Tarnished (1950)

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The war between small-town hypocrisy and a reformed sinner’s integrity!
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US / 64 minutes / bw / Republic Dir: Harry Keller Scr: John K. Butler Story: Turn Home (1945) by Eleanor R. Mayo Cine: John MacBurnie Cast: Dorothy Patrick, Arthur Franz, Barbra Fuller, James Lydon, Harry Shannon, Don Beddoe, Byron Barr, Alex Gerry, Hal Price, Stephen Chase, Esther Somers, Paul E. Burns, Ethel Wales, Michael Vallon, Everett Glass.

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On their way home to the small town of Harbor, Maine, after a night out, the dangerous driving of Joe Pettigrew (Barr) terrifies his girlfriend, Lou Jellison (Patrick). Once they’ve lost a pursuing speed cop, she seizes the keys and insists on driving the rest of the way. During the changeover a hitchhiker, Bud Dolliver (Franz), begs a lift.

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Joe (Byron Barr) appalls Lou (Dorothy Patrick) with his crazy driving.

Bud has been absent from Harbor for seven years, seven years during which the locals have assumed he was in jail—after all, he’d been a wild one before his departure. Just about no one wants him back, a major exception being his old girlfriend Nina (Fuller). He encounters Nina at Barron’s Beer Parlor in town, and she immediately dumps her escort, Junior Bunker (Lydon), in favor of Bud; she makes it absolutely clear she’d like it if she and Bud could pick up where they left off, and Continue reading

Morton Thompson’s Not as a Stranger (1955)

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US / 136 minutes / bw / Kramer, UA Dir & Pr: Stanley Kramer Scr: Edna Anhalt, Edward Anhalt Story: Not as a Stranger (1954) by Morton Thompson Cine: Franz Planer Cast: Olivia de Havilland, Robert Mitchum, Frank Sinatra, Gloria Grahame, Broderick Crawford, Charles Bickford, Myron McCormick, Lon Chaney Jr., Jesse White, Harry Morgan, Lee Marvin, Virginia Christine, Whit Bissell, Jack Raine, Mae Clarke, William Vedder, John Dierkes, Jerry Paris, Juanita Moore.

Kramer’s first movie as a director has little noirish interest outside its cast, which is crowded out with major and minor contributors to the genre, such as Mitchum, Grahame, de Havilland, Sinatra, Crawford, Morgan, Marvin, Christine and a number of familiar faces among the extensive list of uncredited actors. Its source, Thompson’s novel, was a whopping medical drama exploring the same thematic territory that the UK author A.J. Cronin had mapped out a quarter of a century earlier in novels like The Citadel (1937).

Lucas “Luke” Marsh (Mitchum) is a medical student dedicated to the point of obsession in his studies at a big-city teaching hospital; unfortunately, his father Job (Chaney) has drunk all of Luke’s inheritance from his mother and, though Luke’s tutor Dr. Aarons (Crawford) and best pal Alfred “Al” Boone (Sinatra) lend him some money toward paying his fees, it’s only enough for the hospital bursar (Dierkes) to give him a 30-day extension before, unless he finds the rest, he’ll be expelled.

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Robert Mitchum as Luke Marsh with Gloria Grahame as the predatory widow Harriet Lang: “They always warn you about solitary drinking,” she purrs at him, “but they never tell you how to get people to stay up and drink with you.”

Shy Swedish–American nurse Kristina “Kris” Hedvigson (de Havilland) worships the ground Luke treads on; so far as he’s concerned, she’s just an older woman who’s kind enough to help him from time to time. (In fact, de Havilland was just a year or so older than the supposedly student-age Mitchum. Sinatra was actually older than de Havilland.) But, at a smorgasbord party that Kris throws, her friend Bruni (Christine) brags that Kris has extensive savings; soon, to the horror of Continue reading

Dead Man Down (2013)

US / 118 minutes / color / FilmDistrict, IM Global, WWE Studios, Original, Frequency Dir: Niels Arden Oplev Pr: Neal Moritz, J.H. Wyman Scr: J.H. Wyman Cine: Paul Cameron Cast: Colin Farrell, Noomi Rapace, Terrence Howard, Dominic Cooper, Isabelle Huppert, Luis Da Silva Jr., Wade Barrett, Franky G., Declan Mulvey, John Cenatiempo, Roy James Wilson Jr., Myles Humphus, Stephen Hill, Aaron Vexler, James Biberi, F. Murray Abraham, Andrew Stewart-Jones, Beata Alexandra Dalton, Accalia Quintana, Saul Stein, Armand Assante, Robert Vataj.

Two years ago, on June 17, Delphine (Quintana), the little daughter of Hungarian immigrants Anka (Dalton) and Laszlo Kerick (Farrell), was killed by a stray bullet as the thugs of racketeer landlord Alphonse Hoyt (Howard) attempted to clear the tower block in which they lived. Anka and Laszlo were determined to help the DA bring the hoodlums to justice, but Alphonse hired an Albanian gang led by Ilir Brozi (Biberi) to murder them. Ilir’s mob succeeded in killing Anka and, they thought, Laszlo; but in fact Laszlo survived.

Now, having taken the name Victor, Laszlo has, with the aid of Anka’s uncle, Gregor (Abraham), succeeded in infiltrating Alphonse’s crew. (As Sam Juliano has pointed out, Victor Laszlo is the name of Paul Henreid’ character in CASABLANCA [1942].) He’s secretly playing a cat-and-mouse game with Alphonse, sending him photographs of Alphonse’s hoods with their eyes crossed out, plus small cut squares from another photograph with the obvious implication that, jigsaw-pieced together, these will reveal the identity of Alphonse’s tormentor and the reason for the torment. Alphonse sets his henchman Paul (Vexler) to trying to find out who’s behind the unsettling campaign. Paul deduces the guilty party is Victor and confronts him in the latter’s apartment but, before he can tell anyone else, Victor strangles him.

Dead Man Down 2013 - Beatrice explains her deal to Victor

Beatrice (Noomi Rapace) explains her deal to Victor.

Unknown to Victor, this crime was witnessed by Beatrice Louzon (Rapace), who lives with her mother Valentine (Huppert) in the Continue reading

Woman’s Secret, A (1949)

US / 85 minutes / bw / RKO Dir: Nicholas Ray Pr & Scr: Herman J. Mankiewicz Story: Verpfändetes Leben (1946; vt Mortgage on Life) by Vicki Baum Cine: George Diskant Cast: Maureen O’Hara, Melvyn Douglas, Gloria Grahame, Bill Williams, Victor Jory, Mary Philips, Jay C. Flippen, Robert Warwick, Curt Conway, Ann Shoemaker, Virginia Farmer, Ellen Corby, Emory Parnell.

One of Ray’s earliest movies, after THEY LIVE BY NIGHT (1948) and KNOCK ON ANY DOOR (1949), this is often listed as a film noir. At best it’s a borderline case; really it’s more like one of the interminable strings of quickie mysteries produced as fillers by the Poverty Row studios such as Monogram and PRC, but with significantly higher production standards, a much more polished screenplay (but see below) and, of course, a far higher-profile cast. Unfortunately, a few of the flaws of those Monogram/PRC cheapies seem evident too.

After finishing her radio broadcast one night, the popular singer Estrellita, aka Susan Caldwell (Grahame), arrives home and flies straight into a noisy argument with her mentor, Marian Washburn (O’Hara): despite all that Marian has done for her, Susan wants to abandon her career and go back to her podunk hometown of Azusa, California, where the most she ever had to cope with were the hands of married men. Susan storms up to her room with Marian following; moments later the maid Mollie (Farmer) hears the sound of a gunshot and discovers Marian standing over a seemingly dead Susan. On the arrival of the cops, Marian insists that she’s guilty of the crime.

Woman's Secret - Marian stands over Susan's bodyMarian (Maureen O’Hara) stands over the body of her protegee Susan (Gloria Grahame).

Her old friend, accompanist Luke Jordan (Douglas), frankly disbelieves her. He hires as her defense attorney Brook Matthews (Jory), who for a time was Susan’s lover. Together they bend the ear of Assistant DA Roberts (Warwick) and the cop in charge of the case, Inspector Jim Fowler (Flippen). With Continue reading

Merton of the Movies (1947)

US / 82 minutes / bw / MGM Dir: Robert Alton Pr: Albert Lewis Scr: George Wells, Lou Breslow Story: Merton of the Movies (1919) by Harry Leon Wilson, and Merton of the Movies (1922 play) by George S. Kaufman, Marc Connelly Cine: Paul C. Vogel Cast: Red Skelton, Virginia O’Brien, Gloria Grahame, Leon Ames, Alan Mowbray, Charles D. Brown, Hugo Haas, Harry Hayden, Tom Trout, Douglas Fowley, Dick Wessel, Helen Eby-Rock.

This was the third movie version of Wilson’s novel and the hit Broadway play based on it. The earlier versions were Merton of the Movies (1924) dir James Cruze, with Glenn Hunter, Charles Sellon, Sadie Gordon and Gale Henry, and Make Me a Star (1932) dir William Beaudine, with Joan Blondell, Stuart Erwin, Zasu Pitts, Ben Turpin and Charles Sellon, the latter reprising his role as Pete Gashwiler. There was also a Kraft Theatre version: Merton of the Movies (1947 TVM) with Eddie Mayehoff and Patricia Englund. Cruze’s 1924 silent has been lost, and the same may be true of the TVM.

Merton of the Movies - Gloria Grahame

Beulah Baxter (Gloria Grahame), having just told the press she does all her own stunts, prepares to let stuntgirl Phyllis Montague (Virginia O’Brien) do the dangerous bit.

A satire of the movie business, this has no real noir relevance save for the presence in its cast of noir goddess Gloria Grahame (I’ve been working on a piece about Grahame for something else, which is what brought me to this movie), not to mention actor/producer/director Hugo Haas, whose enjoyably dire shoestring noirs have a minor cult following today. There are also some regular noir supports like Ames and Fowley.

It’s 1915 and Merton Gill (Skelton) is a cinema usher in Tinkerton, Kansas, and mad about the movies; his favorite stars are Lawrence “Larry” Rupert (Ames), famed for his detective roles, and the lovely Beulah Baxter (Grahame), famed for Continue reading

Girl on the Late, Late Show, The (1974 TVM)

US / 73 minutes / color / Gerber, Screen Gems, Columbia Dir: Gary Nelson Pr: Christopher Morgan Scr: Mark Rodgers Cine: Robert Morrison Cast: Don Murray, Bert Convy, Yvonne De Carlo, Gloria Grahame, Van Johnson, Ralph Meeker, Cameron Mitchell, Mary Ann Mobley, Joe Santos, Laraine Stephens, John Ireland, Walter Pidgeon, Sherry Jackson, Felice Orlandi, George Fischbeck, Frankie Darro, Burr Smidt, Dan Tobin.

Bill Martin (Murray), an executive on an NYC-based TV network’s Early Morning Show, notices that one actress, Carolyn Parker (Grahame), features in three of the next five late-night movies the station is going to broadcast, and sells his presenter, Frank J. Allen (Convy), on the idea of tracking her down as a guest: they could use the introductory line, “We present on the Early Morning Show the girl you just saw on the Late, Late Show.”

So Bill flies out to LA and Hollywood, to the Pacific General studio that Carolyn worked for. The studio’s boss, Norman Wilder (Mitchell), offers any help he can give, and Bill starts investigating.

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John Ireland has a deathbed scene . . .

Carolyn made just seven movies over a total of 41 months during the mid-1950s, then disappeared as if from the face of the earth midway through filming opposite Johnny Leverett (Johnson), the movie Bright Memory. The records of her in the archives of the studio and of the Screen Actors Guild are scanty at best, but Bill manages to track down her old agent, Thomas Prideaux (Smidt); by the time Bill reaches Prideaux’s house, however, the man has been murdered, and Continue reading

Cobweb, The (1955)

US / 124 minutes / color / MGM Dir: Vincente Minnelli Pr: John Houseman Scr: John Paxton, William Gibson Story: The Cobweb (1954) by William Gibson Cine: George Folsey Cast: Richard Widmark, Lauren Bacall, Charles Boyer, Gloria Grahame, Lillian Gish, John Kerr, Susan Strasberg, Oscar Levant, Tommy Rettig, Paul Stewart, Dayton Lummis, Jarma Lewis, Adele Jergens, Edgar Stehli, Sandra Descher, Bert Freed, Mabel Albertson, Fay Wray, Oliver Blake, Olive Carey, Eve McVeagh, Virginia Christine, Jan Arvan, Ruth Clifford, Myra Marsh, Marjorie Bennett.

By the mid-1950s the studios were becoming seriously worried over losing their audience to the new kid on the block, TV. One stratagem they tried in response to this threat was the star-studded ensemble movie, of which The Cobweb is a prime example. This blackly comedic soap opera isn’t of much direct noir interest, if any, save for its astonishing cast, with noir icons like Widmark, Grahame and Bacall at the top but others like Jergens and Stewart further down as well as actors better known outside noir but who nevertheless made noir contributions, such as Boyer, Wray, Christine and even Bennett.

Dr. Stewart “Mac” McIver (Widmark) is the de facto chief of a psychiatric clinic, although the physician who ran it for many years, the boozy, philandering Dr. Douglas N. “Dev” Devanal (Boyer), is still formally its Medical Director. Mac has instituted a self-government policy for the patients as part of their therapy; in fact, the place seems more like a posh country hotel with psychotherapy laid on than a grim sanitarium.

Meg Rinehart (Bacall) views Stevie’s designs.

All are agreed that the clinic’s library requires new curtains. Victoria “Vicky” Inch (Gish), in charge of administration, assumes she should order something bland from the usual local supplier, Petlee & Sons. Before she can do so, however, two things happen. First, Mac’s seemingly spoilt, shrewish wife Karen (Grahame), visiting the clinic and discovering the situation, decides to take matters into her own hands and, with the connivance by telephone of the Chairwoman of the Board of Trustees, the formidable Regina Mitchell-Smythe (Albertson), orders the most expensive drapes money could buy—to be delivered by special airmail, no less! Second, the extraordinarily repressed patient Sue Brett (Strasberg) suggests the patients should design the new drapes themselves, an idea picked up by the suicidal but artistically talented patient Stevie Holte (Kerr) and supported by the clinic’s art therapist, the widowed Meg Faversen Rinehart (Bacall).

Stevie produces his designs for the drapes, and they’re Continue reading

Bad and the Beautiful, The (1952)

US / 118 minutes / bw / MGM Dir: Vincente Minnelli Pr: John Houseman Scr: Charles Schnee Story: “Memorial to a Bad Man” (1951; Ladies’ Home Journal) by George Bradshaw Cine: Robert Surtees Cast: Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas, Walter Pidgeon, Dick Powell, Barry Sullivan, Gloria Grahame, Gilbert Roland, Leo G. Carroll, Vanessa Brown, Paul Stewart, Sammy White, Elaine Stewart, Ivan Triesault.

A love letter to Hollywood—or, at least, a letter expressing a love/hate relationship—with a very noirish cast and some noirish flourishes; it’s occasionally listed as a film noir, although that’s a classification that seems hard to justify.

Shields (left) and Fred find Georgia sloshed at the Crow’s Nest.

Movie mogul Harry Pebbel (Pidgeon) gathers together three major figures in the industry in an attempt to persuade them to participate in a new project that the producer Jonathan Shields (Douglas) is trying to float. All three of them have good reasons to tell Shields to get lost because of the way he treated them in the past, and in three extended flashbacks we learn what those reasons were: Continue reading