More Adventures in Paradise: Turner Classic Movies Film Festival 2014

•June 23, 2014 • 8 Comments

Better late than really, really late, I sometimes say.

With that in mind, more than two months after the 2014 Turner Classic Movies film festival (TCMFF) screened its last movie, sold its remaining souvenirs, and served up its final cocktail, I am finally getting around to writing about my experience at this event.This was my second year at the festival – my inaugural visit was to the 2013 fest, and I fully intend to be at every one that I can physically attend – even if I have to walk every step of the way! (Sorry. Gone With the Wind flashback.)

Last year, I saw a total of eight films, only one of which (Cluny Brown, with Jennifer Jones and Charles Boyer) was new to me. This time around, I was determined to not only see more movies, but to also see more movies that I’d never seen before. I accomplished both – I saw 11 (woot woot!), and only three were films that I’d seen before. In all, I only saw one noir (Double Indemnity) and one pre-Code (Hat-Check Girl), in sharp contrast to my maiden TCMFF voyage where, of the eight features, four were noir and one was pre-Code.

Here’s what happened this time around.

(Warning. This post is kinda long.)

Check-In: Wednesday, April 10, 2014

The view outside our room. For real.

The view outside our room. For real.

Like my first go-round with the TCMFF, I attended the 2014 festival with Kim, one of my few real-life friends who shares my affinity for classic movies. Last year, we were fortunate to be able to bunk with her sister, who lives in L.A. But a few months ago, her sister had her first baby, so we thought it best to make other plans – three’s company, five’s a crowd, as the saying goes. (Or something like that.) The Roosevelt Hotel and the Loews were quite a bit out of our price range, but I lucked upon an adorable little hotel right behind the Loews, called the Hollywood Liberty. The prices were affordable, and the website photos showed a low-budget but altogether adorably quaint décor that I thought would be perfect for the occasion. Score!

When Kim and I arrived, though, we were greeted by the realization that the entire hotel was under renovation – there were power tools, stacks of building materials, and large buckets of plaster and paint in the lobby; mattresses, lamps, and miscellaneous debris piled up in the hallway; and a row of toilets lined up outside the back door. It was beyond belief – I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like it. Fortunately, the staff was pleasant (when we requested towels, for instance, we were very pleasantly told that they would bring them as soon as they got them out of the dryer) (seriously). Also, after spending our first (harrowing) night in the Norman Bates Suite, we were moved to one of the renovated rooms, which was like the difference between Marie Windsor and June Allyson, if you know what I mean. And if you can believe it, I am actually considering staying there again next year. Not strongly considering it, but considering it.

Shirley Jones looked GREAT. (photo by Annie I. Bang.)

Shirley Jones looked GREAT. (photo by Annie I. Bang.)

The First Day: Thursday, April 11, 2014

In an upgrade from last year, we purchased the Essential pass this time around, which gives you entrance to the opening night screening, which was Oklahoma!, one of the new-to-me movies. In case I haven’t mentioned this previously, I’m not a huge musical fan. There are several that I love dearly – Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, The Wizard of Oz [duh], Singin’ in the Rain, Bye Bye Birdie, Annie Get Your Gun, West Side Story, and a handful – a very small handful – of others. So, I wasn’t necessarily thrilled at the prospect of seeing Oklahoma!, but I was looking forward to getting all dolled up to walk the red carpet, as well as seeing the film’s star, Shirley Jones, in person. Walking the red carpet was a real trip! Because I didn’t know any better, we arrived relatively early, so I only got to see a few stars – Shirley Jones, Tippi Hedren, Margaret O’Brien (or, to be more accurate, Margaret O’Brien’s back). I didn’t find out until after I’d returned home that we missed a number of other luminaries who didn’t step on the carpet until later, like Kim Novak, Maureen O’Hara, George Chakiris, Diane Baker, Leonard Maltin, and Wink Martindale. You can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll be more hip next time. But the entire atmosphere was positively electric – I felt like such a celebrity, especially when I walked past the cheering fans sitting in the bleachers. It was so much fun.

Oklahoma took a surprising dark turn.

Oklahoma took a surprising dark turn.

The highlight of the evening was seeing the gorgeous Shirley Jones, who was interviewed by TCM’s Robert Osborne. She was clad in all black – a short, flowing top, what appeared to be leggings (!), and black, high-heeled boots. She was as sharp as a tack. During her interview, I learned that she’d been, at age six, the youngest member of her church choir, and that she’d made her film debut in Oklahoma! at the age of 18. She said that her co-star, Gordon MacCrae, was her favorite singing partner (“I just loved his voice,” she said), and she told a juicy little story about the movie Carousel (1956), in which she was originally to star opposite Frank Sinatra. All of the pre-recording had been done, costumes had been fitted, and the film was practically in the can when Sinatra abruptly quit. He said that it was because the film had to be shot twice – for Cinemascope and for CinemaScope 55, and he’d “only signed on to do one movie.” But Jones revealed that he actually left the picture because he’d gotten a phone call from his then-wife, Ava Gardner, who was shooting Mogambo in Africa. “She told him to get down there or she was going to have an affair with Clark Gable,” Jones said. Scandalous! Incidentally, and to my pleasant surprise, I enjoyed Oklahoma! immensely. The songs were engaging, the colors were exquisite, and it was surprisingly dark in theme – which is always appreciated by a noir lover.

The Second Day: Friday, April 12, 2014

On Approval: It's already on my Amazon.com wish list.

On Approval: It’s already on my Amazon.com wish list.

I saw three movies on the second day – the only one that was new-to-me was the first one, On Approval (1944), a delightfully witty, smart, and rather scandalous British comedy which evoked so many laughs that I feel compelled to see it again because I know I missed some of the lines. The plot is too complicated for me to try to encapsulate and make any reasonable amount of sense – in a nutshell, it’s about two Victorian-era couples who embark upon a month-long trial marriage to see if they are suited to each other. The film stars Beatrice Lillie, Googie Withers (who I know best from Night and the City), and Clive Brook, who also directed.

Movie number two was my favorite film noir: Double Indemnity. I’ve seen this on the big screen before, and more times on the small screen than I care to count, but there was NO WAY that I was going to pass up seeing it at the TCM fest.

Funniest movie of all time? Quite possibly.

Funniest movie of all time? Quite possibly.

My final movie of the day was another one that I’ve seen many times – Blazing Saddles – but I absolutely love this film and, as a bonus, Mel Brooks was there in person, interviewed by Robert Osborne. He was just as hilarious and engaging and endearing as I always thought he’d be – he told the audience that Blazing Saddles may be his favorite movie, and then added, “I really think – and it’s not right for me to say this – I think this could be the funniest motion picture ever.” Brooks shared that there were very few laughs when he first screened the film for Warner Bros. execs – one of them gave Brooks a list of scenes he wanted changed. “No farting. You can’t punch a horse. You can’t beat up an old lady. There were about 20 of them,” Brooks recalled. “If I’d listened to him, the movie would have been around 12 minutes long. I didn’t cut a sentence or a word or even an expression on somebody’s face. It was beyond vulgar – it was dirty. But I was just a scruffy little kid from Brooklyn and there were no rules.”

The Third Day: Saturday, April 13, 2014

The scenes with Douglas and Hackman "sizzled" in I Never Sang For My Father.

The scenes with Douglas and Hackman “sizzled” in I Never Sang For My Father.

Kim and I parted ways on Saturday, each doing our own thing – I started out the day seeing I Never Sang for My Father, starring Gene Hackman and Melvin Douglas, and introduced by Douglas’s charming granddaughter, actress Illeana. The film focuses on the struggle between a father and a son – Illeana said that her grandfather may have been a little intimidated by Hackman “and I think he upped his game a little bit. The scenes with Hackman really sizzle.”

Next up was The Great Gatsby, starring Alan Ladd and Betty Field, which I’ve long wanted to see. The film was introduced by Ladd’s son, David, who said that Gatsby was very important to his father. “Paramount didn’t want him to make it. F. Scott Fitzgerald and Alan Ladd don’t really go together – he was more of an action guy,” David Ladd said, adding that his father finally threatened to go on suspension if he wasn’t allowed to do the film. “This and Shane are my father’s two favorite roles, and I believe this is the best version [of The Great Gatsby]. This movie is not cinematic art, but the casting is impeccable. This one, he was especially proud of.”

Hatcheck Girl. It had these people in it.

Hatcheck Girl. It had these people in it.

Movie number three was Hatcheck Girl (1933), the only pre-Code film on my schedule and one of the films I was most looking forward to seeing. Introduced by Katie Trainor and Ann Mora from the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Hatcheck Girl stars Sally Eilers – “coined as the Janet Gaynor with hips,” Mora said. The film, which co-stars Ginger Rogers, centers on, well, a hatcheck girl. To be honest, though, I don’t have a clue what this picture was about, what happened in it, or pretty much anything else. The only thing that stuck with me is that it was rather dull and I was rather disappointed. And sleepy.

I love this movie so much I could eat it on a biscuit.

I love this movie so much I could eat it on a biscuit.

I’d originally planned to join Kim at this point to see The Pawnbroker, where Quincy Jones was the special guest, but at the last minute, I gave into my innermost desire and saw one of my favorite films, the single movie that I have seen more often than any other – The Women (1939). What a kick it was to see this classic on the big screen! Also, I saw it in the El Capitan Theater, which was my first time being in this classic venue. Before the screening, Ben Mankiewicz interviewed actress Anna Kendrick, introducing her to the audience by telling us that the guest he was about to bring out was born in 1985. “That only gets a laugh at the TCM Film Festival,” he added. Kendrick said that she was introduced to The Women when she was 12 years old, while she was doing a show on Broadway. “I was just so in love with it. I watched it over and over and over. When I went back to Maine, I tried to make my friends watch it,” Kendrick said. “Sylvia is the greatest character of all time, [but] every time Miriam Aarons comes in, I’m like, ‘That’s a bad bitch.'”

The Final Day: Sunday, April 14, 2014

The last day of the festival, I can now say from experience, is bittersweet and fraught with mixed objectives. I’m sad at the thought of the fest being over for another year, and no longer being in the swirling whirlwind of people who are as obsessed about classic movies as I am. On the other hand, I’m pretty exhausted and longing for a salad, some grilled chicken and a glass of fat-free Lactaid milk. I’m practically all-movied-out, but I feel an almost desperate need to cram in, on this last day, as many movies as are physically and logistically possible. I’d love to take a nap, but I can hardly wait to get to the closing night party, take pics with old and new friends (and even meet some more!), and down a glass of something.

Tokyo Story was beautifully done, but so sad.

Tokyo Story was beautifully done, but so sad.

My first movie of the day was Tokyo Story (1972), a Japanese film about an older married couple who travel to Tokyo to visit their children and grandchildren. It was introduced by Illeana Douglas, who told the audience that she’d been in an independent movie in the early 1990s called Grief, whose director had been obsessed with Tokyo Story. “The characters (in Grief) keep leaving to see Tokyo Story,” she said. The film was slow-moving, but beautifully shot and terribly sad. Having recently lost my grandmother, and getting closer each day to having an empty nest, the film was particularly moving to me. In fact, Kim and I went to lunch at a nearby Japanese restaurant after the movie and I completely broke down in sobs during the meal. It was CRAZY.

The Academy Award-winning Best Boy was a highlight.

The Academy Award-winning Best Boy was a highlight.

And as if I hadn’t cried enough already, our next movie was Best Boy (1979), an Oscar-winning documentary that basically left me in a sizable puddle on the floor. This film depicted several years in the life of Philly Wohl, the 52-year-old mentally retarded cousin of the film’s director, Ira, showing his development from dependence on his elderly parents to independent living in a group home. When I re-read this description, I can appreciate that one might wonder why the film evoked such emotion in me, and it’s kind of hard to explain. First off, the film managed to make you feel that you really knew Philly and his family members, and you grew to care about them.  Secondly, it was just so real, showing the director’s efforts to convince Philly’s mother to let him go, and her understandable reluctance to release him into the world. I feel like I’m still not doing a good job of explaining myself – plus I don’t want to give away any key events – so let’s just say it was an excellent movie, it made me cry, and I wasn’t the only one in the theater snuffling and mining my purse for tissue. Ira Wohl, who is now Philly’s guardian, was on hand for a question-and-answer session after the screening; he shared that Philly recently turned 86 and “he still has a better social life than I do.” Wohl also told the audience that he became a social worker after the release of the film. “I decided to go back to school and become a therapist when I was in my 40s,” he said. “But in my eyes, there’s not that much difference between a social worker and a documentary filmmaker.”

Another highlight was Ben Mankiewicz's interview with Alan Arkin. (photo by John Sciulli)

Another highlight was Ben Mankiewicz’s interview with Alan Arkin. (photo by John Sciulli)

My final film of the day was the only movie from the festival that I’d originally had no intention of seeing: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1968). But after seeing Best Boy, we weren’t yet ready to call it a day, and our remaining choices were The Quiet Man, which, I’m kind of ashamed to admit, has never held any great fascination for me; Employees’ Entrance, which I love, but I own on both VHS and DVD; and Easter Parade which, well, it’s a musical. Plus, we learned that Alan Arkin would be at the Lonely Hunter screening, so off we went. Arkin was interviewed before the screening by Ben Mankiewicz, offering us a fascinating glimpse into his persona (which was once described, Mankiewicz told us, as “short-tempered and moderately cantankerous”). Arkin talked about his family, his experiences with such films as Glengarry Glen Ross, and the start of his career with Second City in Chicago. “Acting used to be the reason for my existence, but thank God I’ve gotten past that,” Arkin added. “You are more than your profession.” He also shared his feelings about being nominated and ultimately winning the Academy Award for Little Miss Sunshine, stating that one of the reasons he became an actor was because of the sense of family and camaraderie that is generated on a production. “Awards separate the actors,” Arkin said. “The moment of nominations is joyous because it unites you with others. . . . but the rest is bullshit.”

In The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Arkin portrayed a deaf-mute named John Singer, who moves to a small town in order to be near his institutionalized best friend, and develops a friendship with the sensitive teenaged daughter of his boarders. I confess that I wasn’t necessarily bowled over by the movie, which seemed to be especially ham-handed when it came to issues like racial strife. Still, Arkin turned in an excellent performance and I’m glad we chose this screening as our movie-going swan song.

More on this later . . .

More on this later . . .

On my last day in Los Angeles, Monday, April 15th, I took a tour of Hollywood Forever Cemetery. It was a wonderful experience and a perfect ending to my trip to California. I learned some fascinating tidbits about the stars buried there – so much so that I’ve decided to cover the tour in a separate post.  So stay tuned!

Other Stuff:

One of my favorite things about seeing movies at TCMFF is the way the fest attendees clap for everything – the title of the film, the names of the performers and the director, when certain stars first appear on screen, following musical numbers, the end of the movie – it just fills me with joy.

The historic Musso and Frank's.

The historic Musso and Frank’s.

Outside of being at the fest, I had several other memorable experiences – on the first day, Kim and I visited the Iguana Vintage Clothing Store on Hollywood Boulevard, where we spent at least an hour trying on sunglasses, looking at clothes, and trying to decide between the Michael Jackson cigarette case or the Jackson Five buttons. It was a blast – even though before I returned home four days later, I’d managed to lose not one but BOTH pairs of the glasses that I bought there. On another day, I had lunch with my friend, Alan Rode, at the famed Musso and Frank’s restaurant on Hollywood Boulevard, where I had their flannel cakes! It was very historic. (It’s also where I lost the first pair of my glasses.) (Okay, I promise not to mention the glasses again.)

Unlike last year, I didn’t spend much time checking out the celebrity interviews that were conducted in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. However, while passing through one day, I did catch part of one – which just happened to be none other than the great Jerry Lewis. So awesome.

See you next year!

After we attended the screening of Oklahoma!, Kim and I had planned to see Johnny Guitar, but it started before Oklahoma! let out. So, instead, we went to a karaoke party at the famed Pig ‘N’ Whistle, had a couple (three) martinis, and wound up closing the place down!

And that about wraps it up for another year. The TCM Film Festival is simply all that. From the real-life meetings with friends you’ve conversed with on Twitter or Facebook, to the star sightings, to the almost painful (but, for me, SO much fun) process of deciding which movies to watch, to the experience of seeing, on the big screen, one classic film after another, there’s nothing like it. That’s why I’ll be back again next year. And the year after that. And the year after that . . .

Happy blogiversary to me — 3.0! (Or is it 2.1?)

•June 23, 2014 • 9 Comments

On June 23, 2011, Duke University’s Kyrie Irving was the number one pick in the NBA draft.

Actor Ted Shackelford, Gary Ewing of Knots Landing fame, celebrated his 65th birthday.

And I hit “PUBLISH” for the first time on this blog, launching Shadows and Satin!

Can you believe it’s been three whole years? I can’t. But time flies when you’re having fun. (And fruit flies like a banana.)

Writing this blog has been — in the words of Don Cornelius — a stone gas! And it’s a pleasure to take the opportunity, once again, to thank Dark Pages Senior Writer and Speakeasy blog author, Kristina Dijan, who encouraged me to start it in the first place. My most sincere thanks, also, to anybody who has ever read a single word I’ve ever written here.

Ever.

To celebrate my three-year blogiversary, I am continuing my tradition of offering you a great quote from one of my favorite actresses — this time, it’s Jean Harlow, from Hold Your Man (1933):

“You wouldn’t be a bad looking dame, if it wasn’t for your face. “

By the way, if you haven’t seen this pre-Code gem, check it out.

You know why.

The Billy Wilder Blogathon: Famous Couples of Noir — Chuck and Lorraine in Ace in the Hole (1951)

•June 22, 2014 • 14 Comments

They were two of film noir’s most unsavory characters – and that’s saying something.

Charles Tatum (Kirk Douglas) and Lorraine Mimosa (Jan Sterling) were like two ships that pass in the night – and then turn around and crash into each other. In Billy Wilder’s dark and uncompromising 1951 feature Ace in the Hole (also known as The Big Carnival), Tatum and Mimosa enter the Film Noir Hall of Fame as one of the era’s most dysfunctional couples.

In Ace in the Hole, Tatum is an unethical newspaper reporter whose view of his profession is expressed early in the film: “I didn’t go to any college, but I know what makes a good story,” he says. “Bad news sells best. Good news is no news.” Determined to work his way back to the “big time” after being fired from 11 newspapers, Tatum is finally presented with the ideal opportunity – while working on a small New Mexico publication, he happens upon Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict), a curio shop merchant trapped in an old Indian cavern. After learning that rescuers can free Minosa within a day’s time, Tatum works in concert with the corrupt local sheriff (Ray Teal) to effect an operation that will take at least a week, providing him the chance to write a daily series of widely read articles.

Meet cute?

Meet cute?

Tatum’s other partner in crime is Leo’s slovenly wife, Lorraine, who initially plans to use her spouse’s accident as a chance to leave him. Tatum convinces her to stay, using her status as a “grieving spouse” to spice up his acclaimed stories. Charles and Lorraine first meet as he’s on his way to the cavern; Lorraine is walking along the road and he picks her up in his car. Even though she reveals that her husband is trapped in the cave, she doesn’t seem very troubled: “Dumb cluck,” she grouses, “everybody keeps telling him, ‘Stay out of that place, stay out of there.’” In fact, rather than centering on any sort of concern for her spouse, Lorraine’s entire conversation instead reflects her cynical nature and her complete dissatisfaction with her life. When she’s asked if it’s true that Indians lived in the cavern 450 years ago, Lorraine responds, “I wouldn’t know. I haven’t been around that long. It only seems that long.”

From the start, the relationship between Tatum and Lorraine is a contentious one – and one in which each sees the other for exactly what they are. In the scene where Lorraine shares her plans to leave town, she tells Tatum that it’s actually her second attempt – the first time, she made it all the way to Kansas before her husband caught up with her. As Tatum watches her take the last $11 out of the shop’s register, he chides her for abandoning her husband in his current state: “Nice kid,” he remarks. “Got a little jump on him this time, huh? Can’t run after you – not lying there with those rocks on his legs.” But Lorraine isn’t fazed; she knows that Tatum’s top priority is his career – certainly not the safety and well-being of her husband. “A lot you care about Leo,” she rejoins. “I’m on to you – you’re working for a newspaper. All you want is something you can print. Honey, you like those rocks just as much as I do.”

The site of the accident turns into a circus-like atmosphere.

The site of the accident turns into a circus-like atmosphere.

Before long, in response to Tatum’s moving stories, a throng of curiosity-seekers and reporters from around the country descend on the area. As time wears on, the rescue site takes on a circus-like atmosphere – hence, the title – complete with carnival rides, balloons, concession stands, and even a theme song (“We’re Coming Leo”). Tatum, the only reporter allowed access to Leo inside the cavern, becomes a celebrity, and just as Tatum had predicted, Lorraine starts raking in the cash as her curio shop/diner becomes a hub for the swarm of visitors. She next turns her sights to Tatum – paying him a visit in his room, she expresses her gratitude to him for convincing her to stay, estimating that she should pull in more than a thousand dollars before the first week is out. But she soon finds that Tatum is not of a mind to join her celebration. When he tells her to stop smiling (“Your husband’s stuck under a mountain. You’re worried sick. That’s the way the story goes.”), Lorraine playfully challenges him to “make [her]”. And he does, delivering a double-cheek slap that leaves her silent and stunned.

In another scene, Tatum orders Lorraine to attend a religious service for her husband, and Lorraine drawls, “I don’t go to church. Kneeling bags my nylons.” But Tatum isn’t as immune to Lorraine’s charms (such as they are) as he would like to believe. Before long, he summons Lorraine, ostensibly to chide her for spending too much time with the other reporters. But Lorraine takes the conversation in a different direction, musing on her future once she leaves New Mexico and moves to New York, and envisioning an encounter with Tatum there. “Maybe you’ll buy me a couple of drinks. Maybe you’ll even take me out for a big evening. You won’t be ashamed of me. I’m going to buy me a new trousseau – I’ll look real swell.” In response, Tatum derisively suggests that she “wash that platinum out of [her] hair,” and then grabs a handful of her locks and pulls her in for one of the cruelest, least tender kisses I’ve ever seen.

The first kiss: it wasn't pretty.

The first kiss: it wasn’t pretty.

The relationship between Tatum and Lorraine – as well as the efforts to rescue Leo – continues to spiral out of control, but I’m not going to give anything else away. Just keep in mind that Ace in the Hole is film noir.

Don’t count on a happy ending.

Other stuff:

Billy Wilder not only directed the film, he was also the producer and wrote the screenplay, along with Walter Newman and Lesser Samuels.

The song “We’re Coming Leo” was written by the songwriting team of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, who were responsible for a number of popular songs of the 1940s and 1950s, including Buttons and Bows and Que Sera Sera. Wilder reportedly told the men to write “the worst song you can, with bad rhymes and everything else bad.”

In addition to the well-known “baggy nylons” quote, Ace in the Hole is rife with standout lines. Two of my other favorites are these:

Tatum: “I can handle big news and little news. If there’s no news, I’ll go out and bite a dog.”

Lorraine: “I’ve met a lot of hard-boiled eggs in my life, but you – you’re 20 minutes.”

The film was inspired by the real-life case of Floyd Collins in Kentucky.

The film was inspired by the real-life case of Floyd Collins in Kentucky.

After the release of the film, Billy Wilder was sued by actor Victor Desny (who can be seen in uncredited roles in such films as The Snows of Kilimanjaro and The Story of Three Loves). Desny claimed that he’d contacted Wilder’s secretary in 1949 to propose a film based on the real-life story of Floyd Collins, who was trapped in a cave in Kentucky in 1917.  Wilder’s attorneys claimed that Desny had not developed a formal story submission, and that because of the historical nature of the Collins case, it was not protected by copyright laws. The case eventually reached the California Supreme Court, which ruled that Desny’s oral submission was legitimate, and Wilder’s attorneys paid Desny $14,350.

In an interview depicted in the film, the first man to visit the site of the accident (played by Frank Cady of Petticoat Junction fame) states that he is an employee of the Pacific All-Risk Insurance Company. This is the name of the company that employed Walter Neff in Double Indemnity (1944), which was also directed and co-written by Billy Wilder.

The film didn’t do well at the box office – audiences may have been put off by the unremittingly grim story. However, critics hailed the performances of both Kirk Douglas and Jan Sterling. The reviewer for Motion Picture Herald wrote that Douglas “enacts the heel reporter ably, giving it color to balance its unsympathetic character,” and in the New York Times, Bosley Crowther described the actor as “full of the arrogance and the cruelty of the desperately insecure.” Sterling’s performance – which won her the National Board of Review Award as best actress of 1952 – was hailed by Crowther, who wrote that she “fills with venom the role of the victim’s trampish wife,” and the critic for Newsweek, who claimed, “The surprise of the film is Jan Sterling’s petulant, uneasy characterization of Minosa’s wife, Lorraine. Miss Sterling has been drab and desperate on screen before this, but with Ace in the Hole she becomes a star.”

You can find Ace in the Hole on DVD, as well as various sites on the internet. Check it out, if you haven’t already – and if you have, isn’t it time you dusted off your copy and gave it another look?

You only owe it to yourself.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

This post is part of the Billy Wilder Blogathon, hosted by Aurora over at Once Upon a Screen, and Kelley at Outspoken and Freckled. Visit either of these sites to check out the many great posts being presented as part of this event!

The 1967 in Film Blogathon: Wait Until Dark

•June 20, 2014 • 17 Comments

If Wait Until Dark (1967) had been filmed 15 years earlier, and in black and white, it would likely have been considered to be film noir. Wait until dark, indeed.

Starring Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin and Richard Crenna, this thriller shows a few short hours in the life of a blind woman whose life is turned upside down by three hoods who are searching for a heroin-stuffed doll they believe she has hidden in her apartment. The film starts out at a leisurely pace as it slowly – and somewhat cryptically – introduces the main characters and sets the stage for the action to come. But once it gets rolling, it doesn’t let up.

Who are the players?

Susy Hendrix (Audrey Hepburn): Blind for about a year, and newly married, she is struggling to acclimate herself to her new world – she takes classes at “blind school” but she relies on a teenage neighbor for help, and seems determined, most of all, to become the “world’s champion blind lady” that her husband expects her to be.

Sam Hendrix (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.): Although he’s absent through most of the film, Sam is the linchpin that sets the entire film in motion, as the coveted doll is given to him by a stranger at the airport.

Alan Arkin is AWESOME in this film.

Alan Arkin is AWESOME in this film.

Roat (Alan Arkin): The sadistic, sardonic, and thoroughly evil ringleader of the quest for the missing doll. He blackmails a couple of con men – Mike Talman (Richard Crenna) and Sgt. Carlino (Jack Weston) – into helping him in his nefarious effort.

Gloria (Julie Herrod): Susy’s neighbor and helper, she turns out to be more assistance than Susy could have dreamed.

Things I Love:

When we first meet Gloria, she is bratty and sullen; we’ve already been told that she resents Susy and has a crush on Susy’s husband. Early on, in fact, she throws a complete tantrum, dashing pots and pans and utensils to the floor after a confrontation with Susy. But Gloria later shows herself to be a steadfast source of strength as Susy’s life becomes a nightmare and her apartment a prison. The relationship between the two is quite touching and is a highlight of the film.

Jack Weston, a bad guy? You bet.

Jack Weston, a bad guy? You bet.

It’s fascinating to see Jack Weston in a bad guy role – I’m far more accustomed to seeing him in such lightweight fare as Please Don’t Eat the Daisies and The Incredible Mr. Limpet. He does a bang-up job as a conscienceless hood – so much so that you’re almost glad when he gets his – shall we say – comeuppance.

Alan Arkin was a revelation in this film – I believe that this is my favorite Arkin performance. His Roat not only dons a couple of unique and masterful disguises in his effort to spin a web that will attract the sought-after doll, but he also tosses off some of the picture’s best lines.  In one scene, when he’s telling his co-conspirators about the woman who’d betrayed him, he grouses, “She was trespassing, Mike, poaching. Going into business for herself. Bad news. Things like that go on, what d’ya have? Anarchy. No discipline, no sense of order. Bad news.” And late in the film, he shares with Susy that Talman and Carlino were out to get him: “Did you know they wanted to kill me? I did. I knew it even before they did. They were awful amateurs, and that’s why you saw through them.”

In the film, Arkin’s character mentions Hammacher Schlemmer, that fun store with all of the awesome gadgets. There used to be one in downtown Chicago near my job, but it disappeared several years ago. And I confess that I never knew how to pronounce the store’s name until I heard Alan Arkin refer to it. (Thanks, Alan!)

That's one of Arkin's characters on the left.

That’s one of Arkin’s characters on the left.

Alan Arkin played three different roles in the film – Roat, Roat Jr., and Roat Sr. All three received mention in the credits. Real telephone numbers were used in the movie – not those generic 555 exchanges. It’s a small thing, to be sure, but yet another reason why I love this movie.

One of my favorite scenes shows Susy’s breakdown when she realizes that her telephone line has been cut. She starts to completely lose it, but then she suddenly gives herself a figurative slap in the face, pulls herself together, and instead of allowing herself to wallow in victimhood, she starts taking steps to fight back. It’s an awesome thing to see – you’ll want to cheer.

I’m no fan of scary movies, but I have to hand it to Wait Until Dark for serving up one of the scariest movie moments I’ve ever seen – you know, one of those unexpected, jump-two-feet-out-of-your-seat moments. Trust me – it’s a good one.

Other Stuff:
The film was based on a play by Frederick Knott, who also wrote the 1952 Broadway hit Dial M for Murder.

Hepburn and her producer/husband, Mel Ferrer.

Hepburn and her producer/husband, Mel Ferrer.

The movie was produced by actor Mel Ferrer, who was married at the time to Audrey Hepburn. The two were divorced the year after the film’s release. Audrey Hepburn was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her performance. She lost to Katharine Hepburn in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

In my memory, I always associate this movie with See No Evil, a 1971 release that starred Mia Farrow as another blind woman in peril. It was pretty good, but I always felt that Wait Until Dark was the far superior film.

Henri Mancini wrote the music for the film’s title song; the lyrics were penned by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, who also wrote the words to Buttons and Bows, Que Sera Sera, Silver Bells, and Mona Lisa (and the theme song for the TV show Mr. Ed!).

If you’ve never seen this film, or if it’s been a while since you gave it a watch, do yourself a favor and check it out – until I started on this post, I hadn’t seen it in more than 30 years, and believe me, it still packs the same punch! You won’t be sorry.

This post is part of the 1967 in Film Blogathon, hosted by The Rosebud Cinema and Silver Screenings. Visit either of these sites to check out the many great posts being presented as part of this event!

Hold on to your hats: it’s a Lupino-palooza!

•June 11, 2014 • 10 Comments

If you like Ida Lupino (and, really, how can you not?), you’re going to have a grand time on Thursday, June 12th – TCM is showing eight movies with Lupino either in front of the camera or behind it. And half of them are film noir! Here’s the low-down on the four shadowy offerings that TCM is airing:

High Sierra (1941)

Lupino plays Marie Gossett, a former dime-a-dance girl who falls hopelessly in love with notorious ex-convict Roy Earle (Humphrey Bogart), recently released from prison after an eight-year stretch. Wasting no time in resuming his criminal activities, Earle teams up with a former associate and two minor-league hoodlums to rob a resort hotel in California. On his arrival at the gang’s mountain hideout, Roy is angered to find that one of the men has brought Marie along, but he comes to admire her level-headed, take-no-crap demeanor. And for her part, Marie finds in Roy the man she’s been searching for all her life.

Favorite quote:  “Of all the 14-carat saps – starting out on a caper with a woman and a dog.” – Roy Earle (Humphrey Bogart)

Lupino is a prisoner in her own home in "Beware, My Lovely."

Lupino is a prisoner in her own home in “Beware, My Lovely.”

Beware, My Lovely (1952)

In this feature, Lupino is Helen Graham, a widow who hires an itinerant handyman, Howard Wilkins (Robert Ryan), to help clean the boarding house she operates. Howard appears to be a conscientious worker, but he’s actually mentally unbalanced and soon succumbs to paranoia as he believes that Helen is spying on him. Provoked further by Helen’s bratty niece, who chides him for doing a “woman’s job,” Howard becomes completely unhinged and keeps Helen captive in her house.

Favorite quote: “You don’t know what it means like I do to find myself in the middle of a room, in the middle of a busy street, or in some house I’m working in . . . and wonder where I am, and what I’m doing.” – Howard Wilkins (Robert Ryan)

On Dangerous Ground (1951)

Lupino's character soothes Ryan's savage, cynical beast.

Lupino’s character soothes Ryan’s savage, cynical beast.

Lupino is again teamed with Robert Ryan, who portrays Jim Wilson, an embittered police sergeant who lives alone in a bleak apartment and is frequently provoked to excessive violence by the lawbreakers with whom he comes in contact. After a particularly vicious attack on a murder suspect, Jim is assigned to a case in upstate New York, where he meets Mary Malone (Lupino), a blind woman who comes to feel a kinship with the cynical lawman.

Favorite quote: “You’re feeling sorry for me. And I don’t want anyone feeling sorry for me. The way you are, I don’t see how you can help anybody.” – Mary Malone (Ida Lupino)

The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

Lupino directed this feature, which starred William Talman as Emmet Myers, a vicious serial killer who terrorizes a pair of fishing buddies (Frank Lovejoy and Edmund O’Brien) who pick him up on the road. The two are forced at gunpoint to drive to Mexico, and their plans to escape are dashed when they learn that Myers suffers from a paralyzed eye that remains open even when he is sleeping.

Favorite quote: “Nobody ever gave me anything. So I don’t owe nobody.” – Emmet Myers (William Talman)

Catch Lupino in "The Hard Way." You'll be glad you did.

Catch Lupino in “The Hard Way.” You’ll be glad you did.

By the by, if you’ve got some time on your hands and you’d like to know more about the beautiful and multi-talented Ida Lupino, check out this post that I wrote on her a couple of years back.

And one more thing – even though they’re not noir (at least, not to me), I also highly recommend two other Lupino starrers that are airing June 12th – They Drive By Night, starring Humphrey Bogart and George Raft, and The Hard Way, with Joan Leslie, Jack Carson, and Dennis Morgan. They’re OUTSTANDING, and Lupino is a revelation in them both. Trust me. Start making plans now.

You only owe it to yourself.

Happy birthday, Marilyn!

•June 1, 2014 • Leave a Comment

She’s not the first person who comes to mind when you think of film noir femmes, but Marilyn Monroe earned a solid place in the film noir world.

On the occasion of what would’ve been her 88th birthday, we’re raising our glasses to remember Marilyn and salute her performances in Clash by Night, The Asphalt Jungle, Niagara, and Don’t Bother to Knock.

Salut!

The CMBA “Fabulous Films of the ’50s” Blogathon: The Big Combo (1955)

•May 21, 2014 • 40 Comments

How do I love The Big Combo? Let me count the ways.

Richard Conte. The sexy, jazzy score. The great screenplay by Philip Yordan. The righteous, passionate, intense detective played by Cornel Wilde and his obsession for the character portrayed by his real-life wife, Jean Wallace. The fact that I know about Don Loper, the designer of Jean Wallace’s wardrobe, because of an episode on I Love Lucy. Brian Donlevy’s over-the-hill, hearing impaired hood. The memorable use of shadows and light, courtesy of famed cinematographer John Alton. The impressive supporting cast that included Jay Adler, Lee Van Cleef, Earl Holliman, Helen Walker, Ted deCorsia, and John Hoyt. Oh, and did I mention Richard Conte?

Lt. Diamond is a righteous man.

Lt. Diamond is a righteous man.

The Big Combo focuses on Leonard Diamond (Cornel Wilde), a big city police detective with a dual obsession – he is consumed with a quest to bring to justice a certain mobster known as Mr. Brown (Conte), and he is equally fixated on a certain society beauty, Susan Lowell (Wallace), who just happens to – shall we say, belong? – to Mr. Brown.

Diamond’s efforts to nab Mr. Brown not only endanger his own life but also the well-being of those close to him – but that doesn’t stop this one-track-mind copper. Determined to unearth the one crime for which Brown could be charged, Diamond encounters a medley of shady characters, each of whom provide him with another piece to the multifaceted and deadly puzzle that is Mr. Brown (who, incidentally, is never referred to by anything except Mr. Brown).

Here’s more about the characters in this grim, complex, and fascinating entry from the waning years of the film noir era, and why I simply adore them.

Mr. Brown knows a thing or two about torture.

Mr. Brown knows a thing or two about torture.

  1. Richard Conte wears the character of Mr. Brown like an expensively tailored suit, spitting out his lines as if they’d done something personal to him. And it’s a fitting portrayal. Brown is self-absorbed, vicious, sadistic, and completely devoid of conscience. He demonstrates this in a particularly explicit scene, where he tortures Diamond, who’s been abducted by Brown’s hoods. First Brown blasts the volume in a hearing aid device that he places in Diamond’s ear. Then he forces him to drink hair tonic containing 40 percent alcohol. “Look at the drunken cop,” Brown observes wryly. “Isn’t that a shame.”

    Fante and Mingo: Just friends, right?

    Fante and Mingo: Just friends, right?

  2. Lee Van Cleef and Earl Holliman play Fante and Mingo, two of Mr. Brown’s underlings. I have to mention here that I’ve read from countless sources that Fante and Mingo are gay. I’m not really sure how this conclusion was reached with such certainty – to me, they’re two hoods in the same gang – they’re clearly close friends, practically inseparable, they even sleep in the same room, but that’s all it is to me. I guess I’m just obtuse. In any event, there’s no denying that they’re riveting every time they’re on screen – Van Cleef always cold and implacable, Holliman a little childlike, but a ruthless killer just the same.

    Joe McClure gets no respect.

    Joe McClure gets no respect.

  3. Brian Donlevy’s Joe McClure is the Rodney Dangerfield of the organization – he gets no respect. This characterization is clearly illustrated in scene after scene – in one, McClure objects when Fante charges him a fee for the privilege of working Diamond over. “Didn’t Mr. Brown pay you?” McClure asks. And Fante responds, “You’re not Mr. Brown. For Mr. Brown, I’d snatch a judge from a Superior Court for a chocolate soda.” And later, Brown himself berates McClure after he kills a potential witness, and insists that he relinquish his gun. When he does, Mr. Brown responds: “See what I mean, Joe? Two seconds ago you had this gun in your hand. We’re all alone here. The thought of using it flashed through your mind. But you couldn’t. Yet you didn’t hesitate to use it on Dreyer. Because he was a little man, Joe. Like you, a little man.” You can’t help but feel sorry for the guy.

    Helen Walker also had a small part in the film.

    Helen Walker also had a small part in the film.

  4. Minor characters in the film are memorably portrayed by Ted deCorsia and John Hoyt – both were only in a single scene and both played men from Mr. Brown’s past who were tracked down by Diamond. deCorsia played Bettini, a shipman who is able to tie Mr. Brown to the disappearance of his first wife. When Diamond turns up at his run-down apartment, Bettini is certain that he’s been sent by Mr. Brown: “I’ve been waiting for you a long time,” he says with an air of resignation. “You look like such a nice young feller. That Brown sure knows how to pick ‘em. I’d never have suspected. . . . Come closer – one shot ought to do it.” And during Hoyt’s brief time on screen, he manages to offer a well-drawn portrait of a hard-boiled antiques dealer, earning praise in the New York Times for his “dandy” performance.

And contributing to the greatness of the film behind the scenes were:

  1. David Raksin, who composed the film’s score. Raksin was known as the Grandfather of Film Music – he wrote the scores for more than 100 movies and 300 television shows, including Laura (1944), Forever Amber (1947), Force of Evil (1948), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), and Separate Tables (1958).

    David Raksin was known as the Grandfather of Film Music.

    David Raksin was known as the Grandfather of Film Music.

  2. Joseph Lewis, the film’s director. Lewis also helmed a number of other noirs, including two of my favorites, My Name is Julia Ross (1945) and Gun Crazy (1950). His nickname was “Wagon Wheel Joe,” a moniker he earned early in his career, when he helmed a number of Westerns for Universal; he had a tendency to shoot scenes through the spokes of wagon wheels, just to liven things up.
  3. Philip Yordan, the screenwriter. Born in Chicago, Yordan had a lengthy career that spanned the early 1940s through 1994. His many credits included House of Strangers (1949), Detective Story (1950), Houdini (1953), Johnny Guitar (1954), and The Harder They Fall (1956). Yordan was responsible such memorable lines as these:
  • “What do you think this is, a homicide investigation? You’re dealing with the largest pool of illegal money in the world! You’re fighting a swamp with a teaspoon.” – Robert Middleton
  • “What is it about a hoodlum that appeals to certain women?” – Cornel Wilde

    "A woman only cares how a man makes love."

    “A woman only cares how a man makes love.”

  • “A woman doesn’t care how a man makes his living. Only how he makes love.” – Helene Stanton
  • Diamond, the only trouble with you is you’d like to be me.  You’d like to have my organization, my influence, my fix. You can’t. That’s impossible. You think it’s money. It’s not. It’s personality. You haven’t got it, Lieutenant – you’re a cop. Slow, steady, intelligent. With a bad temper and a gun under your arm. With a big yen for a girl you can’t have. First is first and second is nobody.” – Richard Conte
  • “I’d rather be insane and alive, than sane and dead.” – Helen Walker
  • “You took my job. You took my hotel. You though you could push me right off the earth. You punk.” – Brian Donlevy
  • “Nothing kills me. I’ll die in Stockholm like my great-grandfather, age 93. I’m not scared of anyone – including you.” – John Hoyt

    "Joe, tell the man I'm going to break him."

    “Joe, tell the man I’m going to break him.”

  • “Joe, tell the man I’m going to break him so fast he won’t have time to change his pants. Tell him the next time I see him he’ll be down in the hotel lobby crying like a baby and asking for a ten dollar loan. Tell him that. And tell him I don’t break my word.” – Richard Conte

Believe me when I tell you there isn’t a dull moment in this film – practically every character with more than a line brings something to the table that you don’t want to miss. It’s got everything – outstanding writing, direction, music, cinematography, acting – all wrapped up in a neat little noir bundle, just waiting for you to tuck it under your arm and make it your own. So what’re you waiting for?

You only owe it to yourself.

* * * * * * * * * *

This post is part of The CMBA Fabulous Films of the ’50s Blogathon hosted by the Classic Movie Blog Association. Click the picture at the right to check out the many great posts being presented by CMBA members as part of this event! 

 
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