National Classic Movie Day: Four Favorite Noirs

•May 15, 2022 • 14 Comments

Miss a National Classic Movie Day blogathon? Not this girl!

I love the annual blogathons hosted by Rick over at the Classic Film and TV Café to celebrate National Classic Movie Day – they always give me the perfect opportunity to identify and discuss a variety of first-rate classic films. When I first learned this year’s theme – four favorite films noirs – I was, of course, delighted: a theme that was right up my alley! Easy peasy, right? But it wasn’t quite the cakewalk I’d envisioned. Several movies instantly came to mind, but I disregarded them because I’d already covered them on this blog. I then decided that I’d select a quartet of top-notch noirs that I hadn’t previously covered – but this resulted in a list of pictures that I couldn’t reasonably consider as “favorites.”

What to do, what to do?!?

Ultimately, I decided to return to the original, simple theme of the blogathon and choose four movies that I can absolutely count among my favorites, whether I’ve previously discussed them at Shadows and Satin or not – I could always, I figured, find something new to crow about, right? Here, then, are my choices to celebrate National Classic Movie Day 2022 – I hope you enjoy this walk down the shadowy side!

Double Indemnity (1944)

Double Indemnity (1944)

Stanwyck is a standout.

How could I possibly have a list of favorite noirs and not include Double Indemnity? It’s my all-time favorite noir, one that I’ve seen more times than I can count, and yet I still watch it every time I get the chance: I have it on VHS and DVD, and I’ve seen it twice on the big screen. And if it came on TCM tonight, I’d be tuning in again.

Barbara Stanwyck – who’s in my top three favorite actresses, by the way – stars as Phyllis Dietrichson, a Los Angeles housewife who uses her considerable feminine wiles to induce insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) into murdering her husband. The cast includes Edward G. Robinson (in a performance that should have earned him an Academy Award) as a wily insurance adjuster, Tom Powers as Phyllis’s hapless hubby, and Jean Heather as Phyllis’s stepdaughter, who is not falling for the okey doke (if you know what I mean).

Why do I love this movie?

Double Indemnity has it all. Even the venetian blind shadows.

There are so many reasons. The crackling dialogue. The performances of every single one of the players. The typically noir characteristics of flashback, voiceover, femme fatale, anti-hero – even shadows produced by venetian blinds. The score by Miklós Rózsa, and the as-always-excellent direction by Billy Wilder.

Favorite quote:

“Yes, I killed him. I killed him for money – and a woman – and I didn’t get the money and I didn’t get the woman. Pretty, isn’t it?” – Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray)

Trivia tidbit:

None of them were feeling this movie.

None of the three principal players – Stanwyck, MacMurray, and Robinson – initially wanted to be in this movie. Stanwyck was hesitant to play such a dark character, but was finally convinced by director Billy Wilder, who reportedly asked her, “Are you a mouse or an actress?” According to Wilder, MacMurray “didn’t see the possibilities at first. . . . He didn’t want to do it. He didn’t want to be murdered [and] he didn’t want to be a murderer.” And Robinson didn’t want to play the third lead, but ultimately acknowledged that he was at a stage in his career where he would be playing fewer lead roles: “It was time to begin thinking of character roles,” he said later, “to slide into middle and old age with the same grace as that marvelous actor Lewis Stone.” (Incidentally, Robinson’s dilemma about accepting the part was alleviated by the fact that he worked fewer days than co-stars Stanwyck and MacMurray, but he received the same salary.)

Mildred Pierce (1945)

Joan Crawford is Mildred Pierce.

If Double Indemnity is my number one favorite noir, Mildred Pierce is the one I’ve seen most often. The first time I saw it was on the big screen – with my mother at the Music Box Theater in Chicago – and I’ll never forget when I found out the identity of the real killer, after spending the entire movie certain that it was someone else. At that moment, this movie took over a special place in my heart and it’s never left.

Joan Crawford won an Academy Award for the title role, a single mother of two daughters who will go to any lengths to make her children happy, especially her oldest daughter, Veda (Ann Blyth). Crawford is supported by Bruce Bennett, as her ex-husband, Bert; Jack Carson, who is Bert’s former business partner and has eyes for Mildred; Eve Arden as Mildred’s best friend; and Zachary Scott, as Monte Beragon, who becomes Mildred’s second husband – and whose murder in the movie’s opening scene sets up the drama to follow.

Why do I love this movie?

See ya, Monte. Wouldn’t wanna be ya.

There are so many great, great scenes in Mildred Pierce. There’s the one where Mildred kicks her first husband, Bert, to the curb. And the one where Mildred slaps Veda for disrespecting her – and where Veda later returns the favor, literally knocking Mildred off her feet and prompting her to tell Veda to “get out before I kill you.” The one where Mildred tries – unsuccessfully – to convince Veda to return home after kicking her out. And where Mildred confronts the snooty mother of the young man who’s engaged to Veda, delivering a parting shot that makes me want to cheer every time I see it. And the scenes where Monty and Mildred get together – and then break up – and then get together again. (“Sold. One Beragon.”) There’s just one memorable scene after the next.

Blyth has nothing but good things to say about her co-star.

Favorite quote:

“Personally, Veda’s convinced me that alligators have the right idea. They eat their young.” – Ida Corwin (Eve Arden)

Trivia tidbit:

Ann Blyth always spoke highly of co-star Joan Crawford, who tested with her for the part of Veda. “She was kind enough to do that, and of course I never forgot that, because it really wasn’t necessary for her to do so,” Blyth said in a 2006 interview. “I only have good memories of working with her and being around her.”

Criss Cross (1949)

You don’t hear a whole lot about Criss Cross – and that’s a real shame, because for my money, it’s one of the purest noirs out there. From my first viewing of the the film’s opening scene, which features a furtive parking lot meeting between Steve Thompson and his lover, Anna, I was hooked.

Hooked from the first scene.

Directed by Robert Siodmak (who also helmed such noirs as Phantom Noir, The Killers, and Cry of the City), Criss Cross stars Burt Lancaster as Steve and Yvonne DeCarlo as Anna – former marrieds who have resumed their passionate relationship – even though Anna is now wed to mob leader Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea). In order to cover up his affair with Anna, Steve approaches Slim with a plan to stage an armored car robbery – and that’s where we begin to find out the meaning of the film’s title.

Why do I love this movie?

Criss Cross is rife with fascinating characters. Steve Thompson is the ultimate noir anti-hero: at his core, he’s a law-abiding man, but he’s led astray by his love for Anna, which takes him into areas and cultivates behaviors that he never could have predicted. Anna is the epitome of self-preservation; at no point do we get the impression that she has anyone’s best interests at heart besides her own. And Slim Dundee is just plain scary.

It’s the characters for me.

Favorite quote:

“A man eats an apple. He gets a piece of the core stuck between his teeth. He tries to work it out with some cellophane from a cigarette pack. What happens? The cellophane gets stuck in there too. Anna? What was the use. I knew that somehow I’d wind up seeing her that night.” – Steve Thompson (Burt Lancaster

Trivia tidbit:

Tony Curtis made his big screen debut in an uncredited role, dancing with Yvonne DeCarlo in a nightclub scene. He reportedly got the part after walking through the Universal Studios lot, where director Robert Siodmak saw him and asked him if he could dance. He could, and the role was his.

The Killing (1956)

Just trying to make a killing.

I can’t say enough about The Killing and I can’t see it too many times. It’s got a twisty-turny, time-bending plot that’s riveting from start to finish, and standout performances from everyone in the cast, from the lead role to the smallest part.

The film stars Sterling Hayden as Johnny Clay, the ringleader of a disparate group of characters who unite to rob a local racetrack. In addition to a few outliers, Johnny is primarily aided by mousy racetrack cashier George Peatty (Elisha Cook, Jr.), who’s eager to acquire a pile of a cash for his money-grubbing wife (Marie Windsor); beat cop Randy Kennan (Ted deCorsia), who is trying to climb out from beneath a sizable gambling debt; and Mike O’Reilly (Joe Sawyer), a track bartender who is caring for his invalid wife. Unfortunately, despite the meticulous planning and the flawless execution, all does not end well for this motley crew.

The Motley Crew.

Why do I love this movie?

I love the memorable characters, and I’m wild about the dialogue, but I think what I love best is the distinctive presentation of the story. Guided by narrator Art Gilmore, the film shows us the action at various times, often backtracking to show us something that was happening at the same time with different characters, and sometimes presenting multiple vantage points of the same scene. It makes for a fascinating, completely unique, and absolutely unforgettable film.

Favorite quote:

“All right, 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)

Trivia tidbit:

“That’s a mighty pretty head.”

The film’s initial screenings did not go over big with test audiences. Their big problem? Ironically, the very thing that I love so much about it: the non-linear plot presentation. As a result, director Stanley Kubrick had to edit the film to conform to a more straightforward expression, but this resulted in an even more confusing picture. Ultimately, the film was released as Kubrick had originally intended.

What do you think of my film noir favorites? Have you seen them? Do you love them? And what would be on your list of four favorite noirs? Leave a comment and let’s talk about it!

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This post is part of the National Classic Movie Day blogathon, hosted by Rick at The Classic Film and TV Café. Click here to read about the favorite noirs of all the participants!

The Caftan Woman Blogathon: Honoring Patricia Nolan-Hall

•May 6, 2022 • 26 Comments

Like so many bloggers across the Internet, I was stunned and saddened to learn earlier this year of the passing of Patricia “Paddy” Nolan-Hall, author of the Caftan Woman blog. I never met Paddy in person, but she felt like a friend. She wrote for many years for my film noir newsletter, The Dark Pages, we corresponded occasionally via email and online, and she was incredibly supportive of my blog (as she was of so many others), commenting on nearly everything I wrote – even on my daily Noirvember posts! In celebration of this caring, encouraging, and much-loved writer, I am proud to participate in today’s special blogathon honoring Paddy.

Paddy championed classic films from a variety of genres and eras, including film noir and westerns. I thought it was fitting, then, to select Man of the West (1958) as my blogathon entry – it’s certainly a western, but it also has an undeniable noirish feeling that keeps you on edge throughout. And I think it’s one that Paddy would have loved.

Link, Billie, and Sam meet cute. Or something like that.

Directed by noir veteran Anthony Mann, Man of the West stars Gary Cooper as Link Jones, in the “role that fits him like a gun fits a holster,” accordingly to the film’s enthusiastic tagline. As the film opens, deceptively cheery music accompanies Link’s arrival in Crosscut, Texas, where he purchases a train ticket to Fort Worth; there, he hopes to find a schoolteacher for the settlement where he lives and he’s carrying a cache of money for this purpose. Also boarding the train are Billie Ellis (Julie London), a saloon singer, and Sam Beasley (Arthur O’Connell), a gambler who engages Link in a brief conversation on the train platform. Before the train departs, Link is approached by the local marshal, who asks his name (Link gives an alias), where he’s from (he reveals the town only when pressed), and whether he knows a man named Dock Tobin (he says that he does not). The sheriff also warns Link about the company he keeps, referring to the man on the platform.

Link and Uncle Dock. Uncle Dock is nuts, by the way.

After some light moments on the train involving Link’s struggles to fit his lanky legs in a seat, and his annoyance with Sam Beasley’s incessant chatter, the film takes a shadowy turn. While stopped to load up on wood for the engine, the train is attacked by a quartet of outlaws, and when the engineer pulls off to escape the marauders, Link, Billie, and Sam (with a sprained ankle) are left behind, sans luggage, sans money. After setting out on foot, they eventually stumble upon Link’s boyhood home and find the would-be train robbers holed up there – along with the notorious bandit Dock Tobin (Lee J. Cobb), a crude, cold-blooded, and crazy coot who just happens to be Link’s uncle. We learn that Link used to be Dock’s partner in his criminal exploits, but he abandoned his uncle years before and is now reformed. (“We were big. Don’t you remember?” Dock reminisces. “You were my property. What did you go off and leave me for?”) Dock aims for Link to rejoin his crooked crew and help knock over a bank in a town known as Lassoo  (“There’s more money in that Lassoo bank than any of you ignorant dogs ever could count!”), and Link allows his uncle to think that he has returned to the fold.

Steve McGarrett, we hardly knew ye!!

The remainder of the film give us one of the most fascinating characters I’ve yet to come across in a western, along with one of the most unique male-female relationships. Gary Cooper’s Link Jones is soft-spoken, thoughtful, and a little reticent, but shrewd and able to think fast on his feet. As the plot unfolds, we find out more about Link’s previous life, when he was trained by his uncle to kill and steal, as well as how he underwent his metamorphosis. “There’s a point where you either grow up and become a human being, or you rot, like that bunch,” he tells Billie. “So I busted away. I found something better. I made myself a home.” Link now has a wife and two young children, but as he becomes more exposed to the ruthlessness of his uncle and the men in his gang, Link struggles with the re-emergence of the man he used to be: “You know what I feel inside of me? I feel like killing,” he admits. “Like a sickness come back. I want to kill every last one of those Tobins, and that makes me just like they are. What I busted my back all of those years not to be.” (Incidentally, one of the members of Dock’s gang is played by Jack Lord, who you may know best from his role as Lt. Steve McGarrett on the original Hawaii Five-O television show. You’ll barely recognize him here – not only does he look considerably younger, but his character is a thousand times nastier.)

“I never met a man like you before.”

As for Billie, she’s grown accustomed to her hardscrabble existence, drifting from one saloon gig to the next, with no family to call her own and no love in her life. The respect she’s afforded by Link is a new experience for her, from his draping his coat around her shoulders for warmth, to his efforts to keep his uncle’s gang from having their way with her. “I never met a man like you before,” she says. “The men I meet all think they have a right to put their hands on me. Like it comes with the introduction.” Link shares his thoughts with Billie, his hopes, his fears, and she falls in love with him. But while she makes it clear that she is offering herself to Link – even knowing about his family at home – Link doesn’t accept her wordless proposition. There’s even a scene where Billie lays her head against his hand and Link is compelled to reach out to stroke her hair, but he stops himself. They both know that Link’s sense of honor cannot permit it. “You know, it’s funny, Link. The last two days, you’ve lost everything you ever lived for. And I’ve found something I wanted all my life,” Billie tells him. “But what hurts is I can’t keep what I found, can I?” Still, she can’t deny that her life is richer for having known him.

This fight is something else, y’all.

The film offers near non-stop action in the second half, as we learn the fate of Sam Beasley; find out what happens with Dock’s plan to rob the bank at Lassoo; meet another member of the Tobin family, Link’s cousin, Claude (John Dehner); and witness one of the most memorable fistfights I’ve ever seen (and, since every western I’ve ever watched has at least one fight, that’s saying something!). And the noirish end may not be what you’re expecting, but you’ll be satisfied with the rightness of it.

Man of the West can be found on YouTube – if you’ve never seen it, do yourself a favor and check it out. Even if you’re not a fan of westerns, I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that you’re going to like this one. And if you’re already familiar with it, treat yourself to a rewatch. You only owe it to yourself.

And raise a glass to Paddy while you’re at it.

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This post is part of the Caftan Woman Blogathon – click here to read the other great contributions honoring our friend and fellow blogger, Patricia “Paddy” Nolan-Hall. Enjoy!

Return to Paradise – The 2022 TCM Classic Film Festival: Part 1

•May 1, 2022 • 4 Comments
The trivia contest is always held in Club TCM in the Roosevelt Hotel.

After waiting for two years for the in-person Turner Classic Movies film festival to return, I was primed and ready for four days of friends, fun, and film at this year’s event, held in Hollywood April 21-24, 2022!! And that’s just what I got – and more! It was so awesome to be back – there’s nothing like that first sighting of the Roosevelt Hotel marquee, or taking pictures in front of the huge TCM posters covering the hotel windows, or finding beloved stars in the forecourt of Grauman’s (it’ll always be Grauman’s to me) Chinese Theater and on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

This year marks my eighth in-person TCM film fest (and my 10th overall, counting the two first-rate virtual fests the network presented in 2020 and 2021), and I continued my first-day tradition of participating in the annual trivia contest called “So You Think You Know Movies.” Hosted by the entertaining and knowledgeable Bruce Goldstein, of New York’s Film Forum, this year’s contest featured special appearances by several notables, including Diane Baker, Leonard Maltin, and the son of Fayard Nicholas, of the famed Nicholas Brothers dance team.

Our winning team! That’s me standing next to Bruce Goldstein.

The contest provides the opportunity to meet new people (you can join a team on the spot, for a maximum of eight team members), and it’s so much fun, with Goldstein regularly cracking wise and plenty of classic movie clips to enjoy. This was my eighth time participating in the contest and the first time in all those years that I was on a team completely composed of longtime friends of mine: Jann Calix, Lara Gabrielle (whose book on Marion Davies will be released soon!), and Stephen Reginald. And what do you know – we won! I could hardly believe it when Bruce Goldstein announced our team’s name – Game Time – but he did! It was so exciting, and a perfect way to kick off the festival.

As always, most of the trivia questions were pretty hard – and they were made even more difficult because some questions could have multiple answers! Below are a few of the questions from this year’s contest – try your hand at them; the answers are at the end of the post. And no fair consulting Google for help!

  1. The actor dancing in the clip above with Shirley Temple in Baby Take a Bow won an Oscar for what movie?
  2. Esther Minciotti, who played Ernest Borgnine’s mother in Marty (1955) also played the mother of which actor or actors below?
    • Cornel Wilde
    • Richard Conte
    • Henry Fonda
    • Rod Steiger
    • Ben Gazarra
  3. Cesar Romero played a role (or roles) that was/were also played by which of the following?
    • Tyrone Power
    • Jack Nicholson
    • Ricardo Cortez
    • Warner Baxter
    • Ramon Navarro
  4. Which of the following comedians had their own comic book series?
    • Laurel and Hardy
    • Martin and Lewis
    • Bob Hope
    • The Three Stooges
    • Abbott and Costello
  5. Fred Astaire last danced in a movie helmed by which of the following directors?
    • Rouben Mammoulian
    • Gene Kelly
    • Stanley Donen
    • Marc Sandrich
    • Francis Ford Coppola

Scroll down for the answers!

Keep scrolling . . .

Just little more . . .

The answers!

James Dunn in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
  1. James Dunn won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945).
  2. Esther Minciotti played the mother of Cornel Wilde in Shockproof (1949), the mother of Richard Conte in House of Strangers (1949), the mother of Henry Fonda in The Wrong Man (1956), and the mother of Rod Steiger in the 1953 teleplay of Marty on the Philco Television Playhouse. Ben Gazarra is the only actor in the list that did not play a role with Minciotti as his mother.
  3. Cesar Romero played the Joker in TV’s Batman – Jack Nicholson played the role in the 1989 feature film Batman. In 1939, Romero played The Cisco Kid in The Cisco Kid and the Lady, and the following year in Lucky Cisco Kid. The role of the Cisco Kid was also played by Warner Baxter in the 1931 feature, The Cisco Kid.
  4. All five of the comedians listed for this question had their own comic book series!
  5. Fred Astaire last danced in the 1974 compilation film That’s Entertainment, which was directed by Gene Kelly.

How’d you do?

Stay tuned for more coverage of the 2022 TCM Film Festival in the coming weeks!

Shadowy and Satiny Picks: What to Watch on TCM for May 2022

•April 30, 2022 • 4 Comments

Now that I’m starting to come down off the high that was the TCM film festival, I’m excited to recommend my Shadowy and Satiny TCM picks for May. They are a pair of don’t-miss gems!

SATINY PICK: She Had to Say Yes (1933)

I’m going to admit, up front, that my initial Satiny pick was Shanghai Express (1933), starring Marlene Dietrich and TCM’s Star of the Month, the awesome Anna May Wong. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my copy of the film, and it would have taken hours to sift through my pile of unmarked VHS tapes. I’m determined to do it soon, though, so I hope to be writing about this first-rate pre-Code in the coming months. My second choice was an easy one: She Had to Say Yes, starring Loretta Young. It’s a must-see, for so many reasons!

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Young plays department store stenographer Florence Denny, whose salesman boyfriend Tommy (Regis Toomey) cunningly arranges for her to entertain an out-of-town buyer, Danny Drew (Lyle Talbot). What the young and innocent Flo doesn’t know is that (1) Tommy is two-timing her with one of her fellow stenographers and (2) Danny is a lech in nice guy’s clothing. Still, Flo spends the bulk of the film in a series of push-me, pull-you shenanigans involving these two jerks – loving one while pushing the other one away, and then turning around and doing the reverse. I wrote at length about this film a few years ago, but suffice it say that you’ve simply got to see it to believe it.

WHO ELSE?

Winnie Lightner, as Flo’s best friend, is on hand to deliver wisecracks, give the smackdown to catty co-workers, and put handsy customers in their place. The cast also includes pre-Code vet Hugh Herbert, as a particularly oily buyer, and, in one scene, prolific actor Charles Lane (who was in more than 30 films during the pre-Code era alone!).

Flo and Jerk #1.

TRIVIA TIDBITS:

Famed choreographer Busby Berkeley co-directed the film – it was his first directing credit. It was also the directing debut for his collaborator, George Amy, who was better known for editing such features as Golddiggers of 1933, Captain Blood, The Old Maid, and Yankee Doodle Dandy.

The screenplay was written by Don Mullaly, who also wrote The Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) and wrote, directed, or produced several Broadway plays, including a 1931 comedy starring Shirley Booth. Sadly, he entered a tuberculosis sanitarium and died there in April 1933, a few months before She Had to Say Yes was released. He was just 46 years old.

Flo and Jerk #2.

Danny gives Flo a $1,000 bonus for using her wiles to convince another buyer to join a business merger. In 2022 dollars, this equals a little more than $17,000. (And that’s a lot o’ cabbage!)

MEMORABLE QUOTE:

“I’m not gonna get out. My money is just as good as theirs – now, you just close your eyes and pretend I’m a buyer.” Tommy Nelson (Regis Toomey)

SHADOWY PICK: No Man of Her Own (1950)

Before preparing for this month’s Shadowy pick, I’d only seen No Man of Her Own once, many years ago. I knew that it starred Barbara Stanwyck and John Lund, but I only remembered a few points about the plot. Still, it stuck in my memory bank as a first-rate feature and, after revisiting it, I found that I wasn’t wrong.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

As the film opens, we meet Helen Ferguson (Stanwyck), her husband, (Bill Lund), and their bouncing baby boy, who all live together in a lovely, quiet neighborhood, in a lovely, enviable home – but all is not as it appears. In a voiceover, Helen hints at a murder, and when a phone call announces an upcoming visit from the police, Helen apprehensively wonders if they are coming for her or for Bill. As Helen and Bill await the authorities, we learn – in an extensive flashback – the reasons behind her apprehension. They involve a pregnancy, a train crash, mistaken identity, blackmail – and, of course, the previously referenced murder.

WHO ELSE?

Awkward . . .

Phyllis Thaxter and Richard Denning play Patrice and Hugh Harkness, an ill-fated couple Helen meets aboard a train from New York to San Francisco. A waiter on the train is played by Dooley Wilson, best known for his role as Sam in Casablanca. Milburn Stone, who you may know as “Doc” on TV’s Gunsmoke, appears at the end as a detective (and credited, to my endless delight, as “Plain-Clothes-Man”). And playing a role identified in the end credits simply as “Blonde,” is Carole Matthews, who I know from one of my favorite westerns, Massacre River (1949), and Swamp Diamonds (1956), which was hilariously skewered by the Joel Hodgson and the bots from Mystery Science Theater 3000.

TRIVIA TIDBITS:

This is Lyle Bettger. This is his first film. His character was not a nice guy.

Don’t confuse this film with a 1932 feature of the same name starring Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. It was the only film in which the famed couple appeared together. They met on set, and married seven years later.

The movie marks the film debut of Lyle Bettger, who plays a, shall we say, less than stellar character.

No Man of Her Own was remade in 1996 as Mrs. Winterbourne, with Ricki Lake in the part played by Barbara Stanwyck, and Brendan Frasier in the John Lund role.

MEMORABLE QUOTE:

“Let me clear up one thing for you. I don’t want you. I just want what eventually comes with you. I’m dumping you on the steps of your loving family as soon as this is over, but you’re gonna marry me and it’s gonna be a marriage that sticks. It’s gonna stick to the bitter end.” – Steve Morley (Lyle Bettger)

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No Man of Her Own airs on TCM on May 8th and She Had to Say Yes airs on May 23rd. Check ‘em out!

You only owe it to yourself.

Joe Trivia: The 5th Golden Boy Blogathon

•April 15, 2022 • 26 Comments

I have lots of favorite noir films and lots of favorite performances, but right up there near the top is William Holden’s portrayal of Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard (1950). The plot of this celebrated film centers on Joe, a down-on-his-luck screenwriter, who gets more than he bargains for when he meets has-been silent film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) and is pulled into the dusty web of her existence. The film co-stars Erich von Stroheim, as Norma’s first husband, former director, and devoted butler; and Nancy Olson as a would-be writer who captures Joe’s heart.

The face I fell for.

When I wrote my second book, Bad Boys: The Actors of Film Noir, I included a chapter on William Holden and I must confess that I developed quite a crush on him. By the time his chapter was complete, I had a full-on obsession and set about getting every Holden film, photograph, and book I could get my hands on. My passion has long since cooled, but he will always hold a very fond place in my heart, so I’m delighted to honor Mr. Holden as part of the 5th Golden Boy Blogathon. And because one of my favorite things to do is learn and share trivia about classic film, I’m celebrating by imparting some trivial tidbits related to William Holden and Sunset Boulevard. I hope you enjoy them . . .

Holden said in a 1971 interview that his favorite role was Joe Gillis.

In her autobiography, Gloria Swanson wrote that Holden was “brilliant in our picture, and I adored him.”

Billy Wilder, the film’s director, once called Holden “the ideal motion picture actor.”

“The perfect person . . . at the perfect moment in life.”

Nancy Olson, who co-starred with Holden in three other films in addition to Sunset Boulevard (including another noir that year, Union Station), said that Holden was “the perfect person for Joe Gillis at the perfect moment in life. His career was beginning to slide. He was playing roles like the husband in Apartment for Peggy where the picture was about Peggy and not about him. Low-budget, churned-out films. He was already drinking too much, and he was just a little frayed around the edges.”

Holden was not the first choice to play Joe. Initially, Montgomery Clift was cast in the part, but he quit two weeks before production started. Fred MacMurray, Gene Kelly, and Marlon Brando were all considered before the role was given to Holden.

When filming on Sunset Boulevard began, William Holden was 31 years old. His character was supposed to be 25, so make-up was applied so that he would look younger.

Keep your eyes peeled for the goof in this scene.

Watch for this goof: in the scene where Norma is reclining beside the swimming pool in her leopard-skin garb, Joe emerges from the pool and dries off his face, neck and chest. Norma tells him to turn around so that she can dry his back, but when he does, we see that his face, neck and chest are wet again. (That must’ve been some pool!)

A well-circulated story involves the kiss between Holden and Nancy Olson near the end of the picture. As the story goes, Billy Wilder yelled “Cut!” but the kiss continued until Holden’s jealous wife Brenda Marshall, who happened to stop by the set, screamed for them to stop. According to Nancy Olson, however, Wilder never called “Cut,” and the whole thing was a practical joke that everyone was in on – including Brenda Marshall – except Olson. “It was a prank, of course it was!” Olson told author Sam Staggs for his 2002 book Close-Up on Sunset Boulevard.

Holden’s performance was critically acclaimed.

Holden received unanimously rave reviews for his performance. In a typical review, the critic for the New York Times wrote that Holden “is doing the finest acting of his career. His range and control of emotions never falter, and he engenders a full measure of compassion for a character who is somewhat less than admirable.”

Holden, along with Swanson, reprised his role as Joe Gillis in a September 1951 radio adaptation of the film on Lux Radio Theater.

Holden earned $30,000 for his role in Sunset Boulevard. (By comparison, he received $750,000 almost 25 years later for a supporting part in the 1974 disaster film, The Towering Inferno.)

And finally, while some of the lines uttered by Gloria Swanson are now legendary, Holden delivered a number of memorable quotes as well. Here are just a few:

“It was a great big white elephant of a place.”

“Finally, I located that agent of mine – the big faker. Was he out digging up a job for poor Joe Gillis? Huh. He was hard at work at Bel-Air making with the golf sticks.”

“It was a great big white elephant of a place. The kind crazy movie people built in the crazy 20s. A neglected house gets an unhappy look. This one had it in spades. It was like that old woman in “Great Expectations.” That Miss Havisham in her rotting wedding dress and her torn veil, taking it out on the world, because she’d been given the go-by.”

“The whole place seemed to have been stricken with a kind of creeping paralysis – out of beat with the rest of the world, crumbling apart in slow motion.”

“You don’t yell at a sleepwalker.”

“It was all very queer. But queerer things were yet to come.”

“You don’t yell at a sleepwalker – he may fall and break his neck. That’s it: she was still sleepwalking along the giddy heights of a lost career.”

“So they were turning after all, those cameras. Life, which can be strangely merciful, had taken pity on Norma Desmond. The dream she had clung to so desperately had enfolded her.”

If you’ve never seen William Holden’s performance in Sunset Boulevard, I envy you having that experience ahead of you. And if you have, it may be time to pull it out and give the film a rewatch. It – and Holden – only get better with time.

_______________________

This post is part of the 5th Golden Boy Blogathon, hosted by Virginie Provonost at The Wonderful World of Cinema, Michaela at Love Letters to Hollywood, and Emily at The Flapper Dame. Visit their blogs to read all of the great tributes to this unforgettable actor!

You’ll be glad you did.

It’s Almost Here: The 2022 TCM Film Festival

•April 9, 2022 • 14 Comments

In less than two weeks, I’ll be in Hollywood, California, for the 2022 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival! For the last two years, the fest has been presented virtually, and while they were lovely experiences (especially the 2021 event!), there’s nothing like being in L.A., reuniting with old friends and making new ones, surviving off of popcorn and martinis, and seeing the stars of some of my favorite films.

This year’s event will be my eighth in-person festival (and my 10th overall, if you include the virtual fests in 2020 and 2021). In the week or so since the final schedule of films and guests was released, I’ve been constantly pouring over my choices, which is just one of the many exciting aspects of the event. While I’m preparing for this year’s fest, I thought I’d share with you some of the memorable moments from the TCM festivals I’ve attended in past years.

Coleen Gray on the red carpet, courtesy of Kimberly Truhler.

At my very first festival in 2013, Coleen Gray was one of the special guests; she was interviewed before the screening of The Killing (1956), in which she co-starred with Sterling Hayden. I’d interviewed Miss Gray many years before, via phone, for my first book, Femme Noir: The Bad Girls of Film, and we’d corresponded a couple of times since. After the film was over, I saw that she was still in the theater, so I made a beeline for her and introduced myself, managing to make her remember who I was. We only talked for a minute or so, which probably consisted mainly of me gushing over how glad I was to meet her. When I turned to leave, I just started crying – I was so overcome with having met this movie star that I’d admired for so many years. It was quite something.

Also in 2013, I got the chance to see Ann Blyth up close. She was being interviewed in the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel (the “hub” of the festival) by TCM host Robert Osborne. (Interviews are no longer conducted in the lobby, and I really miss them. They were such fun, and I got to catch a glimpse of so many stars that way, including Jerry Lewis and Burt Reynolds!) I was lucky enough to wind up front and center in the crowd that stood in a semi-circle watching the interview. Before the fest started, when I’d first learned that Miss Blyth was going to be there, I had purchased a classic movie magazine with her on the cover and I took it with me to Hollywood, hoping that I would somehow be able to get her autograph. And I got that opportunity – after the interview, Miss Blyth was taken into Club TCM (located just across the hall from where the interviews were conducted), and I happened to be in the room as well. There were very few people around, and I could have walked right up to her, but I just didn’t have the guts. I learned a good lesson, though. The following year, I was standing in line for the restroom at the Egyptian Theater, and who happened to be standing right in front of me but Diane Baker! You can just bet that I didn’t hesitate to introduce myself to her – what a thrill!

That’s me, right in the front! Good times.
Priceless.

That same year, at the closing night party, Robert Osborne was inside Club TCM taking pictures with, and signing autographs for, fans. A long line of festgoers waiting to see him snaked outside the door and I dutifully joined it. I made it inside the room, but just as I was the next person to be greeted, one of the festival staff cut the line off, explaining to us that Mr. Osborne had to move on. The people behind me dispersed, and I honestly don’t know what happened next – I don’t know if I looked as distraught as I felt, or if I called his name, or begged for a moment of his time, or what, but the next thing I know, he was taking a picture with me. I will treasure it always.

One of my most memorable moments from the 2014 fest came after I’d seen a new-to-me pre-Code called Hatcheck Girl (1933). Following this film, I’d originally planned to meet my then-fest partner, Kim, at the screening of The Pawnbroker (1964), where Quincy Jones (who wrote the score) was scheduled to speak. At the last minute, though, I decided instead to see one of my all-time favorite movies, The Women (1939). There was only a short amount of time before the movie was scheduled to begin so I, along with a friend I’d met the year before, Paula Guthat (of PaulasCinemaClub), literally ran down Hollywood Boulevard, from the TCL theaters to the El Capitan, bobbing and weaving among the tourists on the street and barely making it into a couple of seats in the balcony before the pre-movie interview began. Exciting!

In 2015, Alec Baldwin interviewed Dustin Hoffman before the screening of Hoffman’s 1974 film Lenny, in which he played stand-up comedian Lenny Bruce. The exchange was interesting and insightful, but what I remember most about it was when Baldwin and Hoffman started reminiscing about comedian Buddy Hackett, and both started doing these absolutely hilarious imitations of Hackett. It was a positive scream. Fortunately, someone recorded it and it can be viewed on YouTube! The video can be seen above.

Kate and me.

Also in 2015, I saw 1776, which is one of my all-time favorite musicals – and you know me: I’m not a big musicals fan. But when I find one that I love, I really, REALLY love it. So I actually sacrificed seeing Spike Lee and Malcolm X in order to see 1776, which featured an interview by Ben Mankiewicz with the film’s stars Ken Howard and William Daniels, and director Peter Hunt. It was such a thrill to see the men who played Thomas Jefferson and John Adams (at one point, led by Ben, the audience cried out, “Sit down, John!”). And as a lovely bonus, I was sitting in the first row, with no one seated close to me, and was able to sing out loud along with each number. It was so much fun.

My festival experience in 2015 was topped with a cherry when I left the closing night party and encountered actress Kate Flannery, who played Meredith on TV’s The Office. She was so very nice, and took a picture with me!

A moment in time.

In 2017, during a book signing, I met the legendary Carl Reiner, who was honored along with his son, Rob, at that same festival by placing his hands and feet in the cement at the (it’ll-always-be-Grauman’s-to-me) Chinese Theater. It’s a source of sheer joy to me that I made Mr. Reiner laugh – when I met him, I told him that I always felt that my marriage wasn’t a success was because my husband wasn’t more like Rob Petrie from The Dick Van Dyke Show. And not only that, but my pal Raquel Stecher, from the Out of the Past blog, snapped a photo just as I was shaking hands with him. So awesome to have this moment captured!

Also in 2017, at the annual meetup of members of the “Going to TCM Film Festival” Facebook group, actress Barbara Rush was interviewed at length by writer Danny Miller in a courtyard at the Roosevelt Hotel. Afterwards, Miss Rush greeted the many festgoers gathered; I tried to meet her as she was leaving but, unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance. The next year, Miss Rush was at the same event, and this time, I wasn’t letting opportunity pass me by! As fortune would have it, I encountered her shortly after she entered the courtyard and I instantly shook her hand and told her how thrilled I was to meet her after missing out the year before. She was so incredibly sweet and gracious – and I wound up having a picture taken with her and my friend Ruth Mundsack!

Good things come to those who wait.

At my most recent in-person fest, in 2019, Ben Mankiewicz interviewed Angie Dickinson beside the pool at the Roosevelt Hotel, before the screening of Ocean’s 11 (1960). One of Ben’s questions focused on Dickinson’s Ocean’s 11 co-star, Frank Sinatra, and Ben shared a theory that he’d discussed with actor Billy Bob Thornton about why Sinatra was reluctant to film more than one take: “I thought, and Billy Bob Thornton agreed . . . that there was some insecurity in Frank, that if he did it again . . . people would see through him.” And Angie’s response? “Bullshit.” It was so unexpected, and so funny. What a dame!

These are just some of the many, many unforgettable memories that I’ve managed to stack up since I first started attending the TCM film festival in 2013. I’m treasuring these last days before this year’s event begins, because I know that all too soon it will be over. Meanwhile, I’ll return to juggling and re-juggling my schedule, looking at pictures from years past, and dreaming of all that I have to look forward to. If you’ve gotten this far, thank you for joining me on this trip down TCM Memory Lane!

Shadowy and Satiny Picks: What to Watch on TCM for April 2022

•March 30, 2022 • 4 Comments

It’s TCM Film Festival month! So watch for lots of goodies about this fabulous event, which returns this year to an in-person fest after back-to-back virtual celebrations in 2020 and 2021. Meanwhile, tune in to TCM for these top notch film noir and pre-Code offerings . . .

SHADOWY PICK: Kansas City Confidential (1952)

The schedule for April on TCM is chock full of first-rate noirs, including Out of the Past (1947), Pitfall (1948), Gun Crazy (1950), and The Asphalt Jungle (1950). But my shadowy recommendation for the month is Kansas City Confidential (1952), a hard-hitting feature starring John Payne, Coleen Gray, and Preston Foster.

They couldn’t rat on each other.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Payne plays Joe Rolfe, a flower deliveryman and ex-war hero who finds himself in trouble with the law when he’s accused of knocking off a bank. He’s fingered for the job because eyewitnesses identify his flower van as the getaway vehicle for the heist. Turns out that the robbery was carried out by an embittered former cop, Tim Foster (Foster), who wrangled three low-level hoods into joining him on the job and craftily framed Joe by using a van identical to his. During the planning and execution of the crime, all four of the men involved in the heist were always masked, so that their identifies were kept secret from each other.

Joe Rolfe is surrounded by inquiring cops.

After enduring multiple beatings by an over-zealous cop bent on extracting a confession, Joe’s innocence is proven and he’s released from custody. But now he’s got a chip on his shoulder and he’s determined to find the men responsible for the frame.

WHO ELSE?

The three hoods are played by noir veterans Jack Elam (Kiss Me Deadly, Baby Face Nelson), Neville Brand (D.O.A., The Mob, The Turning Point), and Lee Van Cleef (Vice Squad, The Big Combo). Coleen Gray plays Foster’s daughter, Helen, an aspiring lawyer who catches Joe’s eye.

Joe and Helen grow closer.

TRIVIA TIDBITS:

Both Jack Elam and Lee Van Cleef were in the well-known 1952 western High Noon, starring Gary Cooper. They both would go on to appear in numerous other westerns.

The film was directed by Phil Karlson, who also helmed Ladies of the Chorus (1948), one of Marilyn Monroe’s first films. He also directed John Payne in two other noirs, 99 River Street (1953) and Hell’s Island (1955).

An uncredited part was played by Helen Kleeb, who had a prolific television career; she is perhaps best known for her role as Mamie Baldwin in TV’s The Waltons. Kansas City Confidential was her big-screen debut.

The plot thickens, the circle tightens.

Director Quentin Tarantino has cited this film as his inspiration for his 1992 film Reservoir Dogs, in which a group of men carry out a heist led by an older criminal, and are known only to each other by “color” names, e.g., Mr. Pink and Mr. White.

FAVORITE QUOTE:

“It’s a pat hand only because no one can rat on you. You can’t even rat on each other. ‘Cause you’ve never seen each other without those masks. I made you cop-proof and stool pigeon-proof and it’s gonna stay that way.” – Tim Foster (Preston Foster)

SATINY PICK: A Free Soul (1931)

Jan had a special relationship with her father.

Unlike the film noir offerings, there aren’t many pre-Codes airing on TCM in April, but I was able to identify a real winner to recommend for my satiny pick: A Free Soul (1931), starring Norma Shearer, Clark Gable, and Lionel Barrymore.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Shearer is Jan Ashe, the free-spirited daughter of Stephen Ashe (Barrymore), who is a brilliant, successful defense attorney, but also an alcoholic. The film opens with Stephen’s defense of a local gangster, Ace Wilfong (Gable), on a murder charge. Stephen cleverly secures Wilfong’s release, but before long, Jan is involved in an illicit affair with the dangerous underworld figure. When Stephen finds out about the scandalous relationship, he and Jan enter a bargain – he will stop drinking if she will stop seeing Ace. But things aren’t as simple as they seem.

WHO ELSE?

And a special relationship with Ace.

Leslie Howard plays Dwight Winthrop, Jan’s fiancé, who’s left in the dust when she falls for Ace. Stephen Ashe’s assistant (whose primary job seems to be to tote around his stash of booze) is played by James Gleason.

TRIVIA TIDBITS:

Clarence Brown directed the film. Brown helmed several Joan Crawford vehicles – Sadie McKee, Letty Lynton, Chained, and The Gorgeous Hussy – as well as numerous films starring Greta Garbo: Anna Christie, Romance, Inspiration, Anna Karenina, and Conquest. He was nominated six times for the Best Director Academy Award, but never won. He holds the record for most director nominations without a win.

Norma Shearer and Clark Gable co-starred in two other films: Strange Interlude and Idiot’s Delight.

Dwight turned out to be more than Jan expected.

A Free Soul was the first film to garner Oscar nominations for Best Actor (Barrymore, who won) and Best Actress (Shearer), but not Best Picture.

MY FAVORITE QUOTE:

“I just don’t want to get married, Dwight. I don’t want life to settle down around me like a pan of sour dough. I don’t want it one little bit.” Jan Ashe (Norma Shearer)

Kansas City Confidential airs on TCM on April 14th and A Free Soul airs on April 28th. Check ‘em out!

You only owe it to yourself.

Oscar’s Greatest Moments: 1970 to 1990

•March 27, 2022 • 4 Comments

As I mentioned in my previous post, I love the Oscars – even this year, when so many unsavory changes are being implemented, I’ll be watching – I can’t imagine missing it. In addition to dressing up with my daughters every year, and having pizza for dinner, I have one more annual tradition – each year for more than 30 years, on the day of the Oscars and before the telecast begins, I watch my video of Oscar’s Greatest Moments. It’s a compilation of clips from Oscar broadcasts from 1970 to 1990, and it is a sheer delight. Hosted by then-Academy president Karl Malden, the video contains everything from Sally Field’s “You like me” acceptance speech to Marlon Brando’s refusal of his Oscar for The Godfather, via his representative, Sacheen Littlefeather.

No matter how many times I see this video, there are parts that make me laugh and parts that make me tear up, and I sit watching it, riveted, as if I’ve never seen it before. It just warms my heart and brings back a flood of memories. As I continue to prepare for tonight’s event, I’m offering up some of my (many, many) favorite clips from the video:

In 1977, the year that Sylvester Stallone was nominated for Rocky, Stallone took the stage to present an award. Shortly after he started talking, Stallone was surprised on stage by Muhammad Ali, who jokingly accused Stallone of stealing his life story for the Rocky script, and challenged Stallone to an impromptu boxing bout. Afterward this amusing exchange, Stallone hugged Ali and told the audience, “I just gotta say one thing – I may not win anything here tonight in the form of an Oscar, but I really feel it’s an amazing privilege to be standing next to a one hundred percent, certified legend, and it’s something I’m going to treasure for the rest of my life.” It was truly a heartfelt moment.

Paul Hogan, nominated for his titular role in Crocodile Dundee, gave the crowd at the 1987 Oscars some tips for making the broadcast more enjoyable for television viewers.  He told them to remember the “three Gs” when making acceptance speeches: “Be gracious. Be grateful. Get off.” He also discouraged nominees from giving the “I’m so glad he won instead of me smile” if their names were not called to receive the golden statuette. “Think of the television audience – give us a bit of variety. Maybe one or two of you could burst into tears. Storming out of the building in a huff would be nice. Or what’s wrong with a bit of old-fashioned booing?” So funny.

When Vanessa Redgrave accepted her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Julia in 1978, she made a controversial reference to “Zionist hoodlums” who’d objected to her involvement with a documentary on Palestine. A smattering of boos could be heard after Redgrave’s comment and later in the broadcast, screenwriter Paddy Chayevsky chastised Redgrave, saying he was “sick and tired of people exploiting the occasion of the Academy Awards for the propagation of their own political propaganda.” Whoa!

Several moments choke me up every time I watch the video. In her 1991 acceptance speech for Misery, Kathy Bates made a brief but heartbreaking reference to her father who, she said, “I hope is watching somewhere.” in 1972, the Academy gave an honorary statue to Charlie Chaplin, who’d returned to Los Angeles after a self-imposed 20-year exile. Obviously touched by the reported 12-minute ovation from the audience, Chaplin said, “Oh, thank you so much. An emotional moment for me, and words seem so futile, so feeble. I can only say thank you for the honor of inviting me here and, oh, you’re wonderful, sweet people. Thank you.”

William Holden and Barbara Stanwyck presented an award together in 1978; Holden recalled that he’d appeared with Stanwyck in Golden Boy 39 years previously and shared with the audience that he was in danger of being fired from the film. “But due to this lovely human being, and her interest and understanding and her professional integrity, and her encouragement, and above all her generosity, I am here tonight.” Stanwyck was surprised and visibly moved by Holden’s impromptu speech. In 1982, the year following Holden’s untimely death at the age of 63, Stanwyck (who never won a competitive Oscar) was given an honorary award. In her acceptance speech, she referenced the appearance with Holden from a few years before: “I loved him very much and I miss him,” Stanwyck said in a voice choked with emotion. “He always wished that I would get an Oscar. And so tonight, my Golden Boy, you’ve got your wish.”

Time for me to get dressed and ready for the Oscar festivities to begin. If you love the Oscars like I love the Oscars, and you’ve never seen this video, I hope you can track it down – it’s absolutely marvelous.

Happy Oscars!

List o’ the Week: Unsung Oscars

•March 23, 2022 • 10 Comments

I’ve always loved awards season, and I’ve always been a huge fan of the Academy Awards – I never miss them; before my daughters went away to college (and then moved out of my house), we used to have Oscar parties every year where we’d dress up, eat pizza, and watch the show. As soon as the nominations were announced each year, I’d embark on a quest to see as many nominated films as possible – with streaming, this will be the first year that I have seen every film nominated in all the major categories for the Academy Awards. What a thrill!

If you look at the Oscar categories from the 1940s and 1950s, you’ll notice very few film noir features among the nominees and winners, which is a real shame because there were so many that were worthy of acknowledgment. In celebration of this year’s Academy Awards event, I’m listing films and performances during the film noir era that I believe were Oscar noteworthy and deserving of being nominated for that golden statuette. Here goes:

Edward G. Robinson was made for this role.

Judith Anderson: Best Supporting Actress – Laura (1944)

Edward G. Robinson: Best Actor – Scarlet Street (1945)

Nina Foch: Best Actress – My Name is Julia Ross (1945)

John Garfield: Best Actor – The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

Claire Trevor: Best Actress – Born to Kill (1947)

Kent Smith: Best Actor – Nora Prentiss (1947)

Tryone Power: Best Actor – Nightmare Alley (1947)

Richard Widmark: Best Actor – Road House (1948)

O’Donnell’s Keechie was a heartbreaker.

Cathy O’Donnell: Best Actress – They Live By Night (1948)

Van Helflin: Best Actor – Act of Violence (1949)

Robert Ryan: Best Actor – The Set-Up (1949)

Wallace Ford: Best Supporting Actor – The Breaking Point (1950)

Jean Hagen: Best Supporting Actress – The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

Lloyd Bridges: Best Supporting Actor – Try and Get Me (1950)

Night and the City (1950): Best Picture

Kirk Douglas: Best Actor – Detective Story (1951)


Nobody could have played this role like Robert Walker. Nobody.

Robert Walker: Best Actor – Strangers on a Train (1951)

Ace in the Hole (1951): Best Picture

Marie Windsor: Best Supporting Actress – The Narrow Margin (1952)

Gloria Grahame: Best Supporting Actress – Sudden Fear (1952)

Jean Peters: Best Actress – Pickup on South Street (1953)

Ida Lupino: Best Director – The Hitchhiker (1953)

Mickey Rooney: Best Actor – Drive a Crooked Road (1954)

Carolyn Jones: Best Supporting Actress – Shield for Murder (1954)

Richard Conte: Best Actor – The Big Combo (1955)

Everett Sloane: Best Supporting Actor – The Big Knife (1955)

The Killing (1956): Best Picture

Tony Curtis: Best Actor – The Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

What are some performances or films that you think should have been nominated for an Oscar? Leave a comment and let me know!

Shadowy and Satiny Picks: What to Watch on TCM for March 2022

•March 3, 2022 • 7 Comments

Beginning this month, I’m stepping into my Shadows and Satin past and resurrecting a series I used to have back in the day – serving up monthly recommendations for film noir and pre-Code features airing on TCM.

As part of its annual celebration of the Academy Awards, the March line-up on TCM focuses on Oscar winners in a wide variety of categories. My picks for the month feature a winner for Best Actress (Joan Crawford) and Best Story (a category that was eliminated in 1957 and replaced by Best Original Screenplay). Read on for my shadowy and satiny selections for the month of March!

Shadowy Pick: Mildred Pierce (1945)

Veda (Ann Blyth) may look sweet, but believe me. She ain’t.

The March pickings are slim on the noir side on TCM, so I’m recommending a tried and true favorite: Mildred Pierce (1945). Starring Joan Crawford in the title role, this feature tells the tale of a single mother and the lengths she’ll go to for her children (in particular her older daughter) – which may or may not include homicide. The film opens with the murder of Mildred’s second husband, Monty Beragon (Zachary Scott) – in a string of flashbacks, we get to know Mildred, who makes ends meet by working as a waitress and baking pies when her first husband, Bert (Bruce Bennett) flies the coop; Mildred’s daughters Kay (Jo Ann Marlowe), a delightful tomboy, and Veda (Ann Blyth), a self-absorbed, social-climbing snob; Mildred’s loyal pal, Ida (Eve Arden), who’s always quick with a quip or a sage word of advice; and Wally Fay (Jack Carson), Bert Pierce’s ex-partner and Mildred’s would-be boyfriend (if Wally had his way). For the Top 10 reasons why I’m simply mad about this film, click here.

Other stuff:

Barbara Stanwyck wore this same mink in another 1945 movie. Good thing she and Joanie were pals!

The striking mink coat that Joan Crawford wears in Mildred Pierce was also worn that same year by Barbara Stanwyck in Christmas in Connecticut (1945). Similarly, the brooch Crawford wears in the scene where she proposes to Monty (“Sold – one Beragon.”) was worn by Ingrid Bergman in her first scene in Casablanca (1942) and by Ilka Chase in Now, Voyager (1942). All of these were Warner Bros. films. Talk about economizing!

The role of Mildred Pierce was initially offered to, and rejected by, Bette Davis. The next choice was Barbara Stanwyck, who was the front-runner for the part until director Michael Curtiz saw Joan Crawford’s screen test.

Michael Curtiz’s house doubled as Monty’s beach house.

Monty Beragon’s beach house, seen several times throughout the film, was actually owned by director Michael Curtiz. Built in 1929, the house was located in Malibu and was washed into the ocean following several days of heavy storms in early 1983.

Satin Pick: Manhattan Melodrama (1934)

By happenstance, I watched Manhattan Melodrama (1934) just a few days before I started work on this post. It had been years since I’d seen this juicy melodrama, and I enjoyed it just as much as I did the first (and second, and third) time I saw it. The movie opens in the early 1900s, where a large group of families, men, women and children, are on their way to a picnic via a paddlewheel steamboat called the General Slocum. Among the young passengers are pint-size hooligan Blackie Gallagher (Mickey Rooney), and his bookish pal, Jim Wade (Jimmy Butler), who are taken in by the father of a school friend when the boat catches fire and their parents are killed.

These three.

The film goes on to follow these two friends for the next 30 years, as Blackie (Clark Gable) grows up to be a smooth-talking but ruthless gangster and Jim (William Powell), on the other side of the law, becomes a district attorney and then governor of the state. In addition to their friendship, the men also share their love for a good woman – Eleanor – played by Myrna Loy.

Other Stuff:

The General Slocum was an actual boat that suffered a real-life tragedy on June 15, 1904. On that day, a group of more than 1,000 people were on their way to an end-of-year church picnic on the North Shore of Long Island when the boat caught fire. A total of 1,021 souls were lost.

John Dillinger was killed by police in front of this Chicago theater after seeing Manhattan Melodrama.

Famed gangster John Dillinger had just seen this movie in Chicago when he was gunned down by police in front of the Biograph Theater. The Biograph was still a fully operational movie theater until 2004 – I saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show there in the 1980s. It was renovated and reopened in 2006 for live performances.

Listen for a song in the film titled “The Bad in Every Man.” After the film’s release, lyricist Lorenz Hart was tapped to write words to the song that would be more commercially successful. The result was “Blue Moon.” Hart also wrote the lyrics to such standards as “The Lady is a Tramp” and “My Funny Valentine.”

Mildred Pierce airs on TCM on March 20th and Manhattan Melodrama can be seen on TCM on March 14th. Celebrate the Oscars and check ‘em out!

You only owe it to yourself.