Pre-Code Crazy: Flesh (1932)

•January 2, 2022 • 11 Comments

I saw Flesh (1932) for the first time when it aired on TCM last year. I don’t remember now what made me decide to watch it, but I enjoyed it so much that I tracked down the DVD and promptly added it to my collection! And when I saw it on the TCM schedule for this month, I didn’t have to look any further – it was a no-brainer to recommend it for my first Pre-Code Crazy pick of 2022.

The film opens with the release of an American woman, Laura Nash (Karen Morley), from a penitentiary in Germany, where she has been imprisoned along with her boyfriend, Nicky Grant (Ricardo Cortez). Laura is being discharged because she is pregnant, but she’s dismayed to learn that Nicky – who, incidentally, doesn’t know that Laura is with child (neither do we, at this point) – will remain locked up. She also dismisses the warden’s suggestion that she return to America.

Polakai’s post-match routine includes a whole lot o’ beer.

Alone, homeless and broke, she winds up at the Kaiserhof, a local beer garden built around a huge wrestling ring; a match is taking place, and the winner is crowd favorite Polakai (Wallace Beery). Laura is supposed to meet Joe Willard (John Miljan) there – apparently Laura, Nicky and Joe were involved in some kind of criminal enterprise where Joe wound up with the money they acquired, and Nicky and Laura ended up “taking the rap.” Laura eats a huge meal, but Joe stands her up, she’s unable to pay, and the beer garden’s owner, Mr. Herman (Jean Hersholt), threatens to contact the police. Laura is rescued, however, when Polakai intervenes, promising to fork over the money for her bill. As it turns out, this is only the first of numerous good deeds to be extended by the good-hearted (but slightly simple-minded) Polakai. Later that night, he invites Laura to sleep in his room, which is in a boarding house owned by Mr. Herman and his wife (Greta Meyer). And when Mrs. Herman discovers Laura’s presence and orders her out, Polakai insists that if Laura leaves, he will follow. Unwilling to allow their beloved Polakai to move, the Hermans allow Laura to stay in the vacant room across the hall from Polakai.

Not exactly a gleesome threesome.

As the days and weeks go by, Polakai falls in love with Laura – she can do no wrong in his eyes. When he catches her trying to steal money from his room, he believes her when she says she needs the money to spring her brother from prison, and he uses his cache to secure Nicky’s release. Laura wants to leave town with Nicky right away, telling him that Polakai wants to marry her. But Nicky wants to stick around – in fact, he suggests that Laura accept Polakai’s proposal: “What’s so terrible about that? It’s been done before. I’ll be around,” he says callously. “You’re all alike. It’s always the same. I show you how to get us out of a jam and you start squawking.”

I won’t give you any more specifics, but let’s just say that there is SO much movie left, with a whole lot of pre-Code drama and nary a dull moment. And it’s chock full of fascinating characters, beginning with Wallace Beery’s Polakai. I’m the first to admit that I’m not a huge Wallace Beery fan – I liked (to dislike) him in Grand Hotel (1931), but overall, I think he tends to overact and stray into the ham zone, if you get my drift. But here, he was lovable, sweet, believable – as innocent and guileless as a child but, ultimately, no pushover. Laura is painfully pathetic for much of the film, the type of woman who allows a man to walk all over her like she’s wall-to-wall carpet – in one scene she tells Nicky, “I’ll do anything you want me to. Only be nice to me, Nicky. I love you – even after what you said to me, I love you.” And then there’s Nicky, who’s simply awful – a liar, abuser, double-crosser, and all-round unredeemable creep. (He’s perhaps the worst character I’ve seen Ricardo Cortez play – and that’s saying something.) Other notables in the cast include the oily Joe Willard (who pops up later in the film) and Jean Hersholt’s kindly and loyal Mr. Herman.

Such an attractive couple. Looks can be deceiving.

Tune in to TCM on January 10th to catch Flesh – and let me know if you enjoy this feature as much as I do.

Meanwhile, here are a few trivia tidbits about the film to tide you over . . .

Flesh was co-produced and directed by John Ford (yes, THAT John Ford).

A number of notable personages worked on the screenplay, including Moss Hart, who would become best known for his plays and musicals like My Fair Lady (1956), but would also write the screenplays for such classics as Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) and A Star is Born (1954); William Faulkner, whose most famous novel, The Sound and the Fury, was published in 1929, and who also worked on the screenplays for To Have and Have Not (1944) and The Big Sleep (1946); and Edmund Goulding, whose primary claim to fame was his career as a director of films like Grand Hotel (1932), Dark Victory (1939), and Nightmare Alley (1947).b

A small role as an ineffectual wrestler is played by Nat Pendleton who, ironically, was a wrestler before becoming an actor and earned a silver medal at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp. You might recognize Pendleton from numerous films he was in, including Horse Feathers (1932), Manhattan Melodrama (1934), The Thin Man (1934), and The Great Ziegfeld (1936).

Don’t miss Flesh (1932) on January 10th – and be sure to visit Speakeasy to find out what pre-Code gem Kristina is recommending this month!

The ‘What a Character’ Blogathon: Barton MacLane

•December 3, 2021 • 12 Comments

Perhaps best known to modern audiences as the blustering General Peterson on the hit television comedy I Dream of Jeannie, Barton MacLane was better recognized in his heyday as one of the screen’s most enduring heavies. In a film career that spanned decades, MacLane was seen alongside such cinematic legends as Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Errol Flynn, and Paul Muni, and was featured in a number of classic screen gems, including The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). As adept at comedy as he was at heavy drama, the versatile character actor also appeared in four films noirs: High Sierra (1941), The Maltese Falcon (1941), Red Light (1949), and Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950).

MacLane was born in Columbia, South Carolina, on Christmas Day, 1902, the son of the superintendent of a Columbia mental hospital. When MacLane was seven, his family – which included four siblings – moved to Cromwell, Connecticut, where he attended elementary and secondary school. After high school, MacLane enrolled as an English major at Wesleyan University in Middleton, Connecticut, where he was captain of the basketball team and a star of the football team. MacLane’s athleticism provide to serve as his introduction to the world of the cinema when, in a football game against Massachusetts State University during his senior year, he returned a kickoff for 100 yards, a touchdown, a season record – and nationwide attention.

“It was good for a bit of publicity,” MacLane modestly recalled years later.

Barton overseeing Bogie and Edward G. Robinson in Bullets or Ballots.

Among those who took note of MacLane’s feat was actor Richard Dix, who was in nearby Long Island, New York, preparing for a new film, The Quarterback. After seeing a newspaper article on MacLane, Dix sent for him, casting the young man in a bit part as a football player. The exposure to the celluloid world of the movies was all it took to change MacLane’s career direction from writing to performing.

After graduating from Wesleyan, MacLane studied for a year at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and began appearing with a stock company in Brooklyn. He made his Broadway debut in the late 1920s with a walk-on in The Trial of Mary Dugan, and later appeared in such productions as the long-running Subway Express, Yellow Jack, and Hangman’s Whip. During his appearance in the latter play, MacLane was spotted by a talent scout from Paramount Studios, signed to a standard contract, and began appearing in minor roles in films including the Marx Brothers feature The Cocoanuts (1929); His Woman (1931), starring Gary Cooper and Claudette Colbert; and Tillie and Gus (1933), a W.C. Fields vehicle.

In the summer of 1932, MacLane wrote his own play, Rendezvous, which he sold to producer Arthur Hopkins, obtaining a contract to play the lead. The production earned favorable notices, including one from New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson, who wrote that MacLane “has written [Rendezvous] in a glow of youthful exaltation. Although it is realistic in form and told in the resilient argot of the streets, it is ore properly a fantasy of what might happen if a courageous bruiser set about reforming the world at the point of a pistol.”

He was a good guy in the Torchy Blane series.

When his contract with Paramount expired, MacLane was picked up by Warner Bros., where he earned a reputation for portraying gangsters, convicts, or desperadoes in such films as ‘G’ Men (1935), Black Fury (1935), and Bullets and Ballots (1936). But MacLane wasn’t always a villain – in a rare departure from his “heavy” mantle, he played an animal tamer in The Bengal Tiger (1936) and was lauded by one of the film’s professional animal handlers for his “utter confidence and courage.” He also turned in a top-notch performance as a prizefighter in The Kid Comes Back (1938); in a typical notice, New York Times reviewer Frank S. Nugent wrote: “[MacLane], who has been in so many Warner Class B’s that he has begun to buzz when he talks, has found a solid role at last. His Gunner Malone is the stout fighting heart of [the movie] . . . keeping the prize-ring melodrama on its cinematic feet long after the scriptwriters have grown too weary to punch out another line or jab a new situation. Also during this period, MacLane appeared on the right side of the laws as Lt. Steve McBride in the Torchy Blane series, opposite Glenda Farrell.

With his film career in full gear, MacLane also found time for romance. In the early 1930s, he married a non-professional named Martha Stewart, with whom he had two children, William and Marlane. (His daughter would make headlines in 1953 after revealing that she had worked for the FBI as an undercover agent in the Communist Party.) Before the end of the decade, however, the union was over, and in 1939 MacLane married actress Charlotte Wynters, an actress who would be seen in bit roles in classics like The Women (1939), The Great Lie (1941), and Now, Voyager (1942). The couple would remain married until the actor’s death three decades later.

But he was back to playing the villain in High Sierra.

Career-wise, MacLane made his first film noir appearances in 1941, with featured roles in two of the finest examples of the era, High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon. The first, High Sierra, starred Humphrey Bogart as Roy “Mad Dog” Earle, a veteran criminal who emerges from an eight-year prison stretch to plan the heist of a resort hotel. As Jake Kranmer, MacLane played a double-crossing hood who plans to steal Roy’s take from the heist. Next, in The Maltese Falcon, MacLane was on the right side of the law, portraying Lt. Detective Dundy, a tough, uncompromising cop who suspects private eye Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) of murder.

Never at a loss for film assignments, MacLane was seen throughout the 1940s in a wide variety of features, including horror films, westerns, war-themed movies, prison pictures, and even two entries in the TarIzan series – Tarzan and the Amazons (1945) and Tarzan and the Huntress (1947). Also during this period, MacLane was seen in the well-received Humphrey Bogart starrer, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948); wrote his second play, Black John, which was produced in Dallas and Los Angeles; and appeared in two more films noirs, Red Light (1948) and Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950).

His cop in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye was on the wrong side of the law.

The first, a so-so offering with strong religious overtones, starred George Raft as a trucking magnate who is bent on avenging the shooting death of his chaplain brother. In a fairly good-sized role, MacLane portrayed a cop who investigates the murder, and was singled out by one critic for his “outstanding” performance. He also played a cop – this time a crooked one – in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, which starred James Cagney as a ruthless, sociopathic hood. For his portrayal of the conniving police officer, Barton was again praised by reviewers, including Edwin Schaller of the Los Angeles Times, who labeled him “tops.”

During the 1950s, MacLane played supporting roles in such box office successes as The Glenn Miller Story (1954), an entertaining biopic of the big band leader with James Stewart in the title role. But he was more often seen in a spate of westerns that included Best of the Badmen (1951), Foxfire (1955) – one of five films in which MacLane appeared with his wife – and Frontier Gun (1958). MacLane also busied himself during the period with guest spots on a variety of television series, including Cheyenne and Gunsmoke.

MacLane departed from his typical bad guy persona in 1960, when he took on the part of U.S. Marshal Frank Caine in the NBC-TV series The Outlaws. The change was a welcome one for the actor, who admitted that he felt uncomfortable playing the villain.

From The Outlaws.

“I’ve never liked playing heavies,” the actor told TV Guide in 1961. “In fact, I hated ‘em. But that’s what they wanted. And that’s what they got. Well, eventually old heavies mellow. TV is giving me something I have seldom had before – a chance to play the fine fellow. It’s a good feeling.”

After one season on the program, MacLane – along with most of the series’ regulars – was cut from the cast of The Outlaws, but the actor continued to stay busy both on the small screen and in feature films. His television work included appearances on Perry Mason and Laramie, and he was seen on the big screen in such films as Pocketful of Miracles (1961), Frank Capra’s final directing effort, and The Rounders (1965), an amusing comedy-western featuring Glenn Ford and Henry Fonda.

Also in the mid-1960s, MacLane landed a recurring role on the hit situation comedy series I Dream of Jeannie, portraying General Martin Peterson a no-nonsense Air Force official. During the course of the five-year series, MacLane took time out to return to feature films, playing a country doctor in Buckskin (1968) and a sheriff in Arizona Bushwackers (1968). But the latter would be his final screen appearance. Shortly after filming an episode for I Dream of Jeannie, MacLane was admitted to St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, California, suffer from double pneumonia. Two weeks later, on January 1, 1969, the 66-year-old actor succumbed to the illness.

Typically cast throughout his career in a series of roles calling for ruthless outlaws, hard-edge convicts, venal cops, or bullying gangsters, MacLane nonetheless managed to bring a special something to his performances, creating memorable portraits out of cardboard-cutout characters. With his trademark scowl and raspy voice, MacLane demonstrated that he was – as labeled by one writer – as fine a heavy . . . as ever shot his way down the movie pike.”

________________________

This post is part of the “What a Character!” Blogathon, hosted by Aurora of Once Upon a Screen, Kellee at Outspoken and Freckled, and Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club. Visit these blogs to read a variety of posts on Hollywood’s greatest character actors!

You only owe it to yourself.

Pre-Code Crazy: Man of the World (1931)

•December 3, 2021 • 2 Comments

Now that another Noirvember celebration is behind us, it’s time to return to Pre-Code Crazy, where I join my pal Kristina, over at Speakeasy, in recommending a pre-Code feature that’s airing on TCM during the month. My pick for December is Man of the World (1931), a film that I’d never heard of until a year or so ago, which surprised me, because it stars two of my favorite performers, William Powell and Carole Lombard.

Powell plays Michael Trevor, an American living in Paris who, in the film’s first scene encounters a man who insists he’s a former reporter from the States named Jimmy Powers. Although Trevor denies that he’s Powers, and produces identification to back up his claim, it turns out that the man was right. Powers-turned-Trevor now makes his living as a refined con-man; he produces a scandal sheet that reports on the misdeeds of visiting Americans, then blackmails them to suppress the damaging information. He’s assisted in this enterprise by his partners Fred (George Chandler) and Irene (Wynne Gibson), who previously had an affair with Trevor and is still toting around a pretty hefty torch.

Trevor, Mary, and Uncle Harry.

We first see Trevor in action when he visits Pennsylvania native Harry Taylor (Guy Kibbee), whose recent dalliance with a local blonde has led to his potential exposure in the underground paper. Presenting himself as an intermediary, Trevor tells him that he can speak to the publisher on Taylor’s behalf and give the publisher $2,000 from Taylor to ensure that the item isn’t printed. Just as Trevor is leaving with his ill-gotten gains, he literally bumps into Taylor’s niece, Mary (Lombard), and for the first time we see Trevor thrown for a loop. He seems to be unable to take his eyes off Mary – she practically takes his breath away, like he’s seen an angel in human form.

When Taylor seeks a restaurant recommendation for Mary and her would-be fiancée, Frank (Lawrence Gray), Trevor endorses a favorite establishment, then shows up that night himself. When he arrives, we get a further glimpse into his character, as he surveys the patrons and gets the lowdown on the night’s action from the maître d’. One of the couples consists of a known local swindler, and the wealthy – and tipsy – American woman he’s romancing. We learn that Trevor operates according to a strict code of ethics that frowns on fleecing the fairer sex. To put the kibosh on the scenario he sees unfolding, he writes an anonymous note to the gigolo, strongly suggesting that he excuse himself from the premises.

The soup is fair, but Mary only has eyes for Michael.

A series of circumstances leads to Trevor sitting with Mary and Frank, taking them to a small local bistro, then squiring Mary around Paris the following day, after Frank travels to London for business. In whirlwind fashion, one thing leads to another, and Mary and Trevor fall in love. But what does their future hold? What will happen if Mary learns how Trevor makes a living? Will Irene’s red-hot jealousy provide an obstacle? And what about Frank?

For the answer to these and other burning questions, tune in to TCM on December 9th – you only owe it to yourself. And in the meantime, treat yourself to some trivia tidbits about this interesting little pre-Code.

The screenplay for the film was written by Herman Mankiewicz, whose many credits include co-writing Citizen Kane (1941), for which he won an Oscar, as well as Dinner at Eight (1933), The Pride of the Yankees (1942), and The Enchanted Cottage (1945). Mankiewicz is the grandfather of TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz and the brother of producer/director/writer Joseph Mankiewicz.

The Strange Case of Clara Deane, starring Wynne Gibson — coming soon to a blog near you.

Like this film, I only discovered Wynne Gibson – who played Trevor’s green-eyed ex-lover – during the past year, in a film called The Strange Case of Clara Deane (which I’ll be covering on this blog in the coming months). She enjoyed her heyday during the pre-Code era, with featured roles in films like Children of Pleasure (1930), City Streets (1931), and Ladies of the Big House (1931).

The film’s director, Richard Wallace, was one of the founding members of the Directors Guild of America. During his career, he directed a number of stars, from Clara Bow to John Wayne; his biggest feature was probably Bombadier (1943), a war film starring Randolph Scott and Pat O’Brien.

William Powell and Carole Lombard met in 1930 on the set of Man of the World and married the following year. They divorced two years later, in August 1933, but reportedly remained friends.

Catch Man of the World on TCM on December 9th – it’s a treat for William Powell fans and offers an intriguing look at Carole Lombard near the start of her career. And it features an ending that, frankly, caught me completely off-guard. All things considered, it’s definitely worth your time. I hope you’ll check it out and let me know what you think – and be sure to pop over to Speakeasy to see what pre-Code gem Kristina is recommending for this month!

Day 30 of Noirvember: Millie Pickens in Among the Living (1941)

•November 30, 2021 • 10 Comments

The final post for Noirvember 2021 shines the spotlight on a gal who’s often more femme than fatale: Millie Pickens in Among the Living (1941).

Millie is completely aware of her charms.

WHAT’S AMONG THE LIVING ABOUT?

Nestled in a category I think of as Gothic noir, Among the Living tells the story of a millionaire, John Baden (Albert Dekker) who is accused of a series of murders that were actually committed by his insane identical twin brother, Paul (also Albert Dekker). Spearheading the manhunt for John is local sexpot Millie Pickens (Susan Hayward), who mistakes him for the brother she’s been cozying up to.

INTRODUCING MILLIE PICKENS:

Millie’s mother (Maude Eburne) runs a boarding house; we meet Millie when Paul Raden goes to the house looking for a place to stay and Mrs. Pickens yells for Millie to show him a room. We spot Millie standing at the top of the stairs, and in just a few seconds, we get our first glimpse into her personality. She’s been cleaning house and has a scarf covering her head, but when she sees Paul, she smoothly removes it and fixes her hair, her eyes lit with sudden interest. She meets him halfway down the staircase, and even the way she descends those few steps is flirty, sexy, and crammed with confidence.

Mind you, she just met this dude, and doesn’t even know his name.

WHY DID I PICK MILLIE?

She’s a cute little trick, and she knows it. She’s full of life, full of sex appeal, a little common. When Paul displays a fistful of cash, her eyes literally widen like she’s a kid being offered a bowl of free candy. She has no shame about depositing the rent money in her bra, and when Paul gives her $30 to buy a dress, she pulls up her skirt and tucks the cash – with nary a hint of self-consciousness – into her garter belt. When they visit a local store together, she dabs on some perfume, then offers her neck to Paul to smell. And she’s so wrapped up in the notion of snagging a $5,000 reward for the capture of the killer (“Wouldn’t that be wonderful? I could get a fur coat! I could get out of this town!”) that she’s completely oblivious to the red flags popping up all around Paul. She’s undeniably the most compelling character in the film.

FROM THE MOUTH OF MILLIE:

“Say, if I had a wad of foldin’ dough like that, I’d go right out and buy myself an outfit that would knock this neighborhood cockeyed!”

PLAYED BY SUSAN HAYWARD:

Born Edythe Marrenner on June 30, 1918, the future star grew up in a tenement in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. When she was seven years old, she was struck by a car, fracturing her hip. Despite her doctor’s forecast that she would probably never walk again, Edythe was able to get around on crutches after six months, and she returned to school a year later. She got her first real acting experiences at Girls Commercial High school, where she acted in numerous plays. After high school, she took a course at Manhattan’s Feagan Drama School, and joined the Walter Thornton Agency to pursue modeling. Before long, she was appearing in numerous magazines, advertising everything from Ritz crackers to Noxema skin cream. Shortly after she appeared in an eight-page spread in the Saturday Evening Post, she signed a test contract with Selznick Studios and was asked to audition for the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. She headed for California in November 1937; although she was judged too young and inexperienced for the Gone with the Wind part, she secured an agent, signed a six-month contract with Warner Bros. studio, and was transformed into Susan Hayward (a name given to her by Warners talent exec Max Arnow). Her first appearance on screen was an uncredited role in Hollywood Hotel (1937), starring Dick Powell. Among the Living was her first noir.

And that’s it for Noirvember 2021, folks! It’s been a stone gas and I want to sincerely thank every single person who read, liked, or commented on any of the articles I’ve posted this month – you helped make this year’s event the most enjoyable yet, and I couldn’t be more grateful. And I mean that.

See you in the shadows!

Day 29 of Noirvember: Joe Rolfe in Kansas City Confidential (1952)

•November 29, 2021 • 3 Comments

Today’s Noirvember post shines the spotlight on a stand-up guy on a mission: Joe Rolfe in Kansas City Confidential (1952).

Joe is on a mission.

WHAT’S KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL ABOUT?

Flower deliveryman Joe Rolfe (John Payne) is framed for a million dollar heist and determines to find the men responsible. Simple, right? Don’t forget that this is noir . . .

INTRODUCING JOE ROLFE:

We meet Joe on a city street when his florist truck is stopped by a horde of police cars and he’s confronted by cops with their guns drawn. He’s naturally bewildered and a little heated, but he wisely keeps his anger banked down as they start shoving him around and tearing through his boxes of flowers. We next see him when he’s being questioned in a room that includes detectives and his boss at the flower shop, where we learn that (1) Joe spent a year in the pen over a gambling debt, (2) he left college to serve in the war, and (3) he went back to school after he was released from service. Despite Joe’s insistence that he’s innocent, his boss reluctantly fires him (“Nothing personal, you understand . . .”) and the cops continue to hammer at him and – off-screen – try to beat a confession out of him. It’s not looking good for Joe.

WHY DID I PICK JOE?

And he ain’t playing with you.

He grabs your sympathy from the start – we can feel his growing fear and sense of helplessness as the police insist that he was responsible for the heist. We also feel his fury when the cops realize they’ve got the wrong man and release him with a simple, “Sorry we had to detain you. These things happen.” And we certainly feel the frustration that drives his quest to find the men who framed him. There are many things he could have done – turned to crime, moved to another town, or even given up on life, but he didn’t. And we’re with him every step of the way.

FROM THE MOUTH OF JOE:

“Look, you’re a nice girl, but in case you’re thinking of mothering me, forget it! I’m no stray dog you can pick up, and I like my neck without a collar. Now get lost!”

PLAYED BY JOHN PAYNE:

John Payne was born on May 23, 1912, in Roanoke, Virginia, one of three boys; his father was a real estate and construction mogul and his mother once sang minor roles with the Metropolitan Opera. Payne grew up in a life of ease, but the family’s fortunes changed with the stock market crash of 1929, and he was forced to suspend his studies at Roanoke University in order to help support his family. He took on a variety of jobs – including singing at local radio stations – and within a few years, he was able to enroll at the Pulitzer School of Journalism at Columbia University, paying his way by working as a pulp story writer. He also earned money as a boxer and, later, a wrestler – billed as Alexei Petroff, the Savage of the Steppes. He later got a job on radio and was offered a job in the road company of a play produced by the famed Shuberts. He next landed a part as understudy for actor Reginald Gardiner in a popular musical At Home Abroad. According to legend, Payne was spotted in the play by Sam Goldwyn, who signed him to a contract and gave him a bit part in his film debut, Dodsworth (1936), starring Walter Huston. He entered the realm of noir more than a decade later in The Crooked Way (1949).

Join me in the shadows tomorrow for the last day (sniff!) of Noirvember!

Day 28 of Noirvember: Connie Wallace in The Great Flamarion (1945)

•November 28, 2021 • 4 Comments

Today’s Noirvember post shines the spotlight on a treacherous wolf in innocent lamb’s clothing: Connie Wallace in The Great Flamarion (1945). Never heard of The Great Flamarion? Do yourself a favor and take a stroll on over to YouTube. You can thank me later.

Wolf in lamb’s clothing.

WHAT’S THE GREAT FLAMARION ABOUT?

The film opens with the murder of vaudeville performer Connie Wallace (Mary Beth Hughes). Her killer, The Great Flamarion (Erich von Stroheim), lays dying on the stage of a theater in Mexico City and confesses his guilt to the lone actor still on the premises, using his final minutes to explain why he killed Connie. In a flashback that lasts nearly the entire film, we learn that Flamarion, Connie, and Connie’s alcoholic husband Al (Dan Duryea) were part of a popular entertainment act; Flamarion was a sharpshooter and Connie and Al served as his assistants as he demonstrated his various skills. Although Flamarion is a forbidding and arrogant taskmaster, Connie is able to worm her way into his heart by confessing her love and telling him about the abuse that she suffers from her husband. Before long, Flamarion and Connie begin an affair, but something’s got to give – and this being noir, you might be able to guess what comes next.

INTRODUCING CONNIE WALLACE:

Connie always gets her man.

We hear about Connie long before we first meet her. As the film begins, she has just been strangled in her dressing room at the Mexico City theater. Police round up the performers for questioning; while the men all have favorable opinions of the dead girl, the lone female in the group has a different story to tell: “She was dynamite. When me and Sam played on the same bill with her, I never let him out of my sight,” the woman says. “If you want my opinion, she didn’t get no more than was coming to her.”

WHY DID I PICK CONNIE?

She’s one of the most fatal femmes ever to come down the noir pike – she ranks right up there with Phyllis Dietrichson, Kathie Moffat, and Kitty Collins. In fact, Connie is possibly even more dangerous, because those women oozed sex appeal and a hint of danger; Connie is nothing but sweetness and light, with a charming personality and an infectious smile – who could ever suspect her of anything nefarious? But early on, she demonstrates her duplicitous character, capacity for deception, and downright nasty nature. When Al admits to having a drink before a performance and Flamarion threatens to fire the couple, Connie follows Flamarion to his dressing room, placating him with her soft voice, a touch of her hand, and a seemingly reluctant admission of how much the act means to her: “It’s the only thing that makes my life bearable,” she says. “If I couldn’t look forward to the theater, and the lights . . . just to seeing you . . . I wouldn’t care if I never woke up again.” But when she returns to her dressing room, she’s like a different person – even her voice is now hard and contemptuous as she gives Al a verbal beatdown. And when Al pushes back, citing her past misdeeds that bind them together, Connie metamorphoses again, this time into a loving wife, luring Al into her embrace like a spider with a fly. She’s something else.

FROM THE MOUTH OF CONNIE:

”Why, you poor sucker. How could anyone love you? That fat, bull neck, those squinty eyes – you’re old. You’re ugly. Even the touch of you made me sick. I hated you and I’ve always hated you!”

PLAYED BY MARY BETH HUGHES:

Mary Elizabeth Hughes was born in Alton, Illinois, on November 13, 1919. Her parents divorced when she was a child and her mother moved with her to Washington, D.C. Influenced by her grandmother, who reportedly acted with Ethel Barrymore, Mary Beth started appearing in a variety of school plays, then joined the Clifford Brooks repertory company and starred in several productions. For one of the productions – Alice in Wonderland – she toured the United States and Europe; while in England, she was spotted by a talent scout from the Gaumont-British Studios and offered a contract, but she turned it down in order to finish high school. She later moved to Los Angeles with her mother to pursue a movie career. After six months of failing to make any headway, Mary Beth and her mother were preparing to return to Washington, D.C., but fate intervened, and she wound up meeting William Morris agent Johnny Hyde (who would be responsible for developing Marilyn Monroe’s career), who secured a contract for Mary Beth with MGM. She made her big screen debut in Broadway Serenade in 1939. She first stepped into the shadows with the noirish 1941 feature Dressed to Kill.

Join me in the shadows tomorrow for the penultimate day of Noirvember!

Day 27 of Noirvember: Earle Slater in Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)

•November 27, 2021 • 6 Comments

Today’s Noirvember post shines the spotlight on the fatally flawed Earle Slater in Odds Against Tomorrow (1959).

Earle Slater: A mass of contradictions.

WHAT’S ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW ABOUT?

Odds Against Tomorrow involves a bank heist engineered by bitter ex-cop David Burke (Ed Begley). To help him carry out his plot, Burke recruits a bigoted ex-con, Earle Slater (Robert Ryan), and a black musician (Harry Belafonte), which makes for – as you might imagine – quite a volatile undertaking.

INTRODUCING EARLE SLATER:

When we first see Earle, he’s walking purposefully down a street (143rd, to be exact) on a windy day in New York City. A group of children, pretending to be airplanes, run past him; the last child, a little black girl, collides with Earle. He picks her up with a smile: “You little pickaninny,” he says with a pleasant southern accent. “You’re gonna kill yourself flyin’ like that, yes you are.” He enters the Hotel Juno, where the elevator operator is a young black man (Mel Stewart). The young man makes small talk with Earle, remarking about the sound of the high wind outside, and jokingly comparing his job to flying airplanes. His smile slowly fades, though, when Earle doesn’t say a word to him, but seems to stare right through him, as if he doesn’t exist.

It’s noir.

WHY DID I PICK EARLE?

He’s obviously a racist, but he’s also a mass of contradictions. There’s that opening scene, where he’s gentle and playful with the little black girl, and unnecessarily rude and contemptuous toward the black elevator operator. At times, he can be trusting, even needy, with his devoted girlfriend, Lorry (Shelley Winters), but on other occasions, he’s disrespectful and insulting. When he stops in a local bar, he gets into a dust-up with a soldier who won’t stop needling him – when Earle lays him out with a single punch, a look of triumph flashes across his face, but he’s filled with remorse a second later: “I didn’t mean to hurt him.”

FROM THE MOUTH OF EARLE:

”Don’t worry about it, boy. We’ll be right there with you. All you have to do is carry the sandwiches. In a white monkey jacket. And give a big smile. And say, ‘Yessir.’ You don’t have to worry and you don’t have to think.”

PLAYED BY ROBERT RYAN:

Robert Bushnell Ryan was born on November 11, 1909 (some sources give 1911 or 1913 as the year), in Chicago, Illinois. His father started him on boxing lessons at the age of eight; when he enrolled in Dartmouth College, he became the first freshman to win the college’s heavyweight boxing championship – a title he held throughout his four years of intercollegiate competition. After graduation, Ryan toiled at a series of jobs, from digging sewer tunnels to supervising supplies for the Chicago Board of Education. Finally, in 1936, he joined an amateur theater group in Chicago and after two years with the group, he headed for Hollywood, where he enrolled in the Max Reinhardt Workshop. He made his professional stage debut in Two Many Husbands in 1940, attracted the attention of Paramount talent scout, and signed a contract with the studio. (Ironically, he’d made a screen test for the studio two years earlier, but was told that he was “not the right type.”) He made his big screen debut in Golden Gloves (1940), playing a bit part as a boxer. His first noir came several years later, with Crossfire (1947).

Join me in the shadows tomorrow for Day 28 of Noirvember!

Day 26 of Noirvember: Jill Merrill in Night Editor (1946)

•November 26, 2021 • 7 Comments

Today’s Noirvember post shines the spotlight on a seriously fatal femme: Jill Merrill in Night Editor (1946).

“Yes. Blood.”

WHAT’S NIGHT EDITOR ABOUT?

Night Editor tells the story, via flashback, of a New York homicide detective, Tony Cochrane (William Gargan), who has a wife (Jeff Donnell), a son – and a high-society mistress, Jill Merrill (Janis Carter). Tony (says he) wants to end his relationship with Jill, but on the very night that he tries to give her the gate, they witness a brutal slaying of a young woman. Tony starts after the killer, but Jill stops him, warning that he would expose their affair and run the risk of losing his family. When another man is arrested and convicted for the murder, Tony has to decide whether to jeopardize his personal life or let an innocent man go to the chair.

INTRODUCING JILL:

What will Jill do next?

We meet Jill when Tony picks her up for a late-night rendezvous. She swathed in furs and diamonds – practically dripping with wealth. It’s clear, right off the bat, that something is off about Jill. When Tony makes a stop, she insists that he kiss her before exiting the car. “What do you want – blood?” he asks. And she responds, “Yes. Blood.” And after the killing, when Tony inspects the body, she really lets her freak flag fly, going full-on orgasmic over the thought of seeing the dead woman.

WHY DID I PICK JILL?

She’s a psychopath with a capital P. Every time we see her, she’s pulling something new from her crazy bag of tricks – whether it’s lying, using her sexuality to ensnare the men in her life, spitting out venomous insults, or getting stabby with an ice pick. You never know what this dame is up to.

FROM THE MOUTH OF JILL:

“To hear you talk, you’d think I was crawling after you. I don’t need you. I can buy and sell you. I don’t know why I bother seeing you.”

PLAYED BY JANIS CARTER:

Janis Carter was born Janis Elinore Dremann on October 10, 1913, in Cleveland, Ohio. She attended Western Reserve University, where she studied music and participated in a number of plays, then turned her sights toward a career in opera. After unsuccessfully auditioning for the Metropolitan Opera, she found work as a model, was seen in two Cole Porter musicals, and was spotted on the Broadway stage by 20th Century-Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck, who signed her to a contract. Changing her last name to Carter, Janis made her film debut in Cadet Girl (1941). Night Editor was her first film noir. For more on Night Editor (watch out for spoilers!), click here.

And join me in the shadows tomorrow for Day 27 of Noirvember!

Day 25 of Noirvember: Quinn in Body and Soul (1947)

•November 25, 2021 • 4 Comments

Today’s Noirvember post shines the spotlight on Quinn in Body and Soul (1947).

Quinn. Sleazy as they come.

WHAT’S BODY AND SOUL ABOUT?

Body and Soul centers on Charley Davis (John Garfield), who is determined to earn money for his family through the professional boxing game. He eventually works his way to the top, but at a price – he’s forced to turn over a large percentage of his earnings to Roberts (Lloyd Gough), a local gangster; his relationship with his longtime girlfriend (Lili Palmer) is threatened when he has an affair with a nightclub singer; and he’s ultimately betrayed by his cigar-chomping manager, Quinn (William Conrad), who makes a deal with a promoter for Charley to take a dive in his title fight.

INTRODUCING QUINN:

Quinn and his girl (at least, until she met Charley . . .)

We first see Quinn in Charley’s training room before the title fight, along with Roberts – they’re both there to ensure that Charley understands his marching orders to throw the upcoming fight. Quinn doesn’t speak, though. After Roberts leaves the room, Quinn takes a step toward Charley, who gives him a single directive, dripping with contempt: “Get outta here.”

As Charley lies alone in the room, waiting to enter the boxing ring, we’re treated to a flashback that shows us how he got to be where he is, including his introduction to Quinn years before. Quinn was a promoter then, and Charley had just scored a knockout in his first big match as an amateur. One of his friends approaches Quinn, trying to get him to set up some fights for Charley and raving about his abilities. “So what,” Quinn responds. “Kids win this and that every day. Thousands of ‘em. One out of a hundred fights professionally, one out of a thousand’s worth watching. One out of a million’s worth coffee and doughnuts. Tell your boy to get an honest job.”

WHY DID I PICK QUINN?

He’s a sleazeball from way back. A big fish in a little pond, but just another crooked sycophant when all is said and done. He’s self-absorbed and shrewd, signing on as Charley’s manager when he realizes that he’s got talent, but throwing him to the wolves when something better comes along. A real prize, this guy.

FROM THE MOUTH OF QUINN:

“From me to you, a word of advice. People shouldn’t be too ambitious at first. You drive too fast, you’ll break your neck.”

PLAYED BY WILLIAM CONRAD:

Conrad was born William Cann in Louisville, Kentucky, on September 27, 1920. The son of a theater owner, he once said that a career in the entertainment field was practically inevitable. When he was seven years old, his family moved to Los Angeles, and after high school, he enrolled as a literature and drama major at Fullerton Junior College. It was there that he got his first taste of performing, landing a job at a local radio station. Changing his last name to Conrad, he was heard on numerous radio broadcasts, but hkis budding career on the radio was interrupted by World War II, where he served as a fighter pilot. After his released from service, he was seen in an uncredited role as a motorcycle cop in Pillow to Post (1945), starring Ida Lupino. The following year, he stepped into the world of noir with The Killers (1946).

Join me in the shadows tomorrow for Day 26 of Noirvember!

Day 24 of Noirvember: Stella in Fallen Angel (1945)

•November 24, 2021 • 8 Comments

Today’s Noirvember post shines the spotlight on Stella in Fallen Angel (1945).

Linda Darnell eyes.

WHAT’S FALLEN ANGEL ABOUT?

Cynical, down-on-his-luck press agent Eric Stanton (Dana Andrews) finds himself in a small town in California (because he didn’t have the bus fare to make it to San Francisco), and he promptly becomes involved with sultry waitress Stella (Linda Darnell) and wealthy local girl June (Alice Faye). Despite Stella’s obvious materialism, Eric cooks up a scheme to marry June for her money, then quickly divorce her in order to wed Stella. But this is film noir, so you can bet that things don’t turn out as planned.

INTRODUCING STELLA:

We encounter Stella at the same time that Eric does, inside Pop’s, the diner where she works as a waitress. But when Eric first enters the joint, Stella’s not there. It becomes apparent from the conversation taking place between Pop (Percy Kilbride), retired cop Mark Judd (Charles Bickford), and a local trooper, that Stella has been missing for three days. The men speculate on what could have happened to Stella – Pop insists that she’s a “good girl,” and wonders if she could have committed suicide. Judd, experienced with years of police work in New York, states with certainty that Stella didn’t kill herself. “Stella’s not the type,” he says.

Meeting Stella.

A few minutes later, the door to the diner opens, and in walks Stella. Her face, her entire body, reflect a state of weariness – she looks as if she’d been someplace with promise, and is returning in defeat. Without a word, she sinks into the nearest chair, removes her shoes, and starts rubbing her feet. Judd is the first to speak to her, crossing the room to tell her he knew she’d be back. She shoots him a look that’s tinged with disdain. “Okay,” she says flatly. “I’m back.”

WHY DID I PICK STELLA?

She is absolutely mesmerizing. Every time she’s on screen, you’re hanging on her every word, her every movement. She’s self-centered and shallow, with an inclination toward bitchery. She’s dazzling and sexy, and a little bit hard – hardly the “good girl” that Pop believes her to be. But she’s also nothing if not determined. She knows what she wants – a ring and a home – and she’s not settling for anything less.

FROM THE MOUTH OF STELLA:

“You talk different, sure. But you drive just like the rest. Well, you’ve got the wrong girl.”

PLAYED BY LINDA DARNELL:

Linda was born Monetta Eloyse Darnell on October 16, 1923, in Dallas, Texas. Her beauty was apparent from an early age and, driven by an over-ambitious mother, she was getting modeling jobs and competing in beauty pageants by the time she was 13 years old, always appearing to be older than she actually was. When she was 14, her mother secured an audition with a visiting 20th Century Fox talent scout, and Monetta and her family traveled to Hollywood. But this wouldn’t prove to be her big break; when studio head Darryl Zanuck found out the girl’s real age, he sent her packing. Monetta returned to Hollywood the following year, and this time she wound up with a contract from 20th Century Fox, was cast in her film debut, Hotel for Women (1939), and changed her name to Linda. She entered the world of noir with Fallen Angel.

Join me in the shadows tomorrow for Day 25 of Noirvember!