TCM Has Gone Film Noir Nutty!

•March 13, 2019 • 10 Comments

Kirk Douglas will do anything for a headline in Ace in the Hole.

If you’ve got a hankering for a hefty dose of film noir, you can get your fix on Thursday, March 14th by tuning in to TCM. From the evening – when the noirish shadows first start rolling in – to the morning’s wee hours on Friday, you can settle in for five (count ‘em – FIVE) back-to-back, first-rate examples of the film noir era.

Here’s an overview of the dark goodies that await you:

Ace in the Hole (1951)

Also known as The Big Carnival, this film stars Kirk Douglas in one of his nastiest roles, a former big-city newspaper reporter who will do anything to catapult his career from its current obscurity back to the big time. He gets his chance when he stumbles across a local merchant trapped in a nearby cave, and works with the corrupt sheriff (who has his own nefarious agenda) to keep the man entombed while he pens articles that attract a nationwide audience. Also in this dark tale is the merchant’s indifferent wife, played to perfection by Jan Sterling.

There’s nothin’ sweet about these gents.

Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

In my favorite role, Tony Curtis plays a slimy, completely conscienceless press agent whose main purpose in life is to get the notice of powerful Broadway columnist J.J. Hunsecker (portrayed with scary intensity by Burt Lancaster). This feature is one of noir’s darkest, brimming with characters who are either repellent or pathetic. I love it.

Scandal Sheet (1952)

This underrated, seldom-discussed gem stars Broderick Crawford as a newspaper editor who accidentally kills his shrewish ex-wife during an argument, then assigns one of his reporters (John Derek) to investigate the crime. The wife is played by Rosemary DeCamp, who turns in a startling performance in this rare departure from her usual goody-goody roles. Watch for a great noir ending.

Those Polynesian Pearl Divers are no joke.

The Blue Gardenia (1953)

Anne Baxter stars in this picture as a telephone operator who’s dumped by her beloved beau, goes out to tie one on, and winds up killing the creep who makes the moves on her – but she can’t remember a thing. (Blame it on those SIX deliciously deadly Polynesian Pearl Diver cocktails!) The top-notch cast includes Raymond Burr, who turns in a memorable performance as the aforementioned creep; Ann Sothern, as Baxter’s buddy; and Richard Conte as a reporter (by the name of Casey Mayo – love it!) trying to find the mysterious killer.

While the City Sleeps (1956)

Part of the star-studded cast of While the City Sleeps.

This film serves up a veritable who’s who of noir vets – Dana Andrews, Ida Lupino, Vincent Price, Rhonda Fleming, Sally Forrest, James Craig, Howard Duff. It’s like the noir version of Dinner at Eight! The story has a dual plotline – on one hand, after the death of the head of a media conglomerate, the man’s capricious son creates a contest among the various employees to land the new position of executive director. On the other, to win, the employees vie to be first to track down a serial criminal labeled “The Lipstick Killer.” The killer, incidentally, is played by John Drew Barrymore (son of John Barrymore and Dolores Costello, grandfather of Drew).

Set your DVRs or just stay up all night – but don’t miss this great line-up of noir films on TCM March 14th!

You only owe it to yourself.

Announcing The Great Villain Blogathon 2019!

•March 6, 2019 • 4 Comments

Come join us!! You’ll be glad you did! (Mwah ha ha!!)

Speakeasy

It’s time once again for the Big Bad Blogathon event where you’re invited to feature your favourite movie villain(s).

Your hosts are Ruth of Silver Screenings, Karen of Shadows & Satin and Kristina of Speakeasy.

The rules are simple:

Just pick any evildoer, outlaw or monster, from any era, country or genre. From creeps to cads to criminals, sinners and psychos, all movie villains are welcome.

Next, check the list further down this page to make sure your topic hasn’t already been chosen (villains covered in previous years are fair game)…

then sign up with the handy form below,

post anytime during MAY 24- 26, 2019,

in your post please use one of the awesome banners featured on this page (thanks Ruth for those!)…

and help promote this event with #Villains2019.

Easy and fun, and we thank you in advance for joining in!

For any changes or questions…

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Pre-Code Crazy: The Life of Vergie Winters (1934)

•March 4, 2019 • 5 Comments

If you know me at all, you know I’m a ginormous Ann Harding fan. What you might not know is that I am most decidedly not a huge John Boles fan. Not even a minor John Boles fan. Not even . . . well, you get the idea.

Despite this, I didn’t hesitate for even a second in selecting my Pre-Code Crazy pick for this month: The Life of Vergie Winters (1934), which stars none other than Ann Harding and John Boles. It’s good stuff – Boles or no Boles.

The film opens with a funeral that reminds me of the final scene in Imitation of Life (1959), a slow-moving convoy through streets lined with onlookers, with the cadence set by an appropriately solemn marching band. Among the many mourners is a haggard-faced young woman who peers sadly at the procession as it passes by the window of her jail cell. But who is she? Why is she in jail? And why should we care?

We don’t have to wait long to find out.

Everything’s better with Ann Harding.

A flashback takes us 22 years in the past, to a small-town millinery owned by the woman in the jail cell – Vergie Winters (Harding). During a visit from a pair of busybody old maids, we learn that Vergie’s heart belongs to recently wed John Shadwell (Boles), who has just returned to town with his bride, Laura (Helen Vinson), following a six-month (six months!?!?) honeymoon. “You know, last year we all thought you were going to break up that engagement of John’s,” crows Miss Busybody #1 (Cecil Cunningham).

As it turns out, Vergie and John are very much in love, but outside forces converged to prevent them from uniting – Vergie’s father was paid $10,000 by Laura’s father to break up the couple, which he did by telling John that Vergie was pregnant by a local handyman, and that she’d soon be marrying the baby’s father. (Thanks, Dad.) Shortly afterward, John married Laura and left town. When Vergie and John compare notes and comprehend the machinations that successfully separated them, they embark on a secret affair.

The plot thickens and bubbles over!

In true Back Street tradition, John and Vergie remain together for the next two decades – through John’s successful campaigns for the U.S. Congress and Senate, and despite rumors, scheming political rivals, malicious townspeople – even childbirth and war.

But The Life of Vergie Winters isn’t your typical Back Street story – there’s a whole lot going on, including several minor subplots and well-drawn characters, and there’s never a dull moment. I’m not going to tell you anything more; just trust me and tune in to TCM on March 5th to see it.

You only owe it to yourself.

Other Stuff

Don’t blink, or you’ll miss Dorothy Sebastian’s appearance.

Eleven-year-old, angel-faced Bonita Granville appears in the film briefly as Vergie Winters’s daughter. She’s in only one scene with the film’s star, but the interaction between Granville and Harding brings me to tears every time I see it.

Small parts are also played by a couple of others who were near the start of their careers – Walter Brennan (you’ll recognize his voice even if his face doesn’t look familiar) and Lon Chaney, Jr., who’s billed as Creighton Chaney.

Another small role was played by Dorothy Sebastian, who was a popular silent screen actress and who I know best from her roles in Our Dancing Daughters (1928) and Our Blushing Brides (1930). In this film, she has just a handful of lines. It made me wonder if part of her role ended up on the proverbial cutting room floor.

Listen for some violin music in the scenes with Betty Furness and Frank Albertson and a song playing on the radio in a scene with Harding and Boles – it’s very similar to music heard in Mildred Pierce (1945). The movies had the same composer – Max Steiner.

Helen Vinson was so good at playing women you love to hate. (Or just hate.)

The screenplay was penned by Jane Murfin, who also wrote (or co-wrote) the scripts for such films as What Price Hollywood? (1932); Double Harness (1933), which also starred Harding; and Alice Adams (1935). At the time that Vergie Winters was released, Murfin was married to actor Donald Crisp, who had a small part in the film.

Helen Vinson played Boles’s wife and, as usual, she excelled at bringing the bitch. She has one of my favorite lines in the film: “Sharing you is one thing, but giving you up is another, and I won’t do it!”

Don’t miss The Life of Vergie Winters on March 5th and be sure to pop over to Speakeasy to find out what gem Kristina is recommending for the month!

The 2018 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival: Still More Adventures in Paradise — Part 5

•February 18, 2019 • 4 Comments

My hotel room is reserved, my plane tickets are purchased, and my traveling companion (my older daughter is going this year!) is secured . . . so you know what that means! Time for another installment in my ongoing series about the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival!

Now that we’re into 2019, the countdown to this year’s event is truly on – less than two months until the 10th annual TCM Film Festival and the 25-year anniversary of the launch of Turner Classic Movies. This year’s theme is Love at the Movies, which should offer opportunities for a vast array for excellent classic films to explore!

Meanwhile, today’s TCM film festival post takes a look at one of my favorite experiences from last year’s event – the screening of When You Read This Letter (1953), a French-Italian noir starring Phillipe Lemaire and Juliette Gréco. The story focuses on a nun, Thérèse (Gréco), who leaves the convent to care for her younger sister, Denise (Irène Galter), when the siblings’ parents are killed in an automobile accident. Lovingly protective of her innocent and naïve sister, Thérèse is alarmed when Denise becomes involved with a philandering local garage mechanic (Lemaire), and her misgivings turn out to be all too valid when Lemaire sexually assaults Denise. The remainder of the film centers on Thérèse’s efforts to force Lemaire to marry her sister, while at the same time fending off Lemaire’s declarations of love toward her (Thérèse), and the possibility that she may return his feelings. The film kept me on the edge of my seat throughout, and ended with a perfect noir twist that left me with my mouth agape.

Taylor Hackford turned me into a Jean-Pierre Melville fan.

The film was introduced by director Taylor Hackford, who has helmed such features as An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), Against All Odds (1984), Delores Claiborne (1995), and Ray (2004). A former president of the Director’s Guild of America, Hackford focused his introduction on the film’s director, Jean-Pierre Melville, telling the audience, “If you’ve ever seen a Melville film, you’ll understand why I’m a Melville fan.”

Melville, described by Hackord as “iconoclastic,” had to “fight his way into the film industry” – after working in the French resistance during World War II, he tried to get a job as an assistant director, but he developed a combative relationship with the industry.

“He wanted to make his own films in his own way,” Hackford said.

Considered to be one of the greatest directors of crime films and father of the “New Wave” in France, Melville directed such acclaimed features as Bob le Flambeur (1956), Le Doulos (1963), with Jean-Paul Belmondo, and Le Samourai (1967), starring Alain Delon. (Before attending this screening, I’d never heard of any of these films, but Hackford made want to dash out into the streets and do whatever I had to do to get my hands on each one.) According to Hackford, Melville was a huge fan of American films, and was especially admiring of the work of Raoul Walsh, director of The Roaring Twenties (1939) and High Sierra (1941). Melville “cut his teeth” on the gangster films of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Hackford said. “He was always interested in films that were morally ambiguous. And if you think about gangsters, they are morally ambiguous.”

Thérèse was determined to protect her younger sister — at all costs.

Hackford shared that, although When You Read This Letter was not high on Melville’s personal list of favorites, “it’s so morally ambiguous – so interesting!”

“We all know the femme fatale,” Hackford said. “Melville turned that on its ear. Phillip Lemaire is the femme fatale. Immoral. Ambiguous. He is clearly a manipulator, a womanizer. He knows he’s good looking and he knows he has an ability to deal with women. It’s a fascinating character.” Hackford was also interested in the way Melville took the character of Thérèse – a nun – and caused her integrity to be challenged.

“Melville may not have been in total control,” Hackford said, “but he was the right director.” By the time Hackford finished introducing the film, I was certain that I was in for a cinematic treat – and boy, was I right.

When You Read This Letter is available on DVD from several sellers, including Amazon and Loving the Classics. If you haven’t seen it, I strongly urge you to snag a copy.

You only owe it to yourself. Meanwhile, here’s a trailer for the film to tide you over:

And stay tuned for my next installment of my look at the 2018 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival!

Pre-Code Crazy: The Doorway to Hell (1930)

•February 3, 2019 • 20 Comments

I’m not very familiar with the screen work of Lew Ayres.

Oh, I know he played Dr. Kildare (but I never saw any of those films), and I know he was in The Dark Mirror and Johnny Belinda – but I can’t say that he made that big of an impression. (I also know that he died on my birthday in 1996, but that’s neither here nor there.)

But when I saw him in the 1930 Warner Bros. feature The Doorway to Hell, Lew Ayres made me sit up and take notice.

In The Doorway to Hell, Ayres turns in a memorable performance as ruthless, baby-faced gang leader Louie Ricarno – labeled as the “Napoleon of the Underworld” – who we first meet when he’s suspected of ordering the murder of one of his rivals. When he shows up, on his own volition, to the office of the chief of police, he’s immaculately dressed – even wearing gloves! – and politely inquires after the chief’s wife and children. He offers him a cigarette. You’d have thought the two were old golf buddies. But the chief quickly dispenses with the niceties.

“It’s too bad to see a swell kid like you in this racket,” he tells Louie. “Why don’t you get out of it while the breaks are in your favor? The best you’ll get is the worst of it. Why be a sap?”

Louie convenes the mob bosses.

But Louie’s no sap, and he’s totally unfazed by the chief’s questioning. His persona is further illustrated when he calls a meeting of all of the gang leaders of the city and lays out his vision for organizing the various factions, with himself as the head of the mob. And, after a couple of the men raise objections, he tells them with a sweet smile, “You fellas heard what I said at the opening of this meeting. And what I said then goes just as it lays. Any mug that don’t think so will be treated to the swellest funeral that ever stopped traffic.”

Louie’s right-hand man is Steve Mileaway, played by James Cagney, whose performance more than hints at the star that he will soon become.  The others close to Louie’s heart are his best gal Doris (Dorothy Mathews) and his beloved kid brother, Jackie (Leon Janney), who’s in military school. In fact, it’s Louie’s high regard for Doris and his brother that lead to his decision to step down from his post as head of the city’s organized crime mob, marry Doris, move to Florida, and “go legitimate.” What Louie doesn’t know, though, is that Doris and Mileaway are lovers and that, without him at the helm, his well-planned organization is crumbling like a house of cards. Despite pressures from both Doris and Mileaway to resume his place as head of the mob, Louie is content in his new, non-threatening, crime-free existence.

Dwight Frye, before Dracula and Frankenstein.

But fate has other plans in store for him.

I’m not going to say any more. To find out what happens to Louis, Jackie, Doris, and Mileaway, tune in to TCM on February 27th. I guarantee that you’ll be glad you did.

Other Stuff

The Doorway to Hell features Dwight Frye in a small role, in one of his earliest credited performances. You may not recognize the name, but Frye would gain prominence the following year as Renfield in Dracula (1931). He also appeared in both Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Sadly, Frye would die of a heart attack in 1943 at the age of 44.

The film was helmed by Archie Mayo, who is perhaps best known for directing Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart and Leslie Howard in The Petrified Forest (1936). He also directed numerous pre-Codes, including Under Eighteen (1931), Svengali (1931), The Mayor of Hell (1933), and the famed lost pre-Code feature starring Joan Blondell, Convention City (1933).

Roland Brown wrote the story on which the film was based. He also wrote What Price Hollywood, Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), Johnny Apollo (1940), and Kansas City Confidential (1952). The original story was called “A Handful of Clouds,” a reference to the smoke that comes out of the butt of a fired gun. Brown earned an Academy Award nomination for Doorway for Best Original Screenplay, but he lost to John Monk Saunders for The Dawn Patrol.

Don’t forget to tune into The Doorway to Hell on TCM February 27th – and see the stand-out performance turned in by Lew Ayres. And don’t forget to pop over to Speakeasy to see what pre-Code gem Kristina is recommending for this month!

Gossip . . . Pre-Code Style.

•January 21, 2019 • 8 Comments

Harding lost an earring in the accident, but managed to hang on to her sunglasses.

While recently browsing through some old Motion Picture magazines, I came across a regular feature called “Your Gossip Test,” written by Marion Martone, which invited readers to answer a series of questions about the movie stars’ lives. The answers to the questions presented a variety of juicy tidbits and interesting info about the actors and actresses that I’d never known about, which inspired me to write today’s post. Some were speculations that turned out to be untrue, while others were very much factual . . .

Actress Ann Harding, actor (and Gypsy Rose Lee’s second husband) Alexander Kirkland, and Ann’s secretary met with a horrifying accident while on vacation in Havana in May 1933. During a boating excursion, a few miles off the cast of Cuba, in the shark-infested waters of the Gulf of Mexico, a sudden storm caused their boat to overturn. The skipper of the ship tried to swim for help, but either drowned or was killed by sharks. Harding and her companions clung to the capsized boat for three and a half hours before they were rescued by a passing craft.

The November 1933 edition of “Your Gossip Test” reported on the “sensational” alienation of affection lawsuit against actress Claire Windsor by Oakland, California “society woman” Marion Young Read. During the trial, love letters were read between Windsor and Read’s husband, broker Alfred C. Read. In defending herself, Windsor said that she didn’t know that Read was married and that he later told her that he was about to be divorced. Windsor was known mostly for her silent film work, but you can see her in one of her pre-Codes on YouTube, The Constant Woman. For more on the divorce scandal, click here.

Bebe Daniels and Ben Lyon moved to London after a threat to kidnap their daughter, but I couldn’t find anything about a “maniac” who threatened Daniels in 1932.

The February 1932 issue reported that threats had been made on the life of Bebe Daniels by “a crazed man who escaped from an insane asylum and who was overpowered and jailed before any harm came to Bebe.” The magazine gave the name of the “maniac” as Guy Lawyer, and described him as a shell-shocked war veteran. As much as I tried, however, I couldn’t find any corroboration of this claim in any other source, although it is well-documented that Daniels and her actor-husband Ben Lyons moved to London in 1936 after a kidnap threat against their daughter, Barbara.

Although, according to Motion Picture, the previous reputation of Maurice Chevalier was “rumor-proof,” the magazine shared the rumor that the attractive star and his wife – “to whom he has been very devoted” – had quarreled! “Now it remains to be seen,” the item continued, “whether it is just one of those usual husband-and-wife tiffs that can be patched up or whether it means something more serious.” Apparently it was something more serious – Chevalier and his wife, Yvonne Vallee, divorced in January 1933, less than a year after the publication of this tidbit.

The rumor mill claimed that Talmadge and Roland were a couple both off-screen and on, but they didn’t walk down the aisle together.

Motion Picture told its readers about the rumor that Norma Talmadge might marry Gilbert Roland if she ever decided to divorce her husband, Joseph Schenck, from whom she’d been separated for more than three years. As it turned out, Talmadge did divorce Schenck, on April 4, 1934, but not to marry Roland. On April 23rd, a few weeks after her divorce, she married producer George Jessel.

In August 1931, Motion Picture reported that the divorce proceedings between actor/director Lowell Sherman and his actress wife Helene Costello had “started out with plenty of fireworks” – Sherman accused his wife (the sister of Dolores Costello, by the way) of calling him a ham actor and a fat old man. Sherman also told the court that Helene was an excessive drinker and “collected and read naughty books.”  Plenty of juicy bits about Sherman were expected from Helene, but – the magazine speculated – “orders from the movie powers-that-be put a stop to the revelations.” Lowell withdrew his suit and allowed Helene to sue and win the divorce. Sadly, just a few years later, in 1934, Sherman died of pneumonia at the age of 46.

Apparently, Charles Boyer and Frances Dee were once an item. In October 1932, Motion Picture said that Boyer wanted to marry Dee before his return to France, but “Miss Dee hesitated and said she would rather wait until he returns.” As we all know, this marriage was never to be. In October 1933, a year after this report in the magazine, Dee married actor Joel McCrea. The two were reportedly one of Hollywood’s happiest and most successful couples and remained together until McCrea’s death in 1990.

Stay tuned for more juicy gossip from the pre-Code era!!

Happy Noir Year!

•December 31, 2018 • 12 Comments

December 2018 was a crazy-busy month for me, but I couldn’t let 2018 go by without wishing you all a Happy New Year!

May 2019 bring you peace, prosperity and joy that will make you dance like the gal in The Asphalt Jungle!

See you next year!