Coming Soon to TCM: Back-to-Back Noir Goodness!
While pouring through TCM’s November Now Playing Guide, in search of my noir pick of the month, I stopped short when I discovered the dark and shadowy riches that will be airing on two consecutive days mid-month: Wednesday, November 14th and Thursday, November 15th. It’s a veritable film noir fest, offering a total of seven classic, first-rate, you-don’t-want-to-miss features, including several of my personal favorites. So mark your calendars and set your VCRs (or your DVRs, for you modern folk), and dive headfirst into this abundance of great noir films! You only owe it to yourself . . .
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 14TH
Born to Kill (1947)
Featuring one of film noir’s most disturbed and disturbing couples, Born to Kill focuses on the exploits of the murderous – and appropriately named – Sam Wild. This “wild” character is played by none other than Lawrence Tierney who, off-screen, engaged in some pretty wild behavior himself, including more than 20 arrests for charges ranging from public drunkenness to assaulting a waiter with a sugar bowl. The cast also features two of my favorite noir veterans – Claire Trevor and Elisha Cook, Jr. – not to mention a great performance by Esther Howard (the one with a face like a bucket of mud, according to Dick Powell’s Philip Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet). Click here to read about more of the things I love about this movie. Favorite quote: “You can’t just go around killing people whenever the notion strikes you – it’s not feasible.” Marty Waterman (Elisha Cook, Jr.)
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
The Maltese Falcon, released near the start of the classic noir cycle, relates the saga of a gaggle of nefarious characters in search of a jewel-encrusted statue of a bird. The story itself is entertaining, based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett, but it’s the performances by Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sidney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre that really make it memorable. The film marked the directorial debut of John Huston, was nominated for Best Picture (but lost to How Green Was My Valley), and was a hit with audiences and critics alike, with one reviewer calling it “no ordinary tale of crime and detection.” Favorite quote: “The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter.” Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart)
The Big Sleep (1946)
Often confusing but never humdrum, The Big Sleep was labeled by one critic as “wakeful fare for folks who don’t care what is going on, or why, so long as the talk is hard and the action harder.” Even the author of the screenplay, Raymond Chandler, once admitted that he didn’t know who committed one of the film’s murders. Nonetheless, figuring out who did it and why pales in significance as you watch this flick, and you’ll just enjoy going along for the ride with Bogie and Bacall, Martha Vickers (who nearly steals the movie as a thumb-sucking dipsomaniac), Elisha Cook, Jr., and Regis Toomey. Favorite quote: “My, my, my! Such a lot of guns around town and so few brains! You know, you’re the second guy I’ve met today that seems to think a gat in the hand means the world by the tail.” Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart)
Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
Of the seven noirs airing on the 14th and 15th, I must admit that Kiss Me Deadly is my least favorite. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the characters are just too unsavory for my taste – there’s nobody I even love to hate. I just hate ‘em. Appropriately, one critic advised that the film was “not for children, not for the squeamish, and certainly not for those seeking pleasant diversion.” Still, it’s one of noir’s best-known and most extensively dissected features, and I’m here to tell you that it’s certainly well worth your time. Starring Ralph Meeker as callously brash detective Mike Hammer, Kiss Me Deadly also features Paul Stewart, Jack Lambert, Jack Elam, Albert Dekker and, near the start of her career, Cloris Leachman. (Leachman plays a small role but, trust me, you can’t miss her!) Favorite quote: “Look Mike, I like you. I like the way you handle yourself. You seem like a reasonable man. Why don’t we make a deal? What’s it worth to you to drag your considerable talents back to the gutter you crawled out of?” Carl Evello (Paul Stewart)
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 15TH
The Mask of Dimitrios (1944)
Smart, intriguing, and chock-full of flashbacks, The Mask of Dimitrios isn’t necessarily the first noir that comes to mind when discussing films from the era, but it’s certainly a good one. It tells the story of a ruthless criminal, Dimitrios Makropolous, whose body washes up on the shores of Istanbul at the start of the film. When a local novelist becomes obsessed with piecing together the criminal’s notorious past, we are introduced to the series of lives he left in ruins throughout his career. Zachary Scott plays the title role and he’s backed up nicely by Sidney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Faye Emerson. If you need more to recommend this feature, it was directed by Jean Negulesco, who also helmed a couple of other noirs – Nobody Lives Forever (1946) and Road House (1948) – as well as such popular non-noir films as Humoresque (1946), Johnny Belinda (1948), and How to Marry a Millionaire (1953). Favorite quote: “He was my friend . . . No, he wasn’t my friend, but he was a nice man!” Cornelius Leyden (Peter Lorre)
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
Postman is one of the first noirs I ever saw, and one of those that I’ve seen most often. Need I say that I simply love this film? It has so much to recommend it – an awesome acting ensemble that includes Lana Turner and her nearly all-white wardrobe, the talented (and dare I say sexy?) John Garfield, and the perfectly cast Cecil Kellaway; effective and well-paced direction from Tay Garnett; and a great story by James M. Cain. Speaking of the story, it focuses on a drifter with “itchy feet” who happens upon a roadside diner owned by a blonde bombshell and her much-older husband. Before long the drifter and the bombshell are meeting behind the diner dumpster, and they aren’t there to empty the garbage, if you know what I mean. (Click here for my take on my favorite character in the film – Lana Turner’s Cora.) Favorite quote: “Stealing a man’s wife, that’s nothing, but stealing a man’s car, that’s larceny.” Frank Chambers (John Garfield)
Strangers on a Train (1951)
I’m a huge Alfred Hitchcock fan – Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Dial M for Murder, Suspicion, North by Northwest, Shadow of a Doubt – all awesome films that rank among my favorites. But as I’ve stated before on this site, the one at the top of the list, without question, is Strangers on a Train. The premise of the story is unique and inventive – two men happen to meet on a train and one proposes that the two “switch” murders, each getting rid of someone that the other would like to see disappear. Sounds like a great idea – except that one of the men thinks the proposition is a joke and the other is completely serious. Dead serious. Get it? The roles of the two strangers are played by Farley Granger and Robert Walker – both are ideally cast and Walker in particular offers up an unforgettable performance. Favorite quote: “Everyone has somebody that they want to put out of the way.” Bruno Antony (Robert Walker)
And there you have it – the line-up for the totally awesome TCM noir extravaganza on November 14th and 15th. Start making plans now to call in sick at work – or at the very least crank up the VCR and start scrounging around the house for blank tapes!
(Incidentally, November is such a superb month for noir that my TCM noir pick of the month isn’t even among these seven films! Stay tuned . . .)