Remembering Norman Foster, on the Occasion of the Date of His Birth

•December 13, 2014 • 1 Comment
SSNormanFoster

Norman Foster, man of many talents.

Saluting one of my favorite pre-code actors today – Norman Foster, born on December 13, 1903. He’s not necessarily the best actor of the pre-Code era, and he’s certainly not the most remembered, but to me, he’s always a delight to watch.

Foster was born Norman Foster Hoeffer in Richmond, Indiana. He began his acting career in 1926, when he appeared on Broadway in Just Life. He made his screen debut three years later, appearing with Walter Huston and Kay Francis in Gentlemen of the Press. During the early 1930s, he went on to appear in some 25 pre-Codes – my favorites include Men Call It Love, with Adolphe Menjou and Leila Hyams (1931), Under 18 (1931), where he was the billiard-playing, ne’er-do-well spouse of Anita Page; Play-Girl (1932) and Weekend Marriage (1931), both opposite Loretta Young; and Skyscraper Souls (1932), starring Warren William and Maureen O’Sullivan.

In 1936, Foster stepped behind the camera, kicking off a whole new career as a director. He went on to helm several films in the Mr. Moto and Charlie Chan series; films noirs such as Journey Into Fear (1943) and Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948); and such popular fare as Rachel and the Stranger (1948), Father Is a Bachelor (1950), and Sombrero (1953), a musical starring Ricardo Montalban and Pier Angeli. He also wrote the screenplays for five Mr. Moto films, along with a number of other features, and directed numerous television series, including Zorro, The New Loretta Young Show, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, Batman, The Green Hornet, and It Takes a Thief (one of my mother’s favorite TV shows when I was little – she always used to call it To Catch a Thief. But I digress.) Along the way, Foster was married to actress Claudette Colbert for seven years, from 1928 to 1935, and to actress Sally Blane – also the sister of his co-star Loretta Young – from 1935 to his death in 1976. Foster and Blane had two children.

If you get the chance to see Norman Foster in action, check him out and see why he’s a pre-Code gem!

Pre-Code Crazy: Under Eighteen (1932)

•December 1, 2014 • 3 Comments

Selecting this month’s Pre-Code Crazy pick was a tiny bit difficult – TCM’s December line-up isn’t exactly brimming with pre-Code features. But no worries –I found a good one; it’s airing on December 2nd, so start making plans now to check out Under Eighteen, starring Marian Marsh, Warren William, Anita Page, and Norman Foster.

This feature focuses primarily on the character played by Marian Marsh, a sweet young seamstress by the name of Margie Evans. Margie is in the center of a maelstrom, if you will. She and her mother live in a tenement on the Lower East Side of New York. She’s a first-hand witness to the unhappy marriage of her big sister, Sophie (Anita Page), whose unemployed husband is a gambler and a spendthrift, living off the glory days when he was a billiards champion. She sees the models at her job wearing furs and jewels, riding in limousines, and taking lavish trips – all due to the largess of their “Sugar Daddies.” Her good-natured boyfriend, Jimmy Slocum (Regis Toomey), vows to rescue her from her current situation and insists that prosperity is just around the corner, but he doesn’t seem in a big hurry to get there.

Warren William. Always up to no good.

Warren William. Always up to no good.

By the time her pregnant sister gets socked in the eye during an argument with her husband, Margie has come to a decision: “I’ve seen all I want of marriage,” she tells her mother. “I’ve made up my mind that any time I hand myself to a man for life, it’s cash on delivery.”

Serendipity tiptoes into Margie’s life in the form of a chance meeting with Raymond Harding (the always fascinating Warren William), a mega-bucks Broadway producer who takes a liking to her – during a shopping trip with his girlfriend, no less.  (Margie’s boyfriend knew what he was talking about when he referred to Harding as “girl nutty.”) When her sister decides to divorce her no-good spouse, Margie turns to Harding for financial assistance. And that’s when the movie really kicks into high gear!

My Favorite Scenes

Margie’s boyfriend picks her up from work in his grocery truck, and instantly starts an argument with her about modeling in front of that “rich, no-good heel” Raymond Harding. He questions where she got the orchids she’s wearing, accusing her of receiving them for “showing [her] shape.” Margie tells him, “Don’t be an ass.”

Margie and Sophie go to a lawyer to discuss Sophie’s plans for the divorce. As the rather oily attorney itemizes his fees, he pours himself a shot of liquor from a flask he retrieves from his desk. He offers a drink to the women and when they decline, he downs the liquid, explaining, “Helps my gas.”

Warren William gives instructions to his butler during the pool party.

Warren William gives instructions to his butler during the pool party.

When Margie goes to Harding’s penthouse apartment to ask him for a loan, she finds that he’s having a pool party – and, boy, is it some party! There’s some of everything going on, no matter where you look. A tuxedo-clad gent runs hand in hand with a woman wearing a bathing suit.  A drunken party-goer tosses a fistful of jewels in the pool and invites the guests to dive for them, causing a dozen women (and one man!) to dive in – some in full-length gowns. A woman rips off her necklace and ring and throws them at her companion, telling him he doesn’t “know the difference between [his] horses and [his] women.” A woman bobs up and down in the pool on top of an inflated pony – well, that one you’ll just have to see for yourself.

My Favorite Quotes

“Marriage. It’s a great game – yes, for men that make saps out of girls like you and me.” Sophie (Anita Page)

“A girl’s got to use her brains to get anything out of this life.” Margie (Marian Marsh)

“You’re wasting your time. They haven’t got a dime. They’ve got cars and clothes, but when a man has to hold a girl that way, he’s not giving her cash to spend on some other man. They’re allowed about as much freedom as one of their Airedales on a leash. ” Seamstress (Claire McDowell)

“Why not take off your clothes and stay a while?” Raymond Harding (Warren William)

Check out Under Eighteen on TCM Tuesday, December 2nd. You only owe it to yourself. And be sure to pop over to Speakeasy to find out Kristina’s Pre-Code Crazy pick for December!

Day 30 of Noirvember: A Tale of Two Brunettes

•November 30, 2014 • 3 Comments

Sonia Darrin. Helene Stanton. Two actresses from Hollywood’s Golden Age who didn’t have blockbuster screen careers – in fact, I’ll wager that you’d be hard-pressed to find a half-dozen classic film fans who even recognize their names. But they have several characteristics in common – both actresses played small but memorable roles in first-rate noir offerings (with similar names, yet!), neither appeared in more than 10 feature films, both had a son who became famous in his own right, and both are still with us today. For today’s farewell salute to Noirvember, I’m happy to shine the spotlight on these two talented but unsung performers.

Sonia Darrin

Darrin's character in The Big Sleep was feisty and underhanded.

Darrin’s character in The Big Sleep was feisty and underhanded.

Darrin was born Sonia Paskowitz in Galveston, Texas, one of three children of Louis and Rose Paskowitz. According to Ron Schuler, author of the blog “Ron Schuler’s Parlour Tricks,” Louis operated a dry good store in Galveston, but it wasn’t a success. The family later moved to San Diego, where Louis supported his family working as a shoe salesman. As for the Paskowitz children, Dorian, the oldest son, went to Stanford and became a doctor, Adrian studied music and became a music teacher and violinist, and Sonia wound up in Hollywood. She only had a brief career in Hollywood, appearing in fewer than 10 films between 1941 and 1950, but among those 10 features was The Big Sleep (1946), where she played Agnes Lowzier, the “front girl” for the “bookstore” operated by Arthur Gwenn Geiger. As the feisty, hard-boiled Agnes, Darrin went toe-to-toe with the film’s star Humphrey Bogart – in the book Film Noir Reader 4 (edited by Alain Silver and James Ursini), Agnes is described as “the picture of unalloyed greed and underhandedness.”

Sonia's son, Mason Reese, was well known in the 1970s.

Sonia’s son, Mason Reese, was well known in the 1970s.

In the early 1950s, Darrin left Hollywood and headed East, where she met and married Bill Reese, a one-time theater set designer who eventually ran his own marketing services company, specializing in 3-D design work. Bill and Sonia went on to have four children, one of which was titian-haired Mason Reese, who enjoyed a measure of childhood celebrity in the 1970s as the pitchman for a number of products (including Dunkin Donuts, Ivory Snow, and Underwood Deviled Ham, for which he charmed TV viewers with his mispronunciation of the word “smorgasbord”). He also worked for a time as a temporary co-host for Mike Douglas, worked on a prime-time show with Howard Cosell and, as an adult, went into the restaurant business.

Sonia resurfaced in this documentary.

Sonia resurfaced in this documentary.

Sonia resurfaced in a 2007 documentary called Surfwise, which focused on the unorthodox life of her bother, Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz, his wife, and their nine children. (Doc Paskowitz espoused a strict non-fat, non-sugar diet and led his family on an ongoing quest for freedom and health, moving from beach to beach in a 24-foot camper and eventually opening a surf camp in Southern California.)

Sonia was seen in the film discussing her brother’s stubborn nature and explaining that she once took in two of Dorian’s sons when they rebelled against their father’s regime. (It’s a fascinating documentary, by the way – check it out if you get the chance!)

Believed to be in her late 80s or early 90s, Darrin now lives in New York City.

Helene Stanton

Stanton was born Eleanor Mae Stansbury on November 4, 1925, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She showed a natural affinity for performing, and was given ballet and voice lessons from an early age. By the time she was 18, she was performing in a number of local productions as well as with the Cosmopolitan Opera Company in Philadelphia.

Stanton entered showbiz as a singer.

Stanton entered showbiz as a singer.

Stanton took her singing talents to Hollywood in the late 1940s, where she met and married former silent film star Kenneth Harlan, who was more than 30 years her senior. Despite their age difference, the two wed in 1949 and Stanton became – depending on the source you consult – either his sixth, seventh or eighth wife (one of the group, incidentally, was pre-Code favorite Marie Prevost). The union wasn’t exactly made in heaven, though; the couple separated in 1952 and divorced in 1953 – and that’s when Stanton’s career took off. She was part of the opening act for Frank Sinatra at his inaugural performance at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. She also performed with the Ben Blue Orchestra in Las Vegas and at the Dunes Hotel.

Stanton with Cornel Wilde in The Big Combo.

Stanton with Cornel Wilde in The Big Combo.

Also around this time, Stanton made her big screen debut, appearing with Cleo Moore and Hugo Haas (who also wrote and directed) in One Girl’s Confession (1953). Two years later, Stanton was seen opposite Cornel Wilde in what was arguably her most memorable performance, in The Big Combo (1955). In this feature, she played Rita, a showgirl with a steely exterior but the proverbial heart of gold. In love with detective Cornel Wilde – who was in love with someone else – Stanton wound up with the short end of the stick when she was bumped off by thugs who thought they were shooting Wilde. (To his credit, Wilde was appropriately consumed with guilt and remorse, tearfully telling a pal, “I treated her like a pair of gloves. When I was cold, I called her up.”) Stanton also appeared in four other films that year, including The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues, a horror/sci-fi feature starring Kent Taylor, and a Johnny Weismuller vehicle, Jungle Moon Men.

Helene's son, Dr. Drew Pinsky, is known on television and radio.

Helene’s son, Dr. Drew Pinsky, is known on television and radio.

In 1957, Stanton married for a second time, this time to Morton Pinsky, a doctor from Chicago. The couple would go on to have two children – the first, David Drew, grew up to be famed television and radio personality Dr. Drew. The programs on which Dr. Drew has starred in recent years include Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew and Dr. Drew’s Lifechangers. Dr. Drew, who is a practicing physician, He has also guested on a wide variety of shows, from The Dr. Oz Show to Entertainment Tonight, and has hosted the radio series “LoveLine” since 1984.

After wedding Pinsky, Stanton retired from the movies; her last performance was a small role in Four Girls in Town (1957), in a cast that included George Nader, Julie Adams, Grant Williams, and John Gavin. Now age 89, Stanton lives with her husband in Pasadena, California.

Darrin and Stanton may have only enjoyed brief stints in Tinseltown, but their noir performances earned both actresses a solid seat in the annals of film. Do yourself a favor and check out their performances in The Big Sleep and The Big Combo. You only owe it to yourself.

———————————-

I hope you’ve enjoyed this month-long Noirvember celebration – it’s been a blast for me, and I look forward to making it an annual feature of Shadows and Satin.

Thanks so much for coming along for the ride!

Day 29 of Noirvember: Remembering Signe Hasso

•November 29, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Who was Signe Hasso?

With her composed beauty, glacial countenance, and stately bearing, Signe Hasso was always considered less a star than a true actress. Sadly, many of today’s classic film fans don’t know her – although she appeared opposite some of Hollywood’s most romantic leading men, including Ronald Colman, Gary Cooper, and Cary Grant, Hasso was seen in fewer than 25 American-made films. Still, the actress, who was also an accomplished author and songwriter, enjoyed a career that spanned more than six decades, and proved to be most memorable on screen in four films noirs: The House on 92nd Street (1945), Johnny Angel (1945), Strange Triangle (1946), and A Double Life (1947). Today’s celebration of Noirvember takes a look at the path that this talented actress traveled to get to Tinseltown.

Signe Eleonora Cecilia Larsson began her life in Stockholm, Sweden, on August 15, 1915, the eldest of three children born to businessman Kefas Larsson and his wife Helfrid, an earnest but unsuccessful artist and writer. Her earliest years were happy ones, but when Signe was four years old, her father died of tuberculosis, leaving his family penniless. Initially, the family (which included Signe’s grandmother, one of the Sweden’s premier female artists) remained in their large, elegant apartment by taking in boarders, but after two years they were forced to move to a one-room, six-floor walk-up in a Stockholm housing project. “One room for five people – all I remember is beds everywhere. Four families shared an outside toilet,” the actress recalled. “We were so poor you couldn’t believe it.” To support her family, Signe’s mother sold baked waffles from a street stall, but the three Larsson children were able to attend exclusive private schools paid for by wealthy relatives.

Although the actress remembered attending school in “patched, welfare clothes,” it was her expensive education that would lead to her first acting experience. When Signe was 11 years old, a schoolmate appearing in La Malade Imaginaire at the Royal Dramatic Theater fell ill, and suggested that the stage manager call the Larsson household for a replacement. “Mother flipped a coin and I was sent to the theater instead of my sister Helfrid,” the actress said. “I didn’t want to do it. I wanted to be a doctor when I grew up. I threw myself on the rug and drummed my heels and screamed that my sister should be in the play, not I. Then my mother said, ‘There’s money in it – they will pay you, and I’ll give you an orange if you do this.’ An orange was very rare. We never had treats like that. So I went to the theater – with the orange in my pocket.”

Portraying a nine-year old in the play, Signe was an overnight sensation, and her original salary of five crowns a night was soon increased to 15. This debut performance led to a scholarship at the  Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm, and over the next several years, the actress appeared in numerous productions. In 1933, she made her screen debut in Tystnadens Hus, and the following year, Signe won the presitigious Anders de Wahl Award.

At age 18, in the midst of her burgeoning career, the actress married Henry Hasso, a theater director-inventor. Although the union would produce a son, Henry, on June 14, 1934, the marriage would end in divorce in 1940. Still, the actress would retain her married name, and thereafter was known as Signe Hasso. (The pronunciation of her name – SEEN-ya HAH-so – would cause a bit of confusion in years to come, prompting the actress to jokingly declare, “You can pronounce it any old way – it means ‘Bless you’ in Swedish.”)

Meanwhile, Hasso continued to excel as an actress of the stage and the screen, earning the Swedish equivalent of the Academy Award, the “Guld Bagge,” in 1937, the first female to receive this coveted honor. Two years later, she was awarded the first Stockholm Stage Award. By now, Hollywood had started to beckon; after offers from several Hollywood film execs, Hasso signed with RKO and arrived with her son in Los Angeles in August 1940. Once in Hollywood, however, the actress found that the studio had no film assignments for her. Instead, she went to New York where she landed a role on Broadway in Golden Wings. Although the play closed after only a week, Hasso caught the attention of famed theater critic George Jean Nathan, who termed her “the most attractive new foreign actress in America.”

Back in Hollywood, Hasso signed a contract with MGM and was given a small role in what is commonly known as her American screen debut, Journey for Margaret (1942), a heart-tugger set in wartime Britain. But Hasso’s part in the picture was completely cut out. “I took too much interest away from [co-stars] Margaret O’Brien and Laraine Day,” the actress maintained. “So, that was not my first film.”

Instead, she was first seen in a prominent role in MGM’s Assignment in Brittany, the story of a Free French solider in Nazi-occupied France. Later that year, Hasso was loaned to 20th Century-Fox for Heaven Can Wait, a delightful fantasy comedy helmed by Ernst Lubitsch.

The actress later recalled that she was cast in the role shortly after being invited to lunch by the renowned director: “I arrived at his office just as he had to leave for a few minutes,” she said. “On his desk I noticed that the script for Heaven Can Wait was opened, so I started to read. It was at the point where the racy but funny French maid enters. When he came back, he said, ‘That’s the part I want you to play.’ He had purposely left so that I would read the part. Naturally I said yes.”

Hasso would enter the world of film noir the following year, and the rest is history! Check out her films when you get the chance – you’ll be glad you did!

And join me tomorrow for the last (sniff) day of Noirvember!!!

Day 28 of Noirvember: Dames Off the Beaten Path — Irene Neves in Sudden Fear (1952)

•November 28, 2014 • 5 Comments

Everybody knows about those larger-than-life femmes fatales in those famous, blockbuster noirs: dames like Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity. Kathie Moffat in Out of the Past. Kitty Collins in The Killers. Cora Smith in The Postman Always Rings Twice. Sure, we’re all familiar with these twisted sisters.

But what about the dames off the beaten path? The femmes that are just as fatal – just not as well known. For today’s celebration of Noirvember, I’m starting a new series, one that will shine the light on these lethal lovelies. For my inaugural entry in Dames Off the Beaten Path, I offer up Irene Neves (Gloria Grahame) in Sudden Fear (1952).

Our introduction to Irene.

Our introduction to Irene.

The star of Sudden Fear is Joan Crawford, who plays Myra Hudson, a wealthy and blissfully married playwright whose world is rocked to the core when she learns that her husband, Lester (Jack Palance) is not only having an affair, but that he and his lover are plotting to kill her. Irene is the lover – and, boy, is she fun to watch.

We first meet Irene at the lavish wedding reception of Lester and Myra – and the first thing we notice is Lester’s face when he spies her on the arm of Junior Kearney (Mike “Mannix” Conners – credited in this film as “Touch” Conners, LOL). It’s plain to see that Lester wasn’t expecting Irene and isn’t exactly pleased as punch at her arrival. Junior – a friend of the bride – introduces his date to Myra and her husband. While Lester stares/glares at Irene during the entire introduction, Irene barely pays him any attention – except that when she shares the name of the residence where she’s staying, her eyes flicker over Lester in a quick, brief motion, like the tail of a whip.

Irene Neves was so much fun to watch.

Irene Neves was so much fun to watch.

When we next see Irene, she’s in front of her apartment house, deftly extricating herself from Junior’s amorous embrace – only to find when she gets to her door that Lester Blaine is waiting for her. And he – once again – is not a happy camper. But neither is Irene. Turns out that Irene and Lester had a “thing goin’ on” in New York in the not-too-distant past, but Lester disappeared, and turned up married to Myra Hudson – as Irene discovered through a notice in the New York papers. “I thought I’d come out here to see how you were getting along,” Irene says, her words fairly dripping with venom.

Irene may be a jealous woman, but she’s no shrinking violet – when Lester tries some rough stuff, you don’t see any tears or pleas for mercy. Instead, she jerks away from his grip with as much force as Lester emits, spitting at him, “Take your HANDS off me!” She explains that she traveled to San Francisco to find him, and deliberately sought out the services of the law firm employed by his wife. When Lester observes that Myra’s attorney is Steve Kearney (Bruce Bennett), Junior’s brother, Irene admits, “But Junior is more impressionable.”

"Thanks for still loving me."

“Thanks for still loving me.”

Cool as a cucumber, that’s Irene, as she demonstrates seconds later when Lester threatens to harm her if she tells Junior about their relationship. “You ever do, [and] you’re going to need a new face. Remember that,” he growls, before shoving her onto the sofa and heading for the exit. And what does Irene do? She nonchalantly rights herself, lights a cigarette, and thanks Lester. “Thanks for what?” he barks, his hand on the knob of the open door. Irene reclines seductively on the couch and purrs, “For still loving me.” Next thing you know, Lester is closing the door – and not behind him. If you know what I mean.

"I'll turn him inside OUT."

“I’ll turn him inside OUT.”

In Irene’s next scene, she steps up her game. After she doesn’t hear from Lester for more than a week, Irene gives Junior a call – on a day when Lester just happens to be in his office. Needless to say, her gesture brings Lester a’runnin’ – and, as seems to be the norm with this guy, he’s pretty pissed off. He wants to know, of course, why Irene has started seeing Junior again. “Because you haven’t called me in eight days,” Irene retorts. “Because the rent’s due. And because I’d rather eat dinner than starve.” Lester obviously finds this to be a reasonable explanation – before you know it, these two are putting their heads together and deciding that Irene should grill Junior for information on Myra’s intentions for her vast inheritance. (“I’ll turn him inside out,” Irene vows. And she does – after plying Junior with five (?!?) martinis, she learns that Myra plans to donate the bulk of her wealth to charity. (“That’s a fine, noble character you married. Ha!” Irene says when she calls Lester to relay her findings. “Why don’t you use that key I gave you and come on over? We’ve got lots to talk about.”)

Don't miss Gloria Grahame as Irene Neves.

Don’t miss Gloria Grahame as Irene Neves.

If it weren’t clear by now that, in this duo, Irene is large and in charge, she proves it without question when we see her again, arriving at the Blaine/Hudson abode for a dinner party. She surreptitiously directs Lester (standing not five feet from several other people, no less) to meet with her in secret during the party. If you have any doubts that Lester made this happen, well, you just haven’t been paying attention.

We find out the same time as Myra does about the conversation that Irene and Lester had during the party – strictly by accident.  I’m not going to tell you how she finds out, but it’s a humdinger of a reveal, I’ll tell you that. Suffice it to say that Lester and Irene discover – they think – that Myra has made a new will which leaves Lester an annual monetary payment, but only until he remarries. They also discover that the will has not yet been signed – it won’t be signed for another three days. And who is it that puts two and two together in this little scenario? Who else? “What if she isn’t able to sign it on Monday?” Irene queries. “Suppose something happened to her between now and Monday? Who’d get her money? . . . Three days. We’ll work it out. I know a way.”

I’m going to stop here and let you discover for yourself the rest of this awesome movie and Gloria Grahame’s first-rate portrayal of Irene. It’s available on DVD at a number of sites, including Amazon.com and JubileeDVD.com, as well as Netflix.com. Do yourself a favor and check it out!

Stay tuned for the next installment of Dames Off the Beaten Path – and join me tomorrow for Day 29 of Noirvember!

Day 27 of Noirvember: Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

•November 27, 2014 • 6 Comments

Turner Classic Movies is offering a mini-Alfred Hitchcock marathon on Friday, November 28th. Among the films that will be aired is one that Hitchcock claimed as his favorite: Shadow of a Doubt (1943).

This film stars Joseph Cotten as Charlie Oakley, a self-described “promoter [who has] done a little bit of everything,” who pays a visit to the small town of Santa Rosa, California. During Oakley’s stay with his sister’s family, which includes his adoring niece and namesake, Charlie (Teresa Wright), it is revealed that the out-of-towner is suspected of murdering a series of wealthy widows.

Uncle Charlie was far creepier than his charming demeanor would indicate.

Uncle Charlie was far creepier than his charming demeanor would indicate.

Despite Oakley’s charming demeanor, he reveals a darker side during a mealtime diatribe on his female peers: “The cities are full of women – middle-aged, widows, husbands dead,” Oakley says. “Husbands who’ve spent their lives making fortunes. Working and working. And they die and leave their money to their wives…. And what do the wives do, these useless women? You see them at the hotels, the best hotels, every day by the thousands. Drinking the money, eating the money. Losing the money at bridge, playing all day and all night. Smelling of money. Proud of their jewelry but of nothing else. Horrible, faded, fat, greedy women.” (Gee, I wonder if he’s guilty???)

Other stuff:

Like Hitchcock, actress Teresa Wright also stated that Shadow of a Doubt was her favorite film.

Hitchcock originally wanted William Powell and Joan Fontaine for the leading roles.

Shadow of a Doubt marked Hume Cronyn’s screen debut.

Hitchcock can be seen in his patented cameo playing cards on the train to Santa Rosa.

Don’t miss Shadow of a Doubt – and join me tomorrow for Day 28 of Noirvember!

Day 26 of Noirvember: Brit Noir — Yield to the Night

•November 27, 2014 • 6 Comments
Dors in the opening scene of the film.

Dors in the opening scene of the film.

Within the first eight minutes of Yield to the Night, a British noir released in 1956, I was in love with this movie. Here’s why:

1. It opens with not a word of dialogue – just two women, one blonde, one brunette. The blonde is traveling to an unknown destination – first walking through streets teeming with pigeons, then riding in a taxi –  the brunette has just arrived home with her car laden with packages. As the brunette unpacks her car, we see the blonde standing outside her house. The blonde removes a gun from her handbag and, after a few moments, begins firing solemnly but purposefully at the other woman. Over and over and over again. Seven shots. As the brunette falls dead on the street, a shocked crowd gathers. The blonde doesn’t move. She only stands watching the scene. Silent. Unmoved and unmoving. Cue credits.

The film is rife with unusual camera angles.

The film is rife with unusual camera angles.

2. In the next scene we see, the blonde – her name is Mrs. Hilton, we learn – is in prison, just having learned that she will be put to death for the murder unless she receives a last-minute reprieve from the governor. She’s visited first by a chaplain and then by her lawyer. But it’s not these interactions that kept me riveted to the screen, but the camera angles. I’ll admit, here and now, that I’m not usually one for noticing cinematography, lights and shadows, and the like. But these scenes, with their claustrophobic close-ups and unusual points of view – like the one that appears like the camera is hiding on the floor in the room, eavesdropping on the conversation – left me veritably breathless.  Other camera shots later in the film include views from inside of a refrigerator, from behind the slats of a chair, and one particularly memorable one that followed Mrs. Hilton as she walked across the room in a nightclub – the camera followed her as if it were a voyeur, from behind plants and tables, and poles, and couples on the dance floor, until she reaches her destination.

Mary Hilton is played by Diana Dors, and the bulk of the movie focuses on showing us, in flashback, how she came to murder the other woman, even as she waits to find out if her life will be spared. We learn that Mary, a perfume salesperson in a department store, fell in love with a teacher/piano player by the name of Jim Lancaster, despite the fact that she had a husband at home. For a while, the relationship seemed idyllic – at least for Mary: “I must’ve been blind,” she said. “Or maybe I wouldn’t let myself believe that Jim never loved me the way I did him.” Instead, Jim’s attentions were focused on a wealthy socialite, Amy Carpenter – the brunette from the opening scene who wound up dead on the pavement by her car. I won’t give away anything more; I’ll just leave you with one of my favorite exchanges from the film, which comes after Mary leaves her husband and shows up on Jim’s doorstep with her suitcase in tow.

Mary: You’re not angry, are you?

Jim: No, I’m not angry, but – you can’t stay here.

Mary: No. Of course not. I’ll go to a hotel tonight and then tomorrow I’ll find myself somewhere.

Jim: Your husband. What’s he going to say about all this?

Mary: Oh, he’ll get over it. All he ever thinks about is his work. He hardly ever seems to notice whether I’m there or not.

Jim: That’s marriage, I guess.

Mary couldn't let Jim go.

Mary couldn’t let Jim go.

Mary: What do you know about it? You’ve never been married.

Jim: What difference does that make? You don’t have to go down a coal mine to know it’s dark and dirty.

Also known as Blonde Sinner, Yield to the Night isn’t easy to find on DVD (although it is available on Region 2 DVDs, both on a single disk and as part of a box set titled The Diana Dors Collection). But if you can get your hands on it, do.

And join me tomorrow for Day 27 of Noirvember.

 
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