A Many Splendored Thing: The 2019 TCM Film Festival – Part 2

•April 27, 2019 • 6 Comments

Hollywood Boulevard: The calm before the storm

Two weeks ago today, I was with my older daughter, Veronica, in sunny Los Angeles, joyfully immersed in the world of cinema (and the circus-like atmosphere that is Hollywood Boulevard) at the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival. As I look I my window in Chicago now, at the snow that’s been falling all day (yes, SNOW – in APRIL!), I’m glad to take a look back and offer the next installment of my year-round posts on the 2019 event.

In my initial post about the festival, I outlined my plans for film screenings and presentation viewings. Today’s entry provides an overview of what actually happened, because for the first time in the seven years that I’ve been going to the TCM film festival, I actually changed my plans, not once, but several times! (And if you know anything at all about me, you’ll know that changing my well-laid plans is major!)

Cinema Central: The Roosevelt Hotel

The first change came near the start of the event, on Thursday evening. After participating in the annual trivia contest (I knew two answers this year – SCORE!), I hightailed it over to Grauman’s Chinese Theater to nab a seat on the bleachers and watch the red carpet processional. I found to my dismay, however, that the capacity of the bleachers was significantly reduced this year; in order to watch the proceedings (which typically go on for at least a couple of hours), I would have had to stand, and that was not happening. Disappointed but not defeated, Veronica and I hung out with my friend Dail at the pool at the Roosevelt Hotel and waited to see Angie Dickinson, who was interviewed by Ben Mankiewicz before the screening of Oceans 11. Good company, cold champagne, and tasty treats made for a great evening!

My plan for the next day included seeing Steel Magnolias, which was to feature a discussion with Shirley MacLaine. Unfortunately, before I even got to L.A., I’d learned that MacLaine had cancelled her appearance. Instead of replacing this film with another, I took the opportunity to nab a good spot in line for Do the Right Thing – my daughter and I were number 5 and 6 and got a front row seat!

Skipping one film got us in the front row at another!

My biggest changes came on Saturday, when I’d initially planned to see Raisin in the Sun and The Bad Seed, with discussions with Lou Gossett and Patty McCormack, respectively. Once in L.A., though, I decided to switch things up and take my daughter to see Nashville, for which Lily Tomlin was scheduled to appear; Veronica is a big fan of the Netflix series Grace and Frankie and I knew she’d get a kick out of seeing Tomlin in person (as would I!). Unfortunately, on the day of the screening, I learned that Lily Tomlin wouldn’t be able to come! This completely threw my schedule into an upheaval but, ultimately, in a good way. We wound up seeing Love Affair, Blood Money (a 1933 pre-Code that I’d REALLY wanted to see in the first place!), and Samson and Delilah. For the latter, we had VIP tickets (I felt like such a big shot!), courtesy of my pal, film historian and author Alan Rode, who interviewed Victor Mature’s daughter Victoria before the film.

Finally, on the last day, after seeing two Club TCM presentations, I overruled Veronica’s pick of My Favorite Wife in favor of A Woman of Affairs, a silent film starring Greta Garbo and John Gilbert, which was accompanied by a full orchestra. It was one of my better decisions as a parent!

And that’s about the size of it – quite a few modifications from my original plans, but all things considered, everything worked out! I’ll be covering these and other screenings and events from this year’s fest, starting in May and continuing in the months to come, so be sure to tune in!

Guess I’ll go shovel some snow now . . .

The CMBA “Femme/Homme Fatales of Noir” Blogathon — Sam Wild in Born to Kill (1947)

•April 19, 2019 • 17 Comments

Sam Wild.

If that isn’t a fitting name for a homme fatale, I just don’t know what is.

Wild, a psychopathic drifter played with panache by Lawrence Tierney, is the title-referenced subject of the 1947 noir Born to Kill. In this first-rate, wholly riveting feature, Wild is a cool-minded serial killer, but this fact doesn’t at all serve to deter the ardor of Helen Brent (portrayed by the always awesome Claire Trevor), who discovers the bodies of his two first victims. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Let me give you the plot in a nutshell. (Watch your step – there are spoilers ahead!)

The film opens with the successful Reno, Nevada, divorce of the aforementioned Helen, who is celebrating her newfound freedom with Mrs. Kraft (Esther Howard), owner of the boarding house where Helen has taken up temporary residence, and Laury Palmer (Isabel Jewell), Mrs. Kraft’s friend and neighbor. Unfortunately for Laury, she’s not long for this world – she and her date are killed by Wild (who Laury had also been dating, and who she’d dreamily described in an earlier scene as “the quiet sort – and yet you get the feeling if you stepped out of line, he’d kick you in the teeth”).

Run, Laury, run!

After finding the bodies of Laury and her date, Helen hightails it back to her home (and her goody-goody fiancé) in San Francisco – but on the way, she meets and falls for Wild, who is also, wisely, putting distance between himself and Reno. Once in Frisco, there’s lots more action – Wild woos and marries Helen’s dripping-with-money foster sister, Georgia (Audrey Long); Helen and Sam embark on a passionate, obsessive affair; Mrs. Kraft hires a private detective (Walter Slezak) to find Laury’s killer; and Sam’s best friend (Elisha Cook, Jr.) arrives on the scene to lend a helping hand with the general goings-on. By the film’s end, practically everybody is dead, or comes close to it, and you’ll be left breathless with your head spinning.

One of the main reasons for Born to Kill’s visceral impact is Tierney’s Sam Wild – for my money, he’s one of noir’s most memorable and menacing characters. On the favorable side, he’s undeniably sexy and unquestionably ambitious. Conversely, he’s also as nutty as a Snickers bar. Regardless of his clear shortcomings, however, Sam is near the top of my list of the homme fatales I love to hate to love – here are some of the reasons why:

Sam definitely knew his way around a good line.

Memorable lines:

Early on in the film, after Laury’s murder, Sam’s clear-headed and loyal pal, Marty, warns him to say away from women when he travels to San Francisco. Sam rejoins, “I’ve got a dame on my mind and she’s dead. And that’s plenty for me.” Later, after encountering (and decidedly not steering clear of) Helen, Sam tells her that he’s not a big fan of gambling: “I don’t like being at the mercy of those little white squares that roll around and decide whether you win or lose,” he says. “I like to have the say-so myself.” He also confidently shares his philosophy: “Know what you want, be sure you’ll get it, and you can’t miss. I found that out early.” And then, after he marries the very-wealthy Georgia, Sam tells his new sister-in-law: “I’m nobody much. But I’ll make myself a lot more than I am. I can do it, too.”

Numerous notches on the kill belt:

Sam’s first murders were the hapless Danny Jaden (Tony Barrett) and Laury Palmer. To his credit, Sam didn’t start out planning to kill these two; after letting himself into Laury’s home and encountering Danny in the kitchen, he simply tells Danny to leave. Unfortunately, Danny doesn’t follow directions (“I came for a drink and I’m gonna have it,” he says. These are pretty much his last words.) And when Laury stumbles upon Danny’s body, Sam lets her have it as well. Next up (I told you there were spoilers!) is none other than Sam’s bosom buddy and lifelong pal, Marty, who Sam mistakenly suspects of having the hots for Helen. And speaking of Helen . . . well, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

Everybody loves Sam. (Or wants to.)

Loved by all the ladies:

Sam not only attracts the attention of both Helen and her sister Georgia, but his unique appeal also entices the kitchen staff. One of them sighs, “His eyes get me. They run up and down you like a searchlight.” And according to another one, “That Mr. Wild, he just makes me water at the kneecaps.”

He’s no dummy:

When Helen grouses that Sam isn’t paying her enough attention (incidentally, this complaint comes just minutes after he marries her sister), Sam appropriately offers up a quote from the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible’s Old Testament: “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”

Mysterious character, mysterious past:

Given Sam’s penchant for violence, it’s entirely possible that he’d committed murder before we meet him at the start of the film. But his kill quotient isn’t the only thing that’s not quite clear about Sam. After he marries Georgia, he expresses his desire to take over the newspaper empire that’s operated by her family. Georgia’s not in favor of the idea, citing Sam’s previous experience as a prizefighter and manager of a “cattle ranch or two.” But are these vocations truly a part of Sam’s resumé? Or are they just career-related figments of Sam’s active imagination? We’ll never know.

If you’ve never seen Lawrence Tierney’s Sam Wild in action, track down Born to Kill. And if you’re already acquainted with this scary dude, why not pay him another visit?

You only owe it to yourself.

——————-

This post is part of the “Femme/Homme Fatales of Film Noir” blogathon, presented by the Classic Movie Blog Association. Click the pic to read the great posts offered during this event! You’ll be glad you did.

A Many Splendored Thing: The 2019 TCM Film Festival

•April 1, 2019 • Leave a Comment

The countdown is truly on!

The 2019 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival will kick off in Los Angeles, California, in less than two weeks, and for the seventh consecutive year, I’ll be there! This year’s fest will be extra special, as it’s the 10-year anniversary of the festival and the 25th anniversary of the launch of TCM. Sometimes I feel like my entire year is focused on this event – I’m either reliving the past fest, or waiting for the new one to start. This year, I am taking my older daughter with me, so I’m extra excited. Once again, I’ll be sharing my experiences from the festival via Twitter and Facebook, and providing year-round coverage here at Shadows and Satin.

The complete schedule for this year’s fest was recently released, and I’ve had dates and times and screenings swirling around in my head ever since. For the last few years, many of my choices have been guided by the celebrities who will appear at the screenings, and this year was no different. Interestingly, I didn’t encounter any major conflicts or have to make any Sophie’s Choice-level sacrifices – with one major exception, that is. But more on that later. So now, after weeks of poring over my printouts, I’ve conclusively settled (for the most part!) on my final schedule, and I’m delighted to share it with you!

Bruce Goldstein’s trivia contest is always a must!

My kick-off event of the festival is a no-brainer. It’s been my tradition since my first year to participate in the “So You Think You Know Movies” trivia contest held in the Roosevelt Hotel’s Club TCM (site of the first Academy Awards ceremony!) and hosted by Bruce Goldstein, founder and co-president of Rialto Pictures and Director of Repertory Programming at New York’s Film Forum cinema. Except for the first year, when I actually knew several of the answers, I usually don’t get too many questions correct. But it’s still such fun. Goldstein is always witty and keeps the proceedings moving along at a lively clip. Also, if you don’t already have a team formed when you arrive (which I never have yet), the contest is a great way to meet new people, as the nice folks at TCM will help you form a team with your nearby seatmates.

Next, I hope to get a seat in the bleachers to watch the red carpet arrivals for the Opening Night Gala. This year’s film is When Harry Met Sally, which will feature a discussion with the picture’s director, Rob Reiner, and stars Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. I’m looking forward to catching a glimpse of all three on the red carpet – since I won’t be seeing the movie.

I missed Angie before. I won’t make that mistake again.

My first film, which will be screened poolside at the Roosevelt Hotel, is Ocean’s 11. It’s a must-see not so much for the movie itself, but because it will start off with an interview with Angie Dickinson. I didn’t get a chance to see her when she was at the festival a few years back, and I definitely don’t want to miss this chance. (The screening will be preceded by a cocktail party, for which festgoers are encouraged to dress like a member of the Rat Pack. As much as I’d like to do this – last year’s 20’s-era party seemed like such fun – I’ll just be in my regular old festival duds. Plus, it gets so cold in the evenings by the pool – I nearly froze my tush off at the screening of Earthquake a few years back, and I’m dressing appropriately this time!)

The first full day of films will be Friday, April 12th, and I’ll be starting out my day with Merrily We Go to Hell (1932), starring Fredric March and Sylvia Sidney, followed by a Club TCM presentation, called “The Descendants: Growing Up In Hollywood.” This will feature the children of Hollywood stars, sharing insights into their home lives and what their parents were like away from the set. Participants will be Jennifer Grant, daughter of Dyan Cannon and Cary Grant; Fraser Heston, son of Lydia Clarke and Charlton Heston; and Dr. Hasna Muhammad, daughter of Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis. This was one of several Club TCM presentations that I wanted to see as soon as I read about it.

I’ll be spending a lot of hours in this majestic theater on Friday.

My next two films will both be in Grauman’s Chinese Theater (it’ll always be Grauman’s to me), which is great, because I didn’t see a single film there last year. The first is Steel Magnolias, which I am mainly going to see because Shirley MacLaine will be there, and I missed seeing her at the fest a few years ago. She’s one of the personages that I’m most looking forward to seeing. My second Chinese Theater movie is Do The Right Thing, directed by Spike Lee, which will feature discussions by Oscar-winning costume designer Ruth E. Carter and Spike Lee’s sister, Joie Lee. I’m very much looking forward to this screening – besides wanting my daughter to see the movie, I think she’ll be thrilled to see Ruth Carter. (In fact, I’m hoping to keep it a secret until Carter walks out! So don’t tell her . . .)

Day Three, April 13th, is the only day on which I encountered any kind of dilemma. But not with the first screening, From Here to Eternity. This is one of the movies that I used to always show to friends and family who were novices to classic film, and – once again – I want my daughter to see it. It was a bonus when I learned that Donna Reed’s daughter, Mary Owen, will be on hand.

The dilemma comes with a block that includes Raisin in the Sun, featuring Lou Gossett; Blood Money (1933), the only pre-Code at the fest that I haven’t already seen; and Nashville (1975), which was already on my wish list because the pre-film discussion will feature Jeff Goldblum and Ronee Blakley – but TCM made things even harder just a few days ago when it was revealed that Lily Tomlin would be there as well. (FRICKIN’ LILY TOMLIN, y’all!!!! Edith Ann! Ernestine! GEE WHIZ.) What to do, WHAT TO DO?!?!

This is how I feel about missing Nashville. (sniff!)

Ultimately, the deciding factor had nothing to do with any of these three films – instead, it was another film I want to see, which is screening later on: The Bad Seed (1956), which will feature none other than the bad seed herself, Patty McCormack. I realized that if I go to see Nashville, I won’t be able to see anything BUT Nashville – it conflicts with Raisin in the Sun, Blood Money, AND The Bad Seed. So what I finally decided was to see Raisin in the Sun and The Bad Seed, hope that Blood Money is one of the films that is replayed in one of the “TBA” slots on Sunday, and keep my fingers crossed that Jeff Goldblum, Ronee Blakley and Lily Tomlin all walk the red carpet on Friday, so at least I’ll get to see them. (Whew!!)

For Sunday, April 14, besides hoping that I’ll be able to see Blood Money, I have two presentations that I intend to see in Club TCM.  The first is called Hollywood Love Stories – it will show rare stills and film clips, and include a discussion about how stars from the Golden Age were depicted in fan magazines and promotional films, including staged visits to their homes and the careful management of potential scandals. Sounds good and juicy! Plus, Diane Baker will be there – bonus!

The closing night party in Club TCM is bittersweet, but always a blast!

The next Club TCM presentation that I want see on Sunday is The Complicated Legacy of Gone With the Wind. This is a panel discussion that will include authors Donald Bogle and Molly Haskell, talking about their insights about GWTW in the context of its history, which has included criticism of the film’s depiction of slavery. I’ve always considered GWTW to be my favorite film, so I’m especially looking forward to hearing what the panelists have to say about it.

Other than the Club TCM presentations, I’ll just wait and see what the TBA films will be for Sunday and play it by year. And of course, as always, I’ll be at the bittersweet closing night party, where I won’t be able to believe it all passed by so quickly!

TCM Has Gone Film Noir Nutty!

•March 13, 2019 • 10 Comments

Kirk Douglas will do anything for a headline in Ace in the Hole.

If you’ve got a hankering for a hefty dose of film noir, you can get your fix on Thursday, March 14th by tuning in to TCM. From the evening – when the noirish shadows first start rolling in – to the morning’s wee hours on Friday, you can settle in for five (count ‘em – FIVE) back-to-back, first-rate examples of the film noir era.

Here’s an overview of the dark goodies that await you:

Ace in the Hole (1951)

Also known as The Big Carnival, this film stars Kirk Douglas in one of his nastiest roles, a former big-city newspaper reporter who will do anything to catapult his career from its current obscurity back to the big time. He gets his chance when he stumbles across a local merchant trapped in a nearby cave, and works with the corrupt sheriff (who has his own nefarious agenda) to keep the man entombed while he pens articles that attract a nationwide audience. Also in this dark tale is the merchant’s indifferent wife, played to perfection by Jan Sterling.

There’s nothin’ sweet about these gents.

Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

In my favorite role, Tony Curtis plays a slimy, completely conscienceless press agent whose main purpose in life is to get the notice of powerful Broadway columnist J.J. Hunsecker (portrayed with scary intensity by Burt Lancaster). This feature is one of noir’s darkest, brimming with characters who are either repellent or pathetic. I love it.

Scandal Sheet (1952)

This underrated, seldom-discussed gem stars Broderick Crawford as a newspaper editor who accidentally kills his shrewish ex-wife during an argument, then assigns one of his reporters (John Derek) to investigate the crime. The wife is played by Rosemary DeCamp, who turns in a startling performance in this rare departure from her usual goody-goody roles. Watch for a great noir ending.

Those Polynesian Pearl Divers are no joke.

The Blue Gardenia (1953)

Anne Baxter stars in this picture as a telephone operator who’s dumped by her beloved beau, goes out to tie one on, and winds up killing the creep who makes the moves on her – but she can’t remember a thing. (Blame it on those SIX deliciously deadly Polynesian Pearl Diver cocktails!) The top-notch cast includes Raymond Burr, who turns in a memorable performance as the aforementioned creep; Ann Sothern, as Baxter’s buddy; and Richard Conte as a reporter (by the name of Casey Mayo – love it!) trying to find the mysterious killer.

While the City Sleeps (1956)

Part of the star-studded cast of While the City Sleeps.

This film serves up a veritable who’s who of noir vets – Dana Andrews, Ida Lupino, Vincent Price, Rhonda Fleming, Sally Forrest, James Craig, Howard Duff. It’s like the noir version of Dinner at Eight! The story has a dual plotline – on one hand, after the death of the head of a media conglomerate, the man’s capricious son creates a contest among the various employees to land the new position of executive director. On the other, to win, the employees vie to be first to track down a serial criminal labeled “The Lipstick Killer.” The killer, incidentally, is played by John Drew Barrymore (son of John Barrymore and Dolores Costello, grandfather of Drew).

Set your DVRs or just stay up all night – but don’t miss this great line-up of noir films on TCM March 14th!

You only owe it to yourself.

Announcing The Great Villain Blogathon 2019!

•March 6, 2019 • 6 Comments

Come join us!! You’ll be glad you did! (Mwah ha ha!!)

Speakeasy

It’s time once again for the Big Bad Blogathon event where you’re invited to feature your favourite movie villain(s).

Your hosts are Ruth of Silver Screenings, Karen of Shadows & Satin and Kristina of Speakeasy.

The rules are simple:

Just pick any evildoer, outlaw or monster, from any era, country or genre. From creeps to cads to criminals, sinners and psychos, all movie villains are welcome.

Next, check the list further down this page to make sure your topic hasn’t already been chosen (villains covered in previous years are fair game)…

then sign up with the handy form below,

post anytime during MAY 24- 26, 2019,

in your post please use one of the awesome banners featured on this page (thanks Ruth for those!)…

and help promote this event with #Villains2019.

Easy and fun, and we thank you in advance for joining in!

For any changes or questions…

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Pre-Code Crazy: The Life of Vergie Winters (1934)

•March 4, 2019 • 5 Comments

If you know me at all, you know I’m a ginormous Ann Harding fan. What you might not know is that I am most decidedly not a huge John Boles fan. Not even a minor John Boles fan. Not even . . . well, you get the idea.

Despite this, I didn’t hesitate for even a second in selecting my Pre-Code Crazy pick for this month: The Life of Vergie Winters (1934), which stars none other than Ann Harding and John Boles. It’s good stuff – Boles or no Boles.

The film opens with a funeral that reminds me of the final scene in Imitation of Life (1959), a slow-moving convoy through streets lined with onlookers, with the cadence set by an appropriately solemn marching band. Among the many mourners is a haggard-faced young woman who peers sadly at the procession as it passes by the window of her jail cell. But who is she? Why is she in jail? And why should we care?

We don’t have to wait long to find out.

Everything’s better with Ann Harding.

A flashback takes us 22 years in the past, to a small-town millinery owned by the woman in the jail cell – Vergie Winters (Harding). During a visit from a pair of busybody old maids, we learn that Vergie’s heart belongs to recently wed John Shadwell (Boles), who has just returned to town with his bride, Laura (Helen Vinson), following a six-month (six months!?!?) honeymoon. “You know, last year we all thought you were going to break up that engagement of John’s,” crows Miss Busybody #1 (Cecil Cunningham).

As it turns out, Vergie and John are very much in love, but outside forces converged to prevent them from uniting – Vergie’s father was paid $10,000 by Laura’s father to break up the couple, which he did by telling John that Vergie was pregnant by a local handyman, and that she’d soon be marrying the baby’s father. (Thanks, Dad.) Shortly afterward, John married Laura and left town. When Vergie and John compare notes and comprehend the machinations that successfully separated them, they embark on a secret affair.

The plot thickens and bubbles over!

In true Back Street tradition, John and Vergie remain together for the next two decades – through John’s successful campaigns for the U.S. Congress and Senate, and despite rumors, scheming political rivals, malicious townspeople – even childbirth and war.

But The Life of Vergie Winters isn’t your typical Back Street story – there’s a whole lot going on, including several minor subplots and well-drawn characters, and there’s never a dull moment. I’m not going to tell you anything more; just trust me and tune in to TCM on March 5th to see it.

You only owe it to yourself.

Other Stuff

Don’t blink, or you’ll miss Dorothy Sebastian’s appearance.

Eleven-year-old, angel-faced Bonita Granville appears in the film briefly as Vergie Winters’s daughter. She’s in only one scene with the film’s star, but the interaction between Granville and Harding brings me to tears every time I see it.

Small parts are also played by a couple of others who were near the start of their careers – Walter Brennan (you’ll recognize his voice even if his face doesn’t look familiar) and Lon Chaney, Jr., who’s billed as Creighton Chaney.

Another small role was played by Dorothy Sebastian, who was a popular silent screen actress and who I know best from her roles in Our Dancing Daughters (1928) and Our Blushing Brides (1930). In this film, she has just a handful of lines. It made me wonder if part of her role ended up on the proverbial cutting room floor.

Listen for some violin music in the scenes with Betty Furness and Frank Albertson and a song playing on the radio in a scene with Harding and Boles – it’s very similar to music heard in Mildred Pierce (1945). The movies had the same composer – Max Steiner.

Helen Vinson was so good at playing women you love to hate. (Or just hate.)

The screenplay was penned by Jane Murfin, who also wrote (or co-wrote) the scripts for such films as What Price Hollywood? (1932); Double Harness (1933), which also starred Harding; and Alice Adams (1935). At the time that Vergie Winters was released, Murfin was married to actor Donald Crisp, who had a small part in the film.

Helen Vinson played Boles’s wife and, as usual, she excelled at bringing the bitch. She has one of my favorite lines in the film: “Sharing you is one thing, but giving you up is another, and I won’t do it!”

Don’t miss The Life of Vergie Winters on March 5th and be sure to pop over to Speakeasy to find out what gem Kristina is recommending for the month!

The 2018 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival: Still More Adventures in Paradise — Part 5

•February 18, 2019 • 4 Comments

My hotel room is reserved, my plane tickets are purchased, and my traveling companion (my older daughter is going this year!) is secured . . . so you know what that means! Time for another installment in my ongoing series about the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival!

Now that we’re into 2019, the countdown to this year’s event is truly on – less than two months until the 10th annual TCM Film Festival and the 25-year anniversary of the launch of Turner Classic Movies. This year’s theme is Love at the Movies, which should offer opportunities for a vast array for excellent classic films to explore!

Meanwhile, today’s TCM film festival post takes a look at one of my favorite experiences from last year’s event – the screening of When You Read This Letter (1953), a French-Italian noir starring Phillipe Lemaire and Juliette Gréco. The story focuses on a nun, Thérèse (Gréco), who leaves the convent to care for her younger sister, Denise (Irène Galter), when the siblings’ parents are killed in an automobile accident. Lovingly protective of her innocent and naïve sister, Thérèse is alarmed when Denise becomes involved with a philandering local garage mechanic (Lemaire), and her misgivings turn out to be all too valid when Lemaire sexually assaults Denise. The remainder of the film centers on Thérèse’s efforts to force Lemaire to marry her sister, while at the same time fending off Lemaire’s declarations of love toward her (Thérèse), and the possibility that she may return his feelings. The film kept me on the edge of my seat throughout, and ended with a perfect noir twist that left me with my mouth agape.

Taylor Hackford turned me into a Jean-Pierre Melville fan.

The film was introduced by director Taylor Hackford, who has helmed such features as An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), Against All Odds (1984), Delores Claiborne (1995), and Ray (2004). A former president of the Director’s Guild of America, Hackford focused his introduction on the film’s director, Jean-Pierre Melville, telling the audience, “If you’ve ever seen a Melville film, you’ll understand why I’m a Melville fan.”

Melville, described by Hackord as “iconoclastic,” had to “fight his way into the film industry” – after working in the French resistance during World War II, he tried to get a job as an assistant director, but he developed a combative relationship with the industry.

“He wanted to make his own films in his own way,” Hackford said.

Considered to be one of the greatest directors of crime films and father of the “New Wave” in France, Melville directed such acclaimed features as Bob le Flambeur (1956), Le Doulos (1963), with Jean-Paul Belmondo, and Le Samourai (1967), starring Alain Delon. (Before attending this screening, I’d never heard of any of these films, but Hackford made want to dash out into the streets and do whatever I had to do to get my hands on each one.) According to Hackford, Melville was a huge fan of American films, and was especially admiring of the work of Raoul Walsh, director of The Roaring Twenties (1939) and High Sierra (1941). Melville “cut his teeth” on the gangster films of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Hackford said. “He was always interested in films that were morally ambiguous. And if you think about gangsters, they are morally ambiguous.”

Thérèse was determined to protect her younger sister — at all costs.

Hackford shared that, although When You Read This Letter was not high on Melville’s personal list of favorites, “it’s so morally ambiguous – so interesting!”

“We all know the femme fatale,” Hackford said. “Melville turned that on its ear. Phillip Lemaire is the femme fatale. Immoral. Ambiguous. He is clearly a manipulator, a womanizer. He knows he’s good looking and he knows he has an ability to deal with women. It’s a fascinating character.” Hackford was also interested in the way Melville took the character of Thérèse – a nun – and caused her integrity to be challenged.

“Melville may not have been in total control,” Hackford said, “but he was the right director.” By the time Hackford finished introducing the film, I was certain that I was in for a cinematic treat – and boy, was I right.

When You Read This Letter is available on DVD from several sellers, including Amazon and Loving the Classics. If you haven’t seen it, I strongly urge you to snag a copy.

You only owe it to yourself. Meanwhile, here’s a trailer for the film to tide you over:

And stay tuned for my next installment of my look at the 2018 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival!