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

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.

~ by shadowsandsatin on February 2, 2023.

3 Responses to “Shadowy and Satiny Picks: What to Watch on TCM in February 2023”

  1. Thanks for the reminder—I’d forgotten how thoroughly Burt Lancaster’s career intertwined with noir. While what is and isn’t noir can be debated there’s a decent case that 9 of his first 10 films were noir. As for doing his own stunts I believe he was still doing them as of The Train (1964), when he was 50 or 51, where his only injury during shooting happened on a day off, while golfing.

    I may have to revisit this, but I currently have The Train at #100 on my top 100, all-time, all-languages for how smartly it addresses the question of what is worth saving, and what are we willing to sacrifice for that?

    • I’ve heard so much about the train, Blair, but I’ve never seen it. Your high praise really makes me want to find it — I have put it on my watchlist. Thanks for this tip!

  2. […] thoughtfulness and enthusiastic support made it all possible. Be sure to check out her books and her blog (Shadows and Satin) for more noir-ish goodness from the editor-in-chief […]

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