TCM in June: They Live By Noir
TCM is lousy with film noir in the month of June. (And that’s a GOOD thing!)
With more than 30 shadowy features airing throughout the month, TCM is serving up a diverse assortment of first-rate films that are guaranteed to satisfy even the most discriminating cinematic appetites.
You want femme fatales? They got that.
Weak-willed family men? Check.
Hard-nosed private dicks? World-weary molls? Sadistic henchmen? Yup.
Voiceover narration? Flashbacks? Gun play? Fisticuffs? Without a doubt.
Duplicity? Amnesia? Mistaken identity??
They’re all here!
Because of the embarrassment of noir riches this month, I decided that it was completely impossible to select a single feature for my TCM film noir pick for June. Instead, I’m highlighting some of the many great movies from the noir era that are absolute must-sees.
(NOTE: It took me five whole days to do complete this post – by the time I’d finished, the first three movies had already aired, but I couldn’t bear to take them out. Be sure to watch for ‘em the next time around!!)
Tuesday, June 4th
Johnny Eager (1941)
Van Heflin won an Academy Award for his supporting role in this noir – and when you see his performance, you’ll know why. He played the loyal best friend of the title character (Robert Taylor), a gangster whose hard heart is turned to mush when he falls for the daughter of his nemesis. The daughter is portrayed by Lana Turner, who looks lovely and does a great job in some heavily emotional scenes. Favorite quote: “You know when a woman loves you like that, she can love you with every card in the deck and then pull a knife across your throat the next morning.” Jeff Hartnett (Van Heflin)
The Mask of Dimitrios (1944)
Zachary Scott stars as a ruthless criminal whose body washes up on the shores of Istanbul at the start of the film. His scandalous exploits are painstakingly uncovered by a novelist (Peter Lorre) who becomes obsessed with piecing together the man’s past. Also in the cast is Sydney Greenstreet and Faye Emerson. Favorite quote: “He was my friend . . . No, he wasn’t my friend, but he was a nice man.” Cornelius Leyden (Peter Lorre)
Wednesday, June 5th
High Wall (1947)
This feature centers on Steven Kenet (Robert Taylor), a former pilot who is committed to a psychiatric hospital after admitting that he has strangled his wife (Dorothy Patrick) but cannot remember the circumstances. High Wall also stars Herbert Marshall as an ambitious publishing company executive and Audrey Totter as a doctor at the psych hospital who uses drug therapy to jog Kenet’s memory. Favorite quote: “Remember, any accusation you make against me will be ridiculed – the ravings of a pitiful lunatic.” Willard Whitcombe (Herbert Marshall)
Friday, June 7th
Stranger on the Third Floor (1940)
This film is not among the greatest examples of the era, but it is notable from an historical standpoint – it’s often cited by noirists (including yours truly) as “the first true film noir.” Featuring Peter Lorre as the stranger in the title, the film opens during a murder trial, as the testimony of a newspaper reporter results in the conviction of a luckless taxi driver (Elisha Cook, Jr.) who insists that he is innocent. Before long, the reporter comes to doubt the cabbie’s guilt and his suspicions turns to a shady character living nearby. Favorite quote: “My son, there’s murder in every intelligent man’s heart.” Martin (Cliff Clark)
The Glass Key (1942)
The second of three noirs featuring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, this one focuses on a hodgepodge of characters with intertwined lives – Ladd plays the chief aide to a crooked political boss (Brian Donlevy) who is engaged to the daughter of a local reform candidate, whose son is having an affair with the political boss’s sister. (Whew!) The film was a bonafide hit, with critics praising Ladd for his “un-actorish intensity” and Lake’s “surplus of charms.” (The cast also included William Bendix as the henchman of a seedy casino owner. Watch for the scene where Bendix beats up Ladd’s character – during filming, Bendix accidentally knocked Ladd unconscious. The two wound up as lifelong friends.) Favorite quote: “Go on, sit in any chair you wanna sit in . . . I want you to consider yourself my guest. We’ll have a couple of drinks. And then I’m gonna knock your teeth out.” Jeff (William Bendix)
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Labeled by one reviewer as “no ordinary tale of crime and detection,” this second – and best – filming of the Dashiell Hammett novel stars Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, a private dick hired to find the jewel-encrusted statuette of the film’s title. Along the way, Spade encounters a mélange of quirky characters all in search of the bird, including the single-mindedly mercenary “Fat Man” (Sydney Greenstreet), his ineffectual and ill-fated gunman (Elisha Cook, Jr.), the effeminate Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre), and femme fatale extraordinaire, Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Mary Astor), with whom Spade begins an affair. For fun, check out this sample issue of The Dark Pages newsletter from a couple of years ago – it contains several Falcon-related articles, including one on goofs and flubs in the movie. Favorite quote: “The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter.” Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart)
Tuesday, June 11th
When Detour was released, it was labeled “one of the most poignant and disturbing stories to reach the screen in any year.” Made for about $20,000, the film centers on Al Roberts (Tom Neal), a New York piano player who makes a series of wrong choices and finds himself caught up in circumstances beyond his control (not unlike Tom Neal himself – but that’s another story for another post). Neal’s co-star is Ann Savage, who plays a character so frightening she wound up on my list of noir’s scariest dames! Favorite quote: “Thumbing rides may save you bus fare. But it’s dangerous. You never know what’s in store for you when you hear the squeal of brakes.” Al Roberts (Tom Neal)
The Hitch-Hiker (1953)
In this film, superbly directed by Ida Lupino, a psychotic serial killer (William Talman) terrorizes a pair of fishing buddies (Frank Lovejoy and Edmond O’Brien) who pick him up on the road. The two men are forced at gunpoint to drive to Mexico and their plans to escape are thwarted when they learn that their captor suffers from a paralyzed eye that remains open even when he is sleeping. (Yikes!) Favorite quote: “Nobody ever gave me anything. So I don’t owe nobody.” Emmet Myers (William Talman)
Friday, June 14th
I confess that I have not yet seen this in its entirety, but it comes highly recommend by Dark Pages Senior Writer Kristina Dijan, who also authors the Speakeasy blog. Here’s what Kristina had to say about Nightfall in one of our Dark Pages issues: “Directed by Jacques Tourneur from a David Goodis novel, this is a great noir, a must see, and one of my favorites; it’s the snowbound cousin of Tourneur’s Out of the Past and every bit as beautiful. It’s not just the wintery setting that makes Nightfall different and refreshing (though the snow leads to one of the most interesting deaths ever filmed), it’s the neat mix of wisecracks, dark humor and morbid violence that makes the film seem thoroughly modern.” Favorite quote: “That’s your whole trouble. You know that? The top of your head never closed up when you were a kid. Neither did your mouth!” John (Brian Keith)
Wednesday, June 19th
My Name is Julia Ross (1945)
Hailed by critics as a “suspenseful sleeper,” Julia Ross tells the story of a woman who accepts a position as a live-in secretary to a wealthy matron, only to find that she has been transported to a remote mansion, restrained in a locked room, and not only told that she was recently released from a mental institution, but also that she is the wife of the matron’s more-than-slightly-nutty son. Favorite quote: “The next time I apply for a job, I’ll ask for their references.” Julia Ross (Nina Foch)
Thursday, June 20th
Although I prefer seeing Humphrey Bogart as an unflappable private dick, he’s a standout in this thriller as Richard Mason, a successful architect who is secretly in love with the sister (Alexis Smith) of his shrewish wife (Rose Hobart). Not content to merely admire his sibling-in-law from afar, Mason takes matters into his own hands and decides that his wife has got to go! Sydney Greenstreet (in his sixth and final screen appearance with Bogie) co-stars as a shrewd psychologist who suspects that Mason is not quite as guileless as he appears to be. Favorite quote: “A murderer’s whole safety depends on a complication of lies . . . . Even if he feels no remorse, think of the strain he endures in knowing that one error will be his undoing.” Mark Hamilton (Sydney Greenstreet)
Friday, June 21st
They Won’t Believe Me (1947)
This ain’t no Marcus Welby. Robert Young stars as a man with shaky morals – married to one woman, romancing another, and falling hard for a third. As you might imagine, things don’t turn out so great for this guy. Favorite quote: “She looked like a very special kind of dynamite, neatly wrapped in nylon and silk. Only I wasn’t having any. I’d been too close to one explosion already. I was powder shy.” Larry Ballentine (Robert Young)
Double Indemnity (1944)
My favorite noir, Double Indemnity has it all – great story, outstanding performances from the principal players and supporting cast alike, memorable quotes, perfect score, painterly use of light and shadow – I could go on and on! This is the first noir I ever saw – I wasn’t yet a teenager, maybe 12 years old or so – and I’ve been in love with film noir ever since. In fact (SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT), Double Indemnity was the focus of the second GIANT issue released by The Dark Pages – if you’re interested in purchasing a copy, click here and look under “Special Issues Available.” 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)
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
Another highly ranked favorite and one of the first noirs I viewed on the big screen, Postman is one of those films I could see a million times and never get enough. Based, like Double Indemnity, on a novel by James M. Cain, Postman tells the story of Frank Chambers, a drifter (John Garfield) who happens upon a roadside diner run by Nick Smith (Cecil Kellaway) and his blonde bombshell of a wife, Cora (Lana Turner). Before long, Frank and Cora are embroiled in a steamy affair and Nick’s talent for flipping burgers just ain’t enough to keep him in the picture, if you know what I mean. Favorite quote: “With my brains and your looks, we could go places.” Frank Chambers (John Garfield)
Monday, June 24th
Detective Story (1951)
Offering a glimpse of a day inside a New York police station, this film features such memorable characters as Jim McLeod (Kirk Douglas), an inflexible, highly principled detective; Arthur Kindred (Craig Hill), a young businessman whose future is threatened when he’s picked up on an embezzlement charge; and Karl Schneider (George Macready), an abortionist who is responsible for the deaths of several young women. Douglas’s performance is the heart and soul of the film – his intensity grabs you and never lets go. Favorite quote: “Take a couple of drop dead pills.” Jim McLeod (Kirk Douglas)
Wednesday, June 26th
Until the end of the film (which, admittedly, is a bit much even for me), this film offers a wild and satisfying noir ride, starring Mickey Rooney as a car mechanic whose life takes a turn for the worse when he swipes $20 from the cash register at work. You may not think of Rooney as your typical noir performer, but he’s perfect in this role of the hapless, hopeless everyman. The cast includes Jeanne Cagney (James’s little sister) as the dame who turns his head, and Peter Lorre as a shady arcade owner. Favorite quote: “I feel like I’m bein’ shoved into a corner, and if I don’t get out soon, it’ll be too late. Maybe it’s too late already.” Dan Brady (Mickey Rooney)
Armored Car Robbery (1950)
William Talman – known to many as Hamilton Burger on the Perry Mason TV show – stars here as a callous criminal who masterminds a scheme to rob an armored car at a Los Angeles ballpark. Talman’s flawless performance is complemented by Charles McGraw as a cop bent on avenging the death of his partner, who was killed during the hold-up, and Adele Jergens as the showgirl wife of one of the robbers. Favorite quote: “Imagine a dish like this married to a mug like Benny McBride. The naked and the dead.” Det. Danny Ryan (Don McGuire)
The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
Another all-time favorite, Asphalt Jungle depicts an intricately planned bank heist which, like the best laid plans of mice and men, goes awry in a big way. The film offers a mélange of great characters – which I discuss in more detail here – including Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden), described by a reviewer as a “brazen hoodlum” who just wants to go to his old Kentucky home; Dix’s ever-faithful girlfriend Doll (Jean Hagen); and Doc Reidenschneider (Sam Jaffe), the aging criminal who masterminds the scheme. Favorite quote: “Experience has taught me never to trust a policeman. Just when you think one’s all right, he turns legit.” Doc Reidenschneider (Sam Jaffe)
Friday, June 28th
Deadline at Dawn (1946)
This feature stars Susan Hayward as a cynical dance hall girl who is drawn into a night filled with intrigue and suspense when she meets a naïve young sailor (Bill Williams) on a 24-hour leave and helps him hunt down the killer of a woman he’d encountered while he was drunk. This isn’t necessarily one of those noirs I think of when naming my favorites, but it’s chock full of some really great lines, and anything with Susan Hayward in it is just all right with me. Favorite quote: “If she cut off her head, she’d be very pretty.” Val Bartelli (Joseph Calleia)
Murder, My Sweet (1944)
A classic. It stars Dick Powell in the role that makes you forget forever that he ever crooned in a Busby Berkeley musical. As private detective Philip Marlowe, he’s caught up in a crazy case involving a jade necklace, several dead bodies, a hulking ex-con and a smooth-talking femme fatale. It’s another one with a slew of great lines – click here to check ‘em out. (But first, my) Favorite quote: “You’re not a detective, you’re a slot machine. You’d slit your own throat for six bits plus tax.” Lt. Randall (Don Douglas)
The Big Sleep (1946)
Entertaining, hard-boiled, and confusing as all-get-out, The Big Sleep was labeled by one critic as “wakeful fare for folks who don’t care what is going on, or why, so long as they talk is hard and the action harder.” Another Philip Marlowe feature, this one stars Humphrey Bogart in the role of the no-nonsense detective – here, he’s hired by a wealthy invalid to find out who is blackmailing his thumb-sucking, nymphomaniac daughter (Martha Vickers). Along the way, Marlowe encounters another daughter – played by Bogie’s real-life wife, Lauren Bacall – and a motley crew of bad guys. 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.”
Strangers on a Train (1951)
This is my favorite Alfred Hitchcock movie – and that’s saying something! It’s a simple story about a chance meeting between two men who just happen to each have a person in their lives that they – shall we say – wouldn’t mind living without. Problem is, one of the two men is a psycho who decides to put his “perfect murder” theory to the test – without the consent of the other. The two men are played to perfection by Farley Granger and Robert Walker, and ably assisted by Ruth Roman and Hitchcock’s real-life daughter, Patricia. You can read more about the film here – it was my noir pick of the month for February 2012. Favorite quote: “My theory is that everyone is a potential murderer.” Bruno Antony (Robert Walker)
And that’s it! I hope you’ve found some noirs here that you’d like to see, or some old favorites that you want to watch again. (And don’t forget – this isn’t even the month’s entire line-up!) Try one, pick out a select few, or go crazy and watch ‘em all!
Remember – you only owe it to yourself. You really do.