From Muskrat To Mink To Murder.

Howell Dodd 1953

This work week’s enough to drive me to drink. And it calls for a really large drink (and I’m not much of a buzzer, mind you).

Just like the gal down to her last few smokes in the Howell Dodd illustration from the June 1953 issue of True Fact Crime magazine, I could use a large one too. In fact, I’d be happy to pay more than thirty cents for it. But we all know that two bits and a nickel will only buy trouble, and in her case, will lead her down a bloody road “from muskrat, to mink, to murder” as the magazine’s lurid teaser lines stated.

You just gotta love those old pulp magazine copywriters.

Through A Glass Darkly.

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“Through A Glass Darkly”: The phrase may be better known for its biblical roots (First Corinthians, Chapter 13) or even Sheridan LeFanu’s deliberate misquote for the title of his 1872 gothic horror story collection In A Glass Darkly, which included Carmilla.

Here the phrase is used for a particularly dark series with Natalia Vodianova as a sometimes sultry and sometimes disheveled femme fatale, shot by master fashion photographer Paolo Roversi for Vogue UK in 2002.

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Noir-ish Nicole.

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Nicole Kidman, chameleon that she is, posing for Vogue Australia in 1994 in a 1930’s retro-noir-ish looking photo suite that could be studio stills lifted from a pre-WWII proto-noir film. (I believe that’s then-spouse Tom Cruise lurking in the background of one shot.) By photographer and film director Rocky Schrenck.

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You Can’t Spend It In Prison.

Isabeli Fontana 1

Breaking in? That’s the easy part. That is, if you’re an expert safe cracker, which model Isabeli Fontana apparently is in this 2010 Vogue Brazil fashion editorial. Escaping with your loot? Now that’s another story…

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Taylor: Balbaboco’s Bad Girl.

Denver Balbaboco

I don’t know how a squeaky-clean pop star like Taylor Swift can (on occasion) morph into a pretty authentic looking femme fatale, but she’s done it onstage, in music videos, fashion photo suites, and even here in a handsome bit of portraiture by digital/traditional artist, fashion illustrator and video editor Denver Balbaboco.

Blonde Ice (1948): Death On The Cheap.

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I’m no more skilled with my DVR than I am with software installations or DIY furniture assembly, which means not at all. But getting by these days without ol’ reliable TCM and Eddie Muller’s Noir Alley, I have to make do with other channels like MOVIES! And it’s Noir To Die For and Sunday Night Noir showcases. To be fair, there are some true classics to be seen there like Peggy Cummins in 1950’s Gun Crazy, Gloria Grahame in 1953’s The Big Heat, Mitchum, Ryan (and Grahame again) in 1947’s Crossfire, Joan Bennett in Scarlet Street or Lizabeth Scott and Robert Mitchum in The Racket.

And then there are some ‘less-than-classic’ films like Night Editor (1946), Two of A Kind (1951), Murder By Contract (1958), Human Desire (1954), The Hoodlum (1951)…and Leslie Brooks in Jack Bernhard’s 1948 Blonde Ice.

Blonde Ice

The thing is, these movies air during weeknight wee hours often as not, and I’m still on-the-job and full-time (thank goodness) during the sheltering-in. Hence, the need to bone up on those DVR skills so I don’t end up with two hours of some informercial instead of a juicy noir classic or at least a near-classic B-movie crime melodrama.

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As for Blonde Ice: Consider it a lost film noir or one of a zillion 1930’s – 1950’s B-movies gone missing without anyone noticing. But the film was rediscovered and restored in 2003, though fresh viewings and subsequent critical reassessments still seem to regard it as a so-called ‘minor noir’. The look is strictly low-budget B-movie throughout. The acting wasn’t going to garner any Oscar nominations (Brooks included), though the script is brimming with some nifty noir-ish lines. What makes Blonde Ice worth a viewing is seeing such a thoroughly amoral, greedy, and murderous female character from the postwar era. Leslie Brooks’ society reporter Claire Cummings Hanneman isn’t interested in engaging the audience’s sympathy, and the script makes little attempt to justify the cold and calculating way Claire goes for one man after another (and another and another)…leaving most of them dead. I’ve no idea if this is a faithful adaption of Elwyn Whitman Chambers’ 1938 novel Once Too Often or not, but I will suggest that Leslie Brooks’ Claire ranks up there with Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyllis Dietrichson, Jane Greer’s Kathy Moffat or Peggy Cummins’ Annie Laurie Starr…or Linda Fiorentino’s Bridget Gregory for that matter…if only for sheer malevolence.

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I surmised that Blonde Ice wasn’t an ‘A’ release since I first noticed it on the cover of Arthur Lyons’ 2000 Death On The Cheap – The Lost Movies Of Film Noir (link below for a bit about that excellent book). Now there’s a memorable image: One dead guy, one revolver and one smirking woman counting her folding money. Kinda says it all when it comes to a true femme fatale.

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Arseniy’s Toying With Me…

Arseniy Semyonov

Consider it a story prompt: This photo by Arseniy Semyonov could spark at least a dozen different tales, each scenario deliciously dark and probably deadly.

A private eye’s just been handed that photo by his secretary? Or a meeting with a classic femme fatale of a client has just wrapped up, the gumshoe assigned to hunt for her (most likely dead) lover? Heck, that fellow could be a pulp scribe holed up in a grungy motel room to complete his hard-boiled masterpiece, the silhouette of a curvy vision in the doorway no more than a figment of his liquor and cigarette fueled imagination.

Damn, I love/hate when pictures set me off like this…

Write Your Own Story.

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A dark (or doomed) romance: Gustavo Zylbersztajn (go ahead and pronounce that) shot Brazilian model Isabeli Fontana for Schon #19, if not exactly echoing a glamorous film noir femme fatale, then surely depicting vignettes from a moody crime melodrama, where a meet-up can mean romance, or something much more dangerous. Is Ms. Fontana a spy, a jewel thief, or merely trolling for love, inevitably of the doomed and ultimately unfulfilling variety? Who knows? As with most narrative style fashion editorials, the photos easily become prompts, ripe for spinning your own story.

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Blues In The Dark

Blues in The Dark

L.A. indie film producer Karissa Glover is in the final stages of a messy divorce from a B-grade action film star and needs a new place to live. Like now. Coincidence (or is it?) leads her to an old mansion in West Adams Heights, available at a ridiculously low rent. The house has remained vacant since its prior owner, Ultimate Studio’s overnight star and film noir femme fatale Blair Kendrick, was murdered in the late 1940’s.  The now forgotten star’s furniture and mementoes all remain, and Karissa soon uncovers one mystery after another, all related to Kendrick’s then-taboo relationship with an African-American jazz musician. Obsessed, Karissa begins developing a film based on the actress’ life story, attempting to solve the mysteries surrounding her death. And some mighty dangerous people definitely do not want anyone digging into Blair Kendrick’s death or the mysterious disappearance of her lover.

You’d have to turn in your ‘I-Read-Mysteries’ I.D. card if you don’t see where this one’s going. But that’s not intended as a criticism. Like a fun road trip, sometimes it’s all about the journey, not the destination. And I don’t mean that I anticipated all the twists, turns and details in Raymond Benson’s tale, only that I guessed at its ultimate resolution early on. But that just made me all the more eager to learn how we’d get there. No surprise; Benson’s a good storyteller, done here in chapters that alternate between modern day Karissa Glover’s efforts to learn more about the mysterious 1940’s star, and Blair Kendrick’s postwar Hollywood milieu, in which she tries to avoid the casting couch, falls hard for a handsome jazz pianist, and their desperate attempts to elude period prejudices, lethal studio enforcers and even the mob. Benson knows how to handle this alternating chapter structure well. His multi-book Black Stiletto series (each of which I literally gobbled up) about a 1950’s costumed vigilante employed the technique skillfully.

It bears mentioning that Blues In The Dark’s Karissa Glover is an adoptee, her birth parents unknown, only that she is of mixed racial heritage. Like maybe a beautiful blue-eyed blonde film noir actress and an African American jazz musician. Hmmm…

If you like retro Hollywood settings, a good mystery and a well-told tale, it’d be hard not to like Raymond Benson’s Blues In The Dark.

Adriana, The Femme Fatale

Adriana Lima Vogue Brazil 2013 1

A sleek black dress, heels and hose, a cigarette smoking away…and if looks could kill, then hers say murder. But it’s not a saucy scene from a retro noir in a steamy South American setting. It’s model Adriana Lima posing for Vogue Brazil in an editorial shot by Giampaolo Sgura.

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