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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Nora Prentiss

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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.

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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

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.

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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

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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.

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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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