A Many Splendored Thing: The 2019 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival — Part 6

•January 18, 2020 • 2 Comments

Happy New Year, y’all!

Now that we’re in a new year, the countdown to the 2020 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival is on! And you know what that means – time for another installment in my ongoing, year-round coverage of the 2019 event! Today, I’m shining the spotlight on two of my favorite film-viewing experiences at the fest, which were the screening of two pre-Code features: Merrily, We Go to Hell (1932) and Blood Money (1933).

Cary Grant had a featured role, a year before his breakout part in “She Done Him Wrong.”

Merrily, We Go to Hell (1932)

Merrily, We Go to Hell stars Fredric March and Sylvia Sidney as first a happily and then an unhappily married couple whose union struggles through his alcoholism and infidelity. (For more on this character, click here.) The film was introduced at the festival by Cari Beauchamp, author and film historian, who told the early morning crowd: “I’m so impressed by your dedication.”

Merrily was directed by Dorothy Arzner, “one of those rare creatures who was comfortable in her own skin and aware of who she was from an early age,” Beauchamp said. Originally, Arzner wanted to be a doctor and attended the University of Southern California. When World War I broke out, Arzner lied about her age in order to drive for the officers; the wife of one of these officers introduced her to movie director William DeMille, brother of Cecil and a co-founder of Famous Players-Lasky.

Also in the supporting cast was a young and glamorous Esther Howard, looking like a completely different person from the characters she played in Murder, My Sweet and Born to Kill.

Initially, Arzner landed a job for DeMille typing up scripts, eventually working her way up to editor – she edited 32 films in one year – but what she really wanted was to be a director. (“If you’re going to be in this business, the thing to be is a director,” Beauchamp offered.) Finally, according to Beauchamp, Arzner had to threaten to leave Paramount in order to be given a chance behind the camera.

As director, Arzner was “an innovator and practical to the core,” Beauchamp said. For example, she invented the boom mike – when she saw that Paramount star Clara Bow was uncomfortable with microphones planted in various locations on the set, Arzner asked for a fishing pole and put the microphone on it.

Based on a book by Cleo Lucas called I, Jerry, Take thee, Joan (“Gee, I wonder why they changed the title,” Beauchamp joked), the picture also featured Cary Grant in a role filmed a year before his breakout appearance in She Done Him Wrong. Also in the cast was Rev. Neal Dodd, a “real-life” Episcopalian priest

“You have to love it – a priest with a SAG card,” Beauchamp said. “Only in Hollywood.”

Frances Dee was a far cry from wholesome in this feature.

Blood Money (1933)

Blood Money is one of the pre-Codiest pre-Codes I’ve ever seen. (And that’s saying something!) It was advertised in the festival literature as quite possibly the “ultimate pre-Code film” – and it didn’t disappoint. For a first-rate write-up on this wild ride of a film, check out Danny’s take on it over at Pre-Code.com.

The third film produced by Darryl F. Zanuck’s new 20th Century Pictures, Blood Money was introduced at the fest by Bruce Goldstein, repertory program director of New York’s Film Forum, who told the packed crowd that the picture bears a striking resemblance to the type of programmers that Zanuck produced at Warner Bros. The feature stars George Bancroft, one of the screen’s “first modern gangsters,” Judith Anderson in her feature film debut, and Frances Dee, who’d already appeared in more than 20 films when she did Blood Money. (Incidentally, Dee’s Little Women premiered the same month as Blood Money.)

Judith Anderson made her feature film debut in Blood Money. She didn’t appear on screen again until seven years later, in Rebecca.

“[Dee] is often described as ‘wholesome,’” Goldstein said. “In Blood Money, she is anything but.”

The film was written and directed by Rowland Brown, and based on an unpublished story by Brown entitled “Bail Bond.” According to Goldstein, very little is known about Brown, but he is rumored to have been involved with the underworld, and many of his films were about gangsters and crime (Brown, incidentally, also wrote the screenplay for The Doorway to Hell [1930] and the story for Angels With Dirty Faces [1938], and the noirs Nocturne [1946] and Kansas City Confidential [1952]). He reportedly socked a producer (some say it was David O. Selznick) and was blacklisted. After that incident, he never directed again.

After its release, with its portrayal of a crook as a sympathetic leading character, and a girl who is a “sexually pathological case,” Blood Money had various scenes cut in different cities, and was banned altogether in British Columbia and Saskatchewan for being “salacious,” Goldstein said. Eventually withdrawn from theatrical release, the film was thought to have been lost until the 1970s.

I’m sure glad they found it!

Stay tuned for next month’s installment of A Many Splendored Thing: The 2019 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival!

Day 30 of Noirvember: Parting Gifs

•November 30, 2019 • 14 Comments

Well, noir lovers, we’ve come now to the end of another Noirvember – it seems like this one passed more rapidly than any other. But you know what they say – the older you get, the faster time flies. (They don’t say that? Well, they should.)

I want to take this opportunity to extend my most sincere gratitude for everyone who read my posts or left comments this month. You made every day worth while. And for you, on this last day of Noirvember 2019, I have some parting gifs, inspired by a quote from Al Fisher (Steve Brodie) of Out of the Past, who once opined, “A dame with a rod is like a guy with a knitting needle.” I don’t know from guys with knitting needles, but I do know about noir dames and rods, and today’s final Noirvember post is a celebration of these dames. Enjoy!

Peggy Cummins

Ann Blyth

Joan Crawford

Barbara Stanwyck

Diana Dors

Bette Davis

Jane Greer

See you next Noirvember!

 

Day 29 of Noirvember: Favorite Things About My Favorites

•November 29, 2019 • 2 Comments

Can’t get enough of Kathie.

For tonight’s Noirvember post, I thought I’d look at five of my favorite noirs, and share what I love best about them. Here goes…

Out of the Past (1947)

The character of Kathie Moffett, played to perfection by Jane Greer. I feel like I’ve mentioned this earlier this month (but I’m just too lazy to go back and look), but as femmes fatales go, Kathie is one of my favorites. Beautiful, fearless, sexy, fun, ruthless. The total fatal package.

Double Indemnity (1944)

The scene where Edward G. Robinson’s character, Barton Keyes, explains to his boss why he’s completely off the boil in his theory that the death of Phyllis Dietrichson’s husband was due to suicide. It’s a veritable tour de force – Keyes only displays his vast knowledge, but he does it with wit and panache, leaving his employer looking like the complete buffoon that he is.

Mildred Pierce (1945)

The scene where Mildred (Joan Crawford) kicks her daughter, Veda (Ann Blyth) out of her house. The scene starts out when Mildred learns that Veda has extorted money from her ex-fiancee’s wealthy family by inventing a pregnancy. When Mildred realizes that her soon-to-be grandchild is not to be, Veda gives off with a hateful diatribe that includes calling her mother a “common frump whose father lived over a store and whose mother took in laundry.” Mildred tears up the check Veda received, calling her “cheap and horrible.” And that’s when the proverbial poop hits the fan, as Veda actually slaps her mother. (Her mother, y’all!) Although Veda’s slap literally knocks Mildred offer her feet, scant seconds pass before Mildred rises up, affixes her daughter with a death stare, and tells her to “get out before I kill you.”

Sherry stole every scene.

The Killing (1956)

The character of Sherry Peatty, played by the always fabulous Marie Windsor. Obviously, the only reason that Sherry married her mousy, racetrack cashier husband George (Elisha Cook, Jr.) was for the promise he made about “hitting it rich, having an apartment on Park Avenue and a different car for every day of the week.” And since that didn’t happen, Sherry doesn’t hesitate to make her displeasure known. Every exchange between Sherry and George is an absolute treat, with Sherry either serving up a heaping helping of sarcasm and disdain, or using her considerable wits (not to mention her ability to read George like a book) to get her way. Until the end, that is.

Life is like a ball game.

Detour (1945)

The lines are the BEST. Here are just three of my favorites:

“Life’s like a ball game. You gotta take a swing at whatever comes along before you wake up and it’s the ninth inning.”

“Money. You know what that is, the stuff you never have enough of. Little green things with George Washington’s picture that men slave for, commit crimes for, die for. It’s the stuff that has caused more trouble in the world than anything else we ever invented, simply because there’s too little of it.”

“Fate, or some mysterious force, can put the finger on you or me for no good reason at all.”

What are some of your favorite noirs – and what do you love about them? Let me know…

And then join me tomorrow on Day 30 – the last day – of Noirvember!

Day 28 of Noirvember: Happy Thanksgiving!

•November 28, 2019 • 2 Comments

It’s Thanksgiving Day 2019, and while searching for turkey-themed photos, I came across this picture of Marilyn Monroe, who appeared in four films noirs during her career: The Asphalt Jungle (1950), Clash by Night (1950), Don’t Bother to Knock (1952), and Niagara (1953). In honor of the holiday, I give you Marilyn, and something that she was thankful for…

“One of the best things that ever happened to me is that I’m a woman. That is the way all females should feel.”

Join me tomorrow for Day 29 of Noirvember!

Day 27 of Noirvember: Wednesday Words

•November 27, 2019 • 2 Comments

Thumbing rides is dangerous.

As the calendar winds down to the end of Noirvember, it’s a perfect time to revisit some more of noir’s great lines. Enjoy!

“Thumbing rides may save you bus fare. But it’s dangerous. You never know what’s in store for you when you hear the squeal of brakes.” – Tom Neal in Detour (1945)

“My old man always said, ‘Liquor doesn’t drown your troubles – just teaches ‘em how to swim.’” – Gene Lockhart in Red Light (1950)

“You know what I do to squealers? I let ‘em have it in the belly so they can roll around a long time, thinkin’ it over.” – Richard Widmark in Kiss of Death (1947)

More nerve than most people.

“Half-drunk, I got better wits than most people. And more nerve.” – Brad Dexter in The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

“Anybody who puts the finger on me is living on borrowed time.” – Lawrence Tierney in Shakedown (1950)

“You’ll discover as you grow older that sometimes a man does things he’d prefer not to do.” – Thomas Gomez in Force of Evil (1948)

“You haven’t got a chance. You guys are gonna die, that’s all. It’s just a matter of when.” – William Talman in The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

You don’t always get the chance to do what you should.

“Don’t ask me no favors – I can’t be bribed, see. Besides, you ain’t got enough money to bribe me.” – Jay C. Flippen in Brute Force (1947)

“You don’t always get the chance in this life to do what you should.” – Cornel Wilde in Storm Fear (1956)

“Doing the right thing never works out. In this world, you turn the other cheek and you get hit with a lug wrench.” – Brian Donlevy in Impact (1949)

Join me tomorrow on Day 28 of Noirvember!

Day 26 of Noirvember: Dorothys You Should Know — Part II

•November 26, 2019 • 3 Comments

Ever heard of Dorothy Patrick?

During her brief heyday, she appeared with such luminaries as Robert Taylor, Wallace Beery and Loretta Young, and she was featured in three films noirs (with an uncredited part in a fourth). But after just 12 years, Patrick retired from the screen and, like her fellow Dorothy (Hart), she’s all but forgotten today. On day 26 of Noirvember, I’m aiming to right that wrong.

Patrick was born Dorothy Davis on June 3, 1924, in St. Boniface, Manitoba, a Canadian province near Winnipeg. As a child, she appeared on local radio stations and modeled children’s clothing, and at the age of 13, she won her first beauty pageant. A few years later, after winning her second beauty contest – Miss Winnipeg – Dorothy moved to New York and landed a modeling job with John Robert Powers. Before long, she was appearing on billboards and magazine covers nationwide, and became a familiar face as a Chesterfield Girl, one of the models used by the cigarette company in its ads. As a lark, she entered Jesse Lasky’s Gateway to Hollywood radio contest and, out of 2,000 entrants in the New York region, Dorothy emerged as the winner.

With William Lundigan in Follow Me Quietly.

Dorothy turned down her movie contract prize to marry New York Ranger hockey star Lynn Patrick and have a son, Lester, but the union didn’t last and after her divorce, Dorothy headed for Hollywood. She didn’t quite take the town by storm, however, and was only able to secure a bit part in an RKO musical comedy. Dorothy returned to Canada, honing her craft in radio and little theater, then returned to Hollywood in 1945, signing a contract with MGM. After a lead role in Boys’ Ranch (1946), with James Craig, Dorothy next appeared opposite Robert Walker as the wife of composer Jerome Kern in Till the Clouds Roll By (1946). The following year, she was seen in a small but pivotal role in her first noir, The High Wall (1947), in which she played the murdered wife of an ex-pilot (Robert Taylor), who is accused of killing her.

Patrick played the second female lead in 711 Ocean Drive.

After a featured role in Alias a Gentleman (1948), a comedy co-starring Wallace Beery, Dorothy returned to the dark side with Follow Me Quietly (1949). Here, she plays a reporter for a sleazy magazine who is determined to get the inside scoop about a serial killer who is terrorizing a small town. This rather creepy noir was followed by a loan-out to 20th Century Fox for Come to the Stable (1949), with Loretta Young and Celeste Holm, which was a hit with critics as well as audiences. But she then left MGM and signed with Republic Studios where, in 1950, she was seen in a series of forgettable films. Her only non-Republic film that year was her best, and her final film noir, Columbia’s 711 Ocean Drive. In this well-done picture, Dorothy played Trudy Maxwell, a secretary who loves and loses (to Joanne Dru) a technology-savvy telephone repairman who gets rich when he takes over a wire service.

Discover Dorothy.

A bit weary of her back-to-back filmmaking schedule, Dorothy briefly abandoned her career and found work as a personnel interviewer and counselor for industrial concerns. But this didn’t last, and in 1952, she was back on screen, starring with Tim Holt in a so-so Western, Road Agent, and playing bit parts in two big-budget MGM films, Scaramouche (1952) and Singin’ in the Rain (1952). Although her career seemed to be headed in the wrong direction, though, Dorothy seemed to take a matter-of-fact view of her experience: “There have been both ups and downs in both the pictures and the assignments I’ve had,” she said in 1954. “I have yet to experience that perfect coordination which means complete success – the ideal assignment in the smash hit.” But during the next few years, Patrick failed to capture that “perfect coordination,” and in 1955, she retired from films.

Away from the big screen, Dorothy focused on philanthropic and liberal causes, and later ecame vice president of her son’s consulting firm. In the mid-1980s, Dorothy was diagnosed with cancer and in May 1987, just days before her 66th birthday, she died at the UCLA Medical Center. At the time of her death, she had been working on her memoirs.

With just over 30 films in 12 years, Dorothy Patrick never managed to achieve the level of stardom that seemed within her reach at the start of her career. Still, she appeared in a number of cinematic gems and left her mark in the world of film noir with roles in three fine films. Do yourself a favor and get to know Dorothy Patrick.

And join me tomorrow for Day 27 of Noirvember!

Day 25 of Noirvember: A Guest Post — Open Secret at the Turner Classic Film Festival

•November 25, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Now that the passes for the 2020 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival have gone on sale, this is a perfect time for another installment of my ongoing coverage of this year’s TCM event. But for today’s Noirvember post, I’m serving up a treat — a guest post from a first-rate writer and one of my favorite people, Aurora over at the Once Upon a Screen blog. Aurora is taking us inside one of the noirs that was screened at the 2019 film festival Open Secret (1948). Enjoy!

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A packed house was witness to a low-budget film noir at the Turner Classic Movie film festival earlier this year. It was probably the biggest crowd to ever watch John Reinhardt’s Open Secret (1948), as TCM host and Film Noir Foundation founder and president Eddie Muller noted during his introduction. “This is as B as B gets,” Muller said, which did nothing but pique the audience’s interest in what turned out to be an effective, down and dirty telling of an insidious presence in post-war, small-town America.

Hollywood had long resisted shining the light on Jewish stories despite the fact that the film industry was run primarily by Jews. It was after World War II that movies took a serious turn and, as Mark Harris describes in his brilliant 2015 book, Five Came Back, decided to grow up. Adult stories replete with realism were now in movie theaters and audiences responded with enthusiasm as did the Hollywood community, who gave Academy Award honors to stories of alcoholism, the difficulties of post-war reintegration, and the most taboo of subjects, anti-Semitism with Elia Kazan’s Gentleman’s Agreement (1947). Released that same year was Edward Dmytryk’s well-received, hard-hitting Crossfire, which was lauded by most critics for its superlative cast and frank spotlight on anti-Semitism, the same subject tackled in 1948 by John Reinhardt’s lesser-known, underrated Open Secret.

Sheldon Leonard was third-billed as a police detective.

John Reinhardt arrived in Hollywood just before the advent of sound to act, but made a name for himself by directing obscure Spanish-language films in Mexico for big studios like 20th Century Fox and Paramount in the early 1930s. Those productions were mostly comedies and musicals written by Reinhardt himself. After World War II, Reinhardt, who had worked for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during the war under the command of John Ford, dealt in low-budget films of a much darker nature, such as The Guilty and For You I Die, both released in 1947. His most famous film is the cold war melodrama Sofia from 1948. Unfortunately, Reinhardt’s post-war filmography is short, as he died of a heart attack in 1953 at the age of 52. However, if Open Secret had been his only post-war film, Reinhardt should have been proud because it is a gutsy production. Open Secret follows in the footsteps of Crossfire, but manages a more oppressive atmosphere throughout.

The cast also includes Arthur O’Connell and Roman Bohnen.

Open Secret stars John Ireland and Jane Randolph as newlyweds Paul and Nancy Lester, who visit Paul’s Army buddy Ed Stevens on their honeymoon, only to find Ed missing when they arrive. As Paul investigates Ed’s whereabouts, the story slowly uncovers an ugly truth simmering along the streets of the unnamed city: bigots bent on ridding the neighborhood of Jews. As it turns out, Ed had proof of the crimes committed before he went missing – a roll of film that proves vital to getting to the root of the hatred. With the help of Det. Sgt. Mike Fontelli, played by Sheldon Leonard, Paul Lester bears witness to multi-generational hatred among the inhabitants of the town. Perhaps this is Open Secret’s harshest message, the children we see who have been taught to hate with such passion that their innocence is silenced. This depiction is starker than even the spousal abuse that seeps into the forefront of the 60-plus-minute film. Although the bad guys get what they deserve at the film’s conclusion, we know the seeds of prejudice have been planted in the shadows.

Ireland is a standout as the film’s hero.

John Ireland does a fine job as the hero of Open Secret, forging a path toward righteousness without fear of the dangers that run rampant in the town. Ireland, who was adept at heroic and villainous roles throughout his six-decades-long career, had made a name for himself in A Walk in the Sun (1945). He became the first Vancouver-born actor to be nominated for an Academy Award with his turn in Robert Rossen’s All the King’s Men (1949). Jane Randolph enjoyed a film career primarily in the 1940s, but is effective and believable as Ireland’s devoted new wife. Randolph’s film career may have been relatively short, but she appeared in several enduring classics such as Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People (1942), Anthony Mann’s T-Men (1947), and perennial favorite Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), directed by Charles T. Barton.

There are several other notable actors in Open Secret who turn in memorable performances. Sheldon Leonard, whose gruff voice and strong New York accent made him the perfect heavy, does a good job as the sympathetic detective. You’ll also catch glimpses of veteran character actor Arthur O’Connell, although his role here requires little more than barking orders as the “boss” of the gang committing hate crimes across the town. The most overtly hateful in the group, however, is Roy Locke, a hard-drinking man whose hobbies include murder and beating his wife. Locke is played memorably by Roman Bohnen with the role of Mrs. Locke delivered by character actor Ellen Lowe, who boasted several uncredited parts in big pictures like Citizen Kane during her career.

Also worthy of mention is George Styne who plays Harry Strauss, the Jewish owner of the photo store that plays prominently in the story. Styne was blacklisted during the McCarthy era, but bounced back to become a frequent television director, helming episodes of such notable series as The Odd Couple, Love American Style, and The Bob Newhart Show. Strauss is the character we most sympathize with in Open Secret as we witness how he is consistently harassed and his store vandalized in hopes he’d leave the neighborhood. Mr. Strauss remains steadfast, however, and we root for him as he becomes involved in resolving the mystery. There’s a particularly difficult scene to watch that takes place in a local bar where Jews are not served. The mocking of a man by people who think they are better, but whose faults are evident, is perhaps what makes Open Secret most relevant today. That and the disgust in their voices as they mention “foreigners.”

You will notice the lack of budget when you watch Open Secret. Eddie Muller joked that it was made for about $2,000. Or maybe he meant it. The sets are bare and the score is recycled, although none of that diminishes the power of the film’s message. In fact, Open Secret does a heck of a lot with very little, thanks in large part to the photography of George Robinson, whose work helps create the palpable dread in the film. Robinson was a prolific cinematographer who worked primarily at Universal, creating the look of many memorable films including several in that studio’s fabled horror canon.

Thought lost for years, Open Secret was restored by The UCLA Film & Television Archive, and festgoers had the pleasure of discovering the film with that print at the TCM festival. In that packed theater, the audience learned that Open Secret is a brave thriller that deserves to be seen.

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My humble thanks to Aurora for a top-notch write-up on a fine film, which can be viewed on YouTube and other sites. Do yourself a favor and check out this film, pay a visit to Aurora’s Once Upon a Screen blog — and join me tomorrow for Day 26 of Noirvember!

 

Day 24 of Noirvember: Comings and Goings

•November 24, 2019 • 5 Comments

Duff’s career began in radio.

November 24th was a significant day in the lives of three classic movie performers, each of whom had a prominent role in at least three films noirs – they were either born on the 24th of November, or that was date on which they died. Today’s Noirvember post pays tribute to these perfomers, and the noir films in which they appeared.

Howard Duff

Duff was born on November 24, 1913, in Bremerton, Washington, a day he once described as “so foggy, even the birds were walking.”

Duff started his career in radio, appearing on numerous radio serials before landing the title role in The Adventures of Sam Spade.

His first film was also his noir debut – Brute Force (1947), where he played one of five inmates who plan a risky prison break. Duff’s other noirs were The Naked City (1948), co-starring Ted De Corsia, Dorothy Hart, and Barry Fitzgerald; Shakedown (1950), a rarely seen, but absolutely cracking film noir where Duff plays an unscrupulous newspaper photographer; Private Hell 36 (1954), with Steve Cochran and Dorothy Malone; and While the City Sleeps (1956), starring Thomas Mitchell, Dana Andrews, and Ida Lupino.

Duff, Lupino, and their daughter, Bridget.

Speaking of Ida Lupino, Duff was married to the actress from 1951 to 1984. The two met while filming the noirish Woman in Hiding (1950). When they first met, Lupino declared that she “couldn’t stand Duff,” and Duff maintained that Lupino “scared” him.

During the HUAC witch hunt of the 1950s, Duff was jailed for contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions about Communism in the motion picture industry. His name was included in the publication Red Channels, which identified writers, directors, and performers suspected of Communist affiliations. Duff was removed from the cast of Sam Spade, couldn’t get a radio job for two years, and was able to land only a handful of screen gigs.

The actor died of a heart attack at the age of 76 in July 1990.

Geraldine Fitzgerald

Nobody Lives Forever with John Garfield.

Fitzgerald was born on the same day and year as Howard Duff, in Greystones, Ireland, the daughter of a prominent lawyer.

Encouraged to pursue acting by her aunt, she joined Dublin’s famous Gate Theatre, where her aunt was one of the leading stars. While there, she appeared in productions with future fellow luminaries James Mason and Orson Welles.

The actress was known for her combative nature, and she blamed herself for hampering her early career in Hollywood by fighting with studio heads over her roles. Her daughter, Susan Scheftel, once said, “My mother was just way too feisty to be in bondage to the Warner Bros.” (Incidentally, Susan’s father, Stuart Scheftel, was a businessman and grandson of the founder of Macy’s department store, Isidor Strauss, who, along with his wife, died on the Titanic. He and Fitzgerald were married from 1946 to Sheftel’s death in 1994.)

One of her best-known films was Wuthering Heights.

She appeared in three films noirs: The Strange Love of Uncle Harry (1945), a period piece with George Sanders and Ella Raines; Three Strangers (1946), the eighth of nine features starring Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre; and Nobody Lives Forever (1946), where she was a wealthy spinster who is targeted for a con by John Garfield.

Her best-known roles were probably the second female leads she played in Wuthering Heights, as the pitiable wife of Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) and Dark Victory, as Bette Davis’s best friend.

Fitzgerald died in 2005 at the age of 91, from complications of Alzheimer’s Disease.

George Raft

Raft was born on September 26, 1895 (my older daughter’s birthday twin!) in New York City. His name at birth was George Ranft; one of 10 children, he grew up in the city’s rough Hell’s Kitchen area.

Raft was a dancer early in his career.

A school dropout at the age of 13, Raft was a professional boxer for a while, and then capitalized on his natural dancing ability by working as a “taxi-dancer” in local cafes.

His breakout role was Scarface (1932), a thinly veiled accounting of the exploits of gangster Al Capone. After the release of the film, Capone himself reportedly reached out to Raft to offer his stamp of approval. Over the years, Raft also hobnobbed with other gangland figures, like Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and Owney Madden.

Raft claimed that he was “tricked” in 1923 into marrying Grace Mulrooney, who had once worked as one of his ballroom dancing partners. The couple separated soon after they wed, but Mulrooney refused to grant Raft a divorce – a stance that she maintained until her death in 1970.

Raft’s first noir was Johnny Angel (1945).

Under contract to Paramount, Raft was put on suspension for refusing to appear in The Story of Temple Drake (1933), starring Miriam Hopkins. Raft said, “It’s not that I mind being the guy on the wrong side of the law, but I won’t take a role that’s pure heel. The character has to have some ray of warmth, some redeeming quality – or it just isn’t real.” Raft also famously turned down the roles in High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon that would be played to much success by Humphrey Bogart.

Raft appeared in five noirs: Johnny Angel (1945), where he played a ship’s captain investigating the death of his father and his crew; Nocturne (1946), with Lynn Bari and Virginia Huston; Red Light (1950), with Virginia Mayo and Gene Lockhart; Loan Shark (1952), in which he played an ex-con who goes undercover to infiltrate a loan sharking gang; and Rogue Cop (1954), where he played a syndicate boss.

Raft died of emphysema on November 24, 1980, at the age of 85.

Join me in saluting these November 24th illuminaries today . . . and join me for Day 25 of Noirvember tomorrow!

 

Day 23 of Noirvember: Top Seven in ’47

•November 23, 2019 • 7 Comments

If you were to ask a noir fan to name the greatest year for film noir, chances are that the answer would be 1947. Personally, I could also make a case for several other years – 1946 and 1950 come to mind most immediately – but when you take a look at the titles of the noirs released in 1947, you have to admit that it was a most awesome year.

I’ve never attempted to name my top films for 1947, but I thought I’d challenge myself today and pick out my favorite seven features of the year. I’m here to tell you, it wasn’t easy – here are just a few of the gems that didn’t make the cut: Railroaded, Possessed, Body and Soul, Kiss of Death, T-Men, Crossfire . . . and I could go on!

But I won’t keep talking about the movies I didn’t select for my top seven in 1947 – here, instead, are the ones I did!

Out of the Past

I know that many noir-heads consider this film to be the quintessential noir, and although I don’t (Double Indemnity would take that title, for my money), there’s no denying that it deserves a spot on any “best of” list.

Kathie may be the quintessential femme fatale.

What’s it about?

An ex-private dick, turned small-town gas station owner, finds his quest for a simple, quiet life upended after a chance encounter with someone from his past.

What I love best:

Kathie Moffat, brought to life by Jane Greer, is one of my all-time favorite femme fatales. She’s beautiful and intelligent and fun to be with, a rare combination in a fatal femme. You can totally understand why Robert Mitchum’s Jeff Bailey was such a fool for her. She’s also ruthless and fearless, which she demonstrates over and over throughout the film, starting before we even meet her, by shooting her lover and stealing his money.

My favorite quote:

“You know, a dame with a rod is like a guy with a knitting needle.” – Al Fisher (Steve Brodie)

Born to Kill

There are many noirs where the bad guys are really quite palatable – you may hate them, but you love to hate them, like Richard Conte’s Mr. Brown in The Big Combo or Clifton Webb’s Waldo Lydecker in Laura. But Sam Wild, the character played by Lawrence Tierney in Born to Kill, is just plain scary – a complete psychopath without a single redeeming quality. The type of guy who is – dare I say it – born to kill.

Everybody needs a pal like Marty.

What’s it about?

A recently divorced woman is inexplicably drawn to a man who’s not only a murder (and she knows it), but who woos and marries her sister in an effort to improve his lot in life.

What I love best:

I’ve said before that every movie’s better with Elisha Cook, Jr., in it – and that axiom certainly holds true here. In Born to Kill, he plays Marty, the loyal best friend of Sam Wild. He’s the kind of pal that we all need, the very embodiment of the term “ride or die.”

My favorite quote:

“You can’t just go around killin’ people whenever the notion strikes you. It’s not feasible.” – Marty Waterman (Elisha Cook, Jr.)

Desperate

Desperate. It’s a well-done little noir.

No one talks about this movie much, but I just love it. It’s a really simple story (none of your typical complicated noir machinations), there are no flashbacks or voiceovers, and there’s nary a femme fatale in sight. But it’s still a gripping, well-done little noir.

What’s it about?

A truck driver with a new wife and a baby on the way finds himself on the run from local gangsters and police when he’s inadvertently involved in a crime.

What I love best:

There’s a shootout in an apartment house stairwell near the end of the movie that is one of the most noirish things I’ve ever seen. It ends with the death of one of the characters that can best be described as beautifully terrifying. There’s a five-second clip of it below. (If you don’t want to be spoiled, don’t click!)

My favorite quote: “I’m sorry I can’t give you a choice of food, Steve, but it won’t make much difference. You’re not going to live long enough to get any nourishment out of it.” – Walt Radak (Raymond Burr)

The Devil Thumbs a Ride

Lawrence Tierney had a banner year in 1947, with this film and Born to Kill forming a sort of cinematic tag team of psychopathy. This is another film that doesn’t get a lot of attention; it’s certainly no masterpiece, but it’s one of my personal guilty pleasures, and I just couldn’t exclude it from this list.

One dreadful thing after another.

What’s it about?

A traveling salesman gets more than he bargained for when he picks up a homicidal hitchhiker.

What I love best:

A potent feeling of dread is a staple of film noir, and this movie has it in spades. The plot is fairly brimming with one dreadful thing after another.

My favorite quote:

“I’m glad to have company. I hate driving alone.” – Jimmy Ferguson (Ted North)

Nora Prentiss

I’ve loved this movie since the first time I saw it. I was blown away by the story and captivated by the performances. Plus, it’s got Ann Sheridan in the title role. Period.

What’s it about?

A doctor with a wife and two children falls in love with a nightclub singer and turns his life upside down to be with her.

The plot of Nora Prentiss is everything.

What I love best:

The plot is unlike any other noir that I’ve seen – it’s just so unique and inventive, with a great noirish twist at the end.

My favorite quote:

“I could never prove my innocence. You know that. They’d never believe me. If a man commits one crime, it’s easy to suspect him of another.” – Richard Talbot (Kent Smith)

They Won’t Believe Me

This movie has a perfectly framed flashback that comprises the greater part of the movie, and when it comes to perfect noir endings, this film has one of the best.

What’s it about?

A philandering husband falls in love with a co-worker and finds himself falsely accused of her murder.

My favorite Robert Young role.

What I love best:

My introduction to Robert Young was in Marcus Welby, M.D., a popular hour-long television show from the 1970s in which Young played the title role. It wasn’t until a few decades later that I discovered Young’s classic movie career, and They Won’t Believe Me contains my favorite Robert Young performance. His Larry Ballentine is charmingly appealing, but he’s really a pretty awful person – a serial philanderer, not to mention a liar and a thief. But Young’s portrayal evokes your sympathy and somehow gets you on his side.

My favorite quote:

“She looked like a very special kind of dynamite, neatly wrapped in nylon and silk. Only I wasn’t having any. I’d been too close to one explosion already. I was powder shy.” – Larry Ballentine (Robert Young)

Odd Man Out

Unlike every other movie on this list, I’ve only seen Odd Man Out once, just a few months ago. The fact that out of all the first-rate noir features that were released in 1947, I chose this film as one of my top seven, is a testament to just how good this movie is. Incidentally, it stars James Mason – that’s pretty much all you need to know.

It’s just good. That’s all.

What’s it about?

A group of Irish revolutionaries attempt a robbery, but one of them is injured during the getaway and finds himself the subject of a citywide manhunt.

What I love best:

The overwhelming sensation of doom that covers this film almost from the beginning is absolutely riveting. I watched Odd Man Out over a span of several days, and there was something about it that stayed with me – I found myself thinking about it and looking forward to be able to get back to the story – I was fairly itching to find out what would happen.

My favorite quote:

“I believe in everything we’re doing, but violence is getting us nowhere.” – Johnny McQueen (James Mason)

What are your favorite noirs from 1947? Let me know!

And join me tomorrow for Day 24 of Noirvember!

Day 22 of Noirvember: Someone’s in the Kitchen

•November 22, 2019 • 6 Comments

I don’t know if classic film stars spent as much time in the kitchen as the movie magazines of the day would have you believe, but I quite like to think of my favorite performers whipping up a three-layer chocolate cake or tasty batch of fried chicken.

Today’s Noirvember post takes a peek inside the kitchens of some of our favorite shadowy actors and actresses – and serves up my recommended noir for each!

Veronica Lake: The Glass Key (1942)

 

Richard Widmark: Night and the City (1950)

 

Dorothy Malone: The Big Sleep (1946)

 

Ava Gardner: The Killers (1946) (duh)

 

Raymond Burr: Desperate (1947)

 

Jeanne Crain: Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

 

Victor Mature: Cry of the City (1948)

 

Rita Hayworth: Gilda (1946)

Bon appetit, y’all! Join me tomorrow for Day 23 of Noirvember!