What to see, what to see: TCM Classic Film Fest starts today

The TCM Classic Film Festival is in full swing today and runs through Sunday in Hollywood. “There’s nothing like watching a movie on a screen with a big audience,” said head programmer Charlie Tabesh at yesterday’s press conference. This year’s theme is history and Tabesh added that he is particularly looking forward to the film “1776,” directed by Peter H. Hunt, who will be in attendance along with stars William Daniels and Ken Howard.

Last night, I stopped by the Formosa Café to mingle with fellow scribes. Several people shared my view that it’s tough to decide what to see and to strike a balance between longtime favorites and exciting new discoveries. I know, I know – what a good problem to have!

One thing’s for sure: I will attend the opening party and will see the newly restored film noir “Too Late for Tears” (1949, Byron Haskin), starring Lizabeth Scott, Arthur Kennedy and Dan Duryea.

For now, I will leave you with this shot from one of last year’s poolside screenings at the Hollywood Roosevelt. (Photo courtesy of TCM.) Life is good!

Poolside screenings at the Hollywood Roosevelt are a special treat.

Poolside screenings at the Hollywood Roosevelt are a special treat.

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Feast your eyes: TCMFF, Noir City and COLCOA

Over the next several weeks, there will be lots to see on the big screen in Los Angeles.

First, the TCM Classic Film Festival runs March 26-29 in Hollywood. This year’s theme is history as portrayed by Hollywood. Noir treats include: “Too Late for Tears,” “Nightmare Alley” and “Psycho.” More info is here.

The festival takes place at various venues in Hollywood.

Ride the Pink Horse posterTickets are now on sale for Noir City Hollywood. The 17th annual edition of the fest runs April 3-19 at the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre. There’s so much noir goodness – oops, I mean badness – to choose from. I am particularly looking forward to the Humphrey Bogart programming as well as the Dorothy B. Hughes double feature: “Ride the Pink Horse” and “The Fallen Sparrow.” Criterion just released “Ride the Pink Horse” on Blu-ray and DVD, which is great, but I can’t wait to see this at the Egyptian.

The Egyptian Theater is at 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90028.

Mais oui! The always-outstanding City of Angels City of Lights (COLCOA) festival runs April 20-28. “The Soft Skin” restored? I’m in! Check the web site for more info starting March 31. This is a first-rate festival and should not be missed!

The COLCOA festival is held at the Directors Guild of America, 7920 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, 90046.

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TCM Classic Film Fest embraces the black sheep: film noir

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

Words that we associate with family: Happy times. Togetherness. Loyalty. Fun. Laughter. Pure love. Film noir.

Film noir? Yup, film noir. This dark and cynical genre was surprisingly well represented at this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival, which was dedicated to the theme: “Family in the Movies: The Ties That Bind.”

Maureen O’Hara and Walter Pidgeon star in “How Green Was My Valley.”

Maureen O’Hara and Walter Pidgeon star in “How Green Was My Valley.”

Families, at their best, give us solace and joy. At their worst, they tear us apart. Both extremes showed up at the fest, from “How Green Was My Valley” on the sunny side to “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” on the stormy, noir edge.

Other noir highlights were “Double Indemnity,” “The Thin Man,” “Touch of Evil,” “The Naked City,” “Freaks,” “The Lady From Shanghai,” “Johnny Guitar” and “The Godfather Part II.

GWTW posterThis year marked the fifth annual edition of one of the world’s great (and certainly one of its most lovable) film festivals. During its four-day run, hosted by TCM’s Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz with many special guests, this bounteous cinematic fest became a celebration of fathers, mothers, daughters, sons and other blood ties.

More than 70 movies, including some real masterpieces, were presented at first-rate venues, such as the TCL Chinese Theatres, Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre, Disney’s flagship El Capitan, plus poolside outdoor movies at the Roosevelt Hotel.

Is there any more powerful or moving portrait, for example, of a loving family facing the vicissitudes of life and surviving the relentless march of change than director John Ford’s “How Green Was My Valley?”

The Quiet Man posterMaureen O’Hara, who played Angharad, appeared on the El Capitan stage, still full of Irish sass and fire. At 93 and feisty as ever, she is our living link to the beauties and treasures of the celluloid past.

How green were our valleys then…

Other classic films, all shown in pristine and sometimes newly restored prints, included: “Gone with the Wind,” “The Best Years of Our Lives,” “East of Eden,” “Father of the Bride,” “Hannah and Her Sisters,” “The Quiet Man,” “City Lights,” “Written on the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz.”

Granted, for movie lovers who prize a happy ending above all else, film noir could be a rebel, a tough child to love. But then just about every clan has at least one black sheep. Isn’t the outcast the one who needs love the most? Isn’t loving the hard-to-love the ultimate test of family bonds? Isn’t that the point of being a family?

Film noir is the cinematic equivalent of a prodigal son or spoiled baby – recalcitrant, yes, but also irresistible. Leave it to film noir to break the rules, steal attention and get its own way whenever it can.

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Another great time at the TCM Classic Film Fest

Thanks to everyone at the TCM Classic Film Festival. It was a great time: Movies, events, staff and fans were amazing! I’ll be writing a more detailed overview but for now, I just wanted to mention a noir factoid I recently uncovered.

“Double Indemnity” (1944, Billy Wilder) was a highlight of the fest. Both Walter’s place (the Bryson Apartments) and Phyllis’ house are still in LA. In the film, Walter reckons the house cost about $30,000; it would now cost more than $1.5 million. Read more about the house here.

Phyllis’ house was and is at 6301 Quebec Drive in the Hollywood Hills.

Phyllis’ house was and is at 6301 Quebec Drive in the Hollywood Hills.

In 1944, Fred MacMurray bought the Bryson building for $600,000. Built in 1913 by real estate developer Hugh W. Bryson, the 10-story Beaux Arts stunner was where MacMurray’s character Walter Neff lived in “Double Indemnity.”

The Bryson building is at 2701 Wilshire Blvd. in the MacArthur Park section of Los Angeles.

The Bryson building is at 2701 Wilshire Blvd. in the MacArthur Park section of Los Angeles.

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Film noir giants Ray, Welles, Wilder, Coppola highlighted at TCM Classic Film Festival 2014

The fifth annual TCM Classic Film Festival opens Thursday night with “Oklahoma” (in which femme fatale Gloria Grahame forays into the musical genre) and runs through Sunday.

The central theme of this year’s festival is Family in the Movies: The Ties that Bind. In keeping with this theme, organizers say, the fest will showcase on-screen clans of all types – big and small, happy and imperfect, musical and dramatic. Additionally, the festival will spotlight Hollywood’s first families and dynasties and will explore the kinship that connects close-knit groups of professionals behind the camera.

Johnny Guitar posterWe at FNB are excited about the film-noir slate: “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” “Johnny Guitar,” “The Thin Man,” “Touch of Evil,” “Double Indemnity,” “The Godfather II,” “The Naked City,” “Freaks” and “The Lady From Shanghai.” Also not to be missed: The Film Noir Foundation’s czar of noir Eddie Muller will interview neo-noir master director William Friedkin. These are just a few highlights – the fest is packed with cinematic treats and cool events.

Meanwhile, TCM came up with a terrific way to celebrate the network’s 20th birthday: the free (yes, free!) TCM Movie Locations Tour, running in Los Angeles. Created in Partnership with Starline Tours, the nifty bus rides started last month and will run through April 14, overlapping with the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival.

The tours use comfy new buses with stadium-style seating, skylight windows and a 65”-inch HDTV to show movie clips and commentary from TCM host Ben Mankiewicz. (There’s also a Starline tour guide onboard.)

Featured sites include Echo Park (“Chinatown”), the 2nd Street Tunnel (“Blade Runner,” “The Terminator”), Bryson Apartments (“Double Indemnity,” “The Grifters”) and the Gilmore Gas Station (“L.A. Story”), the Bradbury Building (“Blade Runner,” “The Artist”) and Union Station (“The Way We Were,” “Silver Streak”).

This marks TCM’s second sightseeing bus tour. Last August, the network launched the “TCM Classic Film Tour” in New York.

We are told the Los Angeles trips are sold out but it’s possible the schedule will be expanded. Check here for more info: www.tcm.com/20. The FNB team attended the press trip last month and even as Los Angeles residents we were mightily impressed at what we saw and what we learned. Here are a few shots we snapped along the way:

TCM bus 1

The TCM bus is cool and breezy.

bus 2

Paramount Studios on Melrose Avenue

The Bryson apartments, home to Walter Neff in "Double Indemnity."

The Bryson apartments, home to Walter Neff in “Double Indemnity.”

The Bradbury building,  304 Broadway, was built in 1893.

The Bradbury building, 304 Broadway, was built in 1893.

Los Angeles city hall, downtown

Los Angeles city hall, downtown

Union Station

Union Station

The Wiltern Theatre at Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue

The Wiltern Theatre at Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue

Formosa Cafe was and is a popular hangout. It was founded in 1925 by prize-fighter Jimmy Bernstein.

Formosa Cafe, founded in 1925 by prize-fighter Jimmy Bernstein, was and is a popular hangout.

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Film noir flourishes at TCM film festival in Hollywood

Grauman’s Chinese Theatre was a prime location at the TCM fest. Photo by John Nowak

From Marie Windsor’s character in “The Killing” telling her wounded husband (played by Elisha Cook, Jr.) to cab to the hospital because she doesn’t feel like calling an ambulance to Grace Kelly fending off her attacker and foiling the eponymous plot in “Dial M for Murder,” on-screen femmes fatales claimed their power at the TCM Classic Film Festival April 25-28 in Hollywood.

Marie Windsor

The film noir slate was particularly rich as was the experience of seeing these film on the big screen – the lighting, the compositions, the close-ups all popped in a way that just doesn’t happen when you watch these titles on TV. Additionally, the festival does a splendid job of finding guests to introduce the films.

At Thursday’s screening of “The Killing,” actress Coleen Gray shared memories of working with director Stanley Kubrick on what would turn out to be his break-though movie. “I knew he was good,” she said. “The cast is wonderful. The story, the director and the actors are in tune. And look at the cutting – it was cut to create a masterpiece. You go and see it and you bow to Mr. Kubrick.” She added that Kubrick spent much of his directorial energy working with Marie Windsor on her hard-as-nails dame Sherry Peatty.

There was film noir aplenty at the TCM festival as well as special guests, panels, a poolside screening and parties. Photo by Edward M. Pio Roda

Fans of Ms. Windsor’s got another chance to connect with her at Friday’s screening of “The Narrow Margin.” The special guest was actress Jacqueline White. Also during that time slot producer Stanley Rubin reminisced about Marilyn Monroe, Robert Mitchum and Otto Preminger before a showing of 1954’s “River of No Return,” a stunning example of CinemaScope’s capabilities.

“[Marilyn] and Otto didn’t like each other and so we became very friendly. She was a perfect lady,” he said, adding that she was friendly and professional with Mitchum as well.

Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe in “River of No Return.”

Watching Monroe and Mitchum, at the height of their physical radiance in this picture, ignited in me a newfound passion for Westerns. (Believe me, this is quite a feat.)

It’s always a toss-up when deciding between a beloved classic and a little-screened rarity. We at FNB decided to mix it up a little and forgo “Notorious,” which I often liken to a glass of Veuve Clicquot, for the chance to see a 1956 Jean Gabin black comedy “La Traversée de Paris.” Gabin is always good, but the film is uneven, without much tension or humor, a bit like a flabby claret.

A much better rare treat was the definitive British film noir “It Always Rains on Sunday,” (1947, Robert Hamer), set in London’s East End, featuring a Jewish family and starring John McCallum as prison escapee Tommy Swann and tough yet oddly dainty Googie Withers as his ex-gf. The Film Noir Foundation’s Eddie Muller introduced the film, noting that it was less a crime flick than an effective portrayal of the plight of the poor and downtrodden.

We watched this with our friend Debra Levine of artsmeme.com. Our verdict: It’s a good, engaging film but what makes it great is the sleek, striking cinematography. “Tommy made some poor choices,” Ms. Levine overheard someone saying as we left the theater. Aah, but we all know that “choice” is but a futile joke in the world of film noir!

Eva Marie Saint discussed “On the Waterfront” with Bob Osborne on Friday night. Photo by John Nowak

Another Friday highlight: the lovely and gracious Eva Marie Saint discussing “On the Waterfront.”

The next morning, early birds were rewarded with a talk by Polly Bergen at the screening of “Cape Fear,” one of Robert Mitchum’s most menacing roles. Later-risers could head to the Egyptian Theatre for the West Coast restoration premiere of 1929’s “The Donovan Affair” with live actors (from Bruce Goldstein and company) and sound effects to recreate the lost soundtrack.

Eddie Muller interviewed Susan Ray at the screening of “They Live by Night.” Photo by John Nowak

Next up was a film noir must-see: “They Live by Night” (1949, Nicholas Ray), the quintessential young-lovers-on-the-run story, with an appearance by his widow Susan Ray and introduction by Eddie Muller. Commenting on Ray’s exploratory directing style, she said: “He did not go in with a preconceived idea of what should happen in a scene. He would set it up, light a fuse and watch. He would prod or provoke if necessary. He didn’t impose truth, he looked for it.”

And on Ray’s interest in telling the stories of young people, often loners or societal outcasts, she noted: “He saw the juice, potential, openness and flexibility of youth and he loved it.” Nick Ray’s gift as a visual poet is never more apparent than when you see “They Live by Night” on the big screen.

Continuing the noir mood was “Tall Target” (1951, Anthony Mann), a period noir, starring Dick Powell, Paula Raymond and Ruby Dee, based on an actual plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln before he could take the oath office in 1861. Film historian Donald Bogle gave an insightful introduction.

Bob Osborne chats with Ann Blyth before Saturday night’s screening of “Mildred Pierce.” Photo by John Nowak

Then it was back to the Egyptian, where the line for “Mildred Pierce,” snaked down a busy side street of Hollywood Boulevard. Special guest actress Ann Blyth said of Joan Crawford, the film’s mega-star: “I have nothing but wonderful memories of her. She was kind to me during the making of the movie and she was kind to me for many years after.”

Popcorn, Coke, Raisinets and watching Crawford pull out all the shoulder-padded stops – what more could a noirista wish for?

Sunday morning kicked off with a choice between “Badlands,” “Gilda,” or sleeping in a bit and we hit snooze. Sorry. They don’t call me Lazy Legs for nothing. Our first movie was 1973’s “Scarecrow,” starring Al Pacino and Gene Hackman – it was one of the best and most resonant films we’ve seen in a long time. The acting is tremendous in this great-looking film, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Director Jerry Schatzberg discussed his work in a pre-film chat with Leonard Maltin.

Anthony Dawson and Grace Kelly in “Dial M for Murder.”

Afterward, we managed to catch the very noirish “Safe in Hell” (1931, William Wellman), starring Dorothy Mackaill as a streetwise blonde who holds her own among a slew of unsavory men while she’s hiding out in the Caribbean. Donald Bogle introduced the movie and William Wellman, Jr. answered questions afterward.

A great way to wrap up the fest, before heading to the after-party at the Roosevelt Hotel, was a 3-D presentation of “Dial M for Murder.” Leonard Maltin and the always-entertaining actor-producer-director Norman Lloyd, 98, discussed 3-D and the working methods of Alfred Hitchcock. This Hitchcock gem, a perfect example of his subversive casting, is often underrated so we particularly enjoyed seeing it; we noticed that just about every seat was taken.

Hats off to TCM for another superb film festival! The staff does an excellent job running every aspect of this event and it is much appreciated.

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Osborne shares highlights of this year’s TCM Film Festival

TCM host Robert Osborne speaks Wednesday at the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood. Photo by John Nowak

“She’s so beautiful, you can’t believe she’s in her ’80s, and she’s so nice,” said TCM’s Robert Osborne about actress Ann Blyth, who co-starred with Joan Crawford in the classic domestic film noir “Mildred Pierce.”

Blyth will discuss the role when the movie screens at the TCM Film Festival, which starts Thursday at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. Osborne told journalists at a roundtable on Wednesday that he was surprised that Blyth wasn’t typecast. “She was so effective as the mean daughter [Veda] that you hated. Why didn’t that affect her career? She played sweet ingénues after that.”

Club TCM at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. Photo by John Nowak

Other festival highlights for Osborne include interviews with other guests and screenings of “Funny Girl,” “Razor’s Edge,” “Cluny Brown,” and “Desert Song.”

The schedule features a strong film-noir component. “The mood is so rich, it’s a prominent part of the festival,” said TCM’s head programmer Charlie Tabesh. “We noticed that it was immensely popular last year. The theme was style and it fit in very well so we wanted to keep it up this year. People like to see these films on the big screen.”

Inside Club TCM at the Roosevelt. Photo by Edward M. Pio Roda

TCM host Ben Mankiewicz also touched on the popularity of noir and guest programming by the Film Noir Foundation’s Eddie Muller. Mankiewicz said he wants to suggest a night dedicated to neo-noir director John Dahl (“Kill Me Again,” “Last Seduction” and “Red Rock West.”)

“Dahl clearly had a keen appreciation of ’40s and ’50s noir,” Mankiewicz said.

A vintage photo of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly at Club TCM. Photo by Edward M. Pio Roda

We at FNB would love to see a Dahl night. Until then, we can get our fill of these fantastic screenings. And there’s a plethora of photos and memorabilia on display at the Roosevelt. For example, today, before opening night, there’s a special presentation of a suit Humphrey Bogart wore in “The Big Sleep.”

So now it’s back to the Roosevelt! We will be updating on twitter for the rest of the fest.

All photos TM & (C) Turner Entertainment Networks, Inc.

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Film noir features prominently at TCM Classic Film Festival

Cinematic Journeys: Travel in the Movies is the theme for the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival, which takes place in Hollywood April 25-28. The lineup will explore how movies can carry viewers beyond their hometowns to distant or imaginary locales, where they can be transformed by great storytelling.

What I’m most looking forward to, though, is the slew of film noir treats and the special guests that make the fest so memorable. They are:

The Killing
In person: Coleen Gray

The Night of the Hunter

The Narrow Margin
In person: Jacqueline White

Bonnie and Clyde
In person: Robert Benton

Notorious

On the Waterfront
In person: Eva Marie Saint

Cape Fear
In person: Polly Bergen

The Lady Vanishes
In person: Norman Lloyd

They Live by Night
In person: Susan Ray

Mildred Pierce
In person: Ann Blyth

Try and Get Me

Badlands
In person: Ed Pressman, Billy Weber

Gilda
In person: Debra Winger

The Birds
In person: Tippi Hedren

Three Days of the Condor
In person: Max von Sydow

Dial M for Murder
In person: Norman Lloyd

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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

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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

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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

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REVIEWS: Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Dial M for Murder

The Lady Vanishes

Marnie

Notorious

The 39 Steps

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Stylish and subversive, ‘Gun Crazy’ showcases Lewis’ talent

Gun Crazy/1950/King Brothers Productions/86 min.

Peggy Cummins at the TCM festival screening of “Gun Crazy” on Saturday. Photo by Jason Merritt

Peggy Cummins as Annie

It’s pretty much a given in film noir romance that red flags go unheeded and wake-up calls are ignored. An unforgettable example: the protagonist in Joseph H. Lewis’ groundbreaking noir “Gun Crazy” (1950) in which John Dall plays Bart Tare, a World War II vet who’s gifted with guns. After a circus clown tells Bart that he’s “dumb about women,” Bart simply shrugs and rushes off to do his femme fatale’s bidding, which in this case means robbing banks and living on the lam.

To be fair to Bart, however, this is a femme fatale like no other: rodeo performer Annie Laurie Starr (Irish actress Peggy Cummins) loves guns as much as Bart does but whereas he doesn’t want to kill anyone, she’s cool with that possibility. Blood-chilling and unfailingly bold, this svelte blonde ranks as one of the hardest women on the screen.

Cummins appeared last weekend at the TCM Classic Film Festival’s screening of “Gun Crazy” and spoke with Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation. Muller described Cummins’ interpretation of Annie as “the most ferocious female performance in American cinema.”

Bart (John Dall) and Annie (Peggy Cummins) prefer guns to roses.

Darryl Zanuck of 20th Century-Fox brought Cummins to Hollywood in 1945 – she was 98 pounds and had an 18-inch waist, she said.

When the opportunity arose to portray a bad girl for Lewis, Cummins said she was ready. “I loved the idea of it. The tendency was then if you’re a bit short, blonde and reasonably pretty, you were always playing rather pretty-pretty little parts. But this was a meaty part. I always wanted to play all the Bette Davis parts and I was never offered one. She was too good.

“An actor is always so thrilled to get a chance to play against what their character may be or the sort of person they are.”

It was Cummins’ most famous part (Dall is best remembered for this picture and 1948’s “Rope” by Alfred Hitchcock) and the film, as subversive as it is stylish, influenced directors for decades to come. In fact, it is one of the primary bridges between classic Hollywood movies and the French and American New Wave (Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless” from 1960 and 1967’s “Bonnie and Clyde” by Arthur Penn.)

On the run, playing it straight with some studious specs.

Director Lewis was a solid B-movie director and, with A-list status eluding him, he took advantage of the freedom lower-budget Bs offered to experiment, innovate and break cinematic rules. In his time he was underrated but, because of his inventive style, he was rediscovered and praised by American and French critics in the ’60s.

In “Gun Crazy” when the pair robs the first bank, Lewis shot on location and used real people to play the bystanders. And leading up to the crime, Lewis (via cinematographer Russell Harlan) uses one long, unbroken shot taken from the backseat of the getaway car, from the criminals’ point of view, immersing the audience in the robbers’ subjective reality. During this scene, said Cummins, she and Dall improvised the dialogue.

MacKinlay Kantor and Dalton Trumbo, one of Hollywood’s finest scribes, wrote the screenplay based on a short story of Kantor’s. But when Trumbo was blacklisted, his work on this film was credited to Millard Kaufman.

Annie’s got some great lines, for example, when she explains her aspirations: “Bart, I want things, a lot of things, big things. I don’t want to be afraid of life or anything else. I want a guy with spirit and guts. A guy who can laugh at anything, who will do anything, a guy who can kick over the traces and win the world for me.”

Renamed “Deadly is the Female” for its British release, “Gun Crazy” is insanely good noir.

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