Moving ‘Rust and Bone’ ranks as one of the year’s best films

Rust and Bone/2012/Sony Pictures Classics/120 min.

Streetwise and sublime, “Rust and Bone” is a contemporary melodrama beautifully told. In director and co-writer Jacques Audiard’s capable hands, what could have been a preposterous and sappy saga is human and moving.

Bookended from a child’s point of view, the movie opens with fragments of a dream through which we enter a world marked by darkness and brutality as well as by joy and redemption. The child here is 5-year-old Sam (Armand Verdure) who travels by train with his father Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) to Antibes, France. Ali scavenges among other passengers’ discarded food so that the two can eat.

In Antibes, they move in with Ali’s sister Anna (Corinne Masiero). Ali is able to find a job as a bouncer at a disco and later as a security guard and kickboxing combatant. One night at the disco, Ali encounters hauntingly seductive tough lady Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard), wiping blood from her face, as she’s leaving the place. Alarmed, Ali accompanies her home and, through their brief, stilted conversation, learns that she works as an orca whale trainer at Marineland. Ali also finds that she has a boyfriend but leaves his number anyway.

The next time he hears from Stéphanie, she reveals shocking news: she is confined to a wheelchair, having lost her legs in a horrific accident with a whale during a Marineland performance. The two begin a friendship, devoid of pity on his part, that sustains them as she tries to piece her life together again and as he struggles with fatherhood and finding true intimacy.

“What came first was the desire to tell a love story,” says Audiard, at a recent press conference in Beverly Hills. He and co-writer Thomas Bidegain added the love-story element to the foundation provided by Canadian author Craig Davidson’s collection of short stories. (Audiard’s other films include “A Prophet,” The Beat That My Heart Skipped,” and “Read My Lips.” He is the son of screenwriter/director/actor Michel Audiard.)

Subtle performances and stark, poetic imagery temper the melodrama of “Rust and Bone.” Audiard says he and cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine talked about the films of Lon Chaney, fairground films of the Great Depression, and especially Charles Laughton’s great film noir “The Night of the Hunter,” which begins with a father being arrested in front of his children because he has stolen money in order to feed them.

Robert Mitchum plays the sinister preacher in “The Night of the Hunter.”

There’s also an homage to Robert Mitchum’s love/hate hand tattoos from “Hunter.”

“Rust and Bone” seems a natural for Oscar nominations, particularly the work of Schoenaerts and Cotillard. (She won Best Actress for her role as Édith Piaf in “La Vie en Rose” from 2007.) The actors’ naturalness and understatement lend realness and dignity to the extreme, sometimes frightening, situations Ali and Stéphanie find themselves in.

Indeed, the characters themselves are unusual and complex. Says Cotillard: “I read the script and at the end Stéphanie was still a mystery… a mystery that was not to be solved because it was part of who she was.”

As shooting progressed, Cotillard says she came to see Stéphanie as a cowboy. “She turned anger into power. That’s a cowboy, right?”

“Rust and Bone” opens today in New York and LA.

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The Noir File: ‘Top of the World, Ma!’ and more classic Cagney moments

By Michael Wilmington

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

PICK OF THE WEEK

James Cagney in 1939

White Heat” (1949, Raoul Walsh): Tuesday, Aug. 14, 10 p.m. (7 p.m.) “Top of the world, Ma!” James Cagney screams, in one of the all-time great noir performances and last scenes. Cagney’s character (one of his signature roles) is Cody Jarrett, a psycho gun-crazy gangster with a mother complex, perched at the top of an oil refinery tower about to blow.

Edmond O’Brien is the undercover cop in Cody’s gang, Virginia Mayo is Cody’s faithless wife, and Margaret Wycherly is Ma. One of the true noir masterpieces, “White Heat” boasts another classic, hair-raising scene: Cagney’s crack-up in prison when he hears of Ma’s death. Script by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts; music by Max Steiner. At 7 p.m. (4 p.m.), preceding “White Heat” and “City for Conquest” is the documentary “James Cagney: Top of the World,” hosted by Michael J. Fox.

Friday, Aug. 10

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Key Largo” (1948, John Huston) Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson are pitted against each other in this tense adaptation of the Maxwell Anderson play. Bogie is a WW2 vet held hostage (along with Lauren Bacall and Lionel Barrymore) during a tropical storm by brutal mobster Robinson and his gang. Claire Trevor, as a fading chanteuse, won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

Bogie is a vet held hostage (along with Lauren Bacall and Lionel Barrymore) by Robinson.

Saturday, Aug. 11

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Lolita” (1962, Stanley Kubrick, U.S.-Britain) Kubrick’s superb film of Vladimir Nabokov’s classic comic-erotic novel – about the dangerous affair of college professor Humbert Humbert (James Mason) with nymphet Lolita (Sue Lyon), while they are nightmarishly pursued by writer/sybarite Clare Quilty (Peter Sellers). It has strong noir touches, themes and style. With Shelley Winters; script by Nabokov (and Kubrick).

Tuesday, Aug. 14

7:30 a.m. (4:30 a.m.) “The Public Enemy” (1931, William Wellman) Quintessential pre-noir gang movie, with Cagney, Jean Harlow, Mae Clarke, booze, guns and a grapefruit.

12 p.m. (9 a.m.): “Each Dawn I Die” (1939, William Keighley) Cagney and George Raft in prison. Reportedly one of Joseph Stalin’s favorite movies.

Wednesday, Aug. 15

1 a.m. (10 p.m.): “The Night of the Hunter” (1955, Charles Laughton) The great noir with Robert Mitchum as evil Preacher Harry, Lillian Gish and Shelley Winters.

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Guest programmer Spike Lee picks four great titles for TCM

Andy Griffith and Patricia Neal star in “A Face in the Crowd.”

Director, producer, writer and actor Spike Lee, guest programming for TCM, has selected four excellent films, all of which have strong film-noir elements and social/political themes. The movies will play at various times this month, starting on Thursday, July 5.

Ace in the Hole” (1951, Billy Wilder) Kirk Douglas stars as a sleazy reporter who will go to any length to restart his career.

On the Waterfront” (1954, Elia Kazan) A washed-up boxer and mob member (Marlon Brando) tries to redeem himself when he falls in love with a victim of the mob (Eva Marie Saint).

A Face in the Crowd” (1957, Elia Kazan) The unlikely rise of a brutal drifter (Andy Griffith) to a media/TV sensation is set against the background of the South in the 1950s. Also stars Patricia Neal and Walter Matthau.

The Night of the Hunter” (1955, Charles Laughton) Another Southern saga: Robert Mitchum plays a murderous preacher, specializing in seducing and killing widows. The outstanding cast includes Shelley Winters and Lillian Gish.

Read Michael Wilmington’s tribute to Andy Griffith here.

Meanwhile, a very happy Fourth of July to everyone!

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On the radar: Revel in noir at the Aero, Egyptian and Lacma

There’s so much to see on the big screen this month in Los Angeles. See you at the movies!
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AT THE AERO THEATRE
1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica; shows start at 7:30 p.m.
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Saturday, March 3: A sneak preview of the thriller/horror flick “Silent House” starring Elizabeth Olsen followed by 2003’s “Open Water,” a nerve-wracking story about a couple left stranded in the Caribbean after a day of scuba diving. There will be a discussion between films with co-directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau.

Farley Granger and Robert Walker in "Strangers on a Train"

Wednesday, March 7: One of my all-time favorite Alfred Hitchcock films, “Strangers on a Train” (1951) stars Robert Walker as a psycho playboy intent on committing a double murder with tennis champ Farley Granger. As Hitch shows us in the opening shot, never underestimate the importance of footwear.
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Wednesday, March 14: Another Hitchcock work that draws on his lifelong love of trains, “The Lady Vanishes” from 1938 takes place on a train en route from the fictional country of Bandrika to Western Europe. Passengers Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave attempt to find a mysterious Miss Froy.
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Thursday, March 15: In “The Night of the Hunter” (1955, Charles Laughton) the great Robert Mitchum gives an unforgettable performance as a warped preacher with a knack for seducing trusting souls. Also starring Shelley Winters and Lillian Gish. At 6:30 p.m., author Preston Neal Jones will sign his book “Heaven and Hell to Play With: The Filming of The Night of the Hunter.”
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Laura Harring, director David Lynch and Naomi Watts of "Mulholland Dr."

Saturday, March 24: A top-notch double feature, starting with Billy Wilder’s masterpiece noir and scathing look at Hollywood, “Sunset Boulevard” (1950). William Holden, Gloria Swanson and Erich von Stroheim star in this must-see flick. Next up: Naomi Watts and Laura Harring lead the cast of David Lynch’s mesmerizing and surreal portrait of Tinseltown’s latent evil, “Mulholland Dr.” (2001).

Wednesday, March 28: Yet more Hitchcock! Joel McCrea plays reporter Johnny Jones, who encounters intrigue and danger in “Foreign Correspondent” from 1940.
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Thursday March 29: “The Manchurian Candidate,” starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey and Angela Lansbury, celebrates its 50th anniversary. Superb direction from John Frankenheimer.
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AT THE EGYPTIAN THEATRE
6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; shows start at 7:30 p.m. with multiple showings and one matinee for “The Snowtown Murders”

Alida Valli and Joseph Cotten in "The Third Man."

Wednesday, March 7: Carol Reed directs Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli and Orson Welles in 1949’s “The Third Man,” one of the finest thrillers ever made. Don’t miss it!
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Wednesday, March 14: Orson Welles as auteur and actor. In “The Lady from Shanghai” (1948), an outstanding noir, he co-stars with Rita Hayworth and Everett Sloane. In “Confidential Report” (1955), Welles plays a dad in deep denial about his murky past.
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Thursday, March 15-Sunday, March 18: Justin Kurzel makes his directorial debut with “The Snowtown Murders,” the story of Australia’s most infamous serial killer. Plays at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday.
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Wednesday, March 28: More brilliance from Orson Welles in this knock-out double feature. “Touch of Evil,” a tale of corruption, is widely considered the last great work of classic film noir. Its unbeatable cast: Welles, Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and Mercedes McCambridge. “The Trial” (based on Franz Kafka’s novel about paranoia and conspiracy) also boasts amazing talent: Welles, Anthony Perkins, Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider and Akim Tamiroff.
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AT LACMA
5905 Wilshire Blvd.
At 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 8: As a tribute to Wim Wenders, “The American Friend,” a stand-out neo noir from 1977 is paired with 1982’s “Chambre 666,” a doc with A-list directors about the future of filmmaking.
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At 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 9: Film noir is partly rooted in French Poetic Realism and these two examples of the genre make an excellent night at the movies. To start: Cinematic genius and master of poetic realism Jean Renoir’s “The Rules of the Game” (1939) followed by Jacques Becker’s “Casque D’Or” (1952). Becker assisted Renoir on “Rules” and “Grand Illusion” (1937).
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Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck star in Billy Wilder's "Double Indemnity" from 1944.

At 1 p.m. Tuesday, March 13: Billy Wilder’s “Double Indemnity” (1944) is one of the defining films of the noir genre. Femme fatale Barbara Stanwyck lures insurance agent Fred MacMurray into committing murder for a big payoff. Edward G. Robinson shines as MacMurray’s boss and friend.
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At noon Saturday, March 24: Christian Marclay’s “The Clock,” winner of the Golden Lion at last year’s Venice Biennale, is a 24-hour single-channel montage constructed from thousands of moments of cinema and television history depicting the passage of time. Begins at noon Saturday and ends at noon on Sunday, March 25.
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At 1 p.m. Tuesday, March 27: Another prime example of classic film noir, Robert Siodmak’s “The Killers” put Ava Gardner and Burt Lancaster on the track to super-stardom.
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Noir nightmare ‘Shock Corridor’ ramps up the pulp and reminds us: We’re all a little wacky

Shock Corridor/1963/F & F Productions/101 min.

With the nuttiness of holiday travel and family gatherings nigh, we at FNB think it’s the perfect time for a little noir fun at the insane asylum. Crazy? Bring it on!

By Michael Wilmington

Sam Fuller’s B-movie noir “Shock Corridor” – about an arrogant reporter trying to solve a murder in an insane asylum – is a cheap little picture that packs wallop after wallop in one powerfully conceived and incandescently unhinged scene after another. Fuller fears neither God nor man in this show. And he especially doesn’t fear most movie critics, whose every canon of taste and judgment he tends to ignore or trample on, but who wound up largely on his side anyway.

Set mostly in the asylum’s endless corridor (an effect done with mirrors and midgets), the movie makes its very cheapness an asset – low-budget minimalism turning into something of a nightmare. It’s a world emptied of conventional signposts, an arena in which lunatics and doctors can act out their strange drama without interference. In the center of it all, reporter Johnny Barrett (Peter Breck of TV’s “The Big Valley”) poses as a psycho and gets committed so he can hunt for the asylum killer. This story, he reckons, will yield a Pulitzer and plenty of cash.

Peter Breck

Constance Towers

Egotistical and argumentative, Johnny seems a bit of a head case himself. His ruse starts when he rehearses the symptoms of psychosis with a friendly psychiatrist, Dr. Fong (Philip Ahn). Then he enlists his stripper girlfriend Cathy (Constance Towers) to masquerade as his sister, for whom he feigns an incestuous obsession. That would seem an easy lie to check and disprove, but, as usual with Fuller, we let it pass. The movie, though, would probably have been stronger if there’d been a real sister, in addition to Cathy.

Played out with maximum impact against severe white backdrops, the script starts succumbing to B-movie infatuations and noir shtick of its own. Johnny jaw-bones with the know-it-all Dr. Menkin (Paul Dubov) and befriends the huge-of-girth, opera-singing Pagliacci, played by Larry Tucker, the comedy/scriptwriting partner of Paul Mazursky. (Mazursky asked Fuller why he wasn’t cast in “Shock Corridor” too, only to be told, “You were too skinny.”)

Johnny interrogates three crazy witnesses: Stuart (James Best), a Korean war veteran who thinks he’s a Confederate Civil War general; Trent (Hari Rhodes), a trail-blazing black student at a Southern white university who thinks he’s a grand wizard in the Ku Klux Klan, and Boden (Gene Evans, the Sgt. Zack of Fuller’s great Korean War movie “The Steel Helmet”), the world’s most brilliant nuclear scientist, now with the brain of a 6-year-old. As Johnny gets closer to the truth of the murder mystery, he also edges closer to real madness, stumbling closer to the traps of insanity that seemed to bedevil him from the start.

If you compare the pulpy, uninhibited “Shock Corridor” to a relatively realistic picture of mental institutions and psychiatry like Milos Forman’s film of Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” or the Olivia de Havilland asylum drama “The Snake Pit,” you’ll find it wanting.

Fuller is a polemicist who likes to editorialize and use his stories to get at overarching truths. The Cold War, racial prejudice and the arms race are as loony as the inmates. Journalism is a trust, not a goldmine. Madness and sex are nothing to toy with.

The seeds of “Shock Corridor” were in a thriller script with an exposé attitude called “Straightjacket” that Fuller wrote for Fritz Lang in the ’40s. In “Shock Corridor,” Fuller spreads his net wider. American society itself, in addition to psychiatry, is under the lens.

The movie was a hit with audiences and critics, especially ’60s auteurists. The cast, though less than A-list, is good and the technical talent is ace-high. Eugène Lourié (of Renoir’s “Rules of the Game” and “The Southerner”) did the sets. Stanley Cortez (“The Magnificent Ambersons,” “The Night of the Hunter”) was the cinematographer. They make the movie look great.

Shot and cut by Fuller just as he wanted, with nothing held back and probably nothing softened, it’s a movie that, like Johnny, may seem at first too brash, too loud and too wild. But it gets the story told. Shockingly.

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What’s new at the Aero, Egyptian: Hurray for Harlow!

Jean Harlow

Get your blonde on this Sunday at the American Cinematheque. Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre will host a Jean Harlow centennial tribute, co-presented with the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles, featuring a slideshow, book signing and screening. Harlow’s birthday was today, March 3, 1911.

The Cinematheque event starts at 2 p.m. Sunday with a slideshow on Harlow, the first blonde sex symbol. At 3 p.m., Darrell Rooney and Mark A. Vieira, authors of the new book “Harlow in Hollywood,” will sign books in the lobby. After the ink is dry, stay for the screening of Harlow’s screwball comedy/satire “Bombshell” from 1933, directed by Victor Fleming. Turner Classic Movies is also paying tribute to Harlow this month; for more details, visit http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/362075%7C0/Jean-Harlow-Tuesdays-in-March.html.

Other highlights of the Cinematheque’s schedule include:

Charles Laughton gets some love with a double feature at the Egyptian. Laughton directed “The Night of the Hunter,” starring Robert Mitchum, and starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Witness for the Prosecution”; 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 11.

Sharon Stone will visit the Aero for a discussion, after the showing of “Casino” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 18.

More stunning Stone fare at the Aero: “Basic Instinct,” which marks its 20th anniversary, and “The Quick and the Dead” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 19.

Director Michael Mann will attend the Egyptian’s 25th anniversary screening of “Manhunter” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 19. There will be a discussion after the movie.

Be sure to check complete schedule. The Egyptian Theatre is at 6712 Hollywood Blvd. The Aero Theatre is at 1328 Montana Ave. General admission is $11; members pay $7.

Jean Harlow image from Wikimedia Commons

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Who loves you, baby? FNB does, that’s who!

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I’ve decided it’s time I show my readers a little love. So, first up: I’m participating in the For the Love of Film (Noir) Preservation Blogathon, Feb. 14-21, a fundraiser to benefit the non-profit Film Noir Foundation. Ferdy on Films and The Self-Styled Siren are hosting; their event last year raised $30,000. The idea is for bloggers to get the word out, donate, encourage readers to contribute and read each other’s work.
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As Ferdy puts it: “Films from every era are being lost as prints disintegrate and disappear. … By helping the FNF, you will be supporting the important preservation and exhibition work they do, not only for American noir films, but also for those produced all over the world.”
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Read a blogger’s post and click on the donation link. If you give, you help save a film: 1950’s “The Sound of Fury” starring Lloyd Bridges and directed by Cy Endfield. The UCLA Film & Television Archive will restore a nitrate print of the film, using a reference print from Martin Scorsese’s personal collection.
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Paramount Pictures, which now owns the film, has agreed to help fund the restoration. To see a list of my fellow bloggers visit: http://www.ferdyonfilms.com/?p=8190. Be sure to check out the blogathon love-fest next week.

Robert Mitchum in "The Night of the Hunter"

‘NIGHT’ LOVE: Guest writer Michael Wilmington last week reviewed “The Night of the Hunter” by Charles Laughton. I love that movie and want to share it. So, I will give away a copy of Criterion’s recent Blu-ray release of the movie (or DVD if you prefer). To enter, just Like the Film Noir Blonde Facebook page. If you already like the page, you are automatically entered. Deadline to enter is Feb. 28. I will draw the winner’s name at random and send a notifying message via Facebook. Please respond within a week of being notified. I will announce the winner’s name in early March.

LOVE NIGHT: If you’re looking for a stylish, old-school place to celebrate Valentine’s Day, consider the Sunset Tower Hotel, 8358 Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood, 323-654-7100. Formerly the Argyle Hotel, this Art Deco gem was designed by Leland A. Bryant; it opened in 1931. The Argyle was a residence for Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, Howard Hughes, Frank Sinatra, Paulette Goddard, Preston Sturges, George Stevens, Michael Caine and Quincy Jones. When dining, be sure to save room for the baked Alaska – it’s making my mouth water, just thinking about it. Mmmmm.
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See how much FNB loves you? ;)
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United Artists image of Robert Mitchum
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‘The Night of the Hunter’ a wondrous poem of terror, family, false gods and redemption

Michael Wilmington

The Night of the Hunter/1955/United Artists/93 min.

By Michael Wilmington

Some movies take a while to reach their audiences. Take, for example, Charles Laughton’s great Faulknerian film noir “The Night of the Hunter,” based on Davis Grubb’s Southern Gothic novel.

Beautifully scripted by James Agee, spellbindingly directed by Charles Laughton, evocatively shot by cinematographer Stanley Cortez, and memorably acted by Robert Mitchum (in his best performance), it’s a haunting tale of murder, terror and wild, lyrical flight.

Also unforgettable: the performances by Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish, James Gleason, Evelyn Darden, Don Beddoe, Peter Graves, and two little-known child actors Billy Chapin and Sally Jane Bruce.

In this mesmerizing movie, we see two orphaned West Virginia kids, John and Pearl Harper, desperately fleeing the honey-tongued but murderous preacher Harry Powell (Mitchum), a black-clad, brim-hatted charlatan who has “LOVE” and “HATE” tattooed on his knuckles as props to his sermons. Harry is the Hunter. The children are his prey because they can lead him to the money their father (Graves) stole and managed to hide before he was arrested and executed.

Harry cajoles them, bullies them, then kills their poor, sad, seducible mom Willa (Winters). The heroine of the film is the children’s savior Miss Cooper (Gish). Then close to 60, Gish is eternally enduring, a rustic angel with a hymn on her lips and a rifle in her lap.

John and Pearl escape down the river in an open boat. And for them, the world of the rural South in the Depression becomes a magical twilight of Halloween horrors, a nocturnal landscape of rushing water, moonlit skies, ghostly trees, croaking frogs, watchful owls, pensive rabbits and evil spiders spinning their webs.

As they flee, Preacher Harry follows them on horseback, far-off but omnipresent, a specter etched in silhouette against the evening sky, singing, in Mitchum’s rich, lazy  baritone: “Leaning, leaning…Safe and secure from all alarms. Leaning, leaning…Leaning on the everlasting arms.”   (You’ll recognize the soothing yet eerie tune; it’s the one threaded through the Coen Brothers’ remake of “True Grit” and sung under the credits.)

Are any classic noir images or sounds more scarily poetic than that flight, that drifting boat, those hands tattooed with “LOVE” and “HATE,“ that black-clad maniac preacher, that spider, that river, that song? [Read more...]

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Noir City 9 memorial reel honors movie greats

At the recent Noir City 9 in San Francisco, besides the marvelous movies, audiences got to see a memorial reel for talent who died in 2010, created by Richard Hildreth, Noir City showrunner.

Peter Graves in "The Night of the Hunter"

The reel honored: Blake Edwards (“Experiment in Terror”), Gloria Stuart (“The Old Dark House”), Peter Graves (“The Night of the Hunter”), John Forsythe (“In Cold Blood”), Anne Francis (“Rogue Cop”), Kevin McCarthy (“Invasion of the Body Snatchers”), Patricia Neal (“The Breaking Point”) and Tony Curtis (“Sweet Smell of Success”).

Seeing Graves’ name and the clip from “The Night of the Hunter” (recently re-released by Criterion) reminded me to feature this movie on my site and I’m lucky to have a review to share from critic Michael Wilmington.

MW rightly praises Robert Mitchum’s performance. But for me it is the child actors, Billy Chapin and Sally Jane Bruce, who make the film so moving and resonant.

Peter Graves image from today.msnbc.msn.com
 
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