Here’s a tasty noir treat from 1953, Wicked Woman. Written by filmmaking team Russel Rouse and Clarence Greene, directed by Rouse, produced by Greene on a shoestring, the movie works despite of our maybe partly due to it’s limitations.
Here’s a lesson to low budget filmmakers, keep your locations to a minimum. Wicked Woman basically has two, a bar and a cheap rooming house. The sets are pretty bad but that’s what makes them good, at one point Billie (the Wiced Woman) throws her sleazy neighbor out and slams the door, the wall of the set shakes, but I think that’s cool, it’s like Fellini said the magician must show the audience he has a card up his sleeve so when he does trick them it’s even more astonishing. This movie works on an iconic level, the Blonde Bombshell travelling from town to town leaving a trail of decimated men and women.
Percy Helton plays the slimy neighbor that has the hots for the Wicked Woman, this guy was in everything including Kiss Me Deadly, the coolest Late Noir of all time.
The Main Title Theme is sung by Herb Jeffries, The Bronze Buckaroo, a black singing cowboy star. Beverly Michaels is great as the Wicked Woman, too bad she retired after only a few more films, maybe she was too real, too ahead of her time to be appreciated. I think she’s great. Russel Rouse must have thought so too, he married her. They had a son Christopher Rouse, he’s a film editor that’s won an Academy Award.
What a great package! You get Robert Siodmak’s 1946 version, the one that introduced the world to Burt Lancaster, that smiling acrobat and great actor.
The beautiful Ava Gardner never looked better.
The filmmaking is top notch, beautful images , great lighting, great sets. The wonderfully evil Dr. Cyclops, Albert Dekker.( I’ve got some great stories about him but I’ll save them for a later post) William Conrad and Charles McGraw are the amoral Killers of the title and they are bad news.
This movie besides being beautifully made by a master craftsman at the height of his powers is a very influential film. The Killers terrorizing ordinary citizens in a lunch box diner, a scene we have seen many times since , the guy from the Past recognizing his prey at an out of the way gas station, a lot like Out Of The Past. The intricate flashback structure, effortlessly pulled off.Miklos Rosza’s score, introducing the theme from Dragnet.
A seminal film! One of the first Film Noirs! Then we get Don Siegel’s The Killers with John Cassavettes, Angie Dickinson, The amazing Lee Marvin, Clu Gulager and in his last role Ronnie Reagen! As a bad guy no less, wow!
This was the first 2 hour movie made for TV except NBC wouldn’t buy it when it was done, too violent! It is good mainly for Lee Marvin as the older Killer, Clu is his young healthnut sidekick.
The sets are pretty amazingly fake looking, especially in BluRay, you can see the blown up photograph backgrounds and rear screen projection a mile away. But in spite of that the movie works, a tribute to good acting and directing. Reagen is great as an evil prick, he even takes part in a heist! I had never seen this gem before and I’m glad I did. I am a big fan of Siegel. This movie is a bit wack but it doesn’t disappoint.
We also get as an adeded bonus, Andrei Tarkovsky’s student film version of The Killers and it’s great. It’s great to hear this dialog in Russian! Super Noir american gangster speak in Russian, how cool is that. They throw in a radio play version acted by Burt, Shelly Winters, and I think William Conrad, it’s cool but the coolest thing is to here Robert Siodmak speak! He’s on the show nd they’re trying to spin that he was born in Memphis Tennessee, a bull story to make him American and not a German! WWII was just over. He sounds very funny! The guy was a genius, he got his US directing break by amusing Preston Sturges and making him laugh. Also we get a recorded interview with Siegel, man can he talk fast! All in all, alot of bang for your buck. Get one today!
Here’s a noir bombshell from1949. Byron Haskin directed it, he was a special effects guy at Warner Bros. and later directed The War Of The Worlds for George Pal. He also directed some of the best episode of The Outer Limits, Demon with A Glass Hand, and The Architects of Fear. Hunt Stromberg produced this “cookie full of Arsenic”. He had a long run as a successful producer at MGM, he came up under Thalberg and worked with Selznick, then he got into a beef with Louis B. Mayer and went independent. This is one of his independent creations. The script was by Roy Huggins, based on his novel and it’s a winner, great characters, excellent dialog, everything top notch except the very end, oh well. Huggins went on to be a giant among TV creators/Producers with such shows as The Fugitive, Run For Your Life and The Rockford Files.
But the real heroes of this opus are Lisabeth Scott as the one of the coldest killers ever to grace the silver screen and Dan Duryea, the slime king. Best known for slapping women onscreen, the poster for this film is Dan slapping Lisabeth! They marketed the film on his woman beater appeal.
I have a theory about noir, WWII is over, soldiers are returning home, a lot of G.I.s got Dear John letters, their wives left them while they were at war. Tokyo Rose would broadcast stories of infidelity by Statebound brides to the soldiers overseas. This led to the creation of the Noir Femme Fatale, the false female, who’ll smile , seduce, and kill without missing a beat, sure they can turn on the waterworks, shed tears at the drop of a hat, but underneath, all business. So here is the returning soldier’s nightmare come true. What’s the one thing a desperate soldier, far from home could think about to give himself some relief from killing, mayhem, explosions? Little Sally Jean, the girl he left swinging on the garden gate. What if Tokyo rose was right? She’s evil, corrupted. His dreams are all Lies! Well, here she is, the beautiful blonde with the morals of a scorpion. Lisabeth Scott is amazing in this film. She turns from a bitchy but seemingly happily married woman in an instant all because of money, the old do re mi, a lot of it that drops in her lap. I don’t want to ruin the story but there are some depraved scenes of her and Dan Duryea getting it on just because he can make her do it, they hate each other! It’s deliciously perverse! According to Eddie Muller, the czar of noir, almost all of the budget went to the two big stars, they were worth it!
It was later re-released under this title
So the production of the film was low budget, a lot of the action takes place in Scott’s apartment but it makes the film psycologically more real in a way. You feel trapped in that nest of evil. There are some scenes in Dan Duryea’s flop, it’s perfect as the dump a small time creepy crook would hang his hat in. Another couple of great locations are Union Station, maybe the most beautiful building still left in L.A. and the lake at McArthur Park, called WestLake Park in the movie. A one time high rent district that’s now kind of funky. Silent Film director William Desmond Taylor was murdered in his bungalow just around the corner. Anyway the film is in poor shape, Eddie’s Noir Foundation did a restoration with UCLA but I don’t think that’s out on video yet so you have to make do with what’s available. But next time it screens at the Noir Festival, I will be there.
Here’s the best looking Youtube version I could find.
UCLA is screening a retrospective of the films of Anthony Mann. Mann, a broadway actor turned film director was highly regarded by European filmmakers like Godard and Wim Wenders. His films are visually stunning and well paced, being an actor he got some great performances from his casts. He started making noirs at Republic ,PRC, Eagle -Lion and RKO, doing a lot with a small budget. His noirs are noteworthy for his collaboration with the great cinematographer John Alton. Then he graduated to Westerns, teaming with Jimmy Stewart for several stand out films, like Winchester ‘73 and The Naked Spur. Here is a link to the films and showtimes, see you there!
Hey I’m on a Norman Foster kick. I just heard about this film. The czar of noir Eddie Mueller showed it recently to an enthusiastic crowd, it has great San Francisco locations and a wonderful final scene at an amusement pier complete with laughing fat lady dummy and roller coaster. An amazing roller coaste sequence that has some almost abstract photography shot from the moving coaster. Very effective, I watched it on YouTube and the quality is not good. Hopefully someone will put a dvd out soon, I’ll buy it!
Plunk your Magic Twanger Froggy and watch Woman on The Run
What a cool movie! Dripping with atmosphere and featuring some powerful performances especially from Steve Cochran and Peter Lorre.
Lorre is one of my favorite all time film actors, check out Friz Lang’s M if you haven’t seen it. Cochran has one of the most distinct physical presences in films, his nastiness just shoots off the screen in a way like no other actor. He’s just a bad dude.
Bob Cummings is the perfect American everyman, sort of innocent, shocked by what he saw in WWII, messed up but a good egg. He brings to mind a comment Quentin Tarantino made to me about Joseph Cotten, “I love Joseph Cotten, he’s so weak.” Cummings is kind of in that category, but Cotten always had that down at his heels ex-Southern gentleman thing going on, Cummings is just from small town nowheresville.
This film is a kind of confluence of many strange and wonderful things. Based on a book by noir maestro Cornell Woolrich called The Black Path Of Fear, (I ordered a copy) it’s film noir pedigree could not be higher, I believe Woolrich had more novels made into film noirs than anyone else,( I include Val Lewtons The Leopard Man, and Truffaut’s Bride wore Black and Mississippi Mermaid).
The Producer Seymour Nebenzal produced Lang’s M, which Lorre starred in, the director , Arthur Ripley,was an old hand that got started in the silent days and would go on to direct Robert Mitchum’s Thunder Road and found the UCLA film school. Michele Morgan, the blond femme fatale, is still alive and living in France. A friend of mine (Duke Haney)reminded me that she was having her home built while this movie was being made, A kind of French Chalet that would go down in infamy some years later, 10050 Cielo Drive, scene of the grisly Manson murders of Sharon Tate, Abigail Folger, Voychek Frykowski, Jay Sebring and Steven Parent.
Michele Morgan at her Cielo Drive home
The camerman was the amazing Franz Planer, a Vienese transplant who emigrated to escape the Nazis. Planer also shot the beautiful, atmospheric noir Criss Cross for Robert Siodmak. His photography is nothing short of amazing. There is a wonderful sequence of a black limousine racing a locomotive at night , it’s a tour de force of miniatures, rear projection, great low angle shots of Lorre driving, shot through the steering wheel.
The film is in the public domain now, you can watch it on Youtube, but I just learned it was restored by UCLA and screened recently, unfortunately I missed it. Hopefully they will screen it again soon or at a noir festival.
No, not the movie about ballet dancers, this one is from 1952 and is all about crime, corruption and the law. It’s funny how things intersect on the Great Plains of Life, I have been thinking a lot about George Tomasini, the film editor. This guy was one of the all time greats, look at his IMDB page almost every film he did is a classic!
The Great Cutter! George Tomasini!
He worked in many genres and they all came out great, his fantasy work with George Pal, The Time Machine, The Seven Faces Of Dr. Lao, Houdini. All great. I was watching Cape Fear with Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck, end credits roll, edited by George Tomasini. Plus he edited a major share of Hitchcock’s Hollywood output. Everything from Rear Window to The Birds, including Psycho with it’s famous shower scene. Anyway I will one day soon write a piece just about George. So when I checked out Mr. Tomasini’s IMDB page I saw a film listed I had not seen, The Turning Point. I thought, ” I’ll have to check that out one of these days.” Then I was cruising around the internet and ran into a blog about Bunker Hill, On Bunker Hill, this site features great images of the old neighborhood that stood just north of downtown before it was demolished. A real dreamscape used as backgrounds by many film noir masters. I then found a link to Angel’s Flight Goes To The Movies, and there was A Turning Point! Then to top it off it’s on Netflix streaming! So I checked it out. Directed by super talented William Dieterle, the man behind such classics as The Devil and Daniel Webster, and Portrait of Jennie, this is a really well written story, excellently paced by Tomasini, it has some incredible scenes, including one of the best assassinations ever filmed. A crooked cop trying to do right is set up for a hit, and the shooter is then shot by two truck driving killers(one of whom is the Professor from Gilligan’s Island). There’s a lot of great location photography all over Bunker Hill.
And a climactic scene at what I think is the old Olympic auditorium, a boxing match featuring an appearance by the second most decorated veteran of WWII, Neville Brand.
This was two years after D.O.A. where Brand tortured Edmond O’Brien, Edmond is sort of the star of The Turning Point but really it’s William Holden. Check this gem out, great writing, directing and editing and all on Netflix streaming!
Here’s a crazy film I happened upon last night. Joseph Losey’s The Big Night. A Coming Of Age Noir Urban Fairy Tale. John Drew Barrymore , son of the great Barrymore and father of Drew, stars and gives a great performance. He is pretty mesmerizing to watch, a fact not only due to his great talent but also to his mental instability. When a crazy person has talent they are fascinating to watch, Brando is another crazy genius that comes to mind.
Atmospheric Imagery thanks to veteran cinematographer Hal Mohr
This is a strange noir story of a boy’s 17th birthday and the night that he becomes a man.
Barrymore witnesses his father getting a savage beating from a crippled newspaper man, it sends him out into the night, the big city, thirsting for revenge.
John Drew Barrymore aka Barrymore Jr.
He goes to all the noir city hotspots, first a prizefight, his prey is a sports writer, thus serving up another staple of the noir canon, the figure of the newspaperman and the paper itself, their role in the Big City. While at the fight Barrymoore makes the acquaintance of a drunken PHD, a Doctor of Philosophy that aids him in his quest for “Al Judge” the evil columnist that caned his prostrate father. A spectator at the fight hands a bottle of liqour to the drunken doctor and I recognized this large individual as Robert Aldritch, who had worked as an assistant director with Joseph Losey on M and The Prowler. The pair of new friends follow Al St. Judge to a bar, lose him and wind up at another noir touchstone, The Nightclub! Complete with Jazz band and black vocalist. Here Losey masterfully limns a disfunctional relationship between the doctor and his mistress in a few deft strokes that tell you so much about them.
The second Mrs. Charles Foster Kane, Opera Singer Susan Alexander
The women is non other than Dorothy Comingore, Susan Alexander of Citizen Kane. She dances with Barrymore, a harbinger of her sister’s kissing him later in the film, his sexual initiation is with two women old enough to be his mother. An artifact of Losey’s relationship with his own mother, described in a biography as a “sexual predator”. Outside the restaurant Barrymore bumps into the Jazz singer telling her “she’s the best singer in the world” and ” really beautiful even if she is a…” (nigger).
Beautiful Jazz Singer! Mauri Lynn
The look on her face triggers instant regret in Barrymore, he didn’t mean to insult her, he just revealed his own upbringing and cultural limitations. A great shot follows of his anguished face in the rear window of a taxi that pulls away and disappears into the Stygian Night Of the City. A wonderful scene between Barymore and the sister of Comingore occurs at the apartment, again a motherly /sexual love thing happens. After a nighttime visit to the graveyard shift of the newspaper, Barymore finally tracks St. Judge down and has it out with the evil cripple. St. Judge reveals some startling information about the foibles of Barrymore’s father viv a vis his recently deceased sister, so unsettling the teenager that he puts down the gun and tries to leave but the rotten reporter reveals the depth of his depravity and turns the gun on our young hero, a struggle ensues , a shot is fired, the handicapped columnist hits the deck. John Drew returns to the apartment of lonely older women where the sister comforts him but his new “friend” the doctor throws him out threatening to kill him if he gets him involved in the case. Losey’s bleak view of humanity on display. Young John winds up back at home the cops show up and he pulls agun, threatening to kill himself, OK, nowadays the cops would open fire on the poor sap but back then they waited for him to work it out with his old man, the father reveals the boy’s real mother isn’t dead, she just met a new guy and split. “Don’t you hate her?” the teen asks. “No, I love her. ” The dad replies. The end! And it’s available for streaming on Netflix!
As promised here are some interesting film noir finds on Netflix. Union Station, a kidnapping story starring William Holden and Nancy Olson. This was made immediately after Sunset Blvd. and both of these actors appear in that film as well. I guess they got along. Station is directed by Rudolph Mate’. He directed the original D.O.A.and was a cameraman on such classics as Carl Dreyers Passion Of Joan D’Arc. This film is definitely worth checking out, it’s even got Barry Fitzgerald reprising his quaint Irish detective role from Naked City. And it’s shot at the beautiful Los Angeles Union Station.
Cry Danger, you get Dick Powell, Rhonda Fleming and a host of great noir character actors, shot in some amazing 50’s L.A. locations, including a trailer park within view of City Hall! Pretty cool. Robert Parrish’s directorial debut. Shot by the always good Joe Biroc, he was Aldritch’s cameraman for a lot of films.
5 Steps to Danger OK, this is by no stretch of the imagination a great movie, maybe not even a good movie. Made fast and cheap, the things it has going for it are as follows: Sterling Hayden, Ruth Roman, driving around the desert in a 50’s Packard convertible! That is cool as hell. If you like these actors, check it out.
The Killer Is Loose, an interesting film by Budd Boetticher , Wendell Corey plays a sort of nerd serial killer, maybe the first one in Cinema. Joseph Cotten is the cop that put him away, killing Corey’s wife in the process so now “Foggy” wants revenge. A weird flick but worth checking out.
Here are two noirish films I found on Netflix streaming. Both worth watching. Caught is a sort of poor man’s Citizen Kane, being a thinly disguised story of a very rich man, in this case Howard Hughes. Robert Ryan portrays him excellently and I’m sure he had opportunity to observe Hughes during his time at RKO. But the star of the film is the lovely and talented Barbara Bel Geddes. She plays a carhop with designs on being a model and winds up married to an insane millionaire. James Mason appears as a sympathetic doctor and love interest. The ending has to be seen to be believed, if I told you what happens you wouldn’t believe it. It could never happen today.
This film was directed by an emigre from France, fleeing Nazi persecution, Max Ophuls. I hear tell that Robert Aldritch directed some additional scenes for this film but I don’t know which ones. I’ll look into it. Martin Scorsese restored this film at UCLA archives a few years before he made his Hughes film, The Aviator. Unlike Hearst I don’t think Hughes tried to destroy anyone’s career over this film, maybe he was too far gone in his mental illness to notice.
The next attraction on our double bill is House Of Strangers, a study of an upwardly mobile Italian family in old New York. This clan is ruled with an iron fist by it’s patriarch, portrayed by the great Edward G. Robinson. He turns in a wonderful, if somewhat stereotyped performance. His rise to riches as a banker (shades of A.P. Gianini) destroys his family pitting brother against brother in a quest for power. The main sibling is played by Richard Conte, the only brother the father doesn’t denigrate. Conte plays a lawyer with a habit of ending his pronouncements “Period”. Like “I’m going to the theater with you. Period!” No arguments. It’s a funny bit. The thing I really like about this film is the honest portrayal of the characters, the father is a tyrant, he calls one son “Dumbhead”, he treats his oldest son like a slave, making him wash is back in the tub while he sings opera. But in spite of his evil side, you can’t help but like Eddie G. , you know he’s bad but he’s sort of charismatic, charming. He’s always telling his sons that he built everything for them and they will get it all when he dies. A very accurate portrait of just such a person.
The brilliant director Joseph Mankewiscz limns his character with an unerring eye. Lest I forget Susan Hayward appears as a rich chick out for kicks and goes slumming with Conte. I am not a big fan of her work but I must say here she turns in a very good job. I like her in this movie. Flashback structure, Gothic old house, speakeasies, lots of shadows, Noir without a detective, family noir. Check it out.
I just watched Dark City, a film noir I’ve never seen, it was on Netflix streaming! An interesting film, released by Paramount, starring a very young Charlton Heston and Lizabeth Scott. Directed by yet another protege of Max Rhinehart, William Dieterle.
He was famous for wearing white gloves while directing, he made the monumental Hunchback Of Notre Dame starring Charles Laughton,the great Devil And Daniel Webster and Portrait Of Jennie, the film that David O. Selznick drove him insane over. But nevertheless Dieterle was a Cinematic Poet 1st class. I discovered several more interesting noirs that I will list soon, including an HD version of Stanley Kubrick’s early outing Killer’s Kiss, check out the opening scene shot in the demolished/rebuilt Penn Station in Manhattan.
Anyway more Noir gold to be revealed soon, stay tuned.
An excellent film in all respects but Film Noir? I don’t know, they billed it as Gothic Noir but it’s like Merchant Ivory noir. Ray Milland is excellent as a talented cad, painter/thief no goodnik.He seduces the virginal widow of a missionary, Ann Todd, gets her to commit unspeakable acts and thanks to the writing and Miss Todd’s acting you totally believe it.Art Direction and Cinematography are top notch, all the acting in the movie is good. Look for Leo G. Carroll as a tenacious detective. Lewis Allen does an excellent job directing.He was around New York when I lived there but he was producing films in his later years. I met with his representative, a sleepy gent whose name escapes me, about a script I had written but Mr. Allen said no thanks. Allen produced the successful adaptaion of William Golding’s Lord Of The Flies directed by Peter Brook, he also produced Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451. He directed Suddenly starring Frank Sinatra as an assassin out to hit the President, Sinatra pulled the film from circulation after he heard Lee Harvey Oswald had watched it a few days before the Kennedy assassination. Now that I’ve seen So Evil My Love I’ve got to say Bravo to his work as a director.