Arnold Laven, R.I.P.

Written by Joe D on September 21st, 2009

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Producer- Director Arnold Laven has passed on. He’s responsible for a large amount of influential film and television. I just read a great interview with him the other day. It was done for the Noir City Sentinel, the newsletter of the Film Noir Foundation and you can read it here. I was so impressed with this interview I ordered the DVD of Laven’s directorial debut, 1952’s Without Warning, one of the first serial killer pictures and full of great Los Angeles location photography. I will post about it once I get it.

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Besides his great film noir work Laven was in a large way responsible for two giant Western television sagas, The Rifleman and The Big Valley. Both big sources of inspiration for a generation of filmmakers including Quentin Tarantino who has expressed as much to me.

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He also directed Tim Holt’s last picture The Monster That Challenged The World, Laven and Holt met many years earlier on the set of The Arizona Ranger and became good friends. He talked Holt out of retirement to make this SciFi /Horror movie. It has a gripping scene of a woman and a young girl trapped in a closet as the monster breaks through the door to get them. Check it out.

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The Locket

Written by Joe D on August 26th, 2009

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The Locket is a wonderful psychological noir featuring Robert Mitchum playing a Greenwich Village artist. It’s directed by John Brahm, a German ex-pat who learned his stuff at UFA then came over here to avoid the Nazis and made some great films. I got turned onto him through the 20th Century Fox Horror Classics dvd collection, featuring three films directed by Brahm- The Undying Monster, The Lodger, and Hangover Square. These are all great and definitely worth watching.

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German Genius- John Brahm

A little research led me to The Locket, an RKO gem lensed by one of my favorite cameramen, Nicholas Musuraca (the original Prince Of Darkness). Brahm also directed a Raymond Chandler based film, The Brasher Doubloon, aka The High Window, a Vincent Price vehicle The Mad Magician, and the super groovy Hot Rods To Hell! He then directed a lot of cool TV, Outer Limits, Man from U.N.C.L.E. etc. An interesting note, Brahm directed some episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, he directed a version of The Lodger years after Hitchcock did and Hitchcock’s Marnie is very similar to The Locket, but in my opinion inferior to the earlier B&W noir. The Locket is not on dvd but you can watch it as I did on YouTube.

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Deadline U.S.A.

Written by Joe D on April 17th, 2009

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Last night I went to another screening, part of the 11th Film Noir Festival at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood USA. One of the films shown was Deadline U.S.A., the directorial debut of Richard Brooks, who shot to fame soon after with his mega hit Blackboard Jungle. Brooks had been a newspaperman and the veracity his experience brings into play is eye-opening. The scene at the paper are great, especially the scenes in the printing room, these were the days when the paper was printed on giant machines directly downstairs from the reporters desks. A lot of important action takes places right there in front of, over and in the enormous presses. It’s also a very timely piece as the subplot has to do with the selling and closing of a vital newspaper something we are being subjected to on a daily basis across our country, probably across the world. Eddie Mueller (programmer of the Noir Fest) spoke before the screening. He said his father was a newspaperman and this was his favorite film. Then he asked how many people in the audience were in the newspaper game, I would say about half of the crowd raised their hands, this film is beloved by journalists and I can see why. It’s really about the power of the press, about the principles of journalism that inspires a young person to pursue a career in that hallowed field. And never have I seen the ideals of reporting better illustrated, a sensational story of a nude blonde, wearing only a mink coat is fished out of a river, one paper plays it up in true tabloid style, Humphrey Bogart’s paper “The Day” reports it unsensationally.
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Bogart plays editor Ed Hutcheson, a tough, obsessed genius newspaperman, unafraid to take on the biggest gangster in town, uncompromising, a beautiful performance. The supporting cast is loaded with great character actors, Kim Hunter as Bogie’s ex-wife, Ed Begley, Jim Backus, Paul Stewart, you’ll see a gallery of faces that you recognize from many films. But the real stand out for me was the dialogue, some of the best, funniest, on the money verbiage I’ve heard in any film. Brooks really knew what he was talking about or should I say writing about.
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Brooks on the Right
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Michael Cimino was a friend of Richard Brooks and he told me a story about him once. It seems Brooks had just come to Hollywood and he got a gig writing something for Orson Welles. Welles was making Jane Eyre at the time over at Samuel Goldwyn Studios in Hollywood ( across the street from the Formosa Bar) Brooks lived nearby and one night as he was typing feverishly in his apartment, he heard someone yelling his name. He looked out the window and there was Welles, in full Jane Eyre makeup, driving a horse and buggy from the film, out in the street in front of Brooks apartment. ” Brooks, where are my pages! I want my pages!” Welles shouted, urging the young writer to hurry up and finish his assignment. Welles had just taken off from the set still in character, driving a horse and buggy he drove in the film out the gate and down the streets of Hollywood to check up on his writer. Those were the days! But see Deadline U.S.A. if you can, it’s not out on DVD but somebody at Fox should take note and release this wonderful film for the world to enjoy and treasure.annex-fontaine-joan-jane-eyre_01.jpg

Welles in the Buggy with Joan Fontaine

11th Annual Film Noir Festival Alias Nick Beal, Fly By Night

Written by Joe D on April 6th, 2009

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Wow! Two great unknown (to me) noirs at the 11th annual Film Noir Festival at the American Cinematheque (Egyptian Theater Branch). First up Alias Nick Beal a supernatural Noir Morality play that features a career best performance by Ray Milland and is cited by it’s director ( John Farrow, dad of Mia) as his best film! It is great, beautifully art directed and shot with a great Franz Waxman score, a terrific Audrey Totter turning in a wonderful portrayal as a washed up actress, now semi-hustler bar crawling, drink stealing lush, fighting other chicks in waterfront dives. Seduced by devilish Ray Milland in a part (to quote Eddie Mueller) he was born to play. This movie is rife with an ahead of it’s time savagery especially as directed at Audrey Totter! There is a scene of Milland coaching her for a romantic encounter with Good Guy Thomas Mitchell that has to be seen to be believed, it’s that good! Fog, waterfront dives, a Salvador Dali inspired apartment, all add up to an eerie ,unsettling atmosphere that works like gangbusters. Check this one out.
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The second half of the double bill was the 75 minute
Fly By Night. This B movie has a 1930’s serial plot, involving spies, an insane asylum, a mad scientist, mistaken identity, a super weapon that the spies are after, etc. But it is so funny in such a natural unforced way, it rises way above the subject matter. Richard Carlson was never better and Nancy Kelly is super, a beautiful funny performance. Robert Siodmak’s talent is evident from the first frame to the last, this movie oozes a charm and sophistication that will seduce anyone and make them a fan. There is a car stunt, where the two on the run protagonists drive a car in reverse off a car carrier truck as it’s barreling down a highway ,it rocks! Also the finale involving the scientist and chief spy had the audience cheering. And kudos to the programmers for putting this fast paced funny film as the second half of a double bill,it made what could have been a long night extremely enjoyable.

Tonight at The Egyptian

Written by Joe D on April 3rd, 2009

Here’s a preview of one of tonight’s films screening at the Egyptian theater in Hollywood as part of the 11th annual Film Noir Fest, it’s from Alias Nick Beale directed by John Farrow.

It screens with a rarity directed by super noir sytlist Robert Siodmak, called Fly By Night. Check out this article on the maestro Siodmak, Here.

Film Noir Fest at The Egyptian

Written by Joe D on March 26th, 2009

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The Egyptian Theater in Hollywood is hosting the 11th annual Film Noir Festival starting on Thursday April 2nd with OUT OF THE PAST (arguably the best film noir of all time) and the ultra-rare COMPANY SHE KEEPS. Here’s the link to the schedule. Be there!

French Crime at the Egyptian

Written by Joe D on September 4th, 2008

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Saturday September 6 the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood U.S.A. will screen two classics starring Jean Gabin. The Sicilian Clan at 7:30 pm and the ultra-rare Moontide at 9:30. The Sicilian Clan also features two other Titans of Cinema acting, Alain Delon and Lino Ventura. What a great opportunity to see these greats in 35mm! Here’s the trailer!

Moontide features sexy, smart Ida Lupino and the ever popular star of Hollywood epics, Bette Davis melodramas and Italian Space operas, Claude Raines. Go see them! You Must Obey!
Sunday they’re showing the unseen House On The Waterfront a gritty tale of a tugboat captain emeshed in an intrigue involving his daughter, a gangster, a diver and a corpse trapped in a sunken ship that’s about to be salvaged. Then the incredible grandaddy of French noir Touchez Pas Au Grisbi. A great movie ! I reviewed it at length here. Go see it! You Will Love It! Bravo Cinematheque! Here’s the schedule: Cinematheque
It’s all part of a celebration of Jean Gabin and a new book about him : World’s Coolest Movie Star: The Complete 95 Films (and Legend) of Jean Gabin, the author, Charles Zigman will be there as well.

Sweet Smell Of Success & The Lost New York

Written by Joe D on September 1st, 2008

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SSOS just showed on TCM as part of a Tony Curtis retrospective.
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Sidney Falco on the threshold of Success, the entrance to “21”

This time it really brought back memories of Lost New York. Some of the spots are still there but they’re not the same. First off, this is an incredible movie. Great classic performances out of Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis. Great dialog, “Match me Sidney.” ” I’d hate to take a bite out of you, you’re a cookie full of arsenic.”
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One of Burt’s Greatest Roles
There’s more quipping in this movie than any other that I can think of. ” Here’s your head, what’s your hurry.” It does not stop. James Wong Howe’s cinematography is amazing, they went for a reverse, long lenses to shoot long shots, exteriors of NYC stacked up in a telephoto lens, wide angle lenses for close ups, distorting, paranoid, powerful images of the characters and this technique works incredibly well. The characters jump off the screen at you with all the dynamism of a Steve Ditko comic.
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Pure Genius!
The environs of New York never looked better. Great locations! Shots of a bygone NYC. There’s a scene at A Times Square hot dog stand, you can picture Jack Kerouac walking in. It reminds me of Papaya King, a stand I used to frequent. Two dogs and a papaya drink for $1.50! That was a deal!
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Time Travel via HotDog Stand!
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Hey Kerouac! Pass The Mustard!
All that stuff in midtown, the 40’s and 50’s , the “21” club, the Ed Sullivan Theater, the crummy offices, the streets, J.J.(Burt Lancaster) lives in the Brill Building, 1619 Broadway. I used to work there, there were a lot of editing rooms in that building. Saturday Night Live had offices there, I once had a run in with a belligerent John Belushi on the service elevator.
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Sidney in the lobby of The Brill Building, 1600 Bway was right across the street
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Reverse on the Brill lobby. This was it, Tin Pan Alley!

Across the street was 1600 Broadway, the National Screen Services Building. They had a ton of cutting rooms in there as well and it was one of the last buildings in the city to have elevator operators! Next door was the Rincon Argentina, a great restaurant, full of editors at lunch time, half a chicken, french fries, salad for $3.59, plus a demi boutee of house red for a buck! Those were the days. So to see J.J. and Sidney cruising my old neighborhoods blew me away. I worked up the street at my friend’s company “CineHaven”, 254 W.54th street. Rumor had it that Marlon Brando and Wally Cox were roommates there in the 50’s.
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I used to work (and crash) right up the street!

Just up the street from Studio 54 and Trans Audio , a mixing studio with a lot of cutting rooms. But back to SSOS, the bar that Martin Milner plays at when Sidney sets him up, I think it’s by the old West Side Highway, the location is so cool, Sidney up on the overpass signaling Kello the bad cop to get Martin. Incredible!
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West Side Highway Location?
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Evil Cop Harry Kello beats up Jazz Guitarist Martin Milner
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Life imitates Art, Miles Davis was beaten up by a cop on 52nd Street while standing outside a gig

The great Chico Hamilton Quintet appears in the film and they are excellent. Great score by Elmer Bernstein, great screenplay by Ernest Lehman and Clifford Odets, great direction by Alexander Mackendrick.
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Chico Hamilton on drums, the guy on cello is Fred Katz, he wrote the super cool score for Roger Corman’s Little Shop Of Horrors!

Great characters, supposedly J.J. was based on Walter Winchell, the influential columnist. It’s an interesting character, he wraps himself up in the flag spouting a lot of rhetoric about patriotism, all the while spewing vitriol on everyone he doesn’t like, and if anyone complains, they’re un-American! A petty tyrant whose motivations are his personal vendettas and small minded attacks pretending that he’s doing it for the good of his “60 million readers”. I think this is a very timely character, as relevant now as back then, even more so. We’ve got a J.J. Hunsecker in the White House, only without the witty quips. The movie introduces the wonderful Susan Harrison, what happened to her?
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If you want to get a feel for that old lost New York check out this guy, Jean Shepherd. He had a late nite radio show broadcast from NYC, I’d listen to him when I was a kid. Sometimes he talks about NYC and it doesn’t get any better than this. He also wrote the Christmas Story film. Here’s a link to some of his shows. Here it is : Jean Shepherd Shows
flatiron.jpgI used to live around the corner from the Flatiron Building, an early structural steel building in NYC courtesy of Chicago architect Daniel Burnham

The Exiles to screen at UCLA

Written by Joe D on August 13th, 2008

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Finally they restored Kent Mackenzie’s The Exiles! They’re screening it at the Billy Wilder Theater August 15 through August 23 also it’s going to be shown across the country check here for your area. I’ve never seen this film but I’ve wanted to see it for a long time. The true story of a Native American community on Bunker Hill in Los Angeles.
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Bunker Hill is a mythical part of LA that was dismantled during the 60’s and replaced with office buildings, it was a neighborhood of crumbling Victorian mansions, some carved up into rooming houses and Angel’s Flight was smack dab in the middle.
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This neighborhood features prominently in pulp writing(Chandler, Ellroy) and classic film noir. So come on down and check it out! Los Angeles does have history, it’s just buried under a strip mall.
Here’s the trailer:

Underworld U.S.A.

Written by Joe D on June 15th, 2008

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Akira Kurosawa sued Sergio Leone claiming that Leone ripped off Yojimbo and based his Per Un Pugno De Dollari on it. Leone claimed that it was a common story used many times before notedly by Dashiel Hammet in his novel Red Harvest. A story about a gangster who infiltrates a gang and plays one side against the other.

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Samuel Fuller, Maverick
That is exactly what happens in Sam Fuller’s excellent Underworld U.S.A. Cliff Robertson grows up on the wrong side of the tracks, as a youngster he witnesses his father’s demise at the bloody hands of a group of thugs in a back alley. The young protagonist swears to take vengeance on the men who offed his old man and when he grows up he starts tracking down the killers. They have moved up in the world becoming big time gangsters and Cliff uses everyone to set them up, the police, the gangsters themselves, even the woman he loves. This movie pulls no punches, a hit man runs down a 10 year old girl after befriending her and giving her some gum.
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Richard Rust, Psycho Killer with Cliff Robertson
It seems her bookkeeper father has disappeared with some sensitive information about “Mr. Big”. Robert Emhardt the large guy with the snide attitude is great as the Big Boss, after Cliff (Tolly) sets up one goon, Richard Rust the happy hitman douses the poor slob with gas and lights him up. Emhardt is watching from the back seat of his his ’60 Caddy , he leans forward with a cigarette, “Gimme a light.” he orders.

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Last One In Is A Rotten Egg!
This film is great, it really demonstrates how to make a lot out of a little, something Fuller was a master of. It inspired many filmmakers and is chock full of great ideas executed with style and power. Check it out.

Poorman’s Process

Written by Joe D on May 18th, 2008

Here’s a little behind the scenes footage that demonstrates how we did our poorman’s process shot in my film One Night With You. Joe Montgomery met a couple of old time Hollywood Cameramen and learned a lot of the techniques perfected during the film noir days. This is one of them. You get to see the set up and then the final scene. Check it out!

Night And The City at The American Cinematheque

Written by Joe D on April 25th, 2008

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What a pleasure to see this great film projected in glorious 35mm B&W! One of the most beautiful noirs of all time splashed across the silver screen, Richard Widmark running like a cornered rat in a checkered suit through the alleys and back streets, under the bridges, along the waterfront, through the dives, the clip joints, the crooked nooks and crannies of London’s underbelly. Beautiful! Some of the coolest locations, so atmospheric, fog, magic hour photography, this film is a textbook of urban atmosphere.

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Julie Dassin- Master of Cinematic Atmosphere

The noir guy (Alan K. Rode) gave a spiel at the beginning of the show, he spoke about Dassin’s uneasy relationship with Hollywood and how he formed a love/hate alliance with Darryl Zanuck. This film was produced by 20th Century Fox under Zanuck’s aegis. Mr. Z shipped Dassin off to London to escape the Commie witchhunts then igniting in Hollywood. Darryl also persuaded Dassin to put Gene Tierney in the film so she could get away from an exploding marriage and have something to do to occupy her mind. Zanuck told Dassin to write her into the script and he did, it’s pretty obvious, after a stellar opening of Widmark being chased through the seamy streets of London, he makes it home to a long dialouge scene with Tierney, not a great 2nd scene, obviously inserted to give Tierney a part.
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Widmark and Tierney- tacked on love interest
I’m sure in the original script Widmark’s love interest was the fat club owner’s chick Helen, who he screws royally.
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Widmark and Googie Withers aka Helen- original love object?

Also Hugh Marlow was tacked on as Gene Tierney’s other love interest, the patient good guy neighbor, waiting for Widmark to dump her so he can be there in the wings, rush out and pull her off the railroad tracks or whatever. His character Really does not belong in this movie. But forget all this fol de rol, this is a great movie! The wrestler Gregorius and Mike Mazurki have an epic battle that is unique in all of Cinema! It’s terrific!
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Battle Royale- Gregorious (Stanislaus Zbyszko) Vs. Mike Mazurki!
And you can feel the noose inexorably tightening about Widmark’s neck, no matter what mad desperate genius scheme he comes up with, and he comes up with some brilliant twists and turns to avoid destruction. Probably one of the best hustlers ever to hit the screen! He makes Sidney Falco look like a chump! There is a montage of the word spreading across London ” Get Widmark! Big Reward!” that is pure cinematic bliss, locations, action, characters, genius. Like something out of Dickens or a scene from Fritz Lang’s “M”. Beautiful! Watching this film I was reminded of Mike Hodges “Get Carter” an English noir from 1971. I wonder if Mr. Hodges is a fan of Night and The City? Hats Off to The American Cinematheque for showing this masterpiece in all it’s silver nitrate glory! There was a big crowd on another Thursday night in Hollywood, the Center Of The Noir Universe!