‘The Big Sleep’ a hit in WeHo film noir series

Film Noir Blonde

Film Noir Blonde

I had a great time introducing “The Big Sleep” (1946, Howard Hawks) on Saturday at the West Hollywood Library. Many thanks to event organizers Corey Roskin and Andrew Campbell, who did a great job and gave me a warm welcome.

The free screening was part of WeHo Reads, a noir-themed month-long literary program. Next Saturday, Sept. 20, “Mildred Pierce” will play and on Saturday, Sept. 27, there will be a day of panels, music and film.

Meanwhile, I thought I’d share nuggets of info from my presentation.

***As you probably know, “The Big Sleep” stars Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, who formed one of Hollywood’s primo power couples, onscreen and off.

***“The Big Sleep” is a hard-boiled detective story, to be sure, but its mood is more upbeat, fun and entertaining than a typical film noir. It doesn’t have an angst-ridden, pessimistic, cynical vibe, nor is it a tale of American vets finding it hard to adjust to civilian life after WWII. Instead, the men are glad to be back home and the women welcome them with open arms. It was time for a little romance and there’s flirtation, risqué banter and innuendo aplenty.

The Big Sleep poster 214***Central to the sexy, sultry tone: Bogart and Bacall, of course. This was the second film they starred in. The first was 1944’s “To Have and Have Not,” where the pair fell in love and she famously lit his cig, also directed by Hawks. There were four B&B movies in total, all for Warner Bros. The other two were: “Dark Passage” (1947, Delmer Daves) and “Key Largo” (1948, John Huston).

***Hawks’ wife, Slim Keith, spotted Bacall, a teenage model, in Harper’s Bazaar. Slim showed her husband and he quickly cast her in “To Have and Have Not.” He told Bogart: “You’re the most insolent man on the screen and I’ve found a girl who’s more insolent than you.”

***“The Big Sleep” started shooting in October of 1944. Hawks, a confident, successful auteur (who later would be much admired by French critics) was sure it would be a straightforward production. Um, not so much.

***“The Big Sleep” was Raymond Chandler’s first novel (1939) and the first novel to feature the character Philip Marlowe, a tough private eye based in Hollywood. The film was the first time Bogart portrayed Marlowe.

***The first time Marlowe appeared in celluloid form was in 1944’s “Murder, My Sweet,” starring Dick Powell. This movie was based on Chandler’s second novel, “Farewell, My Lovely” (1940).

***More than likely, Chandler would have been tapped to write the script for “The Big Sleep,” but he had an exclusive contract with Paramount, which had released “Double Indemnity” earlier that year. (Chandler and director Billy Wilder had adapted “Double Indemnity” from James M. Cain’s novel.)

“The Big Sleep” script is notoriously confusing. Here, director Howard Hawks, far left, and his team try to figure it out. The film’s own backstory is also a bit tangled.

“The Big Sleep” script is notoriously confusing. Here, director Howard Hawks, far left, and his team try to figure it out. The film’s own backstory is also a bit tangled.

***Hawks hired William Faulkner and Jules Furthman, the team that had adapted Ernest Hemingway’s “To Have and Have Not,” for “The Big Sleep.”

***Also hired was a 28-year-old sci-fi writer named Leigh Brackett. Hawks, a macho type who liked to hunt, fish and shoot with his buddies, was surprised to discover that Brackett was a woman but he was glad to give her a shot. He liked women who could hold their own among manly men. She did fine and had a great career.

***Faulkner decided to divide the work in a strange way: He and Furthman would be one team and Brackett would be another. The two “teams,” working separately, would tackle alternating chapters of the book and slot them together when they’d finished. The script was somewhat disjointed and Hawks took a stab at tweaking it.

WeHo Reads event flyer

***Bacall was just 20 years old and had scant training as an actress when she played spoiled rich girl Carmen Sternwood in “The Big Sleep.” Her female co-stars were Martha Vickers as her little sister, Carmen; Dorothy Malone as a bookstore clerk and Sonia Darrin as a so-called bookstore clerk.

***The book has a serpentine plot and so does the movie. It’s easy to lose track of the narrative but there are seven dead by the end. One day, Bogart asked Hawks who killed the Owen Taylor character (the Sternwood family chauffeur). Hmm, good question. Hawks didn’t know and neither did the writers. Hawks sent Chandler a telegram and he replied that he didn’t know either.

***Hawks sometimes had to shoot around Bogart because the actor was going on drinking benders. Though Bogart had met the love of his life in Bacall, there was a glitch. Still married to his third wife, actress Mayo Methot, he ended the affair with Bacall and he tried to reconcile with Methot. It didn’t go well and Bogart took to binging. Also, there was tension because Hawks was hoping to ignite a romance with his protégée Bacall and she snubbed him.

***All that said, they still managed to have a good time on the film. In fact, Jack Warner sent Hawks this memo: “Word has reached me that you are having fun on the set. This must stop.”

Corey Roskin introduces the event.

Corey Roskin introduces the event.

***Hawks was known for fast-paced action and comedy. He also gave rise to the “bromance” before the term existed. So, as I said, this film does not have the brooding, doom-and-gloom feeling that typically characterizes film noir. By the same token, it doesn’t have the intense chiaroscuro visual style (which has its roots in German Expressionism) that so often shapes the look of film noir. Nevertheless, “The Big Sleep,” which was an A-budget title, boasts a top cinematographer: Sid Hickox, who also shot “Dark Passage.”  (Max Steiner provided the score.)

***They finished shooting in January 1945. Bogart divorced Methot and married Bacall in May 1945. “The Big Sleep” was shown to U.S. servicemen in the Philippines in August 1945. World War II was ending so Warner Bros. hurried to release  movies with war-related narratives. “The Big Sleep” wasn’t timely or topical and could be released at a later date.

***Also, Warner Bros. put “The Big Sleep” on the back burner so as not to compete with Bacall’s second movie: “Confidential Agent” (1945) based on a Graham Greene novel and co-starring Charles Boyer. Unfortunately, though, that film garnered scathing reviews for Bacall.

***Warner Bros. then turned its attention back to “The Big Sleep,” hoping the movie would be able to compensate for the disappointment of “Confidential Agent.” The studio showed it to preview audiences and they wanted more scenes with Bogart and Bacall. So did Bacall’s agent. And, as Mrs. Humphrey Bogart, she now had impressive clout.

Film Noir Blonde at the event.

Film Noir Blonde at the event.

***In January 1946, Hawks spent six days reshooting and came up with another version of the film, one that gives us more Bogie and Bacall sizzle. There is also less of Martha Vickers – even though she was quite good, promoting Bacall and recapturing the electric chemistry of “To Have and Have Not” was the priority. The new scenes reportedly were written by one or both of the Epstein brothers, Julius and Philip, of “Casablanca” fame.

***“The Big Sleep” was released on Aug. 31, 1946. The narrative was even less clear than before, but who cares?! We have Bogart and Bacall in top form – flirting and fighting off baddies – in a very entertaining film. Both versions of the movie (as well as a short documentary on the changes) are available from Warner Bros.

***Hawks was once asked what makes a great movie. His answer was three great scenes and no bad scenes. By that definition, “The Big Sleep” surely ranks as a great work.

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The Film Noir File: ‘To Have and Have Not’ and ‘Key Largo’ showcase noir’s top couple

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

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

Pick of the Week: Two Classics from The Couple: Bogart and Bacall
Bogie. Bacall. The Ultimate Film Noir Couple. At their best. Need we say more?

Director Howard Hawks discovered Lauren Bacall and cast her opposite Humphrey Bogart. They fell for each other while making “To Have and Have Not.” She was 19.

Director Howard Hawks discovered Lauren Bacall and cast her opposite Humphrey Bogart. They fell for each other while making “To Have and Have Not.” She was 19.

To Have and Have Not” (1944, Howard Hawks). Tuesday, Sept. 16, 10 a.m. (7 a.m.).

With Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Walter Brennan, Hoagy Carmichael and Marcel Dalio.

Key Largo” (1948, John Huston). Tuesday, Sept. 16, 12 p.m. (9 a.m.). With Bogart, Bacall, Edward G. Robinson, Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor and Thomas Gomez.

Friday, Sept. 12

Miriam Hopkins

Miriam Hopkins

12:45 a.m. (9:45 p.m.): “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1931, Rouben Mamoulian). Fredric March won the Best Actor Oscar for playing those exemplars of good and evil, alter-egos Jekyll and Hyde, in this dark and very stylish version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic about the potion that turns a good man into the devil incarnate. With Miriam Hopkins as Hyde’s sad, beauteous victim Champagne Ivy. For Jerry Lewis’ daffy version of this tale, try his 1963 comedy classic “The Nutty Professor,” on TCM this week at 8 p.m. (5 p.m.), Thursday, Sept. 11.

2:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m.): “The Story of Temple Drake” (1933, Stephen Roberts). A grim pre-Code adaptation of William Faulkner’s shocker about Deep South rape, scandal and murder, and the weird relationship between rich girl Temple (Miriam Hopkins) and the brutal gangster whom Faulkner called Popeye (Jack La Rue).

3:45 a.m. (12:45 a.m.): “Freaks” (1932, Tod Browning). With Olga Baclanova, Wallace Ford and Harry Earles. Reviewed in FNB on April 18, 2013.

Saturday, Sept. 13

Catherine Deneuve stars in "Belle."

Catherine Deneuve stars in “Belle.”

8 p.m. (5 p.m. ,.): “Belle de Jour” (1967, Luis Bunuel). With Catherine Deneuve, Michel Piccoli, Genevieve Page, Jean Sorel, Francisco Rabal and Pierre Clementi. (In French, with subtitles.) Reviewed in FNB on March 8, 2013.

Monday, Sept. 15

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Background to Danger” (1943, Raoul Walsh). With George Raft, Brenda Marshall, Sydney Greenstreet and Pater Lorre. Reviewed in FNB on Jan. 9, 2013.

Tuesday, Sept. 16

A shot from Bacall's modeling days.

A shot from Lauren Bacall’s modeling days.

6 a.m. (3 a.m.): “The Confidential Agent” (1945, Herman Shumlin). Classy but somewhat turgid adaptation of one of Graham Greene’s spy “entertainments.“ With Charles Boyer, Lauren Bacall and Peter Lorre.

10 a.m. (7 a.m.): “To Have and Have Not” (1944, Howard Hawks). See Pick of the Week.

12 p.m. (9 a.m.): “Key Largo” (1948, John Huston). See Pick of the Week.

Wednesday, Sept. 17

6:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m.): “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950, John Huston). With Sterling Hayden, Jean Hagen, Sam Jaffe, Louis Calhern and Marilyn Monroe.

10 a.m. (7 a.m.): “The Narrow Margin” (1952, Richard Fleischer). With Charles McGraw, Marie Windsor and Jacqueline White.

Blue Gardenia poster11:30 a.m. (8:30 a.m.): “The Blue Gardenia” (1953, Fritz Lang). With Anne Baxter, Richard Conte, Nat “King” Cole and Raymond Burr. Reviewed in FNB on May 22, 2013.

1 p.m. (10 a.m.): “Suddenly” (1954, Lewis Allen). With Frank Sinatra, Sterling Hayden, James Gleason and Nancy Gates. Reviewed in FNB on April 23, 2012.

4 p.m. (1 p.m.): “I Died a Thousand Times” (1955, Stuart Heisler.) With Jack Palance, Shelley Winters, Lee Marvin and Lon Chaney, Jr. Reviewed in FNB on Jan. 15, 2013.

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “Al Capone” (1959, Richard Wilson). With Rod Steiger, Martin Balsam and Fay Spain. Reviewed in FNB on May 29, 2014.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Billy Budd” (1962, Peter Ustinov). With Terence Stamp, Robert Ryan, Ustinov and Melvyn Douglas. Reviewed in FNB on Nov. 10, 2013.

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “The Great Sinner” (1949, Robert Siodmak). Dark costume drama with eye-catching Siodmak direction and an extraordinary cast: Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Melvyn Douglas, Walter Huston, Ethel Barrymore, Agnes Moorehead and Frank Morgan. In novelist Christopher Isherwood’s offbeat screenplay, Peck is obsessed with Gardner and with gambling.

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Film Noir Blonde to introduce ‘The Big Sleep’ Saturday in LA

“The Big Sleep” was the second film in which director Howard Hawks paired Bogart and Bacall. The first was “To Have and Have Not” (1944).

“The Big Sleep” was the second film in which director Howard Hawks paired Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. The first was “To Have and Have Not” (1944).

Film Noir Blonde

Film Noir Blonde

I have some news to share: I will be introducing “The Big Sleep” (1946, Howard Hawks) at 2 p.m. this Saturday, Sept. 13, at the West Hollywood Library Community Meeting Room, 625 N. San Vicente Blvd.

Directed by Hollywood giant Howard Hawks, particularly known for helming action and comedy flicks, “The Big Sleep” is sly, fast and funny. Best of all, the film stars the inimitable Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. What’s not to love?

This free screening is part of WeHo Reads, a noir-themed month-long literary program. Next Saturday, “Mildred Pierce” will play and on Saturday, Sept. 27, there will be a day of panels, music and film.

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On the radar: Hollywood Redux exhibition in Santa Monica, film noir faves, remembering the blonde goddess

Love this photo of a (smiling!) Bogart & Bacall. Shot by Murray Garrett and on display at the Robert Berman Gallery in Santa Monica.

Love this photo of a (smiling!) Bogart & Bacall. Shot by Murray Garrett and on display at the Robert Berman Gallery in Santa Monica.

Murray Garrett: Hollywood Redux, a selection of black-and-white photographs including never-before-seen silver-gelatin prints from the artist’s archive, runs through Aug. 23 at the Robert Berman Gallery in Santa Monica. The Brooklyn-born Garrett, who worked in the Golden Age, typically used medium-format cameras, such as the Speed Graphic and Rolleiflex, to capture iconic moments from the lives of the entertainment industry’s elite and other popular figures of American culture and high society.

Taschen has released a must-read tome: Film Noir: 100 All-Time Favorites. From “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” to “Drive,” editors Paul Duncan and Jürgen Müller present their top film-noirs and neo-noirs. Director, film noir scholar and “Taxi Driver screenwriter Paul Schrader provides the introduction.

Also, Tuesday, Aug. 5 marks the 52nd anniversary of Marilyn Monroe’s death. RIP, Marilyn. See more images and read more about her life here.

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The Film Noir File: Howard Hawks and Raymond Chandler, Bogie & Bacall: As good as noir gets

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

It doesn't get any better than Bogie and Bacall in "The Big Sleep."

It doesn’t get any better than Bogie and Bacall in “The Big Sleep.”

The Big Sleep” (1946, Howard Hawks). Tuesday, May 20, 12:15 p.m. (9:15 a.m.) With Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Dorothy Malone, and Elisha Cook, Jr. Click here to read the FNB review.

Thursday, May 15

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “The Night of the Hunter” (1955, Charles Laughton). With Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, and Lillian Gish. Reviewed in FNB on Feb. 3, 2011.

Saturday, May 17

7 a.m. (4 a.m.): “Each Dawn I Die” (1939, William Keighley). With James Cagney, George Raft, Jane Bryan, George Bancroft and Victor Jory. Reviewed in FNB on March 10, 2012.

8:45 a.m. (5:45 a.m.): “Johnny Angel” (1945, Edwin L. Marin). With George Raft, Claire Trevor, and Signe Hasso. Reviewed in FNB on June 27, 2012.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.); “The Haunting” (1963, Robert Wise). With Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson and Russ Tamblyn. Reviewed in FNB on Oct. 29, 2013. [Read more...]

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The Film Noir File: Bogie is at the top in ‘High Sierra’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

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

High Sierra” (1941, Raoul Walsh). 4 p.m. (1 p.m.), Saturday, April 5.

Bogart and Ida Lupino star in "High Sierra."

Bogart and Ida Lupino star in “High Sierra.”

In 1941, the same year he played Sam Spade, private eye, one of the greatest of all movie detectives, in John Huston’s classic film noir “The Maltese Falcon,” Humphrey Bogart also played one of the greatest of all movie gangsters, Roy Earle, in Raoul Walsh‘s classic noir, “High Sierra.”

If Spade was one of the meanest, most realistic and most unsympathetic of all movie detectives (up until then), Earle was one of the roughest, least clichéd but most surprisingly sympathetic gangsters. He’s a hard guy with a soft streak, whose sentimentality (especially toward women and little dogs), may trip him up in the end.

Veteran thief Big Mac (Donald MacBride) and an ex-cop (Barton MacLane) engineer Earle’s release from prison so he can take over a very lucrative job: a high-end resort robbery near the Sierras. But Earle finds himself yoked to a young, inexperienced gang.

The tyro would-be crooks include Arthur Kennedy, Alan Curtis and inside man Cornel Wilde. The moll of one of the guys is Marie (Ida Lupino), a smart, bruised city doll who falls for Earle, but whom the old pro regards, like all dames, as “trouble.”

More to his taste, disastrously, is the beautiful, seemingly sweet club-footed girl Velma (Joan Leslie), whose family (including Henry Travers) he meets and helps on the road.

Roy sets up the robbery and tries to woo the crippled girl. But it’s his last job, and we know what that means in a movie. As the boss‘s outlaw doctor (Henry Hull) tells Roy: “Guys like you and Johnny Dillinger “are just rushing toward death.”

High Sierra posterAndrew Sarris once described “High Sierra” as “the Gotterdammerung of the gangster movie.” And perhaps Bogart connected so well with the part of the doom-haunted criminal Earle because he had a face that really could suggest a man rushing toward death. Bogie’s dark burning eyes, brusque been-there-shot-that manner, innate intelligence and his existential tough-guy persona were leagues away from the standard handsome male stars who tended to monopolize Hollywood’s leading man roles.

Screenwriting team John Huston and W. R. Burnett based their work on Burnett’s hard-boiled novel. Action-master director Raoul Walsh, a first-tier ‘20s silent moviemaker (he directed Douglas Fairbanks in the 1924 “The Thief of Baghdad“), had been languishing in the second tier for most of the ‘30s.

But Walsh came back with 1939’s “The Roaring Twenties” (in which James Cagney played a sympathetic gangster and Bogie was the villain), 1940‘s “They Drive by Night” (with truck-driver Bogie as the second lead after star George Raft) and “High Sierra,” in which Bogie finally got the lead. (Raft turned down both of the roles that took Bogart to the top: Sam Spade in “The Maltese Falcon” and Roy Earle in “High Sierra.”)

By the way, the last shot of “High Sierra,” with Ida Lupino walking toward the camera, framed by the mountains and the sky, is one of the great last moments in film noir and in all Hollywood movies.

Saturday, April 5

4 p.m. (1 p.m.): “High Sierra” (1941, Raoul Walsh). See Pick of the Week.

Sunday, April 6

8 a.m. (5 a.m.): “They Drive By Night” (1940, Raoul Walsh). With George Raft, Ida Lupino, Humphrey Bogart and Ann Sheridan. Reviewed in FNB on July 7, 2012. [Read more...]

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The Film Noir File: Huston helms, Bogarts stars in ‘Falcon’ et al

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Film 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

Maltese-Falcon-poster[1]

The Maltese Falcon
(1941, John Huston). 8 p.m. (5 p.m.); Wednesday, March 12. With Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre and Elisha Cook, Jr. See previous post for the review.

Wednesday, March 12

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Maltese Falcon” (1941, John Huston). See review in previous post.

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “Across the Pacific” (1942, John Huston). With Bogart, Astor and Greenstreet. Reviewed in FNB on June 6, 2012.

Friday, March 14

10:45 a.m. (7:45 a.m.): “Beat the Devil” (1953, John Huston). Humphrey Bogart and John Huston’s last movie together was a commercial failure but a triumph of silliness, satire and pseudo-noir. Bogart stars as the sly, grinning kingpin of a group of uranium-mine swindlers that includes Robert Morley, Peter Lorre and Italian bombshell Gina Lollobrigida. Jennifer Jones and Edward Underdown are two naïve British vacationers who fall guilelessly into their hands.

Beat the Devil posterBased on a novel by Claud Cockburn, the film, a cult movie if there ever was one, was adapted with tongue completely in cheek, by Truman Capote, who wrote (or rewrote) it on location in Italy. Apparently, Capote got the script done each day with barely enough time for the actors to learn their lines. (They have fun with them anyway.) The settings on the Italian coast, in prime tourist territory, are gorgeous — as are bad girl Lollobrigida and good girl Jones. The cast look as if they‘re not quite sure what’s going on but are having an absolutely marvelous time. As will you.

4 a.m. (1 a.m.): “The Public Enemy” (1931, William Wellman). With James Cagney, Jean Harlow and Mae Clarke. Reviewed in FNB on Aug. 10, 2012.

Saturday, March 15

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Sugarland Express” (1974, Steven Spielberg). With Goldie Hawn, Ben Johnson and William Atherton. Reviewed in FNB on Nov. 23, 2013.

Sunday, March 16

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “After the Thin Man” (1936, W. S. Van Dyke). With William Powell, Myrna Loy and James Stewart. Reviewed in FNB on June 6, 2013.

Monday, March 17

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Outfit” (1973, John Flynn). With Robert Duvall, Karen Black and Robert Ryan. Reviewed in FNB on May 22, 2013.

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There’s only one ‘Maltese Falcon’ and this is it

The Maltese Falcon/1941/Warner Bros./100 min.

Maltese Falcon poster“The Maltese Falcon,” a spectacularly entertaining and iconic crime film, holds the claim to many firsts.

It’s a remarkable directorial debut by John Huston, who also wrote the screenplay. It’s considered by many critics to be the first film noir. (Another contender is “Stranger on the Third Floor” see below.) It was the first vehicle in which screen legend Humphrey Bogart and character actor Elisha Cook Jr. appeared together – breathing life into archetypal roles that filled the noir landscape for decades to come.

It was veteran stage actor Sydney Greenstreet’s first time before a camera and the first time he worked with Peter Lorre. The pair would go on to make eight more movies together. Additionally, “Falcon,” an entry on many lists of the greatest movies ever made, was one of the first films admitted to the National Film Registry in its inaugural year, 1989.

Based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett, Huston’s “Falcon” is the third big-screen version of the story (others were in 1931 and 1936) and it’s by far the best. Huston follows Hammett’s work to the letter, preserving the novel’s crisp, quick dialogue. If a crime movie can be described as jaunty, this would be it. Huston’s mighty achievement earned Oscar noms for best adapted screenplay, best supporting actor (Greenstreet) and best picture.

According to former New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther: “The trick which Mr. Huston has pulled is a combination of American ruggedness with the suavity of the English crime school – a blend of mind and muscle – plus a slight touch of pathos.”

A few more of Huston’s tricks include striking compositions and camera movement, breathtaking chiaroscuro lighting, and a pins-and-needles atmosphere of excitement and danger. (Arthur Edeson was the cinematographer; Thomas Richards served as film editor.)

For the few who haven’t seen “Falcon,” it’s a tale of ruthless greed and relentless machismo centered around the perfect marriage of actor and character: Humphrey Bogart as private detective Sam Spade – the ultimate cynical, streetwise, I-did-it-my-way ’40s alpha-male. As famed noir author Raymond Chandler once put it: “All Bogart has to do to dominate a scene is to enter it.” Bogart appears in just about every scene in “Falcon.”

As Raymond Chandler  put it: “All Bogart has to do to dominate a scene is to enter it.”

As Raymond Chandler put it: “All Bogart has to do to dominate a scene is to enter it.”

As Spade, he sees through the malarkey, cuts to the chase and commands every situation, even when the odds are stacked against him. At one point he breaks free of a heavy, disarms him and points the guy’s own gun at him, all while toking on his cig. He’s equally adept at using wisecracks and one-liners to swat away the cops, who regularly show up at his door.

Mary Astor plays leading lady Brigid O’Shaughnessy to Bogart’s Sam Spade and it is she who sets the story in motion when she walks into Spade’s San Francisco office. Brigid asks Spade and his partner Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) to trail a man named Thursby who, she says, is up to no good with her sister. They accept the job and Archer takes the first shift of following Thursby. Next morning, Archer’s dead. Turns out that Brigid doesn’t have a sister and Archer’s widow (Gladys George) has the hots for Spade.

Spade’s ultra-reliable and resourceful secretary, Effie (Lee Patrick) is the one gal he can trust and it’s clear she means the world to him. At one point he tells her, “you’re a good man, sister,” which in Spade-speak is a downright gushfest. He might like the look of Brigid and her little finger, but he won’t be wrapped around it anytime soon.

Humphrey Bogart owns the movie, but he has a stellar support cast. From left: Bogart, Peter Lorre, Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet.

Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade owns the movie, but he has a stellar support cast. From left: Bogart, Peter Lorre, Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet.

Astor, a Hollywood wild child of her time, who left a long string of husbands and lovers in her wake and generated much fodder for the tabloids, was brilliant casting for the part of bad-girl Brigid O. True to form, Astor allegedly was having an affair with Huston during the making of the film.

There is no doubt that Bogart owns this guy’s-guy male-fantasy picture, but Astor and the stellar support cast are unforgettable in their roles. As a good-luck gesture to his son, John, actor Walter Huston plays the part of the old sea captain. Peter Lorre drips malevolence as the effeminate and whiny Joel Cairo, and he has a foreign accent, which in Hollywood is usually shorthand for: he’s a bad’un.

Making his film debut at 61, Greenstreet’s Kasper Gutman is both debauched and debonair, a refined reprobate with a jolly cackle and tubby physique (he was more than 350 pounds!). Warner Bros. had to make an entire wardrobe for Greenstreet; Bogart wore his own clothes to save the studio money. One more Bogart contribution was adding the line: “The stuff that dreams are made of” at the end of the film, paraphrasing a line in “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare.

Tough-guy Sam Spade (Bogart) and wimpy Wilmer Cook (Elisha Cook Jr.) are perfect foils.

Tough-guy Sam Spade (Bogart) and wimpy Wilmer Cook (Elisha Cook Jr.) are perfect foils.

And honing the sort of performance that would become his trademark, Elisha Cook Jr. stamps the character of warped thug Wilmer Cook with code for “psycho” (darting eyes, bubbling rage, edgy desperation) as if it were a neon light attached to his forehead.

Much has been written about the homosexual subtext of the Cairo, Gutman and Cook characters – I will just say they’re all part of the flock that covets and vies for possession the falcon, a jewel-laden statue of a bird that’s the treasure at the core of this tense and serpentine story. When it’s suggested that Wilmer Cook be sacrificed for the good of the gang, Greenstreet’s Kasper Gutman explains that, though Wilmer is like a son, “If you lose a son, it’s possible to get another. There’s only one Maltese Falcon.”

Though there were two other celluloid versions of Hammett’s story, in my view, there’s only one “Maltese Falcon” and this is it.

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Film noir greats ‘Shadow of a Doubt,’ In a Lonely Place,’ Double Indemnity’ and more on the big screen in LA

By Film Noir Blonde and Michael Wilmington

Shadow of a Doubt” (1943, Alfred Hitchcock) is the 1 p.m. matinee Tuesday, Feb. 4, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

A bright and beautiful small town girl named Charlotte “Charlie” Newton (Teresa Wright) is bored. Bored with her well-ordered home in her Norman Rockwellish little city of Santa Rosa, Calif., – where trees line the sunlit streets, everyone goes to church on Sunday and lots of them read murder mysteries at night. Charlie has more exotic dreams. She adores her globe-trotting, urbane Uncle Charlie Oakley (Joseph Cotten) – for whom she was nicknamed – and is deliriously happy when he shows up in Santa Rosa for a visit.

Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright play kindred spirits, sort of, in “Shadow.”

Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright play kindred spirits, sort of, in “Shadow.”

But Uncle Charlie has some secrets that no one in his circle would guess – not Uncle Charlie’s adoring sister (Patricia Collinge), nor his good-hearted brother-in-law (Henry Travers), nor their mystery-loving neighbor Herbie (Hume Cronyn), nor Charlie herself. Uncle Charlie, who conceals a darker personality and profession beneath his charming persona, is on the run, pursued by a dogged police detective (Macdonald Carey), who suspects him of being a notorious serial killer who seduces rich old widows and kills them for their money. As handsome, cold-blooded Uncle Charlie, Cotten, who also called “Shadow” his personal favorite film, is, with Robert Walker and Anthony Perkins, one of the three great Hitchcockian psychopaths.

“Shadow of a Doubt,” released in 1943, was Hitchcock’s sixth American movie and the one he often described as his favorite. As he explained to François Truffaut, this was because he felt that his critical enemies, the “plausibles,” could have nothing to quibble about with “Shadow.” It was written by two superb chroniclers of Americana, Thornton Wilder (“Our Town”) and Sally Benson (“Meet Me in St. Louis”), along with Hitch’s constant collaborator, wife Alma Reville. The result is one of the supreme examples of Hitchcockian counterpoint: with a sunny, tranquil background against which dark terror erupts.

Barbara Stanwyck book

On Thursday night at 7:30 p.m., the American Cinematheque presents a Nicholas Ray night at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood: “Johnny Guitar,” starring Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden, and “In a Lonely Place,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame. As Jean-Luc Godard said: “Nicholas Ray is the cinema.” And speaking of Godard, the AC’s Aero Theatre is hosting a Godard retrospective, starting Feb. 20.

Femmes fatales don’t particularly like birthdays, but here’s an exception:  “Double Indemnity” turns 70 this year! Did you know Raymond Chandler made a cameo in the film? Read the story here.

And be sure to attend on Sunday, Feb. 9, at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica: Barbara Stanwyck biographer Victoria Wilson will sign her book and introduce a screening of “Double Indemnity” and “The Bitter Tea of General Yen.” The signing starts at 6:30 p.m. and the show starts at 7:30 p.m.

Wilson has two other signings coming up; for details, call Larry Edmunds Bookshop at 323-463-3273.

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Film noir stalwart Lizabeth Scott highlighted on TCM

Dead_Reckoning posterDead Reckoning/1947/Columbia Pictures/100 min.

It’s good to take fashion risks from time to time. But would I ever wear a polka-dot shower cap with matching bow-tie to take an ex-GI for a ride? Hmm, I think not. Sadly, Coral “Dusty” Chandler (Lizabeth Scott) makes this fashion choice in “Dead Reckoning” (1947). Honey, you’re trying to con Capt. Rip Murdock (Humphrey Bogart), the toughest tough-guy ever. You can’t afford a wardrobe slipup like that.

To put it mildly, Rip is slow to succumb to feminine wiles. As he tells his war buddy, earnest and Yale-educated Sgt. Johnny Drake (William Prince): “All females are the same with their faces washed.”

When Johnny mysteriously disappears on the way to pick up the Congressional Medal of Honor, Rip heads to Gulf City, Fla., to find him. Instead, he meets Johnny’s girlfriend Coral – pretty, poised and concerned for her beau – at the Sanctuary Club, a hangout run by Martinelli (Morris Carnovsky), a lowlife with a fancy vocabulary.

Rip’s next stop is the local morgue, where he learns that Johnny has died in a car crash. Convinced it was no accident, he determines to find out who’s responsible. Then a dead body shows up in Rip’s hotel room. As Rip and Coral join forces to figure out what gives in Gulf City, Rip allows her to get a little closer to his battle-scarred core. She reveals that Johnny didn’t really light her fire. But Rip’s another story, and a bumpy romance ensues.

At one point, Rip shares his ultimate female fantasy, that “women ought to come capsule-sized, about four inches high” and for the most part kept in a man’s pocket except for “that time of the evening when he wants her full-sized and beautiful.” Luckily that’s a no-brainer for lovely Coral. Other than that disastrous hat and bow, she looks impeccable.

Lizabeth Scott was born Emma Matzo in Scranton, Pa., one of six children. Her parents emigrated from the Ukraine.

Lizabeth Scott was born Emma Matzo on Sept. 29, 1922, in Scranton, Pa., one of six children. Her parents emigrated from the Ukraine.

“Dead Reckoning” joins top talent to create a solid example of the noir genre. John Cromwell provides fine direction; Steve Fisher’s crisp, funny script has Rip telling his story via flashback to a kindly priest, Father Logan (James Bell). Rip’s still-fresh memories of World War II intertwine with the neatly crafted plot.

Best of all we get to watch Bogart and Scott. Sculpted, slim and statuesque, fair-haired Scott (who looks a lot like Lauren Bacall) was a film noir stalwart and TCM is showing many of her movies Friday, including “Dead Reckoning,” “Pitfall” and “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers,” in which Scott holds her own with fellow cast members Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin and Kirk Douglas. Other notable ’40s flicks include: “Desert Fury,” “I Walk Alone” and “The Racket,” co-starring Robert Mitchum and also directed by Cromwell, who was blacklisted from 1951-1958. (“The Racket” is also part of Friday’s lineup.)

(In 1950, Cromwell directed the classic prison flick “Caged” starring Agnes Moorehead and Ellen Corby. Moorehead would later star as Endora on “Bewitched” and Corby would play Grandma on “The Waltons.”)

Scott tended to play tough girls who lived by their wits and worldly charms, having been born on the wrong side of the tracks. Alluring and mysterious, she was sometimes a bit too aloof, a bit stiff in her expression, body language and gesture. In other words, she lacked the sizzle of a full-on femme fatale. The role of Coral Chandler was originally intended for Rita Hayworth, but she was busy making “The Lady from Shanghai.”

Still, Scott was a trooper and accumulated many credits: “Too Late for Tears,” “Easy Living,” “Paid in Full,” “Dark City,” “The Company She Keeps,” “Two of a Kind,” “Red Mountain,” “A Stolen Face,” “Scared Stiff,” “Bad for Each Other” and “Silver Lode.”

Scott never married, rumors circulated about her sexual preferences and the murky publicity was enough to sour her career. A pretty raw deal, I’d say. Scott recently turned 91 and we at FNB would love to take her out for dinner and drinks, say Musso & Frank’s? That’s the least we can do. Well, that and watch her Friday on TCM.

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