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

•November 30, 2021 • 8 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.


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.


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.


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.


“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!”


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 • 2 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.


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 . . .


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.


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.


“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!”


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.


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.


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.”


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.


”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!”


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.


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.


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.


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.”


”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.”


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.”


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.


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.


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.


“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.”


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.


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.


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.”


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


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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


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!

Day 23 of Noirvember: Cleve Marshall in The File on Thelma Jordon (1950)

•November 23, 2021 • 6 Comments

Today’s Noirvember post shines the spotlight on Cleve Marshall in The File on Thelma Jordon (1950).

“I’m fed up.”


Thelma Jordon (Barbara Stanwyck) reports to the district attorney’s office that there have been a series of attempted burglaries at the home of her wealthy aunt. A short time later, she becomes romantically involved with assistant district attorney Cleve Marshall (Wendell Corey) – when her aunt is shot to death and Thelma is accused of the murder, Cleve helps her cover up incriminating evidence and arranges to be the prosecutor on the case. Will he do his best to bungle the case? Will Thelma be found guilty? And how does Thelma’s estranged lover figure in the scheme of things? It’s a tangled web.


The end of the evening.

Cleve is in the first scene of the film – he enters his office to find his boss, Miles Scott (Paul Kelly), talking to Cleve’s wife, Pam, on the phone. She’s upset because it’s their anniversary, her parents are dining at the Marshall home, and Cleve is nowhere to be found – she even called that “nasty” bar across the street from Cleve’s office. Miles covers for Cleve, telling Pam he hasn’t seen her husband and adding, “You know Cleve doesn’t drink” – just as Cleve is reaching into Miles’s desk drawer to retrieve a bottle of booze. When Pam finally hangs up the telephone, Cleve tells Miles that he’s “fed up.” It turns out that, primarily, Cleve has a problem with Pam’s overbearing, overinvolved-in-their-marriage father, a retired judge. Over numerous shots of whiskey, he tells Miles that his wife wanted an antique “whatnot” for her anniversary present. When he visited the antique shop earlier that day to purchase it, he learned that her father had already bought it. “Does it all the time. If I can’t get something for her, her father will,” Cleve grouses. Shortly after Miles heads for home – leaving Cleve and the bottle in his office – Thelma Jordon shows up, and before the evening is over, they’re kissing in the front seat of her car.


He has an upstanding position in the community, one where he’s responsible for upholding the law, but he’s so flawed. Frustrated in his marriage, unfaithful to his wife, a little too fond of whiskey, blinded by passion and willing to do anything to save the neck of his inamorata. To look at him, with his Wally Cleaver haircut and bowtie, you’d think he was the most honorable, trustworthy dude in the room. Looks can be deceiving.


“I’m fed up. Ever heard that phrase? No, you wouldn’t. You’re not married.”


Wendell Corey was born on March 20, 1914, in Dracut, Massachusetts, one of four children of a Congregational minister. Although his father hoped he’d follow in his footsteps, Corey balked at the idea, taking on a variety of odd jobs before fate stepped in. Taking a break one day from his job as a washing machine salesman, Corey dropped by a rehearsal of the Springfield Repertory Players, where a friend was performing in Street Scene. When he learned that the cast was in need of an actor to play a Swedish janitor, Corey auditioned and landed the part. He spent the next year with the Springfield company, then toured in several productions throughout New England with the Federal Theater Project and a variety of stock companies before making his way to Broadway. He got his long-awaited big break in 1946 when he was cast opposite Betty Field in Dream Girl; while he was performing in this production, Hollywood beckoned, and Corey signed a contract with producer Hal Wallis. His big screen debut was also his entry into film noir – the technicolor feature Desert Fury (1947).

Join me in the shadows tomorrow for Day 24 of Noirvember!

Day 22 of Noirvember: Martha Ivers in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

•November 22, 2021 • 7 Comments

Today’s Noirvember post shines the spotlight on the titular star of The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946).

If looks could kill.


Martha Ivers (Barbara Stanwyck) is the head of an industrial empire, which she has expanded and enhanced since inheriting it from her wealthy (but hated) aunt. She’s married to her old childhood chum Walter O’Neill (Kirk Douglas), the current District Attorney who Martha is reportedly grooming for the governorship, despite his affinity for the bottle. Martha appears to have the world in the palm of her hand, but she has a secret – as a teen, she was responsible for her aunt’s death (she struck the older Mrs. Ivers with her own cane), and allowed a local vagrant to be accused, tried, and executed for the crime. Besides Martha, no one knows about the circumstances of her aunt’s demise except Walter and (possibly) another childhood friend – Sam Masterson – who was there at the time but fled the area the night of the killing. The story comes full circle when Sam Masterson (Van Heflin), all grown up, returns to town. But what Martha doesn’t know is how much does Sam know, and what does he intend to do about it?


We first meet Martha (Janis Wilson) as a teenager, on a dark and stormy night, in a train yard. She and her friend, Sam (Darryl Hickman), are planning to run away by hopping aboard a circus train. Martha demonstrates a mixture of bravado and anxiety, steely determination and sentimentality; she flings herself into Sam’s arms when she hears a clap of thunder, but seconds later insists that she’s not afraid. “I like it,” she says firmly. She maintains this swagger when the two youths are found by police and she’s taken back to her aunt, who’s none too pleased with her. (And that’s putting it mildly.) When her aunt remarks that Martha doesn’t look very sorry, Martha angrily replies, “I am. I’m sorry I was caught.” Before this brief confab is over, Martha will be lunging at her aunt and threatening to kill her. (They’re not exactly Dorothy and Aunt Em, if you get my drift.)


She is a total badass. The complete package. Beautiful, stylish, confident, smart. A savvy, powerful businesswoman and a respected member of the community. But she’s not the nicest woman you’ve ever met. She’s not nice to her weak-willed husband, or to the hard-luck gal Sam meets and installs in the adjoining hotel room – or to anybody who crosses her, I’ll wager.


“My father used to work here as a mill hand. Now I own it. Now I’m even. I was 21 when I took it over, it had 3,000 workers then. It’s got 30,000 now. It ran as far as that gate – now it goes down to the edge of the river. And I did it all by myself. Without Walter, without his father. All by myself.”


Barbara Stanwyck was born Ruby Katherine Stevens on July 16, 1907, in Brooklyn, New York, the youngest of five children. In 1910, Ruby’s mother, pregnant with her sixth child, was knocked off a trolley car by a drunken passenger and struck her head against a curb. She never recovered from her injury, and two weeks after her death, her widower signed up with a crew working on the Panama Canal. His family would never see him again. Ruby eventually went to live with her chorus-girl sister Mildred; she was a poor student and had no close girlfriends, but she was able to escape from her dreary existence at the local matinee. During the summers of 1916 and 1917, she was allowed to accompany Mildred on tour, and during these trips, Ruby developed her passion for performing. When Ruby was not quite 16, now living with her sister Maude in Flatbush, she borrowed a dress, made up her face, and landed a $40-a-week job in the chorus at the Strand Roof nightclub. Within a few years, she was performing with the touring company of the Ziegfeld Follies, and in 1926 she debuted on Broadway in The Noose. Around this time, Ruby transformed into Barbara Stanwyck, taking the names from an old theater program: Jane Stanwyck in Barbara Frietchie. Also in 1926, she met vaudeville comedian Frank Fay; the two were married after a whirlwind courtship. By now, both Stanwyck and her new spouse were being courted by Hollywood, and six months after they married, they headed for California, where Stanwyck signed a contract with United Artists and made her film debut in The Locked Door (1929). She stepped into the world of film noir with a starring role in my favorite noir, Double Indemnity (1944). For more on why I love Double Indemnity, click here.

And join me in the shadows tomorrow for Day 23 of Noirvember!

Day 21 of Noirvember: Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death (1947)

•November 21, 2021 • 4 Comments

Today’s Noirvember post shines the spotlight on one scary dude: Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death (1947).

Scary Tommy.


Career criminal Nick Bianco (Victor Mature) is arrested after a botched robbery attempt. He’s offered the chance for an early release if he squeals on his comrades, but he refuses. A couple of years later, he’s more than willing to squawk when he learns that his wife has committed suicide, leaving behind their two young daughters. Once he’s released, he remarries and leads a quiet, straight life, but as a condition of his release, he’s called on to provide evidence against a local hood, Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark). He does, but when Tommy is acquitted of the crime, he vows revenge against Nick and his family.


We meet Tommy when Nick does, sitting in a cell awaiting transfer to Sing Sing. Tommy doesn’t seem to be bothered by his impending imprisonment – he muses on the damage he’d like to inflict on a passing guard, and punctuates the image with a unique, maniacal giggle. He’s impressed by Nick’s reputation and as pleased as a kid on Christmas when Nick says he’s heard of Tommy. “Imagine me on this cheap rap – big man like me,” Tommy boasts. “Picked up just for shoving a guy’s ears off his head. Traffic ticket stuff.”


This is that guy.

He’s a film noir icon. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, you may be familiar with him. He’s the guy who ties up a wheelchair-bound woman and rolls her down a flight of steps. That move alone is worth his moment in the spotlight today.


“For a nickel, I’d grab him. Stick both thumbs right in his eyes. Hang on ‘til he drops dead.”


Richard Widmark was born in Sunrise, Minnesota, on December 26, 1914. Because of his father’s job as a traveling salesman, Widmark moved frequently as a child before settling in Princeton, Illinois. The actor later said he’d been a “movie nut” since the age of three, but he only appeared in one high school production and after high school, he enrolled in Lake Forest College as a pre-law major. While there, Widmark was taken under the wing of the school’s drama coach, who encouraged him to pursue an acting career.

After his graduation in 1936, he remained at the school for the next two years, teaching speech and drama. In 1938, Widmark moved to New York, where a former classmate-turned-radio producer gave him a job on the radio series, Aunt Jenny’s Real Life Stories. He spent the next several years honing his acting craft on the radio, sometimes doing as many as eight shows in a single day. After World War II, he debuted on Broadway in Kiss and Tell, playing a young Air Corps lieutenant, and went on to appear in a variety of stage productions. He finally got his big break when Henry Hathaway visited New York to cast the role of Tommy Udo. He caused a sensation in his film debut and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He lost to Edmund Gwenn for Miracle on 34th Street, but it was quite an auspicious beginning.

Join me in the shadows tomorrow for Day 22 of Noirvember!