Happy Birthday to a noir grande dame, Lady Joan

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

Film Noir Blonde

Film Noir Blonde

Laemmle NoHo7 - 140The Film Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard). All films without a new review have been covered previously in Film Noir Blonde and can be searched in the FNB archives (at right).

Pick of the Week: Joan Crawford Marathon &
Laemmle’s NoHo 7 Party, Monday, March 23

Warner Archive - SmallerShakar Bakery - SmallerNext Monday is Joan Crawford’s birthday; she was born March 23, 1905. And, if you’re an Angeleno, you can celebrate all day – first by catching one or more of the seven Crawford movies, including three noirs, running on Turner Classic Movies on Pacific time from 3:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (And on Eastern time, from 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.).

Then, head to Laemmle’s NoHo 7 in North Hollywood (5240 Lankershim Blvd.), and watch two of Crawford’s very best noirs on the big screen starting at 7:30 p.m.: 1947’s too often neglected “Possessed” and 1962’s Robert Aldrich-directed masterpiece, “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” co-starring the one and only Bette Davis and

“He’s just not that into you …” does NOT go over well with Miss Crawford. The very talented Van Heflin plays the heel in “Possessed.”

“He’s just not that into you …” does NOT go over well with Miss Crawford. The very talented Van Heflin plays the heel in “Possessed.”

The event will be co-hosted live (with cake, a trivia contest and prizes) by Film Noir Blonde. Shakar Bakery is providing the cake.

Tickets are $11 for one film or $15 or both. Prizes are courtesy of Warner Archive.

Happy Birthday, Joan!

Film noir titles

8:15 a.m. (5:15 a.m.): “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?(Robert Aldrich, 1962)

2 p.m. (11 a.m.): “Flamingo Road” (Michael Curtiz, 1949).

6 p.m. (3 pm.): “Mildred Pierce” (Michael Curtiz, 1945).

Other JC titles: “The Caretakers” (Hall Bartlett, 1963); “Torch Song” (Charles Walters, 1953); “Goodbye, My Fancy” (Vincent Sherman, 1951), “Humoresque” (Jean Negulesco, 1946).

The real-life rivalry of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford infused “Baby Jane” with extra tension.

The real-life rivalry of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford infused “Baby Jane” with extra tension.

Saturday, March 21

8:45 a.m. (5:45 a.m.): “White Zombie” (Victor Halperin, 1932).

Sunday, March 22

8 a.m. (5 a.m.): “Gilda” (Charles Vidor, 1946).

2:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m.): “Torment” (Alf Sjoberg, 1944). This psychological thriller about a sadistic teacher (Stig Jarrel) tormenting two young lovers (Mai Zetterling, Alf Kjellin), filmed in pseudo-German expressionist-style, was the first big hit by its young screenwriter: enthusiastic film-noir fan Ingmar Bergman. (In Swedish, with subtitles.)

Blue Gardenia poster4:15 a.m. (1:15 a.m.): “Miss Julie” (Alf Sjoberg, 1951). The famous prize-winning film version of playwright August Strindberg’s dark, terror-filled theatrical classic about a sadomasochistic romance between a susceptible aristocrat (Anita Bork) and a brutal groom (Ulf Palme). (In Swedish, with subtitles.)

Tuesday, March 24

2:15 a.m. (11:15 p.m.): “Wait Until Dark” (Terence Young, 1967).

Wednesday, March 25

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “The Blue Gardenia” (Fritz Lang, 1953).

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Baby Jane wants an Oscar and she wants it right now!

Bette Davis, Jack Warner and Joan Crawford in 1962.

Bette Davis, Jack Warner and Joan Crawford in 1962.

Some trivia on Baby Jane and the golden guy …

Oscar statuetteBette Davis earned an Oscar and Golden Globe Best Actress nomination for her work in “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” She lost the Oscar to Anne Bancroft in “The Miracle Worker” and lost the Globe to Geraldine Page in “Sweet Bird of Youth.”

Davis desperately coveted that Oscar as it would have made her the first performer to win three Best Actress awards; she later claimed that Joan Crawford had campaigned against her. (Davis won in 1935 for “Dangerous” and in 1938 for “Jezebel”).

At the ceremony, Crawford (who had one Best Actress Oscar for 1945’s “Mildred Pierce”) accepted for the absent Bancroft. Crawford brushed by Davis, saying, “I have an Oscar to accept.”

In the category of Best Supporting Actor, Buono contended for both an Oscar and Golden Globe, but Ed Begley snagged the Oscar for “Sweet Bird of Youth” and Omar Sharif got the Globe for “Lawrence of Arabia.” (Interestingly, the handsome and charming Peter Lawford had been the first choice for Buono’s part and, by some accounts, even filmed a few scenes before dropping out.)

Bette Davis kisses her daughter B.D., who married at age 16.

Bette Davis kisses her daughter B.D., who married at age 16.

Director Robert Aldrich (along with Robert Mulligan for “To Kill a Mockingbird”) was nominated for the Palme D’Or director’s prize at the Cannes Film Festival, but that went to Luchino Visconti for “The Leopard.” It was at the film fest that Bette’s daughter B. D. met husband-to-be Jeremy Hyman; she married at age 16, with her mother’s approval.

Ernest Haller got an Oscar nod for best B&W cinematography. He lost to the lensmen behind “The Longest Day.” But “Baby Jane” is great looking and full of choice compositions, such as the shot of Jane’s bleary face shot through a cupboard full of empty liquor bottles.

“Baby Jane’s” wardrobe designer Norma Koch took home the prized statuette for B&W costume design. Blanche has a slightly Victorian vibe, wearing her dark silk dresses with oversize bows (Crawford insisted on wearing falsies) and an old-fashioned up-do. Jane fills out her faded, frilly frocks and scuffs around resentfully in shabby slippers. Hey, at least she’s practical – with all her boozing, heels might precipitate a tumble. Unbeknownst to Davis, the ratty blonde wig Jane wore was reportedly the same one Crawford wore in “The Ice Follies of 1939.”

Astonishingly, there was no Oscar for best makeup and hairstyling. That category was not introduced until 1981.

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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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The Noir File: Tracy is tops in Lang’s anti-lynching classic ‘Fury’

By Michael Wilmington and Film Noir Blonde

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


Fury” (1936, Fritz Lang). Monday, Oct. 8, 8 p.m. (5 p.m.)

Spencer Tracy stars in “Fury,” one of the most Germanic of Fritz Lang’s American movies.

The two great American anti-lynching movies are Fritz Lang’s 1936 classic “Fury,” and William Wellman’s great 1943 Western “The Ox-Bow Incident.” “Fury” is the more powerful of the two, the more effective, the more memorable. Lang’s film, which he also co-wrote, is an explosive saga of a Depression-era small city descending into lynch hysteria. Spencer Tracy, at his youthful naturalistic best, is Joe Wilson, a decent, ordinary, working-class guy who stops his car in the town and is mistaken for a kidnapper. Locked in jail despite his desperate protestations of innocence, Joe is then subject to a terrifying nocturnal assault by the maddened townspeople, who drive away the craven police guards and burn the jail down, killing Joe – they think.

But Joe is alive, having fled back to the big city and his family and fiancée (Sylvia Sidney). And he is now consumed with obsessive dreams of fiery revenge and awful retribution. What happens in the course of that revenge may be unlikely, but “Fury” is still gripping, frightening and hypnotic. It’s one of the most Germanic of Lang’s American movies, one of the strongest social message dramas of the ’30s, and as obvious a precursor of ’40s film noir as Lang’s1931 masterpiece “M.” With Walter Brennan, Bruce Cabot, Walter Abel and Frank Albertson. Screenplay by Lang and Bartlett Cormack, from a story by Norman Krasna.

Saturday, Oct. 6

“Party Girl” is pure Nick Ray: romantic, moody and violent. Shown: John Ireland, Cyd Charisse.

6 a.m. (3 a.m.): “Party Girl” (1958, Nicholas Ray). In Nick Ray’s lusciously colorful and nervy gangland tale, Robert Taylor is a handsome mob attorney who milks sympathy from juries by walking on his crutches. Cyd Charisse is the leggy nightclub dancer/party girl he loves and Lee J. Cobb is Cyd’s other lover: Rico, the Chicago mob boss who carries a little vile of acid for anyone who double-crosses him. Set in 1930s Chicago, this is pure Ray: romantic, moody and violent. With John Ireland and Kent Smith.

Sunday, Oct. 7

4 a.m. (1 a.m.): “No Orchids for Miss Blandish” (1948, St. John Legh Clowes). A real oddity: British novelist James Hadley Chase’s bizarre take on American crime fiction, complete with a twisted gang boss, a kidnapped heiress, a cynical newsman, gunsels galore and pink gin. (Later remade quite well by Robert Aldrich in 1971 as “The Grissom Gang.”) With Jack LaRue and Linden Travers.

John Garfield

Tuesday, Oct. 9

1:30 p.m. (10:30 a.m.): “The John Garfield Story” (2003, David Heeley). Documentary-bio of the great, sensitive tough guy and New York City-born film noir star.

Wednesday. Oct. 10

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Haunting” (1963, Robert Wise). From Shirley Jackson’s shivery, intellectual, supernatural novel “The Haunting of Hill House” – about a group of mostly amateur spook watchers (Richard Johnson, Claire Bloom, Russ Tamblyn and movie-stealer Julie Harris) in an “old dark house” – noir and horror master Robert Wise (“The Body Snatcher,” “Born to Kill”) and screenwriter Nelson Gidding weave a classic ghost movie, seemingly without ghosts. (Or is it?)

Thursday, Oct. 11 (Robert Aldrich Night)

(Robert Aldrich Night begins at 8 p.m. (5 p.m.) with a great adventure movie: Jimmy Stewart, Richard Attenborough and Peter Finch in 1965’s “The Flight of the Phoenix.”)

10:30 p.m. (7:30 p.m.): “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” (1962, Robert Aldrich).

1 a.m. (10 p.m.): “The Legend of Lylah Clare” (1968, Robert Aldrich). Perverse backstage thriller about an obsessive Hollywood movie director (Peter Finch) trying to recreate the image of his dead wife, film legend Lylah Clare, in the body of a new blonde bombshell actress (Kim Novak). Echoes of “Vertigo” and “Baby Jane” abound. With Ernest Borgnine.

3:15 a.m. (12:15 a.m.): “Kiss Me Deadly” (1955, Robert Aldrich).

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The Noir File: Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, dueling noir queens in ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?’

By Michael Wilmington

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


Saturday, July 28

Bette Davis earned an Oscar nom for this role; Crawford was overlooked. When Anne Bancroft won but was not there to accept, Crawford was poised to stand in and accept on her behalf.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” (1962, Robert Aldrich) Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, rivals for most of their careers, got two of their greatest roles when they were cast by director Robert Aldrich as the house-bound Hudson sisters, Blanche (Crawford) and Baby Jane (Davis) – two ex-film-stars turned eccentric recluses – in this mesmerizing, darkly funny, sometimes-touching suspense classic. Together with Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Blvd.,” it’s the cinematic definition of Hollywood Grand Guignol. With Victor Buono as the fat mama’s boy pianist, Marjorie Bennett as mama, Maidie Norman as the good housekeeper and Anna Lee as the kind neighbor.

Adapted by Lukas Heller from Henry Farrell’s novel; shot and edited by two masters, Ernest Haller (“Gone with the Wind”) and Michael Luciano (“Kiss Me Deadly”). A grisly, poignant masterpiece. If you aren’t both chilled and moved by Baby Jane’s line “You mean all these years we could have been friends?” you may have a heart of stone.

Sunday, July 29

10:15 a.m. (7:15 a.m.): “Boomerang!” (1947, Elia Kazan) True-crime drama thrillers, shot in real locations (“Kiss of Death,” “Naked City“) , are among the gems of film noir. Here’s a top-notch example, based on fact, about a prosecutor (Dana Andrews) and his crusade for justice for a defendant he’s convinced is wrongly accused. Scripted by Richard Murphy.

The superb cast of Kazan regulars includes Lee J. Cobb, Arthur Kennedy, Karl Malden and Ed Begley, Jane Wyatt and Sam Levene.

4 a.m. (1 a.m.): “The Fugitive” (1947, John Ford) John Ford usually isn’t ranked among noir directors, though 1935’s grim I.R.A. film “The Informer,” is definitely a noir precursor. “The Fugitive” – based on Graham Greene’s great novel “The Power and the Glory” and one of Ford’s own favorites of his work – qualifies as Western noir just as much as Raoul Walsh’s “Pursued” or William Wellman’s “The Ox-Bow Incident.”

Henry Fonda stars as an alcoholic, conflicted priest fleeing the police in “The Fugitive,” which is based on Graham Greene’s novel “The Power and the Glory.” John Ford directs.

With Henry Fonda as a sinful and alcoholic man of God fleeing the police in a tyrannical, anti-clerical Latin American state, Pedro Armendariz as his relentless pursuer, Dolores Del Rio as their mutual love (a point fudged in this censor-bound film), and Ward Bond as the gringo outlaw.

The sublime monochrome cinematography is by Mexican genius Gabriel Figueroa (“Los Olvidados”). The script is by Ford regular, master dramatist and occasional noir scribe Dudley Nichols (“Scarlet Street,” “The Informer,” “Stagecoach”).

Incidentally, the other Fords I would classify as Western noir are “Stagecoach” (1939), “The Searchers” (1956), “Sergeant Rutledge” (1960) and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (1962). “Stagecoach” and “The Searchers” are on TCM on Wednesday, Aug. 1, as part of the John Wayne tribute.

Thursday, Aug. 2

11 p.m. (8 p.m.): “The Thin Man” (1934, W. S. Van Dyke) The first and best of all the plush M.G.M. films in which William Powell and Myrna Loy impersonated Nick and Nora Charles, the slightly pixilated and urbanely witty couple who alternated screwball romps with tough, brainy detective work, solving murders and finishing champagne bottles with equal flair. That golden couple was inspired by the relationship between Dashiell Hammett and his longtime companion, playwright/screenwriter Lillian Hellman.

This is the only one of the Thin Man movies actually based on a Hammett novel. The adaptor/scenarists were another witty couple, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett (“It’s a Wonderful Life”). The supporting cast includes Maureen O’Sullivan and Cesar Romero.

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