Wednesday, June 30, 2010
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) is a taut, stylish entry in the Bond series. Both Stromberg and Jaws are two of the best villains, especially the latter, who is virtually indestructible. Most of his countless potentially fatal encounters with 007 end with Jaws simply brushing dirt from his coat. Perhaps best of all, Anya is a superb character, wonderfully portrayed by Bach. Throughout the film, there is a parallelism between Anya and Bond. Both agents are introduced in bed with lovers, and while there is more emotional attachment between Anya and her bedmate, the Russian agent makes a mention of Bond's marriage, a topic that 007 quickly supresses. Both agents are prone to spying (and fighting) in formal wear. Triple X even carries a Beretta, the same gun (although a different model) that Bond has exchanged in the first film (and which he uses for a number of the novels). Anya is strong and reliable, and, like Bond, she puts the mission before everything else.
One example of the film's style is a scene set at the Egyptian pyramids, as Bond follows a lead, Fekkesh, who is in turn being tracked by Jaws. There is what appears to be a tour group, entertained by a show with bright lights and loud music. The sequence plays with the movie's diegetic elements, which would be the lights and music within the confines of the narrative. Both of these become non-diegetic, as the lights dramatically establish Jaws' presence, and the music turns into the film's score, crashing vociferously as Jaws reaches Fekkesh before 007 and kills him. It's also the first time Bond sees Anya, and, after discovering the man's body, he tells her, "Hope you enjoyed the show." He then wishes her good night, as the tour's show ends and applause can be heard in the background.
Ian Fleming's novel, The Spy Who Loved Me, was first published in 1962, the same year that Bond made his cinematic debut in Dr. No. The book is written from the perspective of a Canadian woman, and James Bond almost becomes a secondary character. Considering the shift in the presentation of Bond and as Fleming was reportedly unhappy with the novel (as well as the critical and commercial response), the author, when selling the rights to his character, requested that only the title be used for an adaptation. Although the two henchmen in the film, Jaws and Sandor, share a likeness with two of the novel's villains, Horror and Sluggsy, additional characters and narrative components were expressly created for the big screen.
This film introduced audiences to KGB head General Gogol (as portrayed by Walter Gotell, who had a small role in 1963's From Russia with Love). Gogol would make appearances in the next five Bond movies, and he acts as a Russian equivalent of M, head of MI6. The Minister of Defence, Sir Frederick Gray (Geoffrey Keen), is also introduced in this movie, and Keen, like Gotell, would reprise the role in the following five films. By this time, Bernard Lee as M and Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny had starred in every 007 movie, and Desmond Llewelyn, who debuted in the second Bond outing, had played Q in all films barring Live and Let Die (1973). This was the second Bond film directed by Lewis Gilbert, who had previously helmed 1967's You Only Live Twice and would direct the subsequent film, Moonraker, in 1979. It was also the first movie without Harry Saltzman as producer.
One of the more compelling aspects of The Spy Who Loved Me is the appearance of both Caroline Munro and Valerie Leon. Both ladies were "Hammer girls," starring in movies from Hammer Films: Munro, best known for Brian Clemens' excellent Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter (1974), and Leon in the equally good Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (1971), directed by Seth Holt. Additionally, each actress appeared in an "unofficial" Bond entry: Munro in 1967's Casino Royale (typically viewed as a satire), and Leon in Never Say Never Again (1983), which is a remake of 1965's Thunderball and was made after a lengthy legal dispute. Of all four characters, only Munro's Naomi in The Spy Who Loved Me has any true plot relevance. The rest are, unfortunately, nothing more than eye candy. To further a Hammer connection, Edward de Souza, who portrays Bond's contact in Egypt, Sheikh Hosein, starred in the Hammer films, The Phantom of the Opera (1962) and Kiss of the Vampire (1963). Geoffrey Keen had a lead role in Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) with Christopher Lee. Milton Reid, who plays Sandor, had a notable role in 1962's Captain Clegg (aka Night Creatures) with Peter Cushing. Reid also played guards in the '67 version of Casino Royale and in Dr. No (he stands behind Bond as 007 dines with the titular villain) and starred in Ferry to Hong Kong (1959) with his Spy Who Loved Me co-star Jürgens and director Gilbert.
Reportedly, an early draft of the screenplay had terrorist organization SPECTRE responsible for the cinematic transgressions. But, while SPECTRE had played an important part in many of the preceding Bond films (it would have been the first appearance in a Bond movie with Moore), EON Productions decided to bypass further complications with the ongoing legal battle. SPECTRE all but disappeared from the series, although SPECTRE head Blofeld has a cameo in For Your Eyes Only (1981). In future Bond productions, other crime syndicates or organizations would essentially take the place of SPECTRE. In the movies with Daniel Craig, the SPECTRE-like affiliation is Quantum.
The most significant gadget that Bond uses in The Spy Who Loved Me is his car, a Lotus Esprit, Series 1. The Lotus is incredibly versatile, as it outruns a motorcycle, a car, a helicopter, and, after converting into a submarine, successfully evades any underwater threats. The title song is "Nobody Does It Better," performed by Carly Simon. It was the first Bond theme to not be named after the movie's title, although the title is incorporated in the lyrics: "But like heaven above me, the spy who loved me is keeping all my secrets safe tonight." Co-scripter Christopher Wood also wrote the film's novelization, titled James Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me, presumably to avoid confusion with Fleming's novel. Although the previous Bond film, The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), was likewise dissimilar to the novel, this was the first novelization of a Bond movie.
As was customary for the earlier Bond movies, a disclaimer following the closing credits announces Bond's subsequent film (hence the immeasurably clever "Bond Is Forever" concluding disclaimers). This film states that "Bond will return in For Your Eyes Only." However, with the immense success of George Lucas' 1977 Star Wars (or, for the purists, Stars Wars Episode IV: A New Hope), producer Albert "Cubby" Broccoli decided to capitalize on audiences' renewed interest in sci-fi by next making Moonraker (although the novel's story did not deal with outer space). For Your Eyes Only would then follow in 1981.
The Spy Who Loved Me, which performed very well (much better than its predecessor, The Man with the Golden Gun), is a Bond film that I did not like when I initially watched it. But it has since grown on me, and it seems to improve the more I watch it. It's a film that brings 007 down to the level of an everyday man. He is very condescending in dealing with Anya, but she proves to be a dependable colleague. Consequently, his attitude toward her seems petty, as if he were bothered by her dexterity and apparent refusal to fawn over him. It's an intriguing way to dismantle the conception of Bond as an immaculate agent, not to tarnish his character, but to make him more human. The more flawed traits Bond displays and the more missteps he has, the easier it is to sympathize with him, making him a more substantial protagonist. The film is abundant with action, memorable characters, and an engaging plot. Any thoughts on Roger Moore's third time as 007?
Bond Is Forever will return next month with Goldfinger (1964).
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
The Clues: This young man debuted in film at the age of 7, but wanted to play basketball and played for UCLA as a freshman. He later joined the Coast Guard but came back to acting while still in his early 20s. He's still working...
Moira Finnie recognized Beau Bridges, older brother of Jeff. Beau's first film was Force of Evil in 1948 and he appeared in The Red Pony in 1949. He returned to acting in the early '60s and never stopped. Son of actor Lloyd Bridges, he's probably best known for his co-starring role with brother Jeff and Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989). Jeff, Lloyd and Beau are shown together a few years ago, upper right.
I thought this one might be easy...but...! (Clue: This icon played college football...)
Java Bean Rush broke all records in identifying John Wayne, then known as Marion Morrison and on the USC Trojans football team. Great work, JBR...I'll be back soon with another mystery man...
Monday, June 28, 2010
Walter Brown (Charles McGraw) is a policeman assigned to protect a dead mobster’s wife. Mrs. Neall (Marie Windsor) has agreed to testify before a grand jury. Needless to say, her dead husband’s friends do not want this to happen. She becomes a target and two men are hired to murder her. She is being hidden in a hotel and will be transported by train from Chicago to Los Angeles. Brown shows his contempt for the mobster’s wife by describing her to his partner as: “The sixty cent special--cheap, flashy, strickly poison under the gravy” (I love that line). Unfortunately, Mrs. Neall is indeed rude, dressed cheaply and irritating. As Brown and his partner are escorting her the hotel room, the beads from her necklace break and some fall down the stairs. Two beads land right beside the killer’s feet as he waits at the end of the stairs in the darkness. Brown’s partner goes down the stairs first and is shot and killed. Now it is left up to Brown to get her safely to the train station and on the train.
Mrs. Neall panics in the taxi and tells Brown he’d better be good protecting her because her life definitely depends on him. When they arrive at the station, Brown realizes they have been followed by two mobsters sent to silence the witness. One of the mobsters even tries to bribe Brown, who refuses to let him have Mrs. Neall. Brown successfully hides her in a train compartment without the two mobsters knowing which one. Mrs. Neall is so annoying. She is rude to Brown, flirts with her, and constantly complains. He leaves her to go to the dining car to bring her breakfast when he meets a pretty blonde woman named Ann Sinclair. On his way back to the compartment, he also runs into a woman with a wildly imaginative son. The little boy sees Brown’s gun under his jacket and yells it to anyone within shouting distance. Brown gets around the boy only to be confronted by a fat man who blocks his way. The fat man complains that no one likes a large man on a train and Brown hurriedly gets around him. It turns out that everyone Brown has confronted on the train has secrets he doesn’t know about. The rest of the movie moves swiftly to the ending where, of course, the mobsters try to kill Mrs. Neall.
The film is only 71 minutes and is quickly paced. That is a good thing too because movies on trains can be very boring in such a confined setting. The Narrow Margin is not boring at all because the taunt action, snappy dialogue, and the many twists with the characters keep the movie fast-paced and interesting. I kept wondering how Brown was ever going to outsmart the mobsters and save Mrs. Neall’s life. The screenplay is well-written and the tight direction makes this movie a great film noir. The Narrow Margin was remade as Narrow Margin in 1990 starring Gene Hackman and Anne Archer, which is a good, fast-paced film that's also well worth watching.
The Narrow Margin was shot in only 13 days. The only scene filmed near a train was the arrival scene in the movie. The rest of the movie was filmed on a set. Fleischer used a hand held camera to film the actors going from one compartment of the train into another one, which was a unique idea at the time. The train set was nailed to the floor and Fleischer’s use of the hand held camera made the train appear to move with a rocking motion. The Narrow Margin was filmed in 1950 but not released until 1952. Howard Hughes, then owner of RKO Pictures, had a copy of the film sent to him to view in his private screening room. Hughes thought the movie had a lot of potential and considered making it into a higher class film by editing and even reshooting some of the scenes. Hughes kept the film for a year.
Star Charles McGraw was known for portraying hard-boiled law officers or military leaders in films like Fleischer's Armored Car Robbery (1950). He played the naval commander in The Bridges of Toko-Ri with William Holden. His most famous role may be as the gladiator trainer in Spartacus (1960). He died in a freaky accident at the age of 66 in 1980. He slipped and fell through a glass shower door in his own home.
Marie Windsor, who trained as a stage actress, plays Mrs. Neall. She starred in mostly "B" films, with her most most well-known being the manipulative wife in Stanley Kubrick's The Killing (1956). Jacqueline White, who portrays Ann Sinclair, only made 25 films. This is her most famous "B" picture. However, she did make one "A" picture movie called Crossfire (1947), directed by film noir veteran Edward Dymtryk.
Director Richard Fleischer is the son of the famous animator and producer, Max Fleischer. Richard began his film career directing animated shorts produced by his father such as Popeye and Superman. Walt Disney, who was once his father’s rival as a cartoon producer, asked Richard to direct 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (which was written by The Narrow Margin's screenwriter Earl Felton). Fleischer won an Oscar in 1948 for a documentary entitled Design for Death which he co-wrote with Theodor Geisel who later became better known as Dr. Seuss. Later in his career, Fleischer directed many different kinds of films such as the action movie Mr. Majestyk (1974) starring one of my favorite actors, Charles Bronson and The Vikings (1958). Then he turned his talents to making movies about famous serial killers such as: Compulsion (1959), The Boston Strangler (1968) and 10 Rillington Place (1971). He also helmed one of my favorite “guilty pleasure” films, Conan the Destroyer with Arnold Schwarzenegger (1984). Other notable movies he directed were Barabbas (1961), Fantastic Voyage (1966) and Dr. Dolittle (1967).
Sunday, June 27, 2010
Beware, My Lovely
Clash By Night
Kiss Me Deadly
The Narrow Margin
Out of the Past
Please keep in mind that this poll is not about which review you liked best (hey, they're all good!). It's about which of the above nominees is your favorite film noir. To vote, go to the green sidebar on the right.
Except for the NBC Mystery Movie, the umbrella series faded quickly. There were attempts to revive the format in 1979 with Cliffhangers (an innovative experiment worthy of its own article) and NBC Novels for Television (which were basically miniseries…not unlike PBS’s long-running Masterpiece Theater and Mystery!). Unfortunately, the business side of TV production killed the concept. It was simply cheaper to produce one series with a regular cast and standing sets than to multiply those costs by two or three. Variety may be the spice of life, but on television, it can be expensive!
Saturday, June 26, 2010
To say that sweet songster Dick Powell was cast against type in this 1944 Edward Dmytryk film would be an understatement. Powell was best known for his light comedic abilities and his crooning voice, which he exhibited in films such as the Gold Diggers series, 42nd Street, and In the Navy. Gritty was not an adjective often used to describe his performances before Murder, My Sweet (which is also known as Farewell My Lovely in England). Yet, gritty is exactly what he delivered as detective Philip Marlowe.
Kim Newman writes in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die that “no other film so perfectly encapsulates the pleasures of film noir, as director Edward Dmytryk deploys shadows, rain, drug-induced hallucinations (‘a black pool opened up’), and sudden bursts of violence within a cobweb of plot traps, slimy master crooks, worthless femme fatales, gorilla-brained thugs, weary cops, and quack doctors.” Her assessment is quite correct, as this film is one of the darkest and wryest film noirs I have ever seen.
The story begins with a police interrogation of private detective Philip Marlowe (Powell). When we first see Marlowe his eyes are wrapped in bandages and he’s trying to shake himself out of a drug-induced haze. Berated by accusations and questions from Lieutenant Randall (Don Douglas) about a string of murders, Marlowe recounts (via flashback) a sordid story that only Raymond Chandler could write. It all started when a man aptly named Moose Malone (Mike Mazurki) hired him to find a redhead named Velma. Moose had lost touch with Velma, as he’d spent the last eight years in prison—reason number one to turn the case down. They travel to a nightclub called Florian’s, where Velma used to work, but no one even recalls knowing her.
Later, Marlowe pays a visit to Jessie Florian’s (Esther Howard) house to question her about Velma. A lush, Jessie denies ever having known Velma. When describing Mrs. Florian to the police Marlowe says, “She was a charming middle-aged lady with a face like a bucket of mud. I gave her a drink. She was a gal who'd take a drink, if she had to knock you down to get the bottle.” Mrs. Florian soon changes her tune when Marlowe finds a photo of Velma hidden in a filing cabinet. Jessie goes from not knowing Velma, to saying that the girl is dead. When Marlowe mentions that he’s working for Moose, Jessie becomes visibly upset but doesn’t share any information with him. As soon as Marlowe leaves, she makes a frantic phone call which Marlowe views from outside—reason number two to turn the case down.
Back at his office Marlowe meets a new client: “Pretty Boy” Lindsay Marriott (Douglas Walton). He needs Marlowe to go to a secluded canyon with him to deliver a ransom for stolen jewels. Really, you took this case, too? While attending to this job, Marlowe is knocked out—not a surprise, I’m sure. When he awakens he finds a woman standing over him. After she promptly runs away he also finds “Pretty Boy” dead in the car. When the police arrive, Lieutenant Randall is incredulous about Marlowe’s story. Then, showing Grade-A police work, he warns Marlowe to stay clear of another suspect named Jules Amthor (Otto Kruger), a quack doctor.
Perhaps Marlowe should just stay away from his office, because on his next visit there he is greeted by a woman pretending to be a reporter. In reality she’s Ann Grayle (Ann Shirley) and she’s looking for her stepmother’s stolen jade necklace. Wanting to meet the stepmother, Marlowe has Ann take him to the family house. Once inside the sprawling estate, Marlowe doesn’t need a picture drawn for him: Mr. Grayle (Miles Mander) is an old man and his wife, Helen (Claire Trevor), is a bright, young thing. Evidently Mrs. Grayle was robbed at gunpoint for her $100,000 necklace and “Pretty Boy” (a close personal friend, of course) was asked to pay the ransom. Marlowe starts to see a connection when Mrs. Grayle tells him that “Pretty Boy” was a patient of Jules Amthor. Oh, and guess who shows up for a visit just about this time: Amthor.
Stepmother and stepdaughter don’t like one another—not difficult to see as Mrs. Grayle could be Ms. Grayle’s slightly older sister. Ann Shirley plays her character like a slightly-sexed up librarian. By far the best role of her career, it was also her last, a child actor since infancy she retired at the ripe old age of 26. It is interesting to me that her last role would have “mommy-issues” since she herself had the mother from hell. Anyway, both women vie to hire Marlowe to track down the necklace. In the meantime, Marlowe meets up with Moose again, who is working with Amthor, and they go to Amthor’s apartment. Once there, Marlowe accuses the “doctor” of cooking up a blackmail scheme with Marriott and then getting rid of his partner. When he sees that Marlowe doesn’t have the necklace, he knocks the detective unconscious and then proceeds to lock him up in a room and pump him full of drugs.
After escaping, Marlowe pretty much falls down a flight of stairs and finds a gun in another doctor’s office and then stumbles out into the street where he meets Moose. After telling Moose that Amthor is the key to finding Velma, Marlowe is helped into a cab, which he takes to Ann’s apartment. Once there, he tells Ann that he knows she was the woman he saw in the canyon. She admits being there and taking Marlowe’s card off Marriott’s dead body, but she didn’t kill anybody. When they go to her father’s house they find him perturbed by the news that Marriott had been living in his beach house without his knowing it—Mrs. Grayle, however, did know. Feeling like a cuckolded husband, Mr. Grayle asks Marlowe to drop the case. But Marlowe must clear his name and so he and Ann take a trip to the beach house. Things turn romantic between the slightly-less librarian-esque Ann and Marlowe and they share a kiss, but she thinks he’s just after information. While they are arguing Helen appears and the two women trade insults—I specifically remember hearing the words gold digger and something about a slip showing before an insulted Ann stormed out. Now our cheating wife is left with Marlowe to confess her infidelities (evidently there’d been many) and that she was indeed being blackmailed by her analyst, Dr. Amthor—can anyone say malpractice? Exhibiting her skill in infidelity, Helen kisses Marlowe and asks him to help her get rid of Amthor by luring him to the beach house the next evening. He agrees.
When Marlowe goes to speak with Amthor, he finds the doctor with a snapped neck. He also finds a signed photo of Velma on a desk just as Moose appears in the room—Big hands, small neck…you do the math. Moose claims that the woman in the photo is not his Velma. Marlowe, however, promises to reunite Moose with his Velma and takes him to the beach house and has him hide outside. Inside the house, Marlowe finds Helen with the necklace—surprise, she had staged the robbery. Oh, but Marlowe has his own surprise when he calls her Velma and informs her that she killed Marriott when he refused to kill the detective. Evidently she didn’t want to be found and had learned from Mrs. Florian’s drunken call that Moose and Marlowe were looking for her. Had it not been for Ann stumbling on the scene in the canyon, she would have killed him, too. Surprise—Helen has a gun and she shows it to Marlowe. Ah, but the cavalry has arrived—Mr. Grayle and Ann emerge just as Marlowe is about to say hello to Helen’s little friend. Mr. Grayle promptly shoots his wife, which brings Moose rushing into the house to find his Velma dead. When Moose comes after Mr. Grayle, Marlowe steps between them and when the gun goes off he is blinded. All he can hear is gunshots. Who made it out alive? Well, obviously Ann did because Lieutenant Randall tells him that she has corroborated everything he said—except of course, that both Moose and Mr. Grayle were dead, since he couldn’t see that part of the melee. In one of the stranger film noir endings (a happy ending?), Marlowe is being guided out of the police station by Randall and he keeps talking about how sweet a girl Ann is without knowing she is right behind him. When he’s put in a cab she joins him. And, putting the clues together, namely the smell of her perfume, he gives her a kiss.
Dick Powell is stellar as wry detective Marlowe. The wisecracks that emerge from his mouth are laugh out loud funny. For example, when discussing Mr. Florian, he says: “He died in 1940, in the middle of a glass of beer. His wife Jessie finished it for him.” Another strangely funny scene is when he plays hopscotch at the Grayle mansion on the marbled floor. I also enjoyed watching him use Cupid’s derrière to light a match. Powell plays Marlowe with the right combination of street-smart toughness and wicked mischievousness. In my opinion, his Marlowe is the most balanced of all that have graced the silver screen.
I often wonder what happened to Marlowe and Ann. Did he later learn that after her father killed Moose that she then killed him so she could inherit everything and have Marlowe as well? I mean, that would have been the more appropriate ending for a film of this sort. She’s the one who said she hated men and she didn’t seem overly upset that her father had just been killed. Yet, she’s smooching it up in the back of a cab not long after a triple homicide? I’m just saying…
Friday, June 25, 2010
Beware, My Lovely is not a typical film noir. It does not take place in the underworld of Chicago or the back streets of New York. It is not set in modern time, nor does it involve crime bosses or femme fatale molls. Yet, it is as the genre name indicates, a dark movie, tense and disturbing, about a crime already committed and potential crime yet to come. The setting is a small American town in the year 1918. It is Christmas time in a lovely tree-lined neighborhood where children are laughing and playing and the sun is shining.
Lupino). Helen is cleaning and preparing her house for Christmas. She is also saying goodbye to Walter (Taylor Holmes), her longtime boarder who is moving away. Helen’s niece Ruth (Barbara Whiting), a particularly sullen and malicious adolescent, is being punished by her mother, who has ordered her to help Aunt Helen with her cleaning. Some of Helen’s little piano pupils drop by, and Helen’s little dog is happily romping around with all the company.
Dinelli did a wonderful job with this subtly terrifying story. (Dinelli also wrote the screenplay for another of my favorite suspense thrillers, The Spiral Staircase.) There is little more I am willing to reveal about the film because the very nature of it depends upon the unknown. Suffice it to say that this is not a typical story with a typical ending.
Moorhead and Frank Sinatra in his radio drama debut. Ida Lupino and her husband produced the movie in 1952. Lupino was one of the first women to begin her career as a beautiful starlet and go on to work behind the camera to produce and direct movies. Director Harry Horner did his usual wonderful job (he also directed one of my favorite movies, The Heiress). The cast was solid, including long-time character actor Taylor Holmes and young Barbara Whiting, the sister of famed singer Margaret Whiting and the daughter of Robert Whiting, a prolific songwriter whose compositions included “Hooray for Hollywood” and “On the Good Ship Lollipop”. The art direction was done by the wonderful Albert D’Asgostino, who was also responsible for art direction in The Magnificent Ambersons. Mention must be made of the costume designer, Michael Woulfe. Lupino’s costume with the long hobble skirt popular in 1918 gives her an even greater look of trapped inability to save herself. Ryan’s clothing, including an oddly short tie, is rather dorky and sad, like a man who does not know how to dress himself.
Lupino, the fact is that Beware, My Lovely is Robert Ryan’s movie. Audiences accustomed to seeing Ryan as intensely masculine, tall and dominant, saw him in this movie as a sad, tired, mentally ill man. He is indeed menacing, but at the next moment unable to remember what had happened and afraid of his confusion. He terrorizes this woman, and at the same time has gentle feelings for her. His character cannot be pigeon-holed into good guy/bad guy, and Ryan masterfully creates this disturbing presence.
Beware, My Lovely belongs in the film noir genre despite its uncharacteristic elements, maybe even because of the peculiarity of mental volatility and disturbing undercurrents that darken the sunniest day.
(ADDENDUM) A fellow CMBA member, RDF, wrote to remind me that Harry Horner did indeed work on The Heiress in art direction, but not as director. I appreciate RDF's sharp eye, and I'm glad to have this opportunity to keep my facts straight!
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
This baby grew up to be a real doll.
Who is she? Becky recognized the icon to end all icons, Marilyn Monroe...before she blossomed into the legendary star she became and still is...thanks to Gilby, Avalon and Becky for playing...more next week.
Who is she? Gilby recognized Oscar winner Margaret O'Brien, child actress/movie star whose heyday was in the 1940s.
Monday, June 21, 2010
Then again, it's a fairly sad lot of people from which to find sympathy. Bannister seems to accept things the way they are, and he deals with life as it comes along. This is in contrast to Michael, who constantly looks ahead, hoping for everything to turn out one way but knowing it'll likely go somewhere else. I think the most unsympathetic person might be Grisby. Any type of control he has or thinks he has is highly evident, because he acts in the manner of a child, especially in the scene with Michael on the boat and Elsa is on the rocks. He also sweats incessantly, so perhaps Welles wanted the audience to view him as the "greasy" character. But, at the very least, Grisby is honest with himself. Michael wants Elsa, but he has to find excuses to be with her. Elsa would lie in a blink if it meant self-preservation. Grisby is transparent: he is greedy, he is jealous of Michael, and he wants Elsa, too. He doesn't try to hide his intentions or present himself as anything other than the greasy weasel that he is.
Orson Welles was perhaps a better director than actor. While he's very good in Touch of Evil (1958), he was too exaggerated as the evil cop, and even in Citizen Kane, he hams it up. Although, he was always theatrical because of his work on radio, in which voice is the most important tool (it's similar to the theatre, where an actor has to overdo it a bit because he/she has to project the voice). Welles is sometimes too theatrical, but Michael in Shanghai is underplayed to great effect. Michael is a brooding man and an emotional punching bag. With a lack of presence, he's really only there for Elsa to unload upon. In short, he's the complete opposite of other Welles' characters, like Quinlan in Touch of Evil and Charles Foster Kane. Rita Hayworth gives a smashing, memorable performance, and she and Welles are complemented by the supporting cast, especially Sloane (who played an equally cynical employer in 1956's Patterns, scripted by Twilight Zone creator/narrator Rod Serling).
Though it's easy to see why The Lady from Shanghai is a cult film, it's undoubtedly flawed. Even at 90 minutes, it's an indulgent film, sometimes quirky just for the sake of it -- such as the over-the-top courtroom scene with Bannister cross-examining himself. Welles gives himself the best dialogue, though everyone has a memorable line or two. Technically, it alternates between shoddy (some of the rear screen shots) and dazzling (the location scenes in San Francisco, the incredible mirror hall climax). But one thing is clear: it's not an easy film to forget!
Who Am I? I've worked in films since the 1940'and s have had two TV series (one in the 60's and 70's). I've worked with William Powell, Natalie Wood (as a child and young adult), Gene Kelly, John Wayne, Irene Dunne, Myra Loy, and many others. I've also done radio in the 80's and 90's. Who am I?
#1. Name the two films Who Am I did with Natalie Wood
#2. What 1950 film had Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis (uncredited) as husband and wife ( for the first time)?
#3 Who were the film's stars?
#4. Who was the director? What other film did he direct that year?
#5. Who were Kazan's first choice to play the brothers in East of Eden?
#6. Did they ever make a film together? Name the film.
#7. What was the first TV series filmed in color? Who were the stars?
#8. Who were the stars in the 1970's TV spin-off of Adam's Rib?
#9. What film had Oscar nominations for both Robert Duvall and Michael O' Keefe?
#10. Who played the older son in the film Islands in the Stream? Who did the score?
Sunday, June 20, 2010
The Mystery Movie was so popular that it eventually expanded to twice weekly: The NBC Sunday Mystery Movie (the original) and The NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie (which featured all new detective series). There were a plethora of rotating shows that came and went during the seven-year run: McCoy (Tony Curtis), Amy Prentiss (Jessica Walter), Lanigan's Rabbi (Art Carney), The Snoop Sisters (Helen Hayes & Mildred Natwick), Tenafly (James MacEachin), Banacek (George Peppard), Cool Million (James Farantino), Faraday & Company (Dan Dailey), Madigan (Richard Widmark), and Quincy, M.E. (Jack Klugman).
To keep this week's poll to a manageable size, our nominees include only the original three plus Hec Ramsey, which joined the rotation for the second and third seasons.
If you want to vote, please select your choice in the green sidebar on the right!
Who Am I# 3 is Lloyd Bridges.
#7. The "classic" sci fi film is 1950's Rocket Ship X-M. Here is the trailer. See you later today.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
When it comes to the ultimate femme fatale you need only think of one name: Phyllis Dietrichson. Many have tried to surpass her—many have failed. In her first unsympathetic villainess role, Barbara Stanwyck set the bar so high that you can’t even measure how short other actresses have fallen trying to be as good a femme fatale as she was in Double Indemnity (1944). One of the great travesties in Academy Award history is that Stanwyck, who was nominated four times for Best Actress, never won an Oscar. She was nominated for this film in 1944, but lost to Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight. Many film critics believe this was a glaring oversight by the Academy, citing the outright nastiness and amoral nature of her character as the reason she was snubbed. Quite frankly, Hollywood wasn’t ready for Phyllis Dietrichson. And, when you think about it, who could ever be ready for such an evil force of nature?
Legendary auteur Billy Wilder directed this penultimate film noir, which was nominated for seven Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography (black and white), Best Sound, and Best Score. It won none. Perhaps a film about an adulterous murder plot to collect insurance money was just too much for a country at war.
With the help of the great detective novelist Raymond Chandler, Wilder adapted the James M. Cain novella Three of a Kind into one of the greatest screenplays of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Chandler and Wilder’s dialogue is searing and sharp and the overall storyline is a taut, thrilling ride down a boulevard of betrayal. In a film noir staple, the film is told in the past tense, via voiceover. The story involves a very unsatisfied (I suspect mostly in the Biblical sense) housewife (Stanwyck) and an easily enticed insurance salesman. While carrying on a licentious affair, the couple kill the husband to claim a double indemnity clause in his accidental death policy. What follows the murder is suspicion, guilt, double-crosses and bullets.
Aided by the deft cinematography of John Seitz (whom Wilder worked with on several films), Wilder captured the unseemly nature of Hollywood, incorporating several locales into the film—most notably the Hollywood Bowl and the Glendale train station. Roger Ebert has said that Seitz’s photography in this film “helped develop the noir style of sharp-edged shadows and shots, strange angles and lonely settings." Countless “venetian blind” shots are used.
The film opens with injured, Pacific All-Risk Insurance Company salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray in a rare bad-guy role) staggering into the company’s building one early Los Angeles morning to record, via Dictaphone, how and why he committed the “perfect crime” for a woman wearing blonde bangs, honeysuckle perfume and an anklet. It all started innocently enough when he accidentally met bored housewife Phyllis Dietrichson at her faux-Spanish mansion while stopping by to get her husband to renew his car insurance. In one of the more memorable film entrances, Stanwyck enters the screen wearing only a towel and a flirtatious smile. When she emerges next to “properly” meet Neff she’s wearing a revealing dress and her signature anklet. For those of you who don’t know, the old theory was that women who wore anklets were loose women. Her use of her legs as a diversionary tactic in this scene is something that Sharon Stone would use in Basic Instinct—of course Stanwyck was wearing panties…I hope. A double-entendre conversation ensues between them about speeding cars, where Neff makes it clear he’s interested in insuring he sees her again. That is soon arranged, as Phyllis asks him to come back the next evening to speak to her husband about the policy.
Later that day Neff introduces us to by-the-book claims investigator Baton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), a man consumed with getting every detail right and uncovering shady insurance claims. (Keyes is the man for whom Neff is recording his crimes.) While in his office, Phyllis calls and changes their appointment for the next afternoon. Strangely enough when he arrives the next day, Mr. Dietrichson (Tom Powers) is not at home again and it’s the maid’s day off. In addition, Phyllis seems very concerned about the dangerous nature of her husband’s work (he spends a lot of time in his oil fields). So much so, that she asks about buying an accident policy without her husband knowing about it. Shocked by the suggestion and angry that she thought he was so stupid that he couldn’t see what she was planning, Walter huffily walks out on the blonde bombshell.
Yet, later that night when he finds Phyllis standing in his doorway (returning a hat she doesn’t seem to have) he doesn’t exactly slam the door in her face. Perhaps it was the clingy sweater she was wearing, or even the scent of wafting honeysuckle in the air. After explaining she doesn’t want him to get the wrong impression about her and that her life with Mr. Dietrichson is horrible, Walter grabs her and plants a “red-hot” kiss on her lips. Later, Phyllis explains that she often fantasizes about killing her husband with carbon monoxide poisoning in the garage. To Neff there are three bonuses to this plan: $1000,000, beating the insurance game, and having Phyllis all to himself. Presumably after they have consummated their newfound relationship (he smokes a cigarette and she reapplies her makeup), Neff agrees to help her kill her husband and make it look like an accident, but everything had to be “straight down the line” as he doesn’t want there to be any mistakes for Keyes to find.
A few days later Neff arrives at the Dietrichson house to have Mr. Dietrichson renew his auto insurance policy. Leading the unknowing husband to believe he must sign duplicate forms, Neff gets him to sign his own death warrant. The next part of the plan concerns having Mr. Dietrichson take the train instead of his car on his next trip to Stanford. The double indemnity clause pays twice as much for a death that occurs on a train. They use the local grocery store as their clandestine meeting place to plan their crime. A monkey wrench is thrown into their plan when Mr. Dietrichson breaks his leg, but only temporarily. When Mr. Dietrichson decides to take his trip after all, using crutches to get around, Neff and Phyllis hatch a plan where he takes the place of the injured husband on the train. Disguised as the soon- to-be dead husband, Neff hides in the back of the Dietrichson car while Phyllis drives Mr. Dietrichson to the Glendale train station. When she honks the horn three times he pops up from the back seat and breaks the husband’s neck. While the murder isn’t shown on screen, Wilder uses a close-up of the unflinching face of Phyllis staring straight ahead as her husband is being murdered on the seat beside her to convey the vileness of the murder. Taking the husband’s place on the train, Neff later jumps from the train when it slows down and he and Phyllis put Mr. Dietrichson’s body on the tracks. Now they just had to wait.
Although the police don’t suspect foul play, the insurance company wants to investigate to see if they can get out of paying the double indemnity clause. Keyes is assigned the case and told by the company president that they want him to find out if Mr. Dietrichson killed himself. In a meeting with Phyllis, the company president explains the situation and offers to make a smaller settlement to her. Pretending to be unaware of the policy, Phyllis feigns fury and storms out. Meanwhile, Keyes doesn’t think suicide by slow-moving train is very likely and tells Neff that the case seems like a legitimate one.
Later, with Phyllis on her way to his apartment, Neff opens the door and finds Keyes. Something just popped into his head about the case: why hadn’t Mr.Dietrichson filed an accident claim when he broke his leg? Perhaps, Keyes believes, because he didn’t know about the policy but that Phyllis did. Luckily for the dastardly duo Phyllis can overhear Keyes from the hallway and she hides behind the door until he leaves. Cracks begin to appear in their relationship as Phyllis is angry that Neff suggests they not see each other while the investigation is taking place. In addition, Mr. Dietrichson’s daughter, Lola (Jean Heather), suggests to Neff that Phyllis not only killed her father but her own mother as well when she was her nurse. Oh, and by the way, step-mommy is sleeping with her ex-boyfriend, Zachetti (Byron Barr), as well. Feeling sorry for the girl and wanting to keep her quiet, Neff begins spending time with her as a substitute for Phyllis.
After putting the pieces of his investigation together, Keyes reveals to Neff what really happened in the Dietrichson case: the husband was killed by his wife and her lover. He explains to Neff every step of the crime correctly, but he doesn’t suspect Neff. Nervous, Neff and Phyllis meet yet again at the supermarket. Phyllis is highly suspicious when Neff suggest she not sue for the insurance claim and is even more suspicious about the time he has been spending with Lola. She coldly reminds Neff that their in it “straight down the line.” Neff starts to think that things would be better if Phyllis were dead, especially after Keyes determines that Zachetti was Phyllis’ accomplice. And, so the fateful 11 'o’clock meeting is set at the mansion.
With Zachetti as his fall guy, Neff determines to rid himself of the one person who can connect him to the murder: Phyllis. Shadowed by venetian blind slats, a living room of death awaits the final showdown between Phyllis and Neff. Oh, but Phyllis has her own suspicions that the double-cross is on. So, after unlocking the door for her accomplice, she sits down in a chair with her pearl-handled gun hidden under the cushion. When Neff arrives he informs Phyllis of his plan to off-her and frame Zachetti for everything. Really? How stupid can you be? Phyllis informs him she has her own plans and they don’t involve her death but his own. In an excellent climatic scene, Neff closes the living room blinds and when the room goes black a shot rings out. The next thing we see is Neff staggered by a bullet and Phyllis standing over him hesitating to finish him off. In a strange twist, Phyllis surrenders to her love for Neff and allows him to take the gun from her. While vulnerably embracing him some form of intelligence returns to her brain when she feels the barrel of the gun pointing at her chest. Two point blank shots to the chest and it’s “goodbye baby”. Really? I don’t like this ending at all, but it was Hollywood 1944, so what can I expect?
The final scene of the film finds Neff in his office with Keyes, who is shocked by what his friend has done. When Neff asks him to give him four hours before calling the police, Robinson delivers the great line: “You’ll never make the border…you’ll never even make the elevator.” He was right.
The twists and turns of this thrilling film noir are enough to make your pulse race. You pair the stellar storyline to the raw sexuality that Stanwyck brought to her role as Phyllis and this is a wonderful film to just sit and absorb. While both Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson do great jobs with their respective characters, this film belongs to Stanwyck. This was, without a doubt, her greatest dramatic role. She was so good in this role that countless male fans who had loved her before seeing this film actually started to dislike her after seeing it. She and Double Indemnity are a “straight down the line” treat to watch.