Archive | Noir

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Posted on 09 June 2009 by Rich Drees

doubleindemnitychandler1Author Raymond Chandler’s impact on detective fiction is greater than just his seven groundbreaking novels and the films that were made from them. Chandler also briefly worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood, teaming with director Billy Wilder to hammer James Cain’s novel Double Indemnity into the film noir classic it is known as today.

By all accounts, the two did not get along at all. It was in Mid-May, 1943 when Chandler was asked to come in to meet with Wilder about working on adapting Cain’s novel. Wilder was impressed with Chandler’s keen ear for dialogue, but that turned out to be all that he was impressed with. Chandler wasn’t much taken with Wilder’s demeanor either.The novelist found himself ill at ease once he was submerged in the film factory culture. He didn’t like to be flattered and he had little tolerance for pretension, the twin coins of the realm in Hollywood.

After working on a first draft of the script for five weeks, Chandler handed it in to Wilder who read it and then literally threw it back at the author, saying that it was no good. Wilder insisted that the two hole-up in an office and work on the script together. Chandler had never written in collaboration with anyone and found it a rough process. At one point, he refused to come to work until Wilder apologized for a long list of grievances.

Whatever personality clashes the two may have had, Wilder knew enough to keep Chandler around once filming began, giving Chandler final approval over any dialogue changes. Chandler reportedly was on set every day, silently observing the proceedings from the sidelines. And once, as we now know, from in front of the camera.

doubleindemnitychandler2It strikes me as strange that Chandler, who was famously reclusive and publicity-shy, would acquiesce to a brief on screen cameo. But there he is, approximately 16 minutes into the film, sitting in the hallway of the company Fred MacMurray’s insurance salesman Walter Neff works for, looking up from a paperback as Neff passes by.

Amazingly, there is no record of either Wilder or Chandler ever mentioning the cameo. Did it come about during a rare moment when the two were feeling more amicable than adversarial with each other? Did Wilder strong-arm Chandler into it? Unless someone discovers some previously unknown journal or correspondence from either party, we will probably never know.

Even more amazing is that it has taken this long to for someone to recognize Chandler in the scene. In this day when digital technology has allowed for every frame of a film to be scrutinized, it seems that something this obvious would have been detected already. It wasn’t until earlier this year, when two different bloggers, pointed out the author’s brief appearance.

Chandler would go on to fictionalize his impressions of the movie business in his 1949 novel, The Little Sister. There’s a Hollywood agent who paces in his office waving a Malaca cane, something that Wilder had done to Chandler’s annoyance during their collaboration. For his part, Wilder’s next film was The Lost Weekend, which some have suggested may have been the director’s attempt to understand the alcholism that Chandler fell into during his time as a screenwriter.

Via The Guardian.

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Maxine Cooper, KISS ME DEADLY’s Velda, Has Died

Posted on 19 April 2009 by Rich Drees

maxinecooperMaxine Cooper, the actress who played Mike Hammer’s trusted secretary Velda in director Robert Aldrich’s classic 1955 film noir Kiss Me Deadly, has died in Los Angeles, CA. She was 84.

Cooper, who went by her married name of Maxine Gomberg, passed away on April 4th, according to her family.

Cooper made her screen debut in Aldrich’s film, playing the secretary to Ralph Meeker’s tough-guy private eye. Aldrich cast Cooper in the role after seeing her in a Los Angeles stage production of the play Peer Gynt.

In Kiss Me Deadly, Meeker’s two-fisted detective Mike Hammer attempts to unravel a mystery involving a hitchhiker (Cloris Leechman, also making her film debut) he picks up one evening but is killed shortly afterwards. His investigations lead to a dark conspiracy involving atomic weapons secrets.

Kiss Me DeadlyShortly after the film’s initial release, the ending of the film was crudely edited, possibly at the studio’s direction, to make it seem as if Hammer and Velda in the climactic explosion of a beach house rather than escaping to the nearby surf. This ending became the one predominantly seen for several decades until the detective work of film historian Glenn Erickson, who tracked down and so the restoration of Aldrich’s original ending. (You can read Erickson’s story here.)

Cooper would appear in only two other films – Autumn Leaves (1956), also directed by Aldrich, and Zero Hour! (1957), which was the basis for the spoof classic Airplane ! (1980) – before concentrating her career in television.

Shortly after appearing in Aldrich’s Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, Cooper retired from show business to concentrate on raising her family with husband writer/producer Sy Gomberg. She also helped to organize actors and studio executives’ participation in Dr. Martin Luther King’s civil rights marches and Vietnam War protests.

Via LA Times.

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DETOUR’s Femme Fatale Ann Savage Has Passed Away

Posted on 28 December 2008 by Rich Drees

annsavageAnn Savage, best known for role as the femme fatale in the 1945 film noir classic Detour, has passed away on Christmas Day. She was 87.

Savage died in her sleep from complications following a series of strokes.

Born Bernice Maxine Lyon in Columbia, South Carolina on February 19, 1921, Savage’s father passed away when she was four. Moving with her mother to Los Angeles with her mother when hse was 10, she caught the acting bug wand started appearing in local theater productions. It was during a workshop production of Golden Boy that the then 22-year old Savage attracted the attention of a studio talent scout.

Upon being hired by Columbia Pictures, Savage was put into roles in a variety of b-pictures starting with One Dangerous Night (1943), an installment in the studio’s “Lone Wolf” detective series. She also made appearances in After Midnight With Boston Blackie (1943) and in comedies such as Two Senoritas From Chicago, Dangerous Blondes and Footlight Glamour (all 1943).

Savage played tough women in the noirs The Unwritten Code (1944),  Apology For Murder (1945) and The Last Crooked Mile (1946).

But it was in 1945 when director Edgar G. Ulmer cast Savage as the cigarette-smoking Vera in Detour that she found the role for which she would be best remembered. In the film she memorably bullies tough guy musician Al Roberts (Tom Neal) into doing her bidding. When the film slipped into public domain and began airing on television, it soon sparked a critical reappraisal of the film. In 1992, Detour would become the first film noir to be named to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. Detour also marked Savage’s fourth co-starring role opposite Neal- the three previous pairings being in Klondike Kate (1943), Two Man Submarine (1944) and The Unwritten Code.

Heading into the 1950s, Savage took only sporadic jobs, mostly in television. Last year, she made her final film appearance in Canadian director Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg.

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Geek Gear: BLADE RUNNER Light Up Umbrella

Posted on 23 October 2008 by Rich Drees

Geek Gear- Something so absolutely geeky you have no choice but to acquire one as quickly as possible.

Stuck in a neo-noir future Los Angeles with no hope of a new life on the Off World Colonies? Hunting down wayward Replicants through the dismal, continual rain? Then you’ll need yourself one of these LED Umbrellasfrom the folks at Think Geek. Available in either black or red, the umbrella runs on three AAA batteries and will light your way through the torrential downpour as you go about your business like a good background extra in Ridley Scott’s groundbreaking film.

Geek Gear is a new, semi-regular feature spotlighting cool stuff you know you want to have. It is merely a coincidence that we kick this feature off so close to the beginning of the holiday shopping season. (hint, hint…) Thanks to regular FilmBuff reader Jim A. for submitting our inaugural item.

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Required Viewing: TCM Celebrating 80 Years of RKO

Posted on 01 October 2008 by John Gibbon

Beauty may have killed the beast, but it did not silence “The Transmitter”. In fact, RKO Pictures became one of the most famous picture-makers during Hollywood’s Golden Age. RKO formed in 1928 after a successful merger was engineered in order to create a credible market for sound pictures. Warner Bros. might have been credited for pioneering sound technology, but the men at RKO were sure they could muster up some quality films. Little did they know they’d create two of the greatest films in cinematic history.

This year RKO Pictures is celebrating its 80th anniversary and every Wednesday in the month of October Turner Classic Movies will be showcasing the films made famous by the revered studio. Little known films like King Kong (1933) and Citizen Kane (1941) can be seen alongside 1939’s Gunga Din and Hitchcock’s classic 1946 thriller, Notorious (1946).

Movie lovers will also have the opportunity to catch five of the six “lost” pre-code RKO pictures TCM acquired the copyright to in 2006 – the uncensored version of Double Harness (1933), with William Powell and Ann Harding; Rafter Romance (1933),  a light comedy with Ginger Rogers; One Man’s Journey (1933), a brisk drama starring Lionel Barrymore and Joel McCrea; the William Wellman directed Stingaree (1934), a whimsical Western adventure musical with Irene Dunne (in her first major singing role) and the handsome Richard Dix; and A Man to Remember (1938), with Anne Shirley – and all films will be presented fully restored on new 35mm prints.

You can check TCM’s schedule here for more information and showtimes.
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Posted on 13 April 2008 by Rich Drees

blackwidowdvdMaking a welcome return to shelves recently after a far too long absence is Fox’s Film Noir DVD line in the form of Black Widow (1954), Daisy Kenyon (1947) and Dangerous Crossing (1953). While I don’t claim to know what has kept new installments in this series from coming our way, I certainly hope that whatever the reasons, they have been resolved. Though the three are perhaps not the strongest noirs Fox still has in their library, each of these films make for a good evening’s entertainment.

As one of Fox’s first handful of films to be produced in CinemaScope, Black Widow may seem like an odd choice for inclusion in a noir series, but that doesn’t stop it from being a pretty engaging mystery nonetheless. (Richard Fleischer’s Violent Saturday (1955) with Victor Mature, a young Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine as an Amish farmer (!) might be a better choice if they were looking for a CinemaScope noir.) Set in the catty world of Broadway’s backstages, Peter Denver (Van Heflin) is a married Broadway producer who takes young writer Nanny Ordway (Peggy Ann Garner) under his wing, loaning her his apartment during the day as a quiet haven from which to work. Needless to say, Peter’s friends in the theater world read far more into the arrangement than is there and aren’t shy about mentioning their suspicions to Peter’s wife Iris (Gene Tierney). When Nanny is found dead Peter’s bathroom, an apparent suicide, gossip soon spreads resulting in the arrival of a grizzled homicide detective in the form of George Raft.

The widescreen and color of Black Widow’s photography may not automatically suggest noir, but it is a good-looking movie nevertheless. The plot could be described as “All About Eve with a corpse,” though that would be selling the film short. The relationships between the characters are well-defined by the script and well-played by the cast. The mystery itself is well constructed and contains some good twists, turns and surprises for viewers.

Daisy Kenyon DVDA strange mix of noir and melodrama, Daisey Kenyon manages to keep from becoming a complete mixed up mess through the strength of its director Otto Preminger. There’s no crime and betrayal (outside of a little marital infidelity) as expected in a noir film, but the characters are definitely psychologically damaged enough to qualify as noir-ish.

Joan Crawford stars in the title role as a woman torn between two loves- the married Dana Andrews and war veteran Henry Fonda. Andrews won’t leave his wife and Crawford finds that she can not return Fonda’s affections for her. She decides to marry Fonda for the security, but then discovers that Andrews has indeed left his wife.

dangerouscrossingdvdDangerous Crossing presents an interesting twist on a locked room mystery, by transposing the location of the story to a trans-Atlantic ocean liner. (It’s also a movie I have wanted to see ever since I picked up a complete lobby card set for the film inexpensively off of eBay a few years back.) Jeanne Craine is a newly married woman setting of an ocean voyage Honeymoon with husband Carl Betz. No sooner than the boat gets underway does she realize that he has disappeared. When she tries to report this to the captain, she is informed that he was never on the passenger list. With the crew starting to question her sanity, Craine goes about to prove that he was on the boat and that he does exist, with the help of the ship’s doctor, Michael Rennie.

The film’s screenplay sets out plenty of red herrings that manage to keep the audience guessing what will happen next most of the time. Craine gives a sterling performance and Rennie provides some solid work as well, keeping the film from spiraling down into hammy melodrama. Fox’s habit of reusing sets serves the production well, as this film reuses what the studio built for 1953‘s Titanic. (And if you want to see how the sets look in color, check out their appearance in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.)

The film only stumbles about midway through when Craine starts narrating in voiceover. It’s a device that comes from out of the blue. It feels like a sloppy way of trying to convey some important information to the audience about Craine’s state of mind and the scriptwriter couldn’t find a way to have another character be around for her to talk to.

All three discs come loaded with the extras one comes to expect from Fox’s Noir line. There are knowledgeable commentary tracks on all three films and Black Widow and Dangerous Crossing both have isolated scores. Interactive press books, original trailers and some behind the scenes featurettes round out each package. The transfers are all pretty good, with the worst of the three, Daisy Kenyon, suffering only slightly.

(And now that you’ve revived your Fox Noir line, how about finally releasing Boomerang (1947), which you guys pulled from release at the last second back in June 2006?)

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A Look Back At The Black Dahlia Murder

Posted on 05 September 2006 by Rich Drees

Although the upcoming film The Black Dahlia is being touted as based on the novel by James Ellroy, the writer of LA Confidential, Ellroy actually based his book on the 1947 Los Angeles murder of aspiring actress Elizabeth Short. The book supplies fictional closure to a murder that remains unsolved to this day. The case was a headline generator for months after the discovery of the aspiring actress’ mutilated corpse on January 15, 1947. The Los Angeles police investigated numerous suspects from doctors to various employees and owners of some of the nightclubs Short was known to have frequented. Even Folksinger Woody Guthrie was briefly investigated by the LAPD.

But in anticipation of renewed interest in the case thanks to Brian DePalma’s movie, which opens on September 15, the Los Angeles Times set up a special website with over 80 articles relating to the murder ranging from 1947 all the way to 1983.

You can read it all here.

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