Day 23 of Noirvember: Cleve Marshall in The File on Thelma Jordon (1950)

•November 23, 2021 • 6 Comments

Today’s Noirvember post shines the spotlight on Cleve Marshall in The File on Thelma Jordon (1950).

“I’m fed up.”

WHAT’S THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON ABOUT?

Thelma Jordon (Barbara Stanwyck) reports to the district attorney’s office that there have been a series of attempted burglaries at the home of her wealthy aunt. A short time later, she becomes romantically involved with assistant district attorney Cleve Marshall (Wendell Corey) – when her aunt is shot to death and Thelma is accused of the murder, Cleve helps her cover up incriminating evidence and arranges to be the prosecutor on the case. Will he do his best to bungle the case? Will Thelma be found guilty? And how does Thelma’s estranged lover figure in the scheme of things? It’s a tangled web.

INTRODUCING CLEVE MARSHALL:

The end of the evening.

Cleve is in the first scene of the film – he enters his office to find his boss, Miles Scott (Paul Kelly), talking to Cleve’s wife, Pam, on the phone. She’s upset because it’s their anniversary, her parents are dining at the Marshall home, and Cleve is nowhere to be found – she even called that “nasty” bar across the street from Cleve’s office. Miles covers for Cleve, telling Pam he hasn’t seen her husband and adding, “You know Cleve doesn’t drink” – just as Cleve is reaching into Miles’s desk drawer to retrieve a bottle of booze. When Pam finally hangs up the telephone, Cleve tells Miles that he’s “fed up.” It turns out that, primarily, Cleve has a problem with Pam’s overbearing, overinvolved-in-their-marriage father, a retired judge. Over numerous shots of whiskey, he tells Miles that his wife wanted an antique “whatnot” for her anniversary present. When he visited the antique shop earlier that day to purchase it, he learned that her father had already bought it. “Does it all the time. If I can’t get something for her, her father will,” Cleve grouses. Shortly after Miles heads for home – leaving Cleve and the bottle in his office – Thelma Jordon shows up, and before the evening is over, they’re kissing in the front seat of her car.

WHY DID I PICK CLEVE?

He has an upstanding position in the community, one where he’s responsible for upholding the law, but he’s so flawed. Frustrated in his marriage, unfaithful to his wife, a little too fond of whiskey, blinded by passion and willing to do anything to save the neck of his inamorata. To look at him, with his Wally Cleaver haircut and bowtie, you’d think he was the most honorable, trustworthy dude in the room. Looks can be deceiving.

FROM THE MOUTH OF CLEVE:

“I’m fed up. Ever heard that phrase? No, you wouldn’t. You’re not married.”

PLAYED BY WENDELL COREY:

Wendell Corey was born on March 20, 1914, in Dracut, Massachusetts, one of four children of a Congregational minister. Although his father hoped he’d follow in his footsteps, Corey balked at the idea, taking on a variety of odd jobs before fate stepped in. Taking a break one day from his job as a washing machine salesman, Corey dropped by a rehearsal of the Springfield Repertory Players, where a friend was performing in Street Scene. When he learned that the cast was in need of an actor to play a Swedish janitor, Corey auditioned and landed the part. He spent the next year with the Springfield company, then toured in several productions throughout New England with the Federal Theater Project and a variety of stock companies before making his way to Broadway. He got his long-awaited big break in 1946 when he was cast opposite Betty Field in Dream Girl; while he was performing in this production, Hollywood beckoned, and Corey signed a contract with producer Hal Wallis. His big screen debut was also his entry into film noir – the technicolor feature Desert Fury (1947).

Join me in the shadows tomorrow for Day 24 of Noirvember!

Day 22 of Noirvember: Martha Ivers in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

•November 22, 2021 • 7 Comments

Today’s Noirvember post shines the spotlight on the titular star of The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946).

If looks could kill.

WHAT’S THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS ABOUT?

Martha Ivers (Barbara Stanwyck) is the head of an industrial empire, which she has expanded and enhanced since inheriting it from her wealthy (but hated) aunt. She’s married to her old childhood chum Walter O’Neill (Kirk Douglas), the current District Attorney who Martha is reportedly grooming for the governorship, despite his affinity for the bottle. Martha appears to have the world in the palm of her hand, but she has a secret – as a teen, she was responsible for her aunt’s death (she struck the older Mrs. Ivers with her own cane), and allowed a local vagrant to be accused, tried, and executed for the crime. Besides Martha, no one knows about the circumstances of her aunt’s demise except Walter and (possibly) another childhood friend – Sam Masterson – who was there at the time but fled the area the night of the killing. The story comes full circle when Sam Masterson (Van Heflin), all grown up, returns to town. But what Martha doesn’t know is how much does Sam know, and what does he intend to do about it?

INTRODUCING MARTHA IVERS:

We first meet Martha (Janis Wilson) as a teenager, on a dark and stormy night, in a train yard. She and her friend, Sam (Darryl Hickman), are planning to run away by hopping aboard a circus train. Martha demonstrates a mixture of bravado and anxiety, steely determination and sentimentality; she flings herself into Sam’s arms when she hears a clap of thunder, but seconds later insists that she’s not afraid. “I like it,” she says firmly. She maintains this swagger when the two youths are found by police and she’s taken back to her aunt, who’s none too pleased with her. (And that’s putting it mildly.) When her aunt remarks that Martha doesn’t look very sorry, Martha angrily replies, “I am. I’m sorry I was caught.” Before this brief confab is over, Martha will be lunging at her aunt and threatening to kill her. (They’re not exactly Dorothy and Aunt Em, if you get my drift.)

WHY DID I PICK MARTHA?

She is a total badass. The complete package. Beautiful, stylish, confident, smart. A savvy, powerful businesswoman and a respected member of the community. But she’s not the nicest woman you’ve ever met. She’s not nice to her weak-willed husband, or to the hard-luck gal Sam meets and installs in the adjoining hotel room – or to anybody who crosses her, I’ll wager.

FROM THE MOUTH OF MARTHA:

“My father used to work here as a mill hand. Now I own it. Now I’m even. I was 21 when I took it over, it had 3,000 workers then. It’s got 30,000 now. It ran as far as that gate – now it goes down to the edge of the river. And I did it all by myself. Without Walter, without his father. All by myself.”

PLAYED BY BARBARA STANWYCK:

Barbara Stanwyck was born Ruby Katherine Stevens on July 16, 1907, in Brooklyn, New York, the youngest of five children. In 1910, Ruby’s mother, pregnant with her sixth child, was knocked off a trolley car by a drunken passenger and struck her head against a curb. She never recovered from her injury, and two weeks after her death, her widower signed up with a crew working on the Panama Canal. His family would never see him again. Ruby eventually went to live with her chorus-girl sister Mildred; she was a poor student and had no close girlfriends, but she was able to escape from her dreary existence at the local matinee. During the summers of 1916 and 1917, she was allowed to accompany Mildred on tour, and during these trips, Ruby developed her passion for performing. When Ruby was not quite 16, now living with her sister Maude in Flatbush, she borrowed a dress, made up her face, and landed a $40-a-week job in the chorus at the Strand Roof nightclub. Within a few years, she was performing with the touring company of the Ziegfeld Follies, and in 1926 she debuted on Broadway in The Noose. Around this time, Ruby transformed into Barbara Stanwyck, taking the names from an old theater program: Jane Stanwyck in Barbara Frietchie. Also in 1926, she met vaudeville comedian Frank Fay; the two were married after a whirlwind courtship. By now, both Stanwyck and her new spouse were being courted by Hollywood, and six months after they married, they headed for California, where Stanwyck signed a contract with United Artists and made her film debut in The Locked Door (1929). She stepped into the world of film noir with a starring role in my favorite noir, Double Indemnity (1944). For more on why I love Double Indemnity, click here.

And join me in the shadows tomorrow for Day 23 of Noirvember!

Day 21 of Noirvember: Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death (1947)

•November 21, 2021 • 5 Comments

Today’s Noirvember post shines the spotlight on one scary dude: Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death (1947).

Scary Tommy.

WHAT’S KISS OF DEATH ABOUT?

Career criminal Nick Bianco (Victor Mature) is arrested after a botched robbery attempt. He’s offered the chance for an early release if he squeals on his comrades, but he refuses. A couple of years later, he’s more than willing to squawk when he learns that his wife has committed suicide, leaving behind their two young daughters. Once he’s released, he remarries and leads a quiet, straight life, but as a condition of his release, he’s called on to provide evidence against a local hood, Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark). He does, but when Tommy is acquitted of the crime, he vows revenge against Nick and his family.

INTRODUCING TOMMY UDO:

We meet Tommy when Nick does, sitting in a cell awaiting transfer to Sing Sing. Tommy doesn’t seem to be bothered by his impending imprisonment – he muses on the damage he’d like to inflict on a passing guard, and punctuates the image with a unique, maniacal giggle. He’s impressed by Nick’s reputation and as pleased as a kid on Christmas when Nick says he’s heard of Tommy. “Imagine me on this cheap rap – big man like me,” Tommy boasts. “Picked up just for shoving a guy’s ears off his head. Traffic ticket stuff.”

WHY DID I PICK TOMMY?

This is that guy.

He’s a film noir icon. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, you may be familiar with him. He’s the guy who ties up a wheelchair-bound woman and rolls her down a flight of steps. That move alone is worth his moment in the spotlight today.

FROM THE MOUTH OF TOMMY:

“For a nickel, I’d grab him. Stick both thumbs right in his eyes. Hang on ‘til he drops dead.”

PLAYED BY RICHARD WIDMARK:

Richard Widmark was born in Sunrise, Minnesota, on December 26, 1914. Because of his father’s job as a traveling salesman, Widmark moved frequently as a child before settling in Princeton, Illinois. The actor later said he’d been a “movie nut” since the age of three, but he only appeared in one high school production and after high school, he enrolled in Lake Forest College as a pre-law major. While there, Widmark was taken under the wing of the school’s drama coach, who encouraged him to pursue an acting career.

After his graduation in 1936, he remained at the school for the next two years, teaching speech and drama. In 1938, Widmark moved to New York, where a former classmate-turned-radio producer gave him a job on the radio series, Aunt Jenny’s Real Life Stories. He spent the next several years honing his acting craft on the radio, sometimes doing as many as eight shows in a single day. After World War II, he debuted on Broadway in Kiss and Tell, playing a young Air Corps lieutenant, and went on to appear in a variety of stage productions. He finally got his big break when Henry Hathaway visited New York to cast the role of Tommy Udo. He caused a sensation in his film debut and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He lost to Edmund Gwenn for Miracle on 34th Street, but it was quite an auspicious beginning.

Join me in the shadows tomorrow for Day 22 of Noirvember!

Day 20 of Noirvember: Pat Kroll in A Double Life (1947)

•November 20, 2021 • 7 Comments

Today’s Noirvember post shines the spotlight on the luckless Pat Kroll in A Double Life (1947).

“May I take your order?’

WHAT’S A DOUBLE LIFE ABOUT?

Anthony John (Ronald Colman) is a talented but extremely intense stage performer with a tendency to completely lose himself in his roles. When he’s offered the part of Othello, he initially declines, but he becomes obsessed with the idea and eventually takes it on, with his ex-wife, Brita (Signe Hasso), reluctantly accepting the part of Othello’s wife, Desdemona. As Brita feared, over time the role begins to take over Tony’s life, until he is unable to separate reality from the story in the play – which doesn’t bode well for those closest to Tony, including a young waitress, Pat Kroll (Shelley Winters), with whom he is involved.

INTRODUCING PAT KROLL:

We meet Pat when Anthony John does, during a visit to the Venezia Restaurant for dinner; she’s the waitress for his table. She tosses a menu in front of him, he asks about the quality of the Chicken Cacciatore, and she sassily replies, “It’s your stomach.” For some reason that I’ve yet to quite figure out – other than her boss telling her, “Take good care of him” – Pat’s a lot friendlier when she returns to the table. She’s chatty and flirty, telling him her name and sharing information about the different places she’s worked. And as she helps him off with his coat, she tells him, “You’re cute.” A second later, she’s telling him what time she gets off work, jotting down her address on the back of his bill, and murmuring, “I’ll be through here in three quarters of an hour.” Not very subtle is our Pat.

WHY DID I PICK PAT?

She’s sexy and brazen, attractive, but with a bit of a hard edge; she’s been around the block, if you know what I mean. She’s worlds apart from the type of women Tony’s accustomed to. You’ll never catch Pat dropping foreign phrases into her casual conversation or using her best dishes to serve an elegant brunch in her apartment. She’s only in three scenes – which is a shame – but she’s a standout.

FROM THE MOUTH OF PAT:

“We could tell each other our troubles, if you want to.”

PLAYED BY SHELLEY WINTERS:

Winters was born Shirley Schrift in St. Louis, Missouri, on August 18, 1922. Young Shirley made her performance debut at the age of four, at a neighborhood theater – she would later say that she couldn’t remember a time when she didn’t want to be an actress. When she was a child, her family moved to Long Island, New York, and then to Brooklyn, where she loved spending time at the movies. She appeared in numerous plays in high school, but she left school in 1939 before graduating to become a model in New York’s garment district and attend drama classes at the New Theatre School. That summer, she found work in summer stock and then landed a job in the chorus at the La Conga nightclub. Around this time, Shirley registered with Actors Equity and changed her professional name to Shelley (after her favorite poet) and adopted her mother’s maiden name of Winter. (Several years later, Universal Studios would add the “s” to her last name.) She spent the next year haunting the offices of theatrical managers and her work began to pay off with appearances in a number of stage productions, including her Broadway debut in The Night Before Christmas. During her run in the hit Max Reinhardt play Rosalinda, Winters was spotted by Harry Cohn, head of Columbia Pictures, who signed her to a contract. Her screen debut was an unbilled bit part in What a Woman! (1943), starring Rosalind Russell. Her first film noir was the 1947 feature The Gangster, where she played a cashier.

Join me in the shadows tomorrow for Day 21 of Noirvember!

Day 19 of Noirvember: Chris Cross in Scarlet Street (1945)

•November 19, 2021 • 4 Comments

Today’s Noirvember post shines the spotlight on Christopher Cross in Scarlet Street (1945).

Chris is henpecked and browbeaten at home.

WHAT’S SCARLET STREET ABOUT?

Based on the novel and play La Chienne, the story focuses on a married, middle-aged cashier who saves a young woman from an attacker in the street, and promptly falls in love with her. The cashier is Christopher “Chris” Cross (Edward G. Robinson), the woman is Katherine “Kitty” March (Joan Bennett), and the attacker, who’s no stranger to Kitty, is Johnny Prince. Kitty leads Chris to believe that she’s an actress and she, in turn, believes that Chris is a rich and famous painter. The truth is that Kitty is a prostitute and Johnny is her pimp – and when he finds out about Chris’s (alleged) bankroll, he cooks up a scheme to milk him for all he’s worth. But Murphy’s Law is in full effect with these three, and things go wrong for everyone concerned.

INTRODUCING CHRIS CROSS:

We meet Chris at a dinner celebration with his work colleagues, commemorating his 25th year as a cashier. He receives from his boss a 14-carat, 17-jewel pocket watch in honor of his service to the company. As Chris receives the watch, we see his face for the first time; he’s an older man, unassuming, modest, a little shy. We get another glimpse into his personality when the boss leaves the party early to join the sweet blonde thing who’s waiting for him in a limo outside. “Do you suppose J.J. is running around with that young lady?” Chris naively asks a co-worker. Little does he know that he’ll be running around with a young lady of his own before long.

There’s more to Chris than meets the eye.

WHY DID I PICK CHRIS?

Chris has so many facets. He’s a henpecked, cowering husband, whose primary pleasure is derived from his painting hobby (which, like everything else about Chris, is derided by his bullying wife). He’s starved for affection and incredibly innocent and trusting, which makes him easy pickings for Kitty and Johnny. He’s kind-hearted and thoughtful and generous. A loyal friend, a diligent worker. But given the right circumstances, he’s also a love cheat, a liar and, ultimately, a murderer. Complex dude, that Chris.

FROM THE MOUTH OF CHRIS:

“I wonder what it’s like to be loved by a young girl like that. You know, nobody ever looked at me like that. Not even when I was young.”

PLAYED BY EDWARD G. ROBINSON:

One of six brothers, Robinson was born Emmanuel Goldenberg in Bucharest, Romania, on December 12, 1893. To escape the growing persecution of Jews in their country, the family immigrated to the United States in 1903, settling in a tenement on New York’s Lower East Side. Initially, Emmanuel aspired to be a rabbi, but while in high school, he began to focus on the performing arts. In 1911, he won a scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts; around this time, he decided to change his name, selecting Edward for the King of England, “G” for Goldenberg, and Robinson after a character in his favorite play, The Passerby. His first professional role came in 1913, in a play called Paid in Full. He then spent the next several years in a variety of stage productions, including a tour in Canada, and made his first screen appearance playing a factory worker in the silent feature Arms and the Woman (1916). He was drafted into the Navy during World War I; after the end of the war, he returned to the stage for a series of plays for the Theater Guild, and traveled to Cuba for his first major screen role in The Bright Shawl (1923). He also starred in a three-act comedy, The Kibitzer, which he co-wrote with Jo Swerling (who would later pen such classics as Blood and Sand [1944] and Leave Her to Heaven [1945]). After earning good reviews for his performance, Robinson accepted an offer to star opposite Claudette Colbert for his first talking picture, The Hole in the Wall (1929), followed by the first of many gangster roles in Universal’s Night Ride (1930). He entered the realm of film noir more than a decade later with a standout performance in my favorite noir, Double Indemnity in 1944. For more on Double Indemnity, click here.

And join me in the shadows tomorrow for Day 20 of Noirvember!

Day 18 of Noirvember: Leona Charles in The Breaking Point (1950)

•November 18, 2021 • 4 Comments

Today’s Noirvember post shines the spotlight on Leona Charles in The Breaking Point (1950).

Alluring Leona.

WHAT’S THE BREAKING POINT ABOUT?

World War II veteran Harry Morgan (John Garfield) operates a boat charter business in California, but his proceeds are barely enough to make the payments on the boat, let alone support his wife and two young daughters. Desperate for cash when he’s stiffed by a client, Harry enters into a scheme spearheaded by a crooked lawyer (Wallace Ford), but finds himself digging a hole so deep he may not be able to climb out. And making matters worse is a beautiful blonde, Leona Charles (Patricia Neal), who keeps popping up like a bad penny.

INTRODUCING LEONA CHARLES:

Leona enters the picture with Mr. Hannagan (Ralph Dumke), who charters Harry’s boat for a fishing trip to Mexico. From the second she steps aboard, Leona is fairly oozing sass and sex appeal: “I always wanted to meet a captain,” she purrs when she’s introduced to Harry. While Hannagan is fishing, Leona spends most of her time on the boat with Harry, lying provocatively beside him, or leaning against him as she shares, “I love Mexico.” And when Harry tells her to be nice, she scoffs, “Yeah, nice. No future in it.” She couldn’t be more clear about her intentions if she carried a sign.

WHY DID I PICK LEONA?

She’s unpredictable, flirty, quick with a quip. Relaxed and carefree. She goes with the flow. And she doesn’t give a damn about your rules or conventions. She’s not nice, and I wouldn’t want her as a friend, but I’d love to hang out with her at a cocktail party.

FROM THE MOUTH OF LEONA:

“Everything in Mexico is nice. It’s romantic. Except you. You haven’t even been friendly to me. Don’t you want to be friendly?”

PLAYED BY PATRICIA NEAL:

Patricia Louise Neal was born in a mining camp in Packard, Kentucky, on January 20, 1926, one of three children. She grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee; by the time she entered high school, she had won the Tennessee State Award for dramatic reading. Neal studied drama for two years at Northwestern University in Chicago, where her classmates included future performers Jean Hagen and Ralph Meeker, then moved to New York, securing work as a model. In 1945, she got a job understudying Vivian Vance in The Voice of the Turtle on Broadway, but her big break came the following year when starred in Another Part of the Forest, earning a Tony Award for Best Actress and landing on the cover of Life magazine. Her acclaim attracted the attention of Hollywood, and Neal made her big screen debut in John Loves Mary (1949), playing a senator’s daughter engaged to ex-GI Ronald Reagan. The following year, she entered the realm of noir with The Breaking Point. For more on the life and career of Patricia Neal, click here.

And join me in the shadows tomorrow for Day 19 of Noirvember!

Day 17 of Noirvember: Ralph Hughes in My Name is Julia Ross (1945)

•November 17, 2021 • 6 Comments

Today’s Noirvember post shines the spotlight on a seriously scary dude: Ralph Hughes in My Name is Julia Ross (1945).

Ralph Hughes is one creepy dude.

WHAT’S MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS ABOUT?

Julia Ross (Nina Foch) is an unemployed Londoner who is hired as the live-in secretary to a wealthy widow, Mrs. Hughes (Dame May Whitty). But after spending her first night in the Hughes‘s home, Julia awakens two days later to find that she’s been transported to the family’s seaside mansion in Cornwall, that all of her clothes are gone, and that she’s being addressed as Marion Hughes – the wife of Mrs. Hughes’s son Ralph (George Macready). She’s further told that she’s had a nervous breakdown and that she cannot leave the property – for her own safety, of course. The truth is that Ralph Hughes has murdered the real Marion, and he and his mother have a similar fate in mind for Julia.

INTRODUCING RALPH HUGHES:

We first see Ralph during Julia’s interview with his other, Mrs. Hughes. There’s nothing out of the ordinary about him – he doesn’t say much and appears to be pleasant, even nondescript. But when Julia leaves, the red flags start popping up. When his mother opines that Julia will be perfect, Ralph agrees, adding that “there’s even a small resemblance.” What does he mean by this? We don’t yet know, but we’re soon to find out. Meanwhile, Ralph makes more of an impression later that night, after Julia reports to her new position. While she’s sleeping, her purse and clothes are removed from her room, and Mrs. Hughes gives directions to the two co-conspirators in her employ that Julia’s belongings are to be destroyed. And that’s when we get a gander at Ralph, who’s apparently already gotten into the spirit of things and is methodically ripping one of Julia’s garments with a knife. His mother orders him to put the knife away, but Ralph merely continues with his task until his mother goes a step further: “Try to remember,” she tells him. “If it weren’t for your temper, we wouldn’t be in this awful trouble today.” It’s only then that Ralph apologizes and puts the knife away. (Yikes!)

WHY DID I PICK RALPH?

He’s creepy to the nth degree. He has an abnormal relationship with his mother, a peculiar fixation with knives, and often seems to be barely holding himself together. He’s probably one of the scarier characters that I’ve spotlighted this year – whether he’s kissing Julia with such force that he draws blood, or mindlessly ripping a sofa to shreds with his knife, you can be that you won’t soon forget him.

FROM THE MOUTH OF RALPH:

“Would you like to listen to the sea and hear what it says? It doesn’t say anything, does it? That’s what I like about the sea. It never tells its secrets, and it has many — very many – secrets.”

PLAYED BY GEORGE MACREADY:

George Macready was born on August 29, 1908, in Providence, Rhode Island. He was educated in the public schools of Providence, and attended Brown University, where he made his first attempt at exploring his longtime interest in acting. It was while he was enrolled at Brown that he was involved in an accident that led to the distinctive scar on his right cheek. Macready was riding in a car with six of his fraternity brother when the car hit a telephone pole and Macready went through the windshield. After graduating from Brown, Macready joined the American Laboratory Theater, founded by Richard Boleslawski and Maria Ouspenskaya. Macready made his stage debut with the company, playing the duke in Twelfth Night, and spent the next several years honing his craft with the American Laboratory Theater and the Bonstelle stock company in Detroit, Michigan. He eventually made his way to Broadway, appearing in such productions as Romeo and Juliet with Katherine Cornell and Orson Welles, and Victoria Regina with Helen Hayes and Vincent Price. His performances caught the attention of Hollywood, and he made his film debut in 1942, playing a schoolteacher in Columbia’s The Commandos Strike at Dawn. Three years later, he stepped into the shadows of film noir with My Name is Julia Ross.

Join me in the shadows tomorrow for Day 18 of Noirvember!

Day 16 of Noirvember: Ellen Berent in Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

•November 16, 2021 • 6 Comments

Today’s Noirvember post shines the spotlight on the beautiful but deadly Ellen Berent in Leave Her to Heaven (1945).

Our first look at Ellen.

WHAT’S LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN ABOUT?

Socialite Ellen Berent (Gene Tierney) meets a novelist, Richard “Dick” Harland (Cornel Wilde), at Rancho Jacinto in Taos, New Mexico. Richard is there visiting friends, and Ellen is there, along with her sister, Ruth (Jeanne Crain) and her mother (Mary Philips), to scatter the ashes of her beloved father. After a whirlwind romance spearheaded by Ellen – and despite the fact that she is engaged to attorney Russell Quinton (Vincent Price) – Ellen and Dick are married. But it soon becomes clear that Ellen’s love is all-consuming, and has no room for anyone else – not her sister and mother, or the caretaker (Chill Wills) at Dick’s lodge in Maine, or Dick’s disabled brother, Danny (Darryl Hickman), or even Ellen’s unborn child. Nobody.

INTRODUCING ELLEN BERENT:

We get our first glimpse of Ellen on the train to New Mexico, where she’s reading the latest book by Richard Harland – who just happens to be seated across from her. Ellen’s holding the book in front of her face as she reads; like Harland, we’re trying to see what she looks like. After a few moments, Ellen lowers the book and closes her eyes for a nap. The book falls to the floor and Dick jumps to his feet to retrieve it, finding himself transfixed by Ellen’s intense gaze, which lasts for several seconds before she breathily offers, “Thank you.” Dick may not know it, but with that brief encounter, his goose is cooked.

Don’t let the smile fool ya.

WHY DID I PICK ELLEN?

She’s mesmerizing. She’s beautiful, strong-willed, determined. She’s also a psychopath. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t admire her psychopathy. In fact, I don’t admire her at all. But I do find her absolutely captivating. Whether she’s staring at Dick because he resembles her father, or beating the local children in a swimming race (because “Ellen always wins”), or coolly breaking her engagement to her fiance, she attracts your attention like a moth drawn to a flame. You never know what she’s liable to say or do next – and although you might be a little afraid to find out, you can hardly wait.

FROM THE MOUTH OF ELLEN:

“’l’ll never let you go. Never, never, never.”

PLAYED BY GENE TIERNEY:

Gene Eliza Tierney was born on November 19, 1920, to an affluent family in Brooklyn, New York; after the family moved to Green Farms, Connecticut, Gene was educated at private schools in nearby Farmington and Lausanne, Switzerland. Although she was a movie fan while growing up, she never demonstrated an interest in becoming an actress – she thought she might want to go into public service, like social work. But when she was 17 and toured the Warner Bros. studio during a family vacation, all that changed. She was spotted by director Anatole Litvak, who arranged for her to have a screen test and she was offered a contact at $150 a week. However, her father, Howard, refused to let Gene sign the agreement. Instead, he made a bargain with her – Gene would make her society debut, as planned, and if she still wanted to pursue acting after three months, Howard would help her find work on the Broadway stage. After three months, Gene remained interested in an acting career, and her father accompanied her to New York every week to visit agents and producers. A short time later, Gene landed a small role in George Abbott’s production of Mrs. O’Brien Entertains. This was followed by parts in a few other plays, and Hollywood came calling again. Gene eventually signed with 20th Century Fox and made her big screen debut in The Return of Frank James (1940), starring Henry Fonda. The following year, Gene starred in her first film noir, The Shanghai Gesture (1941), and she would earn an Academy Award nomination for her performance in Leave Her to Heaven.

Join me in the shadows tomorrow for Day 17 of Noirvember!

Day 15 of Noirvember: Dan Brady in Quicksand (1950)

•November 15, 2021 • 6 Comments

Today’s Noirvember post shines the spotlight on one unlucky fella, Dan Brady in Quicksand (1950).

The nightmare begins . . .

WHAT’S QUICKSAND ABOUT?

Garage mechanic Dan Brady (Mickey Rooney) wrangles a date with the sexy new cashier down at the local coffeeshop, but he discovers that he’s flat broke. He borrows $20 from the cash register at work, with plans to replace it the following morning when his pal repays a loan, but like the best-laid plans of mice and men, Dan’s plan goes awry – very much awry. Like a man who’s stepped into quicksand, the more Dan tries to extricate himself from his mounting troubles, the deeper he sinks.

INTRODUCING DAN BRADY:

We meet Dan in the aforementioned coffeeshop, where he’s lunching with his buddies, Buzz (Jimmie Dodd) and Chuck (Wally Cassell). In their brief conversation, we learn that Dan is not always the nicest guy to come down the pike – he’s been dodging his ex-girlfriend, Helen (Barbara Bates), who he dumped because she was getting too serious. (“I spent four years in the Navy fighting for freedom – why get anchored down now?”) Seconds later, when the new cashier, Vera (Jeanne Cagney), sashays into view, Dan says goodbye to his pals, telling them “I’ve got a little work to do” – and he ain’t talking about adjusting a carburetor. He instantly zeroes in on Vera, calling her “honey,” slyly winking at his friends as he turns on the charm, and completely unfazed when she snootily informs him that she “doesn’t come with the merchant’s lunch.” Dan pays her a compliment, suggests that they go see a popular local band, and he’s in like Flynn.

. . . and continues . . .

WHY DID I PICK DAN?

He completely fascinates me. He comes off like this suave, smooth-as-silk ladies’ man (and he must have something, because he certainly manages to get a date with Vera less than a minute after he meets her) – he sings in her ear, flirts shamelessly, and makes his first move before the date is halfway over. But he’s also a bit lacking in the common sense arena, and makes a series of decisions so egregious that you’ll practically find yourself yelling at him through your TV screen. But I’ll say one thing about Dan – he’s certainly not forgettable.

FROM THE MOUTH OF DAN:

“I feel like I’m being shoved into a corner, and if I don’t get out soon, it’ll be too late. Maybe it’s too late already.”

PLAYED BY MICKEY ROONEY:

Mickey Rooney was born Joe Yule, Jr., on September 23, 1920. His parents were vaudeville performers and he was part of his parents’ act until they split up when he was four years old and he wound up in Hollywood with his mother. Young Joe soon resumed his budding career, performing in a local revue, enrolling at Daddy Mack’s Dance Studio, and making his big screen debut in the 1926 silent feature Not to be Trusted. Two years later, he landed the role of Mickey McGuire in a series of comedies released by the Standard Film Corporation. He appeared in nearly 80 episodes between 1928 and 1932; during that time, his name was legally changed to Mickey McGuire, but it was later modified again to replace McGuire with Rooney. Under contract to MGM, Rooney was seen in a variety of films over the next several years, including Manhattan Melodrama (1934), Boys Town (1938), and National Velvet (1944), as well as the popular 15-episode Andy Hardy series, and several features in which he was teamed with Judy Garland. In 1939, 1940, and 1941, he was the biggest box office draw in Hollywood, but after serving in World War II, he found that he’d been dethroned as the “King of the Movies.” He severed his ties with MGM in the late 1940s and a couple of years later, he stepped into the world of film noir with Quicksand.

Join me in the shadows tomorrow for Day 16 of Noirvember!

Day 14 of Noirvember: Sherry Peatty in The Killing (1956)

•November 14, 2021 • 10 Comments

Today’s Noirvember post shines the spotlight on a dame who’s not very nice, and that’s putting it mildly: Sherry Peatty in The Killing (1956).

Sherry Peatty. My Favorite Femme.

WHAT’S THE KILLING ABOUT?

Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden), recently released from prison, marshals a motley crew of men to carry out an intricately designed racetrack heist. The men aren’t criminals by nature; they each have their own reason for breaking the law – one is a bartender caring for his invalid wife, one is a beat cop with a sizable gambling debt, and one – George Peatty (Elisha Cook, Jr.) – is a mousy cashier with a sexy wife by the name of Sherry (Marie Windsor) – who wants and expects more than he’s able to give. Despite the elaborate nature of the plan and the attention to every detail, things don’t exactly turn out as intended. For anyone.

INTRODUCING SHERRY PEATTY:

We first meet Sherry when her husband, George, arrives home from work. She’s lounging on a sofa in a dressing gown reading a magazine when he enters and greets her, giving her a kiss, inquiring after her health, and sharing that he hasn’t been feeling well. During the entire conversation, Sherry doesn’t once look up from her magazine, even when George hands her the cocktail she tells him to fix. Every word she says to him is either a direct insult or drips with sarcasm so heavy it practically needs its own resting place. Sherry is brimming with so much snark that even George asks the question that we’re all wondering: “Why did you marry me, anyway?”

WHY DID I PICK SHERRY?

She’s one of my very favorite femmes in all of film noir. She’s a smart-ass, with a complete lack of respect or regard for her husband, a shameless gold digger, and an adulteress. She’s also shrewd and fearless and can think on her feet, no matter what’s thrown at her. The bottom line is that she’s an absolute joy to watch, from start to unfortunate finish.

FROM THE MOUTH OF SHERRY:

“I seem to recall you made a memorable statement, too, something about hitting it rich and having an apartment on Park Avenue and a different car for every day of the week. Not that I really care about such things, understand – not when I have a big, handsome intelligent brute like you.”

PLAYED BY MARIE WINDSOR:

Marie Windsor was born Emily Marie Bertelson on December 11, 1922, in Marysvale, Utah. She was drawn to acting at a young age; her earliest performances were in the form of shows she staged herself on the porch of her Utah home. The future actress studied drama for two years at Brigham Young University; during this period, she also entered several beauty contests, winning the titles of “Miss Covered Wagon Days” and “Miss D. & R.G. Railroad.” Her prize for the latter contest was 99 silver dollars, which she used to buy luggage and move to Hollywood. Once in California, Emily was accepted as a student at the Maria Ouspenskaya School of Drama, and helped pay for her room and board at the Hollywood Studio Club by working as a Mocambo nightclub cigarette girl. This job led to her big break; one night, she met producer Arthur Hornblow, who arranged for an audition and a short time later, with her name now changed to Marie Windsor, she made her big screen debut as “Miss Carrot” in All American Co-ed (1941), starring Frances Langford. Near the end of the decade, Windsor starred with John Garfield in her first noir, Force of Evil (1948). The actress viewed The Killing as one of her favorite films. (Note: All of the movies I’m covering during Noirvember this year can be found on YouTube – except this one, which appears to have been removed. Hiss, boo.)

Join me in the shadows tomorrow for Day 15 (it’s half over already??) of Noirvember!