Sunday, Aug. 5, marks the 50th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe‘s death. Several events will be held this week, including a memorial service at noon on Sunday at Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles.
The Noir File: Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, dueling noir queens in ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?’
Mr E Man Classic Noir Reviews Bette Davis, Boomerang!, Dashiell Hammett, Elia Kazan, film noir, Graham Greene, Henry Fonda, Joan Crawford, John Ford, John Wayne, Robert Aldrich, TCM, The Fugitive, The Thin Man, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
By Michael Wilmington
A noir lover’s guide to classic film noir on cable TV. All the following movies are from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).
PICK OF THE WEEK
Saturday, July 28
8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” (1962, Robert Aldrich) Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, rivals for most of their careers, got two of their greatest roles when they were cast by director Robert Aldrich as the house-bound Hudson sisters, Blanche (Crawford) and Baby Jane (Davis) – two ex-film-stars turned eccentric recluses – in this mesmerizing, darkly funny, sometimes-touching suspense classic. Together with Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Blvd.,” it’s the cinematic definition of Hollywood Grand Guignol. With Victor Buono as the fat mama’s boy pianist, Marjorie Bennett as mama, Maidie Norman as the good housekeeper and Anna Lee as the kind neighbor.
Adapted by Lukas Heller from Henry Farrell’s novel; shot and edited by two masters, Ernest Haller (“Gone with the Wind”) and Michael Luciano (“Kiss Me Deadly”). A grisly, poignant masterpiece. If you aren’t both chilled and moved by Baby Jane’s line “You mean all these years we could have been friends?” you may have a heart of stone.
Sunday, July 29
10:15 a.m. (7:15 a.m.): “Boomerang!” (1947, Elia Kazan) True-crime drama thrillers, shot in real locations (“Kiss of Death,” “Naked City“) , are among the gems of film noir. Here’s a top-notch example, based on fact, about a prosecutor (Dana Andrews) and his crusade for justice for a defendant he’s convinced is wrongly accused. Scripted by Richard Murphy.
The superb cast of Kazan regulars includes Lee J. Cobb, Arthur Kennedy, Karl Malden and Ed Begley, Jane Wyatt and Sam Levene.
4 a.m. (1 a.m.): “The Fugitive” (1947, John Ford) John Ford usually isn’t ranked among noir directors, though 1935’s grim I.R.A. film “The Informer,” is definitely a noir precursor. “The Fugitive” – based on Graham Greene’s great novel “The Power and the Glory” and one of Ford’s own favorites of his work – qualifies as Western noir just as much as Raoul Walsh’s “Pursued” or William Wellman’s “The Ox-Bow Incident.”
With Henry Fonda as a sinful and alcoholic man of God fleeing the police in a tyrannical, anti-clerical Latin American state, Pedro Armendariz as his relentless pursuer, Dolores Del Rio as their mutual love (a point fudged in this censor-bound film), and Ward Bond as the gringo outlaw.
The sublime monochrome cinematography is by Mexican genius Gabriel Figueroa (“Los Olvidados”). The script is by Ford regular, master dramatist and occasional noir scribe Dudley Nichols (“Scarlet Street,” “The Informer,” “Stagecoach”).
Incidentally, the other Fords I would classify as Western noir are “Stagecoach” (1939), “The Searchers” (1956), “Sergeant Rutledge” (1960) and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (1962). “Stagecoach” and “The Searchers” are on TCM on Wednesday, Aug. 1, as part of the John Wayne tribute.
Thursday, Aug. 2
11 p.m. (8 p.m.): “The Thin Man” (1934, W. S. Van Dyke) The first and best of all the plush M.G.M. films in which William Powell and Myrna Loy impersonated Nick and Nora Charles, the slightly pixilated and urbanely witty couple who alternated screwball romps with tough, brainy detective work, solving murders and finishing champagne bottles with equal flair. That golden couple was inspired by the relationship between Dashiell Hammett and his longtime companion, playwright/screenwriter Lillian Hellman.
This is the only one of the Thin Man movies actually based on a Hammett novel. The adaptor/scenarists were another witty couple, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett (“It’s a Wonderful Life”). The supporting cast includes Maureen O’Sullivan and Cesar Romero.
“Cause I lost my job two weeks before Christmas,” goes a line in “Cause” by the Detroit-born singer/songwriter Rodriguez. If you’ve never heard of the song or the singer, he’s used to that. And he’s long been accustomed to the fickle tastes of the music business, having been dropped from the Sussex record label two weeks before Christmas of 1971.
He continued to write and play his songs of political protest, but for the most part faded from the American music scene after his albums “Cold Fact” (1970) and “Coming From Reality” (1971) both tanked in the U.S. Win some, lose some.
In South Africa, however, through bootlegged copies of his music, he shot to stardom, inspiring young Afrikaners in their opposition to Apartheid and a repressive government. “He gave [us] permission to free our minds. To many South Africans, he was a soundtrack to our lives,” says South African journalist Craig Bartholomew-Strydom, adding that the three essential records in those days were “Abbey Road,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Cold Fact.”
Despite his enormous popularity, his loyal fans knew little about him. By the ’90s, he ranked as a mysterious urban legend, owing to persistent and widespread rumors that he’d committed suicide on-stage. Trying to piece together the details of his demise, Bartholomew-Strydom and Stephen Segerman, a fellow fan/record seller, decided to probe what really happened.
And in “Searching for Sugar Man,” by Stockholm-based documentary filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul, we find out. A man-hunt, a meditation and a fairy tale, it’s an unforgettable story, by turns bafflingly suspenseful and deeply moving. Says Rodriguez, now 70: “In rock ’n’ roll, there’s always disappointment, criticism, rejection. That’s part of it. And that it all worked out like this, it’s all right with me.”
Bendjelloul paints a contemplative, joyful and visually sumptuous portrait of an artist. We meet music and media insiders such as Motor City producers Dennis Coffey and Mike Theodore who discovered Rodriguez in the late 1960s in a local bar and Sussex Records founder Clarence Avant as well as longtime Detroiters and Rodriguez’s three daughters. “They put me on the map,” says Rodriguez of his kids.
Shot by Camilla Skagerström with a Sony EX1, Super 8 and a Super 8 iPhone app and punctuated with animation, the film perfectly captures atmosphere: follow-the-money, investigative tension in sunny Cape Town contrasted with the grittily poetic qualities of Detroit – a nightscape pregnant with thunder and rain; slow, careful footsteps over snow-and-ice encrusted streets in a desolate city; neon signs lighting up bars like the Sewer and in-store posters announcing “We accept food stamps.”
And Bendjelloul precisely renders his subject, showing us Rodriguez’ prophetic but elusive spirit and letting us hear the voice – plaintive, searing and soulful – that’s as capable of inspiration today as it was 40 years ago.
“Searching for Sugar Man” opens Friday in New York and LA. The soundtrack is available at: https://myplay.me/u3e.
Mr E Man Noir Style Albert Watson, Alfred Wertheimer, Annenberg Space for Photography, Brooklyn Museum, Elvis Presley, Gail Buckland, Gered Mankowitz, Henry Diltz, Ian Tilton, KCRW, Kurt Cobain, Marianne Faithfull, Mick Jagger, Moby, NPR, Portugal The Man, Raphael Saadiq, T Rex
Southern California National Public Radio (NPR) affiliate KCRW is hosting one more free night of outdoor live music, DJs and photography at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City. Moby played on July 14; on Saturday night, Portugal. The Man celebrated the 40th anniversary of T.Rex‘s “The Slider” and on Aug. 4 Raphael Saadiq & Band of Skulls will perform the songs of Bob Dylan.
The concerts are in conjunction with Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present, organized by the Brooklyn Museum with guest curator and author Gail Buckland. Show organizers say it is the first major museum exhibit on rock and roll to spotlight the creative and collaborative role that photographers have played in the history of rock music. The show features 166 prints from iconic photographers, a Henry Diltz slideshow, several videos and a short doc film. Who Shot Rock & Roll runs at the Annenberg through Oct. 7.
Mr E Man Classic Noir Reviews, Noir Style Alfred Hitchcock, Barbara Stanwyck, D.O.A., Edmond O'Brien, Ernest Hemingway, Farley Granger, film noir, Howard Hawks, Humphrey Bogart, Jeopardy, John Sturges, Lauren Bacall, Patricia Highsmith, Patricia Hitchcock, Raymond Chandler, Robert Walker, Rudolph Mate, Strangers on a Train, To Have and Have Not, William Faulkner
By Michael Wilmington
A noir-lover’s guide to classic film noir on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). The times are Pacific Standard (listed first) and Eastern Standard.
Saturday, July 21
5 p.m. (8 p.m.): “To Have and Have Not” (1944, Howard Hawks). One of my all-time favorite movies is this crackling adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s novel of boating and gunplay, reset in wartime Martinique and legendary for its incendiary love scenes between co-stars Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. (They met on the set here and later married.) Bogie is at his toughest and most likeable as Harry Morgan, a charter fishing boat captain torn between Vichy government thugs and French partisans.
The sensational 19-year-old Bacall plays singer/adventuress Marie (a.k.a. Slim), who memorably asks Harry “You know how to whistle, don’t you?” The supporting cast includes piano man Hoagy Carmichael, Marcel Dalio (“Grand Illusion”), Dan Seymour and Walter Brennan (great as Harry’s pal, Eddie the Rummy). Two Nobel Prize winners, both friends of Hawks, were among the writers here: original author Hemingway (whose book was considerably changed) and screenwriter William Faulkner.
Tuesday, July 24
7:15 a.m. (10:15 a.m.): “Strangers on a Train” (1951, Alfred Hitchcock). Two strangers meet on a train: social-climbing tennis pro Guy Haines (Farley Granger) and charming rich-kid psychopath Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker). Since they both have someone “ruining” their lives (Guy’s estranged wife and Bruno’s father) Bruno proposes, seemingly playfully, that they swap murders. Guy thinks it’s a joke, but Bruno is dead serious. One of Hitchcock’s best: a superb noir adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s classic literary thriller, with an amazing performance – blood-chilling, hilarious and strangely moving – by Walker. Ruth Roman, Leo G. Carroll, Marion Lorne and Hitch’s daughter Patricia Hitchcock are in the supporting cast. Raymond Chandler was one of the screenwriters.
9 a.m. (12 p.m.): “Jeopardy” (1953, John Sturges). Barbara Stanwyck, desperately trying to save endangered hubby Barry Sullivan – trapped by an accident and the rising tide under a Pacific Ocean pier – is herself kidnapped by Ralph Meeker, a ruthless outlaw with a yen for Stanwyck. A real nail-biter, directed by John Sturges (“The Great Escape,” “The Magnificent Seven”). Scripted by Mel Dinelli.
1:30 p.m. (4:30 p.m.): “D.O.A.” (1950, Rudolph Maté). Quintessential noir. Edmond O’Brien, as an accountant visiting San Francisco, is slipped a dose of slow-acting poison; he has only a day to find his mysterious killers. With Luther Adler, Pamela Britton, Beverly Garland and Neville Brand. Co-scripted by Russell Rouse.