Head To Noir City.

Noir City No 27

The new Film Noir Foundation’s Noir City e-magazine arrived in my inbox this week. Issue number 27 is yet another sumptuously designed and info-packed treat for film noir aficionados.

Bittersweet but understandable news was Master-Of-All-Things-Noir (and Film Noir Foundation President and TCM’s Noir Alley host) Eddie Muller’s announcement that he’d be stepping aside from full-time editorial chores, handing off the Editor-In-Chief role to Vince Keenan. Ably assisted by Steve Kronenberg, I’ve no concerns, and am sure Mr. Keenan will maintain the publication’s level of content, visual and editorial superiority. If I sound all gushy, I am. Noir City is just that good.

Noir City Spread

Art Director/Designer Michael Kronenberg delivers another feast for the eyes with this issue, including the gorgeous cover illustration. Noir City’s a dark delight to read, of course, but is equally stunning to simply look at, some of the spreads deserving to be framed and up on a wall. Hmmmm…I’ve been thinking about a refresh for the writing cave’s walls. Just might have an idea there…

This issue includes over 90 pages with 15+ articles and features like Steve Kronenberg’s cover story “Handle With Care – The Ordeals Of Gene Tierney” and Jake Hinkson’s “Hungover – Booze And Blackouts In Film Noir”. If you already get Noir City, then you should be reading it right now instead of this site. If not, and you’re a visitor here, then I can guarantee you’ll enjoy the publication. Hightail it to The Film Noir Foundation’s site (link below) to find out more. Like, now.

http://www.filmnoirfoundation.org/home.html

 

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

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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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Noir City

Noir City No 26Received last week: Issue Number 26 of the Film Noir Foundation’s Noir City e-magazine, 83 sumptuously designed pages laid out by Art Director Michael Kronenberg, with articles on the Chicago mob’s interference in the Hollywood labor movement and how that set the stage for the Blacklist, novelist/screenwriter Jonathan Latimer, collecting film noir posters, Louise Brooks in Pandora’s Box, an interview with writer Jason Starr, comparing/contrasting Mickey Spillane’s novel Kiss Me Deadly with the film version and much, much more. If you like things you see here at “The Stiletto Gumshoe”, you’ll love The Film Noir Foundation’s Noir City magazine. Go to the organization’s site, browse around some, and by all means become a contributor, not only to help support their film preservation efforts but to get your mitts on this gorgeous and informative publication. Link below…

Film Noir Foundation Site

http://www.filmnoirfoundation.org/home.html

 

Nora Prentiss

Nora Prentiss - Hnd Colored

Not sure if I’ll be home in time for TCM’s 11:00 PM CST Noir Alley with host, noir maestro Eddie Muller. Tonight it’s Vincent Sherman’s 1947 Warner Brothers film Nora Prentiss, shot by James Howe Wong with a Franz Waxman score, starring one of Hollywood’s hardest working actresses, Ann Sheridan. I’ve never seen the film and would like to, particularly with Muller’s always insightful opening and closing remarks.

You like your film noirs with syndicate bosses, mobsters, dirty cops and gun fights? Who doesn’t? But there’s an equally essential subset of classic film noir and crime melodrama focused on smaller stories that are equally dark and fatalistic, Nora Prentiss among them, considered by some as one of the best “women’s noir”.

Nora Prentiss - MontageKent Smith plays Dr. Richard Talbot, bored with his humdrum life and marriage, who begins an affair with seductive nightclub singer Nora Prentiss, played by Ann Sheridan. He fakes his own death in order to run away with her, relocating from the west coast to New York, where she goes back to work in the clubs. But it can’t go well, and Dr. Talbot grows increasingly paranoid once he leans that his faked death is now a murder investigation. Soon he’s bitter, jealous, combative and drinking too much, finally crashing his car. Disfigured from the accident, unable to identify himself, he’s actually accused of his own murder.

Nora Prentiss still

Though the film sounds like it’s Talbot’s story more than Ann Sheridan’s, it’s really not, at least based on what I’ve read. And Ann Sheridan rarely disappoints, especially when she gets a meaty role where she can play street smart with an undercurrent of vulnerability (though I suspect her husband-stealing songbird might not be particularly vulnerable). Well, in or out, that’s what DVR’s are for. I’m catching this movie one way or another.

Nora Prentiss poster

How About A Ramos Gin Fizz To Go With That?

TCM Screen Cap

Pretty sure I don’t have all the makings for a real Ramos Gin Fizz, the drink of choice ‘round Gulf City circa 1947, where director John Cromwell’s Dead Reckoning is mostly set. That’s what’s on TCM’s Noir Alley Saturday night (May 25th), hosted by God-Of-All-Things-Noir, Eddie Muller. As luck would have it, I’ll be out of town over the Memorial Day weekend and far from civilized things like cable TV, a satellite dish, Wi-Fi or even all three main broadcast networks.

But it’s not as if the Dead Reckoning DVD isn’t right on my shelf, though I’d really like to hear Muller’s remarks on this flick. Though I try to steer clear of claims about this film or that book or some show being ‘the best’, I do have my own favorites, and Dead Reckoning happens to be among them. It’s not the most famous of the classic noir period’s films, nor was it a particular success, critically or financially. But for me it just works. Hard for it not to, with Humphrey Bogart, who has to keep up with what may be the Queen of Film Noir, Lizabeth Scott.

Dead Reckoning 1

Dead Reckoning was scripted by Steve Fisher and Oliver Garrett, based on a story by Gerald Drayson Adams and Sidney Biddell. Bogart turns in what some consider a ‘generic Bogart’ performance, that is, a bit of Spade and a bit of Marlowe stirred in with a bit of Casablanca’s Rick Blaine (as complex a mix as a Ramos Gin Fizz…recipe below). But for me, even a ‘generic Bogart’ performance is better than many other actors’ artsy-smartsy best. And Lizabeth Scott? This film’s pretty early in her relatively short Hollywood career, and even she felt it permanently typecast her as a blonde torch singer and femme fatale. No surprise then that Scott appeared in lead roles in more films noir than any other actress (as a blonde torch singer four times, in fact), though by all accounts she’d have preferred more comedies.

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There are some nifty twists and turns in Dead Reckoning’s plot, so I won’t tell too much or spoil anything. The setup’s a pretty cool framing device, opening on a stateside Army Chaplain hearing Bogart’s Captain Warren ‘Rip’ Murdock tell his story in flashback. WWII behind them, Rip and best pal Johnny Drake are en route to a Medal of Honor ceremony when Johnny vanishes. Rip makes for Johnny’s hometown of ‘Gulf City’ (New Orleans?) where he learns his best pal enlisted under a fake name to hide out from the law, having been framed for murder. Bogart looks up Johnny’s old girlfriend, nightclub chanteuse Coral ‘Dusty’ Chandler’, who’s now involved with Gulf City’s gambling kingpin. The bad guys don’t like Bogart sniffing around, much less sniffing around ‘Dusty’, so they try to frame him with a murder rap, work him over and eventually attempt to just make him go away…permanently. To say more would give things away, so I won’t. Except to say that ‘Rip’ and ‘Dusty’ just about melt the silver screen, and all guilty parties get their just desserts, whether with phosphorous grenades or a car crash.

Lizabeth Scott 1

It’s no surprise that Lizabeth Scott found herself typecast after this film. Sultry looks, seductive poses, eyes that can say more than a page of dialog, and that distinctive, deep and smoky voice. She doesn’t just smolder here. She burns.

Scott was born Emma Matzo in 1922 in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and moved to New York City as a teenager where she worked as both a model and actor, on Broadway and in several grueling national touring shows. She was often relegated to understudy roles, and it was during this time that she adopted the stage name of Lizabeth Scott (originally including the ‘E’) while appearing in Maxwell Anderson’s Mary Of Scotland about Mary, Queen Of Scots and Queen Elizabeth The First. She didn’t really get ‘discovered’ till she was 22, appeared in her first film in 1945, hit it big in 1946 alongside Barbara Stanwyck in The Strange Love Of Martha Ivers, and came back from a post-WWII goodwill tour of Britain the next year for Dead Reckoning. She and Bogart became close friends during the production, and reportedly he continued to call her Dusty (or sometimes ‘Scotty’ or even ‘Mike’) throughout his remaining ten years.

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By the mid-fifties, Scott grew increasingly disenchanted with her femme fatale roles, only showed modest interest in the burgeoning television industry, and had begun to fade from the scene. Complicating things was a high-profile scandal that erupted when sleaze reporter Howard Rushmore did an expose on her for Confidential magazine. First, a ‘little black book’ confiscated in a Hollywood vice raid purportedly showed Scott listed among the clientele of L.A. call girls. Confidential oozed innuendo about Scott’s friendship with Paris’ colorful Frederique ‘Frede’ Baule, a then-notorious lesbian cabaret proprietor. Rushmore finally arranged a lunch date with Scott and out-of-work actress Veronica Quillan, who wore a hidden microphone and was assigned to lure Scott into making a pass. The reporter and magazine both assumed that Scott, like most actors, would agree to a buy-back, basically paying blackmail money to keep the story buried (something we’ve all heard about recently, huh?). She declined, they went ahead and published.

But to their surprise, ‘Dusty’ sued.

The trial was protracted and ultimately ended without a settlement. Some in Hollywood cheered her on, others just took the story as-is. And of course, from a 2019 perspective, Scott as a Hollywood Violet is merely chic if not incidental. Whatever, a hearty three cheers to her for standing up to a sleaze-rag.

Lizabeth Scott (she did eventually make the stage name legal) passed away quietly just a few years ago, at age 92 in 2015. And as for a Ramos Gin Fizz, which is Coral ‘Dusty’ Chandler’s drink of choice in Dead Reckoning? It’s gin, lemon juice, egg white, sugar, cream, orange flower water and soda water, thoroughly shaken, poured through ice and served in large non-tapered 12 or 14 ounce Tom Collins’ glassware.

My own array of mixers seems to be missing orange flower water just now.

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Tonight: 99 River Street

99 RIver Street

I’ve read better lobby card tag lines: “One did it with sheer stockings…One did it for sheer excitement!” But the more I think about it, it does have a rather perverse ring to it.

99 River Street 4

Diligent hard work all day Saturday earns downtime later Saturday night, as in Eddie Muller’s Noir Alley on TCM at 11:00 PM CST. Tonight: John Payne, Evelyn Keyes and Peggy Castle in 1953’s 99 River Street, directed by low budget noir-ish crime film maestro Phil Karlson, who did three such movies with Payne in the lead. John Payne plays a washed up prize fighter reduced to driving a cab, with a wife who’s none too pleased with cutting coupons in dumpy flat. Which may be why she’s having an affair with a smooth talker, who also happens to be a thief, and who knocks off the the unfaithful wife and then tries to pin the murder on boxer-now-cabbie.

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99 River Street didn’t earn rave reviews when released but its reputation has increased in the years since, thanks in large part to film noir experts like Eddie Muller himself. I was sure I’d seen this movie before, but now I’m thinking I’ve mixed it up with a different film altogether (a few of them do start to look the same after a while), so I’m doubly anxious to shut off the computer a few hours from now and settle in at 11:00 for Muller’s intro and an hour and half of some prime viewing. Thank you once again to TCM and Eddie Muller for Noir Alley!

Noir City

Noir Alley Is Back

Noir Alley 1

Noir Alley returned to TCM in March, last night showing John Huston’s 1940 classic High Sierra with Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino. Turner Classic Movies’ Saturday night feature was on hiatus in February and sorely missed ‘round here. If behaving, and at home working on a Saturday evening, it’s right around 11:00 PM when even I’ve had enough and need a break, and what a perfect break Noir Alley is.

Noir Alley 2

A spinoff of TCM’s 2015 ‘Summer Of Darkness’ film noir series, Noir Alley is hosted by novelist and non-fiction author, Noir City Film Noir Festival host and Film Noir Foundation founder and president, Eddie Muller, who provides intriguing and fact-filled introductions to each film. The series shows its share of the classics you’d expect, of course, but also some lesser-known films that aren’t always at the top of everyone’s list. Next week it’ll be Lady In The Lake and later in April there’ll be John Payne and Evelyn Keyes in 99 River Street and Ann Sheridan in Woman On The Run among others.

High Sierra Montage

High Sierra was a perfect wind-down to a productive Saturday for me, Ida Lupino one of my absolute favorite classic Hollywood era actresses, and she couldn’t be better than she was here as taxi dancer Marie Garson, hooking up with gangster Roy Earle played by Humphrey Bogart. And what can you say about Bogart? He’s Bogart, after all, and this film was a breakthrough for the actor, leading to The Maltese Flacon, Casablanca and so many other classic roles. High Sierra, based on William R. Burnett’s novel of the same name and co-written by Burnett and director John Huston, isn’t film noir in the sense of shadowy rooms, dark urban alleys and rain soaked tenement lined streets. It’s mostly set in…well, the High Sierras, after all. But it’s noir embodied nonetheless (even though the term wasn’t in use yet) with it’s overwhelming sense of fatalism, foreshadowing, and both Bogart’s and Lupino’s desperate and unfulfilled quest for freedom. Like so many films of the era, there are some cringe-worthy racial stereotypes inserted for some poorly chosen comic relief, and it gets increasingly difficult to process those bits.

Anecdote: Pard, the cute pup that foreshadows doom for all, but especially for hard-as-nails yet soft-as-velvet taxi dancer Marie Garson and world-weary gangster ‘Mad Dog’ Roy Earl, was actually Humphrey Bogart’s own real-life pet dog, Zero.

TCM’s Noir Alley hosted by dark-renaissance man Eddie Muller…guess where I’ll be next Saturday at 11:00.

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