Thursday, August 31, 2006

Glenn Ford dies at 90

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Talking about Gilda:

"I think 'Gilda' remains so popular because people realize that it's a true story - that Rita and I were very much in love. And we remained terribly fond of one another. I guess that electricity came across on screen. I don't know. I really was in love with Rita."

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Temp (1993)

Posted by OX

Peter Derns (Timothy Hutton) is a thirtyish executive in a baking company who has several assets and several handicaps. He is good at his job and is very much in contention for advancement, but also is separated from his wife Sharon (Maura Tierney) and son and is under treatment for paranoia and jealousy, which was the cause for the separation. At work he has a male secretary who is about to become a father.
The phone rings. The secretary's wife is in labor and he's off for an extended period of Family Leave. A very important report by Peters Derns is due at noon the next day, and he's minus a typist! So he will spend that evening in his rented house working on the report in the vain hope that he'll find someone to type it the next morning.

When he arrives at work, a pleasant surprise! An excellent pair of legs is attached to a Temp the agency has sent named Kris Bolin (Lara Flynn Boyle), who is highly efficient, very skillful at her job, and not in the slightest afraid of hard work. That she's also VERY easy on the eyes and has a "to-die-for" figure and legs is just icing on the cake. She takes charge immediately and finishes the report just in time to keep Derns' chances for advancement right up there with those of Jack Hartsell (Oliver Platt), his main competition.

Charlene Towne (Faye Dunaway, in a role somewhat reminiscent of her ambitious character in "Network") is their boss, playing a rather demanding yet somewhat charming woman who is a tough boss. She's sort of playing off Dern against Hartsell for her own professional benefit. The company has been acquired by a larger firm in New York, and her own advancement/survival is at stake here!

Kris Bolin proves to be an ambitious, hard-working, and extremely productive secretary who would like to become a permanent employee and advance into management. She is manipulative, yet affectionate in spite of her "husband and daughter," who lurk in the background, never to be seen. She'd like to woo Peter Derns away from the wife and son with whom he's trying desperately to become reunited. Kris' devotion to Peter includes the desire to help him advance professionally. (Which, of course, opens up permanent management jobs that she could fill!) Derns flippantly and jokingly answers her question about what she can do to help him with "Ice Jack Hartsell!" Hartsell will be only one of about a half-dozen characters who will (temporarily) stand in the way of the advancement of both Peter Derns and especially Kris Bolin!

Peter Derns has unfortunately underestimated the lengths to which Kris Bolin will go to advance both of them.

And that's as far as I'm going to go, because then we'll get into Spoilers!

Hutton handles his role well, and Boyle (IMO) steals the show!

Other faces you will recognize from TV include Dwight Schultz (H. M. Murdock from "The A-Team") as executive Roger Jasser, and Steven Weber (from "The D. A.") as competitor Brad Monroe. (BTW, to me the facial resemblance of Weber to Hutton is very pronounced.)

Now, this is a 1993 movie, filmed in color, so I turned my TV's color controls down to where I could view it in a more Noir perspective. The use of black & white camera techniques is there, and effective use is made of light vs. darkness. The music is used effectively, and has a Noirish taste to it.

I ran it up against the Noirmetrics scale and came out with 113 points of a possible 200. (Make that 123 of 200 if you watch it in B&W!)

This is a borderline Noir that incorporates some Noir attributes while not itself pretending to be a Noir. But it's surprisingly dark, and at least to me a very engaging film that's a lot of fun.

Please give it a watch! But watch it in "artificial" (TV color control) B&W at least once.....

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Whistler (1944)

This week’s NOTW is The Whistler. The film, the first in the series of eight, stars Richard Dix. Dix, who was the lead in all but the last Whistler movie, had great success as a silent film star in the 20s. The large, chiseled-faced actor’s most successful film was actually a sound film, the great western Cimarron (1931). Dix continued to act for years after that award-winning film, but never reached the success of his silent days. Dix knocked out a bunch of B-movies through the 30s and 40s until his death in 1949. Most of the films during the end of his career were unmemorable except for the highly entertaining Whistler films, based on the radio series.

In addition to featuring Dix, the film was directed by Hollywood icon, William Castle years before becoming the schlock film producer he’s known as today. Castle was considered a promising film director at the time. After his first directorial effort (1943’s The Chance of a Lifetime - a Boston Blackie mystery) failed at the box office due in part to horrible reviews, Castle was shocked to find out that he was handed another film to direct. In order to show his critics wrong, Castle pulled out all the stops directing The Whistler. With a “huge” budget of $75,000, Castle was desperate to make the movie a success.
In Castle’s autobiography he writes "I tried every effect I could dream up to create a mood of terror". He utilized everything, including "low-key lighting, wide-angle lenses to give an eerie feeling and a hand-held camera in many of the important scenes to give a sense of reality to the horror."

In addition to that, Castle had to work with Richard Dix. He insisted the actor go on a diet and quit smoking during filming. Dix, usually very stiff, ended up pulling off an excellent performance possibly due to the director’s orders. Dix looks totally unhinged throughout the entire film. "(Dix) was constantly off-center, restless, fidgety, and nervous as a cat. When I finally used him in a scene, I’d make him do it over and over again until he was ready to explode. It achieved the desired effect - that of a man haunted by fear and trying to keep from being murdered."

The film draws you in right from the beginning. Check out the opening scene. The uncredited "Whistler" narrator from the 40s radio show begins it with his usual creepy opening dialog over shadowy street scene until the camera finally settles on Dix in a diner waiting for a man. Dix then hires the man to kill someone. Later we find out that Dix wants to kill himself and that he has hired a professional to do it for him. Despondent over the death of his wife a few years before, the man finally has lost his mind and wants to die.

Without giving away too much of the story (wait until you find out what happened to his wife!), I can tell you Dix eventually decides that he doesn’t want to die and goes on the run trying to avoid hitman J. Carrol Naish.

The film is high unusual. The narrator actually saves Dix from being killed a couple of times by whistling. Although the film doesn’t have the usual twist ending that makes the Whistler radio series so memorable, it is faithful to it. This is a B-movie all the way, and it only runs 59 minutes. However, it’s an original and highly entertaining hour.

Castle went on to direct an even better Whistler, The Mark of the Whistler released later that year co-starring Janis Carter. In addition to the Whistler films, he also turned out two other excellent noir - When Strangers Marry and Johnny Stool Pigeon.

Dix, meanwhile, alternated playing villain or victim in seven of the Whistler films.

(I should mention that I got some if this information from a great review of this film at the TCM website. I also reference The New Biographical Dictionary of Filmand Death on the Cheap: The Lost B Movies of Film Noir)

Written by Steve-O

Monday, August 14, 2006

Niagara (1953)

More icing than cake, Henry Hathaway's vivid postcard-noir 'Niagara' does manage to impress as both rising-star showcase for a breathtaking, 26 year old Marilyn Monroe - and as an engrossing, if underwritten, Technicolor thriller that while not entirely respectable - remains highly enjoyable.

Arriving at the falls for a long-delayed honeymoon, buoyant Polly and Ray Cutler (Casey Adams, Jean Peters) cross paths with fellow travellers George and Rose Loomis (Joseph Cotten, Marilyn Monroe) - a May/December couple on the other end of their marriage who, with their public displays of friction, seem dead set on giving the titular spectacle some competition.

Like spectators at a fiery race-track smash-up, there isn't a whole hell of a lot the Cutlers can do to extinguish the home-fires burning in cabin 'B', especially when it's occupants are regularly adding fuel. A platinum-blonde supernova of sexuality, Rose has tired of her aging veteran - and enlists her hunky young secret lover to murder the surly cuckold. But the plan to eliminate George and make it look like a suicide or disappearance backfires when during the offscreen surprise attack George holds his ground, and then some.


Having kicked into full noir gear, 'Niagara' then undergoes a precipitous darkening, as the Cutler (sub)plot recedes into the background and the viewer is rewarded with several dark treats - including a character's heart-stopping moment of clarity during a morgue corpse-identification; another's desperate plea to be allowed an illicit identity swap; and a bravura murder set-piece that echoes Hitchcock's distinctive stylishness.

Despite this strong, twisty mid-section - the film is saddled with a superfluous and damaging final act which, rather than building to a crescendo, oddly drains the story of any accumulated tension.

Drenched in metaphor, 'Niagara's threadbare plot is somewhat fortified by the obvious device that is the Cutlers - who represent the more happy and stable mid-20th century couple (despite the occasional awkward moment wherein they admire Rose's, er, assets). Ray, a soggy flake of a breakfast cereal executive, and Polly his attractive and good-hearted wife, get quite a bit more than they bargained for on this particular honeymoon - and it's fun to see the drama unfold from their ringside seats. Adams, (who wasn't giving Brando any sleepless nights) does what he's asked I suppose, but his grating, two-dimensional performance distracts - and you almost wish that his infinitely more likeable wife would take up with a secret lover herself.

The usually reliable Peters doesn't disappoint though, and it occurred to me that a plotline featuring her character as a single 'Nancy Drew'-ish type becoming entangled in the Loomis' domestic mess might've been taken more seriously - and given the film the noir edge it often lacks. Peter's Polly makes a connection with George, albeit more out of empathy and pity than attraction - and she does make a fine 'good girl' in the 'good girl'/'bad girl' dynamic present. Making the most of his sketchy role, Cotten is occasionally riveting in what could have been an invisible turn. His bitter George is an unstable, pain-racked dupe who alternately elicits fear and sympathy.

Finally there is Monroe's Rose, a Technicolor siren who singes the screen as few others could. Her character's introduction/development happens in record time - a single wide shot of her laying in bed, apparently nude, legs askew. More a symbol than a flesh and blood dame, Rose embodies all that men desire but can never fully control - which makes George's psychosis understandable, logical, inevitable. One standout sequence (and a personal fave) begins with Rose exiting her cabin in a form-fitting dress that doesn't seem to have been put on so much as ignited. Partying with fellow vacationers, she asks that her favorite record be played - and sings along with it when it is. George, watching through their cabin's blinds, recognizes the song as the one that reminds Rose of another man. Bolting out to crush the disc, the least of George's concerns is public humiliation - but it should be, as an embarrassing display will ultimately strengthen the theory that he took his own life or vanished. Madness by design.

'Niagara' may not be essential viewing for the noir enthusiast (if The Big Sleep and Double Indemnity are leather-bound classics - 'Niagara' is a beach paperback), but Hathaway and lenser Joe McDonald did craft a handsome and entertaining adult thriller that foregrounds human ugliness against a mesmerizing natural backdrop - paralleling their respective powers.

Deeply flawed but undeniably fun, 'Niagara's scenic wonders and pulpy, sex-charged plot help distinguish it as a colorful standout from the classic era.

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Written by Dave

Monday, August 07, 2006

Black Angel (1946)

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Posted by Paul M

Black Angel is a 1946 B-Noir, directed by Roy William Neill and based on a Cornell Woolrich novel. Woolrich apparently disliked the film, and the script veers quite a bit from the novel, save the atmospheric twist ending. While it is not among the very greatest noirs, it comes smack in the middle of the classic 40's cycle and so doesn't present the rehashed feel that some early 50s noirs do, for me anyway. I must say I like the 40's noirs the best, as they are visually more stylish: more shadows, hulking cars, more walk-up tenements. Black Angel is not very stylized in this way, however; cinematographer Paul Ivano does a competent job, and there are several close-ups, especially of Dan Duryea while drunk or hallucinating that are very well done. In my opinion, the payoff of an evening spent watching Black Angel has to be the ensemble cast.

Martin Blair (Dan Duryea) and Catherine Bennett (June Vincent) team up to solve the murder of Martin's ex-wife, Mavis Marlowe (now there's a noir name!) who as our token chanteuse fatale gets one bitchy scene and is then summarily dispatched in the name of plot establishment. It turns out that Catherine's husband, Kirk Bennett (a forgettable-and-downtrodden John Phillips), was having an affair with Mavis and was seen entering her apartment just before her death. Martin, an alcoholic piano player who wants Mavis back... or let's just say, he can't get her out of his mind, also makes an appearance at her building the same night. When the cops haul Kirk off to death row for Mavis' murder, Catherine tracks down Martin, suspecting he knows something, and the countdown is on to find the real killer before our pathetic adulterer Kirk gets the chair.

Martin doesn't remember a thing about the night of Mavis' murder, and his alibi is that he was unconscious in bed, sleeping one off after after getting booted from Mavis' building by the doorman. He agrees to help Catherine track down a brooch he gave to Mavis and which is conspicuously absent from her apartment. They reason that if they find the brooch, they find the killer. Since Mavis was last employed at Rio's, a nightclub run by sleazy Marko (Peter Lorre), they go undercover as a musical pair and get hired to headline at Marko's joint. But as the deathrow deadline approaches, their leads pan out after a surprising confrontation with Marko and then Martin begins to remember what happened during his bender the night Mavis was killed...

The best thing about Black Angel is undoubtedly Dan Duryea. He plays against type as an ill-fated and very sympathetic piano-playing drunk. His flophouse associates all mother him through his drunken stupors. Duryea in 1946 was already well known as an on-screen misogynist due to his sinister turns in Fritz Lang's films The Woman In The Window and Scarlet Street. As Fast Eddie points out in his excellent book Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir,promotional material for the film even emphasized the point that (surprise!) Dan doesn't lay a finger on June Vincent.

Vincent for her part starts out slow and not very interesting but gets better by the minute. You can play this game: watch how her outfits change throughout the film. In the beginning, she's a homely housewife defending her cad husband. She wears a houndstooth two-piece suit through much of the first half of the film that recalls the bad fashion in The Big Sleep that necessitated a Bacall re-shoot. Once the Marko club gig is on, however, she's all ball gowns and silk, and her acting seems to improve as well. The highlight for me: her first confrontation with Peter Lorre, when he invites her to his office, ostensibly to gift her a brooch as reward for the good publicity brought the club by her headline act. Terrified that he might be onto her, and with tears in her eyes matched only by the glitter of her copious jewelry, the scene ends as Lorre's Marko pulls out a bottle of champagne saved just for a "special occasion" and we are left with the lingering suggestion of sex to come.

Other curiosities: Broderick Crawford stars here as Captain Flood, an extremely laid-back police detective who is willing to check up on Catherine and Martin's leads -- but not much, and his dry humor is entertaining. Freddie Steele as Marko's dim-witted thug manager Lucky is hilarious too. The early-to-dead Mavis was played by Constance Dowling, whose real life was more noir than this film: she had a much-publicized relationship with Cesare Pavese, who committed suicide after she dumped him. Her only other noir appearances are in Blind Spot & The Flame. Even director Neill didn't escape noir tragedy, as he died of a heart attack just after finishing this film and retiring to England, just 59 years old.

And finally, here's my four-word film review: "Broach subject, croons June."

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