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

 

“A Ruthless Story Of Rackets And Redheads”

Snapshot

DVD’s of the 1956 noir-in-color film Slightly Scarlet are supposed to come with extras, including a Max Allan Collins commentary. Mine may have been bought new, but from a closeout bin, and it came with nothing but a disk with the movie on it. Just a knock-off copy? Who knows? But I would’ve really liked that Collins commentary track.

Slightly Scarlett DVD

Call it a noir, call it a crime melodrama, call it what you will, but director Allan Dwan’s film of a Robert Blees’ screenplay – adapted (rather freely) from James M. Cain’s Love’s Lovely Counterfeit — is an intriguing movie, and in more than one way.

Loves Lovely Counterfeit

The source novel isn’t Cain’s best, but less-than-perfect Cain can be better than some others’ best work, and being James M. Cain, the novel includes some scenes/themes that a mid-1950’s movie could never hope to get away with. Here, John Payne plays Ben Grace, who works for Bay City’s ruthless rackets boss Solly Caspar, and has been assigned to dig up dirt on a crusading mayoral candidate making trouble for the syndicate. Doing so might be easier than Ben Grace imagined, once he discovers that the reformer has a girlfriend, and she has a sister newly released from prison.

Rhonda Fleming plays ‘good girl’ June Lyons, who Ben Grace promptly falls for. Arlene Dahl plays ‘bad girl’ Dorothy, an unrepentant thief with an eye for the fellows — the badder the better — and Payne’s Ben Grace will do just fine. With the heat on and the mob boss forced to flee town, Ben Grace takes over the rackets while he falls for sister-the-good but is seduced by sister-the-bad, all in suitably 1950’s era levels of sex-i-fied sizzle. But then Solly the mob boss returns, with wads of dough that more than make up for his gruff ways as far as Dorothy is concerned. Soon, bullets start flying, bodies pile up till the law finally arrives, though not before Ben Grace goes down.

Slightly Scarlet 4

John Payne may have gotten top billing, but this was Rhonda Fleming and Arlene Dahl’s movie all the way, and they’re a delight to watch. Dahl, in particular, pushes the era’s boundaries in both subtle and then overt ways as an unapologetic crook whose sex drive is always in high gear, whether she’s pawing through wads of loot the mob kingpin tosses at her feet, or more provocative still, is sprawled on a sofa and apparently enjoying a little…uhm…’private time’. (Demurely shot from behind the sofa, of course…C’mon, it was 1956!) Bottom line: The two actresses get a workout in this film and turn in terrific performances. FYI, both Rhonda Fleming and Arlene Dahl are still with us, I believe.

While Slightly Scarlet wasn’t a big budget production, it was filmed in Technicolor (and “Superscope”, whatever that is) and in many scenes and setups, seems to point the way toward the look of many “Neo-Noir” films to come decades later. Familiar film noir camera angles and deeply shadowed corners, backgrounds and overheads are evident throughout, but all in color instead of black & white. Visually, at least, much of the film looks ahead of tis time.

Slightly Scarlet 3

Maybe you’ll spot Slightly Scarlet poking out of a bargain bin yourself. If you do, grab it. It won’t (and shouldn’t) replace Double Indemnity or The Postman Always Rings Twice on your DVD shelf, but you’ll watch two 1950’s pro’s dialing some so-so material up a few notches, all of it shot in a nifty noir-in-color style that presages ominously dark visuals to come a few decades later.

And I Haven’t Read A Single Story Yet.

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It’s over a month ago that I reserved a copy of Otto Penzler’s The Big Book Of Reel Murders – Stories That Inspired Great Crime Films, warned at the time that it might not arrive till mid-November. In fact, I got it almost two weeks ago and have been burrowing through this nearly 1,200-page monster of a book since.

And yet – so far, I haven’t actually read a single story.

The Big Book Of Reel Murders

Each of the 61 stories by writers like Robert Bloch, Ian Fleming, Dashiell Hammett, Dennis Lehane, Sinclair Lewis, Daphne du Maurier, W. Somerset Maugham, Budd Schulberg, Cornell Woolrich and others was the basis of a mystery/crime/noir film. Some you’d know, of course. Some, perhaps not. (I’d never heard of a few!) The movies inspired by the anthology’s tales include Woman In The Dark (1934), The Big Steal (1949), Fear In The Night (1947), Gun Crazy (1950), Tip On A Dead Jockey (1957), Mr. Dynamite (1951) and many others — some stills, publicity shots and posters for those shown here with this post.

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Many anthologies seem to be hastily put together, with little more than a brief genre celebrity preface, editor intro and — if the reader’s lucky — author bio’s. Not this book. Each of the 60+ stories are preceded by a two or three-page introduction providing author, story or publication background info, plus details and anecdotes about the film inspired by that story. Add it up: These intro’s almost form a book on their own, with the insights into familiar films being informative treats, the others being prompts to hunt up the movies as yet unseen.

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Oh, I’ll go back and read the stories, of course. The Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edgar Allan Poe and Agatha Christie tales I already have elsewhere and have read more than once might be skipped, but there’s some choice material in this big book. And though it might seem a little weird, some of the choicest content is actually the story introductions, as much as the stories themselves.

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Trapped (1949)

Trapped 4

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.

Trapped 1

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.

Trapped 2

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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Gun Crazy

Gun Crazy 1

Nothing to do with the iconic Joseph H. Lewis 1950 cult classic film noir Gun Crazy co-scripted by Dalton Trumbo for the King Brothers. These are selected images from the “Gun Crazy” series by photographer Vladimir Volf Kirilin.

Gun Crazy 3Gun Crazy 4Gun Crazy 5Gun Crazy 1-A

 

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.

White Orchid 2

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.

White Orchid 7

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.

White Orchid 1

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.

 

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.

No Noir City Chicago For Me.

Noir City Chicago

So, does this figure, or what? The Film Noir Foundation’s Noir City Chicago starts this Friday (the day after tomorrow, when this post appears). And where will I be?

Well, not in Chicago. About 350 miles away, in fact.

In A Lonely Place, A Kiss Before Dying, The Killing, Kiss Me Deadly…oh, the list just goes on and it’s getting me depressed. Sure, I’ve seen many of the fest’s film offerings already, but a laptop or TV screen is no match for the big screen. There’s no better place for these films hereabouts than The Music Box Theatre. I’ve seen some memorable movies there, each experience enhanced by the place itself. But I knew in advance I’d be away for the fest, and ought to be reconciled to it by now.

The Music Box Theatre

Want to know just how much I’d ache to be there, even for one night? Hit the link below for an old post, “Noir City Daydreaming: On The Road”. It’s me fantasizing about chucking the day job and following The Film Noir Foundation’s Noir City film festivals from city to city like some kind of noir-nomad.

Noir City Daydreaming

These post are typically scheduled a bunch at a time and days in advance. And I shouldn’t really be complaining, since I’ll be mixing work with some R&R and fun where I’ll be. Still, the timing’s rotten. Oh well…next year.

https://thestilettogumshoe.com/2019/01/30/noir-city-daydreaming-on-the-road/

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