Long-awaited Curtiz book hits Hollywood; Egyptian Theatre hosts signing and screening

Alan K. Rode

Film noir expert Alan K. Rode has released “Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film,” published by the University Press of Kentucky. To mark the book’s launch, the American Cinematheque is hosting a book signing and screening of two Curtiz gems on Thursday night in Hollywood at the Egyptian Theatre.

The Sea Wolf” (1941) stars Edward G. Robinson, John Garfield, Ida Lupino, Gene Lockhart and Barry Fitzgerald in a tense and moody adaption of Jack London’s anti-fascist adventure novel. Robert Rossen (“The Hustler”) wrote the screenplay.

The Breaking Point” (1950) takes Ernest Hemingway’s tragic novel “To Have and Have Not” as its source material. Though the setting is changed from Key West to Newport Beach, Calif., Curtiz delivers a more faithful version of the book than the famous Howard Hawks vehicle starring Bogart and Bacall.

Here, John Garfield expertly plays Skipper Harry Morgan. Gravel-voiced Patricia Neal is the alluring vamp; Phyllis Thaxter, Wallace Ford and Juano Hernandez round out the cast.

Rode set himself quite the task when he decided to write about this master director. Uncommonly prolific across many genres (including Westerns, swashbucklers and musicals), Hungarian-born Curtiz made more than 60 movies in Europe and more than 100 in Hollywood, arriving in 1926 at the behest of Warner Bros. Studio.

He won the Best Director Oscar for 1942’s noir-tinged “Casablanca” and for a short called “Sons of Liberty” from 1939. He was nominated for Oscars five times and directed 10 actors to Oscar nominations. James Cagney and Joan Crawford received their only Academy Awards under Curtiz’s direction.

Crawford won for her comeback role, “Mildred Pierce,” a domestic film noir from 1945. With a screenplay by Ranald MacDougall, the movie improves and heightens the drama of James M. Cain’s novel.

Co-starring Ann Blyth, Zachary Scott, Jack Carson, Eve Arden and Bruce Bennett, “Mildred Pierce” ranks as one of our all-time favorite films.

For tonight, however, we’ll just have to swoon over John Garfield. Life’s rough.

Rode will sign his book in the lobby at 6:30 p.m. He will also introduce the films, slated to start at 7:30 p.m.

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Film Noir File: Summer of Darkness has strong second chapter

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Film Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard). All films without a new review have been covered previously in Film Noir Blonde and can be searched in the FNB archives (at right).

Pick of the Week: Friday is Noir Day on Summer of Darkness

Nothing beats a stroll a down a dark slick street to cool off on a hot summer night. The second week of TCM’s Summer of Darkness boasts as strong a lineup as the first. Curated and hosted by the Czar of Noir himself, Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation and the Noir City film festivals, TCM’s Summer of Darkness is one festival of shadowy dreams and gun crazy nightmares you won’t want to miss.

Friday, June 5

Glass Key poster 300 w6 a.m. (3 a.m.): “The Glass Key” (Stuart Heisler, 1942). Brian Donlevy, Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake star in this stylish remake of the 1935 film based on Hammett’s popular novel. The story follows a ruthless political boss and his personal adviser, who become entangled in a web of organized crime and murder involving the daughter of a rising gubernatorial candidate. Akira Kurosawa once claimed this film to be the inspiration for his classic samurai flick “Yojimbo” (1961).

7:30 a.m. (4: 30 a.m.): “Laura” (Otto Preminger, 1944).

9 a.m. (6 a.m.): “Ministry of Fear” (Fritz Lang, 1944). Ray Milland, just released from a British mental institution, wins the wrong cake at a charity raffle and becomes ensnared in a nightmarish web of espionage and murder. Graham Greene wrote the source novel. Co-starring Marjorie Reynolds and Dan Duryea.

10:30 a.m. (7:30 a.m.): “Murder, My Sweet” (Edward Dmytryk, 1944).

12:15 p.m. (9:15 a.m.): “Danger Signal” (Robert Florey, 1945). More top-notch caddery from that expert lounge snake, Zachary Scott, pulling the wool over Faye Emerson’s and other eyes. 1:45 p.m.

(10:45 a.m.): “Detour” (Edgar Ulmer, 1945).

3 p.m. (12 p.m.): “Mildred Pierce” (Michael Curtiz, 1945).

5 p.m. (2 p.m.): “Deadline at Dawn” (Harold Clurman, 1946). 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.

6:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m.): “Johnny Angel” (Edwin L. Marin, 1946). Middling noir with George Raft hunting down killers and Claire Trevor.

“Gun Crazy” is Joseph H. Lewis’ masterpiece.

“Gun Crazy” is Joseph H. Lewis’ masterpiece.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Gangster” (Gordon Wiles, 1947). A sleeper. Good, neglected gangster noir, based on novelist (and later, screenwriter) Daniel Fuchs’ superb Brooklyn low-life chronicle, “Low Company.” (Read it, if you haven’t.) With Barry Sullivan, Shelley Winters, Akim Tamiroff, John Ireland and Harry Morgan.

9:45 p.m. (6:45 p.m.): “Gun Crazy” (Joseph H. Lewis, 1950).

11:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.): “Tomorrow is Another Day” (Felix Feist, 1951). An ex-con (Steve Cochran) adjusts violently to post-prison life. With Ruth Roman.

1:15 a.m. (10:15 p.m.): “Nightmare Alley” (Edmund Goulding, 1947).

3:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m.): “Night Moves” (Arthur Penn, 1975). Underrated ’70s private-eye noir, set in the Florida Keys, with Gene Hackman as the tough P. E. and Melanie Griffith, Edward Binns and James Woods in fine support. Written by Alan Sharp and directed by Arthur Penn (“Bonnie and Clyde”).

Saturday, June 13

Bullitt poster - Copy 2148 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Bullitt” (Peter Yates, 1968). One of the more stylish cop-movie thrillers. With Steve McQueen at his coolest, Jacqueline Bisset at her loveliest, Robert Vaughn at his slimiest – plus the car chase to end all car chases.

Sunday, June 14

2:15 p.m. (11:15 a.m.): “A Kiss Before Dying” (Gerd Oswald, 1956). A charming psychopath (Robert Wagner) preys on two sisters (Joanne Woodward, Virginia Leith) in this tense adaptation of the novel by Ira Levin (“Rosemary’s Baby”). With Jeffrey Hunter and Mary Astor.

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Greed” (Erich von Stroheim, 1924). Erich von Stroheim’s silent masterpiece about the dark side of life in San Francisco and Death Valley, with Gibson Gowland, Jean Hersholt and ZaSu Pitts as an odd, deadly triangle. Mutilated and cut by nearly six hours by MGM and Irving Thalberg, this is still one of the all-time great films.

Monday, June 15

Bunny Lake poster12 p.m. (9 a.m.): “The Fallen Idol” (Carol Reed, 1948). mesmerizing story of a little French boy (Bobby Henrey), a French diplomat’s son, who hero-worships the embassy butler (Ralph Richardson), but mistakenly comes to believe his idol has murdered his wife, and keeps unintentionally incriminating him. Graham Greene adapted the script from his short story.

5:45 p.m. (2:45 p.m.): “Bunny Lake Is Missing” (Otto Preminger, 1965). Bunny Lake is an American child kidnapped in London, Carol Lynley her terrified mother, Keir Dullea her concerned uncle, Anna Massey her harassed teacher, Noel Coward her sleazy landlord, and Laurence Olivier the brainy police detective trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together. The most important of those pieces: Was Bunny ever really there at all? A neglected gem; based on Evelyn Piper’s novel.

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Film noir fashion lives on with contemporary style-setters

Lana Turner, Ava Gardner, Veronica Lake, Lauren Bacall, Rita Hayworth and Joan Crawford.

Lana Turner, Ava Gardner, Veronica Lake, Lauren Bacall, Rita Hayworth and Joan Crawford.

“I saw ‘Rear Window’ and I swear I felt my brain chemistry change,” says film and fashion educator Kimberly Truhler, explaining how she acquired her love of movies and clothes. “I thought why doesn’t everyone  dress like that today?”

Kimberly Truhler

Kimberly Truhler

Gabriela Hernandez

Gabriela Hernandez

Truhler’s comment was part of a terrific talk she delivered Sunday at the Skirball Cultural Center in West Los Angeles. (Her lecture on the history of fashion in film noir was part of the Skirball’s ongoing “Light & Noir” exhibit.)

During World War II, film industry designers were affected by shortages of fashion materials, such as silk and rubber. Additionally, they had to work around the strict codes of the censors, ensuring that no navels were shown and that legs were properly covered. Carefully constructed two-piece ensembles and thigh-high slits were a few of the ways to circumvent the wardrobe strictures set down by the Hays Office.

Vera West

Vera West

And, of course, designers had to disguise any figure flaws of their leading ladies and men. For example, in “This Gun for Hire” (1942, Frank Tuttle) Edith Head found subtle ways to elongate Veronica Lake’s diminutive (4’ 11”) frame.

Truhler dissected several other classic offerings: “Casablanca” (1942, Michael Curtiz, costume design by Orry-Kelly), “To Have and Have Not” (1944, Howard Hawks, costume design by Milo Anderson), “Mildred Pierce” (1945, Michael Curtiz, costume design by Milo Anderson), “Gilda” (1946, Charles Vidor, costume design by Jean Louis), “The Killers” (1946, Robert Siodmak, costume design by Vera West), “The Postman Always Rings Twice” (1946, Tay Garnett, costume design by Irene Lentz) and “Sunset Blvd.” (1950, Billy Wilder, costume design by Edith Head).

Surprising, given the importance of clothes in establishing character and mood, the Academy did not award an Oscar for costume design until 1948.

Irene Lentz

Irene Lentz

Truhler, who sees 1946 as a stand-out year for film noir, discussed the iconic look of each movie and showed how the designer’s influence is still keenly felt on contemporary runways and with today’s style-setters. She also elaborated on the challenges and pressures costume designers face, pointing out that the legendary Ms. Head “borrowed” work from other people to snag her job at Paramount.

On a sad note, three great talents of the costume-design business (West, Lentz and Robert Kalloch) committed suicide.

We at FNB are looking forward to Truhler’s books – one on the history of film and fashion and another on Jean Louis, who was married to Loretta Young from 1993-1997.

Following Truhler’s talk, Gabriela Hernandez, founder of Bésame Cosmetics, gave a great lecture on the evolution of makeup in the movies (it all started with Max Factor) and how cosmetics were used in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s to create the look of a siren. A raffle winner got a demonstration on how to amp up her film noir allure with Bésame products.

Event photos by Roxanne Brown

Ginger Pauley is known as the Vintage Girl.

Ginger Pauley is known as the Vintage Girl.

Margot Gerber and a fellow retro enthusiast at the Skirball Cultural Center.

Margot Gerber and a fellow retro enthusiast at the Skirball Cultural Center.

Erin Cherry perfectly pulls off a film noir look.

Erin Cherry perfectly pulls off a film noir look.

Redheads rule!

Redheads rule!

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Hollywood Costume comes to the Wilshire May Co. building

 Tippi Hedren’s pale green dress from “The Birds,” shot by Richard Harbaugh / ©A.M.P.A.S.


Tippi Hedren’s pale green dress from “The Birds,” shot by Richard Harbaugh / ©A.M.P.A.S.

Starting on Oct. 2, you can stroll through history in style at the Hollywood Costume exhibition, which is housed in the Wilshire May Company building (at Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles), the future location of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

Organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and sponsored by Swarovski, this show explores costume design as an essential tool of cinematic storytelling. (The show runs through March 2, 2015.)

The designer Adrian at work.

The designer Adrian at work.

Summing it up perfectly was a quotation inside the show from Adrian, a legendary Golden Age designer and creator of “The Wizard of Oz” ruby slippers, which are on display. Said Adrian: “Few people in an audience watching a great screen production realize the importance of any gown worn by the feminine star. They may notice that it’s attractive, that they would like to have it copied, that it is becoming.

“The fact that it was definitely planned to mirror a definite mood, to be as much a part of the play as the lines or the scenery seldom occurs to them. But that most assuredly is true.”

More than 150 iconic costumes curated by Deborah Nadoolman Landis will be on display – including Marlene Dietrich’s costumes from “Morocco” (1930) and Marilyn Monroe’s infamous white dress from “The Seven Year Itch” (1955) as well as Jared Leto’s costume from “Dallas Buyers Club and several entries from “American Hustle and “The Great Gatsby” (all 2013).

Film noir makes a showing (there’d be trouble otherwise!) with Kim Novak’s emerald-green dress from “Vertigo” and Tippi Hedren’s pale green dress from “The Birds,” not to mention examples from “Mildred Pierce,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” “L.A. Confidential,” “The Big Lebowski,” “Basic Instinct” and “No Country for Old Men.” The work of legendary Edith Head is well represented.

Curator Deborah Nadoolman Landis

Curator Deborah Nadoolman Landis

In conjunction with the Hollywood Costume exhibition, the Academy will present screenings, starting Saturday with a terrific double feature: the Coen Brothers’ “No Country for Old Men and “The Big Lebowski.” Several of the featured costume designers will appear in person to introduce their films.

Designer and curator Deborah Nadoolman Landis originally approached the Academy several years ago with the idea for the show. The Academy passed on Hollywood Costume, so Landis took it to London’s V&A, which snapped it up.

Now the Academy apparently feels the time is right for the show. Commenting on the irony of London having the show first, Landis said, at the press preview Monday: “You can’t be a prophet in your own land.”

Most assuredly.

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Film noir and shoulder pads spur Crawford’s comeback

Wanted to share my talk on “Mildred Pierce” (1945, Michael Curtiz) on Saturday, Sept. 20, at the West Hollywood Library. The library’s Corey Roskin introduced me. Hope you enjoy!

The movie was popular with critics and audiences, and it garnered six Academy Award nominations including best picture. Joan Crawford won for best actress. The superb cast members (Eve Arden, Ann Blyth, Jack Carson, Bruce Bennett, Zachary Scott) balance Crawford beautifully. Arden and Blyth both got Oscar nods for supporting actress.

The screening was part of WeHo Reads, a noir-themed month-long literary program.

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Film Noir Blonde to introduce ‘Mildred Pierce’ Saturday in West Hollywood

“Mildred Pierce” has an outstanding cast, including Eve Arden (left), Ann Blyth and, of course, the divine Ms. Crawford.

“Mildred Pierce” has an outstanding cast, including Eve Arden (left), Ann Blyth and, of course, the divine Ms. Crawford.

More noir news to share: I will be introducing “Mildred Pierce” (1945, Michael Curtiz) at 2 p.m. this Saturday, Sept. 20, at the West Hollywood Library Community Meeting Room, 625 N. San Vicente Blvd.

The movie was popular with critics and audiences, and it garnered six Academy Award nominations including best picture. Joan Crawford won for best actress. The superb cast members (Eve Arden, Ann Blyth, Jack Carson, Bruce Bennett, Zachary Scott) balance Crawford beautifully. Arden and Blyth both got Oscar nods for supporting actress. They lost to Anne Revere in “National Velvet.”

This free screening is part of WeHo Reads, a noir-themed month-long literary program. On Saturday, Sept. 27, there will be a day of panels, music and film.

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Film noir is the focus of WeHo Reads, starting Saturday

The Big Sleep poster 214September is National Literacy Month and the City of West Hollywood came up with a great idea to celebrate: a month’s worth of community literary events collectively called WeHo Reads. The city will screen a classic film noir at 2 p.m. every Saturday from Sept. 6 to Sept. 20. And it’s free!

The films, which will be shown at the West Hollywood Library Community Meeting Room, 625 N. San Vicente Blvd., are “Double Indemnity,” “The Big Sleep” and “Mildred Pierce.”

In honor of  “Double Indemnity” kicking off all the darkness, you can read our 14 reasons we love this flick.

On Saturday, Sept. 27, there will be a day of panels, music and film. At 7:15 p.m., there will be a free outdoor screening of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”

See you in WeHo, noiristas!

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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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