The Pre-Code Blogathon: Post Dates

•March 1, 2015 • 6 Comments

For all of those pre-Code lovers who are participating in our Pre-Code Blogathon, March 31-April 3, 2015, the following are the dates of the various posts.

If you need to change your date, just leave a comment below! And if you’re interested in participating but you haven’t signed up yet, there’s always room for more! Just leave a comment or email gypsynoir@aol.com. Remember what Mae West said: “It ain’t no sin!”

BLOG NAME TOPIC POST DATE
Flapper Flickers and Silent Stanzas Aline MacMahon 3/31/2015
Noirish Red-Haired Alibi 3/31/2015
Mildred’s Fatburgers Red-Headed Woman 3/31/2015
Shroud of Thoughts Island of Lost Souls 3/31/2015
WarrenWilliam Warren William 3/31/2015
Once Upon a Screen The Divorcee 3/31/2015
Silent Locations Lady Killer 3/31/2015
Public Transportation Snob The Scarlet Empress and Morocco 3/31/2015
Mike’s Take on the Movies Tarzan and Tarzan the Ape Man 3/31/2015
Joanie1977 No Man of Her Own 3/31/2015
This Girl Friday Taxi 3/31/2015
Forgotten Filmz Downstairs 3/31/2015
Random Pictures Woman in the Moon 3/31/2015
The Stop Button All Quiet on the Western Front 3/31/2015
Phyllis Loves Classic Movies Platinum Blonde 3/31/2015
Pure Golden Classics The Gay Divorcee 3/31/2015
Chiseler Phillip Holmes 4/1/2015
Hitless Wonder Five Star Final 4/1/2015
Classic Movie Hub Scarface 4/1/2015
Girls Do Film The Divorcee 4/1/2015
The Movie Rat Blonde Venus 4/1/2015
Second Sight Cinema The Bitter Tea of General Yen, The Scarlet Empress, and Shanghai Express 4/1/2015
Margaret Perry Jean Harlow 4/1/2015
Man on the Flying Trapeze Love Me Tonight 4/1/2015
Watch Over Me Movies Queen Christina 4/1/2015
Shameless Pile of Stuff Little Caesar 4/1/2015
Wide Screen World Joan Blondell 4/1/2015
ilgiornodeglizombi The Unholy Three 4/1/2015
Silver Screenings The Intruder 4/2/2015
Now Voyaging Safe in Hell and The Strange Love of Molly Louvain 4/2/2015
Outspoken and Freckled I’m No Angel 4/2/2015
Noirish Passport to Hell 4/2/2015
Mildred’s Fatburgers Golddiggers of 1933 4/2/2015
Movies Silently The Monster Walks 4/2/2015
Immortal Ephemera Blood Money 4/2/2015
Once Upon a Screen Love is a Racket 4/2/2015
Silent Locations Public Enemy 4/2/2015
Moon in Gemini Imitation of Life 4/2/2015
Caftan Woman The Mask of Fu Manchu 4/2/2015
Critica Retro Story of Temple Drake 4/2/2015
Movie Movie Blog Blog Double Whoopee 4/2/2015
Wolfian’s Classic Movie Digest Barbara Stanwyck 4/2/2015
Smitten Kitten It Happened One Night 4/2/2015
CineMaven’s: Essays from the Couch Shanghai Express 4/2/2015
Cinematic Frontier Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 4/2/2015
Speakeasy The Old Dark House 4/3/2015
Outspoken and Freckled Employees’ Entrance 4/3/2015
Acidemic Film Journal Waterloo Bridge 4/3/2015
I See a Dark Theater Baby Face 4/3/2015
Island of Lost Films Island of Lost Souls 4/3/2015
A Person In the Dark Call Her Savage 4/3/2015
Queerly Different The Sign of the Cross 4/3/2015
Classic Reel Girl Consolation Marriage 4/3/2015
Silent Locations Night Nurse 4/3/2015
Prowler Needs a Jump Freaks 4/3/2015
The Cinematic Packrat I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang 4/3/2015
Sister Celluloid Christopher Strong 4/3/2015
Thrilling Days of Yesteryear The Sin of Nora Moran 4/3/2015
Vintage Cameo pre-Code/post-Code Busby Berkeley 4/3/2015
Movie Classics Song of Songs 4/3/2015
Spellbound by Movies Trouble in Paradise 4/3/2015
Random Pictures Murder at the Vanities 4/3/2015
Blog of the Darned The Little Giant 4/3/2015
Karavansara Madam Satan 4/3/2015

Pre-Code Crazy: The Sin of Madelon Claudet (1931)

•March 1, 2015 • 4 Comments

I’m going to just jump right in here. My Pre-Code Crazy pick for March (March? Geez, it was just Thanksgiving!) is The Sin of Madelon Claudet (1931).

There’s a whole lot of pre-Codey stuff going on in this 76-minute film. Pre-marital sex. Cohabitation without benefit of clergy. Illegitimate birth. Suicide. Prison. Larceny. Prostitution. But it’s all offset by the biggest case of sacrificial mother love this side of Stella Dallas.

I’ve had a fondness for The Sin of Madelon Claudet since the first time I saw it, years ago. I certainly wasn’t attracted to it because of its star, Helen Hayes – although I first became aware of her from TV’s The Snoop Sisters with Mildred Natwick, I was never familiar with much of her screen work.  And while Robert Young is a member of the cast and I always enjoy his performances, he’s only on screen for about 10 minutes, tops. Several of my other personal favorites are in the film as well – Marie Prevost, Alan Hale, Neil Hamilton, Karen Morley, Lewis Stone – but each of them are in relatively minor roles, certainly not contributing enough, individually, to cause me to remember the film with such affection.

Did Neil Hamilton always play a jerk? (Whoops! Too much information?)

Did Neil Hamilton always play a jerk? (Whoops! Too much information?)

But the story – what a roller coaster ride!

In a nutshell – and I promise to tread lightly here, because I don’t want to give anything away – the film centers on the life and times of Madelon Claudet (Hayes), a young French farm girl who falls in love with an American artist (Hamilton).

Yikes. I really feel like that’s all I can say without giving away important plot points.

Let me approach it this way. The picture opens in Paris, where Alice Claudet (Karen Morley) arrives at the office of her doctor husband, Larry (Robert Young), to leave him a Dear John letter – turns out that she’s fed up with playing second fiddle to his noble medical career.  But she is surprised by the presence of Larry’s colleague, Dr. Dulac (Jean Hersholt), who tells her that she’s not the only person who has made sacrifices for her husband – there is another woman, he says, “whose life has been one long martyrdom for him.” And as Dr. Dulac tells this woman’s story to Alice, we enter a flashback that will last for most of the film. It’s the tale of Larry’s mother, Madelon – and thus the roller coaster begins.

Let's just say this was a good day in Madelon's life.

Let’s just say this was a good day in Madelon’s life.

Since I’m so loathe to give away even the tiniest of nuggets about the goings-on in the film, let me share just a few of the reasons why I’m recommending it:

  • A span of at least 30 years is depicted; the film provides a unique method of illustrating the passage of time by first showing its effect on Madelon, and then, separately, what’s happening during the same time frame in the life of her son.
  • Helen Hayes is in just about every scene, and while her character has everything thrown at her but the metaphorical kitchen sink, her performance remains measured and believable, making you experience every event right along with her.
  • The film features a close and touching friendship between Madelon and Rosalie (played by the always great Marie Prevost); for a time, Rosalie even takes over the care of Madelon’s son. (But that’s all I’m going to say about that.)
Hayes with her well-deserved Oscar.

Hayes with her well-deserved Oscar.

And, just for the heck of it, here’s some other stuff:

  • The film was based on a play called The Lullaby, which played 144 performances on Broadway in the early 1920s and starred May Robson, Rose Hobart and Frank Morgan.
  • Madelon Claudet was Helen Hayes’s first sound picture and she won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance. (By the way, she won a second Oscar nearly 40 years later, for Best Supporting Actress in 1970s Airport, becoming one of the few performers to win an Oscar every time she was nominated.)
  • In one of my favorite documentaries, MGM: When The Lion Roars, Hayes recalled that the picture was originally shelved, but it was shown to Irving Thalberg, who determined that only the film’s last seven minutes needed to be reshot. Thalberg also changed the name of the flim: “The Sin of Madelon Claudet was the name that Irving gave it because he thought ‘Lullaby’ was too naïve a name,” Hayes said. “And he got that ‘sin’ in there, and that was a good sales lift.”
  • One of the writers on the film was Charles MacArthur, who was married to Helen Hayes from 1928 until his death in 1956. MacArthur and Hayes were the parents of actor James MacArthur (perhaps best known for his role as “Dano” in the original Hawaii Five-O TV series).
  • The film’s director was Edgar Selwyn, who helmed Skyscraper Souls the following year, and wore several other hats during his career: actor, producer, and writer. His writing credits included the play The Mirage, which was the basis for the 1931 Joan Crawford film, Possessed).

The Sin of Madelon Claudet airs on TCM in the wee hours of March 5th (technically the morning of March 6th).

Do yourself a favor – set your alarm or program your VCR (or whatever!) – but don’t miss it.

You know why.

You only owe it to yourself.

(And speaking of what you owe to yourself, don’t forget to pop over to Speakeasy to check out Kristina’s Pre-Code Crazy selection for the month!)

 

Announcing the Great Villain Blogathon 2015!

•February 18, 2015 • 2 Comments

shadowsandsatin:

Hang onto your fedoras, y’all: here we go again . . .

Originally posted on Speakeasy:

Banner

The first Great Villain Blogathon in 2014 was such a fun and huge event that, in the tradition of the greatest movie villains, we threatened promised to return and wreak havoc again with another event celebrating cinema’s biggest cretins.

Banner

We cordially invite you to participate in the Great Villain Blogathon 2015. Pick a movie villain to write about and join us in this dissection of the dastardly and depraved, this survey of the stinking and spiteful, this audit of hateful and heinous characters.

Your hosts are Ruth of Silver Screenings, Karen of Shadows & Satin and Kristina of Speakeasy, and The Great Villain Blogathon happens APRIL 13 – 17, 2015.

 Banner

You may write on any Big Bad from any era, country and genre, whether they were dictators, outlaws, criminals, politicians, mistresses, monsters, slashers, gangsters, mama’s boys, hammy and backstabbing actresses, artificial intelligence, aliens, wicked stepmothers, or any…

View original 294 more words

A Walk on the Neo-Noir Side: The Last Seduction (1994)

•February 14, 2015 • 13 Comments

About 15 minutes after I started watching The Last Seduction (1994), I found myself thinking how familiar it felt – so “noir-esque,” if you will. And after just a single viewing, it became my favorite neo-noir.

The film stars Linda Fiorentino, whom I’d never seen before and have never seen since; she was later in Men in Black, Jade, and a handful of other films, but the only role I’ve ever set eyes on was that of her Bridget Gregory in The Last Seduction – and it was the role of a lifetime. In her first appearance on the screen, as we hear her ruthlessly and relentlessly berate a room full of telemarketers, we know she’s no sweetheart. Dressed nearly all in black (as she is for most of the film – the monochromatic opposite of Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice), she strolls (or, rather, stalks) up and down the floor, a stopwatch in her hand, calling them eunuch, bastards, suckers.

She’s quite a gal.

Bridget is unimpressed with her hubby's "hide the cash in the shirt" move.

Bridget is unimpressed with her hubby’s “hide the cash in the shirt” move.

Another individual who figures prominently in the film is Bridget’s husband, Clay, memorably played by Bill Pullman. In our introduction to Clay, he is selling a suitcase full of “pharmaceutical cocaine” to a pair of hoods – although he fears that his payoff is going to be his life instead of the $700,000 he expected, he winds up with the money, stuffing the stacks of bills inside his jacket. The action heats up when Clay shows the money to his wife, who calls him an idiot for walking through the streets with nearly a million dollars in his shirt. He slaps her – an impulsive act that will prove to be pivotal. Just minutes later, Bridget takes the money, dashes out of the apartment while Clay is in the shower, removes her wedding ring, and hits the road.

Run away, Mike. Run away!

Run away, Mike. Run away!

On her way to Chicago, Bridget stops in a small town called Beston to gas up. It’s in a nearby bar that we – and Bridget – meet the film’s third principal character, Mike Swale (played to naive, lustful perfection by Peter Berg). In the bar, Bridget’s order is ignored by the bartender, and, instantly attracted to her dark good looks, Mike Swale gallantly steps in to help. Bridget, however, is not interested. “Could you leave?  Please?” she asks. “Well, I haven’t finished charming you yet,” Mike responds, to which Bridget retorts: “You haven’t started.” Still endeavoring to win Bridget’s heart – or some part of her – Mike informs her that he’s “hung like a horse.”  Perhaps wishing only to amuse herself, perhaps with other, more far-reaching plans in mind, Bridget asks to see for herself, unzips his pants right in the bar, and then fires off a series of questions: how many lovers has he had? Have any been prostitutes? Does he have his own place? Does it have indoor plumbing? Before long, the two are in Mike’s apartment.

Too late. He's hooked.

Too late. He’s hooked.

The next morning, Mike awakens to find Bridget on the telephone, rummaging through his refrigerator. She is speaking to her lawyer – played by the fine character actor, the late J.T. Walsh, who advises her to stay in the small town and hang onto the cash she has taken for as long as it takes for her get divorced. (A nice piece of business occurs in this scene: after searching the fridge, Bridget finally brings out a platter covered in plastic wrap. She takes a bite – it’s apple pie – and spits it out in disgust. When she finishes her phone conversation, she stubs out her cigarette in the pie, and we then see the post-it note on top that says, “Love, Grandma.” It’s the little touches like these that made The Last Seduction zoom to the top of my neo-noir chart. Another nice bit is the fact that, at one point in the film, Bridget gives her name as “Mrs. Neff” – a reference to one of the great entries in the classic noir cycle, Double Indemnity (and, as you might know by now, my all-time favorite noir). I also love the dialogue in the film; in one scene, Bridget asks Mike, “Is it the morality of murder that bothers you, or is it the personal risk?” In another, Mike tells her: “I just realized that I don’t want to be with you enough to be like you.”

Don't miss it.

Don’t miss it.

I don’t want to get into too many details about the plot (not that it would be easy!), but at it’s core, it focuses on the triangle of Bridget, her husband and her lover. There’s Bridget’s scheme to get away with the money she took from her husband, her husband’s determination to find her and the money, and Mike’s all-consuming desire for Bridget. Beyond that, it’s sufficient to say that The Last Seduction has more twists than a roller coaster at Disney World. Just when you think you have it figured out, it takes a dip and throws you for another loop.

I’m a big fan of the neo-noir – some of my other faves include L.A. Confidential, Bound, 11:14, Body Heat, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – but my absolute favorite is The Last Seduction. If you haven’t seen it, see it. And if you have seen it, see it again.

You only owe it to yourself.

 

The 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon: Top 10 Oscar-Less Noirs

•February 10, 2015 • 13 Comments

Every year, when the Academy Award nominations are announced, I excitedly print out the list of nominees and set about seeing as many films as I can before the night of the big event. I usually don’t think about films or performances that didn’t make the cut, or give much consideration to “Oscar snubs” – there can only be a limited number of nominees, I figure, and it seems like the voters usually get it right.

But when I look back over the past decades, to the era when film noir was in its heyday, I am shocked (shocked, I tell you!!) to see that so many of my favorites not only didn’t win the coveted gold statue – they weren’t even nominated! And when I say they weren’t nominated, I don’t mean just the films themselves for Best Picture. I mean they didn’t get one. Single. Nomination. Not for Best Actress, not for Best Director. Not for Best Cinematography. Or Screenplay. Or Score. NOTHING.

I can’t turn back the hands of time and rewrite history (and what wouldn’t I do if I could), but I can shine the spotlight on 10 films noirs that were certainly deserving of at least a nod from Oscar, if not the whole statue!  Here goes…

Jeanette Nolan was compelling in every scene, even if she couldn’t speak.

1. The Big Heat (1953)

The Story:

Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford) is a tough, no-nonsense cop who goes up against the syndicate and even his own department to unearth the truth behind a fellow cop’s suicide.

What Else?

This is the movie where Gloria Grahame gets a pot of scalding coffee thrown in her face by Lee Marvin (and later returns the favor).

Favorite Quote:

“I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Believe me, rich is better.” Debby Marsh (Gloria Grahame)

If This Film Only Snagged One Nomination, It Should Have Been For:

Best Supporting Actress:  Jeanette Nolan. She offered up a chilling portrait of a corrupt policeman’s wife who could be crying piteously one moment and (figuratively) slitting your throat the next. She wasn’t in many scenes, but she made every moment she had on screen count.

In Gilda, Rita Hayworth was more than just a pretty face.

In Gilda, Rita Hayworth was more than just a pretty face.

2. Gilda (1946)

The Story:

Itinerant gambler Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford, again) becomes right-hand man to casino owner Ballin Mundson (George Macready), but he gets more than he bargained for when his former lover, Gilda (Rita Hayworth) turns up as Ballin’s wife.

What Else?

Gilda is perhaps best known for Rita Hayworth’s unforgettable rendition of “Put the Blame on Mame.”

Favorite Quote:

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

If This Film Only Snagged One Nomination, It Should Have Been For:

Best Actress:  Rita Hayworth. She was superb in this role; she transformed the title character into a fully realized, multi-dimensional persona.  She was passionate, reckless, loving, childish, superstitious, resourceful, mean-spirited, and loyal, all in one exquisitely beautiful package. Hayworth brought all those qualities to life – and made you believe every one.

Joseph Lewis's direction assured that there wasn't a dull moment in Gun Crazy.

Joseph Lewis’s direction assured that there wasn’t a dull moment in Gun Crazy.

3. Gun Crazy (1949)

The Story:

Gun fanatics Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins) and Bart Tare (John Dall) meet, fall in love, get married and take the next natural step:  embark on a crime spree.

What Else?

Cinema buffs marvel over a scene in the movie that depicts a bank robbery – it’s done in a single shot, no cutting, beginning when the outlaws pull up at the bank, through Annie’s handling of a busy-body cop while Bart is committing armed robbery inside, and the entire getaway. Even if you know nothing about the technical achievements of the scene, you can appreciate it as an edge-of-your-seat thing of beauty.

Favorite Quote: “I’ve been kicked around all my life, and from now on, I’m gonna start kicking back.” Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins)

If This Film Only Snagged One Nomination, It Should Have Been For:

Best Director:  Joseph Lewis.  I’m the first to admit that I’m no expert on what makes a great director. But I know what I like, and I like the way Lewis is able to grab you by the neck and squeeze the air out of you as you wait to see what’s going to happen next. From Annie’s shoot-em-up introduction, to the scene where the lovers almost, but not quite, leave each other, to the gripping finale, Lewis makes you feel like you’re right there. Even if you wish you weren’t.

Elisha Cook, Jr., turned in one of his best performances in The Killing.

Elisha Cook, Jr., turned in one of his best performances in The Killing.

4. The Killing (1956)

The Story:

A motley crew of criminals and would-be criminals combine their skills to plan and execute a race track heist. (But you know what they say about the best laid plans…)

What Else?

Directed by Stanley Kubrick, the film features a unique time-twisting narrative, which sometimes skips ahead in time, sometimes back, and sometimes depicts events taking place at the same time in different locations. It makes for quite a wild ride.

Favorite Quote: “Alright sister, that’s a mighty pretty head you got on your shoulders. You want to keep it there or start carrying it around in your hands?” Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden)

If This Film Only Snagged One Nomination, It Should Have Been For:

Best Supporting Actor:  Elisha Cook, Jr. For my money, this is the best performance of Cook’s career. In a cast fairly bulging with colorful characters, Cook’s George Peatty is a standout as a meek cashier who’s determined to make the big time in order to satisfy his beautiful but money-grubbing wife. He’s captivating every time he’s on screen – you can practically feel the waves of despair and desperation rolling off of him.

Tyrone Power was at the top of his game in Nightmare Alley.

Tyrone Power was at the top of his game in Nightmare Alley.

5. Nightmare Alley (1947)

The Story:

Wily carnival barker Stanton Carlisle (Tyrone Power) stops at nothing to achieve fame and fortune as a renowned “mentalist.”

What Else?

The director of Nightmare Alley, Edmund Goulding, also helmed such vastly different fare as Grand Hotel (1932) and The Old Maid (1939).

Favorite Quote: “It takes one to catch one.” Stanton Carlisle (Tyrone Power)

If This Film Only Snagged One Nomination, It Should Have Been For:

Best Actor:  Tyrone Power.  In a radical departure from the swashbucklers and handsome gentlemen-about-town with which he’d become associated, Power turned in a – if you will – powerful performance of a man completely undone by his own ambitions, greed, and lack of morals. By the end of the film, he is barely recognizable – and it’s not just because of the first-rate make-up job.

The cinematography in Out of the Past was like another character.

The cinematography in Out of the Past was like another character.

6. Out of the Past (1947)

The Story:

Service station owner Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) finds that the past he thought he’d left behind has caught up with him.

What Else?

Out of the Past is frequently cited as the quintessential noir.

Favorite Quote:

“You know, a dame with a rod is like a guy with a knitting needle.” Al Fisher (Steve Brodie)

If This Film Only Snagged One Nomination, It Should Have Been For:

Cinematography:  Nicholas Musuraca. Once described by a colleague as “a painter with light,” Musuraca makes Out of the Past one of those films that you can imagine appreciating even with the sound off. His arresting use of lights and shadow provide a perfect accent to the deadly and dastardly goings-on and make a dark story even more like night.

In The Postman Always Rings Twice, Cecil Kellaway created a multifaceted character.

In The Postman Always Rings Twice, Cecil Kellaway created a multifaceted character.

7. The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

The Story:

A charming drifter (John Garfield) falls for the beautiful young wife (Lana Turner) of a roadside café owner, and plots with her to commit her husband’s murder.

What Else?

The film was remade in 1981, starring Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange. Lana Turner was not a fan: “They are such fools to play around with something that’s still a classic,” she said. “Jack Nicholson just isn’t John Garfield. The chemistry we had just crackled. Every facet [was] so perfect.”

Favorite Quote:

“With my brains and your looks, we could go places.” Frank Chambers (John Garfield)

If This Film Only Snagged One Nomination, It Should Have Been For:

Best Supporting Actor: Cecil Kellaway.  You could almost always count on Kellaway to add a lovable presence to his films, and he brought that side of the character to his role as Nick, the café owner. But Kellaway showed us more than just an affable hubby, creating a man who was fond of his drink, displayed a tendency toward narrow-mindedness, and could be downright cruel. And he made it look easy.

Edward G. Robinson gave us one of his best performances in Scarlet Street.

Edward G. Robinson gave us one of his best performances in Scarlet Street.

8. Scarlet Street (1945)

The Story:

Christopher Cross (Edward G. Robinson), a mild-mannered, unhappily married cashier, falls for an attractive young woman (Joan Bennett) and allows her to believe he is a wealthy artist. But the young woman has a con-man boyfriend, they’re both playing Chris for a fool, and every corner of this triangle meets a tragic end.

What Else?

This tale of lust, greed and murder was the remake of a Jean Renoir movie, La Chienne (1931) – “The Bitch.”

Favorite Quote:

“I hate [Chris] when he looks at me like that. If he were mean or vicious or if he’d bawl me out or something, I’d like him better.” Kitty March (Joan Bennett)

If This Film Only Snagged One Nomination, It Should Have Been For:

Best Actor: Edward G. Robinson. In Scarlet Street, Robinson offered up one of his most memorable characters – and for an actor of his talent, that’s saying something. He created a character that you wanted to know, protect, and rescue, before it was too late – he made you want to scream at him for his gullible stupidity, but at the same time, he enabled you to sympathize with his every move.

No Oscar for this Tony? Come ON!

No Oscar for this Tony? Come ON!

9. Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

The Story:

Powerful Broadway columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) employs the services of an oily press agent (Tony Curtis) to break up the budding romance between Hunsecker’s beloved little sister and a local musician.

What Else?

The character played by Burt Lancaster was based on famed real-life columnist Walter Winchell.

Favorite Quote:

“You’re dead, son. Get yourself buried.” J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster)

If This Film Only Snagged One Nomination, It Should Have Been For:

Best Supporting Actor: Tony Curtis. I can’t think of a lot of films in which Tony Curtis showed that he could really act. I mean, REALLY act. He certainly showed off his comedic chops in Some Like It Hot (1959). And of course he was first-rate in The Defiant Ones (1958). But for me, his tour de force was in Sweet Smell of Success. His performance is riveting, mesmerizing, breathtaking. You can hardly believe what he does to create one of the smarmiest and most pathetic characters ever to grace the silver screen – but I guarantee you won’t forget it.

Cathy O'Donnell's performance in They Live By Night was simply heartbreaking.

Cathy O’Donnell’s performance in They Live By Night was simply heartbreaking.

10. They Live By Night (1948)

The Story:

Arthur “Bowie” Bowers, an escaped convict (Farley Granger), falls in love with the young girl (Cathy O’Donnell) who nurses him to health after he’s injured in a car wreck and tries to turn his life around.

What Else?

This film was Nicholas Ray’s directorial debut. He went on to helm such classics as In a Lonely Place (1950), Johnny Guitar (1954), and Rebel Without a Cause (1955).

Favorite Quote:

“I thought maybe we’d be lucky – they wouldn’t find us. And after a while, we’d go away and live like other people.” Keechie (Cathy O’Donnell)

If This Film Only Snagged One Nomination, It Should Have Been For:

Best Actress:  Cathy O’Donnell . As Keechie, the young girl who won Bowie’s heart, O’Donnell turned in a sensitive and heartbreaking portrait of a girl who was like reinforced steel on the outside, but tender, loving, and loyal behind the façade. She made you understand, without hesitation, why Bowie fell in love with her. You’ll fall a little bit in love with her, too.

And that’s it, y’all – my top 10 films noirs that were oh-so-deserving of recognition by the Academy Awards, but didn’t even receive a stinkin’ wink.

Do yourself a favor and check out one or more of these fine features and power-packed performances during this year’s Oscar season – you only owe it to yourself.

(And to them.)

—————–

This post is part of the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon 2015, Aurora at Once Upon a Screen, Kellie at Outspoken and Freckled, and Paula at Paula’s Cinema ClubClick any of the links to the sites and check out the many great posts being presented as part of this event.

You’ll be glad you did – and so will Oscar!

 

Rest in Peace, Lizabeth Scott.

•February 6, 2015 • 12 Comments
Lizabeth Scott: 1922-2015

Lizabeth Scott: 1922-2015

It is with a heavy heart that I share that Lizabeth Scott passed on January 31, 2015, at the age of 92.

Born Emma Matzo in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the future star was raised in a home fairly brimming with culture, but she was frequently rebellious and outspoken: “As a child, my mother used to tell me to keep my emotions subdued, to be ‘a lady,’” she once said. “Instead of which I was a noisy, screaming little brat, definitely about everything.”

With her tawny hair, husky voice, and ice-blue eyes, Scott was one of film noir’s quintessential femmes and had numerous noirs to her credit, including The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, Too Late for Tears, Dead Reckoning and Pitfall.

She will be missed.

Dark Crimes: The Strange Woman (1946)

•February 4, 2015 • 4 Comments
What in the actual hell?!?

What in the actual hell?!?

One of my many resolutions for 2015 was to get off my “rusty dusty” and start converting some of my many blog post ideas from concept to actuality. Here, then, is my first post in my new series, which is to watch and write about every film in the “Dark Crimes” DVD compilation. A few of the movies in this 50-film set are noir standards, like D.O.A. (1949) with Edmond O’Brien, and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, starring Barbara Stanwyck and Van Heflin, but most of them are new to me, and I’m looking forward to diving in!!

For my Dark Crimes inaugural entry, I’m taking a look at The Strange Woman, directed by Edgar Ulmer – of Detour (1945) fame – based on a novel by Ben Ames Williams (who also wrote Leave Her to Heaven), and starring Hedy Lamarr and George Sanders. And let me just say from the outset – the title of this picture is more than apt; it’s one of the strangest movies I’ve ever seen. And that’s putting it mildly. (Watch your step – this entire post is one big spoiler!)

The film opens in 1824, in Bangor, Maine – a place with which I’m familiar primarily because horror author Stephen King lives there. We’re introduced to dry goods store owner Isaiah Poster (Gene Lockhart), town drunkard Tim Hager (Dennis Hoey), and Hager’s cruel and conscienceless young daughter, Jenny (played as a child in the opening scenes by Jo Ann Marlowe as such a nasty little cretin that I can hardly bring myself to believe this is the same actress who played that sweet little Kay in Mildred Pierce). And when I say cruel and conscienceless, I mean it. Playing with a group of children on a wooden bridge over a river, Jenny pushes a boy in the water after he fearfully insists that he cannot swim, repeatedly shoves his head under water with her foot (“Who cares?” she rejoins when one of the children expresses fears that she will drown the boy), and then, when the local judge rides by, heroically jumps into the water to “save” him.

The film is brimming with atmospheric touches. That's something, anyway.

The film is brimming with atmospheric touches. That’s something, anyway.

Jenny as an adult is played by Hedy Lamarr – and she’s just as vain as she was when she was a child (except now, for some inexplicable reason, she has a slight Austrian accent). She’s also as shallow as a kiddie pool – when her pal, Lena (June Storey) assures her that her looks are certain to attract the youngest and the best looking sailors at the dock, Jenny responds, “I don’t want the youngest – I want the richest.” She expresses a similar sentiment during an argument with her father: “This isn’t the life I was born for. Men like me. And it’s the men who have the money in this world. . . . I know you don’t want any man ever to look at me. But they do!” Incidentally, not long after this argument (during which Dad Hager beats Jenny with a strap while she stares into his eyes with a weird smirky smile), Jenny winds up married to Isaiah Poster – who ostensibly weds her to protect her from her abusive father, but who’s actually had his eye on her for years. (Let me say here that I never really knew for sure what happened to Jenny’s father. I thought he died from a slip and fall on his front porch, but the film never made any reference to his death. He just kinda disappeared.) Anyway, unfortunately for the practically senior citizen Mr. Poster, he’s got a son, Ephraim (Louis Hayward), who also has an eye for Jenny. By the way, it was Ephraim Poster that Jenny pushed into the river years before – even though she still insists that it was the other children who were responsible. “I pulled you out – didn’t we always stick together? Ephraim and Jenny: side by side against the world,” she reminisces. “Oh, we had good times here, didn’t we?” Aaaand it’s at this point that I start to question Jenny’s mental stability.

Just one big, happy family. Not.

Just one big, happy family. Not.

It’s also right about this time that the film completely goes off the rails, as far as I’m concerned. Mr. Poster develops some mysterious ailment, Jenny and Ephraim are practically exploding with sexual tension, lumberjacks come into town and start a seemingly endless drunken riot, Jenny saves her friend Lena from being attacked in the streets and then, for purposes that I never could figure out, allows her to move into her old house – and then George Sanders comes into the picture! He’s John Evered, the boyfriend of Meg Saladine (Hillary Brooke), who’s the daughter of the town’s judge (who was killed in the riot – did I mention that?) and a friend (as much as any woman can be) of Jenny’s. With John suddenly on the scene, Ephraim Poster doesn’t look quite so attractive to Jenny and she refocuses her energies in John’s direction.

That's Ephraim there, in the middle. And the less said about this dunderhead, the better.

That’s Ephraim there, in the middle. And the less said about this dunderhead, the better.

But first – Jenny decides she’s tired of having a husband and that Ephraim would be the perfect person to get him out of the way. “How long must he live, Ephraim?” she asks. “I want you to do something for us. You’re afraid. I could promise you so many things, and yet, you’re afraid. . . . Why does everything frighten you? You’re going to make me very angry. And if I get angry and go on wanting you the way I do, I might tell him what happened between us.” And, of course, like the weak-willed sap that he is, Ephraim KILLS. HIS. OWN. FATHER. And when his DUMB ASS goes back to Jenny, you know what she says? She tells him: “You can’t come into this house, you wretched coward. You killed your father.” OMG!!!!!

This ain't no Addison DeWitt.

This ain’t no Addison DeWitt.

Okay, I’m not going to drag this thing out any longer. This is what happens in the rest of the film. Ephraim turns into a hopeless drunk and winds up hanging himself. Jenny seduces John and he promptly dumps Meg and marries Jenny. Jenny learns that she can’t have children (again, a plot point that seems to go nowhere). A traveling spiritual evangelist, Lincoln Pittridge (Ian Keith) comes to town, holds a revival and, by great coincidence, preaches a sermon entitled “The Strange Woman” that seems to be speaking directly to Jenny (“What woman has put away a husband? Which of you has taken a man from her sister? You cannot hide behind your beauty. Your beauty has made you evil, and evil destroys itself! There will be no sons to mourn for you. No daughters to weep.”). (Wow, he’s like, a mind reader or something!) Jenny goes completely bananas, admits to John that she coerced Ephraim into killing his father, and then abruptly recants – but it’s too late. John leaves her. Jenny tracks him down to a cabin in the woods – but his ex-girlfriend Meg Saladine has gotten there first. What Jenny doesn’t know is that John has told Meg that he still loves Jenny and is returning to her – when she sees them standing outside the cabin together, she tries to run them over with her horse and carriage and winds up tumbling over a cliff to her death. Before she takes her final breath, though, she tells John, “I wanted so many things. I wanted the whole world. But it was really only you.”

Yet another creepy poster.

Yet another creepy poster.

I don’t know – maybe it’s just me. Maybe I was predisposed not to like this movie because I’m not exactly the world’s biggest Hedy Lamarr fan. (And, again, that’s putting it mildly.) Or maybe my expectations were too high – I’d skimmed a few reviews before I popped this film in the DVD player, and they all seemed to be far more impressed with this film than I turned out to be. Or maybe I just didn’t appreciate the film’s so-called “noirish” touches – to me, they were just so much hokum. Let me give you an example. Just one. It’s late in the film (which, incidentally, at 100 minutes seems twice as long), and Jenny has set her sights firmly on John – even though he seems too dense to have any idea. Anyway, in the middle of a huge rainstorm, Jenny goes with John to a shack 10 miles from town to see Ephraim. They both get more than they bargained for when they find Ephraim hanging around – literally. So Jenny goes into a brief freak-out where she’s blaming herself for his death and blah blah blah, but just minutes later, she accidentally on purpose lets the horses run off with the carriage so she and John can be stranded there together.  Later, while her clothes are drying by the fire, Jenny shoots a series of longing, lustful, come hither looks in John’s general direction, and before he self-combusts, he goes outside in the rain to remove himself from temptation. But Jenny’s no quitter, and she gets a big boost from Mother Nature when a tree in the distance is struck by lightning and actually bursts into flames (symbolism, much?) – providing the perfect backdrop for Jenny to sidle up to John wearing little more than a blanket, and plant a big wet one on him. And that’s the end of John and his fiancée.

Don't miss it, y'all.

Don’t miss it, y’all.

Oh! And let me tell you about just one other scene. You know when I mentioned earlier about the traveling evangelist and his sermon? Well, he was preaching to a full house, mostly comprised of Bangor’s women folk. And as he offered up his fiery rhetoric, the women in the pews started literally falling to their knees, they were so convicted by his speechifyin’. And as they packed the aisles, their guilty, sin-racked sobs filled the air like a chorus. It was nuts!

You seriously have to see this movie to believe it. It’s on YouTube – check it out if you get the chance. I know I’ve told you practically the whole story, but I just couldn’t help myself. But I promise you – it won’t ruin the movie for you.

(The movie will do that by itself.)

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 353 other followers