And Now For Something Completely Different: Christmas in August

•August 5, 2022 • Leave a Comment

It may be sweltering outside, but I’ve got Christmas on my mind. To be specific, my favorite Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, starring James Stewart and Donna Reed. Sadly, there’s no way I can spin this post into having any kind of durable pre-Code or film noir connection – except maybe that both Stewart and Reed appeared in noirs during their careers: Stewart in Call Northside 777 and Reed in the underrated Scandal Sheet. (How’s that?) In any event, for today’s “Something Completely Different,” I’m serving up my review of It’s a Wonderful Life: The Official Bailey Family Cookbook.

This hardback book, published in 2021 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the film’s release, is organized into seven sections: appetizers, sides, entrees, desserts, cocktails and drinks, Christmas crafts, and vintage Christmas dinner. Within those broad categories, each individual recipe starts out with some sort of tie to the film or its characters. For Date Bars in the appetizer section, for example, we’re told: “If George Bailey had ever gotten the chance to sticker that sturdy travel case Mr. Gower gifts him with labels from Italy and Baghdad, he might have tasted the world’s best dates in Iraq. As it turns out, his life is better for staying put in Bedford Falls, but he doesn’t know that yet.” Other dishes are named for characters, like Zuzu’s Gingersnaps and Annie’s Mixed-Berry Pie.

Zuzu’s Gingersnaps (because she’s her daddy’s little gingersnap . . . get it?)

The book is loaded with full-color pictures of most of the recipes (one of the things I love best about cookbooks) and there are so many dishes that I plan to try, including Clarence’s Angel Food Cake, corn muffins (seriously, I may make these tonight!), Cacio E Pepe, Tortino, Potter’s Prune Clafouti, and Clarence’s Hot Rum Punch.

The Christmas crafts look like fun, even though I doubt I’ll be making them any time soon – my daughters are grown now – but maybe I’ll save them for the grandchildren (whenever I have them). In any event, the crafts include bells made from egg cartons and paper cups, salt dough ornaments, and wreaths made from fabric scraps.

All in all, this is really an enjoyable little cookbook, combining delicious-sounding dishes, great photos, and blurbs about the film that will bring a smile of recognition to your face. I highly recommend it.

Even in August!

Shadowy and Satiny Picks for TCM’s Summer Under the Stars

•August 1, 2022 • Leave a Comment

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I’m always sad to see August roll around, because it signals the beginning of the end of summer . . . but it’s also my favorite month of the year because it gives us TCM’s Summer Under the Stars! In case you’re not familiar with this month-long celebration, each day features a different classic film star, and serves up 24 hours of their films, back-to-back-to back. This year marks the 20th anniversary of this annually anticipated experience.

The 2022 event features seven stars who are first-time honorees: Jacqueline Bissett, Jack Carson, Laurence Harvey, Maureen O’Sullivan, Gilbert Roland, Ruth Roman, and Raquel Welch. Also in the first-time category are several films that have never been shown on TCM, including Uptown Saturday Night (1974) for Sidney Poitier Day, Meet Danny Wilson (1952) for Shelley Winters, and The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu (1980) for Peter Sellers. Each year, I have my favorite days, and this year is no exception. I’m especially looking forward to Greta Garbo (August 10), Joan Crawford (August 20), and Constance Bennett (August 22).

Normally, in this spot on the first of the month, I offer one Shadowy (film noir) and one Satiny (pre-Code) TCM recommendation, but this month, in honor of Summer Under the Stars, I’m listing a veritable treasure trove of noir and pre-Code films that I urge you to put on your must-see calendar for August:

Celebrate Ruth Roman Day on August 4th with The Window.

Shadowy Picks:

The Window (1949) and Strangers on a Train (1951): Ruth Roman Day – August 4

The Big Clock (1948): Maureen O’Sullivan Day – August 8

He Ran All the Way (1951): Shelley Winters Day – August 18

Mildred Pierce (1945) and The Damned Don’t Cry (1950): Joan Crawford Day – August 20

The Strip (1951): Mickey Rooney Day – August 23 (This one, I’ll admit, is a sentimental favorite. It features the song “A Kiss to Build a Dream On.” I fell for this tune the very first time I heard it, and spent close to an hour winding and re-winding my VHS tape, writing down the lyrics so I could learn every word. I still love it to this day – and the movie’s pretty good, too!)

Don’t miss Constance Bennett in The Easiest Way on August 22. (Bonus: You get Clark Gable and Anita Page, too!)

The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and Clash By Night (1952): Marilyn Monroe Day – August 27

Satiny Picks:

Skyscraper Souls (1932): Maureen O’Sullivan Day – August 8

Queen Christina (1933): Greta Garbo Day – August 10

Grand Hotel (1932): Joan Crawford Day – August 20

The Easiest Way (1931) and What Price Hollywood? (1932): Constance Bennett Day – August 22

The Animal Kingdom (1932) and When Ladies Meet (1933): Myrna Loy Day – August 29

Click here for the full month’s schedule – and happy Summering Under the Stars!

Shadowy and Satiny Picks: What to watch on TCM in July 2022

•July 1, 2022 • 4 Comments

Picking this month’s Shadowy and Satiny TCM recommendations was a veritable cakewalk. There are a number of top-notch film noir and pre-Code features on the docket for July, including Dinner at Eight, Red-Headed Woman, Laura, and Gilda, but I didn’t think twice about these once I saw that Act of Violence (1949) and Journal of a Crime (1934) were scheduled. It was a no-brainer!

Shadowy Pick: Act of Violence (1949)

The stars of this noir alone ought to be enough to tell you that it’s a must-see: Robert Ryan, Van Heflin, Janet Leigh, and Mary Astor. And this isn’t one of those cases where a film falls flat despite a high-powered cast; you can bet your bottom dollar that Act of Violence is worth your time.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Frank Henley isn’t as he appears.

The story centers on two men: Frank Enley (Heflin), a successful businessman, family man, and WWII hero, and Joe Parkson (Ryan), who spent time with Enley in a wartime prison camp. Parkson is searching for his ex-comrade, but he doesn’t want to talk about old times over beer and cigars; he’s on a vendetta. Turns out that Enley was responsible for some reprehensible acts while he was a prisoner of war, and Parkson is tracking him down to kill him.

WHO ELSE?

In addition to the talented quartet mentioned above, Act of Violence features numerous performers whose names you may not know but whose faces may be instantly familiar: Phyllis Thaxter (The Breaking Point, Blood on the Moon), Berry Kroeger (Gun Crazy, Cry of the City), Taylor Holmes (Kiss of Death, Nightmare Alley), Connie Gilchrist (Letter to Three Wives, Little Women), Will Wright (The Blue Dahlia, They Live By Night).

Robert Ryan terrorizes Janet Leigh in an effort to find her husband.

TRIVIA TIDBITS:

MGM’s Little Women was released the same week as Act of Violence; the two films had four performers in common: Janet Leigh, Mary Astor, Connie Gilchrist, and Will Wright.

The screenplay was by Robert L. Richards, who also wrote the screenplays for Johnny Stool Pigeon (1949) and Winchester ’73 (1950).

SATINY PICK: Journal of a Crime (1934)

As soon as I saw this film on the schedule, I knew I wanted it for my July Satiny pick, but for a while it looked like it wasn’t meant to be, because I couldn’t find my copy! I must have looked for 30 minutes, but to no avail, and I finally gave up and selected another film. Fortunately, I decided to give my search one more try and this time I found it! And I can’t tell you how glad I was. I really, really like this movie – you won’t find anything else like it in pre-Code; it’s got a unique plot, absolutely on-fire dialogue, and a twist at the end that you’ll never see coming.

Francoise turns on the charm in an effort to keep her husband from giving her the air.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Ruth Chatterton stars as Francoise Moliet, whose playwright husband Paul (Adolphe Menjou) is having a not-so-secret affair with the star of his latest play, Odette Florey (Claire Dodd, who is so good at playing a bitch that I wonder what she was like in real life). When Francoise realizes that Paul plans to leave her, she pulls out all the stops to prevent this action, from fast-talking her hubby so he can’t get the words out, to asking Paul’s personal lawyer and family friend to intervene on her behalf. When all else fails, she turns to that tried-and-true solution: murder.

WHAT ELSE?

This ain’t exactly a match made in heaven.

Usually I do “who else?” in this spot, but this time, I just wanted to share one of my many favorite quotes in this film. It’s from Francoise, delivered at a dinner party where the conversation has turned to crimes of passion: “A woman – or a man – may have a deeper motive for killing than jealousy or even love. A human being could kill because she herself has first been killed. Before she kills, the other two – the victim and her accomplice – must have killed her soul. Murdered it. A soul that then murders in its turn.”

TRIVIA TIDBITS:

The film’s prolific director, William Keighley, would go on to helm a variety of films including G-Men (1935), The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942), and The Street with No Name (1948). He was assigned to direct The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), but he was replaced by Michael Curtiz after a couple of weeks of shooting; reportedly, the action sequences lacked intensity and filming was behind schedule.

Adolphe Menjou started his career in 1914 in silent films. His last film appearance was in 1960, in Disney’s Pollyanna.

Act of Violence airs on TCM on July 6th, and Journal of a Crime can seen on TCM on July 13th. Do yourself a favor and tune in to catch both of these gems.

You only owe it to yourself.

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

•June 7, 2022 • Leave a Comment

Better late than really, really late, I always say. Well, sometimes I say that. Actually, I never say that – but it’s true in this case. Real life intervened to prevent me from getting June’s Shadowy and Satiny recommendations up at the start of this month; I realized just today, though, that my Satiny pick is airing on June 8th, so I had to kick real life to the curb and get to writing!

SATINY PICK: Beauty for Sale (1933)

TCM is bursting at the seams with pre-Code gems in June – so many that it was hard to settle on one pick – but I selected Beauty for Sale, starring two of my favorite pre-Code ladies: Madge Evans and Una Merkel. I chose this film because it’s one that I’ve seen and loved numerous times, but that never seems to be mentioned in pre-Code discussions. It’s a good one, though, with a perfect pre-Code plot, great lines, moments of both humor and pathos, and first-rate performances throughout.

Three girls three: Jane, Letty, and Carol.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

The rather simple, straightforward story looks at the love lives of three beauty shop employees – Letty (Evans), Carol (Merkel), and Jane (Florine McKinney), each fraught with their own unique (and scandalous) sets of struggles.

WHO ELSE?

Hedda Hopper, years before she became a gossip column queen, is featured as the imperious owner of the beauty salon where the stars are employed. I’ve seen her in a number of films, but in this one, she gives my favorite performance. Also on hand is Phillips Holmes, as Hopper’s ne’er-do-well playboy son; Isabel Jewell (another of my favorite femmes), who is hilarious as the salon’s snooty receptionist; and Edward J. Nugent, who plays Carol’s annoying brother and who you might recognize as the annoying intern in Night Nurse (1931).

Phillips Holmes with Florine McKinney.

TRIVIA TIDBITS:

When Letty’s hat is ruined by a dog belonging to one of her clients, the woman’s attorney husband (Otto Kruger) offers to replace it. The $22.50 that he paid for the new chapeau would cost him a little over $460.00 in 2022 dollars. (That must’ve been some hat!)

The film is based on the book Beauty, by Faith Baldwin. Baldwin was amazingly successful at penning novels that were later turned into films, including The Office Wife, Wife Vs. Secretary, Week-End Marriage, Skyscraper Souls, Love Before Breakfast, and The Moon’s Our Home. And this isn’t even the complete list!

Russian-born former actor Richard Boleslawski directed the film. He would go on to helm such features as the Greta Garbo starrer The Painted Veil (1934), Les Miserables (1935) with Fredric March and Charles Laughton, and Theodora Goes Wild (1936), starring Irene Dunne. He was in the process of directing The Last of Mrs. Cheyney with Joan Crawford when he died, shortly before his 48th birthday.

Run like a rabbit!

MEMORABLE QUOTE:

“If you ever fall in love with a man that you can’t marry . . . run like a rabbit! For the best you’ll get out of it is the worst of it. You don’t want to have to hang around the back door of his life, begging for a handout. You don’t want to have to sneak and hide and keep out of sight the way I do. And in the end, when he turns back to his wife and his home, you don’t want to be kicked out in the sacred name of respectability – the way I was.” – Letty (Madge Evans)

SHADOWY PICK: Desperate (1947)

Desperate is always one of the first films that comes to mind when I’m asked about my favorite lesser-known noirs. It features a unique couple-on-the-run story, outstanding cinematography, and a relentless villain that you won’t soon forget.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

You don’t want to miss this one.

Steve Brodie stars as truck driver Steve Randall, a newlywed with a baby on the way who tries to make some extra money by hauling freight for a childhood friend, Walt Radak (Raymond Burr). When he learns that he’s picking up stolen goods, Steve tries to notify the police, but a cop ends up dead, Walt’s kid brother ends up in prison for the crime, and Steve and his wife end up on the lam, with both the authorities and a vengeful Walt on their trail.

WHO ELSE?

Steve’s wife is played by Audrey Long, who’s probably best known for her roles in Tall in the Saddle (1944), opposite John Wayne, and as the unsuspecting wife of the murderous Lawrence Tierney in Born to Kill (1947). Also in the cast is Douglas Fowley, who I know from his appearances in noirs like Armored Car Robbery (1950), but you may remember him best as the frustrated director in Singin’ in the Rain (1952).

You may have seen Audrey Long in Tall in the Saddle or Born to Kill.

TRIVIA TIDBITS:

The film was helmed by acclaimed noir and western director Anthony Mann. He also directed The Great Flamarion (1945), Border Incident (1949), Winchester ’73 (1950), and Man of the West (1958).

Steve Brodie was born John Stevenson; he took his reel name from the daredevil who claimed to have jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge in 1886.

Audrey Long was married for more than 40 years to author Leslie Charteris, best remembered for writing the series on the adventures of Simon Templar, also known as “The Saint.”

The cinematography was on point.

MEMORABLE QUOTE:

“I’m sorry I can’t give you a choice of food, Steve, but it won’t make much difference. You’re not going to live long enough to get any nourishment out of it.” – Walt Radak (Raymond Burr)

Beauty for Sale airs on TCM on June 8th and Desperate airs on June 30th. Check ‘em out!

You only owe it to yourself.

In Review – Girls on Film: Lessons from a Life of Watching Women in Movies (2022)

•May 24, 2022 • 2 Comments

If you’re a fan of TCM, you’re already familiar with Alicia Malone, who has been one of the hosts on the network since 2018. A native of Australia, Malone is the author of three books: Backwards and in Heels: The Past, Present and Future of Women Working in Film (2017); The Female Gaze: Essential Movies Made By Women (2018); and her latest, Girls on Film: Lessons from a Life of Watching Women in Movies (2022). All three books – as indicated by their titles – focus on Malone’s passion for exploring, highlighting, and celebrating women in film, both in front of and behind the camera. Girls on Film differs from these, however, in that it is also a semi-memoir of Malone’s life. I took a copy of this book on my recent trip to the TCM film festival, to read while traveling, and let me tell you – I devoured it like it was a box of Fannie May milk chocolate buttercreams.

This easy-to-read tome grabbed my attention from the very start, where Malone points to movies as a source of joy in her life and shares a quote by French director Francois Truffaut, who once stated, “I think I like the image of life better than life. I don’t think real life is as satisfying as film.” Malone writes in a comfortable, conversational tone; each chapter centers on a specific period in her life and discusses the films and performers that she relates to, draws inspiration from, or achieves answers regarding life’s questions.

Alicia’s book introduced me to Mr. Movies.

Some of the personal experiences shared by Malone in the book include seeing The NeverEnding Story (1984) at the age of three and crying hysterically when she witnessed the death of the main character’s horse; starting a film club at her all-female high school which turned out to be woefully unsuccessful; her self-taught film education, which used Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guides as a foundation and relied on information provided by Australian movie critic and historian Bill Collins, also known as Mr. Movies; and her professional stepstones, from working in a video store, to being an autocue operator at a local television station, to hosting at Australia’s Movie Network, to moving to Los Angeles and, eventually, TCM. She also speaks with candor about the “character” of Alicia Malone that she created for her career (complete with a different last name and dyed red hair), and her return to the “real” Alicia, which has included allowing her hair to resume its natural blonde color and moving from Los Angeles to a small town on the East Coast (where she has a dream of opening her own movie theater).

I’ve seen bits and pieces of this film, but Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is now a must-see.

Interspersed among these details, Malone discusses a variety of films with female lead characters, as well as the off-screen lives of the performers who brought these characters to life. One of the main things I loved about this book is that I never knew, from page to page, what was coming next – an interesting peek at Alicia’s personal life, details about the off-screen lives of a variety of actresses (including Vampira, Marilyn Monroe, Lana Turner, Audrey Hepburn, and Ingrid Bergman), or a thought-provoking discussion on a beloved film or one that I have now added to my watchlist, like Woman of the Year (1942), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), Smooth Talk (1986), and Mad Love (1995).

It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed a book this much – in fact, before I even finished it, I purchased Malone’s Backwards and in Heels book, and I’ve placed her second book on my Amazon wish list. Check this one out – whether you’re an avid TCM watcher, a champion of films with memorable female characters, a classic movie fan, or all of the above, I guarantee you’re going to enjoy Girls on Film.

National Classic Movie Day: Four Favorite Noirs

•May 15, 2022 • 25 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.

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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.