Tag Archives: Film Noir

Classic Movie Night Recommendation:

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

Friday, April 18th

10:00PM (ET)

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When Frank Chambers mused that maybe his future starts now, little did he know the events at Twin Oaks would seal his fate.

When Frank Chambers mused that maybe his future starts now, little did he know the events at Twin Oaks would seal his fate.

Drifter Frank Chambers (John Garfield) ends up at a Twin Oaks roadside diner and gas station. Instantly he loses his breath upon seeing Twin Oaks mistress, Cora Smith (Lana Turner). The longer he stays, the more he is taken into the web of this femme fatale. Cora wants Frank and Twin Oaks, and the only way to have both is to get rid of her husband (Cecil Kellaway). They plan for an accident to befall Nick Smith, planning every detail of the crime. However, as fate would have it the murder doesn’t go off as planned, and the accident attacks the attention of the local district attorney. Their second attempt to get Nick out of their lives succeeds. However, Nick and Cora are torn apart under the strains of an investigation into their involvement with Nick’s death. But, this temporary breakup is far from the end for Frank and Cora.

Postman_3The influence of Postman written in 1934 by James M. Cain can be seen in a later Cain novel turned film, Double Indemnity. Both films feature a man entangled and brought down by a femme fatale plotting to permanently get rid of her husband. It was because of Paramount’s success with Double Indemnity (1944) that convinces MGM to take this leap into film noir. It was the glamour studios way of featuring their blond-bombshell Lana Turner while keeping within the lines of the censors, and Turner steams up the screen with her pairing with Garfield.

Follow the link for more images from The Postman Always Rings Twice. Pinterest Board: Classic Movie Night Recommendation

Images from: The Postman Always Rings Twice Dir. Tay Garnett. MGM, 1946. DVD.

Classic Movie Night Recommendation:

The Third Man (1949)

 

SPOILER ALERT: if you’ve never seen this film, you read the rest of this article at your own risk…

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Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) and Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli)

A broke Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) arrives in post World War II allied-occupied Vienna, to meet his friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles).  Lime has offered his friend and writer a job with his charity.  However, upon arrival Martins finds that Lime was killed the day before, falling dead at his doorway after being hit by a car.  Martins quickly attracts the attention of British Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) who ties to usher him out of town due to his association with Lime.  Calloway has been working to rid Vienna of the likes of Lime and his associates.  Using his background as a writer, Martins finds a sponsor to extend his stay in Vienna as the guest of Crabbin (Wilfred Hyde-White) the head of the Cultural Reeducation Section.  This allows Martins the extra time to prove Lime’s innocence.  Through his pursuits he finds himself surrounded by shady characters and a beautiful femme fatale.  He learns that the circumstances surrounding Lime’s death are not adding up.  Aside from the usual suspects, a third man witnessed Lime’s accident.  Martins also learns that Lime was a truly despicable human being, and his lowest act was avoiding punishment for his crimes by faking his death.

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Orson Welles in his “star role” as Harry Lime.

Orson Welles would tell Peter Bogdanovich that the role of Harry Lime was a “star role.”  The most of the film centers around talking about Harry Lime, when Lime finally appears in the film it’s as if the other characters have built up the character so much that a minimal performance will end up being a great performance to be talked about.  Welles appearance in the film is dramatic though brief, however he had no direct influence over the film aside from his “cuckoo clock” speech.  However, it is evident the influence Welles had on director Carol Reed.  Much of the film is reminiscent of Welles’ films Citizen Kane (1941) and Lady from Shanghai (1947).

The Third Man_3Noir films are typically thought as strictly an American style of film.  However, The Third Man ranks on many lists as one of the best noir films, though it is a British production.  This particular noir focuses on amateur detective Martins maneuvering to solve the crime of his best friend’s death rather than focusing on the criminal mind.  We are given some insight into Lime and his crimes when we listen to his soliloquy on the ferris wheel.  However, Reed’s stylistic approach is very reminiscent of the American noir, with the use of light and shadow and gritty streets.  to the stories in American noir, Vienna becomes another character in the film.  Post war Vienna with it’s beautiful buildings that housed great works amongst the ravages of war.  This post war Vienna is occupied by the allied victors of the war.  This occupation creates more drama for the film.  Not only does Lime have to navigate pulling the wool over the eyes of one set of officials, but there are four different countries that control Vienna.  As the big cities of Los Angeles and New York are central Reed would also use obscure camera angels reminiscent of Welles’ work and the work of German expressionists to further his dark atmosphere of confusion and mistrust.

The Third Man_7Nothing can be written about this film without mentioning the zither score written by Anton Karas.  Karas at the time was known locally in Vienna for playing the zither at wine-gardens.  Reed wanted a sound for his film that Viennese in origin, but different from the typical Viennese waltz.  One night while taking in some of the local flavor of Vienna he heard the music of Karas.

 

 

 

Follow the link for more images from The Third Man.  Pinterest Board: Classic Movie Night Recommendation

Images from: The Third Man Dir. Carol Reed.  British Lion Films, 1949.  DVD.

 

Classic Movie Night Recommendation:

Double Indemnity (1944)

 

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Phyllis: “There’s a speed limit in this state Mr. Neff, 45 miles per hour.”
Neff: “How fast was I going officer?”
Phyllis: “I’d say around 90.”
Neff: “Suppose you get down from your motorcycle and give me a ticket.”
Phyllis: “Suppose I let you off with a warning this time.”
Neff: “Suppose it doesn’t take.”
Phyllis: “Suppose I have to whack you over the knuckles.”
Neff: “Suppose I bust out crying and put my head on your shoulder.”
Phyllis: “Suppose you try putting it on my husband’s shoulder.”

Insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) unsuspectingly drops by a client’s house to renew a policy for car insurance and is quickly ensnared into a murder plot with Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck).  Neff seemingly equally motivated by the prospects of being with Phyllis and wanting to pull off the perfect crime to scam the company maneuvers through much of the film fooling the best claims investigator in the business and his friend, Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson).  Though Neff has always been honest, he is not exactly an upstanding individual seeming to involve himself with cheap women and Phyllis fit this type.  From their first meeting the characters dialogue shows their dance with each other, each trying to get what they want from the other.  Phyllis wants to murder her husband, and Neff wants Phyllis.

However, the central relationship in the film is not Neff and Phyllis, but Neff and Keyes.  Keyes often appears to be pushing Neff into bigger and better things in the company, not to stay with his same job as a salesman.  The two men share a friendship and partnership which is broken by Neff’s involvement with Phyllis and subsequent fall from the straight and narrow.

Neff: (to Keyes) “I love you too.”  (voiceover)  “I really did to you old crab, always yelling your head off, always sore at everybody.  You never fooled me with your song and dance, not for a second.  I kind of always knew that behind the cigar ashes on your vest you had a heart as big as a house.”

Neff: (to Keyes) “I love you too.” (voiceover) “I really did to you old crab, always yelling your head off, always sore at everybody. You never fooled me with your song and dance, not for a second. I kind of always knew that behind the cigar ashes on your vest you had a heart as big as a house.”

PhotoFancie2013_06_16_13_29_054When Billy Wilder decided to film the James Cain story many in Hollywood thought that with the Production Code the story was unfilmable.  Billy Wilder who worked with a partner when working on screenplays chose to work with writer Raymond Chandler to help write this film.  Much of the dark poetic dialogue is due to Chandler’s influence.  Chandler is often credited with his use of words, evolution of characters through dialogue and images.  Wilder was known for his witty fast talk.  Together the two men took Cain’s story and turned it into a memorable film which was able to pass the censors.

PhotoFancie2013_06_16_13_29_505There is not one single element that defines a noir film, but there are elements that are typically present.  Elements include the femme fatal, a quick talking and flawed leading man, an urban setting, and the inclusion of some kind of heist or scam.  However, Double Indemnity would further these elements and adds a few more stylized techniques that would become synonymous with film noir, one of these elements being the use of voice over narration of the story.  Neff’s Dictaphone confession ends up being a voice over narration for the story.  Originally in Cain’s story, Neff’s confession was to be written.  However, for this film the use of the Dictaphone works to move the story along and utilize more of the Wilder/Chandler dialogue.

Despite the twist and turns that the story takes what is most noted is the cinematography.  John F. Seitz use of light and shadow in the interior scenes sets the stage for the ugliness that happens inside the world of sunny Los Angeles.  The use of light coming through the blinds that creates a trap or cage for the character of Neff who is trapped in his murder plot with Phyllis.  Many of these elements would be used by other creators of film noir, and Wilder himself would use this formula in his later film Sunset Boulevard (1950).

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PhotoFancie2013_06_16_13_31_077Given its production date in 1944 it is curious that there is no reference to World War II which was still raging in Europe and the Pacific and on the minds of most film viewers of the time.  There is not even an image of a soldier on the street.  Wilder sets the date for the story as 1938, thus making an excuse to ignore the war.  Wilder too had been affected by Hitler and the war in Europe.  During the early rise of Hitler, Wilder as well as others in the German film industry left Germany for Hollywood leaving behind family.

Double Indemnity was nominated for several Academy Awards, however lost to Going My Way (1944).  Given the war-time atmosphere of the time, Going My Way was the sentimental and uplifting film that audiences wanted to see and the Academy wished to acknowledge.  After the war, noir would become a popular style and audiences where ready to see gritty crime dramas about the ugliness of the world.

PhotoFancie2013_06_16_13_36_228No write-up of Double Indemnity is complete without commenting on Stanwyck’s wig worn in the film.  Much has been said and written about this famously hideous wig.  It is often said that Wilder picked the wig himself to show the cheapness of the character, she was just as cheap on the outside as she was on the inside.  Others have also said that by the time Wilder had decided to scrap the wig, he had already shot too much of Stanwyck in the wig that it would be a waste of money to turn back and reshoot using a different hairstyle.  Stanwyck was known for playing tough, sexy, low-class characters that often climb they’re way out of their circumstances.  She could have easily played this character without the wig and would have had a great effect.  However, would the character have been so memorable and still talked about if the wig had not been used?

Double Indemnity will be shown on Friday as part of their Friday Night Spotlight series focusing on Noir Writers (click on the link below to read more about this spotlight series):

Jonathan Latimer:
Nocturne (1946) 8:00PM (ET)
They Won’t Believe Me (1947) 9:30PM (ET)

James Cain:
Double Indemnity (1944) 11:45PM (ET)
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) 1:30AM (ET)
Serenade (1956) 3:15AM (ET)

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Follow the link for more images from Double Indemnity (1944).  Pinterest Board: Classic Movie Night Recommendation

Images from: Double Indemnity. Dir. Billy Wilder.  Paramount Pictures 1944.  DVD.

Humphrey Bogart Film Festival Debuts in Key Largo

Key Largo - Movie Trailer

KEY LARGO, Florida — In the very setting of that famous cinematic face-off between Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson — from the fourth film of the Bogart-Bacall series — the town of Key Largo will be celebrating ol’ Bogie’s legacy this May 2 through 5 during the Humphrey Bogart Film Festival.

In honor of the namesake film’s 65th anniversary, the festival will kick things off by presenting the famous film noir classic “Key Largo” starring Humphrey Bogart, his wife Lauren Bacall, Edward G. Robinson, Lionel Barrymore and Claire Trevor in a special outdoor waterfront screening during Thursday night’s cocktail reception. Taking place at Key Largo’s Murray E. Nelson Government and Cultural Center, the premiere will be hosted by none other than Stephen Bogart, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall’s son, with esteemed film critic Leonard Maltin as special guest

Click here to read about the festival

A walk on the dark side of film

Dig out your raincoats and crushed fedoras for American Cinematheque’s Noir City: Hollywood festival. This year’s festival kicks off with the recently restored ‘Try and Get Me.’

By Susan King, Los Angeles Times

April 3, 2013, 4:58 p.m.

There is something mesmerizing — almost addictive — about the classic film noirs of the 1940s and ’50s, with their darkened, rain-drenched streets and narrow alleys inhabited by anti-heroes sporting well-worn raincoats and crushed fedoras.

These men held their secrets close to the vest. And their hearts on their sleeves. The women they encountered were labeled dames. Far from shrinking, demure violets, these tough-minded beauties could hold their own, wrapping the men around their little fingers and causing their moral downfall or death.

A major influence on filmmakers over the decades, these film noirs boasted such talent as Humphrey Bogart, Dan Duryea, Frank Lovejoy, Richard Basehart, Victor Mature, Coleen Gray and Gloria Grahame.

Read more at the Los Angeles Times

 

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