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: Kazan taps TV’s evil in ‘A Face in the Crowd’

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). All movies below are from the schedule of TCM, which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

Pick of the Week

A Face in the Crowd” (1957, Elia Kazan). Tuesday, Jan. 20, 3 p.m. (12 p.m.).

Andy Griffith gives a mesmerizing performance.

Andy Griffith gives a mesmerizing performance.

Three years after they collaborated on the great noir “On the Waterfront,” screenwriter Budd Schulberg and director Elia Kazan joined forces brilliantly again, on another classic noirish drama: “A Face in the Crowd.”

Andy Griffith stars as a guitar-playing, propaganda-spewing vicious bum named Lonesome Rhodes, whom a bunch of TV types transform into a folksy national superstar – a crazy mixture of Arthur Godfrey, Hank Williams and Senator Joe McCarthy.

Not as famous or as influential as Waterfront, Face is nevertheless another American masterpiece. Thanks to Kazan and Schulberg it had another gutsy, gut-punching script, a similar sense of life in all its intensity and complexity, and another very strong (if not quite as remarkable) cast: Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau, Anthony Franciosa, Lee Remick, Kay Medford, Burl Ives, Mike Wallace, Walter Winchell.

Patricia Neal leads an excellent support cast.

Patricia Neal leads an excellent support cast.

As for Griffith, he was as essential to “Face in the Crowd” as Marlon Brando was to “On the Waterfront.” There were few movie and TV actors more specifically, joyously American back in the ’50s and ’60s than Andy Griffith, a hugely talented small-town North Carolina guy who could so aptly play both good men and bad.

And as Lonesome Rhodes, he gives an explosive, mesmerizing rendition of pure guile and homespun brutality.

Saturday, Jan. 17

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): Foreign Correspondent (1940, Alfred Hitchcock). Saturday, Jan. 17, 8 p.m. (5 p.m.). Read the full review here.

Foreign Corr poster10:15 p.m. (7:15 p.m.): “Contraband” (1940, Michael Powell). A Danish ship captain (Conrad Veidt) and a British beauty (Valerie Hobson) get mixed up in spy high jinx at the onset of World War II. Masterminded by Powell and writer Emeric Pressburger, who would make some of the most offbeat movie masterpieces of the World War II era.

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Above Suspicion” (1943, Richard Thorpe). This glamorous MGM chase thriller sends Joan Crawford and Fred MacMurray (a pretty odd couple) on a honeymoon in terror, with villainous Nazis (including Conrad Veidt, of “Casablanca” fame) as their tour guides. Crawford shines off-type as a smart and loyal wife.

Monday, Jan. 19

6 a.m. (3 a.m.): “Intruder in the Dust” (1949, Clarence Brown). A stately, graceful adaptation of the Mississippi murder mystery by William Faulkner, in which a brave boy (Claude Jarman, Jr.) helps a stubborn, heroic old black man stand up to a lynch mob. A very atypical film for the elegant metteur-en-scene Clarence Brown, Greta Garbo’s most frequent director. But it’s probably the best film he ever made.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Defiant Ones” (1958, Stanley Kramer). Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis as escaped chain gang prisoners, shackled together and on the run, in the most Stanley Kramerish of all Stanley Kramer pictures.

4:15 a.m. (1:15 a.m.): “Edge of the City” (1957, Martin Ritt). With John Cassavetes, Sidney Poitier, Jack Warden and Ruby Dee. Brilliant acting – pitched in an “On the Waterfront” key and set in the same kind of grim dockside milieu – stands out in this tough yet humane film.

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Guest programmer Spike Lee picks four great titles for TCM

Andy Griffith and Patricia Neal star in “A Face in the Crowd.”

Director, producer, writer and actor Spike Lee, guest programming for TCM, has selected four excellent films, all of which have strong film-noir elements and social/political themes. The movies will play at various times this month, starting on Thursday, July 5.

Ace in the Hole” (1951, Billy Wilder) Kirk Douglas stars as a sleazy reporter who will go to any length to restart his career.

On the Waterfront” (1954, Elia Kazan) A washed-up boxer and mob member (Marlon Brando) tries to redeem himself when he falls in love with a victim of the mob (Eva Marie Saint).

A Face in the Crowd” (1957, Elia Kazan) The unlikely rise of a brutal drifter (Andy Griffith) to a media/TV sensation is set against the background of the South in the 1950s. Also stars Patricia Neal and Walter Matthau.

The Night of the Hunter” (1955, Charles Laughton) Another Southern saga: Robert Mitchum plays a murderous preacher, specializing in seducing and killing widows. The outstanding cast includes Shelley Winters and Lillian Gish.

Read Michael Wilmington’s tribute to Andy Griffith here.

Meanwhile, a very happy Fourth of July to everyone!

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