THE BIG BOOK OF NOIR (1998) is edited by Ed Gorman,Lee Server and Martin H. Greenberg. It’s a must read for Noir fans and is full of essays on noir films, books and radio noir. Several of the essays include interviews and insights into classic noir films.
FRITZ LANG on FURY and WOMAN IN THE WINDOW:
“When we finished shooting the film,Mr. Mankeiwicz (Joseph Mankeiwicz,producer) wanted us to change the ending. Can you imagine Spencer Tracy,after finishing his stirring speech to the judge,immediately turning away to hug his girl. Mr.Mankeiwicz however got his way.”
“….I thought of having the professor wake up after he has poisoned himself to discover that he had fallen asleep in a chair at his club. As he leaves the club he recognises the hatcheck boy as the blackmailer in his dream,the porter as the man he killed in the girl’s apartment etc.
He stands looking into a store window at the portrait of a woman when another girl comes up and asks him to go with her, just as Joan Bennett had done at the beginning of the picture. Robinson is scared and runs away shouting,’Not on your life!’
So I was able to end the film on a healthy laugh instead of just grimly winding up a story with three deaths in it.”
(I guess Mr. Lang didn’t feel the same when he did SCARLET STREET.)
In an essay on Raymond Chandler by William F.Nolan, Bogart in THE BIG SLEEP is described as “delivering a stellar performance,playing Marlowe with cynical wit and riveting intensity…Many Chandler buffs claim that his is the ultimate portrayal of Chandler’s knight in a trench coat.”
There’s a great chapter on Marc Lawrence by Lee Server…….”When you gave him a part like ‘Cobby’ the weasel middleman in THE ASPHALT JUNGLE,he could be electrifying.”
Mr Server interviewed Marc who commented, “You were with royalty when you worked at Metro. The others were more like factories,you went to work,did your job….. I thought more about the director than the studio. They ran the show their own way,someone like Dieterle,wearing his gloves on the set,von Sternberg,Fritz Lang. Some people were easy to work with, some were a pain in the ass.”
I didn’t know Marc Lawrence had directed TV shows like The Roaring Twenties and Lawman.
Lee Server also interviewed Abraham Polonsky who wrote an original screenplay for John Garfield in 1947, BODY AND SOUL and then in 1948 made his directorial debut with Garfield’s FORCE OF EVIL. He was then run out of the business and blacklisted. Mr Polonsky was 87 at the time of his talk with Mr Server.
Polonsky was friends with composer Bernard Hermann…..”We grew up together. We were friends forever. Later,when I was blacklisted, he denied he ever met me.”
“John Garfield was absolutely marvellous to work with – sensitive,gifted and prepared.”
There is also a great interview with writer A.I.Bezzerides (Kiss Me Deadly,On Dangerous Ground). He had written two novels, The Long Haul and Thieves’ Market which became THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT and THIEVES HIGHWAY. He talked about the writer’s life in Hollywood:
“Jack Warner thought you had to create from nine to five. He’d be at the window when you got in late and you’d get a note or some such thing. He thought you could create at a certain time and then stop. But it doesn’t work like that.You’re creative at home,when you’re driving in your car, it could be at any time.”
On the ending of ON DANGEROUS GROUND (with the cop going back to the blind girl),
“It ruined the structure. They wouldn’t listen. …the cop must go back to the city,the city filled with violence….but he’s a better cop because the memory of that kid and what his presence did to him – made that kid die – has given him insight.”
One of my favourite chapters is by screenplay writer Leigh Brackett who talks about getting the writing job on THE BIG SLEEP;
“Howard Hawks was somewhat shaken when he discovered that it was Miss and not Mister Brackett, but he rallied bravely and signed me on anyway for which I have always been extremely grateful. I went to work in a daze. A great Chandler fan, a great Bogart fan…I couldn’t believe it.
….”I did witness the historic occasion upon which everybody began asking everybody else who killed ‘Owen Taylor’ , and nobody knew. A wire was sent asking Chandler and he sent one back saying, ‘I don’t know’. and,really, who cared.”
I also enjoyed the writing on the great radio series SUSPENSE which started in 1942.
Radio’s ‘Sam Spade’ ,Howard Duff was interviewed in 1990. Duff was 28 when he was cast as Dashiell Hammett’s famous character in THE ADVENTURES OF SAM SPADE. He observed, “I think they wanted me more or less to do a Bogart impersonation at first. I wanted to do it in my own way…… we were doing these shows live,at least for the first 4 years. We’d do a show live for the East,and then another one later on for the West. Two identical shows,each done live.”