. Windsor’s got another chance to connect with her at Friday’s screening of “The Narrow Margin.” The special guest was actress Jacqueline White. Also during that time slot producer Stanley Rubin reminisced about Marilyn Monroe, Robert Mitchum and Otto Preminger before a showing of 1954’s “River of No Return,” a stunning example of CinemaScope’s capabilities.

“[Marilyn] and Otto didn’t like each other and so we became very friendly. She was a perfect lady,” he said, adding that she was friendly and professional with Mitchum as well.

Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe in “River of No Return.”

Watching Monroe and Mitchum, at the height of their physical radiance in this picture, ignited in me a newfound passion for Westerns. (Believe me, this is quite a feat.)

It’s always a toss-up when deciding between a beloved classic and a little-screened rarity. We at FNB decided to mix it up a little and forgo “Notorious,” which I often liken to a glass of Veuve Clicquot, for the chance to see a 1956 Jean Gabin black comedy “La Traversée de Paris.” Gabin is always good, but the film is uneven, without much tension or humor, a bit like a flabby claret.

A much better rare treat was the definitive British film noir “It Always Rains on Sunday,” (1947, Robert Hamer), set in London’s East End, featuring a Jewish family and starring John McCallum as prison escapee Tommy Swann and tough yet oddly dainty Googie Withers as his ex-gf. The Film Noir Foundation’s Eddie Muller introduced the film, noting that it was less a crime flick than an effective portrayal of the plight of the poor and downtrodden.

We watched this with our friend Debra Levine of artsmeme.com. Our verdict: It’s a good, engaging film but what makes it great is the sleek, striking cinematography. “Tommy made some poor choices,” Ms. Levine overheard someone saying as we left the theater. Aah, but we all know that “choice” is but a futile joke in the world of film noir!

Eva Marie Saint discussed “On the Waterfront” with Bob Osborne on Friday night. Photo by John Nowak

Another Friday highlight: the lovely and gracious Eva Marie Saint discussing “On the Waterfront.”

The next morning, early birds were rewarded with a talk by Polly Bergen at the screening of “Cape Fear,” one of Robert Mitchum’s most menacing roles. Later-risers could head to the Egyptian Theatre for the West Coast restoration premiere of 1929’s “The Donovan Affair” with live actors (from Bruce Goldstein and company) and sound effects to recreate the lost soundtrack.

Eddie Muller interviewed Susan Ray at the screening of “They Live by Night.” Photo by John Nowak

Next up was a film noir must-see: “They Live by Night” (1949, Nicholas Ray), the quintessential young-lovers-on-the-run story, with an appearance by his widow Susan Ray and introduction by Eddie Muller. Commenting on Ray’s exploratory directing style, she said: “He did not go in with a preconceived idea of what should happen in a scene. He would set it up, light a fuse and watch. He would prod or provoke if necessary. He didn’t impose truth, he looked for it.”

And on Ray’s interest in telling the stories of young people, often loners or societal outcasts, she noted: “He saw the juice, potential, openness and flexibility of youth and he loved it.” Nick Ray’s gift as a visual poet is never more apparent than when you see “They Live by Night” on the big screen.

Continuing the noir mood was “Tall Target” (1951, Anthony Mann), a period noir, starring Dick Powell, Paula Raymond and Ruby Dee, based on an actual plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln before he could take the oath office in 1861. Film historian Donald Bogle gave an insightful introduction.

Bob Osborne chats with Ann Blyth before Saturday night’s screening of “Mildred Pierce.” Photo by John Nowak

Then it was back to the Egyptian, where the line for “Mildred Pierce,” snaked down a busy side street of Hollywood Boulevard. Special guest actress Ann Blyth said of Joan Crawford, the film’s mega-star: “I have nothing but wonderful memories of her. She was kind to me during the making of the movie and she was kind to me for many years after.”

Popcorn, Coke, Raisinets and watching Crawford pull out all the shoulder-padded stops – what more could a noirista wish for?

Sunday morning kicked off with a choice between “Badlands,” “Gilda,” or sleeping in a bit and we hit snooze. Sorry. They don’t call me Lazy Legs for nothing. Our first movie was 1973’s “Scarecrow,” starring Al Pacino and Gene Hackman – it was one of the best and most resonant films we’ve seen in a long time. The acting is tremendous in this great-looking film, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Director Jerry Schatzberg discussed his work in a pre-film chat with Leonard Maltin.

Anthony Dawson and Grace Kelly in “Dial M for Murder.”

Afterward, we managed to catch the very noirish “Safe in Hell” (1931, William Wellman), starring Dorothy Mackaill as a streetwise blonde who holds her own among a slew of unsavory men while she’s hiding out in the Caribbean. Donald Bogle introduced the movie and William Wellman, Jr. answered questions afterward.

A great way to wrap up the fest, before heading to the after-party at the Roosevelt Hotel, was a 3-D presentation of “Dial M for Murder.” Leonard Maltin and the always-entertaining actor-producer-director Norman Lloyd, 98, discussed 3-D and the working methods of Alfred Hitchcock. This Hitchcock gem, a perfect example of his subversive casting, is often underrated so we particularly enjoyed seeing it; we noticed that just about every seat was taken.

Hats off to TCM for another superb film festival! The staff does an excellent job running every aspect of this event and it is much appreciated.

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Perfect, posh fodder for a Hitchcock mind game

Dial M for Murder/1954/Warner Bros. Pictures/105 min.

A streetwise femme fatale she’s not. Grace Kelly is too refined, too ladylike, too exquisitely beautiful. But in “Dial M for Murder,” her first movie with Alfred Hitchcock, she proves herself to be a smart and capable heroine in this film that’s nearly as ravishing to look at as she is.

Ray Milland as Tony Wendice brims with confidence and charm.

We first see her character Margot Wendice, in a demure white dress, as she reads the London Times over breakfast with her debonair husband Tony (Ray Milland). Tony’s a former tennis champ who now sells sports equipment. But it’s Margot’s family money that pays for their posh lifestyle and elegant flat in Maida Vale.

Minutes after her breakfast, we see Margot with her lover, a mystery writer named Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings), this time in a bright red dress that signals where her real passion lies. Margot is fretting a bit because she’s received letters from an anonymous blackmailer who knows about her affair and threatens to tell Tony.

Turns out, though, the “blackmailer” is suave old Tony himself. He’s known for quite a while that Margot and Mark are an item and he’s hatched a plan to do away with his wife, get her money and use her lover as his alibi. It’s a very clever plan and Tony has worked out every detail. But as I mentioned Margot is no slouch. She proves quite skilled at surviving and improvising with weapons. A little trick she picked up at boarding school, I expect. Still, Tony sees a chance to achieve his goal using a new ploy.

Mark (Robert Cummings) is the writer with whom Margot (Grace Kelly) begins an affair.

Like most Hitchcock noirs, the story takes place in a world in which manners and titles and accents count for a great deal – in which fate is determined over champagne cocktails and glasses of brandy by a roaring fire. This chi-chi, upper-crust milieu is far removed from the gritty, urban, angst-ridden territory of much of the film noir canon. But a common thread of film noir, regardless of setting, is that its writers and directors were intensely aware of class differences and divisions, of society’s inequalities and injustices.

With a screenplay by Frederick Knott (based on his Broadway and West End hit), “Dial M for Murder” boasts a very civilized, very English, very cozy atmosphere, at least on the surface. Whereas Hitchcock often tended to use novels and short stories as gestalts for his own uniquely original narratives, when he chose to film a play, he left them virtually unaltered. In fact, he considered “Dial M” a minor work, something to do while he recharged his creative batteries.

That said, he shot the movie in 3-D, in vibrant color with extreme camera angles to keep us from getting too claustrophobic (the action takes places almost entirely in the Wendices’ well appointed flat). The lush look, upbeat mood, romantic music by Dimitri Tiomkin and charming characters all belie the darkness at the core of the story.

Milland is magnetic, confident, perfectly composed with just a shimmer of vulnerability. Kelly, the flawless incarnation of ’50s femininity, seems the perfect wife for him. (The supporting cast is splendid as well. Anthony Dawson plays the college acquaintance whom Tony ropes into his scheme. John Williams is urbane as ever as Chief Inspector Hubbard.) But, as sumptuous as these appearances are, they are nevertheless deceiving.

A pawn in the game: Anthony Dawson tries to strangle Margot (Grace Kelly).

“Dial M for Murder” is an excellent example of one of Hitch’s favorite mind games – inviting us to get swept up in this picture-perfect world and then upending our expectations and revealing his (and perhaps our) mistrust of the upper classes, particularly through the use of subversive casting.

For instance, Margot and Mark’s fling is surely one of the most tasteful and thoroughly dull affairs in movie history (despite the red dress). I reckon any woman would take sexy, athletic Tony over sweet but insipid Mark. Of course, Hitchcock knows this. He uses Milland’s humor and appeal to build the audience’s sympathy for the wrong person, to get us to identify with a would-be killer, to subtly underscore the moral ambiguities and deep flaws that make us human.

Hitch liked to play cat and mouse with the audience, to entice us with wit, gloss and visual flair, then slyly expose our delusions and hypocrisies. Or as Francois Truffaut put it: “Hitchcock loves to be misunderstood, because he has based his whole life around misunderstandings.”

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‘Dial M for Murder’ quick hit

Dial M for Murder/1954/Warner Bros. Pictures/105 min.

Alfred Hitchcock’s “Dial M for Murder” boasts a very civilized, very English, very cozy atmosphere, at least on the surface. But under the elegant façade, a spurned husband (Ray Milland) crafts an intricate plan to murder his rich wife (Grace Kelly) and use her lover (Robert Cummings) as his alibi. Based on a play by Frederick Knott, this gorgeous-looking film is an excellent example of a classic Hitchcockian trope – subversive casting.

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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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New on DVD, Blu-ray: ‘Skin I Live in’ and ‘To Catch a Thief’

By Michael Wilmington

Antonio Banderas

The Skin I Live In (DVD)/2011/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment/117 min.

Pedro Almodóvar, the Spanish master of kink and perverse soap opera (“Matador,” “Law of Desire,” “Talk to Her”), here plunges into high Gothic melodrama, with Antonio Banderas as a wealthy and reclusive plastic surgeon, who becomes obsessed with implanting the features of his beautiful, beloved, dead wife on the face of a female prisoner (Elena Anaya) whom he keeps hidden away in his posh isolated home.

Also involved: a mysterious housekeeper who knows some dark secrets (Marisa Paredes) and a raunchy interloper in a tiger suit (Roberto Álamo).

Not for every taste of course – no Almodovar film is – but a good, creepy elegant old-school horror movie worthy of its obvious influences: Georges Franju’s “Eyes Without a Face,” James Whale’s Frankenstein, Luis Buñuel, Alfred Hitchcock and Fritz Lang. And the reunion of Almodovar and star Banderas, is a felicitous one. At the very least, this film will give you a different slant on Banderas’ “Puss in Boots.” (In Spanish, with English subtitles.)

Extras: Documentary featurettes; Q&A with Almodovar

xxx

Grant and Kelly: One of Hitchcock’s sexiest duos.

To Catch a Thief (Blu-ray)/1955/Paramount/106 min.

Cary Grant is a Riviera cat burglar, framed by another mysterious thief and chased by both the local gendarmerie and his old pals in the Resistance. Grace Kelly is a rich, gorgeous vacationer who can really get those fireworks and colored lights going.

One of Alfred Hitchcock’s most purely entertaining movies, beautifully shot in Cannes and surrounding locations, with Grant and Kelly making up his sexiest couple, except maybe for Grant and Bergman in “Notorious.”

From the (not too good) novel by David Dodge, scripted by John Michael Hayes. With Jessie Royce Landis, Charles Vanel and John Williams.

Pure – well, a little impure – fun.

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‘Marnie’ quick hit

Marnie/1964/Universal Pictures/130 min.

In Alfred Hitchcock’s “Marnie,” a twisted rescue fantasy meets a pretty passel of repressed memories. The wannabe rescuer is intense, domineering and drop-dead gorgeous Mark Rutland (Sean Connery). His damsel in distress, and often in disguise, is chic thief Marnie Edgar (Tippi Hedren), still dogged by a childhood trauma. Marnie is determined to buy a few new dresses for her fashion-challenged Mama (Louise Latham), just as Hitch was determined to make Tippi his new Grace Kelly. Always engaging, sometimes thrilling, “Marnie” is a complex, thoughtful and satisfying story.

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On the radar: Battle of the Blondes begins, AFI fest kicks off, poets ponder Los Angeles noir

Marilyn in "The Asphalt Jungle" tops the TCM list.

One more reason to love Turner Classic Movies: The network has compiled a list of 10 favorite movie moments featuring Marilyn Monroe. The list comes as TCM gears up for its Battle of the Blondes this month, which kicks off Nov. 2 with a Marilyn Monroe double feature.

First on the fave moments list is Marilyn looking up at Louis Calhern in the classic noir “The Asphalt Jungle” from 1950 directed by John Huston. Third on the list is her sexy walk in “Niagara,” Henry Hathaway’s 1953 Technicolor noir. (“Niagara” and 1959’s “Some Like It Hot” by Billy Wilder are tonight’s double bill.)

Throughout November, TCM will celebrate Hollywood’s greatest blondes. Each Monday and Wednesday night’s lineup will feature two blondes going head-to-head in a pair of double features, including Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield on Nov. 2, Veronica Lake and Lana Turner on Nov. 7, Judy Holliday and Jean Harlow on Nov. 9, Marlene Dietrich and Ursula Andress on Nov. 14, Carole Lombard and Mae West on Nov. 16, Janet Leigh and Brigitte Bardot on Nov. 21, Betty Grable and Doris Day on Nov. 23, Julie Christie and Diana Dors on Nov. 28 and Grace Kelly and Kim Novak on Nov. 30.

Leonardo DiCaprio

Best of the fest: The AFI FEST 2011, the American Film Institute’s annual celebration of international cinema from modern masters and emerging filmmakers, starts Nov. 3 with Clint Eastwood’s “J. Edgar,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Noir gems include “Eyes Without a Face,” “The Killers,” “Nightmare Alley” “Le Cercle Rouge,” “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” and “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” Topping my new-viewing list is: “Miss Bala,” “Art History,” “Carnage,” “Shame,” “Kill List” and “The Artist.”

The festival runs through Nov. 10 in Hollywood and I look forward to covering it.

Lines to remember: Continuing through Nov. 13, the Los Angeles Poetry Festival is hosting Night and the City: L.A. Noir in Poetry, Fiction and Film. There are readings, screenings and discussions in various locations. I’ve marked my calendar for the Raymond Chandler open reading on Nov. 6 in Hollywood.

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