The Noir File: Widmark is unforgettable as Tommy Udo

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

Grinning gangster Tommy Udo was a career-defining role for Richard Widmark.

Kiss of Death” (1947, dir. Henry Hathaway). Tuesday, May 14; 8 p.m. (5 p.m.). One of the most memorable, and scariest, of all film noir villains is Tommy Udo from “Kiss of Death,” as played by the young Richard Widmark. Tommy was a constantly grinning, giggling gunman with a pale, thin, deadly-looking face, topped by a trim fedora – a face and a chuckle that carried the promise of cold-blooded murder.

In “Kiss of Death” – another of director Henry Hathaway’s semi-true crime movies, this time co-scripted by the great Ben HechtVictor Mature plays Nick Bianco, an ex-crook trying to go straight, for his sweet wife Nettie (Coleen Gray). To escape his past, Nick becomes a mole recruited by the cops (including Brian Donlevy and Karl Malden) to infiltrate Udo’s mob and get the goods on this gangster. Udo falls for his new mob-mate, giggling, like a ton of bricks. Obviously, something very bad will happen when this psychopathic hood discovers that his new gun buddy is a traitor.

“Kiss of Death” is a classic, vintage Hollywood crime thriller, one of the film noirs that everyone has to see – to savor Hecht’s smart script and Hathaway’s taut direction, and to enjoy the terrific work of the entire killer cast and company. But mostly, you have to see it for Widmark. His Tommy Udo is an impersonation of pure evil so right-on that it almost freezes your blood to watch and hear him – and so convincing that a real-life member of the Mob, the notorious killer “Crazy Joey” Gallo, patterned his entire public personality after Widmark’s performance.

“Crazy Joey” Gallo

The role made Widmark a star, and, though he tried never to repeat it, and played mostly good guys for the rest of his career, he could never really get away from Tommy Udo and his pale, cold eyes, and what James Agee called his “falsetto baby talk, laced with tittering laughs.”

Tommy Udo is the last guy in the world you want to have his eye on you, the last guy whose laugh you want to hear on a dark street. And he’s the last guy you want to see standing behind a sick old lady, in a wheelchair, at the top of a staircase. Giggling.

Friday, May 10

6 a.m. (3 a.m.): “The Informer” (1935, John Ford). With Victor McLaglen, Preston Foster and Heather Angel. Reviewed on FNB December 12, 2012.

11 p.m. (8 p.m.): “Under Capricorn” (1949, Alfred Hitchcock). With Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten and Margaret Leighton. Reviewed on FNB November 17, 2012. [Read more...]

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The Noir File: Dark treats from Preminger, Dassin and Lang

Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney are one of film noir’s great couples.

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

Where the Sidewalk Ends” (1950, Otto Preminger). Thursday, Dec. 27, 1:15 a.m. (10:15 p.m.).
While investigating a murder, a smart but sometimes savage Manhattan police detective named Mark Dixon (Dana Andrews) accidentally kills an innocent suspect (Craig Stevens). Dixon tries to cover it up, but his relentless new boss Lt. Thomas (Karl Malden) keeps pushing the evidence toward an affable cabbie named Jiggs (Tom Tully). And Dixon has fallen in love with Jiggs’ daughter, model Morgan Taylor (Gene Tierney). Gary Merrill plays a crook/gambler.

Scripted by Ben Hecht from William Stuart’s book “Night Cry.” If you want to know what film noir is all about, check this one out.

Thursday, Dec. 27

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Black Widow” (1954, Nunnally Johnson). Crime among the Broadway elite, from one of Patrick Quentin’s mystery novels. Not much style, but the cast includes Van Heflin, Ginger Rogers, Gene Tierney, George Raft and Peggy Ann Garner.

4:30 a.m. (1:30 a.m.): “Night and the City” (1950, Jules Dassin). In shadow-drenched, dangerous London, crooked fight promoter Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) double-crosses everyone he encounters as he tries to outrace the night. The night is faster. This is a top film noir, a masterpiece of style and suspense. From Gerald Kersh’s novel; with Gene Tierney, Herbert Lom, Francis L. Sullivan and Googie Withers.

Sunday, Dec. 30

8:15 a.m. (5:15 a.m.): “Bunny Lake is Missing” (1965, Otto Preminger). 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.

4 a.m. (1 a.m.): “Ministry of Fear” (1944, Fritz Lang). 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. The source is one of novelist Graham Greene’s “entertainments.” Co-starring Marjorie Reynolds and Dan Duryea.

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Film noir treats this weekend at the American Cinematheque

Authors Christopher Nickens and George Zeno will sign their book “Marilyn in Fashion,” today at the Egyptian Theatre, before a screening of 1952’s “Don’t Bother to Knock” starring Marilyn Monroe and Richard Widmark.

Using many rare photographs, the book traces the evolution of Marilyn’s style. The signing starts at 1 p.m. and the film at 2 p.m. The Egyptian Theatre is at 6712 Hollywood Blvd. in Hollywood.

Additionally, “Citizen Kane,” Orson Welles’ masterpiece, plays tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica.

On Sunday, July 22, at 7:30 p.m., there’s a great Otto Preminger double-bill: “Laura” (1944) and “Bonjour Tristesse” (1958). Don’t miss it!

The Aero Theatre is at 1328 Montana Ave. in Santa Monica.

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The Noir File: Lusty? Low-budget? We’re in!

By Michael Wilmington

A noir-lover’s guide to classic film noirs (and neo-noirs) on cable TV. Just Turner Classic Movies (TCM) so far, but we’ll add more stations as more schedules come in. The times are Pacific Standard (listed first) and Eastern Standard.

Friday, July 13: Sam Fuller Day

Samuel Fuller

The following four films were all written and directed by noir master Fuller.

5 p.m. (8 p.m.): “I Shot Jesse James” (1949, Samuel Fuller). Western noir, with Preston Foster and John Ireland (as the “dirty little coward … who laid poor Jesse in his grave”). (TCM)

6:30 P.M. (9:30 p.m.): “Park Row” (1952, Samuel Fuller). Fuller’s personal favorite of all his movies was this lusty low-budget period film, set in the 1880s, about newspapering in New York. With Gene Evans (“The Steel Helmet”) as a two-fisted editor and Mary Welch as a femme fatale of a publisher. (TCM)

8 p.m. (11 p.m.): “Shock Corridor” (1963, Samuel Fuller). Aggressive, Pulitzer-hunting reporter Johnny Barrett (Peter Breck) feigns madness and gets himself committed to a mental institution to track down a murderer. Constance Towers is the stripper masquerading as his sister. Quintessential Fuller. (TCM)

Constance Towers plays in “Naked Kiss” (shown here) and “Shock Corridor.”

9:45 p.m. (12:45 a.m.): “The Naked Kiss” (1964, Samuel Fuller). A hooker, a pervert, and a sleazy cop get involved in small-town scandal and murder. Stanley Cortez (“Night of the Hunter”) photographs noirishly, both here and in “Shock Corridor.” (TCM)

Also on Friday:

3 a.m. (6 a.m.) “Séance on a Wet Afternoon” (1964, British, Bryan Forbes). Acting fireworks from Oscar nominee Kim Stanley and Richard Attenborough as a crooked spiritualist and her meek husband, tangled up in crime. Based on Mark McShane’s novel. (TCM)

3 p.m. (6 p.m.): “Wait Until Dark” (1967, Terence Young). From the hit stage play by Frederick (“Dial M for Murder”) Knott. Blind woman Audrey Hepburn sees no evil and tries to stave off Alan Arkin, Richard Crenna and Jack Weston. (TCM)

Saturday, July 14

4 a.m. (7 a.m.): “The Black Book” (“Reign of Terror”) (1949, Anthony Mann). French Revolution noir, with Robert Cummings, Arlene Dahl, Richard Basehart and Beulah Bondi. Photographed by John Alton. (TCM)

Sunday, July 15

Richard Widmark is unforgettable in “Night and the City,” set in London.

5:30 a.m. (8:30 a.m.): “Night and the City” (1950, Jules Dassin). Crooked fight promoter Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) tries to outrace the night. One of the all-time best film noirs, from Gerald Kersh’s London novel. With Gene Tierney, Herbert Lom and Googie Withers. (TCM)

7:30 a.m. (10:30 a.m.): “The Reckless Moment” (1949, Max Ophuls). Blackmail and murder invade a “happy” bourgeois home. Based on Elizabeth Sanxay Holding’s novel, “The Blank Wall,” and directed by one of the cinema’s greatest visual/dramatic stylists, Max Ophuls (“Letter from an Unknown Woman,” “Lola Montes,” “The Earrings of Madame de…”) With James Mason, Joan Bennett and Shepperd Strudwick. (TCM)

11 p.m. (2 a.m.): “Sawdust and Tinsel” (“The Naked Night”) (1953, Swedish, Ingmar Bergman). Film master Ingmar Bergman once said that his major early cinematic influences were “the film noir directors, Howard Hawks, Raoul Walsh and Michael Curtiz.” Here is one of the most noir of all Bergman’s films (along with “Hour of the Wolf” and “The Serpent’s Egg”): a German Expressionist-style nightmare of a film about life at a circus, in three rings of adultery, jealousy and torment. (In Swedish, with English subtitles.) (TCM)

Thursday, July 19

Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten star in “Citizen Kane.”

8:15 a.m. (11:15 a.m.): “Caged” (1950, John Cromwell). One of the best and grimmest of the “women’s prison” pictures. A grim look at life locked up, with Eleanor Parker, Agnes Moorehead, Hope Emerson, Jan Sterling and Jane Darwell. (TCM)

11:15 p.m. (2:15 a.m.): “Citizen Kane” (1941, Orson Welles). A dark look at the sensational, profligate life of one of the world’s most powerful and egotistical newspaper magnates, the late Charles Foster Kane (modeled on William Randolph Hearst and acted by George Orson Welles). Still the greatest movie of all time, it’s also a virtual lexicon of film-noir visual and dramatic style, as seminal in its way as “The Maltese Falcon” or “M.” Scripted by Welles and one-time Hearst crony Herman Mankiewicz, photographed by Gregg Toland, with music by Bernard Herrmann and ensemble acting by the Mercury Players: Welles, Joseph Cotten, Everett Sloane, Dorothy Comingore, Agnes Moorehead, George Coulouris, Ruth Warrick, Paul Stewart, et al. (“Rosebud? I tell you about Rosebud…”) (TCM)

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‘Don’t Bother to Knock’ a showcase for Monroe’s talent

Don’t Bother to Knock”/1952/Twentieth Century Fox/76 min.

Richard Widmark and Marilyn Monroe

For any fool who still questions Marilyn Monroe’s depth as an actress, “Don’t Bother To Knock” should be required viewing. In this 1952 film directed by Roy Ward Baker and written by Daniel Taradash, Monroe stars with film noir icons Richard Widmark and Elisha Cook, Jr. and entirely holds her own.

She plays Nell Forbes, a vulnerable and mysterious young woman who might be dangerous. Well, if you look at the movie poster, she’s definitely dangerous, though the image (Marilyn wears a shiny bright-red bustier) is a bit misleading — Nell doesn’t wear anything quite that daring. Of course, no matter what she wears, she’s still uber sexy.

Anyway, Nell has recently moved to NYC, from Washington state, to make a fresh start after a long recovery from a broken heart (a pilot who died in World War Two). Her sole contact in the big city is her ever-nervous and slightly creepy uncle (Cook Jr.), an elevator operator at the McKinley Hotel. When a couple staying at the hotel needs a baby-sitter, Uncle Eddie taps Nell for the job. Lurene Tuttle and Jim Backus play the parents; Donna Corcoran is their daughter Bunny.

Once the little girl goes to bed, Nell kills time by trying on Mrs. Jones’ jewelry, perfume and a negligee. She also notices Jed Towers (Widmark) in a room across the courtyard. He’s a pilot in from Chicago trying to patch things up with ex-girlfriend Lyn Lesley (Anne Bancroft), a sultry and svelte singer who performs at the hotel lounge.

Nell and Jed flirt from afar and he eventually joins her in the Jones’ room, bearing a wicked smile and a bottle of rye. It slowly becomes clear that Nell needs more tonic than a handsome cocky stranger with hard liquor can provide. (Rats!) By leading Nell toward help, Jed reveals a side of himself that changes his relationship with Lyn.

Mirrors (and their suggestion of fractured reality) pop up frequently in film noir.

Though the plot’s quite simple, the film’s strong direction and writing as well as resonant performances from some of the finest actors of the era infuse it with tension that fairly crackles. Luminous, fragile, restless and alluring, Monroe brings an undercurrent of torment and confusion to this memorable role.

Widmark appeals as the insolent yet sympathetic suitor. And the supporting cast is marvelous; in addition to Backus and Tuttle, there’s Verna Felton and Don Beddoe (nosy hotel residents), Willis Bouchey (the hotel bartender), Corcoran as the cute kid, and of course Cook Jr. and Bancroft.

The story is based on the novel “Mischief” by best-selling suspense author Charlotte Armstrong; Taradash wrote the script a year before he won the Oscar for adapting “From Here to Eternity.” “Don’t Bother to Knock” also offers moments of wry humor, such as when Jed asks the bartender if he fights and argues with his wife. The bartender’s deadpan reply: “Some of the time she sleeps.”

If you are a Marilyn fan, you’ll love her even more after seeing this movie and you’ll have definitive proof of her sensitivity and subtlety as an artist from early in career, just in case you ever happen to be chatting with someone who is dismissive of her talent. In 1952, given the way she was marketed and managed, you could forgive an assessment based purely on her physical assets. Nearly 60 years later, however, so much has changed. ;)

Btw, I found a wonderful blog called Blonde & Red. Author Rosanna “loves vintage fashion, red lipstick and Marilyn Monroe” and each week runs Marilyn Mondays. Enjoy!

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‘Don’t Bother to Knock’ quick hit

Don’t Bother to Knock/1952/Twentieth Century Fox/76 min.

Great writing and a strong cast (Marilyn Monroe, Richard Widmark, Elisha Cook, Jr., Anne Bancroft) make 1952’s “Don’t Bother To Knock” by Roy Ward Baker a cinematic treasure, but one that is, sadly, often overlooked. Monroe plays a deranged baby-sitter who likes diamonds, perfume and negligees (ok, she’s clearly not completely bonkers) but can’t seem to put her past behind her.

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