The Film Noir File: ‘All the King’s Men’ a political powerhouse

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

All the King’s Men” (1949, Robert Rossen). Saturday, Feb. 8, 10 p.m. (7 p.m.). Robert Rossen’s tough, iconoclastic adaptation of Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about Deep South politics, the gullible electorate and the smart rustic crook, Willie Stark, who exploits them, isn’t usually classed as a film noir. But it’s certainly as dark, hard-edged and stylish a drama of American political criminality and corruption as any movie has given us. It looks and feels like a noir, and it hits you in the gut like one. Willie Stark, who was modeled on the legendary Louisiana governor and demagogue Huey Long, remains one of the classic portraits of political gangsterism.

All the King's Men posterStark – played by movie tough guy Broderick Crawford in his Oscar-winning performance – starts out, like a few other Southern demagogues (including George Wallace) as a “man of the people” and a populist. But, along the way, on his road to near-dictatorial power, Stark begins cutting deals, bullying his enemies, and turning his state into a piggy-bank for himself and his cronies. Every step of that way is witnessed and recorded by intellectual newsman turned Stark supporter (and then foe) Jack Burden (John Ireland), who follows Willie from his back-country idealist origins to a dark, tragic climax.

Robert Rossen made “All the King’s Men” after writing many gangster and crime scripts for Warner Brothers. He directed two classic film noirs: “Johnny O’Clock,” with Dick Powell, and the classic “Body and Soul,” with John Garfield. Until Rossen directed another classic noir in 1961 (the gritty black-and-white pool-hall saga “The Hustler,” with Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason and George C. Scott) “All the King’s Men” remained his best film. Tough and stylish, hard as nails and idealistic underneath, it’s as dark as “Body and Soul” or “The Hustler.” The great cast includes Crawford, Ireland, Joanne Dru, John Derek, Shepperd Strudwick and, in another Oscar-winning performance, as Willie’s hard-bitten right-hand babe Sadie Burke, that great neglected actress, Mercedes McCambridge.

Wednesday, Feb. 5

The incomparable Edith Head dressed Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant in "Notorious."

The incomparable costume designer Edith Head dressed Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant in “Notorious.”

1:30 a.m. (10:30 p.m.): “Notorious” (1946, Alfred Hitchcock). With Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant and Claude Rains. Reviewed in FNB on Feb. 20, 2012.

Thursday, Feb. 6

11:30 a.m. (8:30 a.m.): “Caged” (1950, John Cromwell). With Eleanor Parker, Agnes Moorehead and Hope Emerson. Reviewed in FNB on July 13, 2012.

3:30 p.m. (12:30 p.m.). “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” (1962, Robert Aldrich). With Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Victor Buono. Reviewed in FNB on July 28, 2012).

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “Wait Until Dark” (1967, Terence Young). With Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin and Richard Crenna. Reviewed in FNB on 12/12/12 (Dec. 12, 2012)

Friday, Feb. 7

6:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m.): “Night Must Fall” (1937, Richard Thorpe). With Robert Montgomery, Rosalind Russell and Dame May Whitty. Reviewed in FNB on May 15, 2013.

4:15 p.m. (1:15 p.m.): “The Lavender Hill Mob” (1951, Charles Crichton), With Alec Guinness, Stanley Holloway and Sidney James.. Reviewed in FNB on Feb. 27, 2013.

Saturday, Feb. 8

7 a.m. (4 a.m.): “The Long Voyage Home” (1940, John Ford). With Thomas Mitchell, Barry Fitzgerald and John Wayne. Reviewed in FNB on Feb. 20, 2013.

9 a.m. (6 a.m.): “Crossfire” (1947, Edward Dmytryk). With Robert Young, Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan. Reviewed in FNB on Nov. 10, 2013.

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “All the King’s Men” (See Pick of the Week.)

Monday, Feb. 10

9:30 p.m. (6:30 p.m.): “Foreign Correspondent” (1940, Alfred Hitchcock). With Joel McCrea, Laraine Day and George Sanders. Reviewed in FNB on Feb. 20, 2013.

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The Noir File: ‘Notorious’ affair is decades ahead of its time

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

Notorious” (1946, Alfred Hitchcock). Tuesday, Feb. 12, 10:15 p.m. (7:15 p.m.)

“Notorious” ranks as one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best films and Ingrid Bergman as Alicia Huberman is one of the most contemporary of all ’40s noir heroines. In this splendid 1946 suspense thriller, Bergman’s Alicia is a U.S. secret agent assigned to infiltrate a group of Nazis who have resurfaced in South America after WW2. Alicia risks her life to root out the Nazis’ source of uranium, an ingredient in atomic bombs. She also likes to throw parties, expose her midriff (love the sequin zebra-print top) and pursue her man, fellow secret agent T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant). Dev’s easy on the eyes, but he’s suspicious, uptight and seemingly unfeeling.

Their “strange love affair” as she calls it, tinged with cynicism and mistrust, is decades ahead of its time. And their record-breakingly long kisses, which look tame now, were considered extremely racy in 1946. Read the full review here.

Wednesday, Feb. 13

6 a.m. (3 a.m.): “The Stranger” (1946, Orson Welles). With Welles and Loretta Young.

6:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m.) “The Window” (1949, Ted Tetzlaff). With Bobby Driscoll and Arthur Kennedy.

12:30 a.m. (9:30 p.m.): “The Narrow Margin” (1952, Richard Fleischer). With Charles McGraw and Marie Windsor.

Thursday, Feb. 14

Joan Fontaine and Sir Laurence Olivier star in “Rebecca.”

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Rebecca” (1940, Alfred Hitchcock). Daphne du Maurier’s supreme gothic romantic thriller about a shy, nameless young woman (Joan Fontaine), picked by a rich, brooding widower, Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier), as his new bride, to replace his late, intimidatingly beautiful, acid-tongued and unforgettable spouse, Rebecca.

To the new bride’s fear and dismay, Rebecca still casts an eerie spell over the De Winter mansion Manderley – as do the house’s spooky, terrifying housekeeper (Judith Anderson) and Rebecca’s rascally seducer cad of a cousin (George Sanders). This elegant and faithful David O. Selznick production is directed, thanks to Selznick’s famous interference, in somewhat fettered, but ingenious style by Hitchcock. One can’t imagine it being done better. “Rebecca” was the Best Picture Oscar winner for 1940: a very good year for Hitchcock, Selznick, Fontaine, Du Maurier – and us.

2:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m.): “Spellbound” (1945, Alfred Hitchcock). With Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck.

Saturday, Feb. 16

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “North by Northwest” (1959, Alfred Hitchcock). With Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint.

2:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m.): “Bad Day at Black Rock” (1955, John Sturges). With Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan and Lee Marvin.

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The Noir File: Belafonte and Ryan in ‘Odds Against Tomorrow’

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

Robert Ryan and Harry Belafonte lead a top cast in “Odds Aganist Tomorrow.”

Odds Against Tomorrow” (1959, Robert Wise). Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2:15 a.m. (11:15 p.m.). Here is one of the great, underrated film noirs – a movie whose reputation and stature was recognized early on by French critics and has continued to grow over the past half century.

Directed by Robert Wise, and based on a novel by suspense specialist William McGivern (“The Big Heat“), “Odds Against Tomorrow” boasts a riveting and exciting story, unforgettable characters and a social/political allegory that’s pointed and powerful.

Three mismatched New Yorkers – genial, corrupt ex-cop Dave (Ed Begley), brutal ex-con Earl (Robert Ryan) and reckless Johnny (Harry Belafonte), a nightclub entertainer with huge gambling debts – join forces for an upstate bank robbery, a well-planned heist that will supposedly solve all their money problems. But the problems are just beginning. Earl is a racist who hates Johnny on sight and Johnny has a short fuse as well. Things begin to unravel, then explode.

Gloria Grahame plays an extra-friendly neighbor.

Ryan’s performance is a scorcher; he‘s a perfect villain, bad to the bone. Belafonte’s is compelling and non-clichéd. (He was also one of the producers.) Begley’s is jovial but poignant, a Willy Loman-like salesman peddling his own destruction. The women in the case, a pair of bad blondes – Shelley Winters as Earl’s whining wife and Gloria Grahame as his slutty neighbor – are top-notch.

French noir master Jean-Pierre Melville named “Odds Against Tomorrow” as one of his three all-time favorite movies; the other two were: “The Asphalt Jungle” and “The Best Years of Our Lives.” Along with the 1949 boxing classic “The Set-Up” (which had Ryan in a sympathetic role, as the aging fighter) this is the best of Wise’s crime movies. The screenplay was mostly by the uncredited and blacklisted Abraham Polonsky (“Force of Evil“). The original jazz score is by John Lewis and the Modern Jazz Quartet. The atmospheric black and white cinematography is by Joseph C. Brun (“Edge of the City”).

Tuesday, Jan. 15

10 a.m. (7 a.m.): “Deadline at Dawn” (1946, Harold Clurman). With Susan Hayward and Paul Lukas.

Wednesday, Jan. 16

8 p.m. (5 p.m.) : “Cry Danger” (1951, Robert Parrish). Fast, breezy revenge yarn, with Dick Powell looking for payback, and Rhonda Fleming, William Conrad and William Erdman standing by.

12:45 a.m. (9:45 a.m.): “The Breaking Point” (1950, Michael Curtiz). With John Garfield and Patricia Neal.

2:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m.): “The Prowler” (1951, Joseph Losey). With Van Heflin and Evelyn Keyes.

Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman

Friday, Jan. 18

4 p.m. (1 p.m.): “Notorious” (1946, Alfred Hitchcock). With Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Reins.

Saturday, Jan. 19

10:45 a.m. (7:45 a.m.): “The Big Knife” (1955, Robert Aldrich). Clifford Odets’ backstage Hollywood shocker of a play is like a faceful of acid, and director Aldrich pulls no punches. Jack Palance is the beleaguered movie star Charlie Castle; surrounding him in an infernally corrupt studio system are Ida Lupino, Rod Steiger, Shelley Winters and Everett Sloane.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Lolita” (1962, Stanley Kubrick). With James Mason, Sue Lyon and Peter Sellers.

3 a.m. (12 a.m.): “I Died a Thousand Times” (1955, Stuart Heisler). Color and Cinemascope remake of the Raoul Walsh-Humphrey Bogart-Ida Lupino gangster saga “High Sierra,” with the original stars replaced by Jack Palance and Shelley Winters. Inferior, but not awful. With Lee Marvin in his snarl mode.

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A few of FNB’s fave posts from 2012

Happy 2013, all! Here’s a look at FNB highlights from 2012.

Marilyn Monroe shot by Bert Stern

Top 10 FNB posts (misc.)

Remembering Beth Short, the Black Dahlia, on the 65th anniversary of her death

TCM festival in Hollywood

Interview with Tere Tereba, author of “Mickey Cohen: The Life and Crimes of L.A.’s Notorious Mobster”

Marilyn Monroe birthday tribute

Marilyn Monroe exhibit in Hollywood

Film noir feline stars: The cat in “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers”

Famous injuries in film noir, coinciding with my fractured toe, or broken foot, depending on how dramatic I am feeling

Panel event on author Georges Simenon with director William Friedkin

History Channel announcement: FNB to curate film noir shop page

Retro restaurant reviews: Russell’s in Pasadena

x

REVIEWS: 2012 neo-noirs or films with elements of noir

Crossfire Hurricane” documentary

Hitchcock

Holy Motors

Killing Them Softly

Momo: The Sam Giancana Story” documentary

Polisse

Rust and Bone

Searching for Sugar Man” documentary

Unforgivable

Wuthering Heights

x

REVIEWS: Classic film noir

Anatomy of a Murder

Criss Cross

Decoy

Gilda

Gun Crazy

Murder, My Sweet

The Postman Always Rings Twice

Possessed

Sunset Blvd.

They Drive By Night

x

REVIEWS: Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Dial M for Murder

The Lady Vanishes

Marnie

Notorious

The 39 Steps

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‘Gilda’ shows that if you’ve got it, you might as well flaunt it

“Gilda” is all about Gilda and that’s the way it should be – for any femme fatale and particularly for Rita Hayworth the most popular pinup girl of WWII, a talented entertainer and Columbia Pictures’ top female star in the mid-1940s. This 1946 movie by director Charles Vidor is essentially a vehicle for the drop-dead gorgeous Hayworth to play a sexy free spirit who lives and loves entirely in the present moment.

Longtime friends Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth had a brief affair during the making of “Gilda.”

Hayworth revels in the sexual power she wields over any man who crosses her path, despite the fact that in post-war America a woman with a mind (and body) of her own spelled nothing but trouble. As the Time Out Film Guide points out: “Never has the fear of the female been quite so intense.” That said, the “independent” Gilda is only briefly without a husband and has to endure a lengthy punishment from her true love.

She first appears, after a devastatingly dramatic hair toss, as the wife of husband Ballin Mundson (George Macready). Suave, but aloof and asexual, Ballin runs a nightclub in Buenos Aires. Gilda passes the time plucking out tunes on her guitar and propositioning other men. Nice work if you can get it.

Enter Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford), an American gambler who runs Ballin’s club. Johnny’s job extends to keeping an eye on Gilda when she’s carousing on the dance floor. Ballin isn’t around much because he’s off trying to form a tungsten cartel with some ex-Nazi pals. But babysitting the boss’ wife (Ballin calls her a “beautiful, greedy child”) is especially tough for Johnny because he and Gilda used to be an item and endured a bitter breakup.

Ballin (George Macready) and Johnny (Glenn Ford) have a tense relationship.

The script is laced with taunts, barbs and innuendo. For example, Gilda tells him: “Hate is a very exciting emotion, hadn’t you noticed? I hate you, too, Johnny. I hate you so much I think I’m going to die from it.” (And some see homosexual undertones in Farrell and Ballin’s relationship.)

Director Vidor, whose other films include 1944’s “Cover Girl” (also starring Hayworth), “A Farewell to Arms” and “The Joker Is Wild” (both 1957), holds his own in the noir genre. “Gilda” is a dark tale (alluding to sexual perversion and repression) and there’s some moody cinematography, courtesy of Rudolph Maté. But Marion Parsonnet’s script, despite many sharp, clever lines, doesn’t hold together and that throws off the pacing. The first third meanders along too slowly while the ending seems abrupt and slapped together.

The plot is thin and vaguely confusing – Ballin is up to no good and at one point is thought to be dead, only to turn up later at a pivotal point in Johnny and Gilda’s romance. They reunite of course and their push-pull tension is the engine that drives the story. Luckily, that tension, combined with solid direction and acting, save the movie.

(The legendary Ben Hecht is an uncredited writer on “Gilda” and if the storyline rings a bell, you might be thinking of “Notorious” also from 1946, written by Hecht, which is another story of ex-Nazis up to no good in South America. Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant play the wary, mistrustful lovers in Alfred Hitchcock’s superior rendering of similar material.)

The chemistry between Ford and Hayworth is about as real as it gets. Longtime friends, they had a brief affair during the making of the movie. In his book, “A Life,” Glenn Ford’s son Peter writes that Vidor coached Glenn and Rita with “outrageously explicit suggestions.” Peter Ford quotes his father as saying: “[Vidor’s] instructions to the two of us were pretty incredible. I can’t even repeat the things he used to tell us to think about before we did a scene.”

Hayworth performs “Put the Blame on Mame,” choreographed by Jack Cole.

According to Peter Ford, this off-screen fling stemmed from Hayworth’s unhappy marriage to Orson Welles. The romance also drew the ire of Columbia Pictures chief Harry Cohn, who reportedly lusted after Hayworth and whom Hayworth rejected. “Gilda” was the second film Hayworth and Ford appeared in together; they worked together three more times afterward as well.

“Gilda” wasn’t a critical hit, but it proved popular with audiences, especially the famous “Put the Blame on Mame” scene.

Choreographed by Jack Cole, a bold and brilliant innovator, the number is as close to a strip tease as was possible in 1946. Hayworth was dubbed by Anita Ellis in that number, though there is some debate as to whether it’s Hayworth’s voice when she runs through the song with Uncle Pio (Steven Geray) earlier in the movie.

Though “Gilda” cemented Hayworth’s celebrity status, her fame came at a price. “Every man I’ve known has fallen in love with Gilda and wakened with me,” she said. But, despite her career ups and downs, five failed marriages and a long struggle with Alzheimer’s, she kept her sense of humor. In the 1970s, Hayworth was asked, “What do you think when you look at yourself in the mirror after waking up in the morning?” Her reply: “Darling, I don’t wake up till the afternoon.”

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Blogathon to bring ‘The White Shadow’ to your computer

I am re-running my most recent Hitchcock review to support For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon III, hosted by Ferdy on Films, the Self-Styled Siren and This Island Rod.

Working with National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF), this blogathon aims to bring “The White Shadow,” a 1923 melodrama, to a wider audience. Directed by Graham Cutts, it was also the first film Alfred Hitchcock had a major role in creating (assistant director, screenwriter, film editor, production designer, art director, set decorator). The film was restored in New Zealand and repremiered by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences last September at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Los Angeles.

To make “The White Shadow” available for free on its web site, the NFPF needs to raise $15,000. This money will allow the foundation to host and stream the film for four months and to record Michael Mortilla’s marvelous new score. It is the mission of this year’s For the Love of Film Blogathon to raise the money so that anyone with access to a computer can watch this amazing early film.

I hope you’ll read the great posts from fellow scribes and that you’ll make a donation.

‘Notorious’ is the film noir equivalent of an icy flute of Veuve Clicquot

1946/RKO, Vanguard Films/101 min.

“Notorious” ranks as one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best films and Ingrid Bergman as Alicia Huberman is one of the most contemporary of all ’40s noir heroines. In this splendid 1946 suspense thriller, Bergman’s Alicia is a U.S. secret agent assigned to infiltrate a group of Nazis who have resurfaced in South America after WW2. Alicia risks her life to root out the Nazis’ source of uranium, an ingredient in atomic bombs. She also likes to throw parties, expose her midriff (love the sequin zebra-print top) and pursue her man, fellow secret agent T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant). Dev’s easy on the eyes, but he’s suspicious, uptight and seemingly unfeeling.

The Production Code stipulated that a kiss could not last more than three seconds.

Their “strange love affair” as she calls it, tinged with cynicism and mistrust, is decades ahead of its time. And their record-breakingly long kisses, which look tame now, were considered extremely racy in 1946.

The Production Code (ie, censors) stipulated that a kiss could not last more than three seconds. Hitchcock obeyed, but followed Bergman and Grant’s first swift kiss with another and another and another. Most importantly, she kisses him, noting that he hasn’t said, “I love you.”

The demands of their work (spying and info gathering) create pressure. Alicia must charm Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains), a wealthy, suave and impeccably dressed Nazi. Even though Alex is a high-ranking fascist, we never see him hatching his evil plans, so it’s a bit easier for the audience to put his heinousness on the back burner. Alex dotes on Alicia and is far more emotionally available than the shut-down Dev.

Claude Rains

Leopoldine Konstantin

Before long, Alex proposes to Alicia and gives her quite the rock to seal the deal. Alicia accepts after getting the OK from her unsympathetic and cold boss, Captain Paul Prescott (Louis Calhern).

Living with Alex will let Alicia poke around his stately home, where Prescott reckons trouble is literally brewing, and bring her into frequent contact with baddies like ringleader Eric Mathis (Ivan Triesault), scientific mastermind “Dr. Anderson” (Reinhold Schünzel) and weak link, Emil Hupka (Eberhard Krumschmidt).

Living with Alex also means dealing with the other Mrs. Sebastian, Alex’s mother. Czech-born actress Leopoldine Konstantin, in her only American film, plays the hard and imperious Mrs. Anna Sebastian. When Alex asks Anna to be friendly to Alicia, the battle-ax tartly replies: “Wouldn’t it be a bit much for both of us to be grinning at her like idiots?”

Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) and Dev (Cary Grant) are secret agents assigned to infiltrate a group of Nazis in South America after WW2.

Declaring a shortage of closet space (that’s our girl!), Alicia explores the nooks and crannies of the Sebastian mansion, but finds the wine cellar is off-limits. So, she decides to throw a champagne reception and steal the cellar key from her husband.

She invites Devlin, natch, and the two discover that wine is not the only thing stored in the cellar. (Hitchcock makes his cameo at the shindig, swigging some bubbly.)

Alex realizes the key has been stolen and that his secret is no longer safe, at which point he seeks maternal support. Anna’s fresh out of that, telling him: “We are protected by the enormity of your stupidity, for a time.”

The uranium angle is merely a MacGuffin, Hitchcock argot for a narrative device to advance the plot. The real story is whether Devlin and Alicia can work through their issues, such as his hypocrisy and lack of emotion, her drinking and their mutual game playing, which gets downright cruel. “Our all-too-human capacity for inhumanity is the dark mystery at the heart of ‘Notorious,’ ” writes film scholar William Rothman in his liner notes for the Criterion DVD edition. “And yet, in ‘Notorious,’ the possibility remains alive that the miracle of love can save us from our own perversity.”

This is one of the most beautiful films Hitch ever made, from his gorgeous leads to ravishing cinematography from Ted Tetzlaff – the closeups of Dev and Alicia at the racetrack and the famous crane shot at the mansion before Alicia’s champagne reception are standouts. I also like the imposing silhouettes of Alex and his mother after Alicia susses that they’ve been spiking her coffee. The lighting is magnificent throughout. Using rear-projection, Hitchcock combined footage of the principals filmed on a set with background shots taken in Rio.

The movie clocks in at 102 minutes but it glides by so gracefully that it feels half an hour. Ben Hecht’s sparkling script went through revisions and rewrites with input from Clifford Odets and Hitchcock. (David O. Selznick, on board as producer until he sold his rights to RKO in order to raise cash for another flick, likely tossed ideas around as well. Selznick had eyed Vivien Leigh for the Alicia role.) A few elements of “Notorious” came from a short story by John Taintor Foote called “The Song of the Dragon.”

“Ingrid was very fond of my parents,” recalls Pat Hitchcock O’Connell in her book “Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man.”

The entire cast dazzles and delights; the subtlety of the performances rewards multiple viewings. Hitch even accepted an idea from Bergman on shooting the dinner party scene.

In her book “Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man,” the daughter of Alma and Alfred, Pat Hitchcock O’Connell, recalls that: “Ingrid was very fond of my parents. I remember, she’d finish one film with Daddy and she’d come over, sit on the couch, and say, ‘When do we start the next one?’ ” (Hitchcock O’Connell’s tribute to her mother makes a fun, chatty read and includes some of Alma’s favorite recipes and menus for home entertaining.)

In 1945, Bergman and Hitchcock made “Spellbound” co-starring Gregory Peck and in 1949 Hitch directed her in “Under Capricorn” opposite Joseph Cotten. Also in ’49, Bergman went to Italy to film “Stromboli” with Italian director Roberto Rossellini. Director and star fell in love, and Bergman left her husband Petter Lindstrom for Rossellini. Because of the scandal, Bergman’s reputation in the U.S. suffered, then rebounded; over the course of her career, she earned three Oscars (two for best actress and one for best supporting actress).

One of the most enjoyable and sophisticated films of the black and white era, “Notorious” strikes me as the film noir equivalent of an icy flute of Veuve Clicquot. Cheers!

MGM recently released “Notorious” along with “Rebecca” (1940) and “Spellbound” (1945) on Blu-ray.

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‘Notorious’: noir equivalent of an icy flute of Veuve Clicquot

Notorious/1946/RKO, Vanguard Films/101 min.

“Notorious” ranks as one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best films and Ingrid Bergman as Alicia Huberman is one of the most contemporary of all ’40s noir heroines. In this splendid 1946 suspense thriller, Bergman’s Alicia is a U.S. secret agent assigned to infiltrate a group of Nazis who have resurfaced in South America after WW2. Alicia risks her life to root out the Nazis’ source of uranium, an ingredient in atomic bombs. She also likes to throw parties, expose her midriff (love the sequin zebra-print top) and pursue her man, fellow secret agent T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant). Dev’s easy on the eyes, but he’s suspicious, uptight and seemingly unfeeling.

The Production Code stipulated that a kiss could not last more than three seconds.

Their “strange love affair” as she calls it, tinged with cynicism and mistrust, is decades ahead of its time. And their record-breakingly long kisses, which look tame now, were considered extremely racy in 1946.

The Production Code (ie, censors) stipulated that a kiss could not last more than three seconds. Hitchcock obeyed, but followed Bergman and Grant’s first swift kiss with another and another and another. Most importantly, she kisses him, noting that he hasn’t said, “I love you.”

The demands of their work (spying and info gathering) create pressure. Alicia must charm Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains), a wealthy, suave and impeccably dressed Nazi. Even though Alex is a high-ranking fascist, we never see him hatching his evil plans, so it’s a bit easier for the audience to put his heinousness on the back burner. Alex dotes on Alicia and is far more emotionally available than the shut-down Dev.

Claude Rains

Leopoldine Konstantin

Before long, Alex proposes to Alicia and gives her quite the rock to seal the deal. Alicia accepts after getting the OK from her unsympathetic and cold boss, Captain Paul Prescott (Louis Calhern).

Living with Alex will let Alicia poke around his stately home, where Prescott reckons trouble is literally brewing, and bring her into frequent contact with baddies like ringleader Eric Mathis (Ivan Triesault), scientific mastermind “Dr. Anderson” (Reinhold Schünzel) and weak link, Emil Hupka (Eberhard Krumschmidt).

Living with Alex also means dealing with the other Mrs. Sebastian, Alex’s mother. Czech-born actress Leopoldine Konstantin, in her only American film, plays the hard and imperious Mrs. Anna Sebastian. When Alex asks Anna to be friendly to Alicia, the battle-ax tartly replies: “Wouldn’t it be a bit much for both of us to be grinning at her like idiots?”

Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) and Dev (Cary Grant) are secret agents assigned to infiltrate a group of Nazis in South America after WW2.

Declaring a shortage of closet space (that’s our girl!), Alicia explores the nooks and crannies of the Sebastian mansion, but finds the wine cellar is off-limits. So, she decides to throw a champagne reception and steal the cellar key from her husband.

She invites Devlin, natch, and the two discover that wine is not the only thing stored in the cellar. (Hitchcock makes his cameo at the shindig, swigging some bubbly.)

Alex realizes the key has been stolen and that his secret is no longer safe, at which point he seeks maternal support. Anna’s fresh out of that, telling him: “We are protected by the enormity of your stupidity, for a time.”

The uranium angle is merely a MacGuffin, Hitchcock argot for a narrative device to advance the plot. The real story is whether Devlin and Alicia can work through their issues, such as his hypocrisy and lack of emotion, her drinking and their mutual game playing, which gets downright cruel. “Our all-too-human capacity for inhumanity is the dark mystery at the heart of ‘Notorious,’ ” writes film scholar William Rothman in his liner notes for the Criterion DVD edition. “And yet, in ‘Notorious,’ the possibility remains alive that the miracle of love can save us from our own perversity.”

This is one of the most beautiful films Hitch ever made, from his gorgeous leads to ravishing cinematography from Ted Tetzlaff – the closeups of Dev and Alicia at the racetrack and the famous crane shot at the mansion before Alicia’s champagne reception are standouts. I also like the imposing silhouettes of Alex and his mother after Alicia susses that they’ve been spiking her coffee. The lighting is magnificent throughout. Using rear-projection, Hitchcock combined footage of the principals filmed on a set with background shots taken in Rio.

The movie clocks in at 102 minutes but it glides by so gracefully that it feels half an hour. Ben Hecht’s sparkling script went through revisions and rewrites with input from Clifford Odets and Hitchcock. (David O. Selznick, on board as producer until he sold his rights to RKO in order to raise cash for another flick, likely tossed ideas around as well. Selznick had eyed Vivien Leigh for the Alicia role.) A few elements of “Notorious” came from a short story by John Taintor Foote called “The Song of the Dragon.”

“Ingrid was very fond of my parents,” recalls Pat Hitchcock O’Connell in her book “Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man.”

The entire cast dazzles and delights; the subtlety of the performances rewards multiple viewings. Hitch even accepted an idea from Bergman on shooting the dinner party scene.

In her book “Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man,” the daughter of Alma and Alfred, Pat Hitchcock O’Connell, recalls that: “Ingrid was very fond of my parents. I remember, she’d finish one film with Daddy and she’d come over, sit on the couch, and say, ‘When do we start the next one?’ ” (Hitchcock O’Connell’s tribute to her mother makes a fun, chatty read and includes some of Alma’s favorite recipes and menus for home entertaining.)

In 1945, Bergman and Hitchcock made “Spellbound” co-starring Gregory Peck and in 1949 Hitch directed her in “Under Capricorn” opposite Joseph Cotten. Also in ’49, Bergman went to Italy to film “Stromboli” with Italian director Roberto Rossellini. Director and star fell in love, and Bergman left her husband Petter Lindstrom for Rossellini. Because of the scandal, Bergman’s reputation in the U.S. suffered, then rebounded; over the course of her career, she earned three Oscars (two for best actress and one for best supporting actress).

One of the most enjoyable and sophisticated films of the black and white era, “Notorious” strikes me as the film noir equivalent of an icy flute of Veuve Clicquot. Cheers!

MGM recently released “Notorious” along with “Rebecca” (1940) and “Spellbound” (1945) on Blu-ray.

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‘Notorious’ quick hit

Notorious/1946/RKO, Vanguard Films/101 min.

One of Alfred Hitchcock’s best films and one of Ingrid Bergman’s best roles. Bergman plays Alicia Huberman, a secret agent working to break up a Nazi enclave in South America. She and fellow spy T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant) fall into a “strange affair” made even stranger when, as part of her spying, she marries Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains), a Nazi masquerading as a playboy.

Excellent support from Leopoldine Konstantin as Alex’s bossy mom and Louis Calhern as Alicia and Dev’s cynical boss. An exquisitely beautiful Hitchcock gem.

“Notorious” is the prize in this month’s reader giveaway. To enter the random draw, just make a comment on any post.

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Free stuff from FNB: Win ‘Notorious’ by Alfred Hitchcock

Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in "Notorious"

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I am giving away a DVD copy of the 1946 Alfred Hitchcock classic “Notorious,” starring Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains. Both an espionage thriller and a tortured love story, the movie is considered one of Hitchcock’s finest works and was François Truffaut’s fave. I will run a review in the next few weeks.

(Patricia is the winner of the January reader giveaway, a paperback copy of “We Need to Talk About Kevin” by Lionel Shriver. Congrats to Patricia and thanks to all who entered!)

To enter the February giveaway, just leave a comment on any FNB post from Feb. 1-29. We welcome comments, but please remember that, for the purposes of the giveaway, there is one entry per person, not per comment.

The winner will be randomly selected at the end of the month and announced in early March. Include your email address in your comment so that I can notify you if you win. Your email will not be shared. Good luck!

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Edith, Head of her class: A shrewd woman with a sharp eye and unprecedented success in Hollywood

Famed costume designer Edith Head knew that clothes should underscore an actor’s character, not upstage it. And she applied the same discipline to dealing with Hollywood’s elite, putting every ounce of effort into making them look their absolute best while deflecting attention from herself.

Edith Head

Actress Susan Claassen

A shrewd approach along with her natural talent for design, a gift for navigating studio politics and a tremendous amount of hard work made her one of the movie industry’s most successful women.

In her 60-year career, at Paramount and Universal, she worked on more than 1,131 films, received 35 Academy Award nominations and won eight Oscars, more than any other woman. (Walt Disney, with 26 Oscars, holds the record for a man.)

This savvy lady with her tailored suits, neat little bun and statement specs comes out of the shadows and into the spotlight in “A Conversation With Edith Head,” which opened Friday night at LA’s Odyssey Theatre. And she’s spirited, strong, funny and flawed as played by actress Susan Claassen.

One of her peccadilloes was a disdain for modesty. “I’m not different from other designers, I’m the best,” Claassen tells the audience matter of factly. Another memorable Head aphorism: “You can have anything you want in life, if you dress for it.”

Tinseltown anecdotes and stories of working with the stars are sprinkled throughout the play, which is set in 1981. Head died in October of that year at age 83, still under contract to Universal, having just completed the Steve Martin film “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.”

The show recreates Head's cocktail dress for Bette Davis (far left) and a gown for Elizabeth Taylor (far right).

The format includes questions from the audience as well as free advice on your sartorial choices. Since Claassen called me stunning and asked if I was a model, naturally I think the woman is the greatest genius known to Western civilization. ;)

But, joking aside, Claassen is brilliant in this role, capturing the character’s gestures, mannerisms and demeanor without mimicry or impersonation. Claassen reveals the enormous power Head wielded through her sketch pad and pencil as well as the sacrifices (15-hour days, six days a week in her heyday), self-doubt and sadness that were facets of her extraordinary life.

A closer look at the recreated dress for Bette Davis in "All About Eve" from 1950.

Claassen, who recently received an Ovation nomination for Lead Actress in a Play for this part, co-wrote the work with Paddy Calistro, author of the book “Edith Head’s Hollywood.” The idea came to Claassen while watching a TV biography about Head.

Says Claassen: “Not only do I bear a striking resemblance to Edith, but we share the same love for clothes and fashion. … There are many myths about her, but she was a discreet, tenacious personality. She knew whose hips needed clever disguising and made sure those legendary stars always looked the part.”

Head was a frequent collaborator with Alfred Hitchcock and added élan to the wardrobe of film noir stars, dressing, for example, Barbara Stanwyck in “Double Indemnity,” Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Blvd.,” Ingrid Bergman in “Notorious,” Grace Kelly in “Rear Window” and “To Catch a Thief,” Kim Novak in “Vertigo,” and Tippi Hedren in “The Birds.”

She also dressed Bette Davis as the glamorous actress Margo Channing in “All About Eve” and designed Elizabeth Taylor’s white ball gown in “A Place in the Sun.” In fact, she worked with nearly all the Hollywood greats, including Mae West, Clara Bow, Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Marlene Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Sean Connery, Robert Redford and Paul Newman.

When in 1967 Paramount chose not to renew her contract, she was hired by Universal, thanks to her friendship with Hitchcock, who perhaps really was her favorite director, despite her practical policy of naming her favorite director as the one for whom she was currently working.

Opening night fell on Head's birthday. Cake and champagne were in order, natch.

Though Head’s motto was to accentuate the positive and camouflage the negative, the chapter of her childhood spent in the Nevada desert was good training for holding her own in Hollywood. She was, she said, used to dealing with scorpions.

Opening night coincided with what would have been Head’s 114th birthday so, after the show, party guests sipped champagne and ate red-velvet birthday cake, donated by Susie Cakes.

“A Conversation With Edith Head” is a guest production at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, 90025. It runs Thursdays through Sundays through Nov. 13. (The play premiered in Tucson, Ariz., in 2002 and has since played in many US cities and abroad.) Tickets are $40. For more information: 310-477-2055; www.edithhead.biz.

Photos from the production are copyright of Film Noir Blonde.

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