Day 28 of Noirvember: Armored Car Robbery (1950)

•November 28, 2017 • 5 Comments

A noirish conversation if I ever saw one.

The more I see William Talman, the more I like him. That is, the more I see him outside of a courtroom with Perry Mason. That’s where I first met this actor and first grew to view him with equal parts dislike and disdain. But boy, his film noir performances are a whole ‘nother thing.

One of his best is in Armored Car Robbery, a small noir with a first-rate cast headed by Talman as Dave Purvis, a highly intelligent crook with an ultra-careful mode of operation (“No loose ends,” he insists) and no qualms whatsoever about using his rod. Purvis puts together a crew to knock off an armored car parked outside a ballgame – the heist is pulled off (almost) without a hitch by Benny McBride (Douglas Fowley), Al Mapes (Steve Brodie), and Ace Foster (Gene Evans). Unfortunately, like the best-laid plans of mice and men, this intricately devised effort goes off the rails, with an ending you’ve just got to see to believe.

Yvonne LeDoux. What a dame. What a name!

Favorite character:

My first thought was to say Dave Purvis, but my true favorite is Benny’s estranged wife, Yvonne LeDoux (Adele Jergens), who makes a living by shaking her money maker down at the Bijou Theater. She’s practically the only female in the whole movie, but she’s no dyed in the wool femme fatale. Yvonne doesn’t use her feminine wiles to coax any weak-willed gents into doing her bidding – but she doesn’t shrink from a stack of c-notes when they make their appearance, if you get my drift. Basically, she’s a straight-shooting sister who knows what she wants, knows how to get it, and knows who to get it from.

I like that in a dame.

Favorite quote:

“Look Dave, I know she’s strictly high-rent, and I’m broke, but I can’t forget her that easy.” Benny McBride

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Day 27 of Noirvember: Remembering David White

•November 27, 2017 • 1 Comment

1916 – 1990

Hear the name “David White,” and you might offer a blank stare and a shrug to indicate your lack of recognition.

See a picture of David White, and you’re likely to instantly think “Larry Tate from Bewitched.”

But not me. I summon up a vision of Otis Elwell, that smarmy, unscrupulous, and just plain awful columnist White played in Sweet Smell of Success (1957). And boy, did he play that role!

White died of a heart attack on November 27, 1990. Today’s Noirvember post is dedicated to the life and career of this talented, underrated performer.

Born April 6, 1916, in Denver, Colorado, Daniel David White and his family moved several times before finally settling in L.A., where White studied drama at Los Angeles City College. After serving in the Marine Corps during WWII, White honed his acting craft at the famed Pasadena Playhouse and made his Broadway debut in 1949 in Leaf and Bough, in a cast that included Charlton Heston and Coleen Gray. It closed after only three performances. (“Leaf and Bough – it bowed and left,” Gray once quipped.) His later stage work included a run in the successful The Anniversary Waltz, starring MacDonald Carey and Kitty Carlisle. His first television appearance came in the early 1950s, with Grace Kelly in “Rich Boy” on the Philco Television Playhouse.

As the oily Otis Elwell (love that name) in Sweet Smell of Success.

White’s big screen debut was in Sweet Smell of Success, in which he played the small, but pivotal role of a columnist who plants a false blind item in his paper in exchange for sexual favors from a down-on-her-luck cigarette girl. He was in only a couple of scenes, but he made the most of them, impressively holding his own in a cast that included powerhouse stars Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis. White’s other feature films included The Apartment and Sunrise at Campobello, both in 1960, but it was in television that he really made his mark. In addition to his eight-year run on Bewitched as Darrin Stevens’s ad exec boss, White enjoyed a small screen career that spanned four decades. His final role was in a 1986 episode of Dynasty.

Off-screen, White’s life was touched more than once by tragedy. In the mid-1950s, he married stage actress Mary Welch, and the two had a son, Jonathan, in 1955. Before the end of the decade, at the age of 35, Mary died of complications during her second pregnancy. White later found happiness with actress Lisa Figus, with whom he had a daughter, Alexandra, but in 1988, Jonathan was killed in the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. On route to New York from London, the plane exploded 35 minutes after take-off, and all aboard were killed. White retreated from public view after Jonathan’s death and died just two years later, at the age of 74.

White’s memorial niche at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

White’s remains are inured at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, in the Hollywood Memorial Park Cathedral Mausoleum, which is a stately structure with a main hallway flanked by marble statues of the 12 apostles. Inside a glass-fronted niche, White’s ashes are alongside a memorial urn belonging to his son. The niche also contains photos of White and Jonathan, and a “Larry Tate” bust sculpture, which is a prop from a 1969 Bewitched episode. (I had the honor of viewing the niche in person, during a visit to L.A. for the TCM Film Festival several years ago.)

Next time you check out the dark and cynical Sweet Smell of Success, be sure to give an extra long look at the performance turned in by David White.

And remember his name.

(And join me tomorrow for Day 28 of Noirvember.)

Day 26 of Noirvember: City That Never Sleeps (1953)

•November 26, 2017 • 2 Comments

I fell in love with this movie the first time I saw it. I can’t exactly put my finger on what it was that took such a hold of me – maybe it’s the way it opens with a voiceover by the city itself. (“I am the city . . . I am the voice, the heartbeat of this giant, sprawling, sordid and beautiful, poor and magnificent citadel of civilization.”) Or the fact that the “city” in question is none other than Chicago, which happens to be where I was born and raised. Or perhaps it’s because it takes place on a single night.

Or it could be the way the film weaves together the stories of its rich set of characters: Johnny Kelly (Gig Young), a disillusioned cop who plans to resign from the force the next day, leave his wife, and run away with his mistress; Johnny’s lover, Sally “Angel Face” Connors (Mala Powers), a nightclub dancer; Gregg Warren (Wally Cassell), who performs as a “mechanical man” in a department store window and who’s also in love with Sally; crooked attorney Penrod Biddell (Edward Arnold),  who hires Johnny to put the finger on an overly ambitious man on his payroll; Hayes Stewart (William Talman), the ambitious man in question, a former magician-turned-thief; and Biddell’s beautiful but duplicitous wife, Lydia (Marie Windsor).

Johnny isn’t too fond of the Mechanical Man.

Favorite character:  

This was a tough one, let me tell ya. There aren’t a whole lot of lovable characters in this one, you know what I mean? Not even characters that you love to hate. Or hate to admire. So I’m going to go out on a limb and choose the mechanical man, Gregg. Not because I was particularly fond of him – he was actually pretty pathetic up until the last five minutes of the film. But one thing I can say is that he definitely made an impression. I first saw this film nearly 20 years ago, and I primarily remembered two things: (1) I liked it, a lot, and (2) the mechanical man.

Favorite quote:

“I feel like I’m in a cement mixer getting slowly chopped and pounded to death. I’ve seen all that I can stand to see.” Johnny Kelly

Day 25 of Noirvember: The Great Flamarion (1945)

•November 25, 2017 • 4 Comments

A pal I met through the World Wide Web sent me a DVD of this movie, and it literally sat languishing in my home for years before I decided to check it out. Boy, what a bonehead! First off, the film stars director-turned-actor-turned pulp fiction writer Erich Von Stroheim (perhaps best known as Max, Norma Desmond’s butler in Sunset Boulevard), and noir veteran Dan Duryea, who would hold my riveted attention if he were on screen scraping bird poo off of his car. The film also features Mary Beth Hughes, who never rose to great cinematic heights but is a personal favorite of mine; she starred in I Accuse My Parents, which was skewered by the guys over at Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Von Stroheim is the title character, an expert marksman who makes his living demonstrating his craft in a vaudeville show. Hughes plays Connie Wallace who, along with her dipsomaniac husband, Al, works as Flamarion’s assistant in his act. The plot heats up when Flamarion falls for Connie and they find that Al stands in the way of their happiness. Betcha can’t guess how they solve that little problem.

How could a femme fatale have such a sweet and innocent face?

Favorite character:

Connie Wallace is just about the prettiest, sweetest-looking femme fatale on screen. With her flowing locks, peaches and cream complexion, and velvet-soft voice, you’d never suspect that she was more like a deadly viper than a sympathetic saint. At one point in the film, she was not only juggling her husband and Flamarion, but she also added a third ball to the rotation in the form of a fellow vaudevillian. She was one industrious sister.

Favorite quote:

“If you think I’m gonna let you go so that some other guy can have you, you’re off your nut!” Al Wallace

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!

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!