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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Film noir Friday on TCM kicks off a new feature on FNB

THE NOIR FILE
By Mike Wilmington

A noir-lover’s schedule of film noirs on cable TV. First up: Friday, June 29, an all-noir day on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). Times: Eastern Standard and Pacific Standard.

Friday, June 29
6 a.m. (3 a.m.): “The Letter” (William Wyler, 1940) Bette Davis, in her Bad Bette mode, strings along Herbert Marshall and James Stephenson (but not Gale Sondergaard) in the ultimate movie version of W. Somerset Maugham’s dark colonial tale of adultery, murder and a revealing letter. Like most of Maugham’s stories, this one was based on fact. Script by Howard Koch.

Bogart and Ida Lupino play outlaw lovers in “High Sierra.”

7:45 a.m. (4:45 a.m.): “High Sierra” (Raoul Walsh, 1941) “The ‘Gotterdammerung’ of the gangster movie,” according to Andrew Sarris. Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino (both great) as outlaw lovers in Walsh’s classic noir from the W. R. Burnett novel. Script by Burnett and John Huston; with Arthur Kennedy, Cornel Wilde, Barton MacLane, Joan Leslie, Henry Hull and Henry Travers. If you’ve never seen this one, don’t miss it: the last shot is a killer.

9:30 a.m. (6:30 a.m.): “The Fallen Sparrow” (Richard Wallace, 1943) John Garfield, Maureen O’Hara and Walter Slezak in an anti-Fascist thriller, with a Spanish Civil War backdrop. From the novel by Dorothy B. Hughes (“In a Lonely Place”).

11:15 a.m. (8:15 a.m.): “Johnny Angel” (Edwin L. Marin, 1946) Night-life murder mystery with George Raft, Claire Trevor, Signe Hasso and Hoagy Carmichael. Too plain visually, but a nice script by Steve Fisher and Frank Gruber.

John Garfield, Hume Cronyn and Lana Turner share a tense moment in “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” directed by Tay Garnett.

12:45 p.m. (9:45 a.m.): “Deception” (Irving Rapper, 1946) Bette Davis, Claude Rains and Paul Henreid in a stormy classical music triangle. Script by John Collier (“Evening Primrose”), from Louis Verneuil’s play.

2:45 p.m. (11:45 a.m.): “The Postman Always Rings Twice” (Tay Garnett, 1946) John Garfield and Lana Turner make the screen blaze as the bloody, adulterous lovers in this hot-as-hell, cold-as-ice movie of the steamy James M. Cain classic noir sex-and-murder thriller. With Hume Cronyn, Cecil Kellaway and Leon Ames. Script by Niven Busch.

4:45 p.m. (1:45 p.m.): “Hollow Triumph” (aka “The Scar”) (Steve Sekely, 1948) Crime and psychology and doubles and scars, with two Paul Henreids, Joan Bennett and Eduard Franz. Script by first-rate Brooklyn novelist Daniel Fuchs (“Low Company”).

Ava Gardner tempts Charles Laughton in “The Bribe.”

6:15 p.m. (3:15 p.m.): “The Bribe” (Robert Z. Leonard, 1949) Ace femme fatale Ava Gardner tempts Robert Taylor and Charles Laughton. Script by Marguerite Roberts (“True Grit”), from a Frederick Nebel story.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Woman in Hiding” (Michael Gordon, 1950) Marital tension with Ida Lupino, real-life hubby Howard Duff (as the wry love interest) and bad movie hubby Stephen McNally (the villain). Script by Oscar Saul (“The Helen Morgan Story”).

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “Julie” (Andrew L. Stone, 1956) Doris Day is terrorized by hubby Louis Jourdan. With Barry Sullivan and Frank Lovejoy. Stone scripted.

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “The Two Mrs. Carrolls” (Peter Godfrey, 1947) Humphrey Bogart, in Bad Bogie mode, has marriage problems with Barbara Stanwyck and Alexis Smith. Nigel Bruce co-stars; Thomas Job scripted.

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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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Huston explores ‘Asphalt Jungle’ with an unflinching eye

The Asphalt Jungle/1950/MGM/112 min.

Marilyn Monroe

“The Asphalt Jungle” from 1950 by director John Huston is rightly considered a masterpiece. Excellent storytelling and an outstanding cast, including Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Sam Jaffe, Jean Hagen and Marilyn Monroe, have helped it stand the test of time.

But its stark, unwavering realism is not for everyone. Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM, where Huston made the movie, had this to say about the flick: “That ‘Asphalt Pavement’ thing is full of nasty, ugly people doing nasty things. I wouldn’t walk across the room to see a thing like that.”

Um, did he not see luminous and fragile Monroe as mistress Angela Phinlay? Huston portrays a gang of thieves as flawed humans trying to make a living. “We all work for our vice,” explains menschlike mastermind Doc Erwin Riedenschneider (Jaffe). Recently released from jail, Doc has planned every detail of a $1 million jewel robbery and seeks to round up the best craftsmen he can find for one last heist.

A fat wallet means Doc can head to Mexico and court all the nubile girls he can handle. Dix Handley (Hayden), a tough guy with swagger to spare, hopes to pay his debts and return to his beloved horses in Kentucky. Getaway driver Gus Minissi (James Whitmore) is sick of running his dingy diner. Bookie ‘Cobby’ Cobb (Marc Lawrence) covets booze. Safecracker Louis Ciavelli (Anthony Caruso) has a wife and kid to support. Alonzo ‘Lon’ Emmerich (Calhern) is a wealthy but overspent lawyer who wants to be solvent again.

“You may not admire these people, but I think they’ll fascinate you,” says Huston in an archive clip included on the DVD. They pull it off, but what heist would be complete without a doublecross and crossing paths with the police?

In this macho, man’s-world movie, there is alas no femme fatale. But rest assured there are flawed women aplenty. Hagen plays the neurotic Doll, a struggling performer, and her vice is Dix. Monroe, as Lon’s barely legal girlfriend, orders mackerel for his breakfast, flips through travel magazines and is fond of saying, “Yipes!” Lon’s bed-ridden wife May (Dorothy Tree) wishes Lon were home more often. Teresa Celli plays dutiful wife Maria Ciavelli.

The actors complement each other deftly. Jaffe, both sage and seedy (when he lusts after pretty young things) is particularly entertaining; he nabbed an Oscar nom for best supporting actor. Helping his rich characterization is the fact that he gets some terrific lines, for instance: “Just when you think you can trust a cop, he goes legit.” [Read more...]

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Veronica Lake, Alan Ladd are smokin’ in ‘This Gun for Hire’

This Gun for Hire/ 1942/ Paramount Pictures/ 80 min.

Veronica Lake in “This Gun for Hire” from 1942 is an angel-food cake kind of femme fatale. Alan Ladd’s stone-faced, yet complex, hitman is a devil, but damn he’s debonair. He also likes cats and kids so it’s hard not to want to cut him some slack.

Veronica Lake

Lake plays a smart, svelte and stunning nightclub singer/magician named Ellen Graham who’s essentially engaged to amiable and solid cop Michael Crane (Robert Preston). Essentially but not officially engaged because there’s no ring or dress shopping, just some affectionate banter about getting domestic, which means darning his socks and cooking corned beef and cabbage.

But those scenes aren’t exactly sizzling with passion. That’s because of Ladd. It was his first major film and once he was aboard, director Frank Tuttle realized the actor was A-list material and changed the script to give Ladd more prominence. Even though you know Lake and Ladd aren’t going to end up together, there’s a mighty sexy undercurrent between them.

As Ephraim Katz of “The Film Encyclopedia” puts it: “She clicked best at the box office as the screen partner of Alan Ladd in a matchup of cool, determined personalities.” They went on to make six more flicks together, including noir fare “The Glass Key” (1942) and “The Blue Dahlia” (1946).

In this one, Ladd’s character, Philip Raven is on the trail of Los Angeles-based Willard Gates (Laird Cregar) a blubbery, unctuous exec at a chemical company who hires Raven to bump off his colleague, a blackmailing paymaster named Baker (Frank Ferguson). Gates then pays Raven off in stolen cash, a ploy to put him in the hands of the police.

But chemical formulas aren’t really Gates’ thing – on the side, he likes to chomp on peppermints, hang out in nightclubs in LA and San Francisco, and indulge his “vice,” as he calls it, as a part-time impresario. When he sees the head-turning Ellen perform in San Francisco, he’s hooked and invites her to perform at the Neptune Club in LA.

Ellen’s trying to get close to Gates, too, but not just because she craves the spotlight. She’s been recruited by a senator (Roger Imhof) who wants hard evidence that Gates is the Benedict Arnold of 1942, i.e., he’s suspected of selling chemical formulas to the Japanese. It is war time, after all.

So, as Raven tracks down his prey and eludes the police, Ellen juggles her high-minded snooping with sequin-drenched dress rehearsals. Before long, their paths are bound to cross, especially when they board the same train to LA …

Known primarily for musicals and crime dramas, and for naming names to HUAC during Sen. Joe McCarthy’s reign of terror, director Tuttle wasn’t what you’d call an artist or a poet, but he managed to make a top-notch thriller, based on one of Graham Greene’s best crime novels. True, the movie doesn’t do the book justice, but for every one of its 80 minutes, the film is engaging and entertaining.

Tuttle easily balances moody suspense, wholesome romance, patriotic duty and the not-quite-jaded vibe of young performers trying to earn a living at a nightclub. Cinematographer John Seitz (of “Double Indemnity”) lends his elegant eye to the lighting; the scenes of Ladd and Lake on the train and on the run are especially beautiful. Crisp dialogue comes from writers Albert Maltz and W.R. Burnett, a Midwesterner whose stint as a night clerk in a Chicago hotel inspired the 1929 crime novel (and the 1931 film) “Little Caesar” as well as many other novels and screenplays.

Unrepentant and casual about killing for a living, Ladd’s performance is classic noir; it influenced Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Le Samourai” from 1967. Unlike most femme fatales, Ellen Graham isn’t motivated by money or revenge but by doing her part for the war effort. Still, Lake gives us bemused detachment and a glimmer of tenderness; she also helps humanize Raven. And how could you not love her musical numbers and surprisingly modern costumes, especially the sleek black “fishing” garb with thigh-high boots? [Read more...]

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