Day Twenty-Seven of Noirvember: Unlikely Film Noir Folks — Fred Clark

•November 27, 2018 • 7 Comments

The other day I saw a post on Facebook with a picture of Fred Clark that described him as “the immortal film noir actor.” One member of the group responded that “he was never noir,” and a quite a little brouhaha ensued – to which, I admit, I briefly contributed. In thinking about it later, though, I had to concede Clark is almost certainly remembered more for his comedy, including films like The Lemon Drop Kid (1951), How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), and The Solid Gold Cadillac (1956), as well as a featured role on TV’s The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show.

But for my money, Clark deserves just as much credit for his noir appearances – he was seen in five features from the era in a three-year span, from 1947 to 1950: The Unsuspected (1947), in which he played a crafty homicide bureau chief; Ride the Pink Horse (1947), portraying a hard-boiled mobster with a hearing impediment; Cry of the City (1948), playing another homicide detective; White Heat (1949), where he was what one critic called a “powerfully sinister” fence for stolen bills; and Sunset Boulevard (1950), in which he was seen in a small but memorable part as the studio exec who shoots down William Holden’s idea for a screenplay.

In Cry of the City.

Born Frederic Leonard Clark in 1917 in Lincoln, California, this versatile performer initially planned to pursue a medical career and enrolled as a psychology student at Sanford University. All that changed in his senior year, though, when Clark appeared in a school production of Yellow Jack and, after his graduation, landed a scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. After several years playing roles in a number of Broadway plays, stock productions, and repertory theater, Clark caught the attention of famed director Michael Curtiz, who signed him to a personal contract. Clark’s first feature for Curtiz was both his first feature film and his film noir debut, The Unsuspected.

Over the next couple of decades, Clark stayed busy, eventually dividing his time between film and television work. On the small screen, in addition to his Burns and Allen gig, Clark was seen in such series as The Twilight Zone, in which he played a crook who finds a camera that predicts the future (remember that one?), and The Beverly Hillbillies, where he had a recurring role as Dr. Roy Clyburn.

Sadly, Clark left us all too soon in December 1968, after entering the hospital for treatment of a back spasm. While there, he developed a liver ailment and died three weeks later. He was just 54 years old. But he left us with a delightfully versatile body of work – whether he was portraying a cantankerous funny man or a ruthless villain, Fred Clark showed us that he had the stuff.

Do yourself a favor, and check out one of his movies!

And join me tomorrow for Day 28 of Noirvember!

Day Twenty-Six of Noirvember: Happy Birthday, Adele Jergens!

•November 26, 2018 • 4 Comments

When they nicknamed Adele Jergens “The Eyeful,” they weren’t just whistlin’ Dixie.

Born on November 17, 1917, in Brooklyn, New York, Adele Louisa Jurgens didn’t start out with her sights set on the big screen. The tomboyish Adele was the youngest of four children and the only girl, and was focused on being a newspaper reporter – but her parents had other ideas.

“They wanted me to become a dancer and actress,” Jergens said. “It didn’t take me long to find out that my parents were right.”

After years of working as a model and a showgirl, Jergens got her big break in the early 1940s while understudying Gypsy Rose Lee in Star and Garter on Broadway. When Lee missed a show and Jergens stepped in, her performance attracted the attention of a Columbia Studios talent scout and before long, she was under contract to the studio. All told, her screen career spanned less than 15 years, but during that time, she made her mark in the realm of film noir, with featured roles in four first-rate features.

The Dark Past (1948)

Here, Jergens played one of several vacationers at a lakeside cabin who are held hostage by a psychologically damaged prison escapee, portrayed by William Holden. Jergens’s character, Laura Stevens, is a cheating wife whose disdain for her spouse turns to admiration when he stands up to their captors.

Side Street (1950)

Jergens was in only two scenes in this film, but she played the pivotal role as a hard-boiled dame who blackmails her much-married former lover, only to be murdered by her current attorney boyfriend (Edmon Ryan). The blackmail money is later stolen from the attorney’s office by a young mail carrier, portrayed by Farley Granger, who’s desperate for an income boost in order to care for his pregnant wife.

Armored Car Robbery (1950)

In this feature, Jergens was a standout as showgirl Yvonne LeDoux, who’s married to a small-time hood (Douglas Fowley) while carrying on an affair with bigger-time hood (William Talman). Playing a character described as “a lot of woman,” Jergens sashayed off with every scene she was in.

Try and Get Me (1950)

This grim tale of mob violence stars Lloyd Bridges and Frank Lovejoy as Jerry Slocum and Howard Tyler, two luckless criminals who get in way over their heads when they decide to kidnap a wealthy member of the local community. Jergens played Velma, Jerry’s money-loving girlfriend who wanted more out of life than what she could afford on her hairdresser salary – and didn’t care how she got it.

In her personal life, Jergens was linked with such stars as Franchot Tone, Victor Mature, and Al Jolson, but her “Mr. Right” was her co-star in 1949’s Treasure of Monte Cristo, Glenn Langan, who appeared in such featuers as Dragonwcyk (1946) and The Snake Pit (1948), and is perhaps best known for playing the title role in The Amazing Colossal Man (1957). After a whirlwind courtship, Jergens and Langan were married in October 1949, had a son, Tracy, and remained married until Langan’s death in 1991.

When you get a chance, keep an eye out for “The Eyeful” – she’ll give you something to look at.

And join me tomorrow for Day 27 (sniff!) of Noirvember!

 

Day Twenty-Five of Noirvember: Favorite Femme Fatales – Part 2

•November 25, 2018 • 9 Comments

Today’s Noirvember post is the second in my series of favorite femme fatales – those deliciously devious dames that I just can’t get enough of.

My top femme was Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity (1944). Number two on my hit parade of deadly dames is none other than Kathie Moffat in Out of the Past (1947), which tells the tale of an ex-private dick whose past comes back to hit him square in the face – complete with the dame he loved and lost. Kathie Moffat, played by Jane Greer, is that dame. (Keep an eye out for spoilers ahead!)

One of things I like about the character of Kathie Moffat is the fact that she’s discussed at length long before we see her. We first hear of her when her lover, Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas) hires two private detectives – Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) and his partner Jack Fisher (Steve Brodie) – to find her. Whit’s got two good reasons for trying to track her down: (1) she shot him and (2) she stole a cool 40 grand from him.

“I just want her back,” Whit says, explaining that the money isn’t important. “When you see her, you’ll understand.”

Jeff saw her coming out of the sun. And that was all she wrote.

And he does. (We all do.) Along with Jeff, our first glimpse of Kathie is in Mexico, where Jeff has trailed her. Jeff is seated in a café, La Mar Azul, as he does every day, drinking beer and half-dozing. “And then I saw her,” Jeff tells us. “Coming out of the sun. And I knew why Whit didn’t care about that 40 grand.”

It’s easy to see why Jeff falls for Kathie – she’s not only beautiful, with a quiet but palpable sensuality, but she also seems to have a sweet, sensitive side, an earnestness coupled with a little-girl quality that inspires a man’s protective side. It’s not until later that we scratch the surface and discover the femme fatale underneath.

Kathie’s true nature is revealed when Fisher tails Kathie and Jeff to their wooded hideaway in California and Kathie coolly – and totally unnecessarily – fatally shoots Fisher as he and Jeff are duking it out.

Kathie was a take-charge kind of a gal.

“You wouldn’t have killed him,” Kathie matter-of-factly explains. “You would’ve beaten him up and thrown him out.” In other words, Fisher had to go, and Kathie wasn’t taking any chances on Jeff’s ability to carry out the task. As always, she saw an opportunity and she took matters into her own hands.

There’s only one point in the film, in fact, where Kathie appears to be less than completely in control. It’s near the film’s end, when Whit is forced to realize what Jeff has known for quite some time – that Kathie is a lying, manipulative murderess. He slaps her face (and a more authentic movie slap you may never see) and delivers a somber, chilling threat:

“You’re gonna make every exact move I tell you. If you don’t, I’ll kill you,” Whit tells her. “And I’ll promise you one thing: It won’t be quick. I’ll break you first. You won’t be able to answer a phone or open a door without thinking, ‘This is it.’ And when it comes, it still won’t be quick.”

Kathie’s off her game for the first time. And the last.

For the first time – the ONLY time – Kathie looks genuinely frightened. Terrified, in fact. But like the true femme fatale she is, she’s not defeated. The next time we see Whit, he’s dead on the floor, and Kathie is packed and ready to hit the road. We don’t know exactly how she killed Whit, but there’s no doubt that he’s a goner, and there’s even less doubt about Jeff’s future if he doesn’t go along with her plan. Ultimately, Kathie doesn’t make it to her planned destination (darn those road blocks!), but you can’t deny that she came awful close.

Emphasis on “awful.”

Join me tomorrow for Day 26 of Noirvember.

Day Twenty-Four of Noirvember: The 2018 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival (Part 4)

•November 25, 2018 • 6 Comments

Nancy Olson during her appearance at TCMFF 2018.

For today’s post, I’m doing double duty – my daily Noirvember celebration and the next installment of my year-long coverage of the 2018 Turner Classic Movies film festival!

I was delighted this year to have the opportunity to see and hear the lovely Nancy Olson, who starred with William Holden and Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard. She’s been at the TCM film festival before, but conflicts had caused me to miss her. I was determined not to let anything stop me this year.

Evans and Livingston in the singing scene that made it into the film.

Prior to the festival’s screening of Sunset Boulevard, Olson (her name is actually Nancy Olson Livingston now) was interviewed by singer and past TCM Guest Programmer Michael Feinstein, who opened the event by showing a clip from a number that was cut from the film. Titled “The Paramount Don’t Want Me Blues,” the song was performed by composers Ray Evans and Jay Livingston (who also wrote and performed “Buttons and Bows,” a portion of which was in the final version of the film). The duo sang “The Paramount Don’t Want Me Blues” in the same scene that Buttons and Bows was performed – at the New Year’s Eve party thrown by Artie Green (Jack Webb), then-fiancee of Olson’s character, Betty Schaefer. With references to studio head Sam Goldwyn, gossip maven Hedda Hopper, and producer Dore Schary, the song contained such lyrics as: “Though I’m terrific, my talent is immense, guess I’ll only get in pictures by paying 80 cents.” Word is that the number wound up on the cutting room floor because Paramount execs weren’t happy with all the “inside” references.

Olson was a 20-year-old college student when she was discovered by a Paramount talent scout.

Olson, who was introduced by Weinstein to a rousing ovation, informed the audience that she was a 20-year-old Theater Arts student at UCLA when a Paramount scout saw her, invited her to do a screen test, and signed her to a seven-year contract. After appearing in a film with Randolph Scott, where she played a half-breed Indian, Olson returned to school, but before long, Billy Wilder expressed an interest in her for Sunset Boulevard. Olson said she read the script and “it was amazing.”

“Billy Wilder seemed to be very interested and curious about me. He’d ask about my classes, my parents,” she said. “I think what Billy Wilder wanted most was for me to be me. My nickname in college was Wholesome Olson. Edith Head kept coming up with a wardrobe for me, but it wasn’t right for the character. Finally, Wilder told me to just wear my own clothes. He wanted me to just simply be me – Wholesome Olson.”

Olson praised Sunset Boulevard for “telling the truth” about Hollywood and movie stars.

“They were designed to be larger than life. They are a commodity – they are hyped to sell,” Olson said. “And then when they become a certain age, they’re no longer interesting – they’re thrown away.”

Olson thought William Holden was ideally cast in Sunset Boulevard.

The actress also shared that her co-star William Holden was not the first choice for the role of Joe Gillis. Initially, the part was offered to Montgomery Clift, who accepted but later changed his mind. As it turned out, Holden was perfect for the role.

“Holden went to the army, got kind of lost, started to drink too much, his marriage was falling apart. He was a desperate human being,” Olson recalled. “And so was Joe Gillis. [Holden] also had that incandescent quality that movie stars have.”

In her 20-minute interview with Feinstein, the then 89-year-old Olson displayed an enviable vitality and vigor, not to mention a strong will and a razor-sharp memory. She is a true treasure, and I’m so gratified that I got the chance to see her up close and personal. I’ll never look at her Betty Schaefer the same again!

Join me tomorrow for Day 25 of Noirvember (and stay tuned for next month’s installment of my look at the 2018 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival!

Day Twenty-Three of Noirvember: Top Three in ’53

•November 23, 2018 • 3 Comments

Earlier this month, as part of my campaign to point out first-rate noirs released in years other than the typically touted 1947, I spotlighted my top five film noir features from 1945. I’m continuing this effort for today’s Noirvember post, with my top three from 1953. It was a fun personal challenge to narrow my favorites to just three films, although I had to leave some really good ones by the wayside! Check out the other noirs released in that year and let me know what your top three would be!

The Big Heat

One of my favorite noirs of all time, this one was a no brainer for my list. The Big Heat stars Glenn Ford as police detective Dave Bannion, who finds that he’s not only up against local mobsters but his superiors as well when he tries to unearth the real story behind the suicide of a fellow officer.

Yet another reason to stay away from coffee.

Besides those famed scalding-hot-coffee-in-the-face scenes (yeow), I love The Big Heat for its variety of well-drawn characters. There’s Bannion’s tough, fearless, but damaged detective, who tamps down his grief over the murder of his wife in order to hunt down the man responsible. There’s Gloria Grahame’s Debby Marsh, a gangster’s moll who transformed from light-hearted golddigger to defeated victim to steely, mink coat-clad vigilante. Mike Lagana, played by Alexander Scourby as a syndicate boss whose refined exterior barely masked the scary, ruthless killer underneath. And giving Lagana a run for his money in the scary department, Jeannette Nolan turned in a flawless performance as Bertha

Duncan, the widow of the suicidal cop who had more guts than a bucket full of pig innards.

Favorite quote: “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Believe me, rich is better.” – Debby Marsh (Gloria Grahame)

Wicked Woman

For sheer personal enjoyment, I had to include Wicked Woman as one of my top three picks. It’s no acclaimed classic like Double Indemnity (1944) or Out of the Past (1947), and its cast doesn’t feature any big name stars, but this 77-minute low-budget gem packs a wallop.

Seriously, you have to check out this movie.

The story is about Billie Nash, the dame of the title, played by the infinitely watchable Beverly Michaels (who happened to be married to the film’s director, Russell Rouse). Escaping via bus from a never-revealed past, Billie gets to where she’s going and finds herself part of a gritty quadrangle that includes Charlie Borg (Helton), a fellow dweller in her rooming house who gives new meaning to the word “creep”; Matt Bannister (Egan), owner of the bar where Billie finds work and the object of her none-too-subtle affections; and Matt’s wife, Dora (Evelyn Scott), a world-weary but good-hearted soul who just happens to be a drunk. From start to finish, Wicked Woman is a noir lover’s smorgasbord, overflowing with memorable lines, over-the-top performances, and a perfect ending. For me, watching this movie is like settling back with a bucket of buttered popcorn and a bag of Skittles – it may not be good for me, but I LOVE it!

Favorite quote: “That dinner don’t entitle you to no special favors, buster!” – Billie Nash (Beverly Michaels)

99 River Street

My final 1953 decision was a photo finish between two movies set on dark, shadowy boulevards – 99 River Street and Pickup on South Street. As much as I admire the latter, 99 River Street won out for one main reason: John Payne. Underrated and often overlooked, Payne was made for film noir. He had just the right combination of rugged but accessible good looks, take-no-crap toughness, and everyman vulnerability – all of which were on display in this feature.

Because John Payne.

In River Street, Payne is Ernie Driscoll, an ex-prize fighter turned cab driver who finds himself in a whole mess of trouble when his shrewish wife (excellently, if briefly, played by Peggie Castle) turns up dead in the back seat of his taxi. Supporting Ernie is his misadventures are a whole passel of memorable characters, including Linda James (Evelyn Keyes), an actress who helps Ernie hunt down the killers; Christopher (Jay Adler), the thoroughly terrifying head of a jewel fencing ring; and Mickey (Jack Lambert), Christopher’s uber-savage henchman. The film’s non-stop action is topped off by a socko climax at the waterfront location of the film’s title, where Ernie’s boxing prowess comes in handy in his quest to subdue the bad guys.

Favorite quote: “Rhinestones wrapped around a ten-dollar movement – they might be real if I hadn’t married a pug.” – Pauline Driscoll (Peggie Castle)

Join me tomorrow for Day 24 of Noirvember!

Day Twenty-Two of Noirvember: Happy Thanksgiving!

•November 22, 2018 • 6 Comments

Joan Crawford served up a strong noir presence in such first-rate features as Mildred Pierce (1945), Possessed (1947), The Damned Don’t Cry (1950) and Sudden Fear (1952).

She also served up a mean turkey.

Happy Thanksgiving!

And join me tomorrow on Day 23 (seriously, where is the time going!?!?) of Noirvember!

Day Twenty-One of Noirvember: Quote of the Day

•November 21, 2018 • 6 Comments

“She was a charming, middle-aged lady with a face like a bucket of mud. I gave her a drink. She was a gal who’d take a drink if she had to knock you down to get to the bottle.” Dick Powell in Murder, My Sweet (1944).