Film Noir File: Here’s looking at you, Bogie

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: HUMPHREY BOGART DAY (Thursday, Aug. 1)

Bogart poses in his classic fedora and trenchcoat.

If there is a country of film noir, then Humphrey Bogart is its president, its first citizen, its uncrowned king – a man of one unforgettable face and of many standout roles. Bogie was Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade, two ace detectives. He was Roy Earle and Duke Mantee, outlaws on the run.

He played gang leaders (“The Roaring Twenties”) and their prosecutors (“Marked Woman,” “The Enforcer”), a treasure hunter (in “Sierra Madre”) and a bad-tempered screenwriter (“In a Lonely Place”). Outside the land of noir, he was sloppy steamboat Captain Charlie Allnut in “The African Queen” and mad Captain Queeg of “The Caine Mutiny.”

Perhaps most famously he was Rick Blaine of “Casablanca,” the melancholy, sexy night club owner, no stranger to secrets, cynicism and, ultimately, sacrifice for the greater good.

Bogart’s career was sluggish at the start; he owed his big break to Leslie Howard. They starred, with Bette Davis, in “The Petrified Forest.”

As he walked the dark, rainy streets of noir, he often wore a raincoat and fedora, with a cigarette curling smoke past his grimacing, partly paralyzed lip (the result of a fight when he was in the Navy) and likely carrying a gun. His eyes were dark and sad, his voice was low and hard-edged. There was usually a snarl in that voice.

Bogart was born into a comfortable Manhattan home, the son of a surgeon and an artist. In 1918, Bogart joined the Navy, after which he went into theater and film. One of his first movies was a prison baseball comedy called “Up the River,” directed by John Ford and starring, also in one of his first movie roles, Spencer Tracy. (Ford later called the picture “one of my mortal sins.”)

Bogart’s big break came in “The Petrified Forest” (1936, Archie Mayo). Co-star Leslie Howard insisted Bogie be cast as gangster Duke Mantee (they previously starred in the play’s Broadway run). Bogie quickly became a Warner Brothers contract player fixture. He started off as mostly a villain, then an anti-hero, then finally mostly a hero.

Bogart and Bacall were married from 1945 until Bogart’s death in 1957.

Howard Hawks once labeled Bogie as probably the most insolent guy in movies. Then Hawks told Bogart he was going to put him in a movie with a young actress even more insolent: Lauren Bacall. Hawks directed them in 1944’s “To Have and Have Not” and they fell in love. Like Tracy and Hepburn, Bogie and Bacall became one of the great Hollywood couples – and their marriage (her first, his fourth) was the stuff that dreams are made of.

At 57, Bogart died of throat cancer from too many of those signature cigarettes of his. Speaking at the funeral, John Huston, his favorite and most sympatico director, said: “We shall not look upon his like again.”

When Bogart won his Oscar for “The African Queen” – beating out Marlon Brando in “A Streetcar Named Desire” and Montgomery Clift in “A Place in the Sun,” two of the most influential movie performances of the ’50s – he explained, “I’ve been around for a long time. Maybe the people like me.”

Bogart and Bacall were introduced by director Howard Hawks.

They do like him, still. Nobody wore a raincoat, cracked wise to a crook or a cop, or walked down a mean noir street, like Bogie. Nobody ever will. Here’s looking at you, kid.

(Note: Most of the following titles have been reviewed on FNB. Use the search tool on the right to find them.)

6 a.m. (3 a.m.): “Bogart: The Untold Story” (1996). A documentary look at Bogie’s life in (and out) of movies, hosted by his son, Stephen Bogart.

7 a.m. (4 a.m.): “High Sierra” (1941, Raoul Walsh).

9 a.m. (6 a.m.): “The Maltese Falcon” (1941, John Huston).

10:45 a.m. (7:45 a.m.). “To Have and Have Not“ (1944, Howard Hawks).

12:30 p.m. (9:30 a.m.): “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (1948, John Huston).

2:45 p.m. (11:45 a.m.) “Tokyo Joe” (1949, Stuart Heisler).

4:15 p.m. (1:15 p.m.). “Beat the Devil” (1954, John Huston).

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “In a Lonely Place” (1950, Nicholas Ray).

8 p.m. (5 p.m.). “The Big Sleep” (1946, Howard Hawks).

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “Key Largo” (1948, John Huston).

4 a.m. (1 a.m.): “The Harder They Fall” (1956, Mark Robson). [Read more...]

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The Noir File: Bogie, Bacall shine in quirky ‘Dark Passage’

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).

PICKS OF THE WEEK

“Dark Passage” was the third of four films Bogart and Bacall made together.

Dark Passage” (1947, Delmer Daves). Friday, June 14:  8 p.m. (5 p.m.)

I recently wrote about 1947’s “Lady in the Lake,” a Raymond Chandler/Philip Marlowe tale, starring and directed by Robert Montgomery. Its chief claim to fame is the experimental subjective camera – the story is told entirely from Marlowe’s point of view.

In that review, I noted that “Dark Passage,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, also from 1947, uses a subjective camera as well, though just for the first half-hour of the movie. The limited use of the technique in “Dark Passage” pays off much better than the full-on treatment in “Lady.” Though “Dark Passage” wasn’t a huge hit in its day – audiences weren’t crazy about being deprived of Bogart – it’s a film noir treasure that rarely gets its due.

You can read the full FNB review here.

NOIR WRITERS SERIES: DAVID GOODIS
All this month on its Friday Night Spotlight screenings,  TCM is presenting a series of classic film noirs, with each Friday night devoted to movies based on or written by (or both) one of  six top-notch noir authors: Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, David Goodis, Jonathan Latimer and Cornell Woolrich.

Tonight the spotlight is on David Goodis, one of the strangest and most poignantly self-destructive of the great film noir novelists. Goodis, a well-educated  Philadelphian, and an outsider for most of his life, came to Hollywood when his best-selling novel, “Dark Passage” was sold to Warner Brothers as a vehicle for the red hot movie team of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. “Dark Passage” allowed Bogie and Bacall to shine, and is now considered a classic.

“Dark Passage” uses a subjective camera for the first half-hour of the movie.

But Goodis, who liked to explore the lower depths,  proved too weird even for Movieland, and he soon returned East where he spent the rest of his relatively brief life (1917-1967) writing pulp novels for paperback publishers, which he occasionally sold to the movies. (See below.)

They were cheap, supposedly trashy books, churned out fast. Goodis filled them with a  keen insight into darkness, loneliness and the underworld, a flair for strong perverse characterization and a poetic command of language few writers in his genre could match. “Dark Passage” remains his most famous novel. The most personal and revealing  may be “The Burglar,” directed by his Philly friend Paul Wendkos. It’s a powerful film, but the book is better.

David Goodis was weird, even for Hollywood.

(The “Noir Writers” films, all of which show on Friday evening, June 14, were curated and will be introduced by film noir expert Eddie Muller.)

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Dark Passage” (See Above.)

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “Nightfall” (1956, Jacques Tourneur). With Aldo Ray, Anne Bancroft and Brian Keith. Reviewed on FNB, May 29, 2012.

11:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.): “The Burglar” (1957, Paul Wendkos). David Goodis’  eerie, haunting novel about a gang of burglars, inlcuding platonic lovers Dan Duryea and Jayne Mansfield, and how they come apart. The diretcor, Paul Wendkos (“The Mephisto Waltz”) was another Philadelphia guy and a friend of Goodis’, and he did very well by the book, which is one of the great pulp paperback novels of the ’50s. The movie isn’t on that level, but, in its way, it’s a neglected, if melancholy, gem.

Charles Aznavour and Michèle Mercier in François Truffaut’s “Shoot the Piano Player.”

1:15 a.m. (10:15 p.m.): “Shoot the Piano Player” (1960, François Truffaut). The greatest movie ever made from a David Goodis novel is also the ultimate fusion of film noir with the French New Wave. Noir-lover François Truffaut (“Jules and Jim”) takes one of Goodis’ best novels, “Down There,” resets it in a Paris dive, and comes up with melancholy black-and-white movie magic. Truffaut makes the material his own. He keeps the original  tale of a concert pianist (legendary torch singer Charles Aznavour) who, heartbroken at the loss of his love, goes down there to the depths of show biz – tinkling the keys in a neighborhood bar, until, despite his best efforts, he falls in love again and falls in with criminals. Like most Goodis stories, it’s a bluesy tale touched with terror.  But Truffaut opens it up with innovative filmmaking and breezy, saucy, seemingly off-the-cuff scenes that shoot vibrant life into a very dark subject. [Read more...]

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The Noir File: Bogart and Bacall heat up the big screen in Hawks-Chandler noir classic ‘The Big Sleep’

By Michael Wilmington & Film Noir Blonde

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir, sort of 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

The Big Sleep” (1946, Howard Hawks). Sunday, March 10, 3:45 a.m. (12:45 a.m.) See review in previous post.

Wednesday, March 6

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): Kim Novak: Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival. TCM host Bob Osborne chats with one of Hitchcock’s great blondes, Chicago’s own Kim Novak. Taped at last year’s festival in Hollywood, this one-hour interview special kicks off a tribute night to Novak. After the interview, four of her films will screen: “Bell, Book and Candle” (1958), “Picnic” (1955), “The Man with the Golden Arm” (1955) and “Of Human Bondage” (1964).

Friday, March 8

7:30 a.m. (4:30 a.m.): “Stage Fright” (1950, Alfred Hitchcock). After he left England to make “Rebecca” in 1940 for David Selznick, Hitchcock returned to make only two more features there: the excellent “Frenzy” in 1972, and “Stage Fright” in 1950. The latter is a backstage theater drama with Jane Wyman as a romantic-minded acting student, who tries to help a man on the run (Richard Todd). He’s accused of murdering the husband of a swooningly beautiful actress (Marlene Dietrich). “Stage Fright” is usually considered one of the lesser Hitchcocks, but second-tier Hitch is still better than most films. The pungent London theatrical settings and fine cast (including Alastair Sim, Sybil Thorndyke and Michael Wilding) keep “Stage Fright” an entertaining slice of Htchcockian cake.

Audrey Totter’s Claire has the dreariest of of milquetoast husbands (Richard Basehart) in “Tension,” directed by Black List victim John Berry.

9:30 a.m. (6:30 a.m.): “Tension” (1950, John Berry). An obsessed and cuckolded milquetoast (Richard Basehart) bent on murder, becomes ensnared in a twisty shocker of a story. With Cyd Charisse, Barry Sullivan and Audrey Totter; directed by Black List victim John Berry.

11:15 a.m. (8:15 a.m.): “The Narrow Margin” (1952, Richard Fleischer). With Charles McGraw and Marie Windsor.

12:30 p.m. (9:30 a.m.): “Split Second” (1953, Dick Powell). Atmospheric Cold War thriller about an escaped con (Stephen McNally), holding hostages in part of a Nevada A-bomb testing site area. With Alexis Smith and Jan Sterling.

2 p.m. (11 a.m.): “Man in the Attic” (1954, Hugo Fregonese). Jack Palance plays one of the screen’s more ferocious Jack the Rippers.

3:30 p.m. (12:30 p.m.) “Second Chance” (1953, Rudolph Maté). A high-style, high-octane film noir couple – cool Robert Mitchum and hot Linda Darnell – are lovers on the run to Mexico, with the scariest of hit men, Jack Palance, on their trail.

6:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m.): “Suddenly” (1954, Lewis Allen). With Frank Sinatra and Sterling Hayden.

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A Raymond Chandler story, an all-star cast and a powerhouse director: ‘The Big Sleep’ works like a sexy dream

The Big Sleep/1946/Warner Bros. Pictures/114 min.

Howard Hawks added romance and comedy to the dark tone of Raymond Chandler’s novel. Every scene with Bogie and Bacall sizzles.

“The Big Sleep,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, is almost too much fun to be pure noir. Actually, it’s not pure in any way because under the thriller surface, it’s all about sex. The women in this movie especially are thinking a lot about the bedroom.

(That’s pretty much the case with most of the film noir canon, but this movie is an outstanding example.)

“The Big Sleep” was released in 1946, the year after World War II ended. Having been man-deprived for four long years while their guys were all over the globe fighting battles, all of a sudden, everywhere the ladies looked, Men, Glorious Men! For the vets, being welcomed home and hailed as heroes by women, who likely weren’t playing all that hard to get, was not too shabby a deal.

Based on the Raymond Chandler novel of the same name, “The Big Sleep” stars Humphrey Bogart as Chandler’s legendary private eye Philip Marlowe. Cynical, stubborn and streetwise, Marlowe is impervious to the trappings of wealth and power, though, given his line of work, he often finds himself dealing with the ultra rich. Marlowe flings sarcastic barbs as casually as they drop cash, even when his companions are slinky, sharp-tongued women, like spoiled society girl Vivian Sternwood Rutledge, played by Lauren Bacall.

Carmen Sternwood (Martha Vickers) is a rich party girl who constantly courts trouble.

Vivian’s Dad, a wise and way-old patriarch known as General Sternwood (Charles Waldron), has hired Marlowe to get a blackmailer named Joe Brody (Louis Jean Heydt) off his back and to track down a missing chum: Sean Regan (a character we never see onscreen).

Fueling Brody’s scheme are the, uh, antics of Sternwood’s other daughter Carmen (Martha Vickers), a sexy party girl who sucks her thumb and likes posing for cameras with very little on. Snapping the pics is seedy book dealer Arthur Gwynn Geiger (Theodore von Eltz), whose snippy clerk Agnes (Sonia Darrin), has, as her “protector,” feisty little Harry Jones, played by film noir’s number one patsy, Elisha Cook Jr.

That’s just one piece of a very complicated puzzle, full of false leads and red herrings, bad guys and blind alleys, and more plot twists than I can count. By the time Marlowe puts it all together, seven are dead. But the best part of the movie for me is the dry humor and that sexy subtext I was talking about. Even the title, “The Big Sleep,” referring to death, could be a play on the French phrase for sexual climax: “le petite morte” (the little death).

Bogart’s Marlowe charms a bookstore clerk (Dorothy Malone).

By the film’s end, Marlowe’s had propositions aplenty. For example, as Marlowe gathers info on Geiger, he strolls into the Acme Bookstore and meets a bespectacled brunette clerk(Dorothy Malone, later more famous as a blonde). They chat, she provides a description of Geiger, and Marlowe tells her she’d make a good cop. It starts to rain and he suggests they have a drink. Next thing you know, she removes her glasses, lets down her hair and says, “Looks like we’re closed for the rest of the afternoon.”

Then there’s the perky female cab driver who tells Marlowe to call her if he can use her again sometime. He asks: Day and night? Her answer: “Night’s better. I work during the day.”

Apparently, all Marlowe has to do is get out of bed in the morning to be inundated with offers to climb back in. Most importantly, of course, is Marlowe’s innuendo-heavy badinage with Vivian Sternwood. They’re attracted from the moment they meet and, with each subsequent encounter, they turn flirting and verbal sparring into an art form. Here’s a quickie (sorry, I couldn’t resist):

Marlowe and Vivian discuss horse-racing and other amusements.

“You go too far, Marlowe,” says Vivian.

He replies: “Those are harsh words to throw at a man, especially when he’s walking out of your bedroom.”

Perhaps their most famous exchange occurs when they trade notes about horse-racing – with Vivian comparing Marlowe to a stallion.

Vivian: I’d say you don’t like to be rated. You like to get out in front, open up a lead, take a little breather in the backstretch, and then come home free.

Marlowe: You don’t like to be rated yourself.

Vivian: I haven’t met anyone yet that can do it. Any suggestions?

Marlowe: Well, I can’t tell till I’ve seen you over a distance of ground. You’ve got a touch of class, but, uh…I don’t know how – how far you can go.

Vivian: A lot depends on who’s in the saddle. Go ahead Marlowe, I like the way you work. In case you don’t know it, you’re doing all right.

Marlowe: There’s one thing I can’t figure out.

Vivian: What makes me run?

Marlowe: Uh-huh.

Vivian: I’ll give you a little hint. Sugar won’t work. It’s been tried.

The horsy banter was added after the 1945 version was completed and shown overseas to audiences of U.S. soldiers; several other changes were made for the 1946 stateside release. In the late 1990s, the original version of the movie turned up. Though the original made the plot points more clear, most critics and viewers prefer the altered (second) version.

Whichever version you prefer (both are available on the Warner Brothers DVD), “The Big Sleep” is full of all kinds of pleasure, thanks to director Howard Hawks, one of Hollywood’s greatest storytellers. Hawks was known for being a master of all genres, garnering great performances from stars like Bogart, John Wayne, Walter Brennan and Marilyn Monroe, and for perfecting the bromance, long before the term came into currency.

In “The Big Sleep,” the pace is brisk, the characters are richly drawn, there’s loads of action and the scenes with Bogart and Bacall truly sizzle. Though the cinematography by Sid Hickox doesn’t bear the expressionistic stamp of the more Germanic noir directors, the film certainly holds its own in terms of visual panache. And Max Steiner’s original music lends sonic verve.

Marlowe gets details from his client, the wealthy and weak Gen. Sternwood (Charles Waldron).

Also brilliant, and not just for its subtext, is the screenplay by William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman. The dialogue, much of which comes straight from Chandler’s novel, is both colorful and economical, as shown by this exchange between Gen. Sternwood and Marlowe:

Sternwood: You are looking, sir, at a very dull survival of a very gaudy life – crippled, paralyzed in both legs, very little I can eat, and my sleep is so near waking that it’s hardly worth the name. I seem to exist largely on heat, like a newborn spider. The orchids are an excuse for the heat. Do you like orchids?

Marlowe: Not particularly.

Sternwood: Nasty things. Their flesh is too much like the flesh of men, and their perfume has the rotten sweetness of corruption.

Flesh, perfume, sweetness and corruption permeate “The Big Sleep,” my favorite of Bogart and Bacall’s great noirs. (The others are “To Have and Have Not” 1944, also directed by Hawks, “Dark Passage” 1947, and “Key Largo” 1948.) What’s not to love, or at least lust after, for 114 minutes?

Too bad Lauren Bacall never made a guest appearance on “Sex and the City.” She could have taught Carrie and the girls a thing or two.

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‘The Big Sleep’ quick hit

The Big Sleep/1946/Warner Bros. Pictures/114 min.

Perhaps the most serpentine plot in all noir, a tour-de-force film, based on a Raymond Chandler novel and directed by Howard Hawks, one of Hollywood’s most celebrated storytellers. The twists and turns are beside the point, which is: the divine writing and double-entendre exchanges between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. He’s detective Philip Marlowe; she’s a socialite. She’s also his boss because her family hired him to snuff out a blackmail scheme involving her naughty little sister. So far, so good, until bodies start getting snuffed out too. Jolly good fun and wildly sexy!

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Extolling virtues of ‘Dark Passage’: Bogie, Bacall and more

Dark Passage/1947/Warner Bros./106 min.

“Dark Passage” was the third of four films Bogart and Bacall made together.

I recently wrote about 1947’s “Lady in the Lake,” a Raymond Chandler/Philip Marlowe tale, starring and directed by Robert Montgomery. Its chief claim to fame is the experimental subjective camera – the story is told entirely from Marlowe’s point of view.

In that review, I noted that “Dark Passage,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, also from 1947, uses a subjective camera as well, though just for the first half-hour of the movie. The limited use of the technique in “Dark Passage” pays off much better than the full-on treatment in “Lady.” Though “Dark Passage” wasn’t a huge hit in its day – audiences weren’t crazy about being deprived of Bogart – it’s a film noir treasure that rarely gets its due.

Admittedly, the plausibility police would have a field day with this one. From the moment we meet Bogart as escaped San Quentin prisoner Vincent Parry and Bacall as Irene Jansen, his mysterious helper/wealthy benefactor, the phrase “never gonna happen” pops into your mind and lingers as the rather bizarre plot unfolds. This is not a realistic movie. So sue director/writer Delmer Daves and novelist David Goodis, who provided the source material.

Bogart has an awful lot to account for in “Dark Passage.”

I don’t think the filmmakers’ aim was to tell a story that’s relatable in a literal sense. The idea was to explore ideas about trust, identity, revenge, isolation and paranoia in the shell of an entertaining thriller that’s also infused with the famous Bogie-Bacall chemistry. At the same time, the sometimes-unwieldy narrative has depth and intelligence – it’s not merely a slapdash concoction of the outlandish and absurd. Goodis was a particularly pessimistic writer and a harsh social critic.

Here Bacall’s Irene is calling the shots, outwitting the cops and doling out shrewd suggestions to Vincent in her singular husky voice. Irene is the only person who believes in Vincent’s innocence –that he was wrongly convicted of murdering his wife. Dressed to elegant perfection in every scene, she spurs Vincent to spruce up his wardrobe as well. But Vincent needs more than a fashion overhaul if he is to avoid recapture.

Besides the leads, “Dark Passage” has a tremendous cast – Bruce Bennett shines as Irene’s solid, decent friend and the inimitable Agnes Moorehead sparkles as Madge, the ultimate conniving shrew, with a penchant for animal prints, no less. Houseley Stevenson is unforgettable as the unsavory but highly skilled Dr. Walter Coley. The creepy doctor proves pivotal in Vincent’s quest to remake himself. Even the small parts –a small-time crook, a chatty cabbie and a diner waiter (played by Clifton Young, Tom D’Andrea and Tom Fadden) – are great fun to watch.

The Franz Waxman score, along with San Francisco locations and slick cinematography by Sid Hickox, result in a noir rapture – including a nightmare sequence that is still unsettling 65 years later. Every detail of this strange little work, though not a great film, feels intriguing, satisfying and true to its own (slightly warped) logic.

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‘Dark Passage’ quick hit

Dark Passage/1947/Warner Bros./106 min.

The sometimes-neglected “Dark Passage,” by writer/director Delmer Daves, has ingredients that result in a noir rapture: Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall leading a terrific cast (Agnes Moorehead shines as a shrew with a penchant for animal prints), a bizarre story, Franz Waxman’s score, San Francisco locations and slick cinematography by Sid Hickox – including a nightmare sequence that is still unsettling 65 years later.

Every detail of this little film feels intriguing, satisfying and true to its own (slightly warped) logic. A subjective/first-person camera is used for the first half-hour of the movie. Based on a David Goodis novel.

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Director takes a gamble in yuletide yarn ‘Lady in the Lake’

Lady in the Lake/1947/MGM/103 min.

Mistletoe and holly, egg nog and parties, guns and murder. In “Lady in the Lake,” based on Raymond Chandler’s novel of the same name, actor/director Robert Montgomery mixes Christmas traditions with ironic noir style.

After Adrienne Fromsett (Audrey Totter) hires Philip Marlowe (Robert Montgomery), their relationship morphs from business to pleasure.

While sleigh bells are jingling, Montgomery’s Philip Marlowe, the famed private eye, is trying to find a mystery woman named Chrystal Kingsby. Chrystal is married to Derace Kingsby (Leon Ames), the owner of a book publishing company in Los Angeles; she was last seen at the Little Fawn Lake resort.

Marlowe’s been hired by one of Derace Kingsby’s employees: uptight and bossy Adrienne Fromsett (Audrey Totter), a sharp-tongued executive editor with designs on her boss and his money. She chooses her detective not from the yellow pages but from a crime-caper manuscript Marlowe submits for publication – some effective multitasking she’ll no doubt include on her performance review. Though Adrienne’s all about business and bank balances at first, she softens as sparks fly between her and Marlowe.

Heading to Bay City (based on Santa Monica), Marlowe checks in with Chris Lavery (Dick Simmons), a Southern-transplant playboy with whom Chrystal was having an affair. But a punch from Lavery lands Marlowe in jail and he wakes up to questioning from Capt. Kane (Tom Tully) and Lt. DeGarmot (Lloyd Nolan). After his release, Marlowe learns that a woman’s body has been recovered from the lake and that the caretaker has been charged with murdering his wife, Muriel (Jayne Meadows). He also finds Lavery’s dead body.

From there, as Marlowe puts together the pieces of the puzzle – a multiple-identity scam, another murder, several soured love affairs, Chrystal’s part in the proceedings – Adrienne realizes that Marlowe, not Derace Kingsby, is the man for her. (Look out for blonde actress Lila Leeds as a receptionist at the publishing company. Leeds was arrested with Robert Mitchum on Aug. 31, 1948, for possession of marijuana.)

More interesting than the plot is way the movie was shot. Montgomery plays Marlowe but we see very little of him in character because Montgomery as director took a stylistic risk by using a subjective/first-person camera and telling the story from Marlowe’s point of view.

The audience sees Marlowe in the mirror when he pays Adrienne a visit.

First-person camera had been used before – briefly in “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1931, Rouben Mamoulian) and “Murder, My Sweet” (1944, Edward Dmytryk) and most notably for about 30 minutes in “Dark Passage” (1947, Delmer Daves, starring Bogart & Bacall). But this was the first time the whole movie (other than a few times when Marlowe speaks directly to the audience) unspooled in this manner.

It’s a daring experiment and a bigger deal than you might think, involving a number of technical, staging and acting challenges. In their excellent commentary on the Warner Home Video DVD, Alain Silver and James Ursini provide insight as to what this artistic decision meant for Montgomery.

For example, the film has very long takes and far fewer cuts than most movies of its time – this serves to build suspense but is tough to execute. For the actors as well (other than Montgomery) this presented hurdles. They were required to address the camera directly (something they’d been trained to avoid) and they faced the pressure of knowing that if they goofed toward the end of the take, the whole lengthy shot would have to be redone.

Bad girl Muriel (Jayne Meadows) corners the unseen Marlowe.

Additionally, Silver and Ursini point out that because “Lady in the Lake” was an MGM production (as was “The Postman Always Rings Twice” the year before), it had to conform somewhat to the studio’s preferred look: high production values and high-key lighting – unlike most noirs, which used low-key light and featured richer shadows, more intense chiaroscuro.

So, did the shooting experiment work? Chandler, who drafted a script that Steve Fisher rewrote, thought Montgomery made a mistake. And having watched “Lady in the Lake: a few times, I’m inclined to agree. First, despite the marketing gimmick of putting the viewer in the detective’s shoes and urging him/her to solve the crime, “Lady” feels artificial and stilted, perhaps because the long takes lend a slightly stagey feel to the performances.

Lila Leeds, who plays the receptionist at the publishing company, was arrested with Robert Mitchum in 1948 for possession of marijuana.

Not seeing much of Montgomery/Marlowe makes it hard to connect to the story (typically Chandlerian in its twists and turns) and puts too much weight on the shoulders of the other players. While Totter and the rest are very capable, they can’t quite pull off such a distorted view for the duration of the movie. It’s too big a hole for any cast to fill.

And Marlowe isn’t particularly sympathetic because we only glimpse him here and there instead of seeing him interact with the others – especially Totter. For their romance to work, we need to see them together!

That said, I don’t want to get all Bah-Humbug about this yuletide yarn. “Lady in the Lake” is fun to watch just for the novelty value and I love to picture Adrienne sprawled on a sofa and whipping out her red pen to shape Marlowe’s manuscript as he mixes her a martini, garnished with a candy cane, natch.

“Lady in the Lake” will show in 35 mm at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco on Wednesday, Dec. 19, as part of Noir City Xmas 3. The evening will also feature the unveiling of the full schedule for the Noir City 11 film festival.

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The Noir File: Stewart gets the story in true-crime gem

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

James Stewart plays a journalist on hunt for the truth in "Call Northside 777."

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

Spencer Tracy stars in “Bad Day at Black Rock.”

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

Lauren Bacall

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.

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The Noir File: The Great Film Noir Couple: Bogart and Bacall

By Michael Wilmington
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A noir-lover’s 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).
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PICK OF THE WEEK
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A Night with Bogie and Bacall: Wednesday, Sept. 5, 8 p.m.-5:30 a.m. (5 p.m.-2:30 a.m.)
They were the King and Queen of Film Noir: Humphrey DeForest Bogart and Lauren “Betty” Bacall. He was insolent and tough; she was insolent and beautiful, and they made dark, wonderful, wise-cracking music together – in a noir world of shadowy streets, nightclubs, guns, crooks, cops, cigarettes, whiskey, trench coats (for him) and evening gowns (for her).

Betty and Bogie were one of Hollywood’s great couples.

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Director-producer Howard Hawks introduced them (as Steve and Slim) in his classic William Faulkner-scripted adaptation of the Ernest Hemingway sea novel “To Have and Have Not.” Hawks reunited them for his adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s private-eye thriller “The Big Sleep.”
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They made two more classic noirs (“Dark Passage” and “Key Largo”) and, from then until Bogie’s death in 1957, they reigned as one of Hollywood’s great couples. They were sardonic, they were sexy, they were brilliant, they were tough and elegant and terrific. They’ve never been replaced. They never will be.
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Wednesday, Sept. 5
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8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “To Have and Have Not” (1944, Howard Hawks). With Bogart, Bacall and Walter Brennan.
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10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “The Big Sleep” (1946, Howard Hawks). Bogie had already incarnated Dashiell Hammett’s San Francisco sleuth Sam Spade in John Huston’s nonpareil movie of “The Maltese Falcon.” Here, he recreates that other quintessential private eye, Philip Marlowe (from LA), in Howard Hawks’ equally classic film of Raymond Chandler’s best detective novel, “The Big Sleep.” Bacall is the most gorgeous of the many murder suspects. (As a bonus, she trades horse-racing double entendres with Bogie and sings a ’40s jazz hit.) Dorothy Malone sparkles as a sexy bookseller; Elisha Cook, Jr. plays the patsy. As scripted by William Faulkner, Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett, this is less dark than Chandler’s novel, but more fun.
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12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Dark Passage” (1947, Delmer Daves). Based on David Goodis’ novel, this twisted noir about a convict on the run (Bogart) is a classic ’40s mystery/romance. With Bacall, Agnes Moorehead and Bruce Bennett.

“Key Largo” was the last film B & B made together.

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2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “Key Largo” (1948, John Huston). With Bogart, Bacall, Edward G. Robinson and Claire Trevor.
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4 a.m. (1 a.m.): “Bacall on Bogart” (1988, David Heeley). A documentary on Bogart, with the perfect hostess, Betty.
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5:30 a.m. (2:30 a.m.): “Bogart: The Untold Story” (1996). Another Bogart documentary, hosted by his son Stephen Bogart.
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Saturday, Sept. 1
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8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Band Wagon” (1953, Vincente Minnelli). This great Fred Astaire-Vincente Minnelli MGM musical closes with an incredible Astaire-Cyd Charisse number that’s also a razor-sharp film noir parody and a hilarious send-up of Mickey Spillane: the legendary “Girl Hunt” Ballet.
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Robert Walker and Farley Granger share a tense moment in “Strangers on a Train.”

Sunday, Sept. 2
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6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “Strangers on a Train” (1951, Alfred Hitchcock). With Farley Granger, Robert Walker and Ruth Roman.
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Monday, Sept. 3
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1 a.m. (10 p.m.): “Night and the City” (1950, Jules Dassin). With Richard Widmark and Gene Tierney. (See Noir File 7-13-12.)
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Tuesday, Sept. 4
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10:30 a.m. (7:30 a.m.): “Murder, My Sweet” (1944, Edward Dmytryk). Dick Powell, known for musicals, makes a better Philip Marlowe than anyone could have imagined, in this shadowy, hard-nosed adaptation of “Farewell, My Lovely.” Dmytryk’s best movie; with Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley and Mike Mazurki.
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