Day 20 of Noirvember: Where Danger Lives (1950)

•November 20, 2017 • 1 Comment

One of my favorite guilty cinematic pleasures is Where Danger Lives. It stars Robert Mitchum as Jeff Cameron, a compassionate doctor who becomes involved with a mysterious woman by the name of Margo Lannington (Faith Domergue) after she’s brought to his hospital following a suicide attempt. Before long, Jeff finds himself falling for her, but he discovers that Margo isn’t all she appears to be.

Incidentally, I call Where Danger Lives a guilty pleasure because it’s not exactly Shakespeare, if you know what I mean. Also, no disrespect, but Faith Domergue is no threat to Bette Davis, if you further get my drift. Still, there’s something about this over-the-top tale that’s like a car wreck – you just can’t turn away!

Claude Rains. Love him.

Favorite character:

Hands-down, it’s Frederick, Margo’s hubby, played by the incomparable Claude Rains. He’s in only one scene, but his snide commentary and snarky asides are enough to tide you over ‘til the final reel. When Jeff first meets him, he thinks Frederick is Margo’s father. After Jeff refers to him numerous times in this manner, Frederick finally sets him straight. “I wish you’d stop calling her my daughter. She happens to be my wife,” he drily remarks. “Margo married me for my money. I married her for her youth. We both got what we wanted. After a fashion.”

Trivia tidbit:

Where Danger Lives was directed by John Farrow – Mia’s father. Farrow’s wife – actress Maureen O’Sullivan – had a small part in the film.

If you’re never seen this noir gem, treat yourself and check it out. You won’t be sorry.

And join me tomorrow for Day 21 of Noirvember!

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Day 19 of Noirvember: Dark Corner Performers

•November 19, 2017 • 3 Comments

It happens with noir like every other type of movie.

You see an actor in a film. You’ve seen him before, probably many times before. But who is he? What’s his name? Who knows?!?

Today’s Noirvember post takes a look at a few of these “dark corner performers,” a term coined by Senior Writer Kristina Dijan for our film noir newsletter, The Dark Pages (shameless plug). Do you recognize them?

Jay Adler

Jay Adler

A member of the Adler theatrical family, Jay Adler was born in New York on September 26, 1896, one of six children of Jacob Adler, a celebrated star of the Yiddish theater, and his actress-wife Sara. Like his siblings Stella, a noted acting coach, and Luther, an actor of stage, screen, and television, Jay was attracted to the theater from an early age. After appearing in both Yiddish and English language productions, including such Broadway shows as Golden Boy and Blind Alley, Adler made his screen debut in The Saint in New York (1938), the first entry in the long-running series. Over the next three decades, he appeared in nearly 40 films; some of the best-known include The Prisoner of Zenda (1952), Love Me or Leave Me (1955), and Lust for Life (1956).  “We were brought up in the midst of great acting…we all had treat pride in mother and dad, and I think each of us had a secret hope that we would be as great as they,” Adler once said. “But none of us, in my opinion, has made that grade.”

Adler’s many film noir credits include Cry Danger (1951), The Mob (1951), Scandal Sheet (1954), The Big Combo (1955), The Killing (1956), and Sweet Smell of Success (1957). He was usually seen in minor parts, but he enjoyed his most significant role in 99 River Street (1953), where he played Christopher, an inscrutable jewel fence. Adler’s last screen appearance was in 1974, in Macon County Line, produced by and starring Max Baer (best known as Jethro in The Beverly Hillbillies). In failing health for several years, he died at the age of 82 at the Motion Picture and Television Hospital in Woodland Hills, California.

Dewey Robinson

Dewey Robinson

Noted for his numerous gangster portrayals, as well as his appearances in more than 200 feature films, Dewey Robinson was born in New Haven, Connecticut, on August 17, 1898. After serving in WWI, Robinson began his performing career in New York, serving as a regular in the Marx Brothers musicals of the 1920s and making his screen debut in the Tallulah Bankhead pre-Code vehicle Tarnished Lady in 1931. During the remainder of his career, Robinson appeared in an average of 10 pictures each year, portraying a range of such characters as “Bust-in-the-Nose Man” in Grand Slam (1933), and the fifth member of the Ail and Quail Club in The Palm Beach Story (1942). In addition to frequently playing small-time hoods, Robinson also played a spate of bartenders, truck drivers, prison guards, butchers, doormen, bouncers, and cab drivers.

Of his numerous features, Robinson’s most popular included Casablanca (1942) and Father of the Bride (1950). He was also seen in small roles in nine features from the noir era, including Scarlet Street (1945), Suspense (1946), I Walk Alone (1948), and Tension (1949). Each of his noir roles was unbilled; his most significant was in Murder, My Sweet (1944), where he played the bar owner who gets knocked around by the hulking Moose Malloy (Mike Mazurki). Sadly Robinson’s prolific career was detailed in 1950 when he was struck by a hit-and-run driver in Beverly Hills, which resulted in a skull fracture and severe internal injuries. Later that year, he suffered a fatal heart attack. He was 52 years old.

Art Smith

Art Smith

Arthur Gordon Smith was born on March 23, 1899, in New York City, the only child of actor-theater manager Norman Lincoln and his wife, Jane Smith, an actress and accomplished pianist. Interested in performing from an early age, Smith made his Broadway debut in 1929, appearing alongside Bette Davis in the long-running drama Broken Dishes. His first screen appearance was in the 1934 war feature The Fighting Ranger. Unlike most of our dark corner performers, Smith had standout roles in several noirs: the sympathetic but liquor-soaked prison doctor in Brute Force (1947); a determined detective trailing star Robert Montgomery in in Ride the Pink Horse (1947); he was the loyal agent of an emotionally and physically explosive screenwriter (Humphrey Bogart) in In a Lonely Place (1950); and a deceitful and potentially deadly garage owner in Quicksand (1950). He was also in small roles in several other noirs, including Body and Soul (1947), A Double Life (1947), and Try and Get Me (1950).

In the early 1950s, Smith found his entire career in jeopardy when he was condemned during the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings for lending his name to at least nine Communist causes between 1934 and 1949. He was also identified as a Communist by both director Elia Kazan and Group Theatre founder and playwright Clifford Odets. (Ironically, Odets’ 1952 testimony came just one month after Smith closed in the playwright’s successful Broadway revival of Golden Boy.) Smith didn’t appear on screen again until nearly a decade later, in The Hustler (1961), where he played a bit part as a pool hall attendant. He retired from performing in 1967 and several years later, at the age of 73, Smith suffered a fatal heart attack at a nursing home in West Babylon, New York.

Tito Vuolo

A native of Naples, Italy, Tito Vuolo was born on March 22, 1893. He began performing as a child, working at the age of 10 in a local circus, where he sang comedy songs between acts. He sailed to America when he was 14 years old with plans to pursue an opera career, but he later joined a vaudeville circuit. Several years later, when he married, he formed an act with his wife; the two were billed as Vuolo and Narciso, “the highest-priced Italian couple in the business.” He debuted on Broadway in March 1938 in Pasquale Never Knew, but the show closed after just three performances. (“My, was that an awful flop!” Vuolo said in a 1941 interview. “The notices were the worst I ever see.”)

His screen debut was in The Shadow of the Thin Man (1941), and he was later seen in such box-office hits as The Bishop’s Wife (1947), Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948), and The Great Caruso (1951). He also appeared in a total of 12 films noirs, including Kiss of Death (1947), Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), House of Strangers (1950), The Racket (1951), and The Killing (1956). He was perhaps most memorable as Debra Paget’s father in Cry of the City (1948) and a luckless cab driver in The Enforcer (1951), who recognizes a killer in his taxi and is murdered for his troubles. Vuolo’s last screen appearance was in the 1957 feature, 20 Million Miles to Earth. Five years later, in September 1962, Vuolo died of cancer in Los Angeles, California. He was 69 years old.

Stay tuned for future posts on more dark corner performers. And join me tomorrow for Day 20 of Noirvember!

Day 18 of Noirvember: Top 5 in ’49

•November 18, 2017 • 9 Comments

This ain’t no Lily Munster.

Last week, while compiling my list of favorite noirs for each year, I ran across several years that had multiple features that I love. One of these was 1949, which is fairly overflowing with first-rate films from the noir era. Today’s Noirvember post shines the spotlight on my top 5 faves from 1949.

Criss Cross

What it’s about: Burt Lancaster stars as Steve Thompson, who finds himself caught in a triangle of passion and murder involving his ex-wife, Anna (Yvonne DeCarlo), and her new spouse, Slim Dundee (the always great Dan Duryea), a gambler with underworld connections. When Steve becomes involved with Anna again, he tries to cover up the affair by teaming up with Slim for a bankroll heist – which ultimately ends in disaster.

Why I love it: For my money, Criss Cross is a near-perfect noir. There’s nothing I don’t love about it. Lancaster makes a perfect love-struck sap, Duryea is the perfect oily villain, and DeCarlo is one of noir’s baddest bad girls. Plus, it’s got all those noir characteristics you know and love – flashback, voiceover narration, plenty of light and shadow, and an uncompromising ending that’s one of the era’s best.

Did I forget to mention that Susan Hayward is in House of Strangers, too? Bonus!

House of Strangers

What it’s about: Edward G. Robinson plays Gino Monetti, the patriarch of an Italian family. A bank owner known for his questionable practices, Gino is the father of four boys (three of which work in the bank for meager salaries), but he reserves his favor for only one, Max (Richard Conte). Max is an attorney who takes the rap when his father is arrested for his illegal banking practices, but upon his release after seven years in the pokey, he vows to pay back his siblings who failed to step up on their father’s behalf.

Why I love it: Richard Conte. I mean, seriously – this dude could perch on a stool and recite his ABCs and I’d give him a standing ovation.

Talk about disillusioned!

The Set-Up

What it’s about: In what was arguably one of the best roles of his career, Robert Ryan stars as Stoker Thompson, an aging boxer described as being “one punch away from being punch drunk.” Taking place in real-time on a single night, the film focuses on Stoker’s upcoming match and his confidence that he will win, his unawareness that his crooked manager (George Tobias) has accepted a payoff for him to take a dive, and his long-suffering wife’s inner struggle over whether to continue supporting her spouse’s seemingly fruitless dream.

Why I love it: It’s not your everyday, garden variety noir – no femme fatale, no flashbacks, no everyday Joes turning to a life of crime because of some sexy dame – but it’s chock-full of flawed characters and it’s cloaked in a smothering blanket of desperation and disillusionment. What more can you want from your noir?

If looks could kill.

Tension       

What it’s about: Claire (Audrey Totter) and Warren Quimby (Richard Basehart) are a definite odd couple – Warren is the unassuming, bespectacled night manager of a drug store, and Claire is his easily bored, expensive perfume-loving spouse who spends her nights stepping out with other men while claiming to be at the picture show. Eventually, Claire gets fed up with her dull hubby and leaves Warren for local moneybags Barney Deager (Lloyd Gough). When Warren tries to win her back, Barney feeds him a hearty knuckle sandwich, which inspires Warren to come up with a scheme for the perfect murder.

Why I love it: Because Audrey Totter.

Jane Palmer ain’t got time for that.

Too Late for Tears

What it’s about: Lizabeth Scott stars as Jane Palmer, whose primary focus in life seems to be her obsession with keeping up with the proverbial Joneses. When a suitcase filled with cash is mistakenly tossed into her car, Jane thinks she’s finally got it made, and when her husband (Arthur Kennedy) insists on turning the money over to the cops, Jane proves that she has other ideas.

Why I love it: I’m a Lizabeth Scott fan from way back, but I think her Jane Palmer is my favorite role. She dominates the film with her sociopathic, self-centered, stop-at-nothing-including-murder set of values. She’s the BEST.

So that’s my top five noirs from 1949. And I have just talked myself into having a personal 1949 marathon film fest at my house today. I’m off to grab a vat of popcorn and hunker down for some shadowy goodness (or badness, as the case may be). Join me, won’t you?

And join me tomorrow for Day 19 of Noirvember!

Day 17 of Noirvember: Favorite Noir Posters

•November 17, 2017 • 4 Comments

I love a good noir movie poster, don’t you? Today’s Noirvember post celebrates my favorites! What are some of yours?

 

Join me tomorrow for Day 18 of Noirvember!!

Day 16 of Noirvember: Noir Image of the Day

•November 16, 2017 • 2 Comments

Murder, My Sweet (1944)

Day 15 of Noirvember: Words, words, words!

•November 15, 2017 • 14 Comments

The Killing

There’s no doubt – is there? – that film noir contains the best lines in all of cinema. I mean, haven’t you ever been watching a noir and a character says something that is so awesome, you just have to laugh out loud with sheer delight and appreciation? Happens to me all the time!

Today’s Noirvember post celebrates the hard-boiled dialogue that makes noir what it is. Enjoy!

“I know you like a book. You’re a no-good, nosy little tramp – you’d sell out your own mother for a piece of fudge, but you’re smart along with it.” Sterling Hayden in The Killing (1957)

“You must have been kissed in your cradle by a vulture.” Kirk Douglas in Detective Story (1951)

“When an impoverished character, unendowed with any appreciable virtues, succumbs to a rich man’s wife, it must be suspected that his interest is less passionate than pecuniary.” Clifton Webb in The Dark Corner (1946)

Out of the Past

“Just pay me off and I’m quiet. But use cash. Don’t try to pay me off with pitch handed to you by this cheap piece of baggage.” Steve Brodie in Out of the Past (1947)

“I’m worried about you, Joe. Somewhere in your bloodstream you’ve got a crazy bug. And it’s swimming upstream night and day. Get a cure. Or you’ll kill us all.” Paul Stewart in Appointment with Danger (1951)

“What do I have to do to make you understand the way I feel aobut you – rob a bank?” Howard Duff in Shakedown (1950)

“Sure, the suckers all give me sour looks. The minute they stop, I’m worried, see, because then I know I’m not on my toes. And that’s where I’m stayin’. Ready to hit the first guy that’s fool enough to try and cross me in the first place.” Robert Taylor in Johnny Eager (1941)

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

“You’re insane. You’re out of your mind. Me, too.” Kirk Douglas in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

“You don’t snuff out 10 years of my life with a pinch of your fingers. If that’s your idea, you don’t know me as well as you think you do.” Leon Ames in The Velvet Touch (1948)

“You’d think that the people in this town would have something to do than figuring out ways to get rid of each other.” Broderick Crawford in Black Angel (1946)

“A shrewd man never asks questions until he has gathered enough information to be able to distinguish between lies and truth.” George Macready in A Lady Without Passport (1950)

Kiss of Death

“Imagine me in on this cheap rap. Big man like me. Picked up just for shovin’ a guy’s ears off his head. Traffic ticket stuff.” Richard Widmark in Kiss of Death (1947)

What are your favorite noir lines? Share them with the group!

And join me tomorrow for Day 16 of Noirvember!

Day 14 of Noirvember: Pushover (1954)

•November 14, 2017 • 6 Comments

Novak and MacMurray steam up the screen in Pushover.

Some may call Pushover a “poor man’s Double Indemnity” – and the label is understandable. Like Double Indemnity, Pushover stars Fred MacMurray as a respected professional man who is pulled into a web of deception and murder at the urging of a beautiful blonde. But there’s where the similarities end.

In Pushover, MacMurray’s character, Paul Sheridan, is an undercover cop assigned to keep an eye on Lona McLane (don’t you love that name?), a bank robber’s galpal portrayed by Kim Novak, in her first credited role. While maintaining a round-the-clock surveillance of Lona’s actions from an apartment across the street, Paul blurs the line between his professional and personal life, and before long he’s head over heels. When his lover proposes that they kill her boyfriend and abscond with his stolen bankroll, it doesn’t take Paul long to sign on. Like many best-laid plans, though, this scheme doesn’t quite turn out as intended.

Rick was my favorite.

Favorite character: The character I liked best is not one of the principals. Instead, it’s Rick McAllister, Paul’s partner on the surveillance job. When we first meet him, Rick is stony and cynical – not exactly a woman-hater, but certain not a cheerleader for the female side. In his business, he’s seen ‘em all: “B-girls, hustlers, blackmailers, shoplifters, drunks. You know, I think I’d still get married if I could find a half-honest woman,” Rick says. “There must be a few around.”

As it turns out, there’s one who lives right next door to Lona – a hard-working nurse named Ann (Dorothy Malone) – and Rick can’t keep his eyes off of her. Before long, Rick is admitting: “I wait for her to come home. I worry about her – wonder what she’s doing.” He finally comes face-to-face with Ann in a memorable meet-cute in which he gets to play Sir Galahad, rescuing her from the attentions of an overly amorous date. Played by the handsome and beefy Phil Carey, Rick is a hard-nosed cop on the outside, but a big ol’ teddy bear on the inside. Juxtaposed against the rather seedy goings-on involving Paul and Lona, Rick’s schoolboy crush on Ann is a sweet and welcome diversion.

See the marquee?

Trivia tidbit: In an early scene, Kim Novak is seen emerging from a movie theater that’s showing the 1953 western, The Nebraskan. Released by Columbia Pictures, the film starred none other than Phil Carey.

Favorite quote: “Money isn’t dirty. Just people.” – Lona McLane