The Pre-Code Blogathon: Day 2

•April 1, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Day 2 of The Pre-Code Blogathon – brought to you by Danny of Pre-Code.com and yours truly – is shaping up to be a most awesome day filled with decadent dames and flashy fellas. In other words, a veritable banquet of naughty! Be sure to visit Danny’s blog for the great posts served up on Day 1!

Today’s lineup of sultry sinners consists of the following – don’t miss a single one!

Phillips Holmes at The Chiseler

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Five Star Final (1931) at The Hitless Wonder Movie Blog

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Scarface (1932) at Classic Movie Hub

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Lot in Sodom (1933) at Author Melanie Surani

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The Divorcee (1930) at Girls Do Film

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Blonde Venus (1932) at The Movie Rat

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Jean Harlow at The Great Katharine Hepburn

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Love Me Tonight (1932) at The Man on the Flying Trapeze

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Little Caesar (1931) at Shameless Pile of Stuff

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The Unholy Three (1930) at ilgiornodeglizombi

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The Marx Brothers at The Joy and Agony of Movies

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That’s it for Day 2 of the Pre-Code Blogathon! Please join us in diving into these delicious posts and indulging in all the yummy pre-Code goodness that these fabulous bloggers have to offer!

And don’t forget to visit Danny’s blog, Pre-Code.com, tomorrow for Day 3!

The party continues!

Dark Crimes: Guest in the House (1944)

•March 21, 2015 • 3 Comments
This is the poster from Spain's release of the film. I kind of love it.

This is the poster from Spain’s release of the film. I kind of love it.

“This is our house now – yours and mine. Think what that means, Douglas. Every morning I can come downstairs and fix the flowers. And Hilda and John will be here, too – and they’ll say ‘Yes, Mrs. Proctor’ to me, as they did to her. And there won’t be any low, vulgar women in the house, with their dirty desires.”

Guest in the House had a lot to recommend it.

Anne Baxter – the Eve which All About Eve was all about – was the star, and the cast included such reliable performers as Aline MacMahon, Ralph Bellamy, Ruth Warrick, Jerome Cowan, and Margaret Hamilton. The screenplay was by Ketti Frings, who also penned such winners as The File on Thelma Jordon and Come Back, Little Sheba. The film’s cinematographer, Lee Garmes, was responsible for the look of numerous classics during a career that spanned seven decades and included City Streets, An American Tragedy, Scarface, Duel in the Sun, Nightmare Alley, and The Desperate Hours. And while director John Brahm didn’t have a boatload of screen credits, he did helm one of my favorite noirs, The Locket, starring Laraine Day.

Quite a pedigree, huh?

This scene was shortly after Evelyn's arrival at the house -- before things went kerplooey.

This scene was shortly after Evelyn’s arrival at the house — before things went kerplooey.

But the film didn’t quite live up to its promise. At least, not in the way I’d expected. But in another way, it far exceeded every expectation. Let me explain. (And, incidentally, watch your step – this entire post is one gigantic spoiler.)

But first, a brief overview of what the movie’s about. It centers on Evelyn Heath (Baxter), who is visiting the family of her doctor fiancé, Dan (Scott McKay), following a recent hospital stay, and proceeds to wreak complete havoc throughout the entire household. (I told you it was brief.)

As the picture begins, the family is excitedly awaiting the arrival of Evelyn and Dan. There’s Dan’s sister-in-law, Ann (Ruth Warrick), her artist husband and Dan’s big brother Douglas (Ralph Bellamy), their precocious, blonde moppet of a daughter, Lee (Connie Laird), and Aunt Martha (Aline MacMahon).  And when Evelyn finally makes her appearance (at the side door instead of the front, where the family was all congregated), we know – even if the family doesn’t – that something ain’t quite right with this dame. She gingerly enters the room, as if she’s stepping onto a cloud, and holds up one hand, saying breathily, “Please. Don’t move, any of you. Don’t say anything. . . . I want to remember this moment always. This wonderful house, and Dan’s own people.” And then she proceeds to personally greet each family member – even the housekeeper (Margaret Hamilton), and Miriam (Marie McDonald), who lives in the house and works as a model for Douglas. She calls them each by name as if she’s known them always, and she quite mesmerizes the group, and us, too – until she gets to the little girl. Lee gazes at Evelyn in awe and remarks on her beauty, but when she reaches out to stroke her face, Evelyn’s previously dulcet tone turns hard: “No dear, don’t touch me!” she snaps, recoiling slightly.

Evelyn is always sneaking around...

Evelyn is always sneaking around…

Can you say “Red Flag”?!?

And those crimson banners just keep on coming, one after another. There’s Evelyn’s screaming fit when Lee tries to present her with a parakeet as a present – turns out she’s been afraid of birds since her childhood. (Why? I DON’T KNOW.) And her request to have her bedroom “fumigated” when she learns it was previously occupied by a friend of the family. And the vague, slightly ominous references to her alcoholic father. And her mysterious, never explained “illness” that causes her to sleep half the day and slink about in her nightgown and robe the rest. And her diary, which she reviews one night in bed, and which contains passages like: “Why is it I like to control people? And if I do, then I hate them.” And: “I wonder what it’s like to die. Or to kill someone.” And when she adds a line to the pages of her diary on her first night in the house – Foreshadowing Alert! – “Today I think I met the man I really want.”

It really doesn’t take but a few minutes in Evelyn’s company to realize that she’s as nutty as a Snickers bar. (Mm, Snickers.) Why Dan hasn’t seen it and given her the gate long ago is beyond me. But instead of telling her to hit the bricks, he puts up with her hysterical rants and willingly leaves the house like a BIG DUMMY when she suggests that he go away for a month or two. (“Will you write me every day?” he asks. What a sap.) And once he’s gone, Evelyn REALLY goes into overdrive.

And if she's not sneaking, she's PEEKING!

And if she’s not sneaking, she’s PEEKING!

Using Lee as her “cat’s paw,” (look it up if, unlike mine, your mom never used that term), Evelyn manages, in a very short amount of time, to turn the entire household against Douglas’s voluptuous model, Miriam. And before you can say “Bob’s your uncle,” Miriam has packed her duds and is riding off into the moonlight – leaving Douglas three sheets to the wind, Ann in tears, and Evelyn with a satisfied smirk on her pan.

As the weeks go by, the household begins to practically implode. Evelyn replaces Miriam as Douglas’s model. Lee starts imitating Evelyn by refusing to get dressed and complaining of constant illness (“I feel weak . . . I can hardly get my breath.”). Ann’s perfectly put-together appearance starts to resemble something dragged in by the cat. It takes a visit from a family friend, Ernest (Jerome Cowan), to get Ann to realize that their troubles began the day Evelyn set her tiny little foot in their house. During a raging thunderstorm (naturally), Ann confronts Evelyn, and boy, does the crazy poop hit the fan! No longer wide-eyed with faux innocence, but with real lunacy, Evelyn tells Ann that Douglas is in love with her, and when Ann insists that she’s leaving the house, Evelyn isn’t a bit fazed: “I bet I don’t!” she counters. And she wins that bet. When Douglas enters the house, Evelyn runs to him, crying and lying, and of course, he falls for her hysterical tale of woe –  like his brother, it looks like Douglas is a few tacos short of a fiesta platter, if you know what I mean. (“Aren’t you ashamed?” Douglas later says to Ann. “Blaming someone else for your own mistakes is a shabby trick . . . I can’t stand by and see you wreck the life and health of a girl who hasn’t done anything to you!”)  Utlimately, it’s Ann who winds up leaving the house, taking their daughter with her.

See what I mean?

See what I mean?

Evelyn sees this as her chance to move in for the kill, practically smothering Douglas with her overblown desires and plans and dreams for the future – and when she finishes spouting off all this claptrap and prepares to plant a big wet one on him, he FINALLY realizes that she’s cuckoo for coco puffs. It kinda reminded me of the scene in All About Eve when Eve puts the make on Margo Channing’s man, Bill. And like Bill, Douglas doesn’t waste any time getting the heck out of Dodge. He locates Ann at the local train station, offers up numerous heartfelt mea culpas, and returns home with his family, where he informs Evelyn that they will pay for her to enter a sanitarium that can give her the care she so obviously needs. (“We’ll even go into hock to keep you there,” he promises.) (Har.) He adds, though, that they will offer this sweet deal on only one condition – she has to write to Dan and, over time, gently break the news that she is ending their relationship.

But Evelyn has other plans.

The first thing she does is leave her diary on the desk in the living room. The second thing she does is place a call to Dan.

The women of the house congregate, shortly before the poop hits the fan.

The women of the house congregate, shortly before the poop hits the fan.

Next morning, Lee shows up with the sad news (and necessary plot development) that her bird is dead – her family offers their condolences and she and her father bury the bird in the front yard, leaving the empty cage in the living room. Remember that. It’ll be important very soon. Moments after the bird burial, Dan shows up and just when I think this movie can’t get any wackier, it does! Evelyn tells him they can be married – today! “I’m sure Douglas will want to congratulate us, won’t you?” Evelyn smarmily inquires. Just then, Douglas finds Evelyn’s diary on the desk and tries to use it to reveal to his brother that Evelyn’s as crazy as a sack full of ferrets. But Dan already knows about the diary – “She used to read it to me sometimes,” Dan says. (WHAT???)  And when Douglas reads the part Evelyn wrote about falling in love with him, and Dan appropriately withdraws from Evelyn’s embrace, Evelyn urges Douglas to read the last page – which, of course, claims that she only thought she loved Douglas, but that she really loves Dan! Even Douglas is blown away by this latest plot twist: “You can’t believe that, Dan?” he asks his brother, who responds, “Yes, I can.”

What a maroon.

The jig is up. You have officially overstayed your welcome.

The jig is up. You have officially overstayed your welcome.

So after all this reading of diaries and whatnot, we finally find ourselves at the finale of this epic tale. (And not a minute too soon.) In a nutshell, this is it: Evelyn tells Douglas to keep the diary so he’ll always remember her (burn!), Douglas and Ann go outside for a breath of non-crazy fresh air, Dan exits stage right to retrieve a few items, and Evelyn is left alone in the living room with Aunt Martha. Evelyn starts going on about how she might not love Dan tomorrow, but she loves him today, blah blah blah – when suddenly, she spies the empty bird cage and proceeds to go bat poop nutty!  She’s screaming, whirling around the room, looking for the bird (“Where IS it?!?!”), and Aunt Martha is needling her all the way, deviously nudging her toward Bonkersville, telling her that the bird is flying around in the house – and when Evelyn runs out the front door, Aunt Martha tells her, “There are hundreds of birds outside! Everywhere! Look!”

And that’s all it takes – Evelyn completely loses it, y’all. As Martha stands blocking the doorway (looking for all the world like Samson holding up the pillars), Evelyn clutches her head, screams, and runs down the walkway and off camera. Second later, we hear Evelyn scream again and Martha suddenly looks stricken and covers her face with her hands. Then we’re shown a shot of a craggy cliff and some crashing waves below – and then a close-up on the crashing waves. And then:

You say tomato...

You say tomato…

THE END.

That’s right. You read it. THE END. Talk about abrupt!

I’m not even sure what else to say about this movie. Except you HAVE to see it. It’s brimming with plot holes and over-the-top performances, but it’s never boring and it’s quite honestly a hoot and a half. Seriously. You can see for yourself by popping over to YouTube – do check it out, won’t you?

You only owe it to yourself.

P.S. Guest in the House was reissued as Satan in Skirts. Just thought I’d throw that out there.

The Pre-Code Blogathon: Post Dates

•March 1, 2015 • 17 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.

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
Mike’s Take on the Movies Tarzan and Tarzan the Ape Man 3/31/2015
In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood No Man of Her Own 3/31/2015
This Girl Friday Taxi and Picture Snatcher 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
Horrible Imaginings Podcast on Race Sensitivity in Film 3/31/2015
Auxiliary Memory Kay Francis 3/31/2015
Chiseler Phillips Holmes 4/1/2015
Journeys in Classic Film The Most Dangerous Game 4/1/2015
Hitless Wonder Five Star Final 4/1/2015
Classic Movie Hub Scarface 4/1/2015
Author Melanie Surani Lot in Sodom 4/1/2015
Girls Do Film The Divorcee 4/1/2015
The Movie Rat Blonde Venus 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
ilgiornodeglizombi The Unholy Three 4/1/2015
The Joy and Agony of Movies The Marx Brothers Pre-Code Movies 4/1/2015
Silver Screenings The Intruder 4/2/2015
The Wonderful World of Cinema Murder 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
Second Sight Cinema The Bitter Tea of General Yen, The Scarlet Empress, and Shanghai Express 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
Back to Golden Days Footlight Parade 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
Wide Screen World Joan Blondell 4/3/2015
Lets Misbehave Let’s Misbehave 4/3/2015
Stars Are Ageless Merrily We Go to Hell 4/3/2015
In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood Rasputin and the Empress 4/3/2015
Cary Grant Won’t Eat You Jewel Robbery 4/3/2015
Movie Fanfare Hollywood Party 4/3/2015
Movie Movie Blog Blog Horse Feathers 4/3/2015

 

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

•March 1, 2015 • 6 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:

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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 its 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!

 

 
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