Nice guys finish last—until they're pushed too far.
The 1945 film noir Scarlet Street is one of the bleaker offerings from a generally bleak genre. Edward G. Robinson plays an aspiring painter in a loveless marriage whose need makes him a perfect mark for a pair of hustlers, played by Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea, who shake him down for money, a free apartment, and even his recognition as an artist. The main treat here is seeing tough guy Robinson play a mild-mannered everyman, the sort of terminal pushover he also portrayed to great effect in the noir The Woman in the Window. The thing is, some people can only take so much abuse.
The Big Knife could be sharper but its lessons about Hollywood ruthlessness resonate.
Above you see a poster for the 1955 drama The Big Knife, which, along with The Bad and the Beautiful, plays on tonight’s dark-side-of-Hollywood double bill at the Noir City Film Festival. Based on Clifford Odets’ play of the same name, The Big Knife tells the story of a star actor who wants to expand artistically, but is being tormented by his studio boss to ink a new deal locking him into more of the unfulfilling schlock that put him on the map. The studio has leverage because it helped the actor—played by Jack Palance—hide his role in causing a fatal car accident years ago. The studio boss—Rod Stieger, shamelessly hamming up the place (see photo below)—will stop at nothing, including blackmail, to get the contract signed. The stage-based origins of The Big Knife are clear, as the action rarely leaves one room and the dialogue is at times florid, but the question of whether Palance has the constitution to stand up to Stieger’s abuse offers some tension, and Ida Lupino as Palance’s wife helps elevate the exercise. Above average, we’d call this one, but we think festivalgoers will like The Bad and the Beautiful a lot better.
Nothing to fear but Greer herself.
This awesome promo photo comes from Jacques Tourneur’s iconic 1947 film noir Out of the Past, in which Jane Greer plays Kathie Moffat, one of history’s greatest femmes fatales. Here she watches Robert Mitchum and Steve Brodie in a fistfight, planning all along to decide the situation with a bullet.
Ekberg as a stripper is a dream come true but she brings a nightmare with her.
Based on a 1949 novel of the same name by Frederic Brown, Screaming Mimi stars Anita Ekberg as a traumatized burlesque dancer who can’t shake the memory of being attacked by a knife-wielding maniac. She’s committed to a mental institution, where her psychiatrist promptly falls in love with her and helps her escape and create a new identity. Now dancing at a club in Laguna Beach, California, she’s the hottest draw in the area and her former doctor is her lover and protector, but also smothers and dominates her. Can the anonymity last? Of course not.
Enter stage right an entitled horndog who won’t take no for an answer. After Ekberg survives another knife attack the horndog—who’s also a reporter—has all the justification he needs to dog Ekberg’s every step, and the doctor tries to protect her fake identity and keep her and the reporter from falling into bed together. Chances of success? Zero. Screaming Mimi is an interesting noir—it was fertile enough to serve as inspiration for Dario Argento’s L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo, aka The Bird with the Crystal Plumage—but its b-movie budget really shows and we think Philip Carey is miscast as the reporter/hero. Carey has no charm at all in this, which renders Ekberg’s interest in him unbelievable. But his performance will be a treat for patrons of the Noir City fest—most will probably remember him from his twenty-four-year stint as the repulsive Asa Buchanan on the soap opera One Life To Live.
, Bird with the Crystal Plumage
, One Life To Live
, Anita Ekberg
, Gypsy Rose Lee
, Linda Cherney
, Philip Carey
, Dario Argento
, poster art
, cover art
, film noir
, movie review
He's the guy who always ruins the party.
Bogart has an anger problem. You know someone just like him. He claims to be unaffected by the human condition and would have you believe all others are weaklings and he is strong. But of course when things don't go his way he flies into a rage, showing that he's actually frailer than most. Indifference and anger—two sides of the same coin for those unable to cope with the world as it is. When a female acquaintance of Bogart's is murdered his uncaring attitude makes the cops suspect he's a killer. Did he do it? Maybe—he's too indifferent to bother convincing the police otherwise. But when he meets his beautiful neighbor Gloria Grahame and the two become involved we see his defense mechanism fall away and be replaced by a renewed interest in life. Grahame becomes the receptacle for all Bogart's hopes, but can she deal with that level of need? More to the point—should she? Critics liked Bogart in this role at the time, and In a Lonely Place is today considered one of the best noirs. We have to agree. It's a psychological study of a personality type that has probably proliferated in America since 1950, which makes it relevant viewing in 2016. Highly recommended.
If at first you don't succeed.
We watched The Two Mrs. Carrolls with the Pulp Intl. girlfriends, which is a shame because years of work trying to get them to like old films was finally bearing fruit, only to be partly undone by this one. Whereas In a Lonely Place is one of Bogart's best, The Two Mrs. Carrolls is one of his worst—which should make for an interesting double bill at Noir City tonight. There are problems in most elements of this film, but the main saboteur is the script, adapted by Thomas Job from Martin Vale’s 1935 play of the same name. Structurally, it has some problematic loose threads, and in terms of plot progression, relying upon a child to impart several pieces of crucial information to the heroine all at once all during a casual conversation is not a good move for a suspense movie. Having Barbara Stanwyck find the entire murder scheme outlined on a piece of notebook paper would have been less contrived. Stanwyck, Humphrey Bogart, and Alexis Smith give it a spirited go, but they can overcome only so much. At least the movie looks great. Credit director Peter Godfrey for that much, with a big assist from cinematographer J. Peverell Marley. The Two Mrs. Carrolls
, Peter Godfrey
, Humphrey Bogart
, Barbara Stanwyck
, Alexis Smith
, J. Peverell Marley
, Martin Vale
, poster art
, film noir
, movie review
Romance between two musical geniuses hits a few unexpected sour notes.
Classical musicians separated during the chaos of World War II are reunited in New York City, but the woman neglects to mention to her fiancée that she's acquired a lover and sugar daddy who happens to be a world renowned composer. Bette Davis gives a confident turn as a gifted and successful pianist, while Paul Henreid as her cellist fiancée and Claude Rains as the jilter lover are both excellent. The latter two actors also featured in Casablanca, and Deception bears some similarities to that earlier film in two ways—Henreid is lost during war and presumed dead, leading his love to turn to another; Rains is a caustic smartass, something he does really well.
Another aspect of Deception we enjoyed was how much work went into making Davis and Henried perform like master musicians. In Davis’s case, she fakes it on piano just long enough to pass the eye test, while Henreid had a hidden cellist insert his arms through a modified jacket and play the parts blind. It’s an, um, deceptively simple solution that worked perfectly. Deception didn’t perform well at the box office when released in 1946, but time has been kind to it, and criticisms have waned. At the very least you may want to watch it to get a gander at Davis’s spectacular loft apartment.
No place to run, no place to hide.
Today the Noir City Film Festival in San Francisco will be screening The Dark Corner, a movie that starts fast and keeps up a quick pace throughout, telling the story of small-time detective who is tormented and eventually framed by an unknown enemy. The script, which is credited to five writers, is filled with fun jargon and treats viewers to one of the better quotes from film noir when Mark Stevens references the title with, “I feel all dead inside. I’m backed up in a dark corner and I don’t know who’s hitting me.”
Lucille Ball, top-billed, is pitch perfect as Stevens’ secretary, love interest, and driving force, and William Bendix, who made a career out of tough-and-volatile, nails his role even more solidly than usual here. You also get good work from Clifton Webb and femme fatale Cathy Downs. Atypically violent, and brilliantly wrapped in shadows and cut by black silhouettes by director Henry Hathaway and director of photography Joseph MacDonald, The Dark Corner is what watching film noir is all about. Favorite line: after a character is pushed thirty-one floors to his death a witness on the street gestures at a high window and remarks to a policeman, “Brother, he came out of there like a hot rivet. You know it’s a funny thing, I never yet seen one of those guys bounce.” A must-see.
The Dark Corner
, Henry Hathaway
, Lucille Ball
, Mark Stevens
, William Bendix
, Cathy Downs
, Clifton Webb
, Joseph MacDonald
, film noir
, poster art
, movie review
San Francisco welcomes murder and mayhem for the fourteenth time.
San Francisco's Noir City Film Festival remains one of the best of its type in the U.S. Its fourteenth incarnation kicks off today in San Fran with Rear Window and The Public Eye. The first isn't a noir, but fits comfortably on the festival program; the second is a sort of noir, though a newer one, and is an inspired choice, in our opinion. We just wonder whether people who pay for two films noir will be happy with those two selections on opening night. In any case, we take a peek at both films below. Other offerings this year include the Bogart vehicles The Two Mrs. Carrolls and In a Lonely Place, Screaming Mimi, Corridor of Mirrors, The Dark Corner plus more than twenty other titles, and we'll be taking a look at some of these films throughout the next week.
, Noir City Film Festival
, The Two Mrs. Carrolls
, In a Lonely Place
, Screaming Mimi
, Corridor of Mirrors
, The Dark Corner
, Rear Window
, The Public Eye
, film noir
Reaching the top isn’t easy. Staying on top is even harder.
Above is a Spanish poster by Josep Soligó Tena for La casa de la colina, which was originally released in the U.S. as The House on Telegraph Hill. The movie tells the story of a Polish concentration camp survivor—played by Valentina Cortese—who upon release takes the identity of her dead friend, and later insinuates herself into the lives of the dead woman’s San Francisco relatives. This identity swap is the classic Hitchcockian MacGuffin, which is to say it initially seems to be the plot driver, but later isn’t important at all. While Cortese’s labyrinthine lie is always a worrisome background element, the movie is really about how she finds herself embroiled in an inheritance mess and a love triangle. We thought this movie was quite good, but you do have to ignore bits like the improbable placement of a child’s playhouse above a sheer drop (in a sense, another MacGuffin, as the threat of falling has no bearing at all on later developments). Highly recommended movie, and it has nice San Fran exteriors as a bonus. The House on Telegraph Hill premiered in the U.S. in 1951, and as La casa de la colina in Spain today in 1952. See more work from Tena here.
, San Francisco
, Twentieth Century Fox
, La casa de la colina
, The House on Telegraph Hill
, Richard Basehart
, Valentina Cortese
, William Lundigan
, Josep Soligó Tena
, poster art
, film noir
, movie review
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1958—Plane Crash Kills 8 Man U Players
British European Airways Flight 609 crashes attempting to take off from a slush-covered runway at Munich-Riem Airport in Munich, West Germany. On board the plane is the Manchester United football team, along with a number of supporters and journalists. 20 of the 44 people on board die in the crash.
1919—United Artists Is Launched
Actors Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, along with director D.W. Griffith, launch United Artists. Each holds a twenty percent stake, with the remaining percentage held by lawyer William Gibbs McAdoo. The company struggles for years, with Griffith soon dropping out, but eventually more partners are brought in and UA becomes a Hollywood powerhouse.
1958—U.S. Loses H-Bomb
A 7,600 pound nuclear weapon that comes to be known as the Tybee Bomb is lost by the U.S. Air Force off the coast of Savannah, Georgia, near Tybee Island. The bomb was jettisoned to save the aircrew during a practice exercise after the B-47 bomber carrying it collided in midair with an F-86 fighter plane. Following several unsuccessful searches, the bomb was presumed lost, and remains so today.
1906—NYPD Begins Use of Fingerprint ID
NYPD Deputy Commissioner Joseph A. Faurot begins using French police officer Alphonse Bertillon's fingerprint system to identify suspected criminals. The use of prints for contractual endorsement (as opposed to signatures) had begun in India thirty years earlier, and print usage for police work had been adopted in India, France, Argentina and other countries by 1900, but NYPD usage represented the beginning of complete acceptance of the process in America. To date, of the billions of fingerprints taken, no two have ever been found to be identical.
1974—Patty Hearst Is Kidnapped
In Berkeley, California, an organization calling itself the Symbionese Liberation Army kidnaps heiress Patty Hearst
. The next time Hearst is seen is in a San Francisco bank, helping to rob it with a machine gun. When she is finally captured her lawyer F. Lee Bailey argues that she had been brainwashed into committing the crime, but she is convicted of bank robbery and sentenced to 35 years imprisonment, a term which is later commuted.
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