Day 19 of Noirvember: Happy birthday to Laura and Waldo!

•November 19, 2019 • Leave a Comment

November 19th was quite a day in the world of noir – it gave us two of the stars of the film noir Laura (1944) – Gene Tierney and Clifton Webb. Today’s Noirvember post celebrates this shadowy birthday duo and their road to the well-loved noir that they gave us.

Gene Tierney

Gene Eliza Tierney was born in 1920 in Brooklyn, New York, the second of three children of an affluent family. After the family moved to Connecticut, Tierney was educated at private schools in Farmington and in Lausanne, Switzerland. Although she had no ambitions to become an actress (she wanted to “do good and . . . be something like a social worker”), she changed her mind during a family visit to Hollywood when she was 17. While touring Warner Bros. studio, Tierney’s delicate beauty caught the eye of director Anatole Litvak, who arranged a screen test. The successful test resulted in a contract offer from the studio, but Tierney’s father, Howard, refused to let her accept it. Instead, he insisted that she make her planned society debut and, if his daughter were still interested in acting after three months, he promised to help her find work on Broadway.

True to his word, a few months after Tierney’s debut, Howard began accompanying her to the offices of New York agents and producers. Before long, she won a small part as an Irish orphan in George Abbott’s production Mrs. O’Brien Entertains, and a walk-on in another play, What a Life. After this exposure, Hollywood came calling again, and Tierney signed a contract with Columbia. But soon after being cast in her first film, Coast Guard (1939), Tierney was replaced by actress Frances Dee. “I was hurt and began to have doubts,” Tierney said in her memoirs. “[But] I became all the more determined to work hard, and study, and develop as an actress.”

Rejecting Columbia’s offer to renew her option after six months, Tierney returned to New York, appearing in several plays, earning a series of favorable notices from critics, and landing a number of spreads in Life, Harper’s Bazaar, and Vogue magazines. The attention attracted Hollywood once again, and this time, after turning down an offer from MGM, Tierney signed with Twentieth Century-Fox. The terms of the agreement provided that she would be allowed to appear each year on Broadway, that she would not be required to alter the color or length of her hair, and that her slightly crooked teeth would not be straightened. She made her screen debut soon afterward, in The Return of Frank James (1940), starring Henry Fonda. But she was singled out by reviewers for her wooden and “colorless” performance, and after another lackluster appearance in her next picture, Hudson’s Bay (1940), Tierney was voted “The Worst Female Discover of 1940” by the Harvard Lampoon. (Yikes!)

Tierney didn’t give up, though, and in her next film, Tobacco Road (1941), where she played a dim-witted farm girl, she proved that she was more than just a pretty face. Over the next few years, she appeared in her first film noir, The Shanghai Gesture (1941), Son of Fury (1942), the first of three teamings with Tyrone Power, and Heaven Can Wait (1943), a box-office hit starring Don Ameche. Next, Tierney was cast in the part for which she is perhaps best associated, the title role in Laura. Interestingly, Tierney was initially unenthusiastic about the part, and she objected to the fact that it had originally been offered to and turned down by Jennifer Jones. “If Jennifer Jones doesn’t want it, why should I?” she later recalled asking Fox studio head Darryl Zanuck. But Zanuck convinced Tierney that the role would be good for her career – and he wasn’t wrong.

Clifton Webb

Impeccably groomed, elegant, and urbane, Webb Parmalee Hollenbeck was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, but sources disagree on the year, reporting a range from 1889 to 1896. His mother, Mabelle, reportedly left Webb’s father when he failed to share her attraction for show business (“We never speak of him,” Mabelle once said. “He wasn’t interested in the theater.”) After moving to New York, Mabelle enrolled her son in dancing school, and he later attracted the attention of Malcolm Douglas of the Children’s Theater, making his professional debut in The Brownies at Carnegie Hall in 1900.

Following Webb’s graduation from grammar school, he went to art school (he gave his first exhibition at the age of 14), and later studied voice, making his grand opera debut with the Aborn Opera Company in Boston. Then, “after I’d mastered some 24 operative roles in various languages,” Webb said later, “the dance craze came along. I ditched the opera to make a reputation as a dancer.” Over the next several years, Webb toured the country in a ballroom dancing act, opened the Webb Dance Studio (with his mother as secretary-manager), and appeared in a number of musicals, including She’s My Baby with Beatrice Lillie, and Treasure Girl with Gertrude Lawrence. After appearing in the successful musical-comedy As Thousands Cheer, Webb was labeled by one critic as “the most versatile of all American revue artists.” During these years, he also found time to appear in small parts in such silent films as Heart of a Siren (1925), which starred the “too beautiful girl” Barbara LaMarr. A friend of Webb’s once joked, “Short of a dog-and-pony show, there isn’t much he hasn’t successfully essayed.”

Shortly after his success in As Thousands Cheer, Webb was lured to Hollywood by MGM, where he was slated to star in a picture with Joan Crawford. The movie never materialized, though, and Webb remained in California for nearly two years, earning $3,500 a week. The actor wasn’t happy with his idle existence, though (he was “conscience-stricken over the king’s ransom they were paying”), and he returned to New York. Once back in the Big Apple, Webb snagged roles in productions like Blithe Spirit, which played more than 650 performances in New York and London. During the nationwide tour of this play, Webb received an offer that would be a turning point in his career – director Otto Preminger tapped him for the part of Waldo Lydecker in Laura (1944).

“I was all set to take the show up to Vancouver, B.C.,” Webb said, “when this marvelous thing came up and there was simply no turning it down.”

And the rest is history.

In Laura, Gene Tierney and Clifton Webb created memorable characters that are among the most recognizable in all of film noir, and together, helped to make Laura into a stylish, highly acclaimed feature. I hope you’ll join me in raising a glass to celebrate their birthday!

And join me tomorrow for Day 20 of Noirvember!

Day 18 of Noirvember: Inside Out of the Past

•November 18, 2019 • 2 Comments

Ask any noir fan to name their top 10 movies from the film noir era, and chances are very good that Out of the Past (1947) would be among them. Some would even call it the quintessential noir, with its flashback structure, exquisite use of lights and shadow, one of the era’s most dangerous femme fatales, Kathie Moffat, and a cynical private detective turned small-town gas station owner, who falls for the femme like the proverbial ton of bricks. The stellar cast includes Jane Greer, Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, Steve Brodie, Rhonda Fleming, and Dickie Moore.

Today’s Noirvember post serves up my Top 10 trivial tidbits about this well-loved noir.

Three writers worked on the screenplay for Out of the Past. Novelist James M. Cain – author of such gems as Mildred Pierce and Double Indemnity – wrote two drafts, but few of his contributions made it into the final film. Next up was screenwriter Frank Fenton, who was responsible for several key plot points and much of the film’s excellent dialogue. The script was finished by Daniel Mainwaring, the author of the 1946 book on which the film was based, Build My Gallows High. Mainwairing was credited in the movie with the same pseudonym he used for the novel, Geoffrey Homes.

Speaking of Mainwairing, he once said that the film and the book were “entirely different. The film is better, a lot less confused.”

Greer was a model at the start of her career.

A native of Washington, D.C., Jane Greer began cultivating her acting career at an early age, participating in talent contests, beauty pageants, and professional modeling. Her budding interest in the arts appeared to be forever thwarted at the age of 15 when she was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, a neurological disorder that paralyzed the left side of her face. She overcame the disorder through strenuous physical therapy and resumed her modeling activities the following year.

The plane carrying cast and crew members from L.A. to Bridgeport, California, crashed while attempting to land. Mitchum got out, hitched a ride into town, and headed for the nearest bar.

Boyd Cabeen was the stand-in for Robert Mitchum, and in later movies he stood in for Lee Marvin. Noir was a family affair; Boyd’s wife Carmen was a stand-in for Katharine Hepburn in Undercurrent, and for Jane Russell in His Kind of Woman.

Humphrey Bogart, Dick Powell, and John Garfield were all considered for the role of Jeff Markham/Bailey before Mitchum was chosen.

Dickie Moore learned sign language for his role.

Dickie Moore learned sign language for his part as The Kid, Jeff’s deaf-mute gas-station helper. (Incidentally, Moore was married for nearly 30 years to actress Jane Powell, from 1988 to Moore’s death in 2005 at the age of 89.)

Out of the Past was remade in 1984 as Against All Odds, starring Jeff Bridges and Rachel Ward as the woman who flees to Mexico. Jane Greer was in the remake, playing Ward’s mother.

Paul Valentine made his screen debut in the film as Joe Stephanos. Previously, he made his living as a classical ballet dancer. He also had a cameo appearance in Against All Odds.

In 1987, Robert Mitchum served as the guest host on NBC’s long-running comedy show Saturday Night Live. During the broadcast, a short comedy film aired called Out of Gas – a mock sequel to Out of the Past that was written and directed by Mitchum’s daughter, Trina. In the comedy short, Jane Greer reprised her role from the original film.

Join me tomorrow for Day 19 of Noirvember!

Day 17 of Noirvember: Five Noirs on a Island

•November 17, 2019 • 7 Comments

Three years ago, in celebration of National Classic Movie Day, I participated in a blogathon hosted by Rick over at the Classic TV and Movie Café. The theme of the event was Five Movies On An Island. For today’s Noirvember post, I thought I’d revisit this theme, focusing only on noir features, and with a little twist – I’m not including any of the noirs that instantly come to my mind when making these kind of “best of” lists. This means that you won’t be seeing Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce, and The Killing, for example. Instead, I decided to give this a little more thought and include those noirs that I consider to be stellar examples of the era, but films that are my personal second- or even third-tier choices. Here goes . . .

Detour (1945)

This is probably my favorite low-budget noir. Clocking in at just a little over an hour, there’s not a wasted moment in this film – it’s wall-to-wall, non-stop noir, if you will. Almost the entire story is presented in flashback, told to us in voiceover by Al Roberts (Tom Neal), a musician who encounters the “detour” of the film’s title when he hitchhikes from New York to Califonria to join his girlfriend.

Not exactly a match made in heaven.

Why this movie?

Detour is just so raw and so bargain-basement – no frills, no polish. But the story is compelling, and the cast (which is as bare-bones as they come) is perfect, especially Ann Savage who plays Vera, a fellow hitchhiker who causes Al no end of trouble. It’s riveting, from start to finish, as you go along with Al on this wild ride from disaster to disaster.

Favorite quote:

There are so many great quotes in this film. It’s practically overflowing with them. It was so hard to pick just one, but here it is: “Life’s like a ball game. You gotta take a swing at whatever comes along before you wake up and it’s the ninth inning.” – Vera (Ann Savage)

You can’t keep your eyes off of Beverly Michaels.

Wicked Woman (1953)

Another low-budget treat, this one stars Beverly Michaels as the dame of the film’s title. We meet her as she arrives by bus in a dusty town, quickly lands a waitressing job, and then proceeds to steal her boss’s husband and use her wiles to coax meals and money from her admiring neighbor (Percy Helton).

Why this movie?

First of all, Beverly Michaels will never give Bette Davis a run for her money, if you know what I mean. But there’s something about her that’s mesmerizing – you just can’t take your eyes off of her, and she steals every scene she’s in, even if she’s just sitting in a chair reading a magazine. Also, any movie with Percy Helton is just all right with me.

Favorite quote:

“Do you think I’d go out with an undersized runt like you? Don’t make me laugh – I wouldn’t be caught dead with you!” – Billie Nash (Beverly Michaels)

This movie belongs to Joan.

The Damned Don’t Cry (1950)

I watched this movie for the umpteenth time just the other night. I’d intended to just have it on as background noir noise while I worked on a Noirvember post, but I kept catching myself with my fingers frozen on my keys and my eyes glued to the screen. Joan Crawford stars as a woman who transforms from impoverished small-town housewife, to worldly wise working girl, to polished society heiress, only to find herself enmeshed in the world of organized crime.

Why this movie?

Because Joan Crawford.

Favorite quote:

“Don’t talk to me about self-respect. That’s something you tell yourself you got when you got nothing else.” – Ethel Whitehead (Joan Crawford)

The Locket (1946)

I think I loved this movie before I ever saw it. As I mentioned in a Noirvember post last year, it was meticulously described to me by a friend, years before I got a chance to view it, and when I finally did, it more than lived up to the hype. The lovely and underrated Laraine Day stars as a woman whose mental health (of lack thereof) stems from a childhood incident involving the necklace of the film’s title.

Love those flashbacks.

Why this movie?

To borrow a saying from my beloved mother, this film has more flashbacks than the law allows. Not really, of course, but it actually does have a flashback within a flashback within a flashback. And I love it. It sounds complex, which is not unusual in a noir, but it’s not confusing. It’s just good.

Favorite quote:

“When you’re a housekeeper’s daughter, you see the world through a half-open door.” – Nancy Blair (Laraine Day)

Born to Kill (1947)

This movie is chock-full of horrible characters, and I can’t get enough of it. Lawrence Tierney and Claire Trevor star as a conscienceless killer and the woman who knows it and doesn’t care.

This movie’s cast was everything.

Why this movie?

There’s so much about this movie to love. In addition to the outstanding performances turned in by Tierney and Trevor, the supporting cast is like a who’s who of talent; Elisha Cook, Jr., Walter Slezak, Esther Howard, and Isabel Jewell are perfect in their roles and turn this movie into an absolute noir must-see.

Favorite quote:

“As you grow older, you’ll discover that life is very much like coffee: the aroma is always better than the actuality.” – Albert Arnett (Walter Szelak)

Those are my five – what five noirs would you take with you an island? Let me know!

And join me tomorrow for Day 18 of Noirvember!

Day 16 of Noirvember: Dorothys You Should Know – Part I

•November 16, 2019 • 1 Comment

Ever heard of Dorothy Hart?

She has eight film noir credits to her name – but, sadly, it’s a name that not many noir fans know these days. In today’s Noirvember post, I’m determined to remedy that.

Dorothy Hart was once described as “the most beautiful actress in Hollywood today,” and at the peak of her popularity in the 1950s, she was hailed as America’s answer to Ingrid Bergman. Born on April 3, 1923, in Cleveland, Ohio, Dorothy was interested in a performing career from an early age. After high school, she enrolled in Western Reserve University, finishing her coursework in less than three years. “I wanted to get to Broadway before I was too old,” she said. “Four years seemed a long time to spend getting a degree, so I studied twice as hard.”

In 1944, Hart entered the National Cinderella Cover Girl Contest sponsored by Columbia Studios, and out of a pool of 22,000 applicants, she emerged the winner. However, she turned down the Columbia contract that was part of her prize: “I wanted more training,” Hart said later. “The timing just wasn’t right.” Instead, she moved to New York, and started modeling, landing on several national magazine covers.

A promo shot with Howard Duff for The Naked City.

Before long, Hart began fielding offers from Hollywood, and finally decided to sign with Columbia. “I insisted on inserting a clause providing that I appear only in ‘A’ pictures,” she said. Hart made her debut in 1947 with a lead role opposite Randolph Scott in Gunfighters. Still, she wasn’t happy, and demanded a release from her contract. The following year, she signed with Universal and was seen in her first film noir, Larceny, starring John Payne as a con man who plans to cheat a widow out the money she’s received to build a memorial to her war-hero husband. This was followed by Hart’s best-known noir, The Naked City (1948). In it, she plays the unsuspecting fiancée of a man suspected of murder. In her best scene, she physically attacks her betrothed after learning that he was having an affair with the murdered girl. Again, though, Hart was less than satisfied with her role: “I’m the good girl, Kathy,” she told the press. “I’d much rather play Kates than Kathys.”

With June Havoc in The Story of Molly X.

During the next two years, Hart was seen in a series of noirs – the first, The Story of Molly X (1949), starred June Havoc; of Hart’s role, the critic for Variety wrote that she “gets her first real chance to show” (but he also said that her performance “is inclined to be a little monotonous.”). Next, in Undertow (1949), Hart got a chance to play a “Kate,” portraying a woman who frames her fiancé for murder, which was followed by Take One False Step (1949), where she had the rather thankless role as the wife of William Powell, a professor who is suspected of killing an old flame (Shelley Winters).

Hart’s role in Raton Pass was one of her favorites.

This was followed by Outside the Wall (1950), advertised as “one of the strangest stories ever told,” in which Hart was back to her good girl roles, playing a nurse who helps reform an ex-convict. Around this time, Hart terminated her agreement with Universal in favor of a Warner Bros. contract. “I was doing ingenues largely and that didn’t fit in with my plan to become a dramatic actress,” she stated. “At Warner Bros., my first role fits into my plan perfectly. I’m on the road now.” Hart was referring to Raton Pass (1951), a Western where she played a spirited girl of Spanish descent, described by the actress as “gentle yet fiery. It is the first time I have really understood a character and that’s important to me.”

Hart had one of her more interesting parts in I Was a Communist for the FBI.

Next, Hart returned to the shadows with another interesting character, a devoted school teacher who is lured and later disillusioned by the tenets of Communism in I Was a Communist for the FBI (1951). In this noir based on a true story, Frank Lovejoy stars as an undercover government agent who infiltrates the Pittsburgh branch of the Communist party. The following year, Hart was seen in a lead role in her final film noir (and my personal favorite), Loan Shark, as the girlfriend of George Raft, whose character goes undercover to expose a gang of loan sharks. Hart was praised in Variety as “attractive and able in meeting [the] demands of the role opposite Raft.”

Hart left the big screen in the early 1950s.

Although the following year Hart was awarded the Golden Key by Photoplay magazine as one as one of Hollywood’s 10 most promising actresses, the actress abruptly turned her back on her big screen career. “By this time, I was actually a pretty good actress,” she said years later. “But I noticed, in meeting older, better, and much more famous actresses, that there wasn’t any real happiness in their smiles. That, I think was what made me decide that a movie career, even the most successful one, simply wasn’t what I wanted.”

Hart turned to television, appearing on a wide variety of dramatic shows, but in the mid-1950s, she experienced an incident that led to yet another path. While a passenger in a small plane that developed landing gear trouble over Long Beach, California, Hart could see rescue vehicles racing to the edge of the flight strip. “I was frightened, sure,” she said, “but even more than that, I was heartsick about all the important things in my life that I’d left undone.” After the plane’s safe landing, Hart moved to New York and became an active speech-maker and recruiter in causes for the United Nations. She also traveled to Geneva as a U.S. observer at the meeting of the World Federation of United Nations Associations.

Meanwhile, after several years, Hart found that her “nervous system just [wasn’t] cut out” for live television and she began guesting on games shows. She then gained a new level of popularity in the late 1950s with a featured role on the CBS-TV program Pantomime Quiz. In this show based on the game Charades, Hart used what one journalist termed her “quick, creative mind and Venus-like attributes” as both an “acter-outer” and a guesser. “It’s the kind of thing I’d cheerfully do for nothing if necessary.” You can see Hart in one of these shows below.

In her private life, Hart had married an industrial research consultant, Fred Pittera, in 1954, and seven years later, gave birth to a son, Douglas. A few years later, the marriage was over, and Hart moved with her son to Asheville, North Carolina. “It was a hard choice, but I didn’t want Douglas growing up in New York,” Hart said later. “So I moved to Asheville and gave it all up – my work at the U.N., my TV work, my hostess work, everything. I decided there would be no more ‘Dorothy Hart, the star.’ I would become ‘Dorothy Hart, the mother of Douglas.’ I decided Douglas would be that star.”

Discover Dorothy Hart.

After years out of public view, Hart re-emerged in 1979 when she filed a $60 million lawsuit against the publishers and author of The Editor, claiming that the novel had libeled her by depicting a character named Dorothy Hart as a bisexual Hollywood “sex machine.” The suit, which charged libel and invasion of privacy, specifically cited the book’s cover, which stated, “Dorothy Hart was one of the most popular and notorious sex-bombs Hollywood has ever spawned.” The actress further charged that the book’s publisher’s traded on public assumptions that she was the actual model for the book’s character, and of acting with “actual malice and the designed to injure, defame and destroy [her] good name and reputation.” The lawsuit was later settled out of court and Hart returned to her private life at her home in Asheville. In 2004, she died of Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 82.

Though far from a household name, even to fans of noir, Dorothy Hart had a commendable career and a fascinating life. If you’ve never seen a Dorothy Hart performance, do yourself a favor and check her out – and watch for Part II of Dorothys You Should Know.

And join me tomorrow for Day 17 of Noirvember!

Day 15 of Noirvember: Quote of the Day

•November 15, 2019 • 6 Comments

Today’s Noirvember post shines the light on one of film noir’s most highly acclaimed features, Out of the Past (1947). A first-rate picture starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, and Kirk Douglas, Out of the Past is fairly brimming with memorable dialogue and quotable lines. Here’s an example:

 

I never saw her in the daytime. We seemed to live by night. What was left of the day went away like a pack of cigarettes you smoked. I didn’t know where she lived. I never followed her. All I ever had to go on was a place and time to see her again. I don’t know what we were waiting for. Maybe we thought the world would end. — Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum)

Join me tomorrow for Day 16 of Noirvember!

Day 14 of Noirvember: Color Noir?

•November 14, 2019 • 8 Comments

Some people say that in order to be film noir, a movie has to be in black and white.

I don’t buy it.

For me, it’s the feeling that truly makes a noir – the tone, the mood, that sensation of impending, inevitable doom. And that feeling can come over you whether it’s in black and white or in color.

Today’s Noirvember post takes a look at one such color noir – Slightly Scarlet (1956) – not to be confused with the 1930 film of the same title starring Clive Brook and Evelyn Brent.

Based on a James M. Cain novel, this feature stars two noir veterans, Ted de Corsia as crime boss Solly Caspar, and John Payne as the merciless Ben Grace, Solly’s underling. Described by one character as a “low-grade moron with delusions of grandeur” (whoa!), Solly finds that his carefully crafted empire is in jeopardy after he humiliates Grace in front of the rest of the gang. In retaliation, Grace exposes Solly’s role in a high-profile murder, Solly flees the country, and Grace takes over the enterprise. The cast is rounded out by Rhonda Fleming as June Lyons, whose younger sister, Dorothy, played by Arlene Dahl, is a sex-starved kleptomaniac who has recently been released from prison.

Although famously acerbic New York Times critic Bosley Crowther dismissed the film as “an exhausting lot of twaddle,” Slightly Scarlet is definitely worth your time, and it has a shootout in the climax that will knock your socks off. Check it out on YouTube and see what I mean:

 

Trivia tidbit: As of this writing, the film’s femmes are still with us – Rhonda Fleming turned 96 on August 10, 2019, and Arlene Dahl turned 94 the following day!

Join me tomorrow for Day 15 of Noirvember (where is the month going, y’all?!?!).

Day 13 of Noirvember: Good Girls in Bad Company

•November 13, 2019 • 7 Comments

The ladies of film noir, typically, are no ladies. More often than not, they’re duplicitous dames, mercenary molls, and corrupt cuties, not a lady in the bunch. Still, for every rule, there’s an exception, and there are numerous noirs featuring femmes who most decidedly do not fall into the ‘bad girl’ category – I like to think of them as good girls in bad company. My favorite gals of this group just happen to also appear in three of my favorite noirs: Leave Her to HeavenThey Live By Night, and The Asphalt Jungle.

Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

In this rare Technicolor noir, Jeanne Crain plays Ruth Berent, the adopted sister of Ellen (Gene Tierney), whose striking beauty cannot mask her possessive nature and her insane jealousy of those she loves. After an impromptu marriage to writer Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde), Ellen is first vexed by the presence of her husband’s disabled brother, and later finds her own unborn child to be an unwelcome intrusion on her marriage. Ellen, soon, becomes resentful of the growing friendship between Richard and her sister, enraged when Richard dedicates his latest book to ‘the gal with the hoe,’ his pet name for Ruth.

But after accusing her sister of pursuing Richard, Ellen is confronted by Ruth’s true feelings for her: ‘All my life I’ve tried to love you, done everything to please you, All of us have – Mother, Father, and now Richard. And what have you done? With your love you wrecked Mother’s life, you pressed Father to death, and you’ve made a shadow of Richard. I don’t envy you – I’m sorry for you. You’re the most pitiful creature I’ve ever known.’

It is this speech that caught my attention, making me look at Ruth Berent with fresh eyes – although the strangely compelling Ellen is certainly the showier of the siblings. Where Ellen is pushy and assertive, Ruth is reticent. While Ellen looks made up, decked out, and coiffed to the nines, even when she’s clad in jeans or a bathing suit, Ruth manages to appear casually comfortable no matter what she’s wearing. And although you could never imagine Ellen pitching in to help solve a jigsaw puzzle or digging in the dirt or folding laundry, for Ruth, such acts are so natural you scarcely notice she’s doing them.

It’s a credit to Ruth’s character that she grew up with the soul-sucking Ellen while still remaining her sweet, unspoiled, uncomplicated self. Instead of trying to compete with her sister’s all-encompassing persona or, even more understandable, developing a hard, defensive shell, Ruth manages to develop into a mentally and emotionally healthy young woman. This makes the aforementioned speech all the more satisfying – after years of living in Ellen’s venomous shadow, grinning and bearing it and biting her tongue, Ruth finally lets her sister have it – right between the eyes.

They Live By Night (1948)

They Live By Night tells the story of three escaped convicts – two hardened criminals, T-Dub (Jay C. Flippen) and Chickamaw (Howard DaSilva), and one impressionable youngster, Arthur ‘Bowie’ Bowers (Farley Granger). After they bust out of prison, the three hide out for a time at the home of Chickamaw’s brother, Mobley (Will Wright), whose daughter, Keechie (Cathy O’Donnell), is just about Bowie’s age.

On first glance, Keechie is as dirty as the people who surround her – she works in her father’s garage and dresses like a mechanic. And she’s no lovely flower in a sea of garbage – her demeanor is quiet and somber, even sullen at times, and she has a straightforward personality that allows her to tell it like it is – no beating around the bush. Shortly after meeting Bowie, she’s already sized him up. ‘Fine company you’re running with. Where’d you think you’d get with them?’ she scolds. ‘You think you’re quite a man, don’t you? You don’t know what you want.’ But there’s something about Keechie that draws Bowie to her – before he knows it, he’s sharing with her his hopes and dreams, and his plans to get ‘squared around.’

Keechie possesses a fascinating mixture of divergent qualities, made all the more interesting because of her upbringing – her father is an unreliable drunk, her mother ran away with another man, her uncle is a conscienceless killer. It’s no surprise, then, that she is hard-hearted and resolute, cynical, and no-nonsense, with a bleak but practical view of the future.

As it turns out, though, Keechie’s rigid exterior serves as an effective cover for the thoughtful, kind-hearted, sentimental woman beneath. When Bowie is injured in a car accident and taken to Mobley’s to recover, Keechie falls for him, and the two hit the road together, getting married by a small-town Justice of the Peace. Despite Bowie’s lawless past, Keechie’s steadfast love, faith, and belief sustain her husband and fill him with the conviction that, together, they can make a future.

The Apshalt Jungle (1950)

Directed by John Huston, The Asphalt Jungle centers on a mixed bag of characters that unite to pull off a jewel heist. The group includes mastermind ‘Doc’ Reidenschneider (Sam Jaffe), an aging gentleman of a criminal recently released from prison; Louis Ciavelli (Anthony Caruso), an expert safecracker with a wife and baby at home; Alonzo Emmerich (Louis Calhern), a crooked – and, as it turns out, broke – attorney who is supposed to fence the stolen jewels; and the muscle of the crew, Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden), whose only dream is to return to his family home in Kentucky.

On the fringes of this group is Doll Conovan (Jean Hagen), the sole character in the film with a pure heart and no agenda. She’s painfully in love with Dix, who treats her with respect, but unquestionably does not return her feelings. We first meet Doll when she arrives at Dix’s apartment, suitcase in hand. After dissolving into tears, Doll admits she’s been locked out of her room and asks Dix if she can bunk at his place for a night or two. Free from artifice or shame, she doesn’t miss a beat when her tears dislodge one of her false eyelashes, and her gratitude trumps any personal offense she might have taken when Dix allows her to stay, but warns her ‘not to get any ideas.’

We aren’t privy to the back story of Dix and Doll, but we can surmise any romantic relationship they may have once had is now decidedly over – but that doesn’t stop Doll from hanging onto Dix’s every word, like she does when he waxes rhapsodic about his childhood on the Kentucky horse farm. And when Dix cuts her off as she starts to share her own story, only a brief flicker in her eyes reveals Doll’s hurt feelings – which she quickly masks by jumping to her feet to tidy Dix’s room.

Doll’s unconditional love for Dix is demonstrated even more starkly near the film’s end, when Dix – injured during a gun battle related to the stolen jewels – decides to take her on the lam. Rather than berate or judge him for his criminal proclivities, Doll braves the police-packed neighborhood to find a getaway car for Dix and then insists on going along. ‘I just want to be with you,’ she tells him when he objects and then, for the first time, exhibits a steely resolve showing a glimpse into her true persona. ‘You can’t go without me – I won’t let you. I won’t tell you where the car is.’

While the femmes fatales of noir are certainly fun to watch, there’s no denying that many films noirs feature ‘good girls’ with just as much brains, strength, and gumption as their darker counterparts. Give these ladies a look, and you’ll see what I mean!

And join me tomorrow for Day 14 of Noirvember!