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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‘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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‘Gilda’ quick hit

Gilda/1946/Columbia Pictures/110 min.

Nightclub singer and dancer Gilda (Rita Hayworth), a prototypical sex symbol before the term came into vogue, carries on a perverse relationship with two men – her husband (George Macready) and her ex (Glenn Ford) in South America. Best of all, she puts on Hollywood’s most elegant strip tease ever, courtesy of bold and brilliant choreographer Jack Cole.

Is it Gilda’s fault that men fall in love with her left, right and center? Ask her and she’ll explain: you can “Put the Blame on Mame.” Directed by Charles Vidor with luscious cinematography by Rudolph Maté.

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The Noir File: Hawks, Hemingway, Bogie and Bacall Have it

By Michael Wilmington

A noir-lover’s guide to classic film noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). The times are Pacific Standard (listed first) and Eastern Standard.

Saturday, July 21

Bogie and Bacall create one of the most magical moments in movies.

5 p.m. (8 p.m.): “To Have and Have Not” (1944, Howard Hawks). One of my all-time favorite movies is this crackling adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s novel of boating and gunplay, reset in wartime Martinique and legendary for its incendiary love scenes between co-stars Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. (They met on the set here and later married.) Bogie is at his toughest and most likeable as Harry Morgan, a charter fishing boat captain torn between Vichy government thugs and French partisans.

The sensational 19-year-old Bacall plays singer/adventuress Marie (a.k.a. Slim), who memorably asks Harry “You know how to whistle, don’t you?” The supporting cast includes piano man Hoagy Carmichael, Marcel Dalio (“Grand Illusion”), Dan Seymour and Walter Brennan (great as Harry’s pal, Eddie the Rummy). Two Nobel Prize winners, both friends of Hawks, were among the writers here: original author Hemingway (whose book was considerably changed) and screenwriter William Faulkner.

Tuesday, July 24

7:15 a.m. (10:15 a.m.): “Strangers on a Train” (1951, Alfred Hitchcock). Two strangers meet on a train: social-climbing tennis pro Guy Haines (Farley Granger) and charming rich-kid psychopath Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker). Since they both have someone “ruining” their lives (Guy’s estranged wife and Bruno’s father) Bruno proposes, seemingly playfully, that they swap murders. Guy thinks it’s a joke, but Bruno is dead serious. One of Hitchcock’s best: a superb noir adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s classic literary thriller, with an amazing performance – blood-chilling, hilarious and strangely moving – by Walker. Ruth Roman, Leo G. Carroll, Marion Lorne and Hitch’s daughter Patricia Hitchcock are in the supporting cast. Raymond Chandler was one of the screenwriters.

9 a.m. (12 p.m.): “Jeopardy” (1953, John Sturges). Barbara Stanwyck, desperately trying to save endangered hubby Barry Sullivan – trapped by an accident and the rising tide under a Pacific Ocean pier – is herself kidnapped by Ralph Meeker, a ruthless outlaw with a yen for Stanwyck. A real nail-biter, directed by John Sturges (“The Great Escape,” “The Magnificent Seven”). Scripted by Mel Dinelli.

1:30 p.m. (4:30 p.m.): “D.O.A.” (1950, Rudolph Maté). Quintessential noir. Edmond O’Brien, as an accountant visiting San Francisco, is slipped a dose of slow-acting poison; he has only a day to find his mysterious killers. With Luther Adler, Pamela Britton, Beverly Garland and Neville Brand. Co-scripted by Russell Rouse.

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‘D.O.A.’ reveals the ultimate inspiration to solve a murder: when it’s your own

D.O.A./1950/United Artists/83 min.

“I don’t think you fully understand, Bigelow,” says a doctor to his shocked patient, “you’ve been murdered.”

Edmond O'Brien is doomed in "D.O.A."

This is the premise for 1950’s “D.O.A.,” directed by Rudolph Maté, a classic noir about a standup, solid guy from Banning, Calif., named Frank Bigelow (Edmond O’Brien) who, while on a trip to San Francisco, learns he has been poisoned with a time-released fatal toxin. He has just a few days to find his murderer. And here he thought it was just a hangover.

It’s particularly bad luck because Bigelow hasn’t served time, he doesn’t play the horses, he’s not eyeing easy money. He is a self-employed accountant in a small town near Palm Springs minding his own business. True, he does like hard liquor, is a bit of a skirt chaser and he’s on the fence about committing to doting girlfriend Paula Gibson (Pamela Britton), but those are minor flaws in the noir scheme of things.

Even though Bigelow is dying, his genetic tough-guy instinct kicks as he abandons his ledger book and adding machine to follow clues, talk tough, tote a gun and chase his prey. Clearly, he missed his calling as a macho gumshoe who could give Phillip Marlowe or Sam Spade a run for their money.

Checking in via phone calls to Paula, who also happens to be his secretary, he learns that a Mr. Phillips, an importer-exporter in Los Angeles, has been urgently trying to contact him. Bigelow returns to LA but, before he can probe for info, Phillips takes a flying leap from a tall building. So, Bigelow taps Phillips’ inner circle: his brother Stanley (Henry Hart), his wife (Lynn Baggett), his secretary Miss Foster (Beverly Garland, credited as Beverly Campbell), and co-worker Halliday (William Ching).

Turns out that Bigelow’s connection to these Angelinos is that six months prior, he notarized a bill of sale for a shipment of iridium. Phillips bought the stuff from a mysterious man named George Reynolds.

While working to track Reynolds down, Bigelow encounters a sultry and sullen model Marla Rakubian (Laurette Luez), a man known only as Majak (famed stage actor Luther Adler) – clad all in white and with an indeterminate foreign accent, which instantly makes him suspect in Tinseltown terms –  and a trio of heavies led by raging psychopath Chester (Neville Brand, in his first movie). Though Brand might seem like a miscreant plucked from a dingy alley, he was in fact a WW2 vet, who had received numerous awards, including the Purple Heart.

As he narrows down the suspects, Bigelow also realizes that Paula is The One and the scene where he professes his love is touching. He eventually busts the bad guy in an eye-for-an-eye kind of way, but, as we knew from the start, Bigelow is a goner. No plot spoilers here.

Director Maté, who was the cameraman on foreign classics “Vampyr” and “The Passsion of Joan of Arc” as well as “Foreign Correspondent” and “Gilda,” tells a riveting story. Aided by Ernest Laszlo’s cinematography, Maté creates a mood that is both hard-boiled and slightly surreal. The storyline becomes so lusciously serpentine, with perilous curves and hairpin turns, it rivals Howard Hawks’ “The Big Sleep” from 1946 for the most convoluted plot in all of film noir.  

I especially like the scenes in which Bigelow leaves the comfort of dancing the rhumba and downing a few drinks in the upscale St. Francis Hotel to visit the noisy, smoky Fisherman club, where he watches a bebop jazz band play its all and chats with “jive-crazy, high-society” Jeannie (Virginia Lee), an elegant blonde who turns out to be a mere red herring. [Read more...]

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‘D.O.A.’ quick hit

D.O.A./1950/United Artists/83 min.

Edmond O’Brien plays the frantic but determined Frank Bigelow who spearheads the hunt for a killer – his own – in this riveting noir from director Rudolph Maté. You’d be freaked out too if you discovered you’d been poisoned and had to track the culprit before it’s too late. Talk about deadline pressure!

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