Day 25 of Noirvember: Dive into Whirlpool (1949)

•November 25, 2014 • 5 Comments
What is Gene Tierney up to? Watch Whirlpool and find out.

What is Gene Tierney up to? Watch Whirlpool and find out.

Released by 20th Century Fox in 1949, Whirlpool stars Gene Tierney, Richard Conte, and Jose Ferrer. It’s not quite noir – but it’s certainly, undeniably noir-ISH.

This is the story. Ann Sutton (Gene Tierney), the wife of a prominent psychoanalyst (Richard Conte), is caught shoplifting in a pricey department store. Just as authorities prepare to lower the boom, she’s rescued by David Korvo (Jose Ferrer), who happens to witness Mrs. Sutton being detained, and convinces the store manager to release her. Turns out that Korvo is not the knight in shining armor that he appears to be – he’s a hypnotist who uses his skills to bilk wealthy women out of their funds and, in Ann Sutton’s case, far more sinister purposes.

Jose Ferrer is not a nice guy. At all. Me likey.

Jose Ferrer is not a nice guy. At all. Me likey.

What I like about Whirlpool:

Jose Ferrer plays one of the nastiest fellas without a gat that you’re likely to see for a while. He’s clearly intelligent, slick as glass, cunning and shrewd – and not overly fond of women.

Gene Tierney’s wardrobe was designed by her then-husband, Oleg Cassini. And it. Is. Spectacular.

Barbara O’Neil – Scarlett’s mom in Gone With the Wind – has a small part in the film as a former client of Jose Ferrer’s, who warns Gene Tierney that he is after her money. She’s got a white streak in her hair that reminds you of the Bride of Frankenstein. Sadly, she’s only in one scene. I won’t say why.

What I don’t like about Whirlpool:

Richard Conte in a bow tie. Ew.

Richard Conte in a bow tie. Ew.

Richard Conte in a non-gangster role – wearing bow ties and glasses. Yecch. I mean, he’s still cute and everything, but – oh, wait. THAT’s the problem. Conte isn’t supposed to be CUTE. He’s handsome, virile, frighteningly scary. Yummy, even. But not cute.

I can relate to suspending my disbelief, but a few things happen in this film that make it REALLY difficult to do. There’s a scene in which David Korvo, who’s suffering from an infection from a recent gall bladder operation, hypnotizes himself, resulting in his ability to rise from his hospital bed, drive to another location, and carry out all kinds of nefarious activities. It’s a bit much.

The best quote in Whirlpool:

“I bow to your abysmal scruples.” – Jose Ferrer

Main question I have about Whirlpool:

Did people in the 1940s and 1950s really get in their cars on the passenger side and scoot over to the driver’s side? (Just wondering.)

My conclusion about Whirlpool:

It’s no classic, but it’s worthy of your time. Check it out if you get the chance. You’ll be glad you did. (I think.)

Join me tomorrow for Day 26 of Noirvember!

Day 24 of Noirvember: Anthony Mann and Desperate

•November 24, 2014 • 6 Comments

It’s a typical noir storyline – a regular Joe gets in dutch with the law, a gang of hoods, or both, and before you can say “Bob’s your uncle,” he’s in over his head. Way over.

That’s the basic premise of Desperate (1947), starring Steve Brodie, Audrey Long, and Raymond Burr. But in the hands of Anthony Mann, it becomes a tautly directed feature filled with memorable images and standout characters – a minor noir, to be sure, but one that is well worth your time.

Brodie plays Steve Randall, owner of a small trucking company. He couldn’t be more of an everyman, complete with an everyman wife and an everyman life, which we see in the film’s opening scene. Steve is taking a bouquet of flowers to his wife, Anne (Audrey Long) to celebrate their four-month wedding anniversary. He stops to engage in a version of cops-and-robbers with a neighborhood boy. His wife – whose hair is in pigtails – is baking her very first cake from scratch. Oh, and to complete the picture, she’s expecting the couple’s first baby – which she plans to announce to Steve during the night’s dinner celebration.

But this idyllic existence is shattered when Steve gets a call about a last-minute job offer to transport some goods from a local warehouse. He’s reluctant to miss the anniversary festivities his wife has planned, but he’s persuaded by the promise of a (whopping) $50 payment. It will turn out to be a costly mistake. It turns out that the caller works for Walt Radak (Raymond Burr in a particularly nasty role), a childhood pal of Steve’s – and now the leader of a gang of thieves that isn’t planning to pick up a load of perishables but a bunch of stolen goods instead.

When Steve learns that he’s landed in the middle of a heist, he wants no part of it, but Walt uses his rod as a convincer and lets Steve know that he has no choice. Steve manages to signal a passing cop, and the ensuing shootout between police and Radak’s gang leaves the officer dead and Radak’s beloved kid brother, Al (Larry Nunn) captured and later sentenced to death for murder. Steve goes on the lam with his wife, tracked relentlessly by Walt, who is determined to exact revenge for his brother’s impending execution.

And that’s all I’m going to say – I’ll give you the pleasure of experiencing this film’s ending on your own. I will say, though, that Desperate is rife with touches which make it clear that Anthony Mann is behind the camera – here are just a few:

Desperate is rife with Mann touches.

Desperate is rife with Mann touches.

  • After Al Radak is captured by the cops, Steve is taken back to Walt’s hideout. Informed that Steve tipped off the cops at the warehouse, Walt wordlessly walks up to Steve and socks him on the jaw. But it’s not an ordinary wallop. Mann has Raymond Burr’s fist wind up right in the camera – it’s like WE’VE just been struck. You can practically feel your teeth loosen.
  • Walt tells Steve to tell the police that he (Steve) was behind the robbery and that he talked Al into doing the job. When Steve balks, Walt’s henchmen take over, beating Steve to a pulp. But the thrashing, for the most part, doesn’t take place on camera – instead, we hear the fight and see the unflinching gaze of Walt and one of the members of his gang as they watch the beatdown. And the most striking aspect of this scene is a florescent ceiling fixture that swings back and forth throughout the action, at first illuminating the players and then engulfing them in the shadows. For my money, it’s one of the most memorable scenes in all of film noir.

    Another memorable scene.

    Another memorable scene.

  • Toward the film’s end, there’s a wordless, tension-filled scene featuring Steve, Walt, and Walt’s right-hand man, Reynolds (William Challee). The camera first shows us a ticking clock. Then smoke curling in the air from a cigarette. Then Walt, drinking a glass of milk while he holds a gun on the statue-still Steve. Close-up on the faces of each of the men – and then, even closer, on just their eyes. Back to the clock. Finally, in a wry tone, Walt breaks the silence: “Who was it said time flies?”

In addition to the great Anthony Mann-isms, Desperate offers up some great noir lines. Here are my favorites:

  • It’s the scene where Walt’s henchmen try to beat Steve into turning himself into the cops in an effort to save Al. Steve refuses, saying that Walt might as well kill him. In response, Walt shatters a bottle and says to Steve, “Say, I bet that new bride of yours is pretty. How ‘bout it, Steve? Pick her up. Going to the police? While you’re there, we’ll have the missus. I don’t care what you tell them. But if Al doesn’t walk out of that police station by midnight, your wife ain’t going to be so good to look at.”
  • Walt derides the member of his gang who was knocked out by Steve during the shootout: “You dumb ox. You must’ve studied to get that stupid.” (Heh.)

    Audrey Long and Steve Brodie were perfectly cast.

    Audrey Long and Steve Brodie were perfectly cast.

  • Once he gets his wife safely settled (he thinks), Steve shares the whole story with the police, including that he was the one who signaled the officer at the warehouse by flashing his lights. The detective – Ferrari (Jason Robards, Sr.) – isn’t buying it:  “Too bad the policeman didn’t say a word about it, Steve. When I saw him down at the morgue, he was pretty dead.” And in case Steve doesn’t know the extent of the detective’s disdain, he casually files his nails during the entire conversation. “You’re just a nice kid – you wouldn’t harm a fly. Listen, Randall, what sort of a chump do you think I am? You didn’t expect me to fall for that song and dance? Out of every seven guys who go to the chair, six of them go yelling, ‘I’m innocent.’ It was your truck and we found it full of stolen furs. You saw a cop so you ran away. Now your ex-partners are after you and you come running to the police hollering for help. You stole a couple of cars. You left the sheriff lying unconscious in the road. Just a nice kid.”
  • Steve and Anne are on a bus when she goes into labor. A female passenger announces that Anne is about to have a baby. “Hey, she can’t do that,” the bus driver says. “It’s against company regulations.”
  • Walt tells Steve that the switch is being pulled on Al in 15 minutes and that when Al dies, Steve will die. He tells Reynolds to make some sandwiches for Steve’s last meal. “I’m sorry I can’t give you a choice of food, Steve. But it won’t make much difference. You’re not going to live long enough to get any nourishment out of it. You only get a good meal when the state pays for it. Isn’t that right, Steve?”

Desperate doesn’t benefit from the hoopla afforded several other Mann noirs, like T-Men and Border Incident, but you can believe me when I say it deserves more fanfare than it gets. If you haven’t seen it, make it your mission.

You’ll be glad you did.

(And join me tomorrow for Day 25 of Noirvember!)


Get Your Answers to the Noir Quiz Here!

•November 24, 2014 • Leave a Comment
  1. Edward G. Robinson in The Woman in the Window (1941)

    Edward G. Robinson in The Woman in the Window.

    Edward G. Robinson in The Woman in the Window.

  2. Marlene Dietrich in Touch of Evil (1958)
  3. Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep (1946)
  4. Ann Savage in Detour (1945)
  5. Richard Widmark in The Street With No Name (1948)
  6. Bette Davis in Beyond the Forest (1949)
  7. Frank Sinatra in Suddenly (1954)
  8. Ida Lupino in Road House (1948)
  9. Dennis O’Keefe in Raw Deal (1948)
  10. Jane Wyatt in Pitfall (1948)
  11. Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past (1947)
  12. Dorothy Adams in Laura (1944)
  13. Burt Lancaster in The Killers (1946)

    Burt Lancaster in The Killers

    Burt Lancaster in The Killers

  14. Rita Hayworth in Gilda (1946)
  15. William Bendix in The Glass Key (1942)
  16. Joan Bennett in Scarlet Street (1946)
  17. Kim Novak in Pushover (1954)
  18. Peter Lorre in The Maltese Falcon (1941)
  19. Gloria Grahame in In a Lonely Place (1950)
  20. Joan Crawford in The Damned Don’t Cry (1950)

Day 23 of Noirvember: The Quiz – Who Said It?

•November 23, 2014 • 12 Comments
Ida Lupino in Road House. What did she say?

Ida Lupino in Road House. What did she say?

For today’s celebration of Noirvember, I’m offering up a little quiz – test your skills and see if you can identify the actor or actress who uttered these lines, and the movie in which they were uttered! Enter your guesses in the comments section – I’ll provide the answers with my Noirvember post on Day 24. Have fun!

1. “There are only three ways to deal with a blackmailer. You can pay him and pay him and pay him until you’re penniless. Or you can call the police yourself and let your secret be know to the world. Or you can kill him.”

2.”You’re a mess, honey.”

3. “My, my. Such a lot of guns around town and so few brains.”

4. “Not only don’t you have any scruples, you don’t have any brains.”

5. “You open that window again, I’ll throw you out of it.”

6. “What a dump!”

Edward G. Robinson in The Woman in the Window. What did he say?

Edward G. Robinson in The Woman in the Window. What did he say?

7. “Show me a guy who has feelings, and I’ll show you a sucker.”

8. “Doesn’t it ever enter a man’s head that a woman can do without him?”

9. “I told you he had a cash register mind. Rings every time he opens his mouth.”

10. “You’re the strangest husband I ever had.”

11. “I never saw her in the daytime. We seemed to live at night. What was left of the day went away like a pack of cigarettes you smoked.”

12. “I ain’t afraid of cops. I was brought up to spit whenever I saw one.”

13. “I did something wrong – once.”

Jane Wyatt in Pitfall. What did she say?

Jane Wyatt in Pitfall. What did she say?

14. “Disaster to the wench!”

15. “I’ve got a little room upstairs that’s too small for you to fall down in. I can bounce you around off the walls – that way we won’t be wasting a lot of time while you get up off the floor.”

16. “I hate him when he looks at me like that. If he were mean or vicious or if he’d bawl me out or something, I’d like him better.”

17. “Money isn’t dirty. Just people”

18. “Our conversations have not been such that I am anxious to continue them.”

19. “I said I liked it – I didn’t say I wanted to kiss it.”

20. “Self-respect is something you tell yourself you’ve got when you’ve got nothing else.”

Join me tomorrow for the answers to the quiz and Day 24 of Noirvember!

Day 22 of Noirvember: Top Films Noir – Part II

•November 22, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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

Back in 2011, in response to a request from one of my readers, I offered up part I of my Top 10 Films Noirs. I acknowledged that I have a great many favorite noir features, and I shared my plans to return soon with my next set of Top 10.

Well, three years later, I’m finally getting around to compiling my next phase of top noirs – for today’s celebration of Noirvember, I’m offering up my next five faves.

Peggy Cummins and John Dahl show us what it means to be Gun Crazy.

Peggy Cummins and John Dahl show us what it means to be Gun Crazy.

1. Gun Crazy

First of all, how I left this film off my first list, I have no idea. Gun Crazy depicts the story of Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins) and Bart Tare (John Dahl), “star-crossed” lovers who embark on a crime spree, inextricably bound by their affinity for firearms and their obsession with each other.

Favorite scene: There are SO many to choose from, but I’m going to pick the one where Cummins convinces the straight-laced Dahl to buy into her plan for generating income – through the time-honored strategy of armed robbery. Bart is understandably reluctant to make this leap; but when Cummins offers Dahl “one last kiss,” he’s all “Where’s the nearest bank?”

Favorite quote:  “We go together, Annie. I don’t know why – maybe like guns and ammunition go together.” – Bart Tare (John Dahl)

These two put the cross in Criss Cross. (Or something like that.)

These two put the cross in Criss Cross. (Or something like that.)

2. Criss Cross

Another undeniable, often-seen favorite. Criss Cross has an awesome cast that includes Burt Lancaster, Yvonne DeCarlo, and Dan Duryea; all the noir characteristics you could want, from flashbacks to a dyed-in-the-wool femme fatale; and first-rate direction by Robert Siodmak. Not to mention a great story involving a dangerous love triangle, an intricate payroll heist, and lots of mendacity. If you know what I mean.

Favorite scene: I love the scene where Dan Duryea discovers his wife, Yvonne DeCarlo, in the house alone with Burt Lancaster, her former (and once again) lover. Rather than start swinging or pull his gat on the duo, Duryea calmly helps himself to a beer, and observes that “it don’t look right.” You can carve up the tension with a machete.

Favorite quote: “I should’ve been a better friend. I shoulda stopped you. I shoulda grabbed you by the neck, I shoulda kicked your teeth in. I’m sorry Steve.” – Lt. Pete Ramirez (Steven McNally)

3. The Big Combo

Richard Conte. I mean, really, what more needs to be said? He portrays the head of a crime syndicate and Cornel Wilde is on hand as his indefatigable nemesis. The plot is typically complex, but it boils down to Wilde’s dogged determination to nab Conte for murder and his concomitant obsession with Conte’s girlfriend (played by Wilde’s real-life wife, Jean Wallace). The great supporting cast also includes Lee Van Cleef, Earl Holliman, Jay Adler, Helen Walker, Ted deCorsia, and John Hoyt. Talk about an embarrassment of riches!

Favorite scene: There’s a scene where Conte spits out a serious of nasty lines at Wilde, and the whole time, he not only has his back to Wilde, but he speaks to Wilde through his right-hand man and chief flunky, Brian Donlevy. The whole scene is like one giant slap in the face. Oh, Wilde tries valiantly with a couple of lame comebacks, but he’s woefully outmatched.

Favorite quote: “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 lobby of the hotel crying like a baby and asking for a ten dollar loan. Tell him that. And tell him I don’t break my word.” Mr. Brown (Richard Conte)

Ford and Hayworth strike a steamy pose.

Ford and Hayworth strike a steamy pose.

4. Gilda

It’s not necessarily the quintessential noir, but it sure is good. (In fact, I happen to be in the throes of a Gilda obsession right now – as I write this, I’m watching it for the fifth time in three days. Put the blame on Mame!) Rita Hayworth gives the performance of her career, as a good-time girl who marries a wealthy and powerful casino owner (George Macready), only to discover that she’s still in love with her old flame (Glenn Ford).

Favorite scene: I thought this would be a hard decision, but it’s got to be the scene where we first see Gilda – the scene where Glenn Ford learns that his boss has married his former lover.  Both Hayworth and Ford conceal the fact that they know each other, but they converse in such nice-nasty tones, and with such poison-tinged smiles on their lips, Macready would have to be blind and deaf not to know that something was up.

Favorite quote:  “I hate you so much that I would destroy myself to take you down with me.” Gilda (Rita Hayworth)

"If he'd bawl me out, I might like him better."

“If he’d bawl me out, I might like him better.”

5. Scarlet Street

Directed by Fritz Lang, Scarlet Street stars Edward G. Robinson as a hen-pecked, would-be artist who gets way more than he bargained for when he falls for Joan Bennett, a no-good dame he meets on the street after rescuing her from a beating delivered by her boyfriend (Dan Duryea). It’s got lots of twists and turns that you’ll never see coming, and an ending that’s arguably one of noir’s best.

Favorite scene:  I like the scene that illuminates the characters played by Bennett and Duryea. Bennett is slovenly and slothful, laying around the house in her bathrobe in the middle of the day, spitting grape seeds onto the floor, and tossing garbage into the sink atop dirty dishes. But she’s crazy about Duryea, who’s a bully and an opportunist, willing to pimp his girlfriend out to Edward G. Robinson so he can get to “Easy Street.”

Favorite quote:  “If he were mean or vicious, or if he’d bawl me out or something, I’d like him better.” Kitty March (Joan Bennett)

Stay tuned for my next Top 5 noirs, and join me tomorrow for day 23 of Noirvember!

Day 21 of Noirvember: The Gaudier the Patter

•November 21, 2014 • 6 Comments
"I don't think I'll have to kill her."

“I don’t think I’ll have to kill her.”

What time is it? Time for another look at some of those great noir lines! Enjoy!

“I don’t think I’ll have to kill her. Just slap that pretty face into hamburger meat, that’s all.” Sterling Hayden in The Killing (1956)

“For a nickel, I’d grab him. Stick both thumbs right in his eyes. Hang on ‘til he dropped dead.” Richard Widmark in Kiss of Death (1947)

“You’d sell your own mother if she was worth anything.” John Garfield in The Breaking Point (1950)

“Do you look down on all women? Or just the ones you know?” Gloria Grahame in In a Lonely Place (1950)

“Nobody’s your pal now. You’re dead. Lay down.” John Kellogg in Johnny O’Clock (1947)

"You're surrounded by dopes."

“You’re surrounded by dopes.”

“For a charming, intelligent girl, you certainly surrounded yourself with a remarkable collection of dopes.” Dana Andrews in Laura (1944)

“First is first and second is nobody.” Richard Conte in The Big Combo (1955)

“Never underestimate a man because you don’t like him.” Everett Sloane in The Big Knife (1955)

“If this were fiction, I would fall in love with Vera, marry her, and make a respectable woman out of her. Or else she’d make some supreme, class A sacrifice for me – and die.” Tom Neal in Detour (1945)

Join me tomorrow for Day 22 of Noirvember!

Day 20 of Noirvember: Homme Noir Discoveries, or “How I Got My Big Break”

•November 20, 2014 • 7 Comments
That was one lucky elevator ride.

That was one lucky elevator ride.

Today’s celebration of Noirvember takes a look at the paths that three of my favorite noir actors took to reach the land of noir.

After working in such varied posts as engineer for a meatpacking firm and floor walker in the lingerie department at Chicago’s Marshall Field’s department store, Burt Lancaster (I Walk Alone, The Killers) moved with his wife, Norma, to New York City, where Norma had landed a job as secretary to a radio producer. According to legend, Lancaster was riding in the elevator in the RCA building one day to take his wife to lunch when he discovered he was being intensely observed by a fellow passenger. The man turned out to be an associate of Broadway producer Irving Jacobs. Impressed by Lancaster’s bearing and good looks (and who wouldn’t be?), the man suggested that he audition for the role of an American soldier in Jacobs’s upcoming play, A Sound of Hunting. To his surprise, Lancaster won the role – his Broadway debut.

His cheekbones filled the bill.

His cheekbones filled the bill.

Jack Palance (Sudden Fear, Panic in the Streets) enrolled in Stanford University in 1945 under the G.I. Bill of Rights, majoring in journalism. Later, he took a summer course in radio, participating in writing, announcing, producing and acting, then landed a role in a local production of My Indian Family. The play’s star, veteran actress Aline MacMahon, encouraged Palance’s theatrical aspirations and a short time later, he borrowed $100 from his roommate and headed for Broadway. In New York, he auditioned for a play being directed by Robert Montgomery, entitled The Big Two. “When I saw all of the other would-be actors in the waiting room, I was about to walk out when Mr. Montgomery stopped me by saying, ‘I want you.’ He had been looking for a Russian type and my cheekbones filled the bill.”

Mazurki owes Walter Huston a debt of thanks. (And we do, too!)

Mazurki owes Walter Huston a debt of thanks. (And we do, too!)

A former pro football player and wrestler, Mike Mazurki (Murder, My Sweet, Nightmare Alley) got his big break after a fateful encounter with famed director Josef von Sternberg. While appearing in a wrestling match at the Olympic Theater in Los Angeles, Mazurki was spotted by the director, who was in the process of casting “foreign types” for his upcoming feature, The Shanghai Gesture. After begin tapped for the role, however, Mazurki said his resemblance to the film’s star, Victor Mature, almost lost him the part before shooting began. “Walter Huston suggested they shave my head and I got the part,” Mazurki recalled. “So I owe my career in pictures to Walter Huston.”

And the rest is cinematic history!

Join me tomorrow for Day 21 of Noirvember!


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