Shadowy and Satiny Picks: What to Watch on TCM in February 2023

•February 2, 2023 • Leave a Comment

February is a short month, but there’s no shortage of first-rate pre-Codes and noirs on TCM for you to discover, including the two I’ve selected as my recommendations . . .

Satiny Pick: Bed of Roses (1933)

This film stars one of my favorite pre-Code stars: Constance Bennett. She’s not usually acclaimed for her acting chops, but she’s endlessly fascinating to me, whether she’s cracking wise or gliding about in an elegant gown. And this month’s Satiny selection offers a bit of both.

Bed of Roses opens with a shot of Bennett’s character, Lorry Evans, sitting on a bed while she looks at old pictures of herself taken with various men. She then tears up the pictures and carelessly tosses them on her pillow. It’s then that we see she’s been sitting on a bunk in a prison cell – and she’s just been sprung.

The worldly wise Lorry is released along with her pal Minnie Brown (Pert Kelton). We don’t yet know what they were in for, but we get a good idea when they exit the prison gates. While Lorry talks with a minister who’s there to meet her (and has arranged a job for her as a nanny, which she promptly rejects), Minnie sidles up to a nearby truck driver and asks him for a ride to the docks. The man looks her up and down: “Well,” he says, “make me an offer.” By the time Lorry joins them, the deal is struck; Minnie asks Lorry to drive the truck – while she and the driver “check up on his groceries” in the back. Get it?

— Bed of Roses was the fourth screen teaming of these two.

Turns out that both Lorry and Minnie are prostitutes whose modus operandi is to get their prey drunk and then rob them. The women board a steamboat to New Orleans, where Lorry doesn’t waste any time fleecing a fellow passenger. When the captain of the boat accuses her of the theft, Lorry jumps overboard and is rescued a short time later by Dan (Joel McCrea), the skipper of a cotton barge. He gives her some food, dry clothes, and a place to sleep, and she repays him by bolting from the barge as soon as it reaches New Orleans – and taking Dan’s cash with her. “So help me,” Dan says when he discovers his empty money bag, “if I ever get my hands on that dame . . .”

The rest of the film finds Lorry continuing her scandalous ways, becoming the sugar daughter (is that a thing?) to a wealthy publisher and, of course, crossing paths with Dan again. It’s a satisfying bit of pre-Codian fluff – 67 economical minutes of rags to riches to something in between.

Other stuff:

The film’s screenwriter was Wanda Tuckock, who penned the screenplays for several other pre-Codes, including No Other Woman (1933) starring Irene Dunne and Finishing School (1934) with Frances Dee and Ginger Rogers.

— Pert Kelton, on the far left, was the original Alice.

Pert Kelton, as Bennett’s prison buddy, very nearly walks off with the film. She’s sassy and funny, pragmatic and shrewd. My only complaint is that we don’t see enough of her. Kelton, who started out in vaudeville, was the original Alice in “The Honeymooners,” which first aired as a playlet on The Jackie Gleason Show. In 1950, Kelton and her actor-director husband Ralph Bell were listed in Red Channels, a publication that listed actors, writers, musicians, and others, accusing them of Communism. After seven episodes, Kelton was removed from The Honeymooners and replaced by Audrey Meadows. Kelton and Bell later became the first to file a libel suit against the publishers of Red Channels. They sought $300,000 in damages, but they later dropped the suit.

Bed of Roses marked Constance Bennett’s fourth and final screen teaming with Joel McCrea. The other films were Born to Love (1931), The Common Law (1931), and Rockabye (1932).

The film was directed by Gregory LaCava, who would go on to helm My Man Godfrey (1936) and Stage Door (1937), earning Best Director Oscar nominations for both.

Shadowy Pick: Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948)

Its rather unsavory title notwithstanding. Kiss the Blood Off My Hands is a cracking good noir starring Burt Lancaster and Joan Fontaine and set in post-war London. It was the first film produced by the independent production company owned by Lancaster and his agent, Harold Hecht (named Hecht-Norma, after Lancaster’s then-wife), based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Gerald Butler. The production company, which would be joined in 1957 by producer James Hill, would later produce a number of classics, including Best Picture Oscar-winner Marty (1955), Sweet Smell of Success (1957), and Separate Tables (1958).

— It wasn’t exactly a “meet cute.”

The film centers on Lancaster’s Bill Saunders, a former prisoner of war who is clearly still suffering the after-effects of his experience. At the film’s start, a foreword speaks of the casualties of war and the impact on both cities and  men: “The cities can be rebuilt, but the wounds of men, whether of the mind or of the body, heal slowly.” And our first glimpse of Bill, in a London pub, tells us that he is far from recovered.

Before we even see Bill’s face, we can tell that all is not well. He’s leaning over the counter of the pub in a stance that suggests defeat, ignoring the announcement that the establishment is closing. When the proprietor grips Bill’s arm, Bill angrily shakes him off, then delivers a single punch that results in the other man’s death.

Fleeing from a mob of locals and the police, Bill manages to slip into the window of a flat inhabited by a nurse, Jane Wharton (Fontaine), where he stays until the morning. Interestingly, once she gets past her initial fright, Jane’s demeanor is composed, as if she’s the one in control of the situation – asking Bill why he’s afraid, telling him he talked in his sleep but remarking that he “didn’t say anything incriminating,” getting ready for work as if there weren’t a wanted criminal in the same room. And although she has the opportunity, on more than one occasion, to escape, she doesn’t take advantage.

— Harry Carter. Don’t let the smile fool ya.

Over time, bound by their mutual loneliness, Bill and Jane two grow closer, but their budding relationship is jeopardized when a third party enters the picture – conman Harry Carter (Robert Newton), who was in the pub the night of Bill’s crime, witnessed the incident, and is determined to reap the benefits. And therein lies the noir.

Other stuff:

There’s a scene in the film where Bill, imprisoned after a run-in with police, is whipped with a cat o’ nine tails. Lancaster was known for doing his own stunts and insisted that he really be beaten (a leather belt was used). He’d told the actor delivering the blows to “really lay it on,” and apparently he did – Lancaster was reportedly so blistered that he couldn’t wear a shirt the following day.

Kiss the Blood Off My Hands was directed by actor-turned-director Norman Foster, who I know best from his pre-Code appearances. Behind the camera, he directed several films in the Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto series, and such noirs as Journey into Fear (1943) and Woman on the Run (1950). Interestingly, he also helmed numerous episodes of TV’s Loretta Young Show and The New Loretta Young Show – Young was his co-star in two 1932 pre-Codes: Play Girl and Week-End Marriage.

— Norman Foster in one of his films with Loretta Young.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) reviewed the film’s rather lurid title; although the association determined that the title didn’t violate the Production Code, it recommended that it be changed. After Hecht polled owners, exhibitors and bookers, and used audience comments from film preview response cards, the film was released in the U.S. as Kiss the Blood Off My Hands – but as The Unafraid in Australia and New Zealand, and as Blood on My Hands in the U.K.

Tune into TCM February 6th for Bed of Roses, and February 12th to catch Kiss the Blood Off My Hands.

You only owe it to yourself.

It’s Not Horror, It’s Noir: El Vampiro Negro (1953)

•January 28, 2023 • 4 Comments

I didn’t know what to expect from El Vampiro Negro. Because it was a Flicker Alley release, and preserved by the UCLA Film and Television Archive, I figured it would surely be worth my time, but as a firm disliker of horror films (and vampires in particular), I’ll admit that the title threw me off a little.

As it turned out, I didn’t have a thing to worry about.

This Argentinian film opens with credits that (the cheery music notwithstanding) put me in the mind and mood of Double Indemnity (1944); you know, where the credits roll atop the figure of a man on crutches slowly making his way toward the camera? Well, in El Vampiro Negro, beneath the names of the film’s cast and crew, we see a man in a trench coat and hat, slowly trying to make his way up a vast, shadowy expanse of stairs, only to tumble backwards just as he reaches the top. Who is this man? Why is he climbing these stairs? What’s wrong with him? I’m not sure that we ever find the answers to these questions, but it’s certainly an attention-grabbing opener.

The second remake of the 1931 Fritz Lang classic, M (which starred Peter Lorre), El Vampiro Negro centers on a series of child abductions and murders in an undetermined city in Europe. The film begins with a psychological evaluation and trial of Teodoro Ulber (Nathan Pinzon), the language teacher accused of the crimes. The noirish tone of the film’s opening is sustained during the evaluation scene. Ulber – depicted in an extreme closeup of his face – is shown pictures from a Rorschach test and asked, “What do you see here?” Through a hazy film of continuously swirling smoke, Ulber’s answer to these queries is that he doesn’t know, but for each picture he’s shown, his mind conjures an image – a laughing woman, a little girl’s smiling face, Ulber himself in a elevator. It’s not until later in the film that we will see these images again, and understand exactly what they mean.

— Olga Zubarry and Roberto Escalada in a pensive moment from the film.

At the trial, we learn that the prosecutor is seeking the death penalty for Ulber, in contrast to the argument from Ulber’s attorney, who wants his client confined to a mental institution, insisting that he suffers from a sickness that can be “reached by the light of goodness.” From here, we enter a flashback that lasts almost the entirety of the film. We meet Amalia (Olga Zubarry), a nightclub singer who sees Ulber dispose of a child’s body in the city’s sewers. And Amalia’s friend Cora (Nelly Panizza), who meets Ulber in the club and develops an unusual relationship with him. And the prosecutor, Dr. Bernard (Roberto Escalada), who is devoted to his sweet-faced, invalid wife, but isn’t quite the soul of virtue that he appears to be.

As I stated at the outset, I wasn’t sure what kind of experience I’d have watching El Vampiro Negro, but within the first 10 minutes or so, I was riveted. The film offers flawed, fascinating, multifaceted characters; moments of nail-biting tension; misdirection and mistaken identity; coincidences and near misses; startling violence; and outstanding cinematography. And my enjoyment of the film was enhanced by the extras that were part of the two-disc Flicker Alley set (one disc is a DVD, and the other is a Blu-Ray), especially a superb feature produced by Steven C. Smith called The 3 Faces of ‘M,’ which provides insights on all three versions of this film and includes interviews with Alan K. Rode and Imogen Sara Smith, film critic Beth Accomando, and others. The extras also include an interesting interview with Daniel Vinoly, son of the film’s director, Roman Vinoly Baretto, and a souvenir booklet containing lots of great photographs and a first-rate essay by Imogen Sara Smith.

Other stuff:

I mentioned that El Vampiro Negro was the second remake of M – the first remake, also called M, was released in 1951 and starred David Wayne in the role of the child killer. This feature was a film noir that boasted a cast brimming with noir vets and familiar faces, including Luther Adler, Howard Da Silva, Raymond Burr, Karen Morley, Norman Lloyd, Steve Brodie, and Jim Backus.

For reasons that I’ve been unable to fathom, the film contains stock shots of Chicago – one shows the city’s Wrigley Building and Michigan Avenue Bridge (and two buses with the name of the city on them!). There’s another stock shot that I’m fairly certain is also Chicago, showing the El and some nearby buildings housing businesses and apartments. Why are these in the movie? I need answers.

The child abducted by Ulber at the end of the film was played by the director’s daughter; she acted under the name “Gogo.”

I highly recommend that you check out this release. Treat yourself!

__________________

Thanks to Flicker Alley for providing me with this screener for review!

The ‘What a Character!’ Blogathon: Jay C. Flippen

•January 8, 2023 • 19 Comments

It was once said that Jay C. Flippen had “the face of ill-assembled grandeur – as if Mount Rushmore had been taken apart stone by stone and put back together again by a well-meaning idiot.” This colorful description notwithstanding, the burly character actor was a man of fortitude and determination – a veteran of vaudeville, radio, theater, screen, and television, Flippen continued to appear in feature films and television shows even after his leg was amputated late in his career. With performances in nearly 60 films alongside such stars as Spencer Tracy, Joseph Cotten, and James Stewart, Flippen was also a contributor to five films noirs: Brute Force (1947), They Live By Night (1949), The People Against O’Hara (1951), The Las Vegas Story (1952), and The Killing (1956).

Flippen (“Yes, that’s my real name,” he said once. “Who would change their name to Jay C. Flippen?”) was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, on March 6, 1899 (some sources say 1900). Possessing an affinity for performing from an early age, Flippen gained experience in local talent shows produced by his mother, who also taught ballroom dancing. By the time he reached his teens, he was substituting for acts that failed to appear for their engagements at the town’s Majestic Theater.

“Whenever someone on the bill got sick, the manager called in my mother and she put the finger on me,” Flippen once recalled. “A format? Material? Who needed them? There were a million jokes around.”

At the age of 16, while performing in blackface, Flippen’s antics caught the eye of the proprietor of the traveling Al G. Fields Minstrel Show. Fields hired Flippen as an understudy, and after a year, he was a regular performer with the act. Later, Flippen worked with famed comedian Al Jolson, then moved on to burlesque.

“We did 14 shows a week, a matinee, and an evening performance daily, with a new show every week,” Flippen said. “Because of this, they were a great training school for an acting career.”

It’s believed that Bert Williams, a famous black comedian of the era, got Flippen his first New York stage role in 1920 in Broadway Brevities. Before long, Flippen was signed by the famed theatrical producers, the Shuberts, and by the mid-1920s, he had achieved star status, appearing in 1926 alongside Jack Benny in The Great Temptations, and the following year with Texas Guinan and Lillian Roth in Padlocks of 1927. Over the next few years, Flippen would also work with such greats as Fanny Brice, Sophie Tucker, and Elsie Janis. (Click below to hear Flippen performing “Out Where the Blues Began” in 1929.)

Flippen expanded his performing repertoire to include radio in 1930, utilizing his comedic talents on his own show, The Flippen-Cies, which established him as a top emcee. He was also heard on such broadcasts as Col. Flippen’s Amateur Hour, Earn Your Vacation, Battle of the Sexes, and Correction Please, and – in his spare time – took up broadcasting New York Yankee baseball games. In years to come, Flippen would utilize his talents as a toastmaster to host four Birthday Balls for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the “roasting” of Milton Berle at Hollywood’s Masquers’ Club, as well as serving as Abbot of the New York Friars Club.

In 1934, Flippen turned to the big screen, appearing in small roles in Universal’s Million Dollar Ransom, with Edward Arnold and Phillips Holmes, and Fox’s Marie Galante, starring Spencer Tracy. He promptly returned to New York, however, resuming his busy career on radio and on the stage. During the war years, as a leading personality in the American Guild of Variety Artists, Flippen headed several nationwide tours to raise money for the Red Cross. He did not return to films until more than a decade later when, in 1947, friend and producer Mark Hellinger cast him as a prison guard in Brute Force, his entry into film noir. This feature focused on a planned prison break headed by the inmates of a single cell in a men’s prison. Flippen’s minor role was mostly overlooked by critics, but the film was lauded upon its release; in a typical notice, the reviewer for Newsweek called it “a forceful, even sadistic melodrama with moments of terrifying action and a climax that will raise the hackles on your neck.”

— Flippen in Brute Force.

With his first role in a major film behind him, Flippen decided to settle in Hollywood, but not only because of his prospects on the silver screen. Shortly after the release of Brute Force, a writer for MGM by the name of Ruth Brooks was searching for the lyrics to an old vaudeville tune, and was reportedly told, “Get in touch with Jay C. Flippen. If he doesn’t know’ em, no one does.” Brooks followed the advice and a few months later, she and Flippen were married. Their marriage would last until Flippen’s death in 1971, and Ruth Brooks Flippen would later become a well-known television comedy writer, penning episodes for such shows as Bewitched, The Brady Bunch, My World and Welcome to It, and Gidget. (The couple would never have children, but they did have two beloved basset hounds named Grand and Glorious – last name: Technicolor.)

Meanwhile, Flippen was next seen in a variety of films including Intrigue (1947), a cliché-ridden adventure starring George Raft; Oh, You Beautiful Doll (1949), a pleasant musical biography of songwriter Fred Fisher; Down to the Sea in Ships (1949), a rousing 19th-century sea adventure; and They Live by Night (1949), his second film noir. Here, Flippen played a featured role as T-Dub, a hardened criminal who escapes from prison with two fellow inmates, Chickamaw (Howard Da Silva) and Arthur “Bowie” Bowers (Farley Granger). The film opened to raves from audiences and critics alike, and Flippen was singled out by Variety for his “top-notch . . . delineation of a criminal.” Interestingly, Flippen recalled years later that he was not the first choice for the role of T-Dub.

“[Director Nicholas Ray] had a helluva time talking [RKO head] Dore Schary into it,” Flippen told TV Guide in 1962. “’Flippen? Nah! He’s a comic, everybody knows that,’ Schary argued. ‘Assuming he can act – which I seriously doubt – he certainly couldn’t play the scene where he has to slap Farley Granger around.’ Anyway, I tested – with Farley. I told him, ‘Kid, you don’t mind if I beat the socks off you, do you?’ Well, the picture was a big smash . . . but for years, I couldn’t get a comedy part. ‘Flippen? Nah!’ they told my agent. ‘I saw him slap Farley Granger around.’”

— Flippen turned in a fine performance in They Live By Night.

After this superb film, Flippen was seen in a series of well-received features, including Winchester ’73 (1950), a first-rate western in which he portrayed a calvary sergeant; Two Flags West (1950), another western, this one starring Joseph Cotten and Linda Darnell; and Flying Leathernecks (1951), a war-time drama starring John Wayne and Robert Ryan. In the latter film, Flippen was featured prominently in a running gag as an army sergeant who steals from other companies to ensure that his own outfit is well-equipped. Also during this period, Flippen added two more noirs to his repertoire, The People Against O’Hara (1951) and The Las Vegas Story (1952). The People Against O’Hara tells the story of a former defense attorney (Spencer Tracy), forced out of practice because of a drinking problem, who is lured back to defend a boy accused in a fatal shooting. Flippen played a Swedish seaman who was a witness to the crime. Flippen’s next noir, The Las Vegas Story, depicts a plethora of intertwined plot elements, including a wealthy man desperate to raise cash to cover up his role in an embezzlement scheme; a reignited affair between a police lieutenant and his former lover; and a private detective chasing a $10,000 necklace. Flippen turned in a rather comical performance as the local sheriff who is characterized by his fondness for trout fishing and his overinflated sense of self-importance.

During the next several years, Flippen appeared in films of varying quality. Some were outstanding, including Bend of the River (1952), a well-done western with James Stewart and Arthur Kennedy; The Wild One (1953), the classic rebellious biker film starring Marlon Brando; and Oklahoma! (1955), the popular musical starring Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones. Others ranged from mediocre to downright lousy, like East of Sumatra (1953), a tired bit of escapism starring Jeff Chandler; and The King and Four Queens (1956), a weak western starring Clark Gable. But Flippen rebounded from these forgettable features with his final film noir, The Killing (1956).

— In his final noir, The Killing.

This superb offering focuses on an intricate racetrack heist planned by ex-con Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden) with the assistance of a motley crew of characters that include a mousy racetrack cashier, a bartender, and a beat cop with a gambling problem. Flippen played Marvin Unger, a bookkeeper with more than a passing fondness for Johnny.

In addition to his cinematic output during the 1950s, Flippen also began appearing on the small screen, playing guest spots in series from Rawhide to The Dick Van Dyke Show, and starring as the cantankerous captain Homer Nelson on the military sitcom Ensign O’Toole, which ran from 1962 to 1963 on NBC-TV. His feature film credits during this time included the underrated Wild River (1960), starring Montgomery Clift and directed by Elia Kazan; How the West Was Won (1962), a sweeping western drama with an all-star cast that included James Stewart, Henry Fonda, Debbie Reynolds, Thelma Ritter, and Gregory Peck; and Cat Ballou (1965), a western spoof starring Lee Marvin in a dual role. In 1963, while filming the later feature, Flippen suffered an experience that threatened to end his career. After injuring his right leg while opening a car door, Flippen developed a sore that would not heal. The actor tried to treat it with home remedies, but an infection set in and the leg became gangrenous. Upon completing his role for the film, Flippen was hospitalized for 10 weeks.

“The doctor told me I could stay in the hospital and be a parsnip, or I could lose my leg,” Flippen said. “So I lost my leg.”

Flippen remained in the hospital until 1965, during which his weight dropped from 195 pounds to 105. He later admitted that he feared he would never act again.

— One of his last roles was in Hellfighters (1968).

“My wife gave me my key line,” he said. “I said, after the operation, wallowing in self-pity, ‘How am I going to act with one leg?’ She looked at me and said, ‘Jay, you don’t act with one leg.’ That gave me buoyancy.”

Following his release from the hospital, Flippen practiced walking daily at home with his prosthetic limb and underwent training three times a week at UCLA. A year later, he was seen in his first acting role since the amputation, a guest spot on The Virginian, playing his part from a wheelchair. He followed this appearance with a made-for-television movie, Fame is the Name of the Game, starring Anthony Franciosa and Jill St. John.

“After I did my first scene, I looked around. Everybody was crowding around the set trying to see the old boy working again,” Flippen said in a 1966 interview. “And when the director called ‘cut,’ a great big hand went up for this old-timer. I’ve had some pretty good receptions at the old Palace Theater, but this spontaneous ovation on the sound stage really got me – right here.”

Flippen continued to act during the next few years in a number of television movies as well as such feature films as The Spirit is Willing (1967), a haunted house comedy starring Sid Caesar; Firecreek (1968), a James Stewart vehicle that was vaguely reminiscent of High Noon (1952); Hellfighters (1968), based on the life of oil firefighter “Red” Adair; and The Seven Minutes (1971), a talky drama about a movie star who is brought to trial for writing an allegedly pornographic novel. It would be Flippen’s last film.

On February 2, 1971, just days after receiving a “clean ticket” by his doctor, Flippen suffered a brain aneurysm while watching television at home. He died the following day at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Hollywood, a month before his 72nd birthday. The eulogy for his memorial service was conducted by Flippen’s longtime friend, comedian Milton Berle.

With his roots in vaudeville and burlesque, and his successful conquering of every medium of entertainment, Jay C. Flippen truly enjoyed one of Hollywood’s most colorful careers. Known for his humor and wit, Flippen’s contributions to the annals of film are outmatched only by his courage following his potentially career-ending amputation and his determination to resume his livelihood. With typical modesty, Flippen always credited his wife, Ruth, with supplying him with the fortitude to forge ahead.

“All that time,” Flippen said once, “she never let me forget that I’m an actor first – and a man somewhere down the line.”

———

This post is part of the “What A Character!” blogathon, hosted by Paula’s Cinema Club, Once Upon a Screen, and Outspoken & Freckled. Click their sites to read the many great posts about some of Hollywood’s most memorable character performers.

Shadowy and Satiny Picks: What to Watch on TCM in January 2023

•January 3, 2023 • 8 Comments

Happy New Year, film lovers! I hope that your holidays were merry and bright, that you are in full recovery mode from any overindulgences, and that you’re ready to kick back and check out some time-worthy noirs and pre-Code features on TCM!

Shadowy Pick: Don’t Bother to Knock (1952)

TCM is offering a number of first-rate noirs this month, including Nora Prentiss (1947), Gun Crazy (1950), and Angel Face (1952), but my choice is a film that’s seldom discussed – Don’t Bother to Knock, starring Marilyn Monroe, Richard Widmark, and Anne Bancroft (in her big screen debut). This feature offers a medley of unique and memorable characters, including Nell Forbes (Monroe), who spent three years in an asylum after attempting suicide when her boyfriend was killed in a plane crash; Nell’s uncle, Eddie (Elisha Cook, Jr.), who finds Nell a babysitting job in the hotel where he works as an elevator operator; and Jed Towers (Widmark), a cynical pilot and hotel guest who has just been dumped by his long-suffering girlfriend, Lyn (Bancroft). The lives of these four characters intertwine within the walls of the hotel, reaching a frightening climax when Nell confuses Jed with her deceased lover and accuses the young girl in her charge of coming between them.

— Uncle Eddie (Elisha Cook, Jr.) doesn’t think this babysitting gig is going so well.

The reviews for the film were mixed, with an especially muddled assessment coming from the critic for Variety, who wrote that Monroe gave an “excellent account of herself in a strictly dramatic role,” but also said that Monroe’s casting “seems an odd choice” because the role was “anything but glamorous.” The habitually acerbic Bosley Crowther of the New York Times found that Monroe played the part with a “childishly blank expression and a provokingly feeble, hollow voice,” and the critic for the Los Angeles Times declared that Monroe’s performances was “reinforced by virtually no acting resources whatsoever.” Frankly, I don’t know what film these latter two critics were looking at – their opinions sound like they’re personal rather than grounded in objectivity. In my view, Monroe turned in a touching and believable portrayal of a mentally ill woman in a constant struggle with reality. And, for what it’s worth, Anne Bancroft later said that her experience acting with Monroe was “remarkable,” adding that she “moved me so that tears came into my eyes.”

Satiny Pick: Illegal (1932)

Unlike most of the films I recommend here, I’ve only seen Illegal once, last year, when it aired on TCM. But it really made an impression. I’ll admit that I wasn’t overwhelmed in the beginning; in fact, I only had it on to provide background noise while I was working on a writing assignment. But before I knew what was happening, my writing plans fell by the proverbial wayside and I was riveted! Produced in England by Warner Bros.’ Teddington Studios, the film centers on a story of mother love in the tradition of such matriarchs as Stella Dallas and Mildred Pierce. Evelyn Dean (Isobel Elsom) is unlucky in love; when her second husband turns out to be a thoroughgoing cad, she kicks him to the curb and enters into a successful – but illegal – enterprise in order to support her two daughters. And that’s just the beginning. With a running time of just a little more than an hour, the movie manages to pack in a surfeit of pre-Codian goodies (or baddies, to be more accurate).

Pay special attention to Dorothy Turner, the more spirited and irresponsible (and interesting!) of Evelyn’s daughters. She’s played by Margot Grahame, who you may recognize from her roles in The Informer and The Three Musketeers (both 1935) and The Buccaneer (1938). Incidentally, she was cast in Forever Amber (1938), but her scenes wound up on the cutting room floor. I’d heard of Grahame before this film, but I’d never seen any of her films. Her performance in this one made me want to see more.

Tune into TCM to catch Don’t Bother to Knock on January 8th and Illegal on January 25th.

You only owe it to yourself.

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

•December 2, 2022 • 3 Comments

Sometimes it takes me a while to come up with my Shadowy and Satiny picks for the month, either because there aren’t many good films from which to choose, or I’ve already written about them in previous posts, or there are just so many winners, I scarcely can settle on one!

But I didn’t have any problems picking December’s TCM recommendations – as soon as I saw that these two films were airing this month, my work was done.

Shadowy Pick: Flamingo Road (1949)

I haven’t seen many Joan Crawford movies that I don’t love. (Keep in mind that I’ve never seen Trog.) And Flamingo Road is no different. In fact, it’s one of my favorite Crawford films – and that’s saying something. In it, Joan plays Lane Bellamy (love that name), a real dame who drifts from one town to another, and one job to another, just making enough to keep it together. We meet her when she’s working as a hooch dancer at a traveling carnival; world weary and fed up with carny life, she stays behind when the carnival is run out of town by local authorities. Before long, she’s made the acquaintance of the deputy sheriff, Field Carlisle (Zachary Scott), who helps her get a job and a place to stay; Sheriff Titus Semple (Sydney Greenstreet), an imposing figure who runs the town like a king in his fiefdom, and takes an instant dislike to Lane; Lute Mae Sanders (Gladys George), owner of the town’s roadhouse and a straight-talking gal who gives Lane a job after Titus gets her fired from her waitress gig; and Dan Reynolds (David Brian), boss of the state political machine who falls for Lane.

— Sheriff Semple likes milk, but he doesn’t like Lane.

There’re a lot of moving pieces in this one – there’s Lane’s ongoing battles with Titus Semple; the budding romance between Lane and Field, even though he’s practically married to the wealthy Annabelle Weldon (Virginia Huston); Titus’s plans to boost Field up the political ladder, to senator and beyond, so he can manipulate him from behind the scenes. Although the notoriously grumpy Bosley Crowther of the New York Times labeled the film a “murky thing” and a “jumbled melodrama,” I beg to differ. (I usually do with ol’ Bos.) Flamingo Road isn’t Shakespeare, but it’s entertaining, never boring, filled with memorable scenes – and it stars Joanie. Sounds like a winner to me. Tune into TCM on December 27th and see for yourself.

Other stuff:

The film was helmed by the great Michael Curtiz, who also directed Crawford and Zachary Scott in Mildred Pierce four years earlier.

Flamingo Road marked the last big screen appearance of Alice White, who started her career in silent films and was popular during the pre-Code era in movies like Employees Entrance (1933) and Picture Snatcher (1933). I’ve been meaning to do a post about her life and career for quite some time now; maybe I’ll get around to it in 2023!

— Huston appeared in Out of the Past with Mitchum.

You might recognize the actress playing Field’s fiancée, Annabelle – Virginia Huston played the small-town girl Robert Mitchum falls for and tells his story to in Out of the Past (1947). Huston would appear in another Crawford noir a few years later, playing her secretary in Sudden Fear (1952).

David Brian, the politically savvy businessman who meets Lane at Lute Mae’s, would go on to co-star with Crawford in two other noirs, The Damned Don’t Cry (1950) and This Woman is Dangerous (1952). He made his big screen debut in Flamingo Road.

In 1980, the story of Flamingo Road aired as a made-for-TV movie and the following year it morphed into a nighttime soaper on NBC-TV, designed to rival CBS’s Dallas and Knots Landing. Howard Duff starred as Titus Semple; the cast also included Morgan Fairchild, Stella Stevens, and Barbara Rush. It was a hit at first, but it struggled against ABC’s popular Hart to Hart (with Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers) and was cancelled after just two years. (It’s not available on any streaming platforms, but I just bought the entire series on DVD from Etsy!)

Satiny Pick: The Silver Cord (1933)

This one airs on December 28th as part of TCM’s witty salute to silver and gold; other films airing that day include The Silver Streak (1935), Flaming Gold (1933), and Gold Is Where You Find It (1938). I can’t vouch for these, but The Silver Cord is something else, y’all. Sweet little Aunt Pittypat (Laura Hope Crews) from Gone With the Wind stars as the mother-in-law from hell – also known as Mrs. Phelps, mother to two sons, David (Joel McCrea) and Robert (Eric Linden). Robert is engaged to Hester (Frances Dee); both of them live in her home (for some reason), and David, a budding architect, has just returned home from Europe with a new wife in tow, Christina (Irene Dunne), a research biologist.

— Christina delivers a speech at the end that has to be heard to be believed.

You know from the moment Mrs. Phelps enters the film that she is a gigantic piece of work: “Dave! Dave boy! Dave!” she calls him, hysterically dashing from one end of her vast living room to the next. “Where are you!? Where are you, Dave? Dave, come here this minute! Don’t you hear me? It’s MOTHER!” From that point on, you’d better hang on to your hats, because this chick is about to take you on the ride of your life. Not only is she determined to use her significant manipulative wiles to break up the union of David and Christina, but she also works on putting the kibosh on Robert’s upcoming nuptials as well. And when I say she wants to come between her sons and their mates, I’m not just whistling Dixie. There’s one scene, where Mrs. Phelps and Robert are alone, discussing Christina and her plans to whisk David away from his mother’s loving care. Mrs. Phelps sits down by the fire, instructing her son to sit at her feet, “head in my lap.” She then goes to work on Robert, craftily discrediting his fiancée: “Have you ever thought that perhaps you didn’t love Hester?” she asks. “I want to save you from throwing yourself away, as Dave has thrown himself away.” She extracts a promise from Robert that he will break off his engagement with Hester, then says in a voice that’s close to ecstasy, “Then I won’t have to be lonely. I won’t have to be lonely. Kiss me.” And then she plants a LONG, totally non-motherly kiss right on her son’s lips. It’s crazy, y’all. And that’s just the beginning. If you haven’t seen this one (and even if you have), do yourself a favor and check it out. You won’t be sorry.

Other stuff:

— McCrea and Dee were married for nearly 60 years.

Frances Dee and Joel McCrea met on the set of this film and married later that same year. The remained together until McCrea’s death on October 20, 1990 – their 57th wedding anniversary.

The film was directed by John Cromwell, who also directed the Broadway play on which the film was based. Laura Hope Crews was in the Broadway production as well. Incidentally, Cromwell’s son is James Cromwell, who has appeared in countless film and television shows, including Babe (1995), L.A. Confidential (1997), Babe, and HBO’s Succession. (I first saw him as Stretch Cunningham on All in the Family.)

Jane Murfin wrote the film’s screenplay. She also wrote (or co-wrote) the screenplays for such films as What Price Hollywood? (1932), Double Harness (1933) The Women (1939), and Pride and Prejudice (1940).

Mark your calendars so you won’t miss either of these memorable movies. You only owe it to yourself.

Noirvember Day 30: Parting Gifs

•November 30, 2022 • 11 Comments

As Groucho Marx once said, time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana. (He slays me.)

It’s hard to believe the month is over already, y’all — it seems like just yesterday I was offering up my noir recommendations for November, and now it’s time to say farewell! It’s been another great ride, though, and I can’t be more grateful for you wonderful people out there in the dark who read, skimmed, commented, liked, or just passed through. You’ve made Noirvember a joy. I’m already making plans for next year — my 10-year Noirvemberversary! Meanwhile, it’s my pleasure and privilege to leave you with some parting gifs of some of my favorite film noir images — consider it my way of saying thank you, thank you, and thank you!

I thought I’d kick things off with a little Sterling Hayden.(Crime Wave, 1953)

Mike Mazurki is not here to play with you. (Murder, My Sweet, 1944)

This guy. (Detour, 1945)

I’ll admit I’m not wild about the movie, but this scene is all that. (The Lady from Shanghai, 1947)

When I was a smoker, I really wanted one of these. Kinda still do. (Sunset Boulevard, 1950)

Turner not only serves up one of noir’s best entrances in this scene, she gives us a great exit, too. (The Postman Always Rings Twice, 1946).

Was poison really labeled “poison” back in the day? (Sudden Fear, 1952)

Such a classic Hitchcockian shot. (Shadow of a Doubt, 1943)

Love this cool cameo of screenwriter Raymond Chandler. (Double Indemnity, 1944)

Until next year, y’all. (The Big Combo, 1955) See you in the shadows . . .

Noirvember Day 29: Trivia Tuesday (Part 4)

•November 29, 2022 • 6 Comments
— Duryea with Helen and their boys.

On today, the last Trivia Tuesday of Noirvember 2022, I invite you to join me in a shadowy pool of trivia featuring the gents of noir!

In the early 1930s, Dan Duryea was making a living by selling ad space in small newspapers for N.W. Ayer, and commuted daily from his home in White Plains, New York to the company’s office in New York City. One day, he was offered a ride from the train station by a fellow passenger who was being picked up by his daughter, Helen Bryan. When Duryea met the young woman, it was practically love at first sight. The two were married on April 15, 1932, went on to have two sons, Peter and Richard, and remained together until Helen’s death in 1967.

Although he enjoyed a successful screen career during the 1940s and 1950s, most offers had dried up for John Ireland by the late 1980s. In a last-ditch effort to secure more work, the actor took out a full-page ad on the back page of The Hollywood Reporter in March 1987. The ad simply read: “I’m an actor. PLEASE . . . let me act.” After placing the ad, Ireland reported that his “phone hasn’t stopped ringing.”

— Webb and his mom.

Born Webb Parmalee Hollenbeck, Clifton Webb was given his stage name by his mother, Mabelle. Webb said his mother happened to be driving through Clifton, New Jersey, one day, and thought that “Clifton Webb” had good rhythm.

Jack Palance was known for his support for Black performers in Hollywood and was credited with being the first White actor to hire a Black stand-in, Marcello Clay, for his short-lived 1960s television series, The Greatest Show on Earth.

While filming the 1946 musical Cinderella Jones, Elisha Cook, Jr., experienced a brush with danger in a scene that was supposed to depict him jumping a horse across a stream. The stunt was shot in a studio tank with a wire guide through the horse’s nose, but the horse got “excited,” put his hoof up over the wire, and dragged the actor beneath him. Cook had to cut himself loose in order to escape from the water.

Called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in the early 1950s, Howard Da Silva refused to answer questions and was subsequently blacklisted. He would not appear in a feature film for nearly a decade. In addition, he was cut from the movie Slaughter Trail (1951) and all of his scenes were reshot with actor Brian Donlevy. He later said that he felt a degree of compassion for some of his colleagues who “named names,” but he added that there were some people “who will remain forever nameless, that I will not forgive. Never.”

— Fred Clark would rather act.

Fred Clark majored in psychology at Stanford University, with plans to pursue a medical career. But his plans changed during his senior year, when he appeared in a school production of Yellow Jack. After his graduation, he won a scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and the die was cast.

While playing a supporting role in Orson Welles’s production of Julius Caesar, John Hoyt got an unexpected promotion. Welles insisted upon using a real knife for the assassination scenes, and during one of the performances, the actor playing Caesar was injured. According to Hoyt, “the poor man lost two quarts — and I was assigned his role.”

In 1961, Sheldon Leonard teamed with Danny Thomas, Dick Van Dyke, and Carl Reiner to create The Dick Van Dyke Show. The four owners of the series formed a legal partnership called Calvada Productions, creating the name out of parts of the names of each (“CA” for Carl Reiner, “L” for Sheldon Leonard, “VA” for Van Dyke, and “DA” for Danny Thomas). Throughout the run of the show, the company’s name was included in various episodes as an inside joke; in one, Leonard appeared in the series as a gangster named Big Max Calvada.

— Too intellectual?

According to Richard Widmark, director Henry Hathaway did not want him for the role of Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death (1947). Because of his high forehead, Hathaway thought Widmark looked too intellectual. Twentieth Century-Fox head Darryl Zanuck wanted Widmark to try for the part; for his test, Widmark wore a wig “that brought my hairline way down like an ape.” He got the part.

Join me tomorrow for the last day (sniff!) of Noirvember!

Noirvember Day 28: Happy Birthday, Gloria!

•November 28, 2022 • 7 Comments
— Grahame would have turned 99 today.

There was nobody in Hollywood like Gloria Grahame.

She could be sweetly naïve, sexy and shrewd, broadly humorous, or just plain deadly. And she was equally adept at each. While I’ve enjoyed her performances in films like It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and Oklahoma! (1955), it’s Grahame’s noirs, of course, that I truly love. She was featured in eight noirs between 1947 and 1959, including In a Lonely Place (1950), Sudden Fear (1952), and The Big Heat (1953). Today, in celebration of her birthday, I’m taking a look at one of her performances that doesn’t receive as much buzz these days: Ginny in Crossfire (1947).

The first Hollywood drama to broach the subject of anti-Semitism, Crossfire stars three Roberts – Young, Mitchum, and Ryan – and centers on the murder of a Jewish ex-serviceman, Joseph Samuels (Sam Levene). The film opens with the savage beating of Samuels, then shows two men leaving his apartment, their faces obscured by shadows. Headed by police detective Finlay (Young), an investigation reveals that Samuels had met several soldiers at a bar on the night of his death, including Arthur Mitchell (George Cooper), Montgomery (Ryan), and Floyd Bowers (Steve Brodie). With help from Mitchell’s roommate, Peter Keeley (Mitchum), Finlay works to track down the men responsible for the murder.

— Ginny and Mitchell meet.

Grahame plays Ginny, a dance-hall girl who encounters Mitchell after he leaves Samuels’s apartment, where he, Montgomery, and Bowers had gone for a drink. Mitchell, having imbibed one too many cocktails and in need of fresh air, stumbles into a smoke-filled joint and finds himself in conversation with Ginny (“’Cause I’m from Virginia,” she explains). After just a few seconds in her company, we think we have Ginny’s number. She tells Mitchell she’s tired of working there, but that she does it for the money. Before she takes a sip of her drink, she toasts “to nothing.” And when Mitchell tells her he’d like to take her someplace where they can eat and dance and talk about themselves, Ginny laughs in his face. Literally. “Sure, I know,” she says. “I remind you of your sister.” But when Mitchell counters that she reminds him of his wife, she abruptly leaves him alone at their table.

— Ginny is not as tough as she seems.

Mitchell can’t quite figure Ginny out – and neither can we; she’s more complex than we’d thought. She’s tough and world-weary, but she seems to be hurt by Mitchell’s revelation that he’s married. She tells him she left the table because “all you wanted to do was yap – I don’t make any money on that,” but when Mitchell asks her to dance, she loses herself in the moment, almost allowing herself to believe that it has some meaning. She even gives him the key to her apartment, telling him that he can go there to get some sleep, and he kisses her before departing, leaving her with an inscrutable look on her face that seems to be a blend of sadness and longing.

We only see Ginny once more, after Mitchell is detailed by police for Samuels’s murder and his wife, Mary (played by Jacqueline White – who’s still with us and turned 100 yesterday!) accompanies Finlay to Ginny’s apartment, seeking corroboration for Mitchell’s alibi. Once again, Ginny demonstrates a hard-boiled demeanor, until Mary pleads with her, saying that they have to think of Mitchell. And that’s when Ginny’s granite-like carapace shows a crack: “He wasn’t here with me. He could have been, but he wasn’t,” she says in a voice that trembles in spite of her. “He could’ve come up. I could’ve cooked him something to eat, and we could’ve talked. And what would have been wrong with that? What’s the matter with me being with her precious husband? Does he break or something?”

— Ginny and Mary have a showdown.

Grahame’s brief time on screen – it only amounts to about 10 minutes total – earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She lost to Celeste Holm in Gentleman’s Agreement, the year’s second film with an anti-Semitism theme. Despite her relatively minor role, though, Grahame turned in a fascinating, memorable performance, one that was suitably singled out by several critics, including the reviewers for the New York Herald, who said she “does a brilliant turn as a tired man-hating dance hall hostess,” and Variety, who wrote, “Gloria Grahame as a floozy should bet much audience (and RKO studio) attention.”

I hope you’ll join me in celebrating Gloria Grahame’s birthday by taking a gander at Crossfire or one of her other noirs. You only owe it to yourself.

And join me tomorrow for Day 29 of Noirvember!

Noirvember Day 27: Sunday Words of Noir (Part 4)

•November 27, 2022 • 4 Comments
— “Let’s play Twenty Questions . . .”

It’s the last Sunday of Noirvember 2022, but don’t let that stop you from swimming in a sea of shadowy lines from the noir realm. For our final Sunday of memorable quotes, we’re hearing from the gents. Don’t get in over your head . . .

“All right, let’s play Twenty Questions. You answer them correctly, maybe I won’t knock your teeth out.” Mark Stevens in The Dark Corner (1946)

— “She knew how to handle a gun . . .”

“Flossie had looks, brains, and all the accessories. She was better than a deck with six aces. But I regret to report that she also knew how to handle a gun. My gun.” John Hoyt in Brute Force (1947)

“You’re a beautiful dame . . . one of the best I’ve seen. And you treat me like it was Christmas Eve. But no thanks. I see through you like those silk dresses you wear.” Richard Conte in New York Confidential (1955)

“Is this what you folks do for amusement in the evenings? Sit around toasting marshmallows and calling each other names? Sure, if you’re so anxious for me to join in the game, I’d be glad to. I can think of a few names I’d like to be calling you myself.” Orson Welles in The Lady from Shanghai (1947)

— “Don’t try anything smart . . .”

“You like to shoot? So do I. So I’m warning you, don’t try anything smart with me.” William Talman in The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

“Every time I run into something worthwhile, it’s married.” Barry Sullivan in Suspense (1946)

“I don’t like gambling very much. I don’t like being at the mercy of those little white squares that roll around and decide whether you win or lose. I like to have the say-so myself.” Lawrence Tierney in Born to Kill (1947)

— “Five years have taught me one thing . . .”

“The biggest mistake I made before was shooting for peanuts. Five years have taught me one thing: anytime you take a chance, you better be sure the rewards are worth the risk, ‘cause they can put you away just as fast for a ten dollar heist as they can for a million dollar job.” Sterling Hayden in The Killing (1956)

“A shrewd man never asks questions until he has gathered enough information to be able to distinguish between lies and truth.” George Macready in A Lady Without Passport (1950)

“You’re insane. You’re out of your mind. Me, too.” Kirk Douglas in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

Join me tomorrow for Day 28 of Noirvember!

Noirvember Day 26: Barbara Stanwyck – In Her Own Words

•November 26, 2022 • 4 Comments

It’s not Barbara Stanwyck’s birthday today. And it’s not the anniversary of her passing. None of her noirs were released on today’s date. Nonetheless, I’m shining the spotlight on this iconic noir veteran today. (And I know I’ve already had one Stanwyck-centric post this Noirvember, but can you really ever have enough Stanwyck?) This post isn’t focusing on the many noirs in which she appeared (including my favorite, Double Indemnity), but on the actress herself, in her own words.

Just because.

I hope you’ll enjoy what she has to say . . .

“Just be truthful – and if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”

“Eyes are the greatest tool in film. Mr. Capra taught me that. Sure it’s nice to say very good dialogue if you can get it. But great movie acting – watch the eyes!”

“Put me in the last fifteen minutes of a picture and I don’t care what happened before. I don’t even care if I was IN the rest of the damned thing – I’ll take it in those fifteen minutes.”

“My only problem is finding a way to play my fortieth fallen female in a different way from my thirty-ninth.”

“A star is only as good as her last picture.”

“I’m a tough old broad from Brooklyn. Don’t try to make me into something I’m not. If you want someone to tiptoe down the Barkley staircase in crinoline and politely ask where the cattle went, get another girl.”

“Career is too pompous a word. It was a job, and I have always felt privileged to be paid for doing what I love doing.”

She said what she said. Join me tomorrow for Day 27 of Noirvember!