The TCM Classic Film Festival is in full swing today and runs through Sunday in Hollywood. “There’s nothing like watching a movie on a screen with a big audience,” said head programmer Charlie Tabesh at yesterday’s press conference. This year’s theme is history and Tabesh added that he is particularly looking forward to the film “1776,” directed by Peter H. Hunt, who will be in attendance along with stars William Daniels and Ken Howard.
Last night, I stopped by the Formosa Café to mingle with fellow scribes. Several people shared my view that it’s tough to decide what to see and to strike a balance between longtime favorites and exciting new discoveries. I know, I know – what a good problem to have!
One thing’s for sure: I will attend the opening party and will see the newly restored film noir “Too Late for Tears” (1949, Byron Haskin), starring Lizabeth Scott, Arthur Kennedy and Dan Duryea.
For now, I will leave you with this shot from one of last year’s poolside screenings at the Hollywood Roosevelt. (Photo courtesy of TCM.) Life is good!
The LA Times’ Kenneth Turan recently gave high praise indeed to the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s Festival of Preservation.
As he put it: “Forget Cannes, Sundance, even the Oscars: This is the cinematic event I look forward to most of all. That’s because no other movie festival comes close to it in the magnificent breadth of neglected but compelling American film material it puts on display.”
Hmm. Forget Sundance? Sure. Forget the Oscars? Done. But Cannes? Not so much. That said, however, I am also very much looking forward to UCLA’s terrific monthlong lineup, which begins on March 5 with Anthony Mann’s “Men in War.” This year marks the 17th edition of the festival.
For noir fans, the double feature on Saturday, March 7, should not be missed. It starts at 7:30 p.m.
In “Too Late for Tears” (1949, Byron Haskin), noir badness bursts from the screen as Lizabeth Scott plays a housewife who comes across a suitcase stuffed with $60,000 in cash. Scott seizes the chance to say goodbye to cooking meatloaf, washing dishes and doing laundry. Duh! Besides, it turns out that she’s a much better murderess than she was a homemaker. Arthur Kennedy plays her husband and the always-great Dan Duryea shines as a private eye.
Next up is “TheGuilty” (1947, John Reinhardt), based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich. Here, Don Castle and Wally Cassell are lured into trouble by Bonita Granville, who plays twin sisters, one good and one bad, natch. When the nice girl is found murdered, both men are under suspicion. “The Guilty” is reminiscent of Robert Siodmak’s “The Dark Mirror” from 1946.
Film historian Alan K. Rode will discuss the films.
Films will be screened at the Hammer Museum’s Billy Wilder Theater in Westwood.
The first film is “Pitfall” (1948, André de Toth), featuring Dick Powell, Lizabeth Scott and Jane Wyatt in a classic noir love triangle. Just a few years before, Powell, a song and dance man, reinvented his screen persona when he played detective Philip Marlowe in “Murder, My Sweet” (1944, EdwardDmytryk). Powell then became a regular on the film noir slate.
In “Pitfall,” he plays John Forbes, a happily married husband and father with a good job. Problem is, John is bored and it’s not long before he risks everything by getting tangled up with an irresistible femme fatale named Mona Stevens (Scott).
Further complicating the situation is Raymond Burr as a private investigator who also covets Ms. Stevens. Powell and Wyatt are spot-on, Scott lends humanity to what could be a two-dimensional role and this is one of Burr’s best performances.
Next up: “Criss Cross” (1949, Robert Siodmak) is a spare, chilling story that zooms along at breakneck speed with characters you’ll never forget.
Here, the stunning Yvonne De Carlo (whom you might remember from TV’s “The Munsters”) lures her ex-husband Burt Lancaster into a high-stakes heist. The sleazy bad guy is played perfectly by Dan Duryea.
Lancaster’s Steve is essentially a good guy who just can’t get his ex-wife out of his system. Some would call him crazy. The French would term it “amour fou.” But what would film noir be without obsessive love? This somewhat neglected movie completely holds its own with any other title from the film noir canon. “Criss Cross” plays particularly well on the big screen and it’s great fun to see the Los Angeles locales. The opening shot is tremendous and look out for a young Tony Curtis.
The Intriguante series concludes on Feb. 12 with “The File on Thelma Jordon” (1950, Robert Siodmak), a crime drama starring the inimitable Barbara Stanwyck.
Additionally, there are two more free Tuesday matinees at the Skirball Cultural Center. On Feb. 3 is 1939’s “Confessions of a Nazi Spy,” directed by Anatole Litvak and starring Edward G. Robinson as an FBI investigator. On Feb. 10, “Act of Violence” (1948, Fred Zinnemann) looks at the plight of returning World War II vets in a captivating film noir brimming with dark secrets, betrayal and revenge. Van Heflin, Robert Ryan and Janet Leigh lead the cast.
The Woman in the Window/1944/Christie Corp./99 min.
When you least expect your life to unravel is exactly when your life will unravel, at least in a Fritz Lang film. Take “The Woman in the Window” from 1944. Professor Richard Wanley (Edward G. Robinson) lives a cozy bourgeois life – he gives lectures on Freud by day, enjoys after-dinner port and cigars by night. But by the end of this night, Richard will be covering up a murder.
Sipping and smoking with him at their Manhattan men’s club are his friends, District Attorney Frank Lalor (Raymond Massey) and Dr. Michael Barkstane (Edmund Breon), who’s fond of barking “Great Scott!”
Richard leaves the club after their booze-fueled yack-fest and lingers at the window of the art gallery next door. While he gazes at the creamy-skinned, raven-haired lady peering out from the canvas, another creamy-skinned, raven-haired lady materializes – it’s the model, a woman named Alice Reed (Joan Bennett).
After chatting over drinks, she invites him back to her splendidly appointed place. Just as they’re getting to know each other, her flashy peacock boyfriend Claude Mazard (Arthur Loft) barges in. Clearly, Alice and Claude haven’t had that “Are we seeing each other exclusively?” talk and violence erupts.
Claude’s rumored “disappearance” doesn’t fool people for long – the cops are digging for info, Richard’s pals Frank and Michael chatter about the case endlessly, and a sleazy associate of Mazard’s named Heidt (Dan Duryea) sees a plum opportunity for blackmail.
Sharply written and brilliantly acted, “The Woman in the Window” proved a box-office hit. Nunnally Johnson produced the movie and wrote the script from the J.H. Wallis novel “Once Off Guard.” The movie’s original score, a group effort led by Arthur Lange and Hugo Friedhofer, received an Oscar nom.
Vienna-born Lang infuses the film with fatalism, despite its upbeat ending. “I always made films about characters who struggled and fought against the circumstances and traps in which they found themselves,” he said.
And, as usual, Lang pulls out all the visual stops, suggesting powerlessness, alienation and doom. A signature noir shot is Claude entering the shadowy lobby of Alice’s apartment building, against the backdrop of a lonely, rainy nightscape pierced by the glare of a neon clock. Later his body will be draped in more shadows, in the back seat of Richard’s car.
Inside Alice’s pristine white apartment, mirrors splice and distort images, contributing to a fractured sense of reality. The effect may have helped inspire Orson Welles to create the fun-house mirrors sequence in 1948’s “Lady From Shanghai.”
Though he got typically great work from his actors, Lang also had a reputation for being difficult. But he clicked with Bennett. Maybe he appreciated the sacrifices she made for her art – a natural blonde, Bennett dyed her hair black. 😉 She also had lots of drama offscreen – she married four times and endured a scandal after her third husband, producer Walter Wanger, shot her lover in the groin. (Her second husband was producer Gene Markey).
Lang and Bennett made four (almost five) films together: another famous noir, 1945’s “Scarlet Street” (which also starts Robinson and Duryea, and is definitely the darker of the two), “Man Hunt” 1941, and “Secret Beyond the Door” 1948. Bennett also starred in “Confirm or Deny” 1941, but director Archie Mayo was brought in to replace Lang.
Later in her career, Bennett portrayed Elizabeth Collins Stoddard in the ’60s TV series “Dark Shadows” and she appeared in the 1970 movie “House of Dark Shadows.”
The mood of “The Woman in the Window” is pure Lang, and much of that mood comes from the actors. Duryea convincingly plays a slimy loser while, in reality, he was a standup guy. It’s a testament to his versatility that Robinson, though famous for his tough gangster roles, is completely at ease as the innocent, cultured professor caught in a film-noir web.
Best of all is Bennett, noir to the nines, spinning that web.
If you’re feeling slightly sluggish after a whirlwind of holiday activity, remember that watching a feisty femme fatale on the big screen might be just what you need to feel newly energized and thoroughly entertained.
You can start this Thursday, Jan. 8, at 8 p.m., when the Skirball Cultural Center in West Los Angeles starts its four-film series, The Intriguante—Women of Intrigue in Film Noir. As the organizers note: “During World War II, many women took up jobs in previously male-dominated industries, which imbued them with a new sense of independence. These four movies – all made by émigré directors and featuring strong female leads – widely appealed to this newly empowered audience, as well as soldiers abroad.”
The series starts with 1944’s “The Woman in the Window,” directed by Fritz Lang. When you least expect your life to unravel is exactly when your life will unravel, at least in a Lang film. That’s the lesson Professor Richard Wanley (Edward G. Robinson) learns the hard way after he’s lured into the depraved world of street hustlers Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea. “Woman” is an excellent film and well worth seeing. You can read the full FNB review here.
The Intriguante series continues on Jan. 25 with an afternoon double-feature: “Pitfall” (1948, André de Toth), featuring Dick Powell, Lizabeth Scott and Jane Wyatt in a classic noir love triangle, and the taut thriller “Criss Cross” (1949, Robert Siodmak), in which a temptress (Yvonne De Carlo) leads her ex (Burt Lancaster) to his doom. The series concludes on Feb. 12 with “The File on Thelma Jordon” (1950,Robert Siodmak), a crime drama starring the inimitable Barbara Stanwyck.
Additionally, the Skirball Cultural Center is hosting a series of free film-noir matinees on Tuesday afternoons, starting Jan. 6 with “Somewhere in the Night” (1946, Joseph L. Mankiewicz), starring John Hodiak as an amnesic World War II soldier.