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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‘The Big Sleep’ and more on the big screen

Tonight (Wednesday, June 13) at 8 p.m., the Film Noir Foundation’s Alan K. Rode will host a screening of “The Big Sleep” (1946, Howard Hawks) at the Los Angeles Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. Hawks’ adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s labyrinthine mystery stars Humphrey Bogart as private eye Philip Marlowe and Lauren Bacall as a rich girl who may be helping or hindering him.

The event is sold out, but there will be rush tickets available on a first-come first-serve basis at the box office. For more info on the screening, visit the Los Angeles Conservancy.

Additionally, the Pacific Film Archive, in Berkeley, Calif., is hosting One-Two Punch: Pulp Writers, a film series that explores movie adaptations of three divergent authors: Dorothy B. Hughes, Mickey Spillane and Elmore Leonard. The series comprises classic films noirs such as Nicholas Ray’s “In a Lonely Place” (1950) and George A. White’s “My Gun is Quick” (1957), as well as thrillers like Roy Rowland’s “The Girl Hunters” (1963), starring Spillane as Mike Hammer.

For full details about the series, running June 23-30, visit the Pacific Film Archive.

And on Thursday, the Los Angeles Film Festival begins downtown.

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Grahame, Hayden, Sinatra: Highlights of Noir City Hollywood

I finally got to see Gloria Grahame vamping it up in “Naked Alibi” (1954) on Saturday night at the American Cinematheque’s Noir City Hollywood film fest, now in its 14th year. Grahame is one of my fave femme fatales and this film is hard to find, let alone see on the big screen – the new 35 mm print was introduced by fest organizers and noir experts Eddie Muller and Alan K. Rode.

Gloria Grahame in “Naked Alibi”

Co-starring Gene Barry as Grahame’s gangster boyfriend and Sterling Hayden as a vigilante cop, “Naked” certainly has a great cast and a great name. Unfortunately, though, Jerry Hopper is not a great or even a good director. This film reminds of me Grahame playing similar roles in far better movies (“The Big Heat,” “Human Desire,” “In a Lonely Place,” “Sudden Fear”). Still, I always have a good time watching this ultimate good-time girl.

As part of a tribute night to Hayden, “Naked” was paired with 1954’s “Suddenly,” in which Hayden plays a sheriff opposite Frank Sinatra as a psycho leading a plot to assassinate the president. Directed by Lewis Allen and written by Richard Sale, “Suddenly” has been hard to see until now because Sinatra did his best to buy all copies of this film after John F. Kennedy’s death. This digital restoration by Lobster Films featured crisp contrast, though there were many patches of white that looked iridescent. (Apparently, this was a problem with the projection, not the print.) It’s interesting as a B-movie rarity with Hayden letting a malevolent Sinatra steal the show.

The fest continues through May 6 at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.

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‘In a Lonely Place’ an ode to romantic, cynical noir love

In a Lonely Place/1950/Columbia Pictures/94 min.

Gloria Grahame

One of Gloria Grahame’s most nuanced performances is as Laurel Gray in 1950’s “In a Lonely Place,” a noir love story from director Nicholas Ray. Laurel eschews any double-dealing or dark deeds in this film. She’s got enough on her hands trying to navigate a new romance: Does she like the way he kisses? Will he call when he says he will? Did he brutally kill a girl for no reason? You know, the usual dating stuff.

Her love interest is her neighbor, Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart), a volatile, sometimes violent, screenwriter, with a history of fights and scandals. Her cool affection seems the perfect salve for his simmering aggression.

The fly in the ointment is that Police Capt. Lochner (Carl Benton Reid) is convinced that Dix, in a fit of temper, murdered a hatcheck girl named Mildred Atkinson (Martha Stewart). He was, after all, the last person to see her alive. Dix professes his innocence and Laurel backs him up. But Dix’s erratic behavior gets worse and, when he proposes, Laurel’s too scared to say no.

“In a Lonely Place” is an exquisitely tender love story and it holds up incredibly well for contemporary audiences, who know the ropes of brief, ill-fated affairs. “It’s complicated” would be Laurel’s Facebook relationship status if she’d lived in the age of online communication.

On one hand, she tries to take it slow with Dix, telling him, “I don’t want to be rushed.” But she’s already lied to the police to give him an alibi for the night of the Atkinson murder. At first, the pair conveniently push the reality of Dix’s rage under the rug, though it becomes harder and harder as their shared fear (that he is capable of such a killing) slowly and steadily builds.

Much of the action takes place at the Beverly Patio Apartments complex, where Laurel and Dix both live, offering ample opportunity for skulking and spying.  Director Ray lived in a similar complex in West Hollywood and it served as the model for the film set.

If Ray is a poet as a director, this film is an ode to impossible love, a sensitive portrayal of a strong, egoic man succumbing to dark inner demons and the pain he inflicts on those around him. It might be just as apt to compare Ray to a painter so arresting and assured are his compositions (he studied architecture with Frank Lloyd Wright).

As with most of Ray’s films, “In a Lonely Place” offers powerful, sometimes blisteringly raw, performances all around. Grahame’s tear-stained face at the end is an image that never leaves you once you see it. (Ray and Grahame married in 1948, separated in 1950 and divorced in 1952).

Bogart, though he never loses his swagger, brilliantly conveys Dix’s growing desperation and alienation. Excellent in supporting parts are Frank Lovejoy as Dix’s friend and lone ally at the police station, Jean Marie “Jeff” Donnell as his friend’s wife and Art Smith as Dix’s agent.

Scripted by Andrew Solt, “In a Lonely Place” is based on a novel by Dorothy B. Hughes, which is well worth a read; it’s a very fast read by the way. In the book, Dix is a shadowy, psychopathic killer, not a successful screenwriter with a bad temper, and Hughes explores his psyche in great detail. She also conjures a gritty picture of LA after World War Two.

The movie contains a good dose of noir cynicism about Hollywood and how it treats its struggling denizens. “In a Lonely Place” would make an excellent double bill with Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard,” also from 1950.

Grahame played in many noirs (and won the best supporting actress Oscar in 1952 for her role in “The Bad and the Beautiful”) but by the early ’60s, her career was dragging and she saw for herself how Tinseltown’s chummy embrace could turn to cold shoulders and closed doors.

“In a Lonely Place” plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 22, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), 5905 Wilshire Blvd.

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Quick hit: ‘In a Lonely Place’

In a Lonely Place/1950/Columbia Pictures/94 min.

Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame) and Dix Steele (Humphrey Bogart) are neighbors in LA’s Beverly Patio Apartments complex. Instead of providing the odd cup of sugar, Laurel goes the extra mile – she gives Dix an alibi when he’s accused of murder and that leads to a tortured romance. A sensitive, subtle, touching noir by Nicholas Ray, a master of the form; based on the novel by Dorothy B. Hughes.

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Noir greats at LACMA; a Nicholson noir night at the Aero

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) has a particularly good lineup of classic and neo noirs this month.

“Rear Window” (1954) 1 p.m. Tuesday, July 12

“Pickpocket” (1959) 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 16

“Bay of Angels” (1963) 9 p.m. Saturday, July 16

“The Letter” (1940) 1 p.m. Tuesday, July 19

“The Honeymoon Killers” (1970) 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 21

Bette Davis stars in "The Letter" by director William Wyler.

“In a Lonely Place” (1950) 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 22

“The Long Goodbye”(1973) 9:15 p.m. Friday, July 22

“Mulholland Dr.” (2001) 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 23

“The Lady from Shanghai” (1948) 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 29

“The Conformist” (1971) 9:10 p.m. Friday, July 29

Tickets range from $2 for the matinees to $10 for evening double features ($5 for one film only). Discounts for LACMA members and seniors. For tickets, call 323-857-6010 or visit the web site; there is a $2 charge to buy online. For synopses of the movies, see LACMA’s listings. LACMA is at 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, 90036.

Additionally, the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica is running a “Jack Nicholson Noir” double bill on Saturday, July 23, starting at 7:30. The films are Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown” and “The Two Jakes,” which Nicholson directed. The Aero Theatre is at 1328 Montana Ave. General admission is $11; members pay $7. Visit the American Cinematheque for the complete schedule.

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What’s new at the Aero and the Egyptian in January

There’s much for noir aficionados to see this month at the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles. Highlights at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica and the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood include:

That Special Something: A Tribute to Great Screen Icons, spotlighting “film actors [who] transcend the realm of mere celebrity, reaching a more profound level of cultural significance.” The series honors Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, John Wayne, James Dean, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Elvis.

Humphrey Bogart

Film noir entries include: “In a Lonely Place,” 7:30 p.m. Jan. 7 at the Egyptian as well as Hitchcock gems “Rear Window” and “Dial M for Murder” starting at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 14 at the Egyptian. The Screen Icons series runs Jan. 5-29.

“Chinatown” and “The Tenant” will show at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 28, at the Egyptian as part of Traumatic Rendition: A Roman Polanski Retrospective.

William Friedkin’s “The French Connection” and “To Live and Die in L.A.,” will run at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 22, at the Aero. This double-bill is part of Strangle-Hold: The Gripping Films of William Friedkin.

This is just scratching the surface, so be sure to check complete schedule. The Egyptian Theatre is at 6712 Hollywood Blvd. The Aero Theatre is at 1328 Montana Ave. General admission is $11; members pay $7.

Meanwhile, I just booked my ticket to attend the Film Noir Foundation’s Noir City 9 in San Francisco, Jan. 21-30 at the Castro Theatre. Looking forward to the excellent lineup of films!

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