The Film Noir File: Crawford at her finest, one of Lang’s best

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

Mildred Pierce posterMildred Pierce (1945, Michael Curtiz). Tuesday, Nov. 19; 10 p.m. (7 p.m.). With Joan Crawford, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott and Ann Blyth.

Sunday, Nov. 17

10:15 a.m. (7:15 a.m.): “The Big Heat” (1953, Fritz Lang). With Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame and Lee Marvin.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Johnny Eager” (1941, Mervyn LeRoy). With Robert Taylor, Lana Turner and Van Heflin. Reviewed in FNB on August 4, 2012.

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “Johnny Apollo” (1940, Henry Hathaway). Tyrone Power and Edward Arnold undergo father-and-son traumas and reversals as two wealthy Wall Street family members gone bad. Directed with Hathaway’s usual tough expertise. Co-starring Dorothy Lamour, Lloyd Nolan and Charley Grapewin.

Lee Marvin and Gloria Grahame create one of the most iconic scenes in all of film noir.

In “The Big Heat” from 1953, Lee Marvin and Gloria Grahame create one of the most iconic scenes in all of film noir. It plays Sunday morning.

Tuesday, Nov. 19

4:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m.): “Man in the Attic” (1953, Hugo Fregonese). With Jack Palance and Constance Smith. Reviewed in FNB on March 5, 2013.

10 p.m. (7 p.m.). See “Pick of the Week.”

8 p.m. (5 p.m.). “The Maltese Falcon” (1941, John Huston). With Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and Elisha Cook, Jr. Reviewed in FNB on November 10, 2012.

Thursday, Nov. 21

3:45 p.m. (12:45 p.m.): “Jeopardy” (1943, John Sturges). With Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan and Ralph Meeker. Reviewed in FNB on July 21, 2012.

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Film Noir File: ‘Mildred Pierce’ shows Crawford at her peak

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

Mildred Pierce” (1945, Michael Curtiz). Friday, Aug. 16, 8 p.m. (5 p.m.). With Joan Crawford, Jack Carson and Ann Blyth.

I saw “Mildred Pierce” for the first time nearly 20 years ago on a Sunday afternoon in my small, studenty London flat – pale gray walls, Venetian blinds, a Victor Skrebneski print opposite the TV. Just before the opening scene unfolded – a shooting in a shadow-drenched California beach house with a sinister vibe – I remember popping a batch of popcorn in oil on the stovetop and making fresh lemonade. Such wholesome snacking for the decadence on the little screen.

Directed by Michael Curtiz, “Mildred Pierce” is based on James M. Cain’s 1941 novel, adapted by Ranald MacDougall with uncredited help from William Faulkner. Joan Crawford plays the title character, a wife and mother, who tries to buy the love of her spoiled and ungrateful teenage daughter Veda (Ann Blyth). Her younger daughter Kay (Jo Ann Marlowe) is easy to love, but Mildred is determined to win Veda over as well.

You can read FNB’s full review here.

Friday, Aug. 16

3 p.m. (12 p.m.): “Brute Force” (1947, Jules Dassin). One of the prototypical prison pictures, with Burt Lancaster as the indomitable convict and Hume Cronyn as the sadistic captain – plus a cast that includes Yvonne De Carlo, Charles Bickford, Ann Blyth and Howard Duff, and a taut script by Richard Brooks.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Mildred Pierce” (See Pick of the Week).

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “The Helen Morgan Story”  (1957, Michael Curtiz). “Mildred Pierce” co-star Ann Blyth and director Curtiz reunite for this tangy, noirish bio-drama of the tragic popular songstress, with Paul Newman as Helen’s brash gangster lover.

Sunday, Aug. 18

1:45 p.m. (10:45 a.m.): “Rebel Without a Cause”  (1955, Nicholas Ray). With James Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo.

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Happy (film noir) Mother’s Day, everyone!

“I’d do anything for those kids, do you understand?” — Joan Crawford as Mildred Pierce.

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Film noir flourishes at TCM film festival in Hollywood

Grauman’s Chinese Theatre was a prime location at the TCM fest. Photo by John Nowak

From Marie Windsor’s character in “The Killing” telling her wounded husband (played by Elisha Cook, Jr.) to cab to the hospital because she doesn’t feel like calling an ambulance to Grace Kelly fending off her attacker and foiling the eponymous plot in “Dial M for Murder,” on-screen femmes fatales claimed their power at the TCM Classic Film Festival April 25-28 in Hollywood.

Marie Windsor

The film noir slate was particularly rich as was the experience of seeing these film on the big screen – the lighting, the compositions, the close-ups all popped in a way that just doesn’t happen when you watch these titles on TV. Additionally, the festival does a splendid job of finding guests to introduce the films.

At Thursday’s screening of “The Killing,” actress Coleen Gray shared memories of working with director Stanley Kubrick on what would turn out to be his break-though movie. “I knew he was good,” she said. “The cast is wonderful. The story, the director and the actors are in tune. And look at the cutting – it was cut to create a masterpiece. You go and see it and you bow to Mr. Kubrick.” She added that Kubrick spent much of his directorial energy working with Marie Windsor on her hard-as-nails dame Sherry Peatty.

There was film noir aplenty at the TCM festival as well as special guests, panels, a poolside screening and parties. Photo by Edward M. Pio Roda

Fans of Ms. Windsor’s got another chance to connect with her at Friday’s screening of “The Narrow Margin.” The special guest was actress Jacqueline White. Also during that time slot producer Stanley Rubin reminisced about Marilyn Monroe, Robert Mitchum and Otto Preminger before a showing of 1954’s “River of No Return,” a stunning example of CinemaScope’s capabilities.

“[Marilyn] and Otto didn’t like each other and so we became very friendly. She was a perfect lady,” he said, adding that she was friendly and professional with Mitchum as well.

Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe in “River of No Return.”

Watching Monroe and Mitchum, at the height of their physical radiance in this picture, ignited in me a newfound passion for Westerns. (Believe me, this is quite a feat.)

It’s always a toss-up when deciding between a beloved classic and a little-screened rarity. We at FNB decided to mix it up a little and forgo “Notorious,” which I often liken to a glass of Veuve Clicquot, for the chance to see a 1956 Jean Gabin black comedy “La Traversée de Paris.” Gabin is always good, but the film is uneven, without much tension or humor, a bit like a flabby claret.

A much better rare treat was the definitive British film noir “It Always Rains on Sunday,” (1947, Robert Hamer), set in London’s East End, featuring a Jewish family and starring John McCallum as prison escapee Tommy Swann and tough yet oddly dainty Googie Withers as his ex-gf. The Film Noir Foundation’s Eddie Muller introduced the film, noting that it was less a crime flick than an effective portrayal of the plight of the poor and downtrodden.

We watched this with our friend Debra Levine of artsmeme.com. Our verdict: It’s a good, engaging film but what makes it great is the sleek, striking cinematography. “Tommy made some poor choices,” Ms. Levine overheard someone saying as we left the theater. Aah, but we all know that “choice” is but a futile joke in the world of film noir!

Eva Marie Saint discussed “On the Waterfront” with Bob Osborne on Friday night. Photo by John Nowak

Another Friday highlight: the lovely and gracious Eva Marie Saint discussing “On the Waterfront.”

The next morning, early birds were rewarded with a talk by Polly Bergen at the screening of “Cape Fear,” one of Robert Mitchum’s most menacing roles. Later-risers could head to the Egyptian Theatre for the West Coast restoration premiere of 1929’s “The Donovan Affair” with live actors (from Bruce Goldstein and company) and sound effects to recreate the lost soundtrack.

Eddie Muller interviewed Susan Ray at the screening of “They Live by Night.” Photo by John Nowak

Next up was a film noir must-see: “They Live by Night” (1949, Nicholas Ray), the quintessential young-lovers-on-the-run story, with an appearance by his widow Susan Ray and introduction by Eddie Muller. Commenting on Ray’s exploratory directing style, she said: “He did not go in with a preconceived idea of what should happen in a scene. He would set it up, light a fuse and watch. He would prod or provoke if necessary. He didn’t impose truth, he looked for it.”

And on Ray’s interest in telling the stories of young people, often loners or societal outcasts, she noted: “He saw the juice, potential, openness and flexibility of youth and he loved it.” Nick Ray’s gift as a visual poet is never more apparent than when you see “They Live by Night” on the big screen.

Continuing the noir mood was “Tall Target” (1951, Anthony Mann), a period noir, starring Dick Powell, Paula Raymond and Ruby Dee, based on an actual plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln before he could take the oath office in 1861. Film historian Donald Bogle gave an insightful introduction.

Bob Osborne chats with Ann Blyth before Saturday night’s screening of “Mildred Pierce.” Photo by John Nowak

Then it was back to the Egyptian, where the line for “Mildred Pierce,” snaked down a busy side street of Hollywood Boulevard. Special guest actress Ann Blyth said of Joan Crawford, the film’s mega-star: “I have nothing but wonderful memories of her. She was kind to me during the making of the movie and she was kind to me for many years after.”

Popcorn, Coke, Raisinets and watching Crawford pull out all the shoulder-padded stops – what more could a noirista wish for?

Sunday morning kicked off with a choice between “Badlands,” “Gilda,” or sleeping in a bit and we hit snooze. Sorry. They don’t call me Lazy Legs for nothing. Our first movie was 1973’s “Scarecrow,” starring Al Pacino and Gene Hackman – it was one of the best and most resonant films we’ve seen in a long time. The acting is tremendous in this great-looking film, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Director Jerry Schatzberg discussed his work in a pre-film chat with Leonard Maltin.

Anthony Dawson and Grace Kelly in “Dial M for Murder.”

Afterward, we managed to catch the very noirish “Safe in Hell” (1931, William Wellman), starring Dorothy Mackaill as a streetwise blonde who holds her own among a slew of unsavory men while she’s hiding out in the Caribbean. Donald Bogle introduced the movie and William Wellman, Jr. answered questions afterward.

A great way to wrap up the fest, before heading to the after-party at the Roosevelt Hotel, was a 3-D presentation of “Dial M for Murder.” Leonard Maltin and the always-entertaining actor-producer-director Norman Lloyd, 98, discussed 3-D and the working methods of Alfred Hitchcock. This Hitchcock gem, a perfect example of his subversive casting, is often underrated so we particularly enjoyed seeing it; we noticed that just about every seat was taken.

Hats off to TCM for another superb film festival! The staff does an excellent job running every aspect of this event and it is much appreciated.

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Osborne shares highlights of this year’s TCM Film Festival

TCM host Robert Osborne speaks Wednesday at the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood. Photo by John Nowak

“She’s so beautiful, you can’t believe she’s in her ’80s, and she’s so nice,” said TCM’s Robert Osborne about actress Ann Blyth, who co-starred with Joan Crawford in the classic domestic film noir “Mildred Pierce.”

Blyth will discuss the role when the movie screens at the TCM Film Festival, which starts Thursday at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. Osborne told journalists at a roundtable on Wednesday that he was surprised that Blyth wasn’t typecast. “She was so effective as the mean daughter [Veda] that you hated. Why didn’t that affect her career? She played sweet ingénues after that.”

Club TCM at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. Photo by John Nowak

Other festival highlights for Osborne include interviews with other guests and screenings of “Funny Girl,” “Razor’s Edge,” “Cluny Brown,” and “Desert Song.”

The schedule features a strong film-noir component. “The mood is so rich, it’s a prominent part of the festival,” said TCM’s head programmer Charlie Tabesh. “We noticed that it was immensely popular last year. The theme was style and it fit in very well so we wanted to keep it up this year. People like to see these films on the big screen.”

Inside Club TCM at the Roosevelt. Photo by Edward M. Pio Roda

TCM host Ben Mankiewicz also touched on the popularity of noir and guest programming by the Film Noir Foundation’s Eddie Muller. Mankiewicz said he wants to suggest a night dedicated to neo-noir director John Dahl (“Kill Me Again,” “Last Seduction” and “Red Rock West.”)

“Dahl clearly had a keen appreciation of ’40s and ’50s noir,” Mankiewicz said.

A vintage photo of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly at Club TCM. Photo by Edward M. Pio Roda

We at FNB would love to see a Dahl night. Until then, we can get our fill of these fantastic screenings. And there’s a plethora of photos and memorabilia on display at the Roosevelt. For example, today, before opening night, there’s a special presentation of a suit Humphrey Bogart wore in “The Big Sleep.”

So now it’s back to the Roosevelt! We will be updating on twitter for the rest of the fest.

All photos TM & (C) Turner Entertainment Networks, Inc.

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In ‘Ruthless,’ director Edgar G. Ulmer moves (temporarily) from Poverty Row to Paradise

Ruthless/1948/ Producing Artists/105 min.

“Ruthless” was recently released on Blu-ray by Olive Films.

By Michael Wilmington

The Czech-born émigré film director Edgar G. Ulmer, as noir as they come, was called the King of Poverty Row by some of his cultish admirers.

Pictures like Ulmer’s 1945 low-B film noir “Detour,” his 1939 African-American ultra-indie “Moon Over Harlem,” the 1951 low-fi sci-fi “The Man from Planet X” and the 1955 cheapo Western “The Naked Dawn” stretch the limits of cinematic ingenuity stimulated by minuscule budgets. In Ulmer’s undisputed masterpiece “Detour,” the director shows buildings lost in the night and fog – a spine-chilling effect – because there was no money for a street set.

“Ruthless,” by comparison, is a fairly lush production, with a multitude of richly detailed sets, high production values and a cast that ranks just below A-level. The film has that sense of impending evil and doom that also marked Ulmer’s 1934 Boris Karloff-Bela Lugosi horror classic “The Black Cat.” Even when “Ruthless” becomes absurd – as in the fervidly ludicrous climax – it’s always fun to watch.

Zachary Scott, the great film noir lounge lizard, here plays the ruthlessly successful financier Horace Woodruff Vendig.

Zachary Scott, the great film noir lounge lizard, here plays the ruthlessly successful financier Horace Woodruff Vendig who cheats, double-crosses and sleeps his way to the top, then shrugs it off when a one-time ally commits suicide. Louis Hayward is his often-abused and appropriately named best friend Vic Lambdin.

Sydney Greenstreet is Buck Mansfield, a fellow businessman and rival who’s not quite ruthless enough. Diana Lynn, double-cast, is the love (or loves) of Horace’s life. And that ace noir heavy of heavies Raymond Burr pops up as well. All this for a director who usually counted himself lucky if he got actors like Tom Neal and Ann Savage, the doomed couple in “Detour.”

Scott, a sometimes underrated actor (he was tremendous in both “Mildred Pierce” and in Jean Renoir’s “The Southerner”), manages to show the warmer, more seductive qualities beneath the ruthlessness of Vendig. Greenstreet seems miscast playing a guy named Buck. But he has a good time as the vengeful ex-tycoon, as does Diana Lynn (twice) and Burr, who can occasionally, though not here, seem like a second-string Greenstreet.

Sydney Greenstreet plays Vendig’s rival who’s not quite ruthless enough.

The subject of “Ruthless” is wealth, its hypocrisies and the price it ultimately exacts from the soul of the taker. The obvious inspiration for “Ruthless,” which was based on a novel by Dayton Stoddart (I know, I’ve never heard of him either), is the film of films, Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane.” From Kane, Ulmer and his screenwriters borrow the multiple flashback structure, the deep-focus camera virtuosity, the theme of the sins behind great fortunes, the foil of the humanistic best friend (Hayward) and the main character with three names.

Edgar G. Ulmer

As for Ulmer – the low-rent auteur who persevered through often threadbare productions, including “Damaged Lives,” a low-budget 1933 cautionary drama about venereal disease – “Ruthless” must have made him feel as if he’d migrated temporarily from Poverty Row to Paradise. While “Ruthless” is not as good as “Detour,” it does show that Ulmer could have functioned very well, if the powers that be let him move more often to the right side of the tracks. (The rumor is that the director was banished to the likes of Producers Releasing Corp. and Eagle Lion because he’d seduced the wife of a major studio bigwig.)

But almost anybody can be better with better stuff and the one big advantage of working on Poverty Row is that you’re left alone if you can get it done on time and on (you’ll excuse the word) budget. Ulmer and his charmingly disreputable and penny-wise films will always be special treats to devotees of black and white Hollywood.

Now let’s go watch 1960’s “The Amazing Transparent Man.” I hear the reason the Man was transparent is that there was no money for another actor.

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Retro restaurants> FNB dishes on dining: Russell’s in Pasadena

Might noir master James M. Cain have drawn inspiration from Russell’s?

Russell’s
30 N. Fair Oaks Ave.
Pasadena, CA 91103
626-578-1404

Hours: Open 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Parking: Street or garage at 30 E. Union St.
Price: Lunch/dinner entrees: $10-$18; separate breakfast menu

The Set Up: Russell’s is a cozy, upscale diner that’s been around since 1930. James M. Cain’s novel “Mildred Pierce” (published in 1941 and made into a movie with Joan Crawford in 1945) was set in nearby Glendale. Mildred made her small fortune in the restaurant biz; perhaps Cain drew some culinary inspiration from this spot.

The Style: In terms of décor, Russell’s, with its red leather seats and chandeliers, feels more American bistro than trad diner, but then what’s wrong with some swank while you sup? Nothing in our book.

A slice of pie to make Mildred Pierce proud.

The Stuff: The lunch/dinner menu has a nice variety of meat, fish and pasta dishes along with burgers, sandwiches and salads. We tried the grilled salmon salad (the fillet comes on a generous bed of pristine romaine lettuce, tomatoes and vinaigrette dressing) and a glass of The Crossings New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. For dessert: cherry pie à la mode mode with coffee. Delicious, fresh and packed with fruit, the best slice of pie we’ve tried in quite a while.

The Sting: Would be nice to see a cocktail list, but Russell’s is licensed for wine and beer only.

The Standout: The food is top-notch and the service is excellent – friendly, attentive and relaxed. When we asked the server what kind of coffee was used, he went to the kitchen to check and brought out a small package of Apffels for us to take home. Lovely!

Btw, this weekend is the last chance to see “A Conversation with Edith Head,” starring Susan Claassen, at the Pasadena Playhouse. This great show closes Dec. 1.

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Slices of Los Angeles and a screening of ‘Mildred Pierce’

Photo from www.bettycrocker.com

On Saturday, June 16, at 2 p.m. the American Cinematheque will host a presentation on Los Angeles restaurants of the 1920s-1940s and screen the film-noir classic “Mildred Pierce.”

To kick off the event, Veronica Gelakoska, author of “Pig ’n Whistle,” and writer/preservationist Chris Nichols will give an illustrated talk on the Pig ’n Whistle, Melody Lane, Hody’s and other retro spots.

“Mildred Pierce” stars Joan Crawford as a divorced mother who waits tables and bakes pies to support her demanding daughter’s desires. She becomes a successful Los Angeles restaurateur and trouble ensues.

In honor of Ms. Pierce, slices of fruit pies will be sold at the screening. Fast forwarding to LA restaurants of today, I recently reviewed Gordon Ramsay at the London West Hollywood and thought I would share the review. Mmm.

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WWJD? Taking a leaf, or not, from Joan Crawford’s book

‘Possessed’ will play at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs, which starts on Thursday, May 10, and runs through the weekend.

Possessed/ 1947/Warner Bros. Pictures/108 min.

A dazed and confused Louise (Joan Crawford) wanders the streets of LA.

WWJD? What Would Joan Do is an acronym I use to remind myself that in times of trial, or just dreary old doubt, I can always conjure some outrageous guidance in the spirit of the indomitable Miss Joan Crawford.

“You see?” Joan would purr in her low, silky voice, were she still alive. “It sounds severe, but it’s really rather effective.”

Work woes? If you’ve patiently kept your nose to the grindstone and still haven’t received a promotion, it might be time to march into the boardroom and shout: “Don’t mess with me, fellas!”

Slovenly roommate? Never underestimate the effect of throwing a few hangers around to drive home the point that the apartment is not likely to start cleaning itself.

Man trouble? A quick jab with your stiletto to his foot or chin every 10 minutes or so should ensure that the rapscallion not only listens but also hangs on your every word over dinner.

When Carol (Geraldine Brooks) and David (Van Heflin) start a romance, Louise is less than pleased.

Admittedly, actually doing any of the above or generally taking cues from the Queen of the Ankle-Strap Shoe would likely lead to disastrous results. But the point is that imagining WWJD is nearly as entertaining as watching the many movies in which she played tough strong women who made up their minds to go after what they wanted. And. Didn’t. Stop. Until. They. Got. It.

Getting what she wants is certainly central to her character in director Curtis Bernhardt’s “Possessed” from 1947. Joan plays Louise Howell Graham, a determined gal who doesn’t take it very well when her boyfriend David Sutton (Van Heflin) dumps her. Louise is convinced that if she tries hard enough, David will come to his senses and realize that he does love her, after all.

She even marries wealthy widower Dean Graham (Raymond Massey) as a ploy to win David back. (Need I say the ploy doesn’t work?) When Louise’s stepdaughter Carol (Geraldine Brooks) also falls for David, things get sticky. Or perhaps shaky is a better word because Louise goes off the deep end into a full-fledged psychotic state, though when she eventually pulls the trigger of a gun, her hand is rock steady.

You realize in the opening scene that Louise is in La La Land, literally and figuratively, as she wanders the streets of LA calling David’s name. In a drab dress, hideous shoes, no lipstick and her hair a mess? She needs new medication or an emergency shopping trip to Rodeo Drive. Someone help this woman, please! And mercifully someone does. Louise’s story comes to us in flashback as she tells her doctors in the hospital psycho ward.

The movie is director Bernhardt’s exploration of an unhinged mind. A German Jew well-schooled in the tenets of Expressionism, his visual techniques to show us Louise’s inner torment include high-contrast light and shadow as well as stunningly extreme camera angles to create a sense of emotional chaos.

Steady and wealthy husband Dean Graham (Raymond Massey) adores Louise and, more importantly, believes her lies.

Crowded, asymmetric compositions reveal her sense of entrapment and imbalance. Particularly famous, and beautifully lit, is Louise’s disaster-fantasy scene where she confronts Carol near a flight of stairs – essentially a distorted dream sequence that reflects Louise’s anguish. Joseph Valentine and Sidney Hickox (uncredited) were the cinematographers.

A sweeping score by Franz Waxman highlights Louise’s subjective point of view, particularly her splintered personality. (On the DVD release, film historian Drew Casper offers an informative, if gushy, commentary that details Bernhardt’s methods.)

The intense script came from Ranald MacDougall, Silvia Richards and Lawrence Menkin; it was based on a Rita Weiman story. MacDougall was a favorite of Joan’s. He was the lead writer of “Mildred Pierce” (1945, Michael Curtiz) based on James M. Cain’s novel. MacDougall also adapted and directed 1955’s “Queen Bee.”

It’s Joan’s movie, to be sure, but there’s a terrific chemistry among these well cast players. Heflin plays a douche bag like no other, Massey fairly radiates standup sincerity and goodness, and Brooks shines as his sweet and sexy daughter.

Crazy or not, Louise is still a straight shooter.

By today’s standards, Joan’s acting is a little over the top, but it’s hard to think of another actress who could’ve pulled off this part (it’s a crazy lady, after all) any better. As James Agee sagely noted, “Miss Crawford performs with the passion and intelligence of an actress who is not content with just one Oscar.”

Her performance in “Possessed” was nominated for a best-actress Oscar but, having won for “Mildred Pierce,” her chances were slim; she lost to Loretta Young in “The Farmer’s Daughter.” (She was also nominated for “Sudden Fear,” from 1952, but the award went to Shirley Booth in “Come Back, Little Sheba.”)

The genius of Joan is that she while she might’ve overplayed it a tad, she always retained a sense of dignity and backbone that made you admire her a little, even if she was nuts. My favorite scene is when hubby Dean asks her why she lied to him. She answers, in a blasé tone, “Because I felt like it. I wanted to lie and I lied. Let me alone.”

This reminds me of a story my mother told me once. She and her best friend, both newly married, attended a bridal shower where the guests were asked to write down a piece of advice for a happy marriage. The two of them suggested the following: “Tell one lie every day.” When it came time to read each item aloud, the other guests were aghast at this exhortation to fib. Still, my mother and her friend got quite a good chuckle out of it.

I think Joan would have too.

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Literary confection, noir reflection from Simon Doonan

"I am invariably stuffed into a flowery shirt of some description," says Doonan. "It's my signature flourish."

Was “ratchet up your fabulosity factor” one of your New Year’s resolutions? Does that resolve now seem a dim and fuzzy memory? Then thank heaven for Simon Doonan and his new book, “Gay Men Don’t Get Fat” (Blue Rider Press; $24.95).

Style setter, best-selling author and creative director for Barneys New York, Doonan riffs on our tendency to defer to French women regarding matters of living well, dressing with panache and eating dessert. Really though, who knows more about good times and looking great than gay men? As Doonan puts it: “Gay men are French women … with penises.”

This self-described “Gucci-wearing Margaret Mead at heart” shows why gays know how to work, play and dress better than anyone else, and offers advice for getting with the program.

Most gratifying to me was that in his Top 10-ish (actually 13) life-enhancingly fabulous films, Doonan includes “Double Indemnity,” “Mildred Pierce,” “Some Like It Hot” and “All About Eve.” Oh, and “Mommie Dearest” – duh! (The others are: “Paris is Burning,” “The Boys in the Band,” “X, Y and Zee,” “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” “Female Trouble,” “Showgirls,” Rosemary’s Baby,” and “Midnight Cowboy.”)

"GMDGF" is Doonan's fifth book.

At a recent book signing at Barneys in Beverly Hills, Doonan graciously shared his thoughts on the glory of black and white. “Film noir has been important to me since I first saw ‘Double Indemnity’ at age 6 [on TV]. It’s mysterious and sad and sexy. I’ve always loved it. I can’t imagine living without knowing about film noir. I feel sorry for kids who grew up on rom-coms and don’t have this beauty in their lives. J’adore!”

The book is the literary equivalent of the champagne and macaroons that circulated at the Barneys event. In chapters such as “Macaroons Are So Gay!” “Jamie Oliver is a Lesbian,” “The Bitter Tears of Jackie O” and “Go Tuck Yourself,” Doonan merrily gushes about the surprisingly straight origins of chi-chi gay-friendly food, lesbian trend-setting, ignorant interns and scary plastic surgery. In “The Fag Hagony and the Ecstasy,” he offers tips for ditching the shackles of ridonculous societal expectations and cultivating a gay entourage.

His hilarious observations are laced with fondness and compassion for his target market. “I dedicate this book to the straight women of the world, whose lives seem insanely more complicated than my own and whose shoes must surely hurt like hell. I feel your pain, girls!”

Author photo by Albert Sanchez

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