Day 24 of Noirvember: Human Desire (1954)

•November 24, 2017 • 2 Comments

These three.

Without a doubt, Gloria Grahame is one of my favorite film noir actresses. Her sultry, sin-filled demeanor was practically made for this shadowy era of filmmaking, and in Human Desire, she doesn’t disappoint. Here, she’s Vicki Buckley, a sexy and duplicitous housewife whose feminine wiles lead to dire circumstances for both her justifiably jealous husband (Broderck Crawford) and her naïve lover (Glenn Ford). The film was directed by noir veteran Fritz Lang, who shared my affinity for Grahame, saying that she “represents today’s femme fatale. While this type changes with the period, their power over men always comes from a combination of a calculating nature and a glamorous body.”

Jeff Warren. More than meets the eye.

Favorite character:  On the surface, Glenn Ford’s Jeff Warren is an uncomplicated guy. A railroad engineer and veteran of the Korean War, he’s a pleasant, jovial fella, who wants nothing more exciting than a “big night at the movies.” He’s the kind of man you’d like to share a beer with, but he shows that he’s more than just an easygoing ex-solider when he encounters Vicki. He’s drawn to her despite learning that she’s married, and even after (or maybe even more so after) suspecting her involvement in a murder of a railroad boss. Turns out he’s not so uncomplicated after all.

Trivia tidbit: Human Desire reunited Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame after their starring turn the year before in yet another Columbia noir, The Big Heat.

Favorite quote: “All women are alike. They just got different faces so the men can tell them apart.” Jean (Peggy Maley)

Join me tomorrow for Day 25 of Noirvember!

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Day 23 of Noirvember: Happy Thanksgiving!

•November 23, 2017 • 2 Comments

From Ann Sheridan and my family, Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Cluck.

And here’s a Noirvember Thanksgiving tip: A frequent question around this time of year is what wine to pair with a Thanksgiving meal. The answer most often given is Pinot NOIR. Pinot NOIR is a lovely light red that pairs easily with many foods. (Fitting, eh??)

Enjoy the day — and join me tomorrow for Day 24 of Noirvember!

Day 22 of Noirvember: Cry of the City (1948)

•November 22, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Gritty and fast-paced, Cry of the City focuses on a mélange of distinctive characters, including Martin Rome (love that name), played by Richard Conte, a small-time hood who has recently added the murder of a cop to his long list of misdeeds; Teena (Debra Paget), Rome’s unflaggingly steadfast girlfriend; Niles (Berry Kroeger), an unscrupulous attorney who tries to pay Rome to take the rap for a jewel theft he didn’t commit; Rose Given (Hope Emerson), a local masseuse with a lethal technique; and Lt. Vittorio Candella (Victor Mature), a detective who is determined to bring Rome to justice. The film’s first-rate cast also included Shelley Winters, Betty Garde (a solid “Dark Corner Performer” candidate), Fred Clark, and Tito Vuolo.

Favorite quote:

“They’ll make a Robin Hood out of a cheap hoodlum like that. The longer he’s loose, the bigger hero he is.” – Victor Mature

Trivia tidbit:

Cry of the City was Debra Paget’s screen debut. She went on to appear in featured roles in two additional noirs: House of Strangers (1949) and Fourteen Hours (1951).

Take a moment between bites of turkey to join me for Day 23 of Noirvember tomorrow!

Day 21 of Noirvember: Remembering Lee Patrick

•November 21, 2017 • 6 Comments

With Bogart in The Maltese Falcon.

She was Effie Perine in The Maltese Falcon (1941). Maggie Biederhof in Mildred Pierce (1945). Elvira Powell in Caged (1950).

Lee Patrick could do it all.

Undeniably talented but woefully underrated, Patrick died on today’s date in 1982, just one day before her 81st birthday. Today’s Noirvember post shines the spotlight on this character actress whose versatility allowed her to play a soft-hearted matron as convincingly as she could portray a hard-bitten floozy.

As Mrs. Biederhof in Mildred Pierce.

Patrick was born in New York on November 22, 1901 (although her studio bios knocked 10 years off her life, claiming 1911 as her birth year). She grew up in Chicago and reportedly entered acting on the advice of veteran performer George Arliss. She made her Broadway debut in 1922 in The Bunch and Judy (often incorrectly cited on the Internet as Punch and Judy), which starred Fred Astaire and his sister, Adele. She spent the next several years trodding the boards before appearing in 1929 in her first big screen production, a murder mystery called Strange Cargo (not to be confused with the 1940 Joan Crawford feature), after which she returned to her stage work. Her productions included a long run in Stage Door in the late 1930s, in a cast that included Margaret Sullavan and Tom Ewell.

With Bette Davis in Now, Voyager.

Patrick didn’t move to Hollywood until 1937, when she was reportedly seriously considered – but ultimately passed over – for the title role played by Barbara Stanwyck in Stella Dallas. She didn’t have to wait long for her first big break, though. It came the following year with her appearance in The Sisters, a Bette Davis vehicle, in which she played the boisterous neighbor of Davis’s character. She was also in two other Bette Davis starrers, In This Our Life (1942), where she was again Davis’s pal, and Now, Voyager (1942), where she was an old friend of Davis’s lover, played by Paul Henreid.

As Elvira Powell in Caged.

Throughout the 1940s, Patrick was kept busy in a variety of roles, but she’s perhaps best known for playing Sam Spade’s loyal, hard-working, and nearly unflappable gal Friday in The Maltese Falcon (1941). Some of her other films included City for Conquest (1940), Mrs. Parkinson (1944), The Snake Pit (1948), Vertigo (1958), Auntie Mame (1958), and Pillow Talk (1959). In the early 1950s, she starred in TV’s Topper, which ran on CBS for three years; she also appeared in many other popular television shows, from 77 Sunset Strip to Hazel. Patrick retired from the big screen in 1964, but she returned 11 years later to reprise her role as Effie in a spoof of The Maltese Falcon called The Black Bird, starring George Segal.

Remembering Lee.

Plagued by ill health in her later years, Patrick traveled to New York in November 1982 with her husband of 45 years, magazine writer Tom Wood. The two were in town for a dual purpose – to celebrate her upcoming birthday and to appear on ABC’s Good Morning America, which aired a salute to the Topper television series. Sadly, after the couple’s return to their Laguna Hills home, Patrick suffered a fatal heart seizure.

If you’re not familiar with Lee Patrick’s screen work, do yourself a favor and check out her noir appearances in The Maltese Falcon, Mildred Pierce, and Caged, as well her many first-rate non-noirs.

You only owe it to yourself.

And join me tomorrow for Day 22 of Noirvember!

Day 20 of Noirvember: Where Danger Lives (1950)

•November 20, 2017 • 4 Comments

One of my favorite guilty cinematic pleasures is Where Danger Lives. It stars Robert Mitchum as Jeff Cameron, a compassionate doctor who becomes involved with a mysterious woman by the name of Margo Lannington (Faith Domergue) after she’s brought to his hospital following a suicide attempt. Before long, Jeff finds himself falling for her, but he discovers that Margo isn’t all she appears to be.

Incidentally, I call Where Danger Lives a guilty pleasure because it’s not exactly Shakespeare, if you know what I mean. Also, no disrespect, but Faith Domergue is no threat to Bette Davis, if you further get my drift. Still, there’s something about this over-the-top tale that’s like a car wreck – you just can’t turn away!

Claude Rains. Love him.

Favorite character:

Hands-down, it’s Frederick, Margo’s hubby, played by the incomparable Claude Rains. He’s in only one scene, but his snide commentary and snarky asides are enough to tide you over ‘til the final reel. When Jeff first meets him, he thinks Frederick is Margo’s father. After Jeff refers to him numerous times in this manner, Frederick finally sets him straight. “I wish you’d stop calling her my daughter. She happens to be my wife,” he drily remarks. “Margo married me for my money. I married her for her youth. We both got what we wanted. After a fashion.”

Trivia tidbit:

Where Danger Lives was directed by John Farrow – Mia’s father. Farrow’s wife – actress Maureen O’Sullivan – had a small part in the film.

If you’re never seen this noir gem, treat yourself and check it out. You won’t be sorry.

And join me tomorrow for Day 21 of Noirvember!

Day 19 of Noirvember: Dark Corner Performers

•November 19, 2017 • 5 Comments

It happens with noir like every other type of movie.

You see an actor in a film. You’ve seen him before, probably many times before. But who is he? What’s his name? Who knows?!?

Today’s Noirvember post takes a look at a few of these “dark corner performers,” a term coined by Senior Writer Kristina Dijan for our film noir newsletter, The Dark Pages (shameless plug). Do you recognize them?

Jay Adler

Jay Adler

A member of the Adler theatrical family, Jay Adler was born in New York on September 26, 1896, one of six children of Jacob Adler, a celebrated star of the Yiddish theater, and his actress-wife Sara. Like his siblings Stella, a noted acting coach, and Luther, an actor of stage, screen, and television, Jay was attracted to the theater from an early age. After appearing in both Yiddish and English language productions, including such Broadway shows as Golden Boy and Blind Alley, Adler made his screen debut in The Saint in New York (1938), the first entry in the long-running series. Over the next three decades, he appeared in nearly 40 films; some of the best-known include The Prisoner of Zenda (1952), Love Me or Leave Me (1955), and Lust for Life (1956).  “We were brought up in the midst of great acting…we all had treat pride in mother and dad, and I think each of us had a secret hope that we would be as great as they,” Adler once said. “But none of us, in my opinion, has made that grade.”

Adler’s many film noir credits include Cry Danger (1951), The Mob (1951), Scandal Sheet (1954), The Big Combo (1955), The Killing (1956), and Sweet Smell of Success (1957). He was usually seen in minor parts, but he enjoyed his most significant role in 99 River Street (1953), where he played Christopher, an inscrutable jewel fence. Adler’s last screen appearance was in 1974, in Macon County Line, produced by and starring Max Baer (best known as Jethro in The Beverly Hillbillies). In failing health for several years, he died at the age of 82 at the Motion Picture and Television Hospital in Woodland Hills, California.

Dewey Robinson

Dewey Robinson

Noted for his numerous gangster portrayals, as well as his appearances in more than 200 feature films, Dewey Robinson was born in New Haven, Connecticut, on August 17, 1898. After serving in WWI, Robinson began his performing career in New York, serving as a regular in the Marx Brothers musicals of the 1920s and making his screen debut in the Tallulah Bankhead pre-Code vehicle Tarnished Lady in 1931. During the remainder of his career, Robinson appeared in an average of 10 pictures each year, portraying a range of such characters as “Bust-in-the-Nose Man” in Grand Slam (1933), and the fifth member of the Ail and Quail Club in The Palm Beach Story (1942). In addition to frequently playing small-time hoods, Robinson also played a spate of bartenders, truck drivers, prison guards, butchers, doormen, bouncers, and cab drivers.

Of his numerous features, Robinson’s most popular included Casablanca (1942) and Father of the Bride (1950). He was also seen in small roles in nine features from the noir era, including Scarlet Street (1945), Suspense (1946), I Walk Alone (1948), and Tension (1949). Each of his noir roles was unbilled; his most significant was in Murder, My Sweet (1944), where he played the bar owner who gets knocked around by the hulking Moose Malloy (Mike Mazurki). Sadly Robinson’s prolific career was detailed in 1950 when he was struck by a hit-and-run driver in Beverly Hills, which resulted in a skull fracture and severe internal injuries. Later that year, he suffered a fatal heart attack. He was 52 years old.

Art Smith

Art Smith

Arthur Gordon Smith was born on March 23, 1899, in New York City, the only child of actor-theater manager Norman Lincoln and his wife, Jane Smith, an actress and accomplished pianist. Interested in performing from an early age, Smith made his Broadway debut in 1929, appearing alongside Bette Davis in the long-running drama Broken Dishes. His first screen appearance was in the 1934 war feature The Fighting Ranger. Unlike most of our dark corner performers, Smith had standout roles in several noirs: the sympathetic but liquor-soaked prison doctor in Brute Force (1947); a determined detective trailing star Robert Montgomery in in Ride the Pink Horse (1947); he was the loyal agent of an emotionally and physically explosive screenwriter (Humphrey Bogart) in In a Lonely Place (1950); and a deceitful and potentially deadly garage owner in Quicksand (1950). He was also in small roles in several other noirs, including Body and Soul (1947), A Double Life (1947), and Try and Get Me (1950).

In the early 1950s, Smith found his entire career in jeopardy when he was condemned during the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings for lending his name to at least nine Communist causes between 1934 and 1949. He was also identified as a Communist by both director Elia Kazan and Group Theatre founder and playwright Clifford Odets. (Ironically, Odets’ 1952 testimony came just one month after Smith closed in the playwright’s successful Broadway revival of Golden Boy.) Smith didn’t appear on screen again until nearly a decade later, in The Hustler (1961), where he played a bit part as a pool hall attendant. He retired from performing in 1967 and several years later, at the age of 73, Smith suffered a fatal heart attack at a nursing home in West Babylon, New York.

Tito Vuolo

A native of Naples, Italy, Tito Vuolo was born on March 22, 1893. He began performing as a child, working at the age of 10 in a local circus, where he sang comedy songs between acts. He sailed to America when he was 14 years old with plans to pursue an opera career, but he later joined a vaudeville circuit. Several years later, when he married, he formed an act with his wife; the two were billed as Vuolo and Narciso, “the highest-priced Italian couple in the business.” He debuted on Broadway in March 1938 in Pasquale Never Knew, but the show closed after just three performances. (“My, was that an awful flop!” Vuolo said in a 1941 interview. “The notices were the worst I ever see.”)

His screen debut was in The Shadow of the Thin Man (1941), and he was later seen in such box-office hits as The Bishop’s Wife (1947), Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948), and The Great Caruso (1951). He also appeared in a total of 12 films noirs, including Kiss of Death (1947), Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), House of Strangers (1950), The Racket (1951), and The Killing (1956). He was perhaps most memorable as Debra Paget’s father in Cry of the City (1948) and a luckless cab driver in The Enforcer (1951), who recognizes a killer in his taxi and is murdered for his troubles. Vuolo’s last screen appearance was in the 1957 feature, 20 Million Miles to Earth. Five years later, in September 1962, Vuolo died of cancer in Los Angeles, California. He was 69 years old.

Stay tuned for future posts on more dark corner performers. And join me tomorrow for Day 20 of Noirvember!

Day 18 of Noirvember: Top 5 in ’49

•November 18, 2017 • 9 Comments

This ain’t no Lily Munster.

Last week, while compiling my list of favorite noirs for each year, I ran across several years that had multiple features that I love. One of these was 1949, which is fairly overflowing with first-rate films from the noir era. Today’s Noirvember post shines the spotlight on my top 5 faves from 1949.

Criss Cross

What it’s about: Burt Lancaster stars as Steve Thompson, who finds himself caught in a triangle of passion and murder involving his ex-wife, Anna (Yvonne DeCarlo), and her new spouse, Slim Dundee (the always great Dan Duryea), a gambler with underworld connections. When Steve becomes involved with Anna again, he tries to cover up the affair by teaming up with Slim for a bankroll heist – which ultimately ends in disaster.

Why I love it: For my money, Criss Cross is a near-perfect noir. There’s nothing I don’t love about it. Lancaster makes a perfect love-struck sap, Duryea is the perfect oily villain, and DeCarlo is one of noir’s baddest bad girls. Plus, it’s got all those noir characteristics you know and love – flashback, voiceover narration, plenty of light and shadow, and an uncompromising ending that’s one of the era’s best.

Did I forget to mention that Susan Hayward is in House of Strangers, too? Bonus!

House of Strangers

What it’s about: Edward G. Robinson plays Gino Monetti, the patriarch of an Italian family. A bank owner known for his questionable practices, Gino is the father of four boys (three of which work in the bank for meager salaries), but he reserves his favor for only one, Max (Richard Conte). Max is an attorney who takes the rap when his father is arrested for his illegal banking practices, but upon his release after seven years in the pokey, he vows to pay back his siblings who failed to step up on their father’s behalf.

Why I love it: Richard Conte. I mean, seriously – this dude could perch on a stool and recite his ABCs and I’d give him a standing ovation.

Talk about disillusioned!

The Set-Up

What it’s about: In what was arguably one of the best roles of his career, Robert Ryan stars as Stoker Thompson, an aging boxer described as being “one punch away from being punch drunk.” Taking place in real-time on a single night, the film focuses on Stoker’s upcoming match and his confidence that he will win, his unawareness that his crooked manager (George Tobias) has accepted a payoff for him to take a dive, and his long-suffering wife’s inner struggle over whether to continue supporting her spouse’s seemingly fruitless dream.

Why I love it: It’s not your everyday, garden variety noir – no femme fatale, no flashbacks, no everyday Joes turning to a life of crime because of some sexy dame – but it’s chock-full of flawed characters and it’s cloaked in a smothering blanket of desperation and disillusionment. What more can you want from your noir?

If looks could kill.

Tension       

What it’s about: Claire (Audrey Totter) and Warren Quimby (Richard Basehart) are a definite odd couple – Warren is the unassuming, bespectacled night manager of a drug store, and Claire is his easily bored, expensive perfume-loving spouse who spends her nights stepping out with other men while claiming to be at the picture show. Eventually, Claire gets fed up with her dull hubby and leaves Warren for local moneybags Barney Deager (Lloyd Gough). When Warren tries to win her back, Barney feeds him a hearty knuckle sandwich, which inspires Warren to come up with a scheme for the perfect murder.

Why I love it: Because Audrey Totter.

Jane Palmer ain’t got time for that.

Too Late for Tears

What it’s about: Lizabeth Scott stars as Jane Palmer, whose primary focus in life seems to be her obsession with keeping up with the proverbial Joneses. When a suitcase filled with cash is mistakenly tossed into her car, Jane thinks she’s finally got it made, and when her husband (Arthur Kennedy) insists on turning the money over to the cops, Jane proves that she has other ideas.

Why I love it: I’m a Lizabeth Scott fan from way back, but I think her Jane Palmer is my favorite role. She dominates the film with her sociopathic, self-centered, stop-at-nothing-including-murder set of values. She’s the BEST.

So that’s my top five noirs from 1949. And I have just talked myself into having a personal 1949 marathon film fest at my house today. I’m off to grab a vat of popcorn and hunker down for some shadowy goodness (or badness, as the case may be). Join me, won’t you?

And join me tomorrow for Day 19 of Noirvember!