Monday, July 04, 2011

The Girl on the Late, Late Show (1974)


Sunset Blvd. meets Citizen Kane meets Laura, with a strong dose of In a Lonely Place,” says film noir aficionado Don Malcolm about The Girl on the Late, Late Show. And he's not wrong.

This interesting TV movie from 1974 not only combines elements of the movies mentioned above but it adds movie actors from that same era. The movie - actually an early 70s TV pilot for a Don Murray - follows Murray as an early-morning show TV producer who decides to track down a forgotten 50's movie star - Carolyn Parker (Gloria Grahame. The character is misnamed Carolyn Porter at IMDB). The gimmick is, after a movie airs late at night, the star of the film is then seen on William Martin's early-morning news show. The mystery of Carolyn Parker leads Martin to Hollywood and then to San Francisco looking for the blonde. The film follows a Citizen Kane-like investigation - Martin tracks down and interviews friends and faded Hollywood cogs that knew the actress. The mystery gets darker and darker. Some of the folks Murray tracks down are killed. He's even run off the road in a Duel-like car joust.

Gloria Grahame haunts the film. First in actual movie clips from two of the best film noirs: In a Lonely Place (with Bogart) and Human Desire (co-starring Glenn Ford and Broderick Crawford). Grahame is shown to be Carolyn Parker but Gloria's films are highlighted. Later, the actress - who's real life is as mysterious and nearly as tragic - shows up. Pushing 50, Grahame is still gorgeous and youthful. Although only briefly seen, she's the main focus in The Girl on the Late, Late Show. But there are plenty of other familiar faces from 40s and 50s noir. Not all come across as well as Grahame does.


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Ralph Meeker
is currently being rediscovered by a new generation of film noir buffs after Criterion's Blue Ray release of Kiss Me Deadly. Years after Mike Hammer ended the world, Meeker saw a successful run as a supporting actor. Gruff cops was his specialty. The world-weary cop role he plays in this is a carbon copy of his parts in (another TV pilot) The Night Stalker, Brannigan, and the under-rated Sean Connery/Sidney Lumet caper The Anderson Tapes. Gone are Meeker's movie-idol good looks (like in Jeopardy with Barbara Stanwyck) but these kind of parts kept him working throughout the 70s. Joe Santos is also in familiar flat-footed shoes. The same year, Santos would play Sgt. Becker in the long running (and for at least the first season neo-noir tinged) Rockford Files.

Van Johnston didn't have much of a noir presence in the classic period - Scene of the Crime and Slander come to mind. But he was a big star. That was enough to get him in this movie - playing himself. A charming but plastic movie star from the past.

Coming across much better is (special guest star) Walter Pidgeon playing a former director great interested in getting his story out on Martin's early-morning show. For those keeping score, Pidgeon noirs include The Sellout and The Unknown Man. His best noir may be a little out of the category. Fritz Lang's Man Hunt from 1941 is fantastic. 60-year-old John Ireland plays a muscle out to beat the brains out of Martin's nosy head. Ireland has a amazing amount of movie credits and his film noir credits are almost as impressive. Ireland - not a household name even by noir buffs- managed to appear in over 200 TV shows and movies in his life. Behind Green Lights, Railroaded!, The Gangster, I Love Trouble, Open Secret, Raw Deal, Mr. Soft Touch, The Scarf, and The Good Die Young (also with Grahame) should keep any film noir completest busy. Look for him in Mitchum's take on Phillip Marlowe in Farewell, My Lovely released a year after this.

Yvonne De Carlo is the only other femme fatale from the past besides Grahame. Unfortunately, that 70s over makeup and clothes only reminded me of Lily Munster. Gone were her sexy rumba ways in Criss Cross.

But back to the movie. I find it strange that a movie could get so nostalgic for films that were only 25 or 30 years old. That would like today waxing nostalgic about Moonstruck or No Way Out. Maybe because movies made huge technical strides from 1950 to '74. B-movies weren't shot in black and white. Violence and nudity could be seen (and commented on by Walter Pidgeon in the film). Whatever it is it works. The film ends up being a time capsule to be rediscovered today.

The film is a treat. Slick voice-overs while Martin drives the dark streets of LA and San Francisco - along with the giant cars and wider ties - is something to experience. Fans of 70s TV are probably just as trilled to see Mary Ann Mobley, Sherry Jackson (who still does the Star Trek autograph circuit), horror king Cameron Mitchell and Aqua Velva-splashed Bert Convy as I was to see the noir actors. TV actress (and wife of the film's producer) Laraine Stephens plays producer Martin's girlfriend - not much of a stretch there. While Martin isn't bedding sleepy, sex-craved beauties (even woman driving by him are trying to pick him up!) he's phoning her back in New York to tell her about the case. She seems to always be wearing a sexy night gown in an impossibly large NYC apartment. Murray as Martin doesn't let corniness like this affect an overall exceptional performance. And this would have been a fun TV series for Murray. I imagine they wouldn't have had a hard time tracking down actors from the 50s to appear regularly on a series. Looking back at Columbo and Quincy it's clear that these former stars still enjoyed working - even if it was TV.

The film is more meta than this year's LA Noire, and like the game it doesn't hurt it. Don Murray, Gloria Grahame and an ending that's a real heart breaker overcomes the 70s TV feel. This film isn't easy to track down and I suspect we'll never see this one released on an official DVD. The film is a must see for noir fans... even if it's as elusive as Carolyn Parker.



Written by Steve-O

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a lot of fun! I like the nostalgia inherent in the title. Putting it on the list of things to track down.

    ReplyDelete

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