Now in its 13th year, the program features several new prints preserved by the foundation and the UCLA Film & Television Archive.The series is hosted by the foundation’s Eddie J. Muller and Alan K. Rode. For more info, visit: https://bit.ly/ebV4uM.
There is much to see at this year’s fest (28 films total) and top on my viewing list are:
“High Wall” (1947, Curtis Bernhardt)
“The Hunted” (1948, Jack Bernhard)
“The Two Mrs. Carrolls” (1947, Peter Godfrey) and “The Dark Mirror” (1948, Robert Siodmak)
“Journey into Fear” (1943, Orson Welles)
“Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” (1950, Gordon Douglas)
“A Woman’s Secret” (1949, Nicholas Ray)
“Caught” (1949, Max Ophuls)
“Framed” (1947, Richard Wallace)
“Gaslight” (1944, George Cukor) and “My Name is Julia Ross” (1945, Joseph H. Lewis)
One way ticket to Noirville: Viewers of HBO’s “Mildred Pierce,” directed by Todd Haynes, may be interested to know about a bus tour of the Los Angeles venues that inspired James M. Cain, author of the novel on which the series and the 1945 film were based. Read Sean Macaulay’s story at: https://bit.ly/enRyfV.
London anyone? According to Playbill: “London’s Arts Theatre has announced details of its summer program, which will include the world premiere of AntonBurg’s Bette & Joan, which will star Greta Scaachi and Anita Dobson in the title roles of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, respectively.” Read more at: https://bit.ly/f8kghH.
“The Asphalt Jungle” from 1950 by director John Huston is rightly considered a masterpiece. Excellent storytelling and an outstanding cast, including Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Sam Jaffe, Jean Hagen and Marilyn Monroe, have helped it stand the test of time.
But its stark, unwavering realism is not for everyone. Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM, where Huston made the movie, had this to say about the flick: “That ‘Asphalt Pavement’ thing is full of nasty, ugly people doing nasty things. I wouldn’t walk across the room to see a thing like that.”
Um, did he not see luminous and fragile Monroe as mistress Angela Phinlay? Huston portrays a gang of thieves as flawed humans trying to make a living. “We all work for our vice,” explains menschlike mastermind Doc Erwin Riedenschneider (Jaffe). Recently released from jail, Doc has planned every detail of a $1 million jewel robbery and seeks to round up the best craftsmen he can find for one last heist.
A fat wallet means Doc can head to Mexico and court all the nubile girls he can handle. Dix Handley (Hayden), a tough guy with swagger to spare, hopes to pay his debts and return to his beloved horses in Kentucky. Getaway driver Gus Minissi (James Whitmore) is sick of running his dingy diner. Bookie ‘Cobby’ Cobb (Marc Lawrence) covets booze. Safecracker Louis Ciavelli (Anthony Caruso) has a wife and kid to support. Alonzo ‘Lon’ Emmerich (Calhern) is a wealthy but overspent lawyer who wants to be solvent again.
“You may not admire these people, but I think they’ll fascinate you,” says Huston in an archive clip included on the DVD. They pull it off, but what heist would be complete without a doublecross and crossing paths with the police?
In this macho, man’s-world movie, there is alas no femme fatale. But rest assured there are flawed women aplenty. Hagen plays the neurotic Doll, a struggling performer, and her vice is Dix. Monroe, as Lon’s barely legal girlfriend, orders mackerel for his breakfast, flips through travel magazines and is fond of saying, “Yipes!” Lon’s bed-ridden wife May (Dorothy Tree) wishes Lon were home more often. Teresa Celli plays dutiful wife Maria Ciavelli.
The actors complement each other deftly. Jaffe, both sage and seedy (when he lusts after pretty young things) is particularly entertaining; he nabbed an Oscar nom for best supporting actor. Helping his rich characterization is the fact that he gets some terrific lines, for instance: “Just when you think you can trust a cop, he goes legit.”
The movie is full of such dry asides. The whip-smart script, by Huston and Ben Maddow, also scored an Oscar nom. W.R. Burnett‘s novel provided the source material, though the book told its story from the police point of view; Huston and Maddow flipped the perspective. Huston was also nominated for best director; Harold Rosson for best B&W cinematography. (None won.)
“Asphalt Jungle” is the only noir I know of that’s set not in NYC, LA, Chicago or London, but in a smaller city in the Midwest, usually seen as the bedrock of integrity, and it’s fun to try to figure out exactly where this is happening.
The dark film was a departure for MGM—known for upbeat, lavish, escapist fare—but the studio’s production chief Dore Schary ushered in a period of social consciousness for the company, notes Drew Casper, film scholar and author of “Post-War Hollywood Cinema 1946-1962,” in his DVD commentary.
As for the look of the film, Casper points out that in addition to elements of Expressionism (fractured frames and diagonals or horizontals blunting verticals to create tension), Huston’s experience filming war documentaries as well as the work of Italian Neo-realism (1945’s “Open City” by Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica’s “The Bicycle Thief” from 1948) also influenced his visuals.
In turn, Huston’s groundbreaking movie clearly had an impact on the great Jules Dassin, director of 1955’s “Rififi,” one of the best of all noirs. “Asphalt Jungle” was remade three times: “Badlanders” (1958), “Cairo” (1962), and “Cool Breeze” (1972). None is considered as good as the original.
Dry but never dull, “Jungle” is a straight-shooting portrait that undermines Hollywood’s often-moralizing and hypocritical gloss. “Crime is only a left-handed form of human endeavor,” as Lon so matter-of-factly puts it. Yipes!
John Huston‘s classic heist movie, which earned four Oscar noms, broke new cinematic ground by humanizing the criminals rather than writing them off as one-dimensional cheats. A suspenseful ride with stellar performers. The top-notch cast includes Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Jean Hagen, James Whitmore, Sam Jaffe and an up-and-coming young starlet named Marilyn Monroe.
HBO’s “Mildred Pierce” mini-series, directed by Todd Haynes and based on James M. Cain’s 1941 novel, starts this Sunday.
In director Michael Curtiz’s 1945 movie version of the book, Joan Crawford won the Oscar for her portrayal of the title role in the ultimate story of a self-sacrificing mother and her ungrateful child, Veda (Ann Blyth). Mildred’s hard-earned success as a restaurateur allows her to support not only her family but also her aristocratic and cash-poor love interest Monty Beragon (Zachary Scott).
In Haynes’ mini-series, Kate Winslet stars as Mildred, Guy Pearce plays Monty and two actresses share the Veda role: Morgan Turner as the girl and Evan Rachel Wood as the young woman. Haynes and Jon Raymond wrote the teleplay.
In many ways, the series, which follows the book more faithfully than the 1945 movie and covers nearly 10 ten years in the characters’ lives, is a delight to watch. Depression-era Southern California is beautifully recreated and shot by Edward Lachman. Carter Burwell’s original music is spot-on as is Ann Roth’s costume design. And the acting is excellent, particularly the leads.
Whereas Crawford’s Mildred is stoic and dignified, Winslet’s is sensitive, wistful, often tentative and unsure of herself. Her expressive features suggest her mounting anger, guilt and desperation as her business grows but her relationships deteriorate.
Early on in the series, Winslet’s Mildred identifies in her daughter a “pride or nobility I thought I had” and we glimpse the complexity and closeness of her bond with Veda. The mother-daughter relationship in Haynes’ five-hour version is perhaps more nuanced than in Curtiz’s film.
Pearce easily inhabits the playboy scoundrel Monty and Wood sizzles as the junior miss femme fatale. As the story unfolds, we learn that Mildred and Veda also have very similar taste in men. This year’s supporting actress Oscar winner Melissa Leo and Mare Winningham are quite good as Mildred’s friends.
A disappointment, however, is James LeGros’ insipid performance as Pierce family “friend” Wally Burgan. In Curtiz’s version, the role as played by Jack Carson – conniving and sly, but charming – was one of the movie’s many strengths.
Another downside is the pacing, which is far too slow. It would have benefited from shaving about an hour, especially in the beginning. But then if Haynes’ aim was to be true to every page of the book, he has succeeded.
I prefer Curtiz’s original because it is canonical film noir, in tone, look and story. Granted, Cain’s book was altered because in 1940s Hollywood, immorality was never allowed to triumph. Instead of the evil-doers leaving California to begin a new life in New York, one is fatally shot and the other eventually is punished. The murder sets the story, told via flashback, in motion and lends an edgy suspense.
Still, Haynes did not set out to make a noir; apparently his aim is to explore the subtext and subtleties in Cain’s novel. Cain was, arguably, sympathetic toward his feisty protagonist (what choice does she have but to establish independence and security, given the weak and deceitful men she has to choose from?). But she pays a dreadful price for doing so and the book decries materialism, the class system and social climbing. As for Cain’s ultimate take on Mildred’s power, in Hayne’s work, there is fodder for both sides of the argument.