The Film Noir File: Bogie is at the top in ‘High Sierra’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

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

High Sierra” (1941, Raoul Walsh). 4 p.m. (1 p.m.), Saturday, April 5.

Bogart and Ida Lupino star in "High Sierra."

Bogart and Ida Lupino star in “High Sierra.”

In 1941, the same year he played Sam Spade, private eye, one of the greatest of all movie detectives, in John Huston’s classic film noir “The Maltese Falcon,” Humphrey Bogart also played one of the greatest of all movie gangsters, Roy Earle, in Raoul Walsh‘s classic noir, “High Sierra.”

If Spade was one of the meanest, most realistic and most unsympathetic of all movie detectives (up until then), Earle was one of the roughest, least clichéd but most surprisingly sympathetic gangsters. He’s a hard guy with a soft streak, whose sentimentality (especially toward women and little dogs), may trip him up in the end.

Veteran thief Big Mac (Donald MacBride) and an ex-cop (Barton MacLane) engineer Earle’s release from prison so he can take over a very lucrative job: a high-end resort robbery near the Sierras. But Earle finds himself yoked to a young, inexperienced gang.

The tyro would-be crooks include Arthur Kennedy, Alan Curtis and inside man Cornel Wilde. The moll of one of the guys is Marie (Ida Lupino), a smart, bruised city doll who falls for Earle, but whom the old pro regards, like all dames, as “trouble.”

More to his taste, disastrously, is the beautiful, seemingly sweet club-footed girl Velma (Joan Leslie), whose family (including Henry Travers) he meets and helps on the road.

Roy sets up the robbery and tries to woo the crippled girl. But it’s his last job, and we know what that means in a movie. As the boss‘s outlaw doctor (Henry Hull) tells Roy: “Guys like you and Johnny Dillinger “are just rushing toward death.”

High Sierra posterAndrew Sarris once described “High Sierra” as “the Gotterdammerung of the gangster movie.” And perhaps Bogart connected so well with the part of the doom-haunted criminal Earle because he had a face that really could suggest a man rushing toward death. Bogie’s dark burning eyes, brusque been-there-shot-that manner, innate intelligence and his existential tough-guy persona were leagues away from the standard handsome male stars who tended to monopolize Hollywood’s leading man roles.

Screenwriting team John Huston and W. R. Burnett based their work on Burnett’s hard-boiled novel. Action-master director Raoul Walsh, a first-tier ‘20s silent moviemaker (he directed Douglas Fairbanks in the 1924 “The Thief of Baghdad“), had been languishing in the second tier for most of the ‘30s.

But Walsh came back with 1939’s “The Roaring Twenties” (in which James Cagney played a sympathetic gangster and Bogie was the villain), 1940‘s “They Drive by Night” (with truck-driver Bogie as the second lead after star George Raft) and “High Sierra,” in which Bogie finally got the lead. (Raft turned down both of the roles that took Bogart to the top: Sam Spade in “The Maltese Falcon” and Roy Earle in “High Sierra.”)

By the way, the last shot of “High Sierra,” with Ida Lupino walking toward the camera, framed by the mountains and the sky, is one of the great last moments in film noir and in all Hollywood movies.

Saturday, April 5

4 p.m. (1 p.m.): “High Sierra” (1941, Raoul Walsh). See Pick of the Week.

Sunday, April 6

8 a.m. (5 a.m.): “They Drive By Night” (1940, Raoul Walsh). With George Raft, Ida Lupino, Humphrey Bogart and Ann Sheridan. Reviewed in FNB on July 7, 2012. [Read more...]

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The Film Noir File: Huston helms, Bogarts stars in ‘Falcon’ et al

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Film 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

Maltese-Falcon-poster[1]

The Maltese Falcon
(1941, John Huston). 8 p.m. (5 p.m.); Wednesday, March 12. With Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre and Elisha Cook, Jr. See previous post for the review.

Wednesday, March 12

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Maltese Falcon” (1941, John Huston). See review in previous post.

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “Across the Pacific” (1942, John Huston). With Bogart, Astor and Greenstreet. Reviewed in FNB on June 6, 2012.

Friday, March 14

10:45 a.m. (7:45 a.m.): “Beat the Devil” (1953, John Huston). Humphrey Bogart and John Huston’s last movie together was a commercial failure but a triumph of silliness, satire and pseudo-noir. Bogart stars as the sly, grinning kingpin of a group of uranium-mine swindlers that includes Robert Morley, Peter Lorre and Italian bombshell Gina Lollobrigida. Jennifer Jones and Edward Underdown are two naïve British vacationers who fall guilelessly into their hands.

Beat the Devil posterBased on a novel by Claud Cockburn, the film, a cult movie if there ever was one, was adapted with tongue completely in cheek, by Truman Capote, who wrote (or rewrote) it on location in Italy. Apparently, Capote got the script done each day with barely enough time for the actors to learn their lines. (They have fun with them anyway.) The settings on the Italian coast, in prime tourist territory, are gorgeous — as are bad girl Lollobrigida and good girl Jones. The cast look as if they‘re not quite sure what’s going on but are having an absolutely marvelous time. As will you.

4 a.m. (1 a.m.): “The Public Enemy” (1931, William Wellman). With James Cagney, Jean Harlow and Mae Clarke. Reviewed in FNB on Aug. 10, 2012.

Saturday, March 15

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Sugarland Express” (1974, Steven Spielberg). With Goldie Hawn, Ben Johnson and William Atherton. Reviewed in FNB on Nov. 23, 2013.

Sunday, March 16

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “After the Thin Man” (1936, W. S. Van Dyke). With William Powell, Myrna Loy and James Stewart. Reviewed in FNB on June 6, 2013.

Monday, March 17

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Outfit” (1973, John Flynn). With Robert Duvall, Karen Black and Robert Ryan. Reviewed in FNB on May 22, 2013.

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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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Stylish sleeper ‘I Wake Up Screaming’ deserves a little love

IWUS 1I Wake Up Screaming/1941/Twentieth Century-Fox/82 min.

In the Neglected Works of Noir department, “I Wake Up Screaming” from 1941 is just crying out for attention.

Director H. Bruce Humberstone made a fun and taut whodunit that’s also a treat for the eyes. The film stars Betty Grable (singer, dancer and pin-up legend in her first dramatic role) and Carole Landis as sisters Jill and Vicky Lynn, who quickly shed their homespun sensibilities as they fend for themselves in New York City, Jill working as a stenographer and Vicky waiting tables.

IWUS 2Naturally, it’s only a matter of time before the fine-boned fair-haired creatures are discovered. Vicky’s in the spotlight first after PR guru Frankie “Botticelli” Christopher (Victor Mature) stops into the diner one night with some friends and decides, as he puts it, to make her The Next Big Thing. (At one point, Frankie asks how expensive she is; she replies he couldn’t afford her. To circumvent censors, that risqué line was reportedly added while shooting.)

Frankie’s pals Jerry (William Gargan), Robin (Alan Mowbray) and Larry (Allyn Joslyn) also jockey for her attention and lend their support to her quest to be a model/actress. But, just as she’s about to jet off to Hollywood for a screen test, Vicky is murdered, and all her pals are under suspicion as is the creepy clerk at her apartment building, Harry, played by noir great Elisha Cook Jr.

Laird Cregar spent time with cops to lend realism to his role.

Laird Cregar spent time with cops to lend realism to his role.

Matching Cook’s seediness is hefty Police Insp. Ed Cornell (Laird Cregar). Cregar caught critics’ attention with his dark, skulking, mysterious presence; his name is probably a hat-tip to writer Cornell Woolrich.

Also, look out for “Black Mask,” the famous pulp magazine, for sale on a newsstand.

As the story unfolds, a romance develops between Frankie Christopher and Jill, and the movie proceeds at a nice clip, clocking in at 82 minutes. “I Wake Up Screaming” makes significant strides in noir style and technique, though it rarely gets credit for its achievements. One of the films that eclipsed it was director John Huston’s mightily famous “The Maltese Falcon,” also from 1941. A big-budget release from Warner Bros., the now classic movie is often cited as the first film noir.

IWUS 5“I Wake Up Screaming,” a much smaller project than “Falcon,” was the first film noir made at Twentieth Century-Fox. Humberstone incorporated arresting compositions and lighting – note the dramatic, single-source lighting in the police interrogation room scenes. The scene in which Cornell pays Christopher a night-time visit virtually defines noir, with its exaggerated shadows, grim faces, a black cat and a neon sign in the distance. Edward Cronjager was director of photography. Noir czar and author Eddie Muller points out in his excellent DVD commentary that, in visual terms, “The Maltese Falcon” is pedestrian compared with the creativity in “I Wake Up Screaming.”

Additionally, scriptwriter Dwight Taylor conceived the story as a series of flashbacks – a hallmark of film noir storytelling – though Steve Fisher’s pulpy novel is not structured that way. And, long before it became common for actors, Cregar hung out with L.A. police to lend realism to his performance. The score is interesting too – featuring “Over the Rainbow” as well as “Manhattan Street Scene,” which was also used in “The Dark Corner.” (“I Wake Up Screaming” was remade in 1953 as “Vicki,” starring Jeanne Crain, Jean Peters and Elliott Reid; it was directed by Harry Horner.)

"I Wake Up Screaming" is visually spectacular.

“I Wake Up Screaming” is visually spectacular.

So why did “Screaming” get such short shrift? Well, it wasn’t a prestige picture and, while Humberstone made the best of this low-budget B movie, it’s tough to compete with John Huston, one of Hollywood’s finest talents ever. Also, “I Wake Up Screaming” contains a generous dollop of fluffy romantic comedy, which pairs a bit uneasily with the sly, wry humor and cynical entanglements of film noir at its grittiest. Btw, I love the scene where Frankie and Jill take a dip in a public pool – both flaunting their great shape, of course – Frankie puffing away merrily on a cigarette.

I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that “I Wake Up Screaming” has a happy ending. Sadly, though, two of its actors died not long after the movie was released. In 1944, Cregar’s promising career was cut short at age 30 when the Philly-born actor had a heart attack, likely spurred by crash dieting for a part. Four years later, Wisconsin native Carole Landis, 29, died of a drug overdose. Her career had dead-ended and she was in bad shape, having been dismissed by the industry as a pretty airhead.

Unfortunately, that’s a story that’s been told and retold in Hollywood.

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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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Free stuff from FNB: More chances to win Bogart movies

The reader-giveaway prize for June was the Humphrey Bogart set, which contains “They Drive by Night,” “Across the Pacific,” “Action in the North Atlantic” and “Passage to Marseille,” from Warner Home Video and Turner Classic Movies. I am extending this giveaway to July so that I can run a review of “They Drive by Night.”

In August, I will give away the WHV/TCM Greatest Gangster Films: Humphrey Bogart set, featuring “High Sierra,” “The Petrified Forest,” “The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse” and “All Through the Night.” I will run a review of “High Sierra” in August. Each set is $27.92.

All who entered in June are still eligible to win. To enter the July giveaway, for the Classic Legends: Humphrey Bogart set, just leave a comment on any FNB post from July 1-31.

We welcome comments, but please remember that, for the purposes of the giveaway, there is one entry per person, not per comment.

The June-July winner will be randomly selected at the end of the month and announced in early August. Include your email address in your comment so that I can notify you if you win. Your email will not be shared. Good luck!

Here’s more info on the movies in the Classic Legends: Humphrey Bogart set. [Read more...]

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Free stuff from FNB: Classic Legends Bogart set

Warner Home Video (WHV) and Turner Classic Movies (TCM) are adding two new sets to the TCM Greatest Classic Legends line. The newest additions feature Humphrey Bogart and Joan Crawford. (On the Crawford set is “Mildred Pierce,” “Humoresque,” “Possessed” and “The Damned Don’t Cry.”)

Humphrey Bogart

Courtesy of WHV, I will be giving away the Bogart set, which contains “They Drive by Night,” “Across the Pacific,” “Action in the North Atlantic” and “Passage to Marseille.”

(Additionally, WHV and TCM will release the Greatest Gangster Films: Humphrey Bogart set, featuring “High Sierra,” “The Petrified Forest,” “The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse” and “All Through the Night.”)

Each set is $27.92 and will be available on June 26.

To enter the June giveaway, for the Classic Legends: Humphrey Bogart set, just leave a comment on any FNB post from June 1-30. We welcome comments, but please remember that, for the purposes of the giveaway, there is one entry per person, not per comment.

The winner will be randomly selected at the end of the month and announced in early July. Include your email address in your comment so that I can notify you if you win. Your email will not be shared. Good luck! (Josh is the winner of the May reader giveaway, a Blu-ray set of “Body Heat,” “L.A. Confidential,” and “The Player.” Congrats to Josh and thanks to all who entered!)

Here’s more info on the movies in the Classic Legends: Humphrey Bogart set.

THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT (1940) – Bogart and George Raft share a driving ambition in a feisty tale of brothers trying to make it as independent truckers in this fine example of Warner Bros. social-conscience filmmaking that’s also a film noir. Ann Sheridan and Ida Lupino also star.

ACROSS THE PACIFIC (1942) – In this wartime thriller, Bogart plays U.S. counterspy Rick, who trades barbs with Mary Astor, matches wits with Sydney Greenstreet and swaps bullets with saboteurs of the Panama Canal. John Huston directs this reunion of the three stars of “The Maltese Falcon.”

ACTION IN THE NORTH ATLANTIC (1943) – This World War II salute to Allied forces stars Bogart as First Officer Joe Rossi, who, along with his captain (Raymond Massey), matches tactics with U-boats and the Luftwaffe. The tactics are so on target that this became a Merchant Marine training film.

PASSAGE TO MARSEILLE (1944) – Bogart reunites with director Michael Curtiz and other key “Casablanca” talent for a tension- and controversy-swept story of a French patriot who escapes Devil’s Island, survives a dangerous freighter voyage and becomes a gunner in the Free French Air Corps.

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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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‘The Chanteuse and the Devil’s Muse’ combines music, dance and drama to explore infamous Black Dahlia case

Elizabeth Short

“She’s a very noirish character,” says musician/writer/director David J. Haskins of Elizabeth Short, better known as the Black Dahlia. “She’s a blank screen on which anything can be projected. She was a mysterious, glamorous, romantic figure.”

Indeed, very little is known for sure about the brief life of the Black Dahlia, who in death attained the fame she dreamt of in Hollywood. Some say she was an aspiring actress; other accounts portray her as a confused drifter.

Her brutally mutilated and severed body was found, artfully arranged, in a vacant lot near Crenshaw Boulevard and West 39th Street in Los Angeles on Jan. 15, 1947; she was 22. The mystery of her death remains unsolved, though there have been numerous theories and potential suspects.

David J. Haskins

Haskins (formerly a member of the band Bauhaus as well as Love and Rockets) puts forward his contention about the murder in his new play, “The Chanteuse and the Devil’s Muse.” It opens Thursday at the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles.

The production uses three interwoven devices: a dramatization; live music from Haskins, Ego Plum and Ysanne Spevack; and butoh dance by acclaimed performer Vangeline. The songs were originally composed for Ramzi Abed’s 2007 film about the Dahlia called “The Devil’s Muse.”

Madi Comfort's boyfriend lived in this house on Franklin Avenue in Hollywood.

Central to the story is real-life singer Madi Comfort (played by Daniele Watts with Tracey Leigh making special appearances throughout the run). Comfort’s lover was a suspect in the Black Dahlia case. Douglas Dickerman plays cop Frank Jemison, a straight arrow determined to get to the bottom of the slaying.

A longtime fan of German Expressionism and film noir, particularly its “very clipped, smart, sharp dialogue with fast delivery,” Haskins names “The Maltese Falcon” as one of his favorite movies and Orson Welles as a much-admired director.

“The Chanteuse and the Devil’s Muse” runs Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. through Oct. 1 at the Bootleg, 2220 Beverly Blvd., 213-389-3856; tickets are $25, $18 for students and seniors. Run time is just under one hour.

Stay tuned – I’ll be posting video snippets from my recent interview with Haskins.

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8mm sizzles with noir-tinged rock: Friday at the Roxy

With a haunting voice, retro-glam sexiness, and material both subtle and raw, Juliette Beavan of 8mm melds a femme fatale’s sophistication with flinty rock energy. From the first searing notes, often punctuated by smoke and shadow, the songs draw you in like a Hitchcock thriller; lyrics linger in your head well beyond the show’s end. This part of “Crawl,” for instance, is hard to forget: “or maybe there’s another/ trick, another spell/ and I could change you/ and I’d draw you to me/ pull you to me, crawl to me./ draw you to me/ pull you to me/ call you to me/crawl to me.”
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Her bandmates include her husband Sean Beavan (guitar, vocals) and Jon Nicholson (drums). They describe their sound as “trip-hop influenced pop-rock.” First-rate musicians, the guys are the perfect complement to Juliette’s vocals and keyboard.
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Juliette Beavan of 8mm. Photo by Critter Newell

“That’s right, blame it on the girl,” she might tease them between songs, before adjusting her mic or straightening a cord. A New Orleans native, she’s fond of bringing beads, candy and banter to toss to the eager crowd, many of whom clutch cameras the way people used to flick lighters as preface to an encore.
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Together since 2004, 8mm has an impressive resume that includes four albums and several tours (the US, Canada, the UK and Chile). Sean Beavan, who hails from Cleveland, formerly worked with bands such as Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails and God Lives Underwater. He and Juliette write the songs; their work has been featured in the 2005 film “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” as well as in a number of TV shows, including “One Tree Hill,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Moonlight,” “Dirt,” Road Rules,” and “The Real World: Sydney.”
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You can see 8mm for yourself Friday, June 3, at the Roxy Theatre, with the Kidney Thieves, Cage 9, The Shakers and DJ High Voltage. The show starts at 8 p.m. and 8mm goes on at 9 p.m.
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I caught up with Juliette recently to chat about the band’s penchant for noir.
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Film Noir Blonde: The band’s name is a film reference, your shows are richly atmospheric and your songs often deal with mystery, secrets, betrayal and hidden desire, much as a film noir would. Can you talk about how the aesthetic of film noir in general has been an influence for you?
Juliette Beavan: Yes, a reference to the film stock, because for us, 8mm film brings to mind smoky back rooms of 1930s Berlin, the first stag films, the early home movies … in other words, secrets, memories, longings (secret and professed) and decadence … all the things we try to bring to our music. They also happen to be things that are part and parcel to any good film noir. In addition, the look, the sleek styling, elegant and dangerous players, well, that sounds like a band to us!

8mm plays the Viper Room. Photo by Billy Howerdel

FNB: Any femmes fatales that stand out for you?
JB: Hahaha, are you gonna ask any questions with short answers? Where to start … Marlene Dietrich, Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe, Gene Tierney, Lauren Bacall, Joan Crawford, Anne Baxter, Nora Zehetner in “Brick” does a wonderful job, not to mention (I know they’re not femmes fatales, but I would be remiss to leave the men out) Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives Bogey a run for his money in that film. And for the men, of course, there is the one and only Humphrey Bogart.

FNB: Of ’40s and ’50s singers or bands, who are your top favorites?
JB: Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf, Bing Crosby, to name a few.

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8mm's Jon Nicholson, Juliette Beavan and Sean Beavan. Photo by Herwig Maurer

FNB: Do you essentially get into character when you perform, especially Juliette as the frontwoman?
JB: In a sense, yes, and it varies from song to song, because each one is a different story, character, sort of mini movie for us. I’m a storyteller not a character (like a GaGa or Madonna), so the approach is a little different. It only takes a note or two for me “see it” in my head again, to step into “her” shoes … from there it’s just natural.

You kind of have to use your whole body to tell the story, and the story becomes my own for that time.

FNB: Raymond Chandler said a good story cannot be devised; it has to be distilled. Do you think that’s true for writing songs and music?
JB: Certainly at times … what Sean plays makes me see stories, so I suppose you could say that is a bit of a distilling process to bring the story down into its key emotional components for a 3 minute song. However, there are other times when you get a “cosmic FedEx” (a term we’re stealing from Scott Russo of Unwritten Law). That’s where the song comes to you almost writing itself and you have to grab and get it down before it moves on. You know, the muse will find another host if you aren’t paying attention.

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