Noirvember Day 21 – List o’ the Week: Top 10 YouTube Noirs

•November 21, 2022 • 16 Comments

In what seems like just a matter of a few years, YouTube has gone from a place where I used to watch old episodes of All My Children in 10-minute bites, to a site where a plethora of first-rate films noirs abide. Today’s Noirvember post offers my list of the Top 10 films noirs (in no particular order, mind you) available on YouTube. Hope you’ll get a chance to check some of them out!

— Woman aren’t dependable, sez Claude.

1. Murder By Contract (1958)

Vince Edwards stars as Claude, a killer-for-hire who’s banking his earnings so he can buy a house, and whose unique talents allow him to rapidly rise in the echelons of the organized crime outfit he works for. After a series of successful murders, he’s given a contract to kill a witness before she can testify in a high-profile trial in Los Angeles that starts in two weeks. Unfortunately for Claude (and everyone concerned), killing women is not his strong suit: they’re not dependable.

2. The Great Flamarion (1945)

The film opens with the murder of vaudeville performer Connie Wallace (Mary Beth Hughes), and her mortally wounded killer, The Great Flamarion (Erich von Stroheim), uses his final minutes to explain why he killed her. In a flashback that lasts nearly the entire film, we learn that Flamarion, Connie, and Connie’s alcoholic husband Al (Dan Duryea) were part of a popular entertainment act; Flamarion was a sharpshooter and Connie and Al served as his assistants as he demonstrated his various skills. When Connie softens Flamarion’s hard heart and the two begin an affair, three becomes a crowd, and you know what that means . . .

— Never trust a lawyer played by Wallace Ford.

3. The Breaking Point (1950)

World War II veteran Harry Morgan (John Garfield) operates a boat charter business, but barely makes enough to support his wife and two young daughters. Desperate for cash when he’s stiffed by a client, Harry accepts a proposal from a crooked lawyer (Wallace Ford) but finds himself digging a hole so deep he may not be able to climb out.

4. Shield for Murder (1954)

Veteran police detective Barney Nolan (Edmond O’Brien) kills a bookie in a dark alley and pockets the $25 thousand the dead man had on him, intending to buy a house and settle down with his girlfriend. But his best-laid plans shoulder a massive monkey wrench when he learns that his crime was witnessed by a deaf-mute resident of an apartment overlooking the alley. And his eager-beaver partner (John Agar) is hot on his trail.

5. Too Late for Tears (1949)

— Jane Palmer is no pushover.

California housewife Jane Palmer (Lizabeth Scott) is frustrated by her inability to keep with the proverbial Joneses. Her life takes a turn, however, when a satchel filled with money literally falls into her lap. Unfortunately for Jane, this isn’t the bonanza she thought it would be; her upstanding hubby objects to their keeping the cash, and making things worse, the rightful owner (Dan Duryea) shows up – and he’s not happy.

6. Detour (1945)

New York piano player Al Roberts (Tom Neal) hitch-hikes his way across the country to reunite with his singer-girlfriend, who made the trek to the Golden State to try her hand at the big time. But Al’s trip isn’t exactly smooth sailing; beginning with the driver he hitches a ride with, and continuing with a hitchhiker he picks up along the way, Al encounters shocking situations and makes wrong-minded decisions, one after another.

7. New York Confidential (1955)

— Kathy isn’t happy.

Broderick Crawford stars as Charlie Lupo, the head of a highly organized New York crime syndicate that manages a wide variety of criminal enterprises. Lupo’s circle includes Nick Magellan (Richard Conte), a top-notch killer he hires from Chicago; his faithful right-hand man Ben Dagajanian (J. Carroll Naish); and his daughter, Kathy (Anne Bancroft), who knows all about her father’s “business” and despises him for it.

8. Odd Man Out (1947)

Johnny McQueen, the leader of an Irish underground organization in Ireland. When Johnny is wounded during the commission of a robbery designed to secure funds for the group, he finds himself the subject of a citywide manhunt – as he tries to evade the authorities, he’s also being sought by his friends and the woman who loves him.

9. Wicked Woman (1953)

— This can’t end well.

The “Wicked Woman” of the film’s title is Billie Nash (Beverly Michaels), who seems to drift from one town to another, with no real plan or intention, making her living as best she can. At the film’s start, she’s arrived in one of these towns, where she finds a job and a place to live, and dives into an affair with her very married boss (Richard Egan). As if this situation weren’t complicated enough, Billie has another admirer: her creepy neighbor, Charlie Borg (Percy Helton), who isn’t fond of the word “no.”

10. Born to Kill (1947)

Described by one critic as a “sexy, suggestive yarn of crime with punishment,” Born to Kill is peopled with a variety of uniquely fascinating characters. These include Sam Wild (Lawrence Tierney), who kills his girlfriend, Laury, and her date near the start of the film; recently divorced Helen Trent (Claire Trevor), who finds the bodies (and promptly leaves town); Sam’s best friend (Elisha Cook, Jr.), whose main focus in life is trying to keep Sam out of trouble; and Mrs. Kraft (Esther Howard), who is determined to bring Laury’s killer to justice. Sam and Helen have an instantaneous, magnetic attraction that continues even after Sam ingratiates himself into her family by marrying her wealthy foster sister (Audrey Long) – which doesn’t exactly sit well with Helen, if you know what I mean.

You can create quite am at-home film noir festival with these 10 features – or you can pick and choose as you please: you can’t go wrong with a single one. Trust me.

And join me tomorrow for Day 22 of Noirvember!

Noirvember Day 20: Sunday Words of Noir (Part 3)

•November 20, 2022 • 9 Comments
— “How can a man be so dumb?”

If it’s Sunday, it’s time to step into another shower of words from the world of noir. This week’s batch of noteworthy lines comes from the mouths of the femmes. Don’t forget your umbrella…

“How can a man be so dumb? I’ve wanted to laugh in your face ever since I met you. You’re old and ugly and I’m sick of you. Sick, sick, sick!” Kitty March (Joan Bennett) in Scarlet Street (1946)

“I don’t envy you – I’m sorry for you. You’re the most pitiful creature I’ve ever known.” Ruth Berent (Jeanne Crain) in Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

“You’ve got to let me keep that money. I won’t let you give it away. Chances like this are never offered twice. This is it. I’ve been waiting for it, dreaming of it all my life.” Jane Palmer (Lizabeth Scott) in Too Late for Tears (1949)

— “You’re a bigger idiot than I thought.”

“You’re a bigger idiot than I thought. When are you gonna get it through your square head that this is big business? Wake up, Brown – this train’s headed for the cemetery. But there’s another one coming along. The gravy train. Let’s get on it.” Mrs. Neil (Marie Windsor) in The Narrow Margin (1952)

“What am I guilty of? What were their lives compared to mine? What was she? A mean, vicious, hateful old woman who never did anything for anybody. What was he? A thief, a drunk, someone who would have died in the gutter anyway. Neither on of them had any right to live.” Martha Ivers (Barbara Stanwyck) in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

“I want a monopoly on you, David, or whatever it is that people have when they don’t want anyone else to have any of you.” Louise Howell Graham (Joan Crawford) in Possessed (1947)

“I was trying to get that money for you – for us! You always said that you would never marry me unless we had some money. I didn’t mean to kill him. I’m not bad. I’m not a killer.” Ruth Dillon (Claire Trevor) in Street of Chance (1942)

— “I have no connection with you . . .”

“You’ll never be anything but a common frump whose father lived over a grocery store and whose mother took in washing.” Veda Pierce (Ann Blyth) in Mildred Pierce (1945)

“How far could I get with you? What do you want me to do, let him get us both? You have to watch out for yourself – that’s the way it is, I’m sorry. What do you want me to do, throw away all this money?” Anna Dundee (Yvonne DeCarlo) in Criss Cross (1949)

“I have no more connection with you than with a toad out in the street.” Poppy (Gene Tierney) in The Shanghai Gesture (1941)

Join me tomorrow for Day 21 of Noirvember!

Noirvember Day 19: Happy Birthday, Gene Tierney

•November 19, 2022 • 21 Comments

While she’s arguably one of classic Hollywood’s most beautiful stars, Gene Tierney – in my opinion – doesn’t always get the acclaim she deserves for her acting ability. But she was outstanding in films like The Razor’s Edge (1947) and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) and turned in memorable performances in six features from the film noir era. Today, in celebration of her birthday (she would’ve turned 102), my Noirvember post is shining the spotlight on each of the movies that Tierney contributed to the realm of noir.

The Shanghai Gesture (1941)

Based on a successful Broadway play from the 1920s, this early noir entry focuses on a cavernous casino in China that’s operated by the cunning Mother Gin Sling (played by Ona Munson – and believe me, she ain’t no Belle Watling.) Among the inhabitants of the casino are Dr. Omar (Victor Mature), a handsome hustler who concedes that he’s a “doctor of nothing,” and Sir Guy Charteris (Walter Huston), a local financier who’s determined to shut down the gambling hall. Tierney plays Poppy, a wealthy socialite who is seduced by the casino’s decadent atmosphere and finds herself involved with Mother Gin Sling and Charteris in ways she couldn’t have imagined.

Laura (1944)

In the title role of this acclaimed and popular noir, Tierney plays what she called “the kind of woman I admired in the pages of Vogue as a young girl.” The film opens with an investigation of Laura’s murder, who was killed with a shotgun blast to the face. Headed by Det. Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews), the probe focuses on the two men closest to Laura: her would-be fiancé and charming wastrel Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price), and columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), who spends an inordinate amount of time discrediting Laura’s potential beaus. Just in case you’re never seen this one, I’m not going to spoil it, but let’s just say that things aren’t quite what they seem and there’s a whole lot of treachery goin’ on.

Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

Tierney earned an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of Ellen Berent – a role she later described as “a plum, the kind of character Bette Davis might have played, that of a bitchy woman.” I don’t think I’d have labeled Ellen as “bitchy,” but she was certainly possessive, obsessive, and an undeniable sociopath. A woman who “loves too much,” according to her mother, Ellen displays a smothering devotion to her new husband, Richard (Cornel Wilde) and is determined that no one will come between them – not her mother or sister, not Richard’s disabled little brother (Darryl Hickman), and not even her unborn child.

Whirlpool (1950)

In this film, Tierney stars as Ann Sutton, the wife of a psychoanalyst (Richard Conte) and, as we learn early on, a kleptomaniac. When she’s apprehended at an elite Los Angeles department store, hypnotist David Korvo (Jose Ferrer) intervenes, convincing store officials to withdraw their plans to prosecute. Korvo later hypnotizes Ann in an effort to relieve her insomnia, but she emerges from her trance to find herself at the scene of a murder, with no memory of how she got there. When she’s charged with the crime, Ann’s husband believes she was framed by Korvo, but the investigator in charge of the case isn’t convinced.

Night and the City (1950)

Richard Widmark stars as Harry Fabian, a low-level hustler constantly in search of his next get-rich-quick scheme. Tierney is his long-suffering girlfriend, Mary Bristol, who Harry either uses as a sounding board for his outlandish ideas, or as his primary (and reluctant) source of income. Harry finally stumbles upon what appears to be a sure thing – becoming a top sports promoter by gaining the trust of famous Greco-Roman wrestler Gregorius (Stanislaus Zbyszko). The only problem is that the city’s wrestling game is already controlled by refined mobster Kristo (Herbert Lom) – who just happens to be Gregorius’s son. While Tierney’s part in this feature is a relatively minor one, she makes her mark as a woman devoted to her man, despite his obvious hurtle toward disaster.

Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)

Here, Tierney is reteamed with her Laura co-star Dana Andrews, who is again a cop named Mark – this time, he’s Dixon, and has a tendency toward brutality; his commanding officer tells him: “You don’t hate hoodlums; you like to beat them up. You get fun out of it.” When Dixon accidentally kills a suspect, Ken Paine (Craig Stevens), he covers up the crime and tries to pin it on a local gang leader. Instead, circumstantial evidence points to Jiggs Taylor (Tom Tully), whose daughter Morgan (Tierney) was Paine’s estranged wife. As Dixon continues to weave his tangled web, he finds himself falling for Tierney, who winds up being the catalyst for his redemption.

If you haven’t seen these Gene Tierney noirs, celebrate her birthday by checking them out; most of them can be found for free on YouTube. They’re tastier than birthday cake!

And join me tomorrow for Day 20 of Noirvember!

Noirvember Day 18 – YouTube Noir: Shakedown (1950)

•November 18, 2022 • 7 Comments
— Nobody likes this dude.

One of my favorite underrated noirs is Shakedown (1950), starring Howard Duff, Brian Donlevy, and Lawrence Tierney. Until recently, I’d only seen it a few times, because the copy I owned on VHS was beyond lousy and barely watchable. But all that has changed! Shakedown, I discovered the other day, is on YouTube! And you simply must see it.

Duff plays Jack Early, an opportunistic newspaper photographer described by a reviewer as “one of the season’s most thorough-going heels,” whose engages in such unprincipled acts as instructing an accident victim to stick his head and arms out of the window of a sinking car so that he can take a picture. (“I have a way of just happening to pass by at important moments and taking pictures,” Early later explains.) There’s nothing Early won’t do to get ahead, including using and misusing a kind-hearted fellow newspaper employee (Peggy Dow), and getting far too involved with a couple of mobsters, Nick Palmer (Donlevy) and his nemesis Harry Coulton (Tierney).

— He’s not a nice guy.

Early has a handsome face and a charming manner, but he’s a walking cad in gentleman’s clothing. His boss at the newspaper, David Glover (Bruce Bennett), has his number from the jump – his grudging appreciation for Early’s attention-grabbing photos is quickly surpassed by his disdain for the man’s techniques. And Glover doesn’t bite his tongue when it comes to telling Early just how he feels. In my favorite exchange, Glover informs early that his latest photograph has landed him a new contract – he’s no longer in the “snake pit” and will only be given special assignments going forward. Early flashes a smarmy smile and muses, “Mother told me there’d be moments like this.” And that’s when Glover lets him have it, right between the eyes: “Don’t kid me, Early. You never had a mother. You were put together in some machine shop,” Glover says. “You can think, but you can’t feel. You’re stepping all over people and climbing all over them to get to the top. You’re no good. You’re no good at all.”

Do yourself a favor and tune into YouTube to catch this gem. It’s got a great story, memorable performances, painterly cinematography, and – oh, the lines! I’ll leave you with two of my favorites, both delivered by Jack Early (of course):

“Matrimony is a state I don’t recognize. It’s not love – it’s pots and pans and a conversational fistfight every Saturday night, with a paycheck as the purse.”

“Decency and integrity are fancy words . . . but they never kept anybody well fed. And I’ve got quite an appetite.”

Join me tomorrow for Day 19 of Noirvember!

Noirvember Day 17: Barbara Stanwyck Eyes

•November 17, 2022 • 4 Comments

We all know about Bette Davis eyes. But what about Barbara Stanwyck eyes?

Stanwyck is one of my favorite performers – along with Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, she is among the three actresses I love the most. She’s talented, versatile, and beautiful – and she has an equally impressive collection of films in my two favorite eras: pre-Code and film noir.

She also has exceptionally expressive eyes – the kind of eyes that tell a story without her saying a word. Today’s Noirvember post takes a look at three scenes in three noirs that serve as perfect illustrations of her ability on this score. (And watch your step – spoilers abound ahead . . .)

Double Indemnity (1944)

— No words required.

In this feature (my favorite noir, in case you didn’t know), Stanwyck plays Phyllis Dietrichson, a discontented housewife who teams with bored insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) to kill her husband and collect the proceeds from his life insurance policy. On the night of the dirty deed, Phyllis is driving her husband to the train station (he’s travelling out of town to a college reunion), but what he doesn’t know is that Walter is hiding on the car’s back seat floor, waiting for the perfect moment to bump him off. When Phyllis drives down a side street, she honks her horn three times – the signal for Walter to get busy. But we don’t see Walter kill Mr. Dietrichson – what we see is Phyllis’s mask-like face and her eyes, like malevolent marbles glowing from the light of the streetlamps. Her body is actually jerked backwards with the force of whatever Walter is doing to her husband, but we never see a sense of fear or disgust in her eyes – only a sort of icy matter-of-factness and then, once the deed is done, satisfaction.

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

— “Oh, Sam – it can be so easy . . .”

Stanwyck plays the title role here, the boss of an industrial empire that she inherited from the aunt she despised – and killed as a teen, with the old woman’s own cane. She’s married to her childhood friend Walter O’Neill (Kirk Douglas in his film debut), who is the town’s (emotionally tortured and frequently inebriated) district attorney and the only other person who knows about Martha’s crime. (Hence the emotional torture and inebriation.) Another childhood chum is Sam Masterson (Van Heflin), who fled the area after the death of Martha’s aunt but returns as an adult after crashing into a pole just outside the town. When Martha and Sam reunite, sparks fly and the next thing you know, Martha’s trying to get her new lover to murder her old husband. The scene takes place in the Ivers home where Walter – who’s literally falling down drunk – tumbles down the staircase leading to the first floor. Martha stops Sam as he heads after Walter, telling him that this is the perfect time to finish Walter off. “Now, Sam – do it now. Set me free,” she purrs. “Oh, Sam – it can be so easy.” As Sam reaches Walter, the camera takes us back to Martha’s face, her eyes shining with near-orgasmic anticipation as she waits for the moment that Sam will take Walter’s life. But her eyes slowly transform from excitement to disappointment and disbelief, and we know in that instant that things haven’t turned out as Martha intended.

The File on Thelma Jordon (1950)

— Her eyes tell us the moment she’s gone.

Again, Stanwyck portrays the title role, and again she’s involved with the murder of her aunt. Before this happens, though, Thelma becomes romantically involved with assistant district attorney Cleve Marshall (Wendell Corey), making for an interesting situation when her aunt winds up dead. Cleve not only helps Thelma hide incriminating evidence, but he also serves as the prosecutor on the case – three guesses as to whether he deliberately bungles the job (and, as always, the first two don’t count). Complicating matters is Thelma’s involvement with her ex-lover, who’s a nasty bit of business so toxic that Thelma deliberately causes him to crash the car he’s driving, resulting in his death and leaving her mortally wounded. She speaks with Cleve on her deathbed in the hospital, and we see only her face and dark eyes glittering with tears as she tells him she’s glad it’s over. “All my life, struggling – the good and the bad,” she says. “You don’t suppose they could just let half of me die?” And with that, we actually see the light leave Thelma eyes – they become flat and lifeless and it’s at that moment, before the medical professionals rush in, that we know she has died.

The next time you see these films, be sure to pay extra special attention to the way this gifted actress conveys thoughts and denotes actions without saying a word. It’s a wondrous thing to see. She’s got Barbara Stanwyck eyes.

Join me tomorrow for Day 18 of Noirvember!

Noirvember Day 16: Who is Douglas Fowley?

•November 16, 2022 • 7 Comments
— Recognize the guy ont he left?

Does the name Douglas Fowley ring a bell? If it does, it might be because of his portrayal of the apoplectic director in Singin’ in the Rain (1952). As for me, I know him from his appearances in five films from the noir era: Fall Guy (1947), Desperate (1947), Behind Locked Doors (1948), Armored Car Robbery (1950), and Edge of Doom (1950).

I’m always rather cheered to see Douglas Fowley in a film. I don’t quite know why – there’s just something about him that appeals to me, something that seems very real and approachable, but often with a sinister hint of mystery, too.

A native of Greenwich Village, New York, Fowley was born to highly creative parents; his mother was a singer, and his father was a painter, sculptor, and linguist who studied at Trinity College in Dublin. Fowley first became interested in acting at the age of nine, as a student at the St. Francis Xavier Military Academy. After performing with a variety of stock companies, he made his big screen debut in the 1933 Spencer Tracy-Claire Trevor starrer, The Mad Game (a first-rate pre-Code that I saw at a film festival earlier this year and would dearly love to have on DVD).

— He wasn’t scared of Walt.

Once he got started, Fowley was hard to stop – he would go on to appear in an average of nine pictures a year between 1934 and 1954, including such gems as Dodge City (1939), a box-office hit starring Errol Flynn and Olivia deHavilland, and Battleground (1949), an outstanding war feature directed by William Wellman.

Fowley entered the world of noir in 1947 with two features: Fall Guy and Desperate. In the first, based on a Cornell Woolrich short story, he played an inspector who heads up the investigation of a man found unconscious with a bloody knife beside him. And in Desperate, one of my favorite underrated noirs, he played Pete Lavitch, described by one character as “a pretty good private dick ‘til he lost his license.” Lavitch is hired by gang leader Walt Radak (Raymond Burr) to track down the man he views as responsible for his kid brother’s conviction for killing a cop.

— As Benny McBride, he was a bit of a sap.

The following year, Fowley was third-billed in Behind Locked Doors (1948). In this feature, he turned in a creepily effective performance as a sadistic guard in a sanitarium where a corrupt judge is hiding out from the authorities who are hunting him. And in 1950, he was featured in another underrated noir, Armored Car Robbery, as Benny McBride, who participates in the heist of the film’s title in a misguided effort to win back the affections of his gold-digging wife (Adele Jergens). In his final noir, Edge of Doom (1950), he played a tough-talking detective investigating the murder of a local priest; Fowley was singled out for mention by the critic for the Los Angeles Times, who included the actor in his praise of the film’s “skillful supporting cast.”

Fowley may be unfamiliar to you, but I encourage you to keep your eyes peeled for his many feature film (and small screen) performances. He was always interesting, frequently outstanding, and definitely worth a look. And remember that name!

Join me tomorrow for Day 17 of Noirvember!

Noirvember Day 15: Trivia Tuesday (Part 2)

•November 15, 2022 • 14 Comments
— Oscar at 17?

Dive into a pool of trivia featuring your favorite femmes!

Ann Blyth was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Veda in Mildred Pierce (1945). At age 17, she was the youngest actress up to that time to be nominated.

As a child growing up in Snoqualmie Falls, a small town in Washington, Ella Raines was outgoing and adventurous, engaging in a wide range of activities including swimming, horseback riding, skiing, archery, and fishing.

Ruth Roman’s second film noir appearance was in Beyond the Forest (1949), which starred Bette Davis and Joseph Cotten. The film was almost universally panned upon its release, but critics praised Roman for her performance, with one reviewer saying she “comes across splendidly and beautifully” and another writing that she “graces [her part] nicely.”

— Blue like a lake . . .

Born Constance Frances Marie Ockelman, Veronica Lake received her screen moniker from Paramount producer Arthur Hornblow. He reportedly borrowed her first name from his secretary Veronica Grusling, and selected her surname because “her eyes are calm and blue like a lake.”

On New Year’s Eve 1945, Jeanne Crain married Paul Brinkman, who’d had a brief film career as Paul Brook and was once billed as “a second Errol Flynn.” He later found success as head of a missile parts manufacturing company and a helicopter business. Crain and Brinkman had six children and remained together until Crain’s death in 2003.

— The Eyeful . . .

Adele Jergens was known, at different times in her career, as “The Champagne Blonde, “The Eyeful, and “The Girl with the Million Dollar Legs.”

Following a nationwide talent search, Peggy Cummins was cast in the lead role of Forever Amber (1947), but two months later, 20th Century Fox head Darryl Zanuck called a halt to shooting and directed a complete overhaul of the cast. Among the casualties was Cummins, who was replaced by Linda Darnell. (Other changes included replacing Vincent Price with Reginald Greene and Reginald Gardiner with George Sanders.) The film was trashed by critics, and Cummins said years later, “When I saw it, of course, I just felt relieved.”

According to legend, Evelyn Keyes arrived in Hollywood after winning a beauty contest sponsored by Universal Studios. In her (rather spicy) memoir, however, she states that she paid her own way to Tinseltown by saving the salary the earned from dancing gigs while she was in high school.

Cathy O’Donnell’s film debut, The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), and her last film, Ben-Hur (1959), were both directed by her brother-in-law, William Wyler. O’Donnell was married to Wyler’s brother Robert from 1948 until O’Donnell’s death, on the couple’s 22nd wedding anniversary, in 1970. (Robert Wyler died nine months later of a heart attack.)

In 1957, Jean Peters secretly wed eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes in Tonopah, Nevada, using the name G.A. Johnson and Mary Ann Evans. After the wedding, at the age of 31, Peters retired from acting. The union last until 1971, and Peters returned to performing in 1973 for the PBS production of Winesburg, Ohio.

And that’s all she wrote. Join me tomorrow for Day 16 of Noirvember!

Noirvember Day 14: One Average Joe in Search of a Clue

•November 14, 2022 • 3 Comments

One of the character types commonly seen in film noir is the everyman – the law-abiding Joe Average whose life is turned upside down by a sultry femme fatale. He’s the guy that you find yourself screaming at from the comfort of your sofa, advising him to head for the hills, or at the very least, stop ignoring red flags and exercise some common sense. In other words, he’s a dude who needs to get a clue.

Today’s Noirvember post centers on one of these Joes: Christopher Cross (Edward G. Robinson) from Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street (1945). In this grim tale, amateur artist Cross comes to the rescue of a woman – Katherine “Kitty” March (Joan Bennett) – who is being attacked in the street. The very married Chris winds up falling for Kitty who, with guidance from her ne’er-do boyfriend, not only convinces Chris to set her up in a posh apartment, but also takes credit for his artwork when it becomes an unexpected success. It’s a doom-filled story where no one wins and everyone loses. And it all could have been avoided if, at any point, Chris had stopped being such a sap.

Here’s where he went wrong . . .

— Why didn’t Kitty want her attacker arrested?

When Chris first encounters Kitty, she’s being pummeled by her boyfriend, Johnny Prince (Dan Duryea). Chris bravely attacks Johnny with his trusty umbrella, knocking him out cold, then dashes away to fetch a policeman. When the officer arrives on the scene, Johnny is gone and Kitty purposely sends the officer in the wrong direction. Chris plans to wait for his return, but Kitty insists that they flee. “We’ll have to go down to the station house and make a complaint. And every time they make an arrest, they send a detective to your house – for weeks!” she explains. “Oh, it’s a nuisance.” Instead, Kitty employs a bit of misdirection by quickly asking Chris to escort her home and he consents. Of course, Chris couldn’t have known that Kitty knew her attacker and was covering for him, but his innate sense of right and wrong should have advised him to stay put. And his natural curiosity should have had him questioning why Kitty was so disinterested in seeking justice against the man who beat her in the street. Red Flag #1.

— What play was Kitty in???

After Chris walks Kitty home, he buys her a cocktail from the bar located on the lower level of her apartment building. When he asks her what she does for a living, she coyly invites him to guess – and he suggests that she’s an actress. Right the first time! And later, in response to Chris’s inquiry about the play in which she’s appearing. Kitty responds, “It closed tonight.” Chris tries again: “Which one?” And Kitty answers, “The one I was in,” quickly adding, “What time is it? . . . It’s time for Kitty to be in bed.” Had Chris been paying attention, he might have thought twice about his uncanny ability to correctly guess Kitty’s occupation and, on top of that, he would have realized that she never satisfactorily answered his question about her play. Red Flag #2.

— Where are Kitty’s tears?

During a lunch outing, the conversation abruptly switches from Chris waxing poetic about his painting process to Kitty prettily wiping away tears and sharing that she can’t pay her rent. But before you can say “Bob’s your uncle,” Kitty comes up with the bright idea for Chris to rent a studio apartment for her, a place where he can also come and paint. This proposition prompts Chris to confess that he’s a married man, and Kitty makes the appropriate noises about “not being [that} kind of girl.” Seconds later, though, she goes on to say that she should be angry, but she’s not – and then adds: “I’m going to let you help me.” By utilizing just a smidge of observational skills, Chris might well have recognized the insincerity of Kitty’s tears. More importantly, he could have realized how quickly Kitty moved from crying about her financials to proposing that Chris rent her an apartment, and recognized the thin line between Kitty’s righteous reaction about Chris’s married status and her oh-so-generous decision to let him assist her. Red Flag #3.

If only Chris had spotted even one of these red flags, he might not have taken that stroll down the path which led to his eventual ruin. If he’d only been able to look past Kitty’s inviting smile, and curvaceous body, and sensuous, purring voice, and really open his eyes, how different his life (and Kitty’s, and Johnny’s) might have been.

If only he’d gotten a clue . . .

Join me tomorrow for Day 15 (half over already!) of Noirvember.

Noirvember Day 13: Sunday Words of Noir (Part 2)

•November 13, 2022 • 4 Comments
“So few brains.”

If it’s Sunday, it’s time to serve up another heaping platter of memorable lines from the classic noir era. This time, we’ll hear what the fellas have to say. Hope you’ll enjoy what’s on the menu . . .

“My, my. Such a lot of guns around town and so few brains.” Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep (1946)

“I told you he had a cash register mind. Rings every time he opens his mouth.” Dennis O’Keefe in Raw Deal (1948)

 I treated her like a pair of gloves. When I was cold, I called her up.” Cornel Wilde in The Big Combo (1955)

“It’d help for you to talk.”

“If we’re going to have carry on a conversation, it’d help for you to talk.” Elisha Cook, Jr. in Born to Kill (1947)

“How do you think I got where I did? Not by being outsmarted by clucks like you.” Robert Ryan in The Racket (1951)

“Is it people in general you don’t like, or just me in particular?” Howard Duff in Shakedown (1950)

“You’re trying to make me go soft. Well, you can save your oil – I don’t go soft for anybody.” Alan Ladd in This Gun for Hire (1942)

“The world’s a hell.”

“If you think I have any qualms about killing this kid, you couldn’t be more wrong. The thing about killing him, or you, or her, or him is that I wouldn’t be getting paid for it – and I don’t like giving anything away for free.” Frank Sinatra in Suddenly (1954)

“Do you know the world’s a foul sty? Do you know if you ripped the fronts off the fronts of houses, you’d find swine? The world’s a hell.” Joseph Cotten in Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

“You got a long nose – why don’t you keep it to yourself?” Joseph Pevney in The Street with No Name (1948)

Join me tomorrow for Day 14 of Noirvember, and next Sunday for more words of noir!

Noirvember Day 12: Oscar-Worthy Noir

•November 12, 2022 • 14 Comments

The 2023 Academy Awards ceremony will be broadcast four months from today, on March 12, 2023. I’ve been a fan of the Oscars from way back. I can’t remember when I first started watching it, but for more than 30 years, I’ve had a tradition before the show of watching my tape of “Oscar’s Greatest Moments,” and when my daughters were growing up, we would dress up in our finery every year and have an Oscar feast (always pizza!) before watching the broadcast together.

Part of the Oscar excitement is seeing screen stars receive much-deserved accolades for their performances. But for performers in classic film noir features, those accolades were few and far between – and that’s a real shame. So for today’s Noirvember post, I’m starting a new series by sharing four film noir performances that I believe should have been formally recognized as Oscar-worthy.

James Cagney: Cody Jarrett in White Heat (1949)

A psychotic gangster characterized by debilitating headaches and an unusually close relationship with his mother, Cody Jarrett was not your garden variety hood. Cagney’s performance – in a career filled with memorable characterizations – was simply superb. From his callous (and somehow darkly humorous) murder of one of his henchmen, to his shocking reaction when he learns of the death of his mother, to his iconic sendoff atop an exploding gas tank, Cagney delivers every time.

Gloria Grahame: Debby Marsh in The Big Heat (1953)

As the martini-loving girlfriend of a sadistic gang member, Vince Stone (Lee Marvin), Debby is perfectly content with her life until she encounters police detective Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford). When she learns that Vince and his boss were responsible for the death of Bannion’s wife, her life is never the same. From Debby’s first appearance, Grahame manages to draw you in: her Debby is at first playful and flirty, shallow and irreverent, but she matures with the escalation of her experiences, which include a vicious facial scalding at the hands of Vince. By the film’s end, we see that she is insightful, compassionate, and brave – and the heart of the movie.

Elisha Cook, Jr.: George Peatty in The Killing (1956)

With appearances in classic noirs like The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, Elisha Cook is always a standout, no matter the size of the part. But as George Peatty in The Killing, he’s a revelation. A member of a motley crew of gents who unite to pull off a racetrack heist, George’s sole motivation is to impress and appease his gold-digging wife, Sherry (Marie Windsor). To be sure, George is not altogether likable, but Cook elicits our sympathy as he’s browbeaten by his wife and disrespected by his colleagues – and when he gets his ultimate revenge, we’re completely on his side.

Jean Hagen: Doll Conovan in The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

Doll is in love with Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden), a low-level hood involved in a high-level jewel heist. Although Dix often treats her with indifference, Doll is content to be near him – and it’s Doll who cares for him when the execution of the heist goes awry. Hagen plays her with a heart-wrenching pathos; in her first scene, she shares with Dix that she’s lost her job and is locked out of her room. When she breaks down in tears, her mascara running and her false eyelash dangling, we feel her humiliation and defeat, even as she tries to laugh her way through it. And later, as she draws on a seemingly bottomless well of courage and determination to get Dix back to his home in Kentucky, we feel that, too.

What noir performances do you think deserved an Oscar, but didn’t even merit a nomination? Leave a comment and let me know – I’m making a list . . .