Friday, January 30, 2009

Happy Birthday, Dorothy Malone (1925-)

Although most widely known for her long-running portrayal of Constance McKenzie in the TV series "Peyton Place" (1964-1965), Dorothy Malone was in a number of Films Noir, usually playing the "good girl." She made a big impression with a small part in her first foray into the genre, The Big Sleep (1946), with Humphrey Bogart. She plays the owner of a bookstore that Bogart uses in his surveillance of the bad guys. An amusing part of the scene is that Bogart seems to find Malone unappealing in glasses and only comes to appreciate her when she takes them off. I don't know of any man whose reaction to Dorothy Malone in glasses differs in any way to his reaction to Dorothy Malone without glasses, but, hey, it was the 40s. :)

with Tab Hunter in Battle Cry (1955)

Dorothy Malone and Rock Hudson in The Tarnished Angels (1958)

Private Hell 36 (1954) Italian Poster

Loophole (1954)

Loophole (1954)

with Robert Taylor in Tip on a Dead Jockey (1957)

in Man of a Thousand Faces (1957)

with Philip Carey in Pushover (1954)

with Fred MacMurray in Pushover (1954)

with Rock Hudson in Written on the Wind (1956)

Her IMDB entry says that she turned blonde for Young at Heart (1954) and remained that way for the rest of her career. Personally, seeing her earlier photos, I could question that decision.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Three Strangers (1946)

I just saw this interesting little black comedy this evening. I recorded it a couple of weeks ago off of TCM, but only got around to watching it tonight. It starred a couple of my favorite noir "second banana" players, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, along with Geraldine Fitzgerald, whom I remember from Dark Victory (1939) with Bette Davis.

The premise is kind of unusual. Geraldine Fitzgerald plays Crystal Shackleford, the estranged wife of a British consular official who, during her travels in China, has picked up and come to believe in a bronze idol to the Chinese Goddess of fortune and destiny, Kwan Yin. According to a legend, if three strangers gather before the idol on the night of the Chinese New Year and make a common wish, Kwan Yin will open her eyes and her heart and grant the wish. In order to facilitate this, Mrs. Shackleford has invited two strangers into her flat on this night. One is a respectable Barrister, Jerome K. Arbutny (Sydney Greenstreet) and the other is Johnny West (Peter Lorre). Without any of them learning the others' names, they agree to go into partnership on a sweepstakes ticket that Johnny West has bought for 10 shillings, and their wish is that the ticket win the sweepstakes.

After this opening, we come to learn more about our three protagonists. Mrs. Shackleford, as it turns out, is completely amoral and sociopathic. She is obsessed with winning back the affections of her husband, (Alan Napier) who has gone off on assignment to Canada and returned in love with another woman (Marjorie Riordan) and wanting a divorce. She refuses to consent to the divorce and attempts to ruin his career by spreading scandalous gossip to his superiors in the consular service and drives his new love interest away by telling her falsely that the couple has reconciled and she is pregnant with the husband's child.

Jerome K. Arbutny is revealed as a tyrant to his office staff, and we discover he has been speculating with the principle from a trust fund he administers. The investments, naturally, have not been doing well and he has become desperate for money. Sydney Greenstreet often played nasty men deliciously but here he takes his character's weakness and pettiness much further than usual, and his scenes of escalating madness are very effective.

As the real star of the film, Peter Lorre is wonderfully wry and quite lovable as one of life's eternal losers. Of the three strangers, Johnny West is the least villainous, being merely a drunken ne'er-do-well. Ironically, he is the one wanted by the police for being involved in a robbery in which a police officer is killed. In truth Johnny was duped into being involved and was so drunk at the time that he didn't know a robbery was in progress. A girl with the unlikely name of Icey (Joan Lorring) is helping to hide him from the cops. Johnny is a weak man, but gentle and intelligent and Icey ends up falling in love with him.

Joan Lorring and Arthur Shields

I won't spoil the ending, but I will tell you that, naturally, the sweepstakes ticket wins, but the results are not what any of our three strangers could have expected. Fickle fortune deals several surprises in this black comedy about human greed and fate's cruelty. Three Strangers has no big stars, no glamor, and only the sliest, cruelest humor. What it does have are the perfectly executed performances of the three principals, and that's enough to make it a neglected classic.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Happy Birthday, Conrad Veidt (1893-1943)

Align Center

Although he is most remembered for his role as the Nazi Major Strasser in Casablanca (1942), Veidt was actually a staunch opponent of the regime and was forced to flee Germany in 1933 to escape assassination by the Nazis. He became a British subject in 1939.

with Claude Rains in Casablanca (1942)

with Olga Baclanova in The Man Who Laughs (1928)

Veidt had an extensive career in silent films, both in Germany and the US. His portrayal of the deformed Gwynplaine in The Man Who Laughs (1928) was especially noteworthy.

Conrad Veidt, Barbara Bedford, Ian Keith in A Man's Past (1927)

with Werner Krauss in Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari. (1920)

Casablanca was not Veidt's only pairing with Bogart, either. There was also the less famous, but still entertaining All Through the Night (1941). This was more of a suspense/comedy than true Film Noir, but, of course, Veidt plays the Nazi agent. :)

with Humphrey Bogart in All Through the Night (1941)

A Woman's Face (1941) with Joan Crawford and Melvyn Douglas

In describing his role in A Woman's Face (1941) Veidt said: "I'm Lucifer in a tuxedo!" Conrad Veidt's passing due to a heart attack at the age of 50 was a great loss to the industry.

Happy Birthday, Ann Sothern (1909-2001)

Ann Sothern with Fred Brady in Swing Shift Maisie (1943)

in Brother Orchid (1940)

Star of the popular "Maisie" series of movies between 1939 and 1949, Ann Sothern was also in such Film Noir fare as Cry 'Havoc' (1943), A Letter to Three Wives (1949), Shadow on the Wall (1950) and The Blue Gardenia (1953). In the 1965-66 TV season, Ann played the voice of a 1928 Nash in "My Mother the Car" which I remember well watching as a kid. :)

with Kristine Miller and Zachary Scott in Shadow on the Wall (1950)

with Linda Darnell and Jeanne Crain in A Letter to Three Wives (1949)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Blade Runner (1982)

In Ridley Scott's dystopian vision of futuristic Los Angeles, Blade Runner (1982), Harrison Ford plays a "Blade Runner;" A sort of policeman charged with eliminating "replicants," who are human-appearing androids that are forbidden to be on the suface of the Earth. This is, in my personal opinion, the greatest science fiction movie ever made. In addition, it is a splendid example of the neo-noir style.

Harrison Ford brings an exquisite moral ambiguity to the character of Richard Deckard, a man who is tired of killing and hates his job, but cannot find a way to escape it.

Sean Young plays Rachael, struggling with her identity, haunted by memories that may not be her own and afraid that she will discover she is a replicant.

Rutger Hauer is brilliant as Roy Batty, the replicant leader, willing to fight and kill for the chance to live.

Edward James Olmos is Gaff, the cynical detective who leaves little origami figures wherever he goes and who ropes Deckard into one final Blade Runner task.

Daryl Hannah is Pris, the "basic pleasure model" who seduces J.F. Sebastian into providing access to the Tyrell inner sanctum and the replicants' creator.

The beautiful but deadly Zhora is played by Joanna Cassidy.

Joe Turkel as Dr. Eldon Tyrell, the creator of the Nexus series of replicants.

J.F. Sebastian, who works for Tyrell, and whose hobby is the creation of android toys, is played by William Sanderson.

The cinematography in this film is nothing less than gorgeous. The bluish haze of the city, dirty, wet and gritty, contribute to the noirish atmosphere and the brilliant use of shadow and low camera angles lend it a familiar tone to those familiar will the noir tradition. This is not CGI, either. It was made in 1982, so the effects are all achieved through models.

This is neither space opera nor post apocalyptic horror story. It is detective noir set in a grim unappealing future cityscape. It's also a love story, but a story of lovers afraid of what the truth about themselves might be. Most of all, this is a philosophical treatise on what it means to be human and the questions each of us have about life. How long will I live? Why must I die? What happens when I die? Does my creator care? At the end of the film we are left wondering if the replicants are human, and if Deckard himself is a replicant. Scott raises more questions than he answers, and critics are still debating the many layers of meaning in this film.