The Noir File: John Ford’s ‘The Informer’ is a great precursor

By Michael Wilmington & Film Noir Blonde

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-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 Informer” (1935, John Ford). Friday, Dec. 14, 6:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m.). Gypo Nolan – a hulking, good-natured, almost childlike brute of a Dubliner (played by Victor McLaglen) – has betrayed his I.R.A. friend to the British police. Now, with the reward in his pocket, he prowls the dark, fog-shrouded streets of his city.

Victor McLaglen plays Gypo, a hulking, good-natured, almost childlike brute of a Dubliner.

At first Gypo pushes aside his anxiety and remorse, and spends the blood money, carousing and drinking with his instant new “friends.”

But gradually, fate and darkness, along with Gypo’s old comrades and his conscience, begin to close in – as the I.R.A. and their just but relentless commander (Preston Foster) track down the informer.

Of all the great film noir precursors of the ’30s – “M,” “The 39 Steps,” “You Only Live Once,” “Scarface,” “Le jour se lève” and “Public Enemy” – John Ford’s Oscar-winning masterpiece, “The Informer,” is one of the darkest, most powerful and most noirish.

Based on the much-admired Irish novel by Liam O’Flaherty, “The Informer” won Oscars for Ford’s superb direction, for Dudley Nichols’ taut, dramatic script, for Max Steiner’s haunting music and for McLaglen’s unforgettable performance as Gypo – a doomed man alone, surrounded by danger, tormented by his own guilt-ridden, fear-lashed soul. (In 1968, Jules Dassin remade “The Informer,” not as effectively, as “Up Tight.”)

Wednesday, Dec. 12

Barbara Stanwyck as Dixie Daisy in “Lady of Burlesque.”

11:15 a.m. (8:15 a.m.): “The Man I Love” (1947, Raoul Walsh). Jack Warner once said “Raoul Walsh’s idea of a tender love scene is to burn down a whorehouse.” Here is Walsh’s idea of a tender love story: the tough, racy tale of a sultry, wised-up night club singer (Ida Lupino) and the man who loves her: slick gangster Robert Alda.

5 a.m. (2 a.m.): “Lady of Burlesque” (1943, William Wellman). A salty murder mystery set in the world of strip-tease shows, with Barbara Stanwyck as the stripper-sleuth. Based on the best-seller “The G-String Murders,” a book credited to legendary peeler Gypsy Rose Lee, ghosted by crackerjack comedy/mystery writer Craig Rice (“Home Sweet Homicide”).

Friday, Dec. 14

1:45 p.m. (10:45 a.m.): “Citizen Kane” (1941, Orson Welles).

Saturday, Dec. 15

8:45 a.m. (5:45 a.m.): “Impact” (1949, Arthur Lubin). Infidelity and murder plots, with Brian Donlevy, Ella Raines, Helen Walker, Anna May Wong and Charles Coburn.

Sunday, Dec. 16

2 p.m. (11 a.m.): “Wait Until Dark” (1967, Terence Young). From the hit stage play by Frederick (“Dial M for Murder”) Knott. Blind woman Audrey Hepburn sees no evil and tries to stave off Alan Arkin, Richard Crenna and Jack Weston.

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “The Unholy Three” (1925, Tod Browning). A shivery thriller about three crooks who meet at the circus and form an unholy gang: a strong man (Victor McLaglen), a midget (Harry Earles) and a cross-dressing ventriloquist (Lon Chaney). One of the eeriest of all Browning’s macabre collaborations with Chaney (Silent with music track.)

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Moving ‘Rust and Bone’ ranks as one of the year’s best films

Rust and Bone/2012/Sony Pictures Classics/120 min.

Streetwise and sublime, “Rust and Bone” is a contemporary melodrama beautifully told. In director and co-writer Jacques Audiard’s capable hands, what could have been a preposterous and sappy saga is human and moving.

Bookended from a child’s point of view, the movie opens with fragments of a dream through which we enter a world marked by darkness and brutality as well as by joy and redemption. The child here is 5-year-old Sam (Armand Verdure) who travels by train with his father Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) to Antibes, France. Ali scavenges among other passengers’ discarded food so that the two can eat.

In Antibes, they move in with Ali’s sister Anna (Corinne Masiero). Ali is able to find a job as a bouncer at a disco and later as a security guard and kickboxing combatant. One night at the disco, Ali encounters hauntingly seductive tough lady Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard), wiping blood from her face, as she’s leaving the place. Alarmed, Ali accompanies her home and, through their brief, stilted conversation, learns that she works as an orca whale trainer at Marineland. Ali also finds that she has a boyfriend but leaves his number anyway.

The next time he hears from Stéphanie, she reveals shocking news: she is confined to a wheelchair, having lost her legs in a horrific accident with a whale during a Marineland performance. The two begin a friendship, devoid of pity on his part, that sustains them as she tries to piece her life together again and as he struggles with fatherhood and finding true intimacy.

“What came first was the desire to tell a love story,” says Audiard, at a recent press conference in Beverly Hills. He and co-writer Thomas Bidegain added the love-story element to the foundation provided by Canadian author Craig Davidson’s collection of short stories. (Audiard’s other films include “A Prophet,” The Beat That My Heart Skipped,” and “Read My Lips.” He is the son of screenwriter/director/actor Michel Audiard.)

Subtle performances and stark, poetic imagery temper the melodrama of “Rust and Bone.” Audiard says he and cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine talked about the films of Lon Chaney, fairground films of the Great Depression, and especially Charles Laughton’s great film noir “The Night of the Hunter,” which begins with a father being arrested in front of his children because he has stolen money in order to feed them.

Robert Mitchum plays the sinister preacher in “The Night of the Hunter.”

There’s also an homage to Robert Mitchum’s love/hate hand tattoos from “Hunter.”

“Rust and Bone” seems a natural for Oscar nominations, particularly the work of Schoenaerts and Cotillard. (She won Best Actress for her role as Édith Piaf in “La Vie en Rose” from 2007.) The actors’ naturalness and understatement lend realness and dignity to the extreme, sometimes frightening, situations Ali and Stéphanie find themselves in.

Indeed, the characters themselves are unusual and complex. Says Cotillard: “I read the script and at the end Stéphanie was still a mystery… a mystery that was not to be solved because it was part of who she was.”

As shooting progressed, Cotillard says she came to see Stéphanie as a cowboy. “She turned anger into power. That’s a cowboy, right?”

“Rust and Bone” opens today in New York and LA.

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The Noir File: ‘The Third Man’ ranks as one of Britain’s best

By Michael Wilmington and Film Noir Blonde

The Noir File is FNB’s weekly guide to classic film noir and neo noir on cable TV. All the movies 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

The Third Man” (1949, Carol Reed) Saturday, Oct. 13, at 8 p.m. (5 p.m.)

“The Third Man” is a noir masterpiece with a perfect cast and Oscar-winning cinematography.

Graham Greene and Carol Reed’s “The Third Man” is one of the all-time film noir masterpieces. Greene’s script – about political corruption in post-World War II Vienna, a naïve American novelist named Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) and his search for the mysterious “third man” who may have witnessed the murder of his best friend, suave Harry Lime (Orson Welles) – is one of the best film scenarios ever written. Reed never directed better, had better material or tilted the camera more often.

“The Third Man” also has one of the all-time perfect casts: Cotten, Welles (especially in his memorable “cuckoo clock” speech, which he wrote), Trevor Howard (as the cynical police detective), Alida Valli (as Lime’s distressed ladylove), and Jack Hawkins and Bernard Lee (as tough cops). Oscar-winner Robert Krasker does a nonpareil job of film noir cinematography – especially in the film’s climactic chase through the shadowy Vienna sewers. And nobody plays a zither like composer/performer Anton Karas.

Sunday, Oct. 14

6:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m.): “Deadline at Dawn” (1945, Harold Clurman). Bill Williams is a sailor on leave who has just one New York City night to prove his innocence of murder. Susan Hayward and Paul Lukas are the shrewd dancer and philosophical cabbie trying to help him. Clifford Odets’ script is from a Cornell Woolrich novel; directed by Group Theater guru Harold Clurman (his only movie).

8 a.m. (5 a.m.): “Crime in the Streets” (1956, Don Siegel). This streetwise drama of New York juvenile delinquents (John Cassavetes, Sal Mineo and Mark Rydell) and a frustrated social worker (James Whitmore) is an above-average example of the ’50s youth crime cycle that also included “Rebel Without a Cause” and “The Blackboard Jungle.” Reginald Rose (“12 Angry Men”) wrote the script based on his TV play. Punchy direction by Siegel and a lead performance of feral intensity by Cassavetes.

1:30 a.m. (10:30 p.m.): “The Unknown” (1927, Tod Browning). One of Lon Chaney’s most sinister roles: as a traveling carnival’s no-armed wonder (really an escaped con). With the young Joan Crawford.

2:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m.): “The Testament of Dr. Mabuse” (1933, Fritz Lang). Fritz Lang and writer Thea von Harbou (Lang’s wife) bring back their famous silent-movie crime czar, Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge). This time, he’s a seeming lunatic, running his empire from an insane asylum. According to some, it’s an analogue of the Nazis’ rise to power.

Monday, Oct. 15

11:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.): “Bad Day at Black Rock” (1955, John Sturges).

Tuesday, Oct. 16

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Eyes in the Night” (1942, Fred Zinnemann). A good B-movie mystery with Edward Arnold as blind detective Duncan Maclain, co-starring Donna Reed, Ann Harding and Stephen McNally.

3:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m.) “Wait Until Dark” (1967, Terence Young).

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