Pre-Code Crazy: Female (1933)

•January 6, 2017 • 6 Comments

Ruth Chatterton doesn’t get nearly as much attention as she should.

And that’s a real shame.

Perhaps best known for co-starring opposite Walter Huston in Dodsworth (1936), Chatterton was a pre-Code icon, appearing in no fewer than 20 features from the era, including some of my favorites – Frisco Jenny (1932), Lilly Turner (1933), and Journal of a Crime (1934). While she was a big star in her heyday, she’s probably lesser-known now because she retired from the big screen in the late 1930s, but she certainly didn’t take spend her retirement knitting in a rocking chair on the front porch. She not only continued her career on the stage, but she became a prominent aviator and wrote several best-selling novels in the 1950s. And according to her biographer, Scott O’Brien, the actress in real life was “ambitious, independent and had ideas of her own.  She was what they call ‘ahead of her time.’  She didn’t give a fig what people thought.  She would tell them what to think.”

Which brings us to my TCM Pre-Code Crazy pick of the month: Female (1933), in which, much like the actress herself, Chatterton’s character (for most the film, at least) is one badass, give ‘em hell, take no prisoners sister.

What’s it about?

Alison has a different kind of business in mind.

Alison has a different kind of business in mind.

Chatterton plays Alison Drake, president of the Drake Motor Car Company. It doesn’t take long for us to see the kind of female she is: a confident and intelligent multi-tasker – one minute she’s sternly chiding her all-male group of underlings, and the next she’s catching up with a visiting school chum between answering telephone calls, signing important papers, and barking orders over the intercom.

We learn, too, that her business is uppermost in her list of priorities – she’s disdainful of love and lovers. But don’t misunderstand; Alison isn’t completely immune to the peculiar charms of the male species. She may not be interested in romance or marriage, but when she’s got an itch that needs to be scratched, she’s not above inviting young, attractive employees to her home for a “business meeting,” which invariably morphs into, shall we say, less business and more pleasure.

Over time, though, Alison grows frustrated with the sycophants and hypocrites with whom she’s surrounded. “Doesn’t anybody like me for myself?” she complains piteously. Determined to enjoy at least one evening free from the yes men in her life, she sheds her finery and heads for a part of the city where she can rub elbows with the locals. Once there, she meets a man (George Brent) at a shooting gallery, and winds up spending the next few hours with him, sharing a couple of burgers and a few dances at the dime-a-dance joint before he heads off – alone (“You’re a nice kid,” he says, “but I don’t take pickups home with me. Understand?”). As it turns out, the man is Jim Thorne, the new engineering genius who’s been hired by the Drake Company – and in the blink of an eye, Alison’s neatly ordered world is turned upside down.

I love the scene where Thorne discovers that Alison is his boss. It’s his first day on the job and he’d just bumped into her – literally – in another part of the plant and, still knowing her as his “pickup” from the previous evening, accuses her of stalking him. A few minutes later, when he arrives at Alison’s office and sees her seated behind the desk, he tells her to vacate the chair “before the boss comes in.” And then he actually SNAPS HIS FINGERS AT HER, like she’s a dog: “Come on, come on, come on, come on,” he says. It’s really quite something. But Alison is as cool as the other side of the pillow – she doesn’t even react, just tells him to sit down. To this, Thorne offers a smirk and this arrogant commentary: “Baby, you certainly are fresh.” But then Alison serves up a one-two punch, first efficiently answering the intercom and then responding to the secretary who enters the room. The look on Thorne’s face is priceless as the realization of Alison’s position begins to sink in. And this time, when she tells him to sit down, he does.

 Who sez my favorite quote?

Alison (of course), when she informs her college pal that she hasn’t got time for romance:

“It takes too much time and energy,” she proclaims. “To me, a woman in love is a pathetic spectacle. She’s either so miserable that she wants to die, or she’s so happy, you want to die. . . . A long time ago, I decided to travel the same open road that men travel. So I treat men exactly the way they’ve always treated women. Oh, of course, I know for some women, men are a household necessity. Myself? I’d rather have a canary.”

Anything else?

In the background of this scene, you can see part of Frank Lloyd Wright's Ennis House.

In the background of this scene, you can see part of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House.

The famed Ennis House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, was used as the exterior of Alison Drake’s home. You can see parts of it in several scenes.

In one scene, Alison gets a report from a private detective she’s hired to track the goings-on in the life of Jim Thorne outside of the office. The detective includes in his report that Thorne attended a performance of James Cagney in Picture Snatcher – which, like Female, was released by Warner Bros. (Talk about shameless plugs!)

Ruth Chatterton and co-star George Brent co-starred the previous year in Lilly Turner, and were married in August 1932. They divorced in October 1934, but reportedly remained close friends.

The screenplay for Female was written by Kathryn Scola and Gene Markey, who was married at the time to actress Joan Bennett. He later married Hedy Lamarr, and then Myrna Loy. Scola and Markey also wrote the screenplay for Lilly Turner.

Female airs January 9th on TCM. Do yourself a favor and check it out. You won’t be sorry.


Don’t forget to visit Speakeasy to check out this month’s Pre-Code Crazy pick from Kristina, my partner in pre-Code crime!

The ‘What a Character!’ Blogathon: Hope Emerson

•December 16, 2016 • 10 Comments

She stood six-foot-two and weighed in at 230 pounds. She was a performer for more than 30 years, gaining prominence in film, on stage, in radio and television, and entertaining audiences with her “hot” piano playing in supper clubs nationwide. And she possessed a uniquely versatile talent that allowed her to portray, with equal believability, the sadistic, terror-invoking matron in Caged (1950) and the vaudeville performer who hoisted Spencer Tracy six feet into the air in Adam’s Rib (1940).

She was Hope Emerson. What a character!

Perhaps best remembered for her Academy Award-nominated performance in Caged, Emerson played in everything from Greek classics to musical comedy and, in addition to Caged and Cry of the City, she lent her presence to three additional noirs: Cry of the City (1948), Thieves’ Highway (1949) and House of Strangers (1949).

Emerson was born in Hawarden, Iowa, a small town near Sioux City, on October 29, 1897. Although an MGM studio biography would later claim that Emerson began her professional career singing and dancing at the early age of three, the actress said that she started working when she was 12 years old, selling music in a ten-cent store. “I was so big everybody thought I was 18,” she recalled. “I sat behind the counter and played the piano.” Later, Emerson honed her talents at the keyboard by playing for “every road show that hit town” at the local opera house owned by her uncle. After her graduation from Des Moines West High School, Emerson played stock in Omaha, Sioux City and Denver, then toured in a coast-to-coast vaudeville act called “June and Buckeye” with her partner, Ray Shannen.

The early days.

The early days.

By the time Emerson was 18, she decided that she was ready for the big time and headed for New York. To make ends meet, she relied on her piano-playing ability, appearing in local nightclubs and later signing on as an entertainer at Pennsylvania’s Buckward Inn, a popular resort in theatrical circles. It was during her run at the Buckward that a friend suggested Emerson try out for the Broadway play Lysistrata. “Norman Bel Geddes was directing the play, and I heard he was looking for a big woman for a part,” Emerson said. “I wrangled an interview with Bel Geddes [and] he took one look at me and yelled, ‘Finally, I’ve found a big woman.’ The play lasted two years.”

After a few more years in a variety of stage productions – including one in which she actually shoed a horse every night on stage – Emerson returned to the nightclub scene and was initially hired for a two-night engagement at the Ruban Bleu, an elegant club on New York’s East side. “The management thought I was too raucous, but evidently the customers didn’t. I played there for the next 46 weeks, and for the next 10 years did nothing but work in nightclubs.” Around this time, Emerson joined the Jimmy Durante-Garry Moore radio show, portraying a character known as “Toodles Bong-Snook” by day, and playing her piano and singing in clubs at night. Later, she found time to launch her own show, That’s a Good One, and was also heard on Ed Wynn’s radio show, on which she originated the voice of Elsie the Cow for the program’s sponsor, Borden.

In the mid-1940s, Emerson returned to Broadway to play a drunken yodeler in Chicken Every Sunday, then tried out for the musical version of Street Scene, but she found that her size was an obstacle. “They wanted someone who looked like Beulah Bondi who could sing and dance. I was constantly told, ‘We want a little girl – you’re too big,’” she remembered. “Finally, I got mad and said, ‘Just listen to me read. That’s all I ask.’ So I read for 19 people and met the man who wrote it. ‘Size doesn’t mean a thing to me,’ said he.” Emerson won the role of a malicious gossip in the play, in which she sang six operatic arias and, as she remembered, “never missed a show.”

The murderous masseuse in Cry of the City.

The murderous masseuse in Cry of the City.

Emerson’s performance in Street Scene caught the attention of a 20th Century-Fox talent scout, who promptly cast her in Cry of the City (1948), a taut film noir focusing on a small-time hood, Martin Rome (Richard Conte). Although Emerson’s role in Cry of the City was limited to only a few scenes, she caught the notice of the critics with her performance as a murderous masseuse, including the reviewers for Variety, who noted her “standout job,” and the New York Times, who included her in his praise of the film’s “fine supporting roles.” Of the memorable scene in which she was required to strangle Conte, Emerson later said that she was fearful of hurting the actor and was jokingly berated by the film’s director, Robert Siodmak, for her “lifted pinky” choking technique. Determined to infuse the scene with realism, Emerson “went all the way,” causing Conte to seek medical treatment!

The following year, Emerson was seen in her second film noir, Thieves’ Highway (1949), in a small role as a savvy, no-nonsense produce buyer. Directed by Jules Dassin, this gritty film focuses on 24 hours in the life of war veteran Nick Garcos (Richard Conte), who is bent on retribution against Mike Figlia (Lee J. Cobb), a corrupt merchant responsible for an accident that crippled Nick’s father.  Again playing a relatively minor role, Emerson nonetheless gave a memorable portrayal of the crafty fruit buyer whose formidable presence intimidates her fellow merchants, and the film itself was almost unanimously hailed by critics, including Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, who noted its “top-form cast” and termed it “one of the best melodramas – one of the sharpest and most taut – we’ve had this year.”

By now, Emerson was becoming well-known in the Hollywood community, but she found that she was frequently confused with two other actresses, Faye Emerson and Hope Hampton. “If I had their looks and Hope’s money,” Emerson once jested, “I’d be leading a Technicolor life for love, instead of working in a Technicolor picture for dough.” Meanwhile, after Thieves’ Highway, Emerson remained in California, appearing next as the gun-toting Levisa Hatfield in RKO’s Roseanna McCoy (1949), a fictionalized retelling of the infamous feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys. This picture was followed by a role as an overbearing mother in the actress’s third film noir, House of Strangers (1949), for which she learned to speak Italian.

Giving a lift to Spencer Tracy in Adam's Rib.

Giving a lift to Spencer Tracy in Adam’s Rib.

A fascinating character study, House of Strangers focuses on the lives of the Monetti family, whose close-knit relationship is severed because of a banking scandal. For her performance as a stern, uncompromising Italian mother, Emerson was singled out for acclaim in Citizen News and Motion Picture Herald, and the film itself was praised by the latter publication as “dramatic, punchy, understanding, tender at times, and earthily humorous.” Emerson followed this box office hit with a role as an irate landlady who evicts William Powell from his apartment in Fox’s musical comedy Dancing in the Dark (1949), then played a circus performer in Adam’s Rib (1949), starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Featuring Judy Holliday and Jean Hagen in their first significant roles, this sophisticated comedy was highlighted by a courtroom scene in which Emerson was required to lift Tracy several feet off the ground. “We waited a week for him to get up the courage to do that scene,” Emerson told columnist Hedda Hopper, “He didn’t trust me. I don’t blame him – I don’t trust myself. We’d never have gotten the scene if there’d been more than one take, but we did it in one take and I damned near broke my arm and my back. Spencer wouldn’t have done it again for anything.”

After well-received Adam’s Rib, the actress was seen in Universal’s Double Crossbones (1950), a musical comedy starring Donald O’Connor, and Paramount’s Copper Canyon (1950), a run-of-the-mill Western starring Hedy Lamarr. Emerson’s appearance with the glamourous brunette in this film prompted the good-humored actress to quip, “I’m always the contrast gal – the ugly duckling who makes everyone else look like a graceful swan. But with Hedy and me in the same picture, they ought to call it Beauty and the Beast!”

Scariest prison matron in town.

Scariest prison matron in town.

Next, as Evelyn Harper in Caged, Emerson’s final film noir appearance, the actress played the role with which she is best identified, a sadistic matron described by one critic as “evil incarnate.” Labeled by critics as “vicious and inexorable,” Emerson offered an unforgettable performance, creating a character with a steely exterior and a heart to match. Her temperament is evidenced early on, after one inmate severs an artery during an escape attempt. As the women lies bleeding on the cold prison floor, Harper callously suggests: “The cold hose will quiet her down.” And later, she brazenly upbraids the warden for her kind-hearted techniques: “Do you know how [the prison] ought to be run? Break ‘em in two if they talk out of turn. Anyone who doesn’t toe the mark sits in solitary for one month. Bread and water. One funny move from a girl and I’d clip every hair off her head. That’s the way it used to be run and that’s the way it ought to be run. Just like they’re a bunch of animals in a cage.” Although the critic for the New York Times panned the film as a whole for its “cliché-ridden account” of prison life, most reviewers applauded the film and its principal players, especially Emerson, who received an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress for her efforts (she lost, however, to Josephine Hill for Harvey).

Soon after the release of Caged, Emerson noted the series of “bad girls” that she had played since her film debut. “For 20 years before I came to Hollywood I did comedy,” she said. “Then I got into the worst rut on the screen, killing, choking people and playing jail matrons. Since I got in pictures, people write to ask why I do such terrible things. They all think I’m a sadist and figure my family must be highly abused.” But the actress’s life off-screen was a far cry from her film persona. Since the death of Emerson’s father in 1935, she had taken care of her wheelchair-bound mother, with whom she lived until her mother died. Despite her devotion to her only living parent, however, and her size and weight notwithstanding, Emerson was seldom “beau-less,” according to the press. Although she would never marry, Emerson was seen most often during the 1950s in the company of Los Angeles jeweler Bob Overjorde who, at six-foot-three, was an ideal physical match for the immense actress. “When we enter a restaurant, everyone looks as though they’re afraid we’ll literally raise the roof,” Emerson cracked, “but they soon get used to us.”

As a pioneer in Westward the Women.

As a pioneer in Westward the Women.

On screen, Emerson was seen in MGM’s Westward the Women (1951), a Robert Taylor starrer about a wagon train full of women who trek across country from Chicago to California, followed by several features for Republic Pictures, including Belle LeGrand (1951), a mediocre musical Western; The Lady Wants Mink (1953), a mildly amusing comedy about a woman who tries to grow her own mink when her husband can’t afford to buy her a fur coat; and Champ for a Day (1953), a hard-hitting crime drama. During the rest of the decade, Emerson appeared in only four pictures, including two big-budget box office successes, Casanova’s Big Night (1954), a costume comedy starring Bob Hope and Joan Fontaine, and Untamed (1955), an adventure-romance with Tyrone Power and Susan Hayward that was advertised as being “Africolosssal” and dubbed by many as the African Gone with the Wind. Her last screen appearance would be in All Mine to Give (1957), a four-hanky tearjerker about the efforts of an orphan to find homes for his baby siblings on Christmas Day.

During this time, Emerson also reached a new level of fame with roles on two popular television series, Peter Gunn, on which she played a nightclub owner known as “Mother,” and The Dennis O’Keefe Show, which featured her as “Sarge.” Having conquered every performing medium, Emerson’s prolific career subsided in the late 1950s when she was diagnosed with a liver ailment. Then, in spring 1960, after driving from Phoenix to California, she entered Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital, where she died a few days later, on April 24, 1960. She was 62 years old.

Hope Emerson: What a Character!

Hope Emerson: What a Character!

With a career that spanned four decades, Hope Emerson possessed a unique talent that was equally adaptable to comedy or drama, and an inner fortitude that sustained her even in the bleakest of times. But although the actress would eventually never want for work, and would maintain houses in Iowa, New York and Hollywood, she seemed to never forget the early years of her career when she “starved successfully,” and she once claimed that “making money” was her only hobby. “My life was never easy. I have never had time to play,” Emerson said. “But I love the work. I have the best time playing the worst part in the world. I work on my voice all the time – I always figure that someday I’ll have to go back to nightclubs or some beat-up saloons. But that’s my life and I love it. I’ll work until I’m so old they’ll have to wheel me in.”


This post is part of the “What a Character!” Blogathon, hosted by Aurora of Once Upon a Screen, Kellee at Outspoken and Freckled, and Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club. Visit these blogs to read a variety of posts on Hollywood’s greatest character actors!

You only owe it to yourself.


It’s the Kirk Douglas 100th Birthday Blogathon!

•December 9, 2016 • 19 Comments

December 9, 2016:  the day that we all say HAPPY 100th BIRTHDAY to that master of fiery intensity, that possessor of mega-talent, the one who wears that cleft chin so well: Kirk Douglas!

Join us in celebrating the centennial of this legendary, first-rate actor by diving into some great posts all about Kirk!

The Hook (1963) Speakeasy
The Kirk Douglas Recipe Silver Screenings
The Vikings (1958) Back to Golden Days
Ace in the Hole/The Big Carnival (1951) Once Upon a Screen
Detective Story (1951) Film Noir Archive
The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) Micro-Brewed Reviews
Posse (1975) Mike’s Take on the Movies
Profile of Kirk Douglas In the Good Old Days of Hollywood
I Walk Alone (1948) Cinemaven’s Essays From the Couch
Paths of Glory (1957) Defiant Success
Champion (1949) The Stop Button
Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957) Twenty Four Frames
Young Man With a Horn (1950) Outspoken and Freckled
Seven Days in May (1964)
Lust for Life (1956) Old Hollywood Films
A Letter to Three Wives (1949) Caftan Woman
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) Critica Retro
The Simpsons: The Day the Violence Died The Filmatelist
Out of the Past (1947) Paula’s Cinema Club
The Final Countdown (1980) The Midnite Drive-In
Seven Days in May (1964) The Wonderful World of Cinema
The Fury (1978) Classic Film and TV Cafe
Lust for Life (1956) Wide Screen World
Seven Days in May (1964) Vienna’s Classic Hollywood

Pre-Code Crazy: Play-Girl (1932)

•December 7, 2016 • 2 Comments

This month’s TCM pre-Code offerings left me in a fair tizzy when it came to settling on my pick. There’re two first-rate Irene Dunne vehicles — The Secret of Madame Blanche (1933) and No Other Woman (1933). Manhattan Melodrama (1934), the Clark Gable starrer that was the last film seen by gangster John Dillinger. The Oscar-winning, unexpected hit It Happened One Night (1934). When Ladies Meet (1933), which features two of my favorite actresses, Myrna Loy and Ann Harding. And that great Ernst Lubitsch comedy, Design for Living (1933).

But I didn’t select any of these gems for my pre-Code Crazy pick this month. Instead, I went with a rather curious, little-known Loretta Young feature: Play-Girl (1932).

The opening of Play-Girl is deceiving. The credits are accompanied by a giddy, carnivalesque soundtrack, beneath a team of horses racing briskly around a track. What does it all mean?? You’ll find out.

We’re promptly introduced to the employees of the Mayfield Department Store, including the classy, ambitious Buster “Bus” Green (Loretta Young), who sells baby clothes but dreams of a future in the “ready-to-wear” field; Edna (Dorothy Burgess), whose shade-throwing and supreme bitchiness know no bounds; and the always loud but ever loyal Georgine (Winnie Lightner), Bus’s roommate, bosom pal, and self-appointed protector.

The salad days.

The salad days.

Although she wants to “make something of herself” and is completely devoid of matrimonial aspirations, Bus finds herself falling for Wally Dennis (Norman Foster), a fun-loving chap she meets on a blind double date. The two eventually get married and all is bliss – until Bus learns on her honeymoon that her husband earns a living by gambling. She’s none too pleased at the news, and plans to leave her groom, but Wally convinces her that he’ll walk the straight and narrow: “Gee, baby, I lied to you to get you, but I’ll do anything now to keep you and make you happy,” he pleads. “I guess work won’t hurt me.”

Try as he might, Wally isn’t able to stay away from gambling for long, but he finally turns over a new leaf when Bus finds herself in the family way. But all isn’t sweetness and light. After a misunderstanding, Bus kicks Wally to the curb and faces a future on her own that goes from bad, to really bad, to even worse.

Other Stuff:

Play-Girl features an odd little subplot that doesn’t really go anywhere. Bus, you see, is deathly afraid of childbirth — her mother died giving birth to her, and she views pregnancy as a potential death sentence. “Poor things,” she says of the women who shop in her infant clothing department. “Pretending they’re brave and happy. How can they be when they may die?” Bus’s phobia briefly surfaces again later when she tells Wally that she’s pregnant, and again at the film’s end when she’s ready to give birth. Other than that, though, there’s not much to the whole thing. It’s kinda weird.

Loretta Young’s co-star, Norman Foster, also played her husband in another pre-Code released in 1932, Weekend Marriage. He eventually left acting behind and became a successful film and TV director. Among the television shows he directed was The Loretta Young Show.

I'm no Lightner fan, but the scenes with these two were among the film's best!

I’m no Lightner fan, but the scenes with these two were among the film’s best!

For me, Play-Girl has but one drawback: Winnie Lightner. The alleged comic relief of this often-dark drama, Lightner chews up every scene she’s in, alternating between yelling her lines and mugging so hard you fully expect her to lose a tooth. While a little Lightner goes a long way, though, I can’t deny that she tosses off some of the film’s best lines. There’s one scene early on, where Georgine is washing out her undergarments and hangs a pair of bloomers to dry, only to see them blow out the window a few minutes later.

“There goes my last panties!” she grumbles.

“Well,” Bus asks, “Now what’re you gonna do?”

To which Georgine matter-of-factly responds: “Keep off of stepladders.” (Whoa!”)

Later in the film, Bus hosts a dinner party for her friends – the guests include Georgine and Edna, who can’t stop sniping at each other (much to our delight). After a spell, Georgine asks Bus if she can see the bedroom.

“You usually do,” Edna drawls.

“Yeah?” Georgine rejoins. “Well, you oughta know. I generally meet you coming out!”

It’s no Gone With the Wind, goodness knows, but Play-Girl serves up 60 minutes of time-worthy pre-Code goodness. Check it out December 15th on TCM.


And don’t forget to pop over to Speakeasy to see what pre-Code gem Kristina is recommending for the month!


Day 30 of Noirvember: My Favorite Femmes

•November 30, 2016 • 8 Comments
Kathie Moffatt was so bad, she was good.

Kathie Moffatt was so bad, she was good.

On today, the last day of Noirvember 2016, I am pleased to shine a shadowy spotlight (is that even possible?) on my Top 10 Favorite Femmes. In the coming weeks and months, I’ll talk more about each of them, and why I love them so.

Sherry Peatty (Marie Windsor):  The Killing (1956)

Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck): Double Indemnity (1944)

Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins): Gun Crazy (1949)

Keechie (Cathy O’Donnell): They Live By Night (1948)

Anna Dundee (Yvonne DeCarlo): Criss Cross (1949)

Lilly Stevens (Ida Lupino):  Road House (1948)

Irene Neves (Gloria Grahame): Sudden Fear (1952)

Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer): Out of the Past (1947)

Cora Smith (Lana Turner): The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford): Mildred Pierce (1945)

Who are your favorite film noir femmes?


Thanks for joining me on this year’s Noirvember celebration! It’s been a blast!

Day 29 of Noirvember: Trivia Tuesday

•November 29, 2016 • 4 Comments
Nearly Miss Venice.

Nearly Miss Venice.

I simply can’t get enough of movie trivia. I hope you can’t, either . . .

At the age of 17, Yvonne DeCarlo was chosen as first runner-up in the Miss Venice bathing beauty contest, and a short time later, she was hired for the chorus line at the Florentine Gardens in Hollywood. There, her dark, exotic looks caught the attention of a number of celebs, including bandleader Artie Shaw, who urged DeCarlo to see a career in film.

Four of the principal stars of Laura (1944) – Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Vincent Price, and Judith Anderson – all died within three years of each other.

For several years during his Hollywood career, Richard Conte worked under contract for the Hallmark company, supplying paintings for greeting cards. (As if I needed something else to make me love this guy!)

Ann Blyth was eating lunch at the Professional Children’s School in Manhattan when she caught the eye of playwright Lillian Hellman. She was eventually cast as Paul Lukas’s daughter in Hellman’s play, Watch on the Rhine. She was only 13 years old.

Leo G. Carroll. A Hitchcock staple.

Leo G. Carroll. A Hitchcock staple.

Leo G. Carroll played in more Alfred Hitchcock movies than any other actor – Rebecca, Suspicion, Spellbound, The Paradine Case, Strangers on a Train, and North by Northwest. The only person who can claim more appearances is Hitchcock himself, who turned in a cameo in each of his films since 1926.

Detective Story (1951) was based on a stage play that ran on Broadway for 581 performances. The production starred Ralph Bellamy in the role played by Kirk Douglas in the film. (Can you imagine?)

In The Lady in the Lake (1947), actress Ellay Mort is credited in the role Chrystal Kingsby, the name of the deceased dame of the film’s title. The credit is an inside joke – there is no such actress. The name is actually the phonetic pronunciation of the French phrase “elle est morte,” which means “she is dead.”

Coleen Gray, who had an affair with her Kansas City Confidential co-star John Payne, said that before she worked with him, she “didn’t find him appealing. He seemed to have a pout – I just thought he was a spoiled pretty boy.”

Jane Sterling Adriance.

Jane Sterling Adriance.

Born Jane Sterling Adriance, Jan Sterling dropped her last name out of deference to her father, a well-known New York advertising exec who disapproved of her acting aspirations. After a suggestion from actress Ruth Gordon, she also eliminated the “e” from her first name.

Mike Mazurki was born Mikhail Mazurwski in Tornopol, Austria, on December 25, 2909. He attended Manhattan College on a sports scholarship and graduated in the upper tenth of his class.

While under contract at Warner Bros. from 1939 to 1946, John Garfield was suspended more than a dozen times for refusing to work in what he considered to be inferior films.

Robert Ryan signed a contract with RKO in the early 1940s after he was spotted by a studio director while performing in the play Clash by Night, which ran on Broadway for less than two months (despite direction by Lee Strasberg and a cast that included Lee J. Cobb and Tallulah Bankhead).

Rumor has it that comedian Rodney Dangerfield appears as an extra in the racetrack fight scene in Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing (1956). I’ve yet to spot him, but I get a kick out of the idea.

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

Day 28 of Noirvember: Characters I Hate to Love – Bruno Antony

•November 28, 2016 • 2 Comments
I hate to love Bruno, but I do!

I hate to love Bruno, but I do!

Strangers on a Train (1951), masterfully directed by Alfred Hitchcock, tells the story of two men who meet by happenstance on a train, and wind up wholly intertwined in each other’s lives. Especially after one of them murders the wife of the other. The film contains one of my favorite noir characters, Bruno Antony, played to absolute perfection by Robert Walker. Bruno is a murderer and a sociopath, if not worse, and I know I should hate him for these qualities, but I just can’t. He’s completely riveting, full of intelligence, cunning, and a wicked sense of humor.

He’s also got some great lines – check out a few:

“My theory is that everyone is a potential murderer.”

“Everyone has somebody that they want to put out of the way. Oh now surely, Madam, you’re not going to tell me that there hasn’t been a time that you didn’t want to dispose of someone. Your husband, for instance?”

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to shoot you, Mr. Haines. It might disturb Mother.”

“I have a theory that you should do everything before you die.”

Strangers airs on TCM on November 29th – don’t let this train pass you by!

And join me tomorrow for Day 29 of Noirvember!