The Noir File:‘The Manchurian Candidate’ from 1962 memorably captures the contradictions of the Kennedy era

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

The Manchurian Candidate” (1962, John Frankenheimer). Thursday, July 18: 9:45 p.m. (6:45 p.m.)

In John Frankenheimer’s classic 1962 movie thriller “The Manchurian Candidate,” we will be plunged into one of the greatest nightmare sequences in American cinema.

After the “Korea, 1952” opening title, we see a squad of U. S. Army soldiers, led by their good-guy Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) and brusque Sgt. Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey). They go out on a mission but are betrayed by turncoat guide Chunjin (Henry Silva), then handed over to Russian officers and helicoptered off. It’s a bit like a Sam Fuller scene.

Playing “war hero” Raymond was one of Laurence Harvey’s career highlights.

Next, we see a U. S. Air Force plane landing at a Washington airport, and a bustle of reporters and photographers swarming over it. A portentous narrator informs us that Sgt. Shaw has won the Congressional Medal of Honor for action in Korea.

We also see that Raymond has an imperious mother, Eleanor Shaw Iselin (Angela Lansbury), and a knuckleheaded sap of a stepfather, John Yerkes Iselin (James Gregory), who also happens to be a U.S. senator and a well-financed presidential candidate – and that Raymond hates them both.

Now comes the nightmare. We are in Major Marco’s hotel room, and we see him tossing and sweating. Why the cold sweat? He’s remembering/dreaming, noir-style, both the days of the Korean War and one of the strangest club meetings ever seen. It’s a scene that probably only John Frankenheimer could have executed and shot.

Angela Lansbury as Raymond’s malevolent mother is one of many superb performances in this classic film.

The soldiers we met – some now shaggy and unshaven – are sitting on stage at a gathering of a New Jersey women’s horticultural society in a hotel lobby full of plants and flowers. The chairlady and speaker, a know-it-all named Mrs. Henry Whittaker (Helen Kleeb), is delivering a stupefyingly boring lecture on hydrangeas.

Suddenly the setting changes to an ominous bare stage in a medical theater; the walls are decorated with posters of Stalin and Mao. The speaker is a smiling Chinese doctor named Yen Lo (Khigh Dhiegh), who is delivering a lecture on brainwashing the enemy to an audience of Chinese, Russian and probably Korean military and political people. We are in Manchuria.

The scene shifts from the New Jersey hotel lobby to the Manchurian theater and back again. That revolving camera track before the scene splits into eerie, jarring fragments is still an all-time stylistic movie coup.

Frank Sinatra shines as Bennett Marco, a tormented good guy who reads, plays cards and courts love interest Eugenie Rose Chaney (Janet Leigh).

As for the plot, “war hero” Raymond has been programmed by the Red Chinese to be the triggerman in a scheme to destabilize the American government by putting an idiot into the U.S. presidency. The candidate: Raymond’s addle-brained Commie-hunting stepfather.

Frankenheimer lent his terrific neo-noir vision to a fantastic cast: Janet Leigh as Eugenie Rose Chaney, an obligatory love interest, Laurence Harvey in the finest hour of a peculiar career, Henry Silva as one of the main traitors of a movie saturated with treachery and James Gregory a hoot as the reactionary U.S. Senator who can’t keep track of the number of Communists he’s exposing (he finally settles on the easy-to-remember Heinz Ketchup figure of 57). And, as one of the most evil mothers in the history of movies, giving one of the most darkly magnificent performances, Angela Lansbury, long may she reign.

All this is at the service of one of the most hypnotic, blood-chilling yarns ever to be put, mostly uncompromised, on screen: a movie whose twists and turns are brilliantly calculated, largely unexpected and beautifully anxiety-inducing. Few films reflect the Kennedy era, and all its contradictions so memorably and so well.

Frankenheimer was the key. In the 1950s he’d become famous as the enfant terrible of a great generation of TV drama directors – a generation that included Arthur Penn, Robert Mulligan, Franklin Schaffner, Sam Peckinpah, Robert Altman and Sidney Lumet. Frankenheimer was the leader of that group: an instinctive master of live performance and especially, of camera movement.

An ace at left wing social and psychological drama, he went on to make “All Fall Down,” “The Young Savages,” “Birdman of Alcatraz,” “Seven Days in May,” “The Train,” “Seconds,” “Grand Prix” and “The Fixer.” But “The Manchurian Candidate” was the project where he was able to work his virtuosity into the very texture of the film itself, where TV and the way it records real life becomes part of the drama, in this case, a hybrid of theatre and politics.

With “The Manchurian Candidate,” Frankenheimer created a style that was almost as original and exciting and unique as the young Orson Welles,’ and he remained one of the great American moviemakers throughout most of the ’60s. [Read more...]

FacebookGoogle+PinterestRedditEmailTwitter

Merry Christmas!

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!

“Holiday Affair” from 1949 stars Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh. It’s not film noir but Mitchum lends his bad-boy charm nonetheless. Don Hartman directs.

James Stewart co-stars with the enchanting Kim Novak in 1958′s “Bell, Book and Candle,” directed by Richard Quine. Of course, they both bow to the real star, Siamese kitty Pyewacket.

Film Noir Blonde reveals Pyewacket’s offscreen capers here.

The dark dream sequence in Frank Capra’s 1946 Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” is pure film noir.

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.

FacebookGoogle+PinterestRedditEmailTwitter

Dita Von Teese to appear at perfume event in Los Angeles

Dita Von Teese photo by Ali Mahdavi

Dita Von Teese will appear at an in-store perfume event in Los Angeles this Saturday, Dec. 15. The event runs from 2-6 p.m. at Fred Segal, 8118 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, 90046, 323-651-1800. This will be the launch of the second DVT fragrance, Rouge. As Dita puts it: “Perfume sets the mood and I’m in the mood to seduce.”

Dita Von Teese perfume is available online in most countries from RonRobinson.

On Sunday, Dec. 16, makeup artist Julie Hewett, who created Scarlett Johansson’s Janet Leigh look in “Hitchcock” and draws from film noir in her product line, is scheduled to give 30-minute private consultations from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Blushington, a makeup studio at 8591 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, 90069. Call 310-652-5874 to make an appointment. You’ll be charged a $50 deposit at the time of booking, which can be used toward product purchases.

FacebookGoogle+PinterestRedditEmailTwitter

Hitch bio-flix premieres, ‘Psycho’ and ‘Dressed to Kill’ at Aero

Decades after making “The Birds” (1963) and “Marnie” (1964) with Alfred Hitchcock, actress Tippi Hedren said the director harassed her and hindered her career, after she rebuffed his advances. “The Girl,” a recounting of her side of the story, premieres Saturday at 9 p.m. (8 p.m. Central) on HBO.

Directed by Julian Jarrold and written by Gwyneth Hughes, ”The Girl” stars Sienna Miller and Toby Jones. If other Hitchcock blondes, such as Eva Marie Saint, Kim Novak, Ingrid Bergman and Grace Kelly, received similar treatment, they did not publicly reveal it. You can read Richard Brody’s excellent review of the movie here.

Writing for HuffPo, TV critic Lynn Elber describes the “stunned silence” after a private screening of the “The Girl,” held for Hedren, her friends and family, including daughter Melanie Griffith.

According to Elber, Hedren had this to say after the event in Beverly Hills: “I’ve never been in a screening room where nobody moved, nobody said anything. Until my daughter jumped up and said, ‘Well, now I have to go back into therapy.’”

It will be interesting to compare that treatment to “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho,” which opens the AFI Fest 2012 on Thursday, Nov. 1. (General release is Nov. 23.)

Directed by Sacha Gervasi, the film highlights Hitchcock’s relationship with his wife Alma Reville and her contributions to his work, particularly 1959’s “Psycho.” The film stars Anthony Hopkins as Hitch, Helen Mirren as Alma and Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh. (Imelda Staunton plays Alma in HBO’s “The Girl.”)

And, tonight at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, there is a great double bill: “Psycho” and “Dressed to Kill” (1981, Brian De Palma), starring Michael Caine and Angie Dickinson.

FacebookGoogle+PinterestRedditEmailTwitter

Frank DeCaro dishes up heaping helpings of camp in ‘The Dead Celebrity Cookbook’

“Highly offensive and exceedingly faggy.” It's all good for retro cookbook author Frank DeCaro.

“There’s a name for someone who says, ‘I can’t watch a movie in black and white.’ Stupid!”

So said Frank DeCaro, author of “The Dead Celebrity Cookbook,” last night at a book signing in West Hollywood. A writer, critic and performer, DeCaro hosts a morning call-in program on Sirius XM satellite radio and writes the Icons column for CBS’ Watch! magazine.

He also likes to cook and throw parties. When the celebs were kind enough to die, as he puts it, the book seemed a natural. Highlights from noiristas include: Otto Preminger’s Deviled Eggs, Joan Crawford’s Poached Salmon, Bette Davis’ Red Flannel Hash, Lucille Ball’s Sunday Night Goulash, Fred MacMurray’s Flemish Pot Roast, Truman Capote’s Fettuccine, Anthony Perkins’ Tuna Salad, Alfred Hitchcock’s Quiche Lorraine, Janet Leigh’s Gâteau Doré, Agnes Moorehead’s Lobster Mousse, William Holden’s Hamburgers à la Hong Kong and Gregory Peck’s Ratatouille.

DeCaro’s favorite: Liberace’s Sticky Buns. “If Liberace didn’t know how funny that was, then the whole world crumbles,” said DeCaro. He is up front that he did not test every recipe, particularly Don Ho’s pigs’ feet soup. DeCaro suggests not picking Crawford’s salmon as a first effort. “Don’t start with Joan Crawford; that’s always good advice.”

And be warned: because many of the recipes are retro, they might call for fat-gram disasters like canned cream of mushroom soup. “You have to remember that frozen and canned food was not considered tacky,” he said. “It was considered modern, instant, groovy!”

Frank DeCaro and FNB at Book Soup in West Hollywood

Having spent 15 years collecting recipes, DeCaro also has plenty of noshing trivia. Did you know that per capita Hawaii eats the most SPAM and Utah eats the most JELL-O?

Granted, the book might cause some to wince or groan (he includes a pie recipe from Karen Carpenter). One detractor told DeCaro she thought his book was “highly offensive and exceedingly faggy,” which pleases DeCaro to no end. He is now working on a Christmas edition.

Speaking of maximizing opportunity, DeCaro’s domestic advice was not limited to the kitchen. He’s fond of telling his husband Jim Colucci: “You cannot sleep with anyone but me. Unless it’s good for your career.”

“The Dead Celebrity Cookbook: A Resurrection of Recipes from More Than 145 Stars of Stage and Screen” (HCI Books, $19.95)

FacebookGoogle+PinterestRedditEmailTwitter

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.

FacebookGoogle+PinterestRedditEmailTwitter

Still crazy about iconic, scary ‘Psycho’ after all these years

Psycho/1960/Universal/109 min.

For a 51-year-old, “Psycho” looks fantastic.

The 1960 masterwork, perhaps the most famous of all Alfred Hitchcock‘s movies, is still smart, funny and beautiful to watch.

Janet Leigh

A low-budget, experimental film for Hitchcock (he was greatly influenced by Henri-Georges Clouzot’s “Diabolique” from 1955), “Psycho” wasn’t well received by critics. But the movie was a huge hit with the public and has remained popular ever since. Norman Bates, played by Anthony Perkins, is No. 2 on the AFI’s list of greatest villains, second only to Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter. “Psycho” singlehandedly spawned the slasher genre and, together with Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil” from 1958, also starring Janet Leigh, marks the end of classic film noir.

Leigh plays Marion Crane, a secretary at Lowery Real Estate in sunny Phoenix. On a whim, Marion leaves town with a load of cash – $40,000 from her firm’s client, wealthy good ole boy Tom Cassidy (Frank Albertson). She’s hoping it will pave her way to the altar with her delectable but debt-laden boyfriend Sam Loomis (John Gavin).

Not far into her road trip, she feels pangs of guilt, but before she can turn around and give the money back, she stops at The Bates Motel where she meets uber-polite proprietor Norman and hears his mother screeching from the old dark house next door. After sharing sandwiches with Norman, Marion takes a shower and Norman’s gray-haired mother suddenly appears, knife in hand. It’s one of the most iconic scenes in cinematic history.

Later, Sam, Marion’s sister Lila Crane (Vera Miles), and Detective Milton Arbogast (Martin Balsam) launch a search for Marion. Arbogast perishes as he puzzles over the secrets within the Bates Motel, but eventually Sam and Lila unravel the core of the family craziness. Here’s a hint: It was all Mommy’s fault. Still, she’s a survivor, you might say, who gets the last laugh.

Hitchcock took a chance with first-time screenwriter Joseph Stefano who worked from Robert Bloch’s novel “Psycho.” The book was loosely based, many feel, on real-life Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein. Stefano, a psychoanalysis aficionado, borrowed liberally from Freud 101 to write his script. (Stefano later became the head writer for the classic TV horror show, “The Outer Limits.”)

Because he worried that the audience would get impatient with not seeing Norman’s mother for so long, Stefano peppered the dialogue with references to mothers so that at least the idea of Mrs. Bates was present. Sam refers to turning a picture of Marion’s mother to the wall; Marion’s office colleague Caroline (Patricia Hitchcock) mentions her mother twice in a brief conversation at the office. [Read more...]

FacebookGoogle+PinterestRedditEmailTwitter

‘Psycho’ quick hit

Psycho/1960/Universal/109 min.

One of the most famous movies ever made, Alfred Hitchcock’s experimental masterpiece immortalizes messed-up man-boy Norman Bates, chillingly played by Anthony Perkins. Janet Leigh stars, though her screen time is brief, as the good girl who gives into temptation. Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam and Patricia Hitchcock round out the cast. A must-see!

FacebookGoogle+PinterestRedditEmailTwitter