Day 28 of Noirvember: Characters I Hate to Love – Bruno Antony

•November 28, 2016 • 2 Comments
I hate to love Bruno, but I do!

I hate to love Bruno, but I do!

Strangers on a Train (1951), masterfully directed by Alfred Hitchcock, tells the story of two men who meet by happenstance on a train, and wind up wholly intertwined in each other’s lives. Especially after one of them murders the wife of the other. The film contains one of my favorite noir characters, Bruno Antony, played to absolute perfection by Robert Walker. Bruno is a murderer and a sociopath, if not worse, and I know I should hate him for these qualities, but I just can’t. He’s completely riveting, full of intelligence, cunning, and a wicked sense of humor.

He’s also got some great lines – check out a few:

“My theory is that everyone is a potential murderer.”

“Everyone has somebody that they want to put out of the way. Oh now surely, Madam, you’re not going to tell me that there hasn’t been a time that you didn’t want to dispose of someone. Your husband, for instance?”

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to shoot you, Mr. Haines. It might disturb Mother.”

“I have a theory that you should do everything before you die.”

Strangers airs on TCM on November 29th – don’t let this train pass you by!

And join me tomorrow for Day 29 of Noirvember!

 

Day 27 of Noirvember: The 2016 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival — Even More Adventures in Paradise – Part 6

•November 27, 2016 • 6 Comments

Now that the last bite of macaroni and cheese has been devoured and every morsel of leftover bird has been recycled into turkey sandwiches, turkey hash or turkey pot pie, it’s time for another installment of the 2016 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival: Even More Adventures in Paradise! Today’s chapter, in honor of Noirvember, has a decided noir bent, surrounded by a cushion of comedy:  the interview of the director of Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982), Carl Reiner.

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid stars Steve Martin as private detective Rigby Reardon, who’s hired by a gorgeous but mysterious dame (Rachel Ward) to find the killer of her father, a famous cheese maker. Set in the 1940s, the film is one long homage to the film noir era, and the action is cleverly intercut with clips from a number of classic noirs, including This Gun for Hire (1942), Johnny Eager (1941), Double Indemnity (1944), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), The Killers (1946), In a Lonely Place (1950), and White Heat (1950). Performers from these films that can be seen in Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid include Humphrey Bogart (who plays Rigby’s mentor), James Cagney, Kirk Douglas, Ava Gardner, Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, Fred MacMurray, and Barbara Stanwyck,

After the screening of Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, Reiner was introduced and interviewed by actress Illeana Douglas, a regular at the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival (and the granddaughter of Melvyn Douglas). Douglas told the packed Chinese Theater audience that the “soundtrack of [her] childhood” was the album of the 2,000 Year-Old Man, a comedy skit created by Reiner and Mel Brooks.

Reiner during his interview with Illeana Douglas.

Reiner during his interview with Illeana Douglas.

“The name ‘Carl Reiner’ still defines what comedy is,” Douglas said.

Reiner, who was 94 at the time of the interview, received a rousing reception upon entering the theater, and to the audience’s delight, corrected Douglas about the number of Emmy Awards he’d received over the years – 12, not 9, he affirmed.

Reiner covered a wide variety of topics, including his family (“My wife raised three great kids and one great husband,” he said), and The Dick Van Dyke show, which he created – he called the show’s star “the single most talented man I’ve ever seen in my life [and] one of the dearest, sweetest human beings you’ll ever meet.” He also discussed Van Dyke’s “absolutely brilliant” performance in the film The Comic (1969), which Reiner co-wrote, co-produced, and directed; and another film he directed, Oh, God (1977), starring George Burns, about whom he relayed a hilarious story. Burns, at the time, was around 80 years old and was always seen with beautiful women on his arm, Reiner recalled, adding that he himself was 60 at the time.

Steve made a perfect noir character.

Steve made a perfect noir character.

“I asked him what I had to look forward to sexually, when I’m his age,” Reiner said. “And he said, ‘you ever try to put an oyster in a slot machine?’” (Har!)

Reiner also shared stories about Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, revealing that he watched film noir movies for six months to cull the dialogue and scenes – and even character names – that were used in the film.

“It was a pleasure. It was a labor of love,” Reiner said. “It was like doing the Sunday Times crossword puzzle.”

The film was the last picture of designer Edith Head, who designed some 20 costumes for Steve Martin and Rachel Ward, and who Reiner characterized as a “dear woman.” The film also features a score by Miklos Rozaa, who composed the music for such classic noirs as The Killers (1946) and Brute Force (1947).

Meeting Carl Reiner.

Meeting Carl Reiner.

If you’ve never seen Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid – and my viewing it at the TCM Film Festival was my first time – you’re in for a treat. It’s not only funny, but it’s a real kick to see all of the scenes and characters from your film noir favorites. Check it out. You’ll be glad you did. I promise.

One more thing – after his interview, Carl Reiner signed copies of his latest book, Why and When The Dick Van Dyke Show Was Born, in the lobby of the Chinese Theater. Because The Dick Van Dyke Show is LITERALLY my favorite television show of all time, there was no way that I was passing up the opportunity to get Reiner’s autograph. As it turned out, I got a chance to chat with him for a couple of seconds, and my pal Raquel, over at Out of the Past, surprised me by snapping a picture of me as he shook my hand! It was truly one of the highlights of the fest for me.

Stay tuned for more from the 2016 TCM Film Festival . . . and join me tomorrow for Day 28 of Noirvember!

Day 26 of Noirvember: Don’t Snooze on The Big Sleep (1946)

•November 27, 2016 • 4 Comments

Tune in to TCM on November 27th for The Big Sleep (1946), starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, directed by Howard Hawks, and containing what wins the prize for one of noirs most convoluted plots.

Click below for one of my many favorite scenes from the film, featuring Bogart and Sonia Darrin. Darrin, incidentally, is still living as of this posting; click here and turn to page 6 for an article from The Dark Pages newsletter that shines the spotlight on this fascinating actress.

And join me tomorrow for Day 27 of Noirvember!

 

Day 25 of Noirvember: What’s in a Name?

•November 25, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Happy birthday, John Stevens.

Born John Daugherty Stephens on today’s date in 1919, Steve Brodie took his screen name from the real-life New York saloon keeper who claimed to have survived an 1886 leap into the East River from the Brooklyn Bridge. The name change helped to jumpstart his fledgling acting career.

“I couldn’t get arrested in New York. Then I got an idea: why not come up with a name that people will remember and possibly even want to exploit?” Brodie once explained. “The next time I went to a tryout, I told the fella taking names that I was Steve Brodie. ‘Are you any relation to the guy who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge?’  ‘Yes,’ I answered. ‘He was my uncle. We’re both considered the black sheep of the family.’ And the following morning I received a phone call telling me I had the job.”

See Brodie in Crossfire (1947), Out of the Past (1947), Desperate (1947), Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950), Armored Car Robbery (1950), and M (1951).

And join me tomorrow on Day 26 of Noirvember!

On Day 24 of Noirvember, Happy Thanksgiving from the Dark Pages . . .

•November 24, 2016 • 1 Comment

. . . and Joan Crawford!

And join me tomorrow for Day 25 of Noirvember!

 

Day 23 of Noirvember: Luther Who?

•November 23, 2016 • 6 Comments
Adler with sister Stella.

Adler with sister Stella.

Film noir is practically overflowing with famous actors who made the era’s anti-heroes come to life. Who can forget Dick Powell in Murder, My Sweet (1944)? Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep (1946)? Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past (1947)?

But these big name performers are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the talent pool represented by the films of the noir era. Sadly, many of the lesser-known actors are seldom mentioned today — even by classic film aficionados — and some are all but forgotten.

I am on a mission to bring these first-rate performers back into the conversation where they belong — and I’m starting with today’s post on Luther Adler, who was primarily known during his lengthy career as a stage actor. But when he wasn’t treading the boards, Adler could be seen on the big screen alongside such luminaries as Alan Ladd, John Wayne, and Rita Hayworth, and he was a featured performer in no fewer than five examples of the film noir era.

Luther Adler was practically born to be an actor. His father was Jacob Adler, a famous Yiddish theater pioneer, and his mother, Sarah, was also a performer, as were most of his siblings, including Stella and Jay (who once called Luther “the golden boy of the family”). Adler made his stage debut at the tender age of five, in a Yiddish drama starring his father, and when he was still in his teens, he toured with his father’s acting company to London, Vienna, and South Africa.

With Frances Farmer in Golden Boy.

With Frances Farmer in Golden Boy.

At the age of 20, Adler made his Broadway debut in Humoresque, co-starring Laurette Taylor. He later joined the famed Group Theatre, and in 1937 earned rave reviews for his performance in Golden Boy, where he played opposite Frances Farmer as violinist-turned-boxer Joe Bonaparte. (Famed critic Brooks Atkinson wrote that Adler performed the part “with the speed and energy of an open-field runner.”)

Also during this time, Adler attracted the attention of 20th Century-Fox studios and was cast in his debut film, Lancer Spy (1937), starring Dolores Del Rio and George Sanders. (A year after his arrival in Hollywood, Adler married actress Sylvia Sidney; the couple had a son, but the union ended in divorce in 1947. Adler later remarried, this time to Julie Roche, to whom he remained married until his death. Shortly after Adler’s passing in the mid-1980s, his son would die of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.)

After his screen debut, Adler returned to the stage, and another six years passed before he appeared in front of the camera again. The actor explained his absence by telling reporters that “an actor goes where he has to work. It’s as simple as that.” Adler’s first film upon his big-screen return in 1945 was also his first film noir — Cornered.

This manhunt drama focused on the efforts of a Canadian airman (Dick Powell) to track down the Nazi collaborators who murdered his wife. Adler played the small, but key, role of the object of Powell’s search. (“It wasn’t a big role in the Hollywood interpretation of ‘big role,'” Adler said later, “[but] you heard all about me from the other characters.”) Despite the brevity of his appearance on screen, his performance was pointed out by several critics, including Jim Henaghan of the Los Angeles Examiner, who wrote that Adler “will thrill you with his splendid reading of a great, meaning speech.”

Following roles in Wake of the Red Witch and The Loves of Carmen, both in 1948, Adler was featured in his second noir, House of Strangers (1949), starring Edward G. Robinson and Susan Hayward. This well-done feature tells the story of Italian-American banker Gino Monetti and his four sons; Adler played the eldest of the siblings — the petulant but thoroughly ruthless Joe. Among a cast of fine performances, Adler’s was a standout.

Adler’s four films in 1950 included two noirs, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye and D.O.A.. In the first, Adler plays a crooked lawyer who teams up with an escaped convict (played by James Cagey) to blackmail a couple of crooked cops. And the fast-paced D.O.A. tells the story of accountant Frank Bigelow (Edmond O’Brien), who learns he has been poisoned and has only days to find the person (or persons) responsible for his demise.

As the unforgiving Majak in D.O.A.

As the unforgiving Majak in D.O.A.

Among the individuals Bigelow tracks down is Majak (Adler), a refined and soft-spoken racketeer who actually apologizes before telling Bigelow he will have to kill him: “You know I can go to jail for 10 years for this little business? At my age, that’s my life . . . With my life, I do not take chances. I am sorry, believe me.” Adler earned praise for his performance in both of these features; after the release of D.O.A., the critic for the Los Angeles Examiner raved: “As chief menace, Luther Adler is superlative, but when isn’t he?”

The following year, the actor was seen in his final film noir, M (1951), a remake of the grim 1931 Fritz Lang feature centering on a citywide hunt for a serial murderer of young girls. Adler played an alcoholic ex-lawyer and earned accolades from one reviewer who said he was “theatrically triumphant as the drink-sodden attorney.”

He was a standout in this Twilight Zone episode.

Throughout the next several decades, Adler stayed busy in such feature films as The Last Angry Man (1959), a top-notch drama marking Paul Muni’s return to the screen after a 13-year absence; stage productions including Fiddler on the Roof, in which he replaced Zero Mostel, and The Passion of Josef D, where he played Lenin opposite Peter Falk as Stalin; and numerous television series, from Route 66 to The Twilight Zone. He also directed several plays, including A View From the Bridge. Adler’s last film appearance was in the box-office hit Absence of Malice (1981), in which he played the mobster uncle of Paul Newman.

After a prolonged illness, Adler died at his home in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. He was 81 years old. After his death, a letter appeared in the New York Times, praising Adler’s accomplishments in film and on the stage. It was signed by several stars, including Marlon Brando and Paul Newman.

“The American public knew him for what he was — not an idol for the moment, but an actor of enduring value,” the letter read. “He has done his work. He has had his time. He will never be forgotten as long as there are actors to honor his memory.”

Do yourself a favor and find out what the fuss is all about — check out a Luther Adler movie today!

And join me tomorrow for some turkey on Day 24 of Noirvember!

Day 22 of Noirvember: The Lesser Knowns — Pushover (1954)

•November 22, 2016 • 4 Comments
Kim Novak smolders in this one.

Kim Novak smolders in this one.

Some may call Pushover a “poor man’s Double Indemnity” — and the label is understandable. Like Double Indemnity, Pushover stars Fred MacMurray as a respected professional man pulled into a web of deception and murder at the urging of a beautiful blonde. But that’s where the similarities end. In Pushover, MacMurray’s character, Paul Sheridan, is an undercover cop assigned to keep an eye on Lona McLane (don’t you love that name?), a bank robber’s galpal portrayed by Kim Novak, in her first credited role. While maintaining a round-the-clock surveillance of Lona’s actions from an apartment across the street, Paul blurs the line between his professional and personal life, and before long he’s head over heels. When his lover proposes that they kill her boyfriend and abscond with his stolen bankroll, it doesn’t take Paul long to sign on. Like many best-laid plans, though, this scheme doesn’t turn out quite as intended.

Favorite character:

The character I like best is not one of the principals; it’s Rick McAllister (Phil Carey), Paul’s partner on the surveillance job. When we first meet him, Rick is stony and cynical — not exactly a woman-hater, but certainly not a cheerleader for the female side. In his business, he’s seen ’em all: “B-girls, hustlers, blackmailers, shoplifters, drunks. You know, I think I’d still get married if I could find a half-honest woman,” Rick says. “There must be a few around.”

How can you not love Rick?

How can you not love Rick?

As it turns out, there’s one who lives right next door to Lona — a hard-working nurse named Ann (Dorothy Malone) — and Rick can’t keep his eyes off her. Before long, Rick admits: “I wait for her to come home. I worry about her, wonder what she’s doing.” He finally comes face-to-face with Ann in a memorable meet-cute in which he plays Sir Galahad, rescuing her from the attentions of an overly amorous date. Played by the handsome and beefy Phil Carey, Rick is a hard-nosed cop on the outside, but a big ol’ teddy bear on the inside. Juxtaposed against the rather seedy goings-on involving Paul and Lona, Rick’s schoolboy crush on Ann is a sweet and welcome diversion.

Trivia tidbit:

In an early scene, Kim Novak emerges from a movie theater showing the 1953 western, The Nebraskan. Released by Columbia Pictures, the film stars none other than Phil Carey.

These two.

These two.

Favorite quote:

“Money isn’t dirty. Just people.” — Lona McLane

One more thing:

Check out this great post by Robby Cress over at Dear Old Hollywood, all about the L.A. locations in the film. It’s good stuff.

And join me tomorrow for Day 23 of Noirvember!