Shadowy and Satiny: What to Watch on TCM in June 2023

•June 1, 2023 • 10 Comments

There’s good stuff on TCM in June, y’all. Read on . . .

Satiny Pick: The House on 56th Street (1933)

The TCM pre-Code offerings for the month of June contain several films that I considered for my Satiny pick, including Central Park (1932), Play-Girl (1932), and Christopher Strong (1933). But then I saw The House on 56th Street on the list and I knew that my decision was made. This feature not only stars two of my favorite pre-Code performers, Kay Francis and Ricardo Cortez, but it also serves up a cracking good story with a perfect pre-Code ending.

Monte got game.

The film, which spans several decades, begins in New York in 1905; Francis is Peggy Martin, a chorus girl with two ardent admirers – the young, handsome, and wealthy Monte Van Tyle (Gene Raymond), and the not-so-young, still handsome (but not as sexy as Monte), and wealthy Lyndon Fiske. Peggy’s lineage, incidentally, isn’t nearly as lofty as that of her suitors; her grandfather was a card sharp who died from “lead poisoning” (get it?) and her father was a riverboat gambler who taught her everything she knows about cards. (“I still love cards,” she tells a friend, “but the chorus is safer.” Peggy’s gambling prowess will come into play later on in the story.) Lyndon showers Peggy with gifts, but Monte makes her heart skip a beat – AND he wants to marry her, something that Lyndon doesn’t. He’s not the marrying kind, he insists.

What happened to Monte? Who is this dude? And why does Peggy look so grim?

Peggy and Monte get married and he builds her a beautiful house on West 56th Street. Before long, Peggy gives birth to the couple’s first child and all is cupcakes and ladybugs – until Lyndon re-enters the picture. Because Lyndon is suffering from some sort of unnamed heart ailment, and Peggy is such a soft-hearted dumpling, she acquiesces to Lyndon’s request that she visit him during his convalescence. But during one such visit, which Peggy announces will be her last, things go terribly awry and nothing will ever be the same for Peggy, Lyndon, or Monte.

There are numerous Kay Francis movies that I consider to be favorites – Trouble in Paradise (1932), Mary Stevens, M.D. (1933), Confession (1937), and several others – but The House on 56th Street is near the top of that list. Tune into TCM on June 23rd and find out why.

Kay Francis was five years older than her screen daughter, Margaret Lindsay.

Other stuff:

The House on 56th Street was the second of four movies featuring Kay Francis and Ricardo Cortez. The others were Transgression (1931), Wonder Bar (1934), and Manadalay (1934).

This film is notable as one of those pre-Codes where a significant crime goes absolutely unpunished.

Margaret Lindsay co-stars in the film as Peggy’s daughter as an adult. Lindsay was only five years younger than Francis.

Gene Raymond’s mother was played by Nella Walker – you might recognize her from Sabrina (1954), where she played the mother of William Holden and Humphrey Bogart.

Shadowy Pick: ???

The Racket: Great cast, great scenes, great lines . . . not great enough.

I had a bit of a quandary selecting this month’s shadowy pick. Initially, I went with a 1951 RKO feature called The Racket. It’s got a great cast that includes Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, and Lizabeth Scott, and it has a lot to recommend it, but when I rewatched it to prepare for this post, I wasn’t exactly bowled over. It’s certainly worth seeing, but I just couldn’t work up a lot of enthusiasm about it. I then turned to my second choice, Between Midnight and Dawn (1950), which stars Edmond O’Brien and Mark Stevens as “prowl car” cop partners, one hard-boiled and cynical, the other amiable and compassionate. As with The Racket, though, it wasn’t quite as good as I’d remembered – the parts, if you will, were better than the whole, and I was kinda bored by a love triangle involving the cop pals and the unbearably wholesome Gale Storm.

There are lots of film noir gems to see in June, y’all!

This doesn’t mean that TCM isn’t airing some first-rate noirs in June, though – there are lots, including some that I absolutely love. Because I’ve covered them on this blog already, I couldn’t select any of these faves as my Shadowy pick for June, so this month, I’m doing something different – I’m recommending a total of seven films noirs that are sure-fire winners. Just click the links to check out what I have to say about them . . . and enjoy!

June 2: Out of the Past (1947)

June 3: Strangers on a Train (1951)

June 11: The Damned Don’t Cry (1950)

June 13: Sunset Boulevard (1950)

June 19: They Live By Night (1948)

June 19: Pitfall (1948)

June 29: The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

Alfred Hitchcock Presents Noir: The 2023 CMBA Spring Blogathon

•May 16, 2023 • 13 Comments

Alfred Hitchcock Presents, a half-hour anthology series created, produced and hosted by – you guessed it – Alfred Hitchcock, aired on CBS-TV from 1955 to 1960, and on NBC-TV from 1960 to 1962. Presented as a mashup of the mystery, horror, and thriller genres, the episodes varied from the undeniably humorous to the downright macabre.

One of my favorite – and most-often watched – episodes in the entire series is one with an unmistakable noirish bent: “Enough Rope for Two,” the seventh episode of the third season, with an original airdate of November 17, 1957. (Are there enough sevens in that sentence?) It’s not only the plot of the episode that’s tinged with noir, but its cast and crew have an impressive noir pedigree as well, with starring roles occupied by Jean Hagen and Steve Brodie, and direction by Paul Henreid.  

— Max and Madget don’t like each other.

The story – and if you don’t want to be spoiled, I recommend a swift detour at this point – concerns three main characters: Joe Kedzie (Steven Hill – who you might recognize as the original leader of the team on Mission: Impossible, or from his more recent TV work on Law and Order), Madge Griffin (Jean Hagen, not long after the end of her three-year stint on The Danny Thomas Show), and Max (Steve Brodie, in his second of four appearances on Hitchcock Presents). Shortly after the start of the episode, we learn that Joe has just been released from prison after serving a 10-year sentence for an armed robbery that netted $100 grand. We also learn several other intriguing tidbits: (1) At the time of the robbery, Joe and Madge were romantically involved but, unbeknownst to Joe, Max and Madge were, too! (2) Max snitched on Joe to the cops, which resulted in his capture and conviction. (3) Joe was supposed to have stashed the money in a bus station locker in Barstow, California, but he didn’t – and only Joe knows where the money is, and (4) Max and Madge had planned to skedaddle with the cash while Joe languished in the hoosegow – and they’ve been waiting 10 long years for him to reveal the whereabouts of the money.

— This ain’t no ordinary road trip.

It turns out that Joe hid the money in an abandoned mine shaft located in the Mojave Desert, 100 miles from civilization. When Joe meets up with Madge and Max upon his release, he instructs Max to purchase a pick-up truck and the threesome head out the following day to retrieve the bundle of cash. On the way, they stop at a store where Joe picks up a few incidentals: rope, a shovel – and a gun. Unfortunately for all concerned, this little excursion isn’t going to end well.

As I mentioned, this episode has noir written all over it – from the very first scene, we know that we’re dealing with people who aren’t exactly candidates for Citizen of the Year. Madge and Max are apparently a couple, but they don’t appear to like each other very much. Rather, it’s as if they’ve simply been marking time together, watching the dates on the calendar slide from one year to the next, until they can get their mitts on the stolen cash. Max is anxious and hyper, prone to spitting his words out like they leave a bad taste, while Madge is bitter, bemoaning the line Max fed her a decade earlier that made her switch partners: “’What would you rather have, Madge,’” she recalls in a mocking tone. “’Fifty thousand and Joe, or the whole hundred and me?’ You were a real nice boy, Maxie. A dreamboat.”

— Joe is not here for play-play.

And when Joe shows up, freshly sprung from the pen, he’s grim and subdued — we’re not quite sure what to make of him. Is he glad to see Madge? What does he think when Max arrives? Does he know that Max has put the moves on his girl? Does he suspect the part they played in his capture? We don’t have to wait long to find out. He gives us a hint of his state of mind when he informs Max that the money won’t be split three ways; instead, Max will receive a quarter and the rest will belong to Joe and Madge. “A little extra for Madge and me because she’s been waiting, too, haven’t you, honey?” Joe asks cryptically. “Take it or leave it. I’ll let it rot before you get any more of it. Let it rot the way I rotted.”

The base natures of these three characters become even more transparent when they make their trek into the desert to retrieve the money. I won’t spoil the ending – it’s too good not to let you see it for yourself – but it’s clear as glass that each member of this trio has their very own, very specific, agenda. Behind their collective facades of civility lie years of mistrust, avarice, duplicity, self-absorption, and resentment, all waiting to bubble to the surface and make themselves known. And they do.

— You may know Jean Hagen better as Lina Lamont.

Three noir veterans helped to bring this episode to life. Although she may be best known for her comic turn as Lina Lamont in Singin’ in the Rain (1952), Jean Hagen can be seen in numerous features from the classic noir era, including Side Street (1949), The Big Knife (1955), and the film featuring my favorite Hagen performance, The Asphalt Jungle (1950). As for Brodie, he played a small but pivotal role in one of noir’s most famous films, Out of the Past (1947), and he was also memorable in such films noirs as Desperate (1947), Crossfire (1947), Armored Car Robbery (1950), and Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950). And the film’s director, Paul Henreid – most notable as the guy who wound up with Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca – straddled the noir fence both in front of the camera and behind. He appeared in noirs including Deception (1946) and Stolen Face (1952), and served as producer, star, and uncredited director of Hollow Triumph (1948), also known as The Scar. It’s no wonder that this episode was filled with cynical characters wallowing in a world cloaked in figurative darkness.

It couldn’t help it.


This post is part of the 2023 CMBA Spring Blogathon, Big Stars on the Small Screen: In Support of National Classic Movie Day. Please click here to read the other entries in this annual event – you’ll be glad you did!

It’s a Wonderful Life: The 2023 TCM Film Festival – Part I

•May 1, 2023 • 15 Comments

It was the best of times, it was the best of times.

The 2023 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival was a stone gas. (And in case you weren’t around in the 1970s, that’s a good thing!)

Not too long ago, I returned home after attending my ninth in-person TCM Film Festival, held in Hollywood each spring, and I must say, I’m still in recovery mode. Nothing will ever be as endlessly magical and delightfully surreal as my first fest in 2013, but every subsequent year has come awfully close. And this year was no different.

Veronica at the L.A. County Art Museum.

Attending for the third time with my older daughter, Veronica (my younger daughter, Jessica, is a teacher and hasn’t yet been able to go, but we’re holding out hope that she’ll be able to one day), I saw a total of 10 ½ movies during the fest – but in a rare move, I varied a bit from my original plan. Generally, once I decide on my schedule, I stick to it – I’m not exactly the poster child for change and spontaneity, y’all. But I must say that making those last-minute switch-ups this year was kinda fun!

Veronica and I always arrive in L.A. a few days before the fest begins so we can take in a bit of the city – this year, we visited the L.A. County Art Museum and the Academy Museum. We’d also checked out the Academy Museum in 2022, but frankly, I was more impressed by the tasty cocktails I had at the museum’s restaurant last year than I was with the museum itself. But what a difference a year makes! During our visit, we saw exhibits and displays on The Godfather, Casablanca, Boyz in the Hood, Rebecca, classic film costumes, and the Oscars. The Casablanca exhibit, for example, included the piano played in the film by Dooley Wilson and the doors that lead to Rick’s Cafe, and the Godfather display featured a recreation of Don Corleone’s office, props from the movie (including the horse’s head!), and well-known outfits worn by several cast members. The entire museum experience was simply outstanding, and I look forward to returning next year!

Dooley Wilson sat here.
Don Corleone’s office! (Can’t you just hear the Godfather theme music playing?)
Elizabeth Taylor’s gown from A Place in the Sun (1951).

My favorite part of our awesome visit to the Academy Museum was an extensive exhibit called Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898-1971 that was absolutely phenomenal; it featured a wide variety of posters, photographs, costumes, and documents all focused on blacks in movies from shortly before the turn of the century to the early 1970s. I didn’t want to leave!

This photo was taken in Anniston, Alabama, in 1936, by Peter Sekaer. It shows the stairway of a local movie theater leading to the balcony, where black moviegoers were required to sit in order to watch movies.
Known as The Black Garbo, Nina Mae McKinney starred in this 1938 film directed by Leo Popkin.
Program from the 1935 Cotton Club Parade, featuring performances by Nina Mae McKinney, Lena Horne, Juano Hernandez, and the Nicholas Brothers.
Shoes worn by the Nicholas Brothers.
— Original renderings of two of the costumes from Carmen Jones (1954).
Godfrey Cambridge, Raymond St. Jacques, and director Ossie Davis on the set of Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970).

The day after our museum adventures, we attended the pre-fest celebration sponsored by the Going to TCM Film Festival Facebook group, held at the Hollywood Heritage Museum. This annual event is a wonderful opportunity to catch up with old friends, make new ones, and put faces to the many fellow classic film fans that I interact with throughout the year on Facebook and Twitter. I missed out on getting tickets to a presentation at the museum by fashion historian Kimberly Truhler so, instead, Veronica and I attended a pre-fest TCM event at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel sponsored by Citibank – it featured TCM host Ben Mankiewicz interviewing Laura Dern and her mother, Diane Ladd. It was a great interview, and I especially loved listening to Diane Ladd’s stories, told in her beautiful southern accent. Dern and Ladd have written a book, Honey, Baby, Mine; the genesis of the book came from a life-threatening illness Ladd suffered as a result of pesticides being sprayed at farms near her home. Ladd’s physician prescribed long walks in an effort to rebuild her lung capacity; during these challenging workouts, Laura Dern distracted her mother by encouraging Ladd to share her life stories. Over time, both women began questioning each other on a variety of topics long kept secret, from love and sex to ambition. These in-depth conversations are shared in Honey, Baby, Mine.

Ben Mankiewicz conducted an outstanding interview of Dern and Ladd.
Laura Dern
Diane Ladd

The attendees of the Citibank event received a free copy of the Dern-Ladd book; I’ve already started reading it and I’m enjoying it so much! Because we received two copies in our family, I’m giving one away to my readers – if you’re interested in being entered in the drawing for this copy, just fill out this form. The winner will be notified on June 1, 2023.

Veronica and me after the Dern-Ladd interview, with their new book. Click here to be entered into a giveaway for a copy of Honey, Baby, Mine!

The festival started the day after the Dern-Ladd interview, and the festival kickoff event for me was, as always, the trivia contest, So You Think You Know Movies, hosted by Bruce Goldstein, programmer for New York’s Film Forum. Sadly, my team was unable to pull off a two-peat after last year’s victory, but the contest was still lots of fun. I’m sharing a few of the questions from the event – try your hand and see how you do! To see the answers, scroll down, past the dancing Nicholas Brothers . . .

  1. Hattie McDaniel was the first African-American to win an Academy Award. Who was the first?
  2. What was the name of the movie or movies directed by John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea) in Sullivan’s Travels (1941)?
  3. What was Ricardo Montalban’s first film?
  4. What actor was the youngest Nicholas Brother named after?
  5. Who did Jack Lemmon once beat up in a movie?

My next TCMFF post (coming soon!) will cover the films I saw. Hope you’ll come back for this recap!

The Nicholas Brothers performed this fabulous routine in Stormy Weather (1943).

Trivia Contest Answers:

  1. James Baskett (He received an honorary Academy Award for his performance as Uncle Remus in Song of the South.)
  2. Ants in Your Pants of 1939, Hey Hey in the Hayloft, and So Long Sarong.
  3. He’s a Latin from Staten Island (It’s a short released in 1941.)
  4. Harold Lloyd (Harold Nicholas was named by his older brother, Fayard, who was a fan of Harold Lloyd.)
  5. Sylvester Stallone (in the 1975 feature The Prisoner of Second Avenue).

Shadowy and Satiny: What to Watch on TCM in May 2023

•April 28, 2023 • 5 Comments

There’s not likely, any time soon, to be a couple of back-to-back months of outstanding films like TCM aired in March and April of this year, but May is no slouch in the good-movie department. Check these out!

Satiny Pick: Evelyn Prentice (1934)

I’m starting my Satiny pick discussion with a full disclosure: my selection for May, Evelyn Prentice, isn’t pre-Code. It was released in November 1934 – four months after the official end of the pre-Code era. But it’s a William Powell-Myrna Loy feature that’s rarely shown, it has a plot that’ll keep you on your toes, and it’s got enough pre-Code-adjacent touches that I made an executive decision to overlook those pesky 120-or-so days. And there you have it.

Myrna Loy is Evelyn Prentice.

Powell and Loy are John and Evelyn Prentice; he’s a high-powered defense attorney and she’s his long-suffering wife, tired of giving swank dinner parties that her spouse is too busy to attend, disheartened by feeling like a single mother to the couple’s adorable moppet of a daughter, Dorothy (Cora Sue Collins). We learn of Evelyn’s feelings when she complains about her absentee husband to best friend Amy (Una Merkel who, for some reason, always seems to be in the Prentice house), and in case it’s not made clear that John’s work is his priority, the concept is endorsed by young Dorothy; there’s a scene early on where Evelyn tucks her daughter in and kisses her goodnight, then tells Dorothy to give her a kiss for her father. “Oh dear,” Dorothy says sleepily. “I’m always kissing you for Daddy. I wish he’d come home and get his own kisses.” Get it? Got it? Good.

Rosalind Russell’s character isn’t the paragon of virtue she appears to be.

As for John, we really don’t know what he’s up to. When we first meet him, he’s defending the very attractive Nancy Harrison (Rosalind Russell, sporting an affected New Englandish drawl), who’s on trial for striking and killing a man with her car. In a scene where Nancy pays a late-night visit to John’s office, she moves =in for a kiss just before the scene fades to black. In a later scene, after Nancy is acquitted, she shows up on John’s train to the East coast, telling him – once again before the camera darts away – “Please don’t be angry with me, John. Today, you saved me from prison. And I’m so grateful. But you can’t tell a man how grateful you are if that man is taking a train, can you?” she asks. “Unless you take the train too.” So, are they? Are they not? We’re really not sure.

Meanwhile, bored, dispirited and, frankly, more than a bit affronted, Evelyn starts stepping out with Lawrence Kennard (Harvey Stephens), a smooth, mustachioed gent who she meets one evening in a nightclub. She begins by having tea with him and before you know it, they’re having lunch and sending letters and telegrams to each other. Kennard is not on the up-and-up, though – within minutes of his entrance into the proceedings, we see that he’s a rather slimy character, and he proves this time and again as the plot unfurls. I won’t go any further into the details, but trust me when I say there’s a whole lot more to this story than meets the eye. Tune into TCM on May 3rd to see what I mean.

Isabel Jewell is a delight, playing the kind of friend every woman should have.

Other Stuff:

As always, Una Merkel is a sheer delight in this film. In her first scene, she arrives at a dinner party that Evelyn is giving, and she volunteers to make the cocktails. As she tosses together a concoction consisting of gin, French vermouth, cognac, absinthe and a dash of bitters, Evelyn is alarmed, stating that her guests are respectable people. Una rejoins, “Marriage has changed you a lot, Evelyn. You used to have plenty of zip and bounce, and now you’re so oh-so-good and bounceless. Does your husband beat ya?”

Rosalind Russell made her big screen debut in Evelyn Prentice.

The film’s cast includes Isabel Jewell, as the girlfriend of Lawrence Kennard. I’m always amused when Una Merkel and Isabel Jewell are in a movie together, as they remind me so much of each other. Merkel and Jewell were in a total of five movies together; besides Evelyn Prentice, they both appeared in Bombshell, Beauty for Sale, The Women in His Life, and Day of Reckoning, all released in 1933.

This film was the second of 13 pictures that William Powell and Myrna Loy made together. The first was The Thin Man, released earlier in 1934.

Evelyn Prentice was remade in 1939 as Stronger Than Desire, starring Virginia Bruce and Walter Pidgeon. Ann Dvorak played the Isabel Jewell role; the film was directed by her then-husband, Leslie Fenton.

Shadowy Pick: Key Largo (1948)

Key Largo really gets going once Eddie G. makes his appearance.

Key Largo isn’t one of those little-seen noirs – it’s quite possible that a good number of you are already familiar with this John Huston-directed feature. On the other hand, it’s also not one of those noirs that I tend to think of as a favorite, despite its high-octane cast. So why is it my Shadowy selection for May? There are several reasons, but the main one is Edward G. Robinson.

In a nutshell, Key Largo centers on a hotel (Hotel Largo, dontcha know) that’s taken over by a gang of hoods led by the charismatic and oh-so-scary Johnny Rocco (Robinson). Rocco’s prior misdeeds have resulted in his banishment from the United States (geez, I wonder what he did???), but he’s back in the country for a rendezvous with some of his old underworld associates involving a cache of counterfeit cash.

The film starts out a bit slow as it sets up the characters, who include the hotel’s feisty, wheelchair-bound owner, James Temple (Lionel Barrymore); Temple’s daughter-in-law, Nora (Lauren Bacall); Major Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart), the former commanding officer of Temple’s late son; and Johnny Rocco’s galpal from back in the day, Gaye Dawn (the always fabulous and, in this case, Oscar award-winning Claire Trevor). The set-up also informs us that there’s a hurricane on the horizon, which figures prominently in the film’s plot.

Some of the many characters in Key Largo.

But back to Robinson. After he’s referenced several times off-screen, we meet his Rocco via one of noir’s most memorable appearances: he’s in the bathtub, reading a newspaper, smoking a cigar, and sipping on a glass of whiskey, all the while being cooled by a fan sitting on a nearby wooden chair. When he rises to his feet, the expression on his face alone tells us that this guy is the real deal. And with that, the film kicks into high gear.

All of the performances in Key Largo are first-rate, but there’s something about Robinson’s that’s a standout. Yes, he’s playing yet another gangster in a career that was rife with characters of this vocation, but for my money, Johnny Rocco is the pinnacle. He’s fearless and mean-spirited. Confident and smart. Well-dressed, smooth as glass, and cooler than the other side of the pillow. He’s also witty, tossing off one-liners like a lawless Don Rickles – and hot-tempered, with a surprisingly thin skin. As long as he’s on the screen, I’m on the edge of my seat.

Harry Lewis was the founded of Hamburger Hamlet.

Catch Key Largo on TCM May 4th – even if you’ve seen it before, check it out again to see just how good Robinson is.

Other Stuff:

Key Largo was the last of four films that starred Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, and the last of five pictures featuring Bogart and Edward G. Robinson.

Watch for this goof: there’s a scene where Johnny Rocco is spouting off while one of his minions is giving him a shave. Before he’s finished, with shaving cream still on his face, Rocco tells him to stop and rises from his chair. But when he reaches the mirror on the other side of the room, there’s no sign of the shaving cream.

One of Johnny Rocco’s underlings was called “Toots” – he was the most dapper of the hoods (next to Johnny Rocco) and he had an unfortunate habit of laughing inappropriately, making him the brunt of Johnny Rocco’s wrath. Toots was played by an actor named Harry Lewis, who can be seen in minor roles in several other noirs, including The Unsuspected (1947) and Gun Crazy (1950). Along with his wife, Marilyn, he also was the founded of the Hamburger Hamlet restaurant chain.

It’s Right Around the Corner: The 2023 TCM Film Festival

•April 1, 2023 • 15 Comments

It’s hard to believe that in less than two weeks, I’ll be on my way to Los Angeles for the 2023 TCM Film Festival, with my fest-going partner, my older daughter Veronica, by my side. I remember when the dates for the fest were first announced last October – April seemed to be such a long time away, and now it’s here!

I’ve been going to the festival since 2013 – this year will mark my ninth in-person fest and my 11th overall (including the two virtual fests that TCM hosted in 2020 and 2021) – and every year, I’m almost as excited as I was the first time around, when I could scarcely comprehend that I was actually there. Before last year’s festival, I joined a number of my fellow fest-going bloggers and provided, pre-fest, a sneak peak at the films that I planned to see. I thought I’d continue that tradition this year. So, here goes!

— Our winning trivia team from last year!

As I’ve done every year of my attendance at the fest, I’ll be kicking it off with the trivia contest, So You Think You Know Movies, hosted by Bruce Goldstein, repertory programmer for New York’s Film Forum. I don’t know if I mentioned this here (actually I do know, LOL), but last year, for the first time, I was on the winning team! So exciting. After we won, I said I was never going to play again – but it’s so much fun, I just have to be there!

Movie-wise, I purchased an Essential pass this year, which allows entry to the opening night film and a stroll down the red carpet to (what I will always and forever know as) Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. I decided on this type of pass so that Veronica (this year attending her third in-person fest) could have the red carpet experience. The opening night film is the world premiere of a 4K restoration of Rio Bravo, starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, Rick Nelson, and Angie Dickinson – and Dickinson will be on hand for an interview with TCM host Ben Mankiewicz. I got the chance to see her at the fest a few years ago before the screening of Ocean’s Eleven, and it’ll be great to hear from her again. Also, directors Steven Spielberg and Paul Thomas Anderson will be there – they’re board members for the Film Foundation, which partnered with Warner Bros. to produce Rio Bravo’s restoration.

— My first film of the fest: Rio Bravo (1959).

The next block of films on Thursday consists of That Touch of Mink, Genevieve, and The Wild One. The only one that’s remotely appealing to me is The Wild One, and I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t be able to get to it in time – especially in heels! So I think I’ll call it a night after Rio Bravo; that way, I can be up bright and early Friday for my first movie of the day, which is …

The Old Maid (1939), starring Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins. The other films in this time block are King Kong, Harvey (which I still have never seen!), Bicycle Thieves, and The Wild Bunch. Like many of my choices, I selected The Old Maid because it’s a favorite of mine and I want my daughter to see it. Next up, I plan to see Larceny, Inc. (1942), starring Edward G. Robinson. This one is up against Groundhog Day, East of Eden, and Footlight Parade. I’ve seen Groundhog Day and East of Eden, and I already have two musicals on my schedule for Saturday – three in one fest is just too much! Besides, I’ve never seen Larceny, Inc., and any day that I can see Eddie G. on the big screen is a day that’s just all right with me.

— Another western? You bet.

For Friday’s third block, I’ll be at Blood on the Moon (1948), a western noir starring Robert Mitchum. I’ve seen it before (reviewed it here), but it’ll be introduced by my pal, historian and author Alan Rode, and I couldn’t miss that! The other movies in this block are Cool Hand Luke, Risky Business, The Strawberry Blonde, and Peyton Place. If I wasn’t at Blood on the Moon, I would absolutely be at Peyton Place – I really would like for Veronica to see it, and one of the film’s stars (and my birthday twin!), Russ Tamblyn, will be there to discuss it. This block is actually an especially painful one for me – there’s also a presentation in Club TCM that I would love to see; it’s called Banned in the South and it will consist of a discussion of race-based censorship in Hollywood movies of the 1940s and 1950s – and Shari Belafonte (Harry’s daughter) will be one of the guests. I’m hoping that a recording of this discussion will be posted on TCM’s YouTube channel, because this is really one that I hate to miss.

— Frankie Avalon! In person!

The next block of films consists of American Graffiti (with special guests Richard Dreyfus and Candy Clark), Penny Serenade (a movie so unutterably sad that I vowed never to see it again), Paris Blues (introduced by Spike Lee’s sister, actress Joie Lee – who I got the chance to see in 2019 before the screening of Do The Right Thing), The Killers, and The Three Musketeers. I won’t be seeing any of these, because a little later, Frankie Avalon will be the special guest before the screening of Beach Party (1963), and I can’t pass up the chance to see Frankie! (Swoon.) I’m not going to stay for the movie, though – after Frankie’s interview, I’m going to skip over to the American Legion Theater to catch 12 Angry Men (1957). I want Veronica to see this outstanding film and as a bonus, it’s being introduced by Ed Begley, Jr., whose father has a featured role.

There’s a midnight screening of The Batwoman (1968), which I really would like to see, but in all the years I’ve been going to the fest, I’ve never made it to a midnight movie, and the older I get, the less likely it seems. Still, one never knows . . .

Onward to Saturday, where the day’s first block consists of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (featuring an interview with Russ Tamblyn), Paths of Glory (which I’ve always wanted to see), Boys Town, The Muppets Take Manhattan, and The Wiser Sex (a pre-Code starring Claudette Colbert and Melvyn Douglas). This is another painful block for me. On any other day, I’d be in line for The Wiser Sex in a heartbeat, but I’ll be lining up for Seven Brides instead, as this will be my only opportunity to see Russ Tamblyn (did I mention that he’s my birthday twin?). And the reason that I can only see Russ at Seven Brides is because of the next block of films I’ll be considering: these consist of Bye Bye Birdie, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (featuring an interview with Danny Huston, the son of John and grandson of Walter), The Jackie Robinson Story (featuring Robinson’s granddaughter, Ayo), The Crimson Canary, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Crossing Delancey (where the film’s stars, Amy Irving and Peter Riegert will be interviewed). In addition, during this block, Russ Tamblyn will participate in a one-hour interview in Club TCM. Also in Club TCM, after Russ Tamblyn, is a presentation I’d love to attend – it’s called Assisting the Classics and it will feature former personal assistants to such celebs as Groucho Marx, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, George Cukor, and Esther Williams, sharing stories about their famous bosses. Sounds SO interesting and right up my alley!!! But I’m going to have to miss all of these because I will be at Bye Bye Birdie. Because ANN MARGRET WILL BE THERE. That is all.  

— Can’t miss Carmen.

Next up, I’ll be at Carmen Jones, which is another film I’d like my daughter to see. This was a tough decision, though; Sorry, Wrong Number is playing at the same time. I also want Veronica to see Sorry, Wrong Number – and it’s being introduced by Lawrence Hilton Jacobs (who I want ME to see!). Fortunately, I got the lovely chance to meet and take a picture with Jacobs at last year’s screening of Cooley High, so that made this decision a little less painful. Also, I just found out while in the midst of writing this post that Lou Gossett, Jr., will be at the Carmen Jones screening! Bonus!!! The other films in this block are The Exorcist (which I saw when I was in sixth grade and I wouldn’t see again if you PAID me), How to Steal a Million, Butterfield 8 (introduced by Mario Cantone, which will surely be a hoot!), and at the very end of the block, A Mighty Wind. I’d love to see A Mighty Wind, but it actually overlaps this block and the next, so if I went to that, I’d have to miss both Carmen Jones and the film in the next block. Still, Michael McKean (who quote tweeted me on Twitter the other day! Squee!) and Annette O’Toole will be there, and I would dearly love to see them in person. Another hard decision.

In the last block on Saturday, I plan to check out Unfinished Business, a comedy starring Irene Dunne that I’ve never seen. Other films during this time are In the Heat of the Night, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (the 1923 silent version), and Enter the Dragon. However, the movie being screened in this block at the Chinese Theater hasn’t yet been announced, and when it’s revealed, who knows? It may throw my entire schedule into a tailspin!

— Casablanca on the big screen at Grauman’s? Yes, please.

If you’re still with me (and bless you if you are), we’ve now reached the final day. I’m planning to skip the initial block in favor of a nice, sit-down breakfast – my first of the fest! The movies playing during this time are The Man Who Knew Too Much, Heaven Can Wait, Strike Up the Band, Jason and the Argonauts, and Mister Roberts. I’d like to see Kate Flannery (of The Office fame), who is introducing Strike Up the Band, but I got the chance to meet her at the fest several years ago, so instead, I’m opting for a little extra sleep, some waffles, and a mimosa. The next block consists of Casablanca, The In-Laws, No Man of Her Own, The Red Shoes, and Six Degrees of Separation. This block caused a bit of extra thought, primarily because last week, I tweeted about Alan Arkin’s birthday and received several responses from fellow Tweeters (Twitterers?) praising Arkin’s film The In-Laws, which I have not seen. However, I also noticed that The In-Laws is airing on TCM later this month, and I really want Veronica to see Casablanca for the first time on the big screen, so we’ll be looking at Bogie and Bergman, kid.

That’s all I’ve decided so far, y’all. There are two more blocks on this last day of the fest (I’m already feeling a little sad, just writing those words!), but they consist of a total of five films that are still to be announced. I’m hoping (against all possible hope) that The Wiser Sex will be one of them, but either way, I’m going to wait and see what pops up. I will say, though, that of all the films currently scheduled (including The Music Man, All About Eve, and Clash of the Titans), The Big Chill is the most appealing – the film’s director, Lawrence Kasdan, will be there, along with JoBeth Williams and Tom Berenger. (Now, if they add, say, Kevin Kline or Mary Kay Place or Jeff Goldblum, you can bet I’ll be there!)

And that’s a wrap! If you’re going to this year’s TCM film festival, what movies or events will you be seeing? If you won’t be there, here’s a link to the line-up – I’d love to know what your schedule would look like!

Shadowy and Satiny Picks: What to Watch on TCM in April 2023

•March 29, 2023 • 6 Comments

Usually, in this space, I offer up two recommendations, for the film noir feature and the pre-Code feature airing on TCM in the coming month that I think you should watch. But TCM has thrown quite a hefty monkey wrench into my plans this time around – in the month of April, the channel is airing all Warner Bros. movies to celebrate the studio’s 100th anniversary, and when I started going through the list of films, I discovered a veritable smorgasbord of first-rate offerings – so many pre-Code and film noir delights that I simply couldn’t, in good conscience, decide on just two. So this month, I’m turning you on to all of the pre-Codes and film noirs airing on TCM in April that are worth your time. And if I’ve written about any of them previously on this blog, you can find the links to those posts below. Tune in and enjoy!


April 1

Night Nurse (1931)

— No April Fool. It’s Night Nurse on April 1st.

Jewel Robbery (1932)

Blessed Event (1932)

Employees Entrance (1933)

April 2

Little Caesar (1930)

The Public Enemy (1931)

Baby Face (1933)                                                                                                                                  

One Way Passage (1932)

Two Seconds (1932)

Life Begins (1932)

April 3

Safe in Hell (1931)

— Whoopee! Catch Safe in Hell on April 3rd.

Heroes for Sale (1933)

April 4

The Truth About Youth (1930)

My Past (1931)

Love is a Racket (1932)

42nd Street (1933)

Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

Three on a Match (1932)

Mary Stevens, M.D. (1933)

April 5

So Big (1932)

April 7

— I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang. April 7th. This is some serious stuff.

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932)

The Mayor of Hell (1933)

April 8

Wild Boys of the Road (1933)

April 12

Union Depot (1932)

April 13

The Crowd Roars (1932)

April 20

20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932)


April 2

— Take a peek at The Letter on April 6th.

High Sierra (1941)

Key Largo (1948)

April 6

The Letter (1940)

April 12

Nora Prentiss (1947)

White Heat (1949)

April 14

Flamingo Road (1949)

April 16

Dark Passage (1947)

Crime Wave (1954)

— Bogie and Bacall. The Big Sleep, April 17th.

April 17

The Big Sleep (1946)

Strangers on a Train (1951)

April 18

Mildred Pierce (1945)

April 19

Nobody Lives Forever (1946)

The Mask of Dimitrios (1944)

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

April 25

Caged (1950)

April 26

The Breaking Point (1950)

Have a great April!

Give Noir a Chance: The Naked City (1948)

•March 20, 2023 • 22 Comments

I’ve had an idea for a new blog series for quite some time now, and I thought that today was a perfect day for my first entry. Over the decades, I’ve seen innumerable noirs – some that I frankly don’t even remember, many that I’ve loved, and a few that left me cold despite their acclaim from critics and fans. The latter group is the focus of my new series – Give Noir a Chance. In it, I’ll be revisiting those noirs that didn’t exactly capture my fancy the first time around, to see if age plus time equals appreciation.

My first entry in the series is The Naked City (1948), which was an easy pick, as it was a recently selection for the Classic Movie Meetup Group I belong to. I hadn’t seen it since my initial viewing in the late 1990s, when I was working on my book Femme Noir: The Bad Girls of Film (one of the chapters focuses on Naked City star Dorothy Hart). In a very simple nutshell, the film focuses on police efforts to solve the murder of a local model who was found dead in her bathtub. Narrated by the film’s producer Mark Hellinger (who died of a heart attack at the age of 44, before the movie’s release), The Naked City falls into the category of “police procedural,” showing us how the authorities investigate and solve a crime.

The cast of characters includes Lt. Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald), a veteran police officer who heads up the criminal investigation; Muldoon’s rookie assistant Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor); Frank Niles (Howard Duff), a friend of the deceased girl, Jean Dexter; Niles’s fiancée, Ruth Morrison (Dorothy Hart); and Willie Garzah (Ted de Corsia), a local wrestler who gradually becomes the focal point of the investigation.

— We meet Frank and Ruth.

I appreciate the way the film introduces these characters. Muldoon is fixing his breakfast in his miniscule kitchen and singing an Irish ditty. Halloran is awakened by his infant child and covers his head with his pillow to muffle the sound. Frank and Ruth are enjoying a night on the town, and Garzah – though we don’t yet know who he is – is committing murder. It’s a neat and economical way of telling us a little something about each of them. The most interesting character to me is Frank, who seems to be physically incapable of telling the truth. And most of his falsehoods are easily debunked – like telling Muldoon that he served in the South Pacific during World War II (a captain, yet!), when he wasn’t in the war at all. Or that he barely knows Ruth Morrison when it turns out that he’s engaged to her. Or that he has a business as a merchandising consultant when actually he has no job at all. It’s rather fascinating watching him blithely offer up these fake factoids, only to be cold busted with the truth scant minutes later. It’s like a kind of game: how many lies can this one guy tell? (And the lie about the war wasn’t even necessary – nobody asked him about his service record: he volunteered the information!) This habit of shying away from the truth prompts Muldoon to share that in his 38-year career, Niles is “probably the biggest and most willing liar I ever met.”

— Jean Dexter’s parents lend a poignant note to the proceedings.

Also of interest to me were the parents of Jean Dexter – the silent and stoic father (Grover Burgess, in his last role), the mother (Adelaide Klein), rather crass, outspoken, and cold; her first words inform Muldoon and Halloran that she “knew [her daughter] would turn out no good. All these young girls – so crazy to be with the bright lights. No bright lights for her now, is there?” Her mother goes on to talk about the scandal of Jean’s murder, and its effect on her husband, who works as a gardener (“He’ll get fired now. I hate her . . . I do. A million times I warned her.” She continues spewing her venom until she’s asked to identify her daughter’s body – and it’s only then that she breaks down in heart wrenching sobs.

— Ruth Morrison and her flighty mom.

The film is also peppered with several colorful characters who make only brief appearances. There’s the elderly lady (Jean Adair) who visits the precinct to insist that she can help solve the case, which will involve such actions as burying the front tooth of a hound dog 50 feet from the murder victim’s grave. And the neighborhood grocery boy who dramatically confesses to the murder, telling the cops he wants to be punished, but winds up with a one-way trip to the psych ward at Bellevue Hospital instead. And Ruth Morrison’s mother (Enid Markey), a wealthy matron whose stolen jewels turned up in the possession of Jean Dexter and Frank Niles. A flighty, easily distracted type, in one moment she’s sharing her disappointment that the police only found one ring, in the next, she’s distracted by the ring’s beauty (“I love to glitter! It’s a fixation.”), and a second later, she’s drawn to Halloran’s good looks. Incidentally, the movie features small roles by Kathleen Freeman (as a subway passenger, she has one line), James Gregory (who plays a beat cop), and Arthur O’Connell, as a detective who’s recognizable only by his distinctive voice. (Several other well-known actors, including Nehemiah Persoff, John Randolph, Percy Helton, and John Marley, are reportedly in the film as well, but for the life of me, I couldn’t spot ’em. If you can give me a clue, please do!)

— Hart’s best scene.

Speaking of characters, the film’s female lead, played by Dorothy Hart, serves mostly as window dressing. She does have one great scene, though, where she realizes her beloved fiancée is nothing more than a cheap chiseler and a two-timer, to boot. She insists that she loves him and that she would marry him that very night, but when she can no longer fool herself, she wallops him with a series of slaps that would make Joan Crawford proud.

— Hellinger tells us about this nail-biting stenographer.

We’re guided through the police investigation by producer Mark Hellinger. He doesn’t just narrate the film; he’s a kind of one-man Greek chorus-slash-omnipresent observer. But his voice doesn’t have that solemn, serious tone that I’ve come to expect in my omnipresent noir narrators. Instead, it seems that it would have been more suited to the Joe McDoakes shorts of the 1940s (“So You Want to Give Up Smoking,” and the like) – a kind of goofy, wry, comedic commentary. In his voiceover during the evening rush hour, for instance, Hellinger comments about the passengers on the subway. There’s a man sleeping with his lunch pail in his lap. “Must’ve had a hard day, brother,” Hellinger says. And a young lady gnawing on her thumbnail as she reads the newspaper article about Jean Dexter’s death. “Don’t bite your nails, honey,” he instructs. “Very few stenographers are murdered.” In another scene, we see one of the detectives on the case enter a beauty parlor. “A detective finds himself in odd places, doesn’t he? How about a mud bath?” Hellinger asks. “No? Well, how about a permanent? Or how about those eyebrows? Ever have them plucked?” Then there’s the scene where Hellinger wraps up the day’s investigation. “It’s been a great day on the Dexter case. Developments? None. New clues? None. Progress? None! Ever tried to catch a murderer? It has its depressing moments.” The whole thing is just odd and a bit off-putting. It serves to minimize the dark tone that would otherwise permeate the film.

I do like the flavor provided by the on-location shooting – children playing in the water from the fire hydrant (when did they stop opening those for children in the summer?), throngs of commuters heading for the subway, crowded streets in the city’s commercial district. By the way, most of the city residents shown in the movie were reportedly filmed without their knowledge – they were captured via a hidden camera in the back of a moving van or inside a fake newsstand.

— The memorable climax.

The film’s climax is one of the best parts of The Naked City, with the police tying together all of the pieces of the complex puzzle and closing in on their man — and winding up with a spectacular sequence atop the Williamsburg Bridge. It’s tense, gripping and, truth be told, the one thing I remembered most about this film from my first viewing so many years ago. It still holds up.

Upon further review, and after giving The Naked City another chance, I have to say that I’m still not overly fond of it. If I don’t try to shoehorn it into the category of film noir, it’s a bit more palatable, but as a noir, it just doesn’t do it for me. It’s missing that oppressive, undeniable feeling of doom, the sensation that everything is going to turn out wrong. Oh, it’s entertaining enough, and I can certainly appreciate certain qualities – the on-location shooting, characters like Niles and Dexter’s parents, the peek inside the intricacies of a police investigation. And when we’re allowed to see the film’s action unfurl under its own steam (instead of being guided by Hellinger’s narration), I definitely like it better.

But I don’t think I’ll be giving it another rewatch any time soon.

Shadowy and Satiny Picks: What to Watch on TCM in March 2023

•March 1, 2023 • 7 Comments

March is Oscar month – and my film noir and pre-Code recommendations this month both star Edward G. Robinson, who not only never won an Oscar, but was never even nominated! I hope you’ll take the time to celebrate this unforgettable performer by checking out two features that showcase his versatile talent. You only owe it to yourself.

Satiny Pick: Little Caesar (1931)

Name a pre-Code gangster movie. What’s the first title that pops in your head? For me, it’s Little Caesar – the granddaddy of ‘em all. A nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay, it’s airing on TCM on March 2nd, and it’s my Satiny selection for the month.

Robinson plays the title role, a small-time hood named Cesar Enrico “Rico” Bandello, a self-described nobody who wants to “be somebody, doing things in a big way.” To make his dreams a reality, he travels to Chicago with his pal, Joe Massara (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.), but while Rico joins a local gang, determined to become the town’s top mob boss, Joe is more interested in making a living as a dancer and pursuing a relationship with his dance partner, Olga (Glenda Farrell).

For my money, Rico is one of Robinson’s most fascinating and multifaceted characters. He’s not driven by a desire for money but, rather, a longing for power and prestige. He’s an avowed teetotaler who’s quick to reach for his gat. He’s audacious and completely fearless, but displays a pleased, almost “aw shucks” demeanor when he’s honored by his fellow mobsters. And despite his hard-hearted, callous exterior, he’s loyal to those who are loyal to him.

Tune into TCM March 2nd to see if Rico reaches the heights he’s aiming for, whether Joe is able to leave his life of crime behind, and if the relentless Sgt. Flaherty (Thomas E. Jackson) is successful in his efforts to bring Rico to justice. Mother of mercy – you don’t want to miss this one!

Other stuff:

— Rico and his loyal right-hand man, Otero (George Stone).

The film was based on the 1929 novel of the same name by W.R. Burnett, who would go on to co-write the screenplays for such classics as Scarface (1932) and High Sierra (1941), and pen the 1949 novel The Asphalt Jungle.

Rico’s right-hand man in the gang, Otero, was played by George Stone, who you may recognize from such films as The Front Page (1931), where he played Earl Williams; 42nd Street (1933); Pickup on South Street (1953); and Guys and Dolls (1955).

Keep your eyes peeled for this editing goof in the first few minutes of the film. Rico and Joe are in a diner; Rico has been reading a newspaper and puts the paper on the counter when his food arrives. But a few moments later, in a long shot, he’s reading the paper again. And in the next second, a medium shot shows Rico eating and the paper back on the counter again. Whoops.

The character of Rico was based on a Chicago gangster named Salvatore “Sam” Cardinella, and not Al Capone, as many speculated.

Shadowy Pick: The Stranger (1946)

When I think of my favorite noirs, or noirs that I see over and over again, I’ll admit that The Stranger (1946) doesn’t immediately come to mind.

— Tense and atmospheric, The Stranger is a must-see.

But when I do think of The Stranger, I always remember that it’s a cracking good film. It’s got an original story that was nominated for an Academy Award. A distinctive use of shadows and light, and an appropriately atmospheric score. Edward G. Robinson in the leading role. Orson Welles at the helm. It’s good stuff. And it’s my Shadowy pick for the month of March.

Set after the end of World War II, the story centers on Mr. Wilson (Robinson), a government official who is the head of the Allied War Crimes Commission and is determined to locate a war criminal by the name of Franz Kindler. The problem is that there are no photographs of Kindler, and no clues to his whereabouts. In an effort to find him. Wilson frees a criminal in his custody, Konrad Meinike (Konstantin Shayne), who worked as Kindler’s executive officer; as he’d hoped, Meinike leads him to Kindler, who is living in a small town called Harper, Connecticut, under the name of Professor Charles Rankin (Orson Welles). And on the day that Wilson trails Meinike to Harper, Rankin is marrying Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young), the daughter of a Supreme Court judge.

Can Mr. Wilson be certain that Rankin is the elusive Franz Kindler? Is there any concrete proof that the two men are one and the same? And can Mary be persuaded that her loving husband isn’t the man she thinks she is? Tune into TCM March 27th to find out.

Other stuff:

— Billy House serves as the film’s sole source of levity.

Phillip Merivale, who played Loretta Young’s father, died of a heart ailment in March 1946, before the release of the film. He was 59 years old. Merivale had been married since 1937 to actress Gladys Cooper.

For reasons that have escaped me, Mary calls her father by his first name, Adam – and he calls her “sister.”

Mary’s younger brother was played by Richard Long. This was his second film.

There was originally a scene in the film where Mary went for a walk in the woods with Charles Rankin instead of going to church. However, Loretta Young, a devout Catholic, objected to being shown skipping church, so Orson Welles changed the meeting between Charles and Mary to a different day of the week, and showed Mary out walking her dog. Ultimately, the scene wasn’t used.

The owner of the small-town drugstore, Solomon Potter, was played by Billy House, who started his career during the pre-Code era. In his last big-screen appearance, he played the fat man on the beach who gets his picture taken by John Gavin in Imitation of Life (1959).

Shadowy and Satiny Picks: What to Watch on TCM in February 2023

•February 2, 2023 • 3 Comments

February is a short month, but there’s no shortage of first-rate pre-Codes and noirs on TCM for you to discover, including the two I’ve selected as my recommendations . . .

Satiny Pick: Bed of Roses (1933)

This film stars one of my favorite pre-Code stars: Constance Bennett. She’s not usually acclaimed for her acting chops, but she’s endlessly fascinating to me, whether she’s cracking wise or gliding about in an elegant gown. And this month’s Satiny selection offers a bit of both.

Bed of Roses opens with a shot of Bennett’s character, Lorry Evans, sitting on a bed while she looks at old pictures of herself taken with various men. She then tears up the pictures and carelessly tosses them on her pillow. It’s then that we see she’s been sitting on a bunk in a prison cell – and she’s just been sprung.

The worldly wise Lorry is released along with her pal Minnie Brown (Pert Kelton). We don’t yet know what they were in for, but we get a good idea when they exit the prison gates. While Lorry talks with a minister who’s there to meet her (and has arranged a job for her as a nanny, which she promptly rejects), Minnie sidles up to a nearby truck driver and asks him for a ride to the docks. The man looks her up and down: “Well,” he says, “make me an offer.” By the time Lorry joins them, the deal is struck; Minnie asks Lorry to drive the truck – while she and the driver “check up on his groceries” in the back. Get it?

— Bed of Roses was the fourth screen teaming of these two.

Turns out that both Lorry and Minnie are prostitutes whose modus operandi is to get their prey drunk and then rob them. The women board a steamboat to New Orleans, where Lorry doesn’t waste any time fleecing a fellow passenger. When the captain of the boat accuses her of the theft, Lorry jumps overboard and is rescued a short time later by Dan (Joel McCrea), the skipper of a cotton barge. He gives her some food, dry clothes, and a place to sleep, and she repays him by bolting from the barge as soon as it reaches New Orleans – and taking Dan’s cash with her. “So help me,” Dan says when he discovers his empty money bag, “if I ever get my hands on that dame . . .”

The rest of the film finds Lorry continuing her scandalous ways, becoming the sugar daughter (is that a thing?) to a wealthy publisher and, of course, crossing paths with Dan again. It’s a satisfying bit of pre-Codian fluff – 67 economical minutes of rags to riches to something in between.

Other stuff:

The film’s screenwriter was Wanda Tuckock, who penned the screenplays for several other pre-Codes, including No Other Woman (1933) starring Irene Dunne and Finishing School (1934) with Frances Dee and Ginger Rogers.

— Pert Kelton, on the far left, was the original Alice.

Pert Kelton, as Bennett’s prison buddy, very nearly walks off with the film. She’s sassy and funny, pragmatic and shrewd. My only complaint is that we don’t see enough of her. Kelton, who started out in vaudeville, was the original Alice in “The Honeymooners,” which first aired as a playlet on The Jackie Gleason Show. In 1950, Kelton and her actor-director husband Ralph Bell were listed in Red Channels, a publication that listed actors, writers, musicians, and others, accusing them of Communism. After seven episodes, Kelton was removed from The Honeymooners and replaced by Audrey Meadows. Kelton and Bell later became the first to file a libel suit against the publishers of Red Channels. They sought $300,000 in damages, but they later dropped the suit.

Bed of Roses marked Constance Bennett’s fourth and final screen teaming with Joel McCrea. The other films were Born to Love (1931), The Common Law (1931), and Rockabye (1932).

The film was directed by Gregory LaCava, who would go on to helm My Man Godfrey (1936) and Stage Door (1937), earning Best Director Oscar nominations for both.

Shadowy Pick: Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948)

Its rather unsavory title notwithstanding. Kiss the Blood Off My Hands is a cracking good noir starring Burt Lancaster and Joan Fontaine and set in post-war London. It was the first film produced by the independent production company owned by Lancaster and his agent, Harold Hecht (named Hecht-Norma, after Lancaster’s then-wife), based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Gerald Butler. The production company, which would be joined in 1957 by producer James Hill, would later produce a number of classics, including Best Picture Oscar-winner Marty (1955), Sweet Smell of Success (1957), and Separate Tables (1958).

— It wasn’t exactly a “meet cute.”

The film centers on Lancaster’s Bill Saunders, a former prisoner of war who is clearly still suffering the after-effects of his experience. At the film’s start, a foreword speaks of the casualties of war and the impact on both cities and  men: “The cities can be rebuilt, but the wounds of men, whether of the mind or of the body, heal slowly.” And our first glimpse of Bill, in a London pub, tells us that he is far from recovered.

Before we even see Bill’s face, we can tell that all is not well. He’s leaning over the counter of the pub in a stance that suggests defeat, ignoring the announcement that the establishment is closing. When the proprietor grips Bill’s arm, Bill angrily shakes him off, then delivers a single punch that results in the other man’s death.

Fleeing from a mob of locals and the police, Bill manages to slip into the window of a flat inhabited by a nurse, Jane Wharton (Fontaine), where he stays until the morning. Interestingly, once she gets past her initial fright, Jane’s demeanor is composed, as if she’s the one in control of the situation – asking Bill why he’s afraid, telling him he talked in his sleep but remarking that he “didn’t say anything incriminating,” getting ready for work as if there weren’t a wanted criminal in the same room. And although she has the opportunity, on more than one occasion, to escape, she doesn’t take advantage.

— Harry Carter. Don’t let the smile fool ya.

Over time, bound by their mutual loneliness, Bill and Jane two grow closer, but their budding relationship is jeopardized when a third party enters the picture – conman Harry Carter (Robert Newton), who was in the pub the night of Bill’s crime, witnessed the incident, and is determined to reap the benefits. And therein lies the noir.

Other stuff:

There’s a scene in the film where Bill, imprisoned after a run-in with police, is whipped with a cat o’ nine tails. Lancaster was known for doing his own stunts and insisted that he really be beaten (a leather belt was used). He’d told the actor delivering the blows to “really lay it on,” and apparently he did – Lancaster was reportedly so blistered that he couldn’t wear a shirt the following day.

Kiss the Blood Off My Hands was directed by actor-turned-director Norman Foster, who I know best from his pre-Code appearances. Behind the camera, he directed several films in the Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto series, and such noirs as Journey into Fear (1943) and Woman on the Run (1950). Interestingly, he also helmed numerous episodes of TV’s Loretta Young Show and The New Loretta Young Show – Young was his co-star in two 1932 pre-Codes: Play Girl and Week-End Marriage.

— Norman Foster in one of his films with Loretta Young.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) reviewed the film’s rather lurid title; although the association determined that the title didn’t violate the Production Code, it recommended that it be changed. After Hecht polled owners, exhibitors and bookers, and used audience comments from film preview response cards, the film was released in the U.S. as Kiss the Blood Off My Hands – but as The Unafraid in Australia and New Zealand, and as Blood on My Hands in the U.K.

Tune into TCM February 6th for Bed of Roses, and February 12th to catch Kiss the Blood Off My Hands.

You only owe it to yourself.

It’s Not Horror, It’s Noir: El Vampiro Negro (1953)

•January 28, 2023 • 7 Comments

I didn’t know what to expect from El Vampiro Negro. Because it was a Flicker Alley release, and preserved by the UCLA Film and Television Archive, I figured it would surely be worth my time, but as a firm disliker of horror films (and vampires in particular), I’ll admit that the title threw me off a little.

As it turned out, I didn’t have a thing to worry about.

This Argentinian film opens with credits that (the cheery music notwithstanding) put me in the mind and mood of Double Indemnity (1944); you know, where the credits roll atop the figure of a man on crutches slowly making his way toward the camera? Well, in El Vampiro Negro, beneath the names of the film’s cast and crew, we see a man in a trench coat and hat, slowly trying to make his way up a vast, shadowy expanse of stairs, only to tumble backwards just as he reaches the top. Who is this man? Why is he climbing these stairs? What’s wrong with him? I’m not sure that we ever find the answers to these questions, but it’s certainly an attention-grabbing opener.

The second remake of the 1931 Fritz Lang classic, M (which starred Peter Lorre), El Vampiro Negro centers on a series of child abductions and murders in an undetermined city in Europe. The film begins with a psychological evaluation and trial of Teodoro Ulber (Nathan Pinzon), the language teacher accused of the crimes. The noirish tone of the film’s opening is sustained during the evaluation scene. Ulber – depicted in an extreme closeup of his face – is shown pictures from a Rorschach test and asked, “What do you see here?” Through a hazy film of continuously swirling smoke, Ulber’s answer to these queries is that he doesn’t know, but for each picture he’s shown, his mind conjures an image – a laughing woman, a little girl’s smiling face, Ulber himself in a elevator. It’s not until later in the film that we will see these images again, and understand exactly what they mean.

— Olga Zubarry and Roberto Escalada in a pensive moment from the film.

At the trial, we learn that the prosecutor is seeking the death penalty for Ulber, in contrast to the argument from Ulber’s attorney, who wants his client confined to a mental institution, insisting that he suffers from a sickness that can be “reached by the light of goodness.” From here, we enter a flashback that lasts almost the entirety of the film. We meet Amalia (Olga Zubarry), a nightclub singer who sees Ulber dispose of a child’s body in the city’s sewers. And Amalia’s friend Cora (Nelly Panizza), who meets Ulber in the club and develops an unusual relationship with him. And the prosecutor, Dr. Bernard (Roberto Escalada), who is devoted to his sweet-faced, invalid wife, but isn’t quite the soul of virtue that he appears to be.

As I stated at the outset, I wasn’t sure what kind of experience I’d have watching El Vampiro Negro, but within the first 10 minutes or so, I was riveted. The film offers flawed, fascinating, multifaceted characters; moments of nail-biting tension; misdirection and mistaken identity; coincidences and near misses; startling violence; and outstanding cinematography. And my enjoyment of the film was enhanced by the extras that were part of the two-disc Flicker Alley set (one disc is a DVD, and the other is a Blu-Ray), especially a superb feature produced by Steven C. Smith called The 3 Faces of ‘M,’ which provides insights on all three versions of this film and includes interviews with Alan K. Rode and Imogen Sara Smith, film critic Beth Accomando, and others. The extras also include an interesting interview with Daniel Vinoly, son of the film’s director, Roman Vinoly Baretto, and a souvenir booklet containing lots of great photographs and a first-rate essay by Imogen Sara Smith.

Other stuff:

I mentioned that El Vampiro Negro was the second remake of M – the first remake, also called M, was released in 1951 and starred David Wayne in the role of the child killer. This feature was a film noir that boasted a cast brimming with noir vets and familiar faces, including Luther Adler, Howard Da Silva, Raymond Burr, Karen Morley, Norman Lloyd, Steve Brodie, and Jim Backus.

For reasons that I’ve been unable to fathom, the film contains stock shots of Chicago – one shows the city’s Wrigley Building and Michigan Avenue Bridge (and two buses with the name of the city on them!). There’s another stock shot that I’m fairly certain is also Chicago, showing the El and some nearby buildings housing businesses and apartments. Why are these in the movie? I need answers.

The child abducted by Ulber at the end of the film was played by the director’s daughter; she acted under the name “Gogo.”

I highly recommend that you check out this release. Treat yourself!


Thanks to Flicker Alley for providing me with this screener for review!