There’s only one ‘Maltese Falcon’ and this is it

The Maltese Falcon/1941/Warner Bros./100 min.

Maltese Falcon poster“The Maltese Falcon,” a spectacularly entertaining and iconic crime film, holds the claim to many firsts.

It’s a remarkable directorial debut by John Huston, who also wrote the screenplay. It’s considered by many critics to be the first film noir. (Another contender is “Stranger on the Third Floor” see below.) It was the first vehicle in which screen legend Humphrey Bogart and character actor Elisha Cook Jr. appeared together – breathing life into archetypal roles that filled the noir landscape for decades to come.

It was veteran stage actor Sydney Greenstreet’s first time before a camera and the first time he worked with Peter Lorre. The pair would go on to make eight more movies together. Additionally, “Falcon,” an entry on many lists of the greatest movies ever made, was one of the first films admitted to the National Film Registry in its inaugural year, 1989.

Based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett, Huston’s “Falcon” is the third big-screen version of the story (others were in 1931 and 1936) and it’s by far the best. Huston follows Hammett’s work to the letter, preserving the novel’s crisp, quick dialogue. If a crime movie can be described as jaunty, this would be it. Huston’s mighty achievement earned Oscar noms for best adapted screenplay, best supporting actor (Greenstreet) and best picture.

According to former New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther: “The trick which Mr. Huston has pulled is a combination of American ruggedness with the suavity of the English crime school – a blend of mind and muscle – plus a slight touch of pathos.”

A few more of Huston’s tricks include striking compositions and camera movement, breathtaking chiaroscuro lighting, and a pins-and-needles atmosphere of excitement and danger. (Arthur Edeson was the cinematographer; Thomas Richards served as film editor.)

For the few who haven’t seen “Falcon,” it’s a tale of ruthless greed and relentless machismo centered around the perfect marriage of actor and character: Humphrey Bogart as private detective Sam Spade – the ultimate cynical, streetwise, I-did-it-my-way ’40s alpha-male. As famed noir author Raymond Chandler once put it: “All Bogart has to do to dominate a scene is to enter it.” Bogart appears in just about every scene in “Falcon.”

As Raymond Chandler  put it: “All Bogart has to do to dominate a scene is to enter it.”

As Raymond Chandler put it: “All Bogart has to do to dominate a scene is to enter it.”

As Spade, he sees through the malarkey, cuts to the chase and commands every situation, even when the odds are stacked against him. At one point he breaks free of a heavy, disarms him and points the guy’s own gun at him, all while toking on his cig. He’s equally adept at using wisecracks and one-liners to swat away the cops, who regularly show up at his door.

Mary Astor plays leading lady Brigid O’Shaughnessy to Bogart’s Sam Spade and it is she who sets the story in motion when she walks into Spade’s San Francisco office. Brigid asks Spade and his partner Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) to trail a man named Thursby who, she says, is up to no good with her sister. They accept the job and Archer takes the first shift of following Thursby. Next morning, Archer’s dead. Turns out that Brigid doesn’t have a sister and Archer’s widow (Gladys George) has the hots for Spade.

Spade’s ultra-reliable and resourceful secretary, Effie (Lee Patrick) is the one gal he can trust and it’s clear she means the world to him. At one point he tells her, “you’re a good man, sister,” which in Spade-speak is a downright gushfest. He might like the look of Brigid and her little finger, but he won’t be wrapped around it anytime soon.

Humphrey Bogart owns the movie, but he has a stellar support cast. From left: Bogart, Peter Lorre, Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet.

Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade owns the movie, but he has a stellar support cast. From left: Bogart, Peter Lorre, Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet.

Astor, a Hollywood wild child of her time, who left a long string of husbands and lovers in her wake and generated much fodder for the tabloids, was brilliant casting for the part of bad-girl Brigid O. True to form, Astor allegedly was having an affair with Huston during the making of the film.

There is no doubt that Bogart owns this guy’s-guy male-fantasy picture, but Astor and the stellar support cast are unforgettable in their roles. As a good-luck gesture to his son, John, actor Walter Huston plays the part of the old sea captain. Peter Lorre drips malevolence as the effeminate and whiny Joel Cairo, and he has a foreign accent, which in Hollywood is usually shorthand for: he’s a bad’un.

Making his film debut at 61, Greenstreet’s Kasper Gutman is both debauched and debonair, a refined reprobate with a jolly cackle and tubby physique (he was more than 350 pounds!). Warner Bros. had to make an entire wardrobe for Greenstreet; Bogart wore his own clothes to save the studio money. One more Bogart contribution was adding the line: “The stuff that dreams are made of” at the end of the film, paraphrasing a line in “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare.

Tough-guy Sam Spade (Bogart) and wimpy Wilmer Cook (Elisha Cook Jr.) are perfect foils.

Tough-guy Sam Spade (Bogart) and wimpy Wilmer Cook (Elisha Cook Jr.) are perfect foils.

And honing the sort of performance that would become his trademark, Elisha Cook Jr. stamps the character of warped thug Wilmer Cook with code for “psycho” (darting eyes, bubbling rage, edgy desperation) as if it were a neon light attached to his forehead.

Much has been written about the homosexual subtext of the Cairo, Gutman and Cook characters – I will just say they’re all part of the flock that covets and vies for possession the falcon, a jewel-laden statue of a bird that’s the treasure at the core of this tense and serpentine story. When it’s suggested that Wilmer Cook be sacrificed for the good of the gang, Greenstreet’s Kasper Gutman explains that, though Wilmer is like a son, “If you lose a son, it’s possible to get another. There’s only one Maltese Falcon.”

Though there were two other celluloid versions of Hammett’s story, in my view, there’s only one “Maltese Falcon” and this is it.

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The first film noir: ‘Stranger on the Third Floor’ stakes a claim

Stranger on the Third Floor/1940/RKO Radio Pictures/64 min.

“Stranger,” with its dramatic look, broke new cinematic ground.

“Stranger on the Third Floor,” with its dramatic Expressionistic look, broke new cinematic ground.

There’s no definitive answer to the question of which movie is the first film noir but some experts make a case for “Stranger on the Third Floor” (1940, Boris Ingster) and it’s a pretty good argument. Others cite 1941’s “The Maltese Falcon” by John Huston and some film historians maintain that “Double Indemnity” (1944, Billy Wilder) holds the title.

Of the three directors, Ingster, who had worked with Sergei Eisenstein in Russia, is the least distinguished and “Stranger” lacks the makings of a great film. Now, 74 years after it was made, “Stranger” feels somewhat dated and contrived, but it’s indisputable that Ingster’s B movie – with its dramatic look and disturbing psychological theme – broke new cinematic ground.

John McGuire plays Michael Ward, an energetic and ambitious reporter for a New York City paper. Mike needs a raise so he can marry his girlfriend, Jane (Margaret Tallichet), an office worker with no last name. She’s beautiful, sweet, loyal and resourceful, i.e. the perfect wife and essentially an extension of John’s personality.

“Stranger” uses compelling visuals to convey its disturbing psychological theme.

“Stranger” uses compelling visuals to convey its disturbing psychological theme.

Mike snares a $12/week raise not for breaking a story but for testifying in a murder trial. He tells the court that he saw a weasely-looking kid named Joe Briggs (Elisha Cook, Jr.) standing over the slain body of a lunchroom proprietor. Mike’s statement brings a conviction and the death sentence for Briggs, who already has a record.

But slowly, anxiety and fear start to eat away at Mike: What if he’s wrong and Briggs is innocent?  Back in his room at Mrs. Kane’s boarding house, the usually cocksure Mike is startled when he sees a shifty-eyed Stranger (Peter Lorre, whose small but crucial part got him top billing) with a long white scarf. Just as quickly as he appears, the Stranger vanishes.

It occurs to Mike that he usually hears the snoring of his fellow boarder Mr. Meng (Charles Halton), a meddling busybody, whom Mike dislikes. The silence makes Mike wonder if Meng met with foul play and he begins to fixate on what might have happened.

More than once Mike has been steamed enough to talk of killing Meng. Of course, he didn’t mean it, but his landlady (Ethel Griffies) and Jane both heard him say it. And if Briggs can be convicted on flimsy evidence, what’s to save Mike from a similar fate? Ingster then introduces a kaleidoscopic nightmare sequence, both stunning and scary, as Mike tosses and turns with his conscience. When he wakes, he barges into Meng’s room and, sure enough, his neighbor is dead. Mike goes to the police and, playing out the paranoia of his dream, finds himself under suspicion for both murders. After all, he found both bodies.

Jane (Margaret Talichet) functions as the moral compass for Mike (John McGuire)

Jane (Margaret Tallichet), an office worker with no last name, functions as the moral compass for Mike (John McGuire).

A call to the always-enterprising Jane spurs her to comb the streets looking for the real killer and eventually she evens out those finicky scales of justice. Now can she get that Bloomingdale’s bridal registry filled out? Sigh.

“Stranger,” though hokey and pat, is a landmark in the history of film noir.

Budapest-born Frank Partos conceived the story and wrote the screenplay. His other writing credits include the ’40s thrillers “The Uninvited,” “The Snake Pit,” and “The House on Telegraph Hill.”

Partos and Ingster bring an unmistakable stamp of German Expressionism to their work as they explore the workings of fundamental human emotions such as guilt, remorse and fear. There is a palpable sense of alienation and doom.

Like many directors of B-movies, Ingster made the most of what he had, which was a low-budget, low-profile flick. Most notably, he deserves high marks for creative, compelling visuals. The shadow of the Venetian blinds at the courthouse, thin horizontal bars stretching over the accused (Briggs) and symbolizing his imminent incarceration, became an essential element of film noir’s look and style. Similarly, trippy nightmare sequences became a hallmark of the genre.

Peter Lorre played in "Stranger," "The Maltese Falcon" and "M."

Peter Lorre played in “Stranger,” “The Maltese Falcon” and “M.”

The sets of “Stranger on the Third Floor” could be re-creations of famous theater stages in Dresden or Berlin at the height of the Expressionist movement – sparely furnished, carefully composed, with bold, geometric black and white patterns signifying indifference, helplessness and frustration. The courtroom resembles an auditorium and the newspaper with the huge headline “Murder” draws on Beaux Arts theater posters.  The stylized, sleeping jury members seem like dancers in repose.

Most memorable of all is the masterful acting of Peter Lorre, who ratchets up the tension level as he effortlessly conveys the warped frisson his villain derives from random killings. Lorre and Cook, another stalwart film-noir player, would reunite the next year in “The Maltese Falcon.” The contributions of the much-parodied Lorre are sometimes undervalued, perhaps because we forget how much he shaped the portrayal of a man with a sick mind, lending depth and flamboyance in equal measure. He started that foray nearly 10 years before – introducing one of the most memorable psychopaths in cinema, a child murderer, in Fritz Lang’s “M” from 1931.

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The Noir File: ‘Mask of Dimitrios’ is an underseen ’40s gem

By Mike Wilmington and Film Noir Blonde

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

The Mask of Dimitrios (1944, Jean Negulesco). Tuesday, June 4, 1:15 a.m. (11:15 p.m.)

Tracking down an elusive international criminal named Dimitrios Makropoulos (Zachary Scott) becomes the obsession of a Dutch writer named Cornelius Weyden – a prime Peter Lorre role and the mild-mannered hero of the neglected but first-rate “The Mask of Dimitrios.”

Weyden learns of Dimitrios and his sordid career when a corpse is washed up near Istanbul and a talkative Turkish police colonel (Kurt Katch) tells colorful stories of the great swindler’s crimes. The inquisitive little scribe thinks he can use this material for a book.

When Weyden meets one of Dimitrios’ victims in the (ample) flesh – the genial Mr. Peters, played by Lorre’s usual partner-in-crime Sydney Greenstreet – the two join forces to try to unearth the villain’s trail through war-threatened Europe.

“The Mask of Dimitrios” was one of nine movies Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet appeared in together.

They piece together Dimitrios’ dark history as they cross paths with his other partners and/or victims, including blonde intriguer Faye Emerson, Victor Francen, Steven Geray, Eduardo Ciannelli and the irrepressible Florence Bates. As Lorre and Greenstreet close in on their prey, dark questions loom. Is Dimitrios really still alive? And who are his next victims?

If you’ve never seen “Dimitrios” (from the novel known as “A Coffin for Dimitrios” in the U.S.), you’re in for a surprise and a treat. Faithfully adapted from master spy novelist Eric Ambler’s classic thriller by pulp fictionist/screenwriter Frank Gruber, shot in high noir style by cinematographer Arthur Edeson (“The Maltese Falcon,” “Casablanca”) and artfully directed by Romanian émigré and Warner Brothers’ “melodrama king” Jean Negulesco (in what is probably his best film), “Dimitrios” is an underseen gem of ’40s noir. It’s what used to be called a corker.

(Another Ambler adaptation with Lorre and Greenstreet, “Background to Danger,” immediately follows “The Mask of Dimitrios.” See below.) [Read more...]

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Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs kicks off with ‘Three Strangers,’ a cynical tale of a trio bonded by fate

Three Strangers” (1946, Jean Negulesco) will open the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs on Thursday, May 16. The fest, which runs through Sunday, May 19, will close with “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950, John Huston); a total of 12 films is scheduled. The lineup is a mix of landmark and obscure vintage movies from the classic film noir era.

Negulesco’s “Three Strangers” tells the cynical tale of a trio bonded by fate and a winning lottery ticket: Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre and Geraldine Fitzgerald star. To read more about this film, I recommend this piece by my friend, writer/producer Barry Grey.

In addition to the screenings, the festival will include special guests and receptions. Ticket and festival information are available online or by calling 760-325-6565. Producer and host Alan K. Rode will be there to introduce films and make sure everyone is having a dark and decadent good time. Having attended in 2011, I can highly recommend this fest.

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UCLA’s Festival of Preservation delivers two rare film noir titles

I’m looking forward to seeing two rarely screened noirs – “The Chase” (1946, Arthur D. Ripley) and “High Tide” (1947, John Reinhardt) – at 7 p.m. Sunday, March 10, at UCLA’s Billy Wilder Theater in Westwood. The special guest is Harold Nebenzal, son of producer Seymour Nebenzal, who worked on “The Chase.”

The titles are part of UCLA’s Festival of Preservation, which opened last weekend with a special screening of “Gun Crazy” (1950, Joseph H. Lewis), and runs through March 30.

Based on a Cornell Woolrich novel, “The Chase” tells the tale of a returning World War Two solider named Chuck Scott (Robert Cummings) who’s short of cash and job prospects. Enter Eddie Roman (Steve Cochran), a Miami businessman in need of a chauffeur. Chuck’s cool with the new uniform but before long finds himself in a murderous love triangle with Eddie’s wife (Michèle Morgan). Co-starring Peter Lorre, lensed by Frank F. Planer. (Preservation funded by the Film Foundation and the Franco-American Cultural Fund.)

“High Tide” was the second of two independent crime thrillers produced in 1947 by Texas oil tycoon Jack Wrather. It shares with “The Guilty” the same cameraman and screenwriter (Henry Sharp and Robert Presnell), the same protagonist (actor Don Castle plays a Los Angeles newspaper reporter turned private dick), and the same director, Austrian-born John Reinhardt. Lee Tracy co-stars in “High Tide” as a cynical editor. (Preservation funded by the Packard Humanities Institute and the Film Noir Foundation.)

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The Noir File: Bogie as Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, Meeker as Mike Hammer

By Michael Wilmington and Film Noir Blonde

The Noir File is FNB’s weekly guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on cable TV. All the movies below are from the current schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

PICK OF THE WEEK

The Maltese Falcon” (1941, John Huston) Wednesday, Nov. 14, 8 p.m. (5 p.m.)

Bogart leads an unbeatable cast in “The Maltese Falcon,” directed by John Huston.

Dashiell Hammett’s supreme hard-boiled detective novel, with Humphrey Bogart as private eye Sam Spade, and an unbeatable supporting cast that includes femme fatale Mary Astor, genial fat man Sydney Greenstreet, perfumed crook Peter Lorre, patsy Elisha Cook Jr., and tough cops Ward Bond and Barton MacLane – all turned by writer-director John Huston into “the stuff that dreams are made of.”

Sunday, Nov. 11

12 p.m. (9 a.m.): “Witness for the Prosecution” (1957, Billy Wilder).

2:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m.): “Pickpocket” (1959, Robert Bresson). Bresson’s celebrated French art film borrows from Dostoyevsky to tell the story of an alienated young Parisian pickpocket (Martin LaSalle) who enters a shadow world of crime, punishment and strange redemption. With Marika Green (In French, with English subtitles.)

Monday, Nov. 12

5:15 p.m. (2:15 p.m.): “The Leopard Man” (1943, Jacques Tourneur). From a story by Cornell Woolrich: the nervous noir of a city plagued, it seems, by serial killings and a runaway wild leopard. Dennis O’Keefe, Margo and Abner Biberman.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Man with the Golden Arm” (1955, Otto Preminger). As a man struggling to give up his heroin habit, Frank Sinatra leads a superb cast in this riveting adaptation of Nelson Algren’s novel. Kim Novak plays his ex-girlfriend. Sinatra earned a Best Actor Oscar nom; the film’s music (by Elmer Bernstein) and art direction-set decoration also were considered for Oscars.

12:30 a.m. (9:30 p.m.): “Lolita” (1962, Stanley Kubrick).

Tuesday, Nov. 13

5 p.m. (2 p.m.): “Anatomy of a Murder” (1959, Otto Preminger).

Wednesday, Nov. 14

6:15 p.m. (3:15 p.m.): “Born to Kill” (1947, Robert Wise).

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “The Big Sleep” (1946, Howard Hawks).

2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “In Cold Blood” (1967, Richard Brooks). From Truman Capote’s legendary true-crime novel: the shattering chronicle of killers Perry Smith and Dick Hickok (Robert Blake and Scott Wilson), the Kansas family they destroyed, and the deadly destiny they shared. With John Forsythe, Charles McGraw and evocative black-and-white cinematography by Conrad Hall.

4:30 a.m. (1:30 a.m.): “Kiss Me Deadly” (1955, Robert Aldrich).

Thursday, Nov. 15

10 a.m. (7 a.m.): “The Mask of Dimitrios” (1944, Jean Negulesco). An engrossing thriller based on Eric Ambler’s classic novel of intrigue, espionage and crime, “A Coffin for Dimitrios.” With Zachary Scott, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and Faye Emerson.

4 p.m. (1 p.m.): “A Kiss Before Dying” (1956, Gerd Oswald). 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; directed by Gerd Oswald (“The Outer Limits”).

6 p.m. (3 p.m.) “Strangers on a Train” (1951, Alfred Hitchcock).

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The Noir File: Five greats include ‘M,’ ‘Repulsion,’ ‘D.O.A.’

By Michael Wilmington and Film Noir Blonde

The Noir File is FNB’s weekly guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on cable TV. All the movies below are from the current schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

In one of the best film noir weeks ever, TCM offers five noir greats: “M,” “Diabolique,” “D. O. A.,” “The Big Heat” and “Repulsion.”

CO-PICKS OF THE WEEK

Repulsion” (1965, Roman Polanski). Wednesday, Oct. 31, 11 a.m. (8 a.m.)

In Roman Polanski’s shiveringly erotic horror-suspense film “Repulsion,” the 22-year-old Catherine Deneuve plays Carol: a blonde French beauty, with a disarmingly lost-looking, childlike face – a girl who begins to go frighteningly mad when her older sister Helen (Yvonne Furneaux) leaves her alone a week or so. Soon, the beautiful, naïve and sexually skittish young Carol, the object of mostly unwanted desire from nearly every man in the neighborhood, starts sinking into alienation and insanity. When the outside world begins to intrude, Carol, repulsed, strikes back savagely, with a soon-bloody knife.

Catherine Deneuve’s nightmare becomes our own in “Repulsion” from 1965.

“Repulsion,” Polanski’s first English language movie and the first of his many collaborations with the reclusive, brilliant French screenwriter Gerard Brach (“Cul-de-Sac”), is one of the great ’60s black-and-white film noirs. It’s also one of the more frightening films ever made. Ultimately, “Repulsion” scares the hell out of us, because Polanski makes Carol’s nightmare so indelibly real, and so inescapably our own.

M” (1931, Fritz Lang) Sunday, Oct. 28, 2:45 a.m. (11:45 p.m.)

Fritz Lang’s great, hair-raising 1931 German crime thriller “M” is the masterpiece of his career, a landmark achievement of German cinema and a film that marks Lang as one of the most important cinematic fathers of film noir. “M” is a work of genius on every level.

Written by Lang’s then-wife Thea von Harbou (who also scripted “Metropolis”), and directed by Lang, “M” stars the amazing young Peter Lorre as the compulsive child-murderer Hans Beckert aka “M.” Beckert is a chubby little deviate who throws Berlin into turmoil with his string of slayings – a sweet-faced serial killer modeled on the real-life Dusseldorf Strangler. It is a role and a performance that plunges into the darkest nights of a lost soul.

Young Peter Lorre is unforgettable in Fritz Lang’s 1931 masterpiece.

Lang shows us both the murders and the social chaos triggered by the killer’s rampage. When M’s string of murders causes the police to clamp down on organized crime too, the outlaws strike back. Led by suave gentleman-thief Schranker (Gustaf Grundgens), they pursue the murderer relentlessly through the shadowy, mazelike world of Berlin at night. Just as relentlessly, the cops, with cynical detective Inspector Lohmann (Otto Wernicke) in charge, pursue him by day.

“M,” in its own way, is as much a creative movie milestone as Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane.” It’s one of the main progenitors of film noir and remains an all-time classic of suspense. (In German, with English subtitles.)

Saturday, Oct. 27

8 p.m. (5 p.m.) “Diabolique” (1955, Henri-Georges Clouzot).

10 p.m. (7 p.m.) “Games” (1967, Curtis Harrington). An American semi-remake of Clouzot’s “Diabolique,” with Simone Signoret starring again here, as an enigmatic interloper who moves in on New York married couple James Caan and Katharine Ross, unleashing a string of increasingly deadly games.

Sunday, Oct. 28

6: 30 a.m. (3:30 a.m.) “D.O.A.” (1950, Rudolph Maté).

8 a.m. (5 a.m.): “Kind Hearts and Coronets” (1949, Robert Hamer). From Ealing Studio with love: One of the best of the high-style British dark comedies of manners and murder. Silken schemer Dennis Price is the vengeful climber trying to kill his way to the Dukedom of D’Ascoyne. Alec Guinness plays all eight of his aristocratic victims or victims-to-be. Valerie Hobson and Joan Greenwood are the fetching ladies whom the would-be Duke is torn between. The peerless cinematographer was Douglas Slocombe.

Tuesday, Oct. 30

In 1932′s “Freaks,” by Tod Browning, Olga Baclanova plays a trapeze artist.

9:15 p.m. (6:15 p.m.): “Freaks” (1932, Tod Browning). Tod (“Dracula”) Browning’s macabre classic features a troupe of real-life circus freaks, all of them unforgettable camera subjects, in the bizarre story of a heartless trapeze artist (Olga Baclanova) who seduces a lovelorn midget (Harry Earle), marries him, and has to face the consequences.

Wednesday, Oct. 31

6:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m.): “The Body Snatcher” (1945, Robert Wise). Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Henry Daniell fight over corpses and medical experiments in this gripping adaptation of a Robert Louis Stevenson tale.

Thursday, Nov. 1

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Big Heat” (1953, Fritz Lang).

9:45 p.m. (6:45 p.m.); “Bullitt” (1968, Peter Yates). 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.

11:45 p.m. (8:45 p.m.): “The Racket” (1951, John Cromwell, plus Nicholas Ray, Mel Ferrer and Tay Garnett, the last three uncredited). A battle of two Bobs, both film noir giants: good cop Robert Mitchum vs. gangster Robert Ryan, with Lizabeth Scott watching. From Howard Hughes’ RKO studio-head tenure, “The Racket” is a remake of Lewis Milestone’s 1928 mobster movie, based on Bartlett Cormack’s play, and also produced by Hughes.

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The Noir File: As time goes by, ‘Casablanca’ remains sublime

By Michael Wilmington

A noir-lover’s guide to classic film noir on cable TV. All the movies listed below are from the current schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

PICK OF THE WEEK

Casablanca” (1942, Michael Curtiz) Wednesday, Aug. 29, 10 p.m. (7 p.m.) On the Warner Brothers back lot, in an exotic city that hums with intrigue, we watch one of the movies’ immortal affairs and grandest pictures: “Casablanca” is, in some respects, the perfect Hollywood Golden Age studio movie.

Stuck in the middle: Ilse (Ingrid Bergman) is torn between duty (Paul Henreid) and love (Humphrey Bogart) in “Casablanca,” one of the best Hollywood Golden Age studio movies.

We see the frustrated and tormented but finally sublime passion of gloomy hard-case cabaret owner Rick (Humphrey Bogart, in his most popular role) for scared, on-the-run Ilse (Ingrid Bergman, in hers). Ilse is the emotionally torn woman of mystery whom Rick loved and lost, the angel who won his heart and left him in Paris. She now belongs body and soul, it seems, to the idealistic underground anti-Fascist leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid). Around them swirl the ideological storms of Nazi-ravaged Europe, at least as Warners saw them.

Humphrey Bogart and Dooley Wilson

And backing them up is one of the all-time great Hollywood supporting casts: Claude Rains as the suave and lecherous Vichy police head Renault; Conrad Veidt as the elegant, murderous Nazi commander Strasser; Sydney Greenstreet as the vaguely sinister rival cabaret owner; Peter Lorre as Ugati, the rat with the papers; S. Z. “Cuddles” Sakall as the lovable fat busybody; Marcel Dalio as the nimble croupier; Curt Bois as the ferret-like pickpocket (“Vultures everywhere!”); and of course that indefatigable piano man Sam (Dooley Wilson) – the fellow who plays (or doesn’t) “As Time Goes By.”

“Casablanca,” which expertly melds several key ’40s Hollywood genres (drama, comedy, noir, spy thriller, love story) was adapted from a truly lousy play “Everybody Goes to Rick’s,” reworked by the Epstein brothers (Julius and Philip) and Howard Koch, and directed by that sometimes underrated master, Michael Curtiz. A big hit in its day and also a multiple Oscar winner, this picture has never stopped pleasing and rousing audiences. It probably never will. (Also available in Warners’ three-disc 70th anniversary edition DVD and Blu-ray.)

Saturday, Aug. 25: Tyrone Power Day

2:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m.): “Witness for the Prosecution” (1957, Billy Wilder) From the famous Agatha Christie short story, Billy Wilder expertly fashions one of the screen’s trickiest trial-drama/murder mysteries – with Charles Laughton as the wily, wheelchair-bound barrister, his real-life wife Elsa Lanchester as his long-suffering nurse, and Tyrone Power and Marlene Dietrich as the incendiary couple caught up in a legendary triple-reverse surprise ending.

Ava Gardner co-stars with Robert Taylor in “The Bribe.”

Tuesday, Aug. 28: Ava Gardner Day

10:45 p.m. (7:45 p.m.): “The Bribe” (1949, Robert Z. Leonard) Robert Taylor, Ava Gardner, Charles Laughton and Vincent Price in the smoky noir tale of a federal guy and a femme fatale. A lot of it wound up in the 1982 Steve Martin-Carl Reiner film noir parody “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.”

Wednesday, Aug. 29: Ingrid Bergman Day

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “Gaslight” (1944, George Cukor) Set in foggy Victorian gas-lit London, this is the best of all the melodramas and noirs where a bad husband tries to drive his wife insane (or vice versa). Here, Charles Boyer gives the treatment to Oscar-winner Ingrid Bergman. Joseph Cotten, Dame May Whitty and teenage Angela Lansbury are among the bystanders. Based on the Patrick Hamilton stage play (and film) “Angel Street.”

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Noir City’s final weekend: Pre-code ‘Maltese Falcon,’ Gary Cooper and a special appearance by Marsha Hunt

Gary Cooper

FNB shot by Halstan Williams; www.halstan.com

Noir City at the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre wraps up this weekend with a first-rate slate of films. Tonight is the Dashiell Hammett double feature, starting with the 1931 (pre-code) version of “The Maltese Falcon,” starring Ricardo Cortez and Bebe Daniels, directed by Roy Del Ruth. In “City Streets” (1931, Rouben Mamoulian) a young Gary Cooper goes crooked in order to free his love (Sylvia Sidney) from prison. It should be great looking, given that the cinematographer is Lee Garmes.

The Saturday matinee is the noir classic “The Postman Always Rings Twice” (1946, Tay Garnett), starring Lana Turner as one of the all-time best femmes fatales opposite a smoldering John Garfield; based on James M. Cain’s novel. Before the film, Denise Hamilton, noir novelist and editor of the Edgar-winning Los Angeles Noir short story anthologies, will discuss the genesis of film noir and the cross-pollination between Hollywood and its noir bards.

John Garfield

Lana Turner

Saturday night is a terrific pick: two films from the underrated director Jean Negulesco. First, “Three Strangers” (1946) tells the cynical tale of a trio bonded by fate and a winning lottery ticket: Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre and Geraldine Fitzgerald. To read more about this film, I recommend this piece by my friend, writer/producer Barry Grey.

Fitzgerald also stars in 1946’s “Nobody Lives Forever,” scripted by W. R. Burnett. Here, she’s a war widow getting conned by scheming ex-GI John Garfield. There will be a discussion between films with Fitzgerald’s son, Michael Lindsay-Hogg. At 6:30 p.m., in the Egyptian lobby, Lindsay-Hogg will sign his book “Luck and Circumstance: A Coming of Age in Hollywood, New York, and Points Beyond.”

Geraldine Fitzgerald

Marsha Hunt

Next up is the Sunday matinee: “Circumstantial Evidence” (1945, John Larkin) a father-son noir starring Lloyd Nolan and Michael O’Shea. This will pair with “Sign of the Ram” (1948, John Sturges).

Says the program: This unusual film was fashioned as a vehicle for star Susan Peters, who plays a sociopathic, paraplegic matriarch bent on destroying her family. Peters, injured the year before in a hunting accident, gives a remarkable performance – all the more haunting for the fact that her paralysis is real. Hitchcock collaborator Charles Bennett wrote the screenplay.

And closing the fest is a special appearance by actress Marsha Hunt. The films shown are an ultra-rare B, “Mary Ryan, Detective” (1949, Abby Berlin), and “Kid Glove Killer” (1942, Fred Zinnemann) in which Hunt plays a police forensics expert juggling a cop (Van Heflin) and a gangster (Lee Bowman). Scripted by John C. Higgins, “Kid Glove Killer” is Zinnemann’s feature film debut. Ava Gardner plays a car hop.

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