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
“Anatomy of a Murder”
(1959, Otto Preminger). Tuesday, Feb. 18: 2:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m.). With James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara and George C. Scott. Read the full review here.
Friday, Feb. 14
2:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m.): “The Man with the Golden Arm” (1955, 0tto Preminger). With Frank Sinatra, Kim Novak and Eleanor Parker. Reviewed in FNB on November 10, 2012.
5 a.m. (2 a.m.): “Bad Day at Black Rock” (1955, John Sturges). With Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Lee Marvin and Walter Brennan. Reviewed in FNB on April 7, 2012.
Sunday, Feb. 16
10 a.m. (7 a.m.): “The Thin Man” (1934, W. S. Van Dyke). With William Powell, Myrna Loy and Maureen O’Sullivan. Reviewed in FNB on July 28, 2012.
Tuesday, Feb. 19
12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “North by Northwest” (1959, Alfred Hitchcock). With Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and James Mason. Reviewed in FNB on November 17, 2012.
2:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m.): “Anatomy of a Murder” (See Pick of the Week.)
I hope your holidays are joyous and that Santa Baby showered you with lovely gifts and rapt attention. Here are a few film favorites of the season. Enjoy!
Film Noir Blonde reveals Pyewacket’s offscreen capers here.
Michael Wilmington reviews “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
And, in case you missed it earlier this month, FNB wrote about “Lady in the Lake,” an experimental film noir with a Christmas setting.
By Michael Wilmington
A 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).
Pick of the Week
“Call Northside 777” (1948, Henry Hathaway) Sunday, Sept. 9, 10 a.m. (7 a.m.)
The first major studio movie to be shot on location in Chicago, “Call Northside 777” is one of the best true-crime noirs of the ’40s, packed with postwar punch and atmosphere, made by the master of the form, Henry Hathaway (“Kiss of Death”). It’s based on the story of a persistent Chicago Times reporter (James Stewart) – initially skeptical, but finally convinced – who digs into an 11-year-old murder case to find out if a man (Richard Conte) convicted of murdering a policeman is really guilty of the crime, or is the victim of overzealous prosecutors and dishonest politicians.
Stewart is excellent in his role as fictitious journalist P. J. McNeal: a character reminiscent of Stewart’s great part as wily lawyer Paul Biegler in “Anatomy of a Murder.” He’s backed by Lee J. Cobb (as the Times’ editor), Helen Walker and, in his first movie role, John McIntire. Movie buffs sometimes argue about whether “Call Northside 777” should be considered a noir, since the main characters, including Conte’s crusading mother, are good people. But why try to put noir in a straitjacket? There are bad guys here too: namely, the prosecutors and the politicians who put the real-life Joseph Majczek in jail and tried to keep him there.
Friday, Sept. 7
8:15 a.m. (5:15 a.m.): “Boomerang!” (1947, Elia Kazan). See 8-29-12 Noir File
Sunday. Sept. 9
6:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m.): “Bad Day at Black Rock” (1955, John Sturges). In a barren-looking desert town, a lawman and WW2 vet with only one arm (Spencer Tracy) tries to investigate an act of violence that may be a racially motivated murder. The town tries to stop him.
A great melodrama with a memorable Tracy performance; he is harassed by three of the American cinema’s great villains: Robert Ryan, Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine (in the same year Borgnine won an Oscar as the gentle Marty). The rest of the superb cast includes Walter Brennan, Dean Jagger and Anne Francis.
Monday, Sept. 10
6:45 p.m. (3:45 p.m.): “Criminal Court” (1946, Robert Wise). A shrewd lawyer (Tom Conway) defends a woman (Martha O’Driscoll) for the murder he himself committed. One of the neat little RKO B-movies made by one of Jean-Pierre Melville’s favorite directors: Robert Wise.
Wednesday, Sept. 12
8 p.m. & 3:15 a.m. (5 p.m. & 12:15 a.m.). Private Screenings: Lauren Bacall (2005). Two chances to watch Bacall interviewed by Robert Osborne.
9 p.m. (6 p.m.): “Confidential Agent” (1945, Herman Shumlin). From a novel by Graham Greene (“The Third Man”): an anti-Fascist thriller set during the Spanish Civil War. With Charles Boyer, Lauren Bacall, Peter Lorre and Katina Paxinou.
4:15 a.m. (1:15 a.m.): “Passage to Marseille” (1944, Michael Curtiz). This post-Casablanca re-teaming of Humphrey Bogart, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and director Curtiz, has Bogie as a French patriot, Michele Morgan (“Port of Shadows”) as his love, and a complex flashbacks-within-flashbacks story structure that carries him to Devil’s Island and back.
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.
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.
“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.
Jack Nicholson wears his bandage for most of “Chinatown.” Director Roman Polanski plays the menacing punk who cuts Nicholson’s nose.
Anatomy of a Murder/1959/Columbia Pictures/160 min.
Criterion’s DVD rerelease of “Anatomy of a Murder” is this month’s giveaway prize. To be entered in the draw to win, just make a comment on any post this month.
By Michael Wilmington
One of the best and most true-to-life of all courtroom dramas, “Anatomy of a Murder” is also the best film producer-director Otto Preminger ever made. And he was a master – of film noir (“Laura,” “Fallen Angel,” “Whirlpool,” “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” “Angel Face”), of urban drama (“The Man with the Golden Arm”), of romance (“Bonjour Tristesse,” “Daisy Kenyon”), of historical epics (“Exodus”), of spy dramas (“The Human Factor”), of musicals (“Carmen Jones”) and, most characteristically, of dramas that examine big, complex institutions: “Advise and Consent,” “The Cardinal,” “In Harm’s Way.”
“Anatomy” is a great, realistic film on a great subject, with writing that cuts to the bone. It also has one of the most famous title sequences (by Saul Bass) in movie history. And one of the most influential scores, original jazz, composed and played by Duke Ellington.
The film’s source material was a best-selling book by John D. Voelker, a Michigan State Supreme Court Justice, using the pen name Robert Traver. He based the book on an actual murder case in which he’d been the prosecuting attorney. In that trial, an Army man shot and killed a popular small-town bar-owner who, he said, had raped his wife.
Voelker/Traver and Wendell Mayes adapted the book and a phenomenal cast brought the story to the screen. We see Jimmy Stewart at his best as the wily and ingenious old-school defense lawyer Paul Biegler, Ben Gazzara as his cocky murder-trial defendant/client Army Lieutenant Frederick Manion, Lee Remick as Manion’s sexy wife Laura, George C. Scott as the icily astute prosecutor Claude Dancer, Eve Arden and Arthur O’Connell as Paul’s sharp-tongued secretary Maida Rutledge and Paul’s amiably soused fellow counsel Parnell McCarthy. The trial’s owlish, chatty but punctiliously fair Judge Weaver is played unforgettably by famed attorney Joseph Welch. Kathryn Grant is also memorable as the sweet but mysterious Mary Pilant.
If Paul is going to get Manion off, the only defense that is likely to work is Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity – an “irresistible impulse” that drove Manion to kill his wife’s rapist. The movie makes clear that Paul is not necessarily seeking the truth, but a victory for his client. So the trial becomes, in some sense, a piece of theater. Paul is creating a dramatic scenario that we know is a slanted one. Judge Weaver is there to mediate, but also to be a kind of commentator and chorus.
At the same time, Preminger (the son of a Viennese trial lawyer and a law school graduate who never practiced law himself) gives us a course in what happens during a trial and why the American legal system, for all its seeming flaws, is a model of both legal science and human compassion.
We want Paul Biegler to win, but mostly because he’s played by Jimmy Stewart – who brilliantly manipulates his movie persona as the stammering, sincere, dryly funny hero, while also showing us a somewhat devious side beneath the mask. It’s an incredibly adroit performance, as good as Stewart’s signature roles as George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Scottie Ferguson in “Vertigo,” and Jeff Smith in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”
And Stewart anchors an eminently satisfying cast. Remick is wonderful as Manion’s flirtatious, cheerfully brazen and narcissistic wife Laura, a part originally intended for Lana Turner. The prosecution’s arrogant head lawyer Claude Dancer is played with nerveless intensity by Scott. Stewart, O’Connell and Scott got Oscar noms for their work.
Preminger shot the movie in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (Marquette, Ishpeming, Big Bay and Michigamme). The streets, the bar and the courthouse are real. And the scenes in Paul’s home (with its books, fishing gear and record collection) were shot in Voelker’s own house. “Anatomy” has the flavor of a semi-documentary, or of one of those Henry Hathaway crime dramas/noirs of the ’40s: “The House on 92nd Street,” “Call Northside 777” (with Stewart as a crusading Chicago reporter) and “Kiss of Death.”
Preminger’s filmmaking style is often called “objective.” He doesn’t try to force reactions on us, instead leaving us free to observe and judge. “Anatomy of a Murder” is especially ripe for such analysis, since the audience is essentially the jury.
But there’s a catch. Does anyone really watch a Preminger movie without knowing who the good guys and bad guys are? Even in “Anatomy of a Murder” we sense Paul might be defending a guilty client, but we also know he’s upholding the law, and his vision of it: the depth, mercy and grandeur of the law in which he deeply believes.
The fact is that Preminger is never completely objective. A lawyer as well as a man of the theater, he is always arguing a viewpoint, letting us know whom he likes and whom he doesn’t. He just does it in a subtler, more stylish, less forced manner than most other directors.
What’s special about Preminger’s cinematic style is his propensity for long takes and single shots with an unobtrusively moving camera. Preminger once said that, ideally, every scene should be done in a single shot. And that’s often what he often tries to do, for the sake of the actors (who don’t get their performances chopped up) and to preserve the feel of realism.
To some in 1959, “Anatomy” looked like an opportunistic and deliberately sensational shocker, with a script that contained words such as “rape,” “bitch” and panties.” The film was even banned temporarily in Chicago. But Preminger played anti-censorship battles with such shrewd facility that it sometimes seemed he had gulled the censors into being his unofficial P.R. team.
“Anatomy of a Murder” may have raised hackles in its day, but it’s survived as a movie treasure and is one of the top films from 1959 – a year that also saw the release of classics like Billy Wilder’s “Some Like It Hot,” Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest,” William Wyler’s “Ben-Hur,” Howard Hawks’ “Rio Bravo,” George Stevens’ “The Diary of Anne Frank” and Vincente Minnelli’s “Some Came Running.”
Preminger’s trial drama can stand with any of them.
“Anatomy” will play Friday and Saturday at the New Beverly in LA.
Does the average moviegoer care if a movie seems to be shot in one continuous take? Maybe, maybe not. To create the appearance of a one-take thriller, “Silent House,” directed by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, was filmed on one Canon 5D camera with two operators in 13 total shots.
Whether you know or care about tricky production, the point is to try to make you feel the fear of the main character Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) a girl who’s in for a bad night at her family’s dark, isolated, creaky, spooky (natch) summer home. “The continuous take in itself is really what builds the tension,” said Lau at a recent press day in Beverly Hills. “She’s trapped in terror.”
(Similarly, Alfred Hitchcock crafted the illusion of a continuous shot in his first color film, 1948’s “Rope,” starring James Stewart, John Dall and Farley Granger.)
Kentis and Lau (co-directors of 2003’s “Open Water”) remade “Silent House” from Gustavo Hernández’s “La Casa Muda” (2010), which was inspired by events that occurred in a Uruguayan village in the 1940s. For their version, Lau wrote a new script, working late at night and listening to Nine Inch Nails. In addition to Trent Reznor, the filmmakers said they drew inspiration from psychological thrillers like Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion” (1965).
“Silent House” also features Adam Trese and Eric Sheffer Stevens as Sarah’s father and uncle, and Julia Taylor Ross as a family friend, but ultimately it’s Olsen’s movie. Because she’s rarely offscreen, the film hinges on her presence and acting.
Expressive, vulnerable and luminous, Olsen is compelling to watch. “I felt like I was part of the editing process,” said Olsen at the press day. “It was like dancing with the DP [Igor Martinovic] and figuring out a rhythm.”
The drama hinges on a devastating secret, long hidden within the walls of this sinister summer home. Though “Silent House” is swift and slick, unfortunately, the twist that’s supposed to lend psychological depth feels clumsy and lame, like a thin slap of paint on a faded front door.
“Silent House” opens today nationwide.
This month, I am giving away a copy of Criterion’s rerelease of the Otto Preminger classic “Anatomy of a Murder” from 1959. Nominated for seven Oscars, including best picture, the film features a Duke Ellington score and an all-star cast: James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Arthur O’Connell, Eve Arden and George C. Scott.
In what is arguably the best role of his career, Stewart plays a small-town Michigan lawyer defending an army lieutenant (Gazzara) accused of murdering a tavern owner, who he believes raped his wife (Remick).
As Criterion puts it: “This gripping envelope-pusher, the most popular film by Hollywood provocateur Otto Preminger, was groundbreaking for the frankness of its discussion of sex – but more than anything else it is a striking depiction of the power of words.” This two-DVD special edition is packed with special features.
(Syd is the winner of the February reader giveaway, a DVD copy of “Notorious.” Congrats to Syd and thanks to all who entered!)
To enter the March giveaway, just leave a comment on any FNB post from March 1-31. We welcome comments, but please remember that, for the purposes of the giveaway, there is one entry per person, not per comment.
The winner will be randomly selected at the end of the month and announced in early April. Include your email address in your comment so that I can notify you if you win. Your email will not be shared. Good luck!
More on the most famous kitties in film noir …
The Cat in “Bell, Book and Candle” 1958
Name: Cy A. Meese
Character Name: Pyewacket
Bio: Kim Novak and James Stewart starred in two movies together in 1958. One was the classic Hitchcock neo noir “Vertigo.” The other, now lesser known, was the lighter-toned “Bell, Book and Candle” by director Richard Quine, based on the hit Broadway romantic comedy by John Van Druten. In the film, Novak plays Gillian Holroyd, a stylish New Yorker and successful store owner with a knack for witchcraft.
But, despite her busy schedule and relentlessly chic wardrobe, Gillian is tired of spending her nights, especially Christmas Eve, talking shop at the campy Zodiac nightclub in the Village with her fellow sorcerers (witch Elsa Lanchester and warlock Jack Lemmon). You know, eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog. Blah, blah, blah.
Gillian much prefers the company of her lovely cat Pyewacket (Cy A. Meese) and flirting with her tall, gray and handsome neighbor Shepherd Henderson (Stewart). After Gillian learns that Shep is engaged to her rival (Janice Rule), she calls on her blue-eyed, gray-furred companion for help in turning the romantic tables.
As the witch’s “familiar,” the role of Pyewacket is pivotal to the film and surely one of the most significant feline roles in Hollywood history. Not only is Gillian’s beloved Pye the agent for casting a spell on Shep, this stunning and eminently self-assured kitty manages to reunite the lovers after they hit a few bumps on the road to bewitchment.
The real-life puss who played Pyewacket later became a Manhattan legend. A life-long New Yorker from a prominent family, Cy was a classically trained actor and had worked steadily in theater before trying his paw at movies. Still, despite his success on stage and screen, Cy’s first love was reading and in 1960 he left acting to open a shop on Greenwich Avenue named “Book, Bell and Candle.”
Besides his excellent taste in titles, he was known for his uncommonly cushy sofas and for encouraging customers to nap in between browsing the aisles. (Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote and John Cheever were regular snoozers.) In 1968, Cy opened a second location on London’s Cheshire Street and divided his time between the cities until he died peacefully in his sleep in 1982.
Need a bigger Jimmy Stewart fix? Don’t forget the Christmas Eve classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which offers a healthy dose of noir amid the heartwarming joy.