Noir Alley’s Just Been Closed…For Me, That Is.

Noir Alley 3

Fritz Lang’s 1952 Clash By Night with Barbara Stanwyck, Paul Douglas, Robert Ryan and Marilyn Monroe was on Turner Classic Movies’ Noir Alley last Saturday, hosted by Film Noir Foundation founder and master of all things noir, Eddie Muller. Unfortunately, I wasn’t watching it. Apparently, I won’t be watching This Gun For Hire or Johnny Eager on Noir Alley in upcoming weekends either.

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I noticed that TCM had gone AWOL last week. At first, I assumed it was just a glitch, but a little digging confirmed the worst: Turner Classic Movies/TCM was abruptly deleted from my cable package and moved to some kind of new sports package. (A sports package?!) Want to keep TCM? Fine, so long as I upgrade with a new monthly surcharge.

Channel by channel, once interesting operations have been turned into dreary 24/7 sitcom reruns, Law & Order marathons and tired old action films on endless repeats. Now TCM and its Noir Alley feature have been taken away. Sure, I can still see most anything I want one way or another, though I’m annoyed with what I spend for additional viewing platforms, and with being stuck in front of a desktop computer or squinting at my laptop to watch them. Well, no one should expect to find justice in the cable-verse, or even in ‘Noir Alley’, it being…well, ‘noir’.

Gee, just when I was getting ready to order my NOIRISTA t-shirt…

Noirista

Trapped (1949)

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Until recently, Richard Fleischer’s 1949 film noir Trapped was relegated to grainy DVD’s mostly seen on sale racks and in cut-out bins, the poverty row Eagle-Lion Films production being in the public domain. Newly restored by the Film Noir Foundation and UCLA Film and Television Archive, with support from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Trapped can now be properly viewed and reassessed as much more than a forgettable low-budget B-movie, and clearly part of the classic postwar noir canon (if cult fans hadn’t already positioned it there).

Trapped Poster

Produced by Bryan Foy, expertly living up to his previous status as the “King Of The B’s” at Warner Brothers and by ’49 in charge at Eagle-Lion, newly restored Trapped received a proper presentation on TCM this past weekend, with Noir Alley host, Film Noir Foundation founder and maestro of all-things-noir Eddie Muller providing an engaging overview of the stories behind the film.

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Think of Trapped as a precursor to William Freidkin’s 80’s neo-noir To Live And Die In L.A., with convicted counterfeiter Lloyd Bridges, in his first real leading man role, here furloughed from prison to assist the Feds with the retrieval of a set of near-perfect $20 bill plates. But Bridges escapes and a dizzying set of double-crosses unfolds. Halfway in, I was ready for any G-Man to be revealed for a crook, and for any counterfeiter to flip out a Treasury Department badge.

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What I wasn’t ready for was just how good twenty-one year-old actress Barbara Payton could be in her own breakout role, playing a nightclub cigarette girl and Bridge’s girlfriend/accomplice. Her sexy, gritty performance (with an undercurrent of weary vulnerability) captivated audiences 70 years ago, along with some Warner Brothers bigwigs who immediately put her under contract. But Payton’s success was short-lived, her penchant for fellows, booze and brawling ending her career only a few years later, with poverty, scandals and arrests in the years that followed, right up to her untimely death at only 39 in 1967.

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Les Diaboliques

The Fiends 1952

Cover illustration for The Fiends (1952) by Boileau-Narcejac, originally titled She Was No More, adapted into the 1955 film Les Diaboliques. Boileau-Narcejac is the pen name for the writing duo of Pierre Louis Boileau (1906-1989) and Pierre Ayraud (1909-1998) who also wrote as Thomas Narcejac. The pair wrote over 40 novels together starting in 1952, including The Living And The Dead (1954) adapted by Alfred Hitchcock for 1958’s Vertigo.

 

Reel Murders

The Big Book Of Reel Murders

I haven’t ordered mine yet (it’s pouring today and I’m not up to racing through rainstorms to get from my car to the bookstore) but I will on Monday, the book not out till late October anyway (seen online) or as late as November (per Publisher’s Weekly): The Big Book Of Reel MurdersStories That Inspired Great Crime Films by the master of all things mystery, Otto Penzler. It looks like another Vintage Crime/Black Lizard door-stopper from the maestro, at 1,200 pages and with over sixty mystery and crime fiction short stories that have been adapted to the big screen. From the descriptions, there are some of the usual suspects like Cornell Woolrich, Agatha Christie, Daphne du Maurier, Arthur Conan Doyle, Dashiell Hammett and Robert Bloch, alongside some more surprising entries like Budd Schulberg’s 1954 “Murder On The Waterfront”, the inspiration for Elia Kazan’s On The Waterfront (Schulberg also wrote the screenplay). These jumbo Penzler anthologies are books you sort of live with for a while, diving into a few eager-to-read or re-read stories right away, then revisiting again and again over a few weeks till finished, which sounds to me like a darn good way to spend the late Autumn.

Not The Blue Dahlia Or The Black Dahlia: A White Orchid.

White Orchid 4

I don’t know if the Humphrey Bogart Estate sponsoring its debut at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, or even having Bogie’s son Stephen Bogart as one of the executive producers provides a new neo-noir film with some type of implicit ‘Noir Imprimatur’. But those credentials can’t hurt. Even so, writer/director Steve Anderson’s 2019 White Orchid, starring indie darling Olivia Thirlby, owes more to Otto Preminger’s Laura, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo or perhaps Brian DePalma’s Body Double and Dressed To Kill than it does to The Maltese Falcon or Dead Reckoning.

White Orchid might be considered a so-called ‘erotic thriller’, a 21stcentury take on that 1980’s-1990’s era direct-to-video/DVD/cable sub-genre. If so, the ‘erotic’ is more a matter of mood than explicit sex scenes. The film dials up the suspense, but does so without car chases, gunplay, explosions or bloodshed. It is sexy, but in a very intimate way, and aside from some brief dance floor grinding, a frenzied bit of groping in the back of a taxi and some intriguing business going on behind the closing credits, the effect is sensual more than sexual, all part of the film’s stylish atmosphere.

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Always reliable freelance investigator Claire Decker (Olivia Thirlby) reluctantly accepts an unusual case from Social Services bureaucrat Jennifer Beals, for whom she normally ID’s the elderly who’ve died alone, or tracks down the deceased’s survivors so their estates can be settled. Claire’s really, really good at what she does, better than Beals’ own staff, in fact. But this time she’s assigned to investigate a high-profile murder, “The White Orchid”: A beautiful stranger whose body was found on sleepy waterfront resort town Morro Bay’s beach. Shot dead. Decapitated. Her hands and feet removed. The murder scene’s become a morbid shrine, rabid true crime enthusiasts lurk everywhere and local teens prank the victim’s house. There, all of her things remain, right down to the vases of white orchids. The local police resent Claire’s intrusion but grudgingly cooperate, even giving her unfettered access to the dead woman’s home.

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No-nonsense Claire Decker favors sensible clothes, drives a sensible car and is unencumbered by anything that could be called a social life. Focused, patient and methodical, she quickly uncovers clues overlooked by the police. Convinced there was something more sinister than mere murder involved, Claire becomes increasingly intrigued by the victim herself. Bit by bit, intrigue turns into obsession, till Claire’s actually seduced by her subject, drawn to the White Orchid’s vintage roadster and plushly furnished seaside abode, the closets of designer apparel and drawers full of luxurious lingerie.

Oh, and a hidden stash of cash. A lot of cash. Clearly the murder victim had some secrets…if she even was who the police think she was.

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Convinced she’s figured things out, Claire effectively becomes the White Orchid, telling herself it’s only to unmask a killer when she masquerades in the woman’s clothes and wigs. But in fact, she’s fully succumbed to this obsession with a dead woman…or with the woman who impersonated the victim. Or withwell, who knows? Frankly, we’re not certain. What is evident is that Claire’s antics put her in danger and get her in deep trouble with the local law. A climactic meeting between Claire and the stunning femme fatale behind it all is less an investigator interrogating a suspect and more of a mutual seduction that practically steams up the screen. But White Orchid still has one more trick up its sleeve with a nifty gotcha ending any savvy noir enthusiast should’ve seen coming.

Confession time: I didn’t.

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I’m not saying White Orchid is Oscar material. There’s a bit of peekaboo voyeurism at play, even it’s there to tell the story. There are some red herrings and narrative threads left unresolved, but I’ll bet the original shooting script made things a bit clearer and some film ended up on the cutting room floor with bits and pieces that filled in various holes. That Claire Decker is a reserved, intellectual, non-social sort who’s intrigued by the flamboyant, sexually adventurous ‘White Orchid’ is one thing. That this sensible loner would play dress-up in the dead woman’s own things is another that could use some explaining. At least Thirlby’s Claire Decker learns that there’s much more to being a femme fatale than donning a costume. The makeup, wigs and saucy lingerie might seduce the mousy investigator into some risky behavior and make her feel like she’s someone else. But in the end, Claire’s still who she is, just as the real femme fatale is who she is. And she really is fatal. Both characters resume their appropriate roles by the film’s end.

White Orchid is the kind of dreamy neo-noir that’s content to play with the viewer a bit, and frankly, I didn’t mind at all, perfectly pleased to follow Olivia Thirlby’s well-acted transition from slightly nerdy loner to obsessive curiosity seeker to fetching femme fatale. I don’t know what path contemporary ‘erotic thrillers’ ought to take, or if that genre (if it even is one) still has a place in today’s culture. But if it does, White Orchid isn’t an entirely bad place to start to reinvent a particular subset of neo-noir.

 

Stumptown: And So It Begins.

Stumptown

And so it begins: A new Fall television season, this time with some real treats. Batwoman, the new Nancy Drew series, and ABC’s Stumptown for starters. It’d be easy to distrust a broadcast network to adapt a hard-boiled graphic novel properly, but any advance word I’ve noticed online about Stumptown sounds optimistic. I’m rarely watching television at 9:00 PM CST, much less a broadcast channel. But I’ll be there tonight to check this out, fingers crossed. Oline Cogdill weighs in on Stumptown at Mystery Scene magazine’s website (link below). As this piece says upfront, the show “has the kind of crime fiction pedigree that’s been missing from TV for several years”. I mean, it’s Greg Rucka, after all.

Rucka’s Dex Parios was a damn fine creation, flawed but heroic in her way. Cobie Smulders’ resume may be dominated by a sitcom, but I’m betting she’s going to be fine. Cogdill said, “Brash and often out of control, Dex is the kind of character seen more on cable shows than a mainstream network. I am looking forward to that edgy character and I have high hopes as Rucka’s source material is solid”. The few stills and set shots I’ve seen may look a little lighter than the dark, crooked Portland I’d envision, but again, lets see the show.

Fingers crossed…

https://mysteryscenemag.com/article/6594-greg-rucka-s-stumptown-comes-to-tv

Mystery Scene #161

mystery sceneAlways a treat to find the new Mystery Scene in my mailbox, even when the stack of books on my to-be-read end table is overflowing (and it really is). The issue offered up its always reliable mix of new, retro and unusual topics and didn’t disappoint…but, does it ever? Some highlights:

Bulldog drummond books

Michael Mallory’s Bulldog Drummond was a treat. News to me that there’d been around two dozen Bulldog Drummond films released between 1922 and 1969. I’ve only seen one, probably waking up on the couch in the wee hours with my hand on the remote tuned to some oddball channel. I can’t even remember for sure which one it was at that. Adventurer and investigator Bulldog Drummond was created by British Army officer Herman Cyril McNeile, who wrote under the pen name “Sapper” (British Army regulations prohibiting service members from using their real names for fiction publication) with ten Bulldog Drummond novels published between 1920 and 1937. Gerard Fairlie and then Henry Raymond continued the series from 1938 through 1969.

Ray Milland Bulldog Drummond 2

John B. Valeri’s piece on reporter turned writer Alex Segura and his Pete Fernandez private eye series was a real teaser, opening with a Segura quote, “I like to keep readers on their toes. I like to pull the rug out from under them…”, and then closing with something to keep fans alert. Segura may be following up his fifth Pete Fernandez private eye novel, Miami Midnight (2019) with something quite different and soon. “While he’s a bit cagey about the details, (Segura) does drop a few tantalizing clues as to what readers can expect: A non-PI female lead, a different time period and a murder. Beyond that, all bets are off.” Well, here’s betting I’ll be watching closely for something like this from Mr. Segura, and it can’t come to soon.

The most unusual piece was Craig Sisterson’s “Found In Translation” a five pager looking closely at mystery/crime fiction work translated to English and vice-versa, but more specifically, talking to the translators themselves. Though I’m currently hard at work – and more or less working from scratch — on launching a particular project (can you guess…”The Stiletto Gumshoe”), I’m not actually a newbie to the writing/publishing racket…more like reinventing myself. But under a prior pen name, my second novel sold the foreign rights. It was only one market, but hey, the check cashed just fine. I can’t write or speak a single word of that particular language, so I’ve always wondered how well they did with the slang and vernacular. Sisterson’s article drives home what an art quality translations really are.

 

Bonnie And Clyde, 1991.

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Revisiting the work of photographer Peter Lindbergh, who passed away last week on 9.3.19. Shown here is his 1991 shoot with models Karen Mulder and Linda Evangelista as Bonnie And Clyde. The Depression era gangsters more or less mimic scenes and the ‘feel’ of the groundbreaking 1967 film Bonnie And Clyde produced by star Warren Beatty and directed by Arthur Penn, with Burnett Guffrey in charge of cinematography. Okay, neither Mulder or Evangelista look like the real Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, or even like Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway for that matter, but I could argue that Peter Lindbergh’s fashion editorial homage is no more historically inaccurate than screenwriters David Newman and Robert Benton’s story was in that iconic film.

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R.I.P. Peter Lindbergh.

What Could Go Wrong?

Noir City Poster what could go wrong?

I took four years of French in high school, not Spanish (not that I can remember a damn thing from those classes), so it’s not as if can translate “Que podria salir mal?” on my own. Not sure if we should ever trust online translation sites, but apparently it reads “What could go wrong?” And with any classic film noir or crime melodrama storyline, what could go wrong?

Only everything, right?

Another stunning Film Noir Foundation Noir City film festival poster, this one for the 18thannual San Francisco fest in early 2020.

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