TCM Classic Film Fest embraces the black sheep: film noir

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

Words that we associate with family: Happy times. Togetherness. Loyalty. Fun. Laughter. Pure love. Film noir.

Film noir? Yup, film noir. This dark and cynical genre was surprisingly well represented at this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival, which was dedicated to the theme: “Family in the Movies: The Ties That Bind.”

Maureen O’Hara and Walter Pidgeon star in “How Green Was My Valley.”

Maureen O’Hara and Walter Pidgeon star in “How Green Was My Valley.”

Families, at their best, give us solace and joy. At their worst, they tear us apart. Both extremes showed up at the fest, from “How Green Was My Valley” on the sunny side to “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” on the stormy, noir edge.

Other noir highlights were “Double Indemnity,” “The Thin Man,” “Touch of Evil,” “The Naked City,” “Freaks,” “The Lady From Shanghai,” “Johnny Guitar” and “The Godfather Part II.

GWTW posterThis year marked the fifth annual edition of one of the world’s great (and certainly one of its most lovable) film festivals. During its four-day run, hosted by TCM’s Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz with many special guests, this bounteous cinematic fest became a celebration of fathers, mothers, daughters, sons and other blood ties.

More than 70 movies, including some real masterpieces, were presented at first-rate venues, such as the TCL Chinese Theatres, Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre, Disney’s flagship El Capitan, plus poolside outdoor movies at the Roosevelt Hotel.

Is there any more powerful or moving portrait, for example, of a loving family facing the vicissitudes of life and surviving the relentless march of change than director John Ford’s “How Green Was My Valley?”

The Quiet Man posterMaureen O’Hara, who played Angharad, appeared on the El Capitan stage, still full of Irish sass and fire. At 93 and feisty as ever, she is our living link to the beauties and treasures of the celluloid past.

How green were our valleys then…

Other classic films, all shown in pristine and sometimes newly restored prints, included: “Gone with the Wind,” “The Best Years of Our Lives,” “East of Eden,” “Father of the Bride,” “Hannah and Her Sisters,” “The Quiet Man,” “City Lights,” “Written on the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz.”

Granted, for movie lovers who prize a happy ending above all else, film noir could be a rebel, a tough child to love. But then just about every clan has at least one black sheep. Isn’t the outcast the one who needs love the most? Isn’t loving the hard-to-love the ultimate test of family bonds? Isn’t that the point of being a family?

Film noir is the cinematic equivalent of a prodigal son or spoiled baby – recalcitrant, yes, but also irresistible. Leave it to film noir to break the rules, steal attention and get its own way whenever it can.

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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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