Happy Noir Day — November 1st on TCM!
I started this post with grand plans to outline some of the films noirs and pre-Code features coming in November on Turner Classic Movies, but after I opened my trusty Now Playing movie guide and prepared my yellow highlighter for business, I stopped short. For there, listed on the very first day of the month, was noir, after noir, after delicious, must-see noir! (I think I feel a scratchy throat and sniffles coming on . . . I may just have to call in sick on Tuesday . . .)
So, in the spirit of flexibility (and because I’d probably be up all night trying to cover the whole month), I decided to start by focusing on the six great noirs airing on November first on TCM – nearly every one of them could easily end up on a top 10 noir list. Here goes . . .
Detour (1945). One of my favorite low-budget noirs, Detour tells the relatively straightforward tale (by noir standards) of a piano-player who sets out to hitchhike cross-country to join his fiancée in California, only to figuratively veer off-course (to DETOUR, if you will). Detour stars Tom Neal, whose real life had a plot to rival any big-screen tale, including a violent incident involving ‘B’ actress Barbara Payton and her soon-to-be-spouse Franchot Tone, a battle with the bottle, bankruptcy and, the topper (are you ready for this?), imprisonment for killing his wife. (But more of that in a future post.) Neal’s co-star, Ann Savage, plays one of the scariest, nastiest, most ruthless dames in all of film noir. Together, they create one of noir’s most dysfunctional non-romantic duos, and the dysfunction reaches a shocking, never-saw-it coming climax at the film’s end. Favorite quote: “Whichever way you turn, fate sticks out a foot to trip you.” – Tom Neal (Al Roberts)
Out of the Past (1947). This quintessential film noir has everything you could ask for – a flawed, cynical anti-hero, a gorgeous and deadly femme fatale, beautifully shot scenes bathed in light and shadow, voiceover narration, flashback, murder, deception, memorable dialogue and, from the opening reel, an undeniable sensation of certain doom. OOTP centers on Jeff Markham, also known as Jeff Bailey, a gas station owner who is confronted by the past he thought he’d managed to successfully escape. The film’s complex, labyrinthine plot will keep you on your toes, but you’ll never be bored. Favorite quote: “You know, a dame with a rod is like a guy with a knitting needle.” Steve Brodie (Jack Fisher)
Lady in the Lake (1947). Starring and directed by Robert Montgomery, Lady in the Lake was the first Hollywood feature to be filmed in the “first person point of view,” where the camera served as the eyes of Montgomery’s character, Philip Marlowe. This intricately plotted and often baffling feature depicts Marlowe’s efforts to locate the missing wife of a pulp fiction publisher – it’s interesting, entertaining, and unique. Also, it contains two of my favorite movie character names, Adrienne Fromsett and Derace Kingsby. Favorite quote: “I don’t like certain kinds of private dicks. I never did. I never met one yet that wasn’t a crook.” – Lloyd Nolan (Lt. DeGarmot)
Scarlet Street (1945). With Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Dan Duryea on screen and Fritz Lang behind the scenes, Scarlet Street is a can’t-miss. No matter how many times I see it, I seem to always spot some new bit of business or an inflection in tone that I never noticed before. It’s all about a deadly triangle involving a mild-mannered cashier and amateur artist, the beautiful and indolent woman that he falls for, and the woman’s abusive, con-man boyfriend. Scarlet Street is highlighted by terrific dialogue, a trio of magnificent performances, and an absolutely perfect noir ending. Favorite quote: “If he were mean or vicious or if he’d bawl me out or something, I’d like him better.” – Joan Bennett (Kitty March)
Tension (1949). I’m absolutely wild about Tension. The reason? Audrey Totter. She’s always great, but in Tension she plays my favorite role, a two-timing, self-absorbed dame with a cold heart and a pitiless soul – she’s awesome! Totter is smack-dab in the middle of a plot involving adultery, fake identities, and murder, and she’s capably backed by Richard Basehart, Barry Sullivan, and William Conrad. Second to the awesomeness of Totter is the inventive story – they just don’t write ‘em like this anymore. Favorite quote: “I’ve got what I’m looking for and I’m gonna grab it while I’ve got the chance – a real man. . . . It was different in San Diego – you were kind of cute in your uniform. You were full of laughs then. Well, you’re all laughed out now.” – Audrey Totter (Claire Quimby)
The Big Sleep (1946). Talk about twists and turns – The Big Sleep has them in spades. In fact, one critic labeled the film “wakeful fare for folks who don’t care what is going on, or why, so long as the talk is hard and the action harder.” The Big Sleep stars the ultra-cool Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe, a no-nonsense private eye who is hired by a wheelchair-bound moneybags to find out who is blackmailing his nymphomaniac daughter. Along the way, Marlowe stumbles upon a series of murders and a motley crew of characters, and finds his hands full with the rich invalid’s “spoiled, exacting, smart, and ruthless” older daughter, played to perfection by Bogart’s real-life wife, Lauren Bacall. You may not always know who killed whom, but trust me, your perplexity will result in sheer joy. (Incidentally, the film includes one of my favorite scenes, which you can read about here: http://bit.ly/r1dsG6.) Favorite quote: “You know, you’re the second guy I’ve met today that seems to think a gat in the hand means the world by the tail.” – Humphrey Bogart (Philip Marlowe)
So, that’s the noir line-up for November 1st – and what a line-up! You can catch any one of these films and have a noirshly happy day, but do yourself a favor, crank up the VCR (yes, I still have one – several, in fact) and tape all six!