STEVEN C SMITH and HOLLYWOOD NOIR

It was a pleasure to participate in a three-part webinar in August, thanks to the Kensington and Chelsea library and their guest speaker from California, Steven C. Smith.

Moderated by the  library’s Nicky Smith (no relation as far as I know!), author Steven Smith was a real discovery for me. I knew he had written two books – on Bernard Herrmann and Max Steiner , but didn’t  know he is a great Hollywood historian – and a very engaging and warm speaker.

For three Mondays  in a row, Steven spoke for an hour at a time, interspersed with film clips from Noir classics. Followed by a Q&A session for another 15\20 minutes.

  • The first theme was From Femme Fatales to Smiling Psychopaths, focusing on Ida Lupino, Gene Tierney and Richard Widmark.

Steven made it clear there is no exact definition of Film Noir, or when it began – he talked about the influence of German expressionist cinema, and the turmoil in America during and after the Second World War, and the fact that Noir can take a lot of forms. eg can a noir film be in color? ( yes, LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN), or take place outside the States? ( yes, NIGHT AND THE CITY).

Steven quoted the Oxford dictionary definition of Film Noir – ‘a genre of crime film’.

 

James M Cain

It was writers like James M. Cain , Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler who provided the stories made into films in the 1940s.

Cain authored “The Postman Always Rings Twice”, “Double Indemnity”  and “Mildred Pierce “;  Chandler gave us “The Blue Dahlia “, “Murder My Sweet”, “The Big Sleep”; and Hammett gave us Sam Spade and The Maltese Falcon.

 

Raymond Chandler

 

Dashiell Hammett

 

We saw scenes from “The Hitchhiker”, “Leave Her  to Heaven”,”Laura”, “Kiss Of Death”, “Moontide.”

Ida Lupino’s song,”Again” from “Road House” got to Number 2 in the 1949  Hit Parade.

Ida as ‘Lily Stevens’ in ROAD HOUSE

 

William Tallman in Ida Lupino’s THE HITCHHIKER

Steven discussed the tragedy Gene Tierney experienced when she contracted German measles ( probably through a fan)and her daughter was born disabled . (Agatha Christie’s “The Mirror Cracked” used this theme for a murder plot.)

Gene Tierney

That famous scene where Gene watches Darryl Hickman drowning, without a flicker of emotion.

Richard Widmark, remembered for his murderous ‘Tommy Udo’ in “Kiss Of Death”, was described as having “a staccato, mirthless laugh” – Karl  Malden  called it a ‘cackle’.

M

In a Widmark interview, the actor told the story of being in a restaurant and a guy belting him – this was after “Kiss Of Death” and that shocking scene where he throws a woman in a wheelchair down a flight of stairs.

Steven explained that Widmark was the antithesis of his screen character . He avoided the Hollywood party scene and was married for 55 years.

  • The second webinar was entitled, Murder For Sale, James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler:From Novel to Film.

MGM had bought the rights to Cain’s novel, “THE POSTMAN RINGS TWICE” in 1934, bit it couldn’t be made because of the new  Production  Code – the novel ends with a double suicide.

ThePostman Always Rings Twice

MGM finally made it in 1946 and we saw a clip of Lana Turner’s classic entrance in the film.

 

Cain’s novel, DOUBLE INDEMNITY was filmed by Billy Wilder. Wilder’s long time collaborator, Charles Brackett , didn’t like the story and Wilder  couldn’t get Cain, so he chose Raymond Chandler. Wilder loved Chandler’s writing , but not the man. Chandler had always written at home on his own. He and the younger Wilder did not mell,  but they did come up with a great script.

(Cain, incidentally, loved the film adaptation.)

Steven suggested the name ‘Dietrichson’ might have been a homage to Wilder’s  friend, Marlene Dietrich.

We saw the classic end scene when Neff confesses to Keyes,  “I killed Dietrichson, me Walter Neff. I killed him for money and for a woman. I didn’t get the money or the woman.”

Fred MacMurray. DOUBLE INDEMNITY

 

Barbara Stanwyck. DOUBLE INDEMNITY

 

 

That scene in “Double Indemnity “ when Fred MacMurray  passes a seated Raymond Chandler.

 

 

Billy Wilder

 

Dick Powell reinvents his screen image with Chandler’s “Farewell My Lovely” – filmed as “Murder My Sweet.” And Chandler liked Powell as his famed detective,Philip Marlowe.

 

Chandler had written “The Big Sleep” in 1939 ( when he was 51). When it came to the screen with Humphrey Bogart , director Howard Hawks wanted  Chandler involved in the script but Chandler was tied to Paramount.
Not an easy book to adapt, the plot was so dense, even Chandler couldn’t remember every plot line he had written 5 years earlier.

The Big Sleep

 

Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake. THE BLUE DAHLIA.

”The Blue Dahlia” was written directly for the screen by Raymond Chandler.

 

Raymond Chandler worked on a draft of his novel, “The Lady in the Lake”, but it was rejected and eventually he didn’t want his name on the film.
It was another Philip Marlowe story, with the twist of the story being told from, literally,Marlowe’s point  of view. ie he becomes the camera.

Robert Montgomery as Philip Marlowe

 

 

“Mildred  Pierce” ,written in 1941, was filmed in 1946 and won Joan Crawford an Oscar.

 

Ann Blyth, Joan Crawford. MILDRED PIERCE.

 

 

”The Maltese Falcon” was written by Dashiell Hammett in 1929 and serialised in “Black Mask” magazine before being published in novel form.

Warner Brothers bought the rights and astonishingly filmed the story three times in a ten year period. First in 1931 with Ricardo Cortez and Bebe Daniels, then in 1936 as “Satan Met a Lady”, with Warren William and Bette  Davis .

 

Bette Davis, Warren William. SATAN MET A LADY.

Steven describes “Satan met a Lady”  as a knock-off of “The Thin Man”. 

 

Finally, John Huston persuaded Warners to try again, and this time the novel was transferred faithfully, and the cast was first class.

As Steven Smith says, ‘The Huston version is head and shoulders above the others.’

 

Humphrey Bogart as ‘Sam Spade’.

 

Sydney  Greenstreet as Kaspar Gutman

 

Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo. THE MALTESE FALCON.

 

  • The third segment was entitled San Francisco Noir.

 

Dennis O’Keefe, Ann Sheridan.WOMAN ON THE RUN.

Some great shots of San  Francisco in “Woman on the Run”, and in “Dark Passage” and “The Man Who Cheated Himself.”

 

 

For D.O.A (Edmond O’Brien), we see O’Brien running along Market Street – the street was not closed off for filming and it was members of the public he runs past.

It’s a stunning film, with O’Brien having been poisoned and only hours to live . When he visits a doctor, he’s told, “You’ve been murdered!” and he says, “You’re telling me I’m dead!”     ( Well not yet, not until the poison does its  work and he finds out who killed  him.)

VERTIGO” would need a discussion on its own, Steven said, when asked about it. Exteriors were done in San Francisco.

 

Steven Smith’s website is http://www.mediasteven.com. He is an Emmy nominated documentary producer, author and speaker. He produced over 50 episodes of A&E Biography, plus audio commentaries for blu-rays of Garden of Evil, Vertigo, The Day the Earth Stood Still.

He also did documentaries for the Film Noir Foundation’s releases of The Prowler, Woman on the Run, Too Late For Tears and Trapped.

So, kudos to Kensington and Chelsea library for giving us this excellent speaker for over three hours. Let’s hope he returns soon.

(I’ve just booked for another webinar hosted by the library in September on David Niven – 22 September.6.30pm in Britain. )

(www.rbkc.gov.uk)

 

 

There are three decades in between Steven’s  biography of Bernard Herrmann and his book on Max Steiner. Both are highly acclaimed. I’d love to interview Mr. Smith. Who knows!

 

In a Variety interview in 2020, Steven spoke about Max Steiner: “Steiner’s the one who first put it all together at the dawn of the talkies, this idea of how to write orchestral music under and around dialogue…….”

 

 

 

 

Steven C. Smith

 

 

 

Does Anyone Still Wear a Hat 3

 

 

Marlene Dietrich .

That’s a Big  rose.

 

 

Claudette Colbert.

Always chique.

 

Eleanor Parker.

Veils  always  popular.

 

Linda Darnell.

Winter warmth.

 

 

Esther Williams

Stunning.

 

Yvonne De Carlo.

A wee bit heavy.

 

 

Ginger Rogers 

Don’t know how to describe this.

 

 

Dorothy Lamour

In Bloom.

 

James Cagney, Ginger Rogers

Ginger’s hat was described by @HazelFlagg on Twitter as “A frying pan hemmed with a curtain.”

 

Betty Grable

Who needs a hat.

 

 

 

 

FUNNY MOMENTS with Boris and Lon

”I can’t explain it,” Margaruite  Churchill peers despairingly into Ricardo Cortez’s face. “Yet my father seems…..he seems….”
“Different?” 
Cortez suggests.  “Different” Churchill affirms.

Cortez whips off his glasses and says, “Darling, when a man as sensitive as your father has been hung by the neck, pronounced officially dead and brought miraculously back to life, he’s bound to be affected by the experience.”

 

 

Lon Chaney Jr. shivers  in his sleep. “No,no,no!”  he moans, staring at the light of the full moon. He sprouts fangs and fur  and starts a bestial bellowing.
In a frenzy to mangle a throat or two, he tears apart his bed, topples tables, pulls down a chandelier and sends it crashing into an immense mirror.

His father (Claude Rains), who has been all the time standing in the hall, raps softly at his door and says,

“Larry ,Larry, my boy, is something  troubling you?”

THE BEST YEAR?

Re-reading Mark A. Vieira ’s excellent 2013 book, “MAJESTIC HOLLYWOOD:THE GREATEST FILMS OF 1939”, there certainly is an argument that 1939 was Hollywood’s greatest year for movies.
Mark Vieira’s books always have a wonderful selection of photographs. In this one, he covers 4 to 6 films released each month from January to December, 1939, ending with the Christmas release of GONE WITH THE WIND.

For each film  there are production  highlights and critical reviews.
Philip K.Scheuer of the L.A.Times on IDIOT’S DELIGHT:

“Gable, tongue in cheek, is really excellent. Here is at last is an intelligent film that was not made in England.”

Frank Nugent of the New York Times on ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS:

“……..Fairly good melodrama, nothing more.”

Edwin Schallert on IN NAME ONLY:

It’s a remote descendent of ‘Back Street’ and ‘ Only Yesterday’, meeting with the current censorship demands.”

 

Alexander Woollcott on GOODBYE MR. CHIPS:

In a year in which the great nations of the world are choosing partners in a dance of death…….the most moving of all motion pictures is “Goodbye Mr. Chips.”

Some of Mark Vieira’s rare photos:

Victor McLaglen,Joan Fontaine, Cary Grant . GUNGA DIN.

 

Paul Muni, Bette Davis.JUAREZ.

 

Carole Lombard, Cary Grant, Kay Francis. IN NAME ONLY.

 

James Cagney in THE ROARING TWENTIES.

 

Top marks if you can identify all the stars seen here from FIVE  CAME BACK.

 

From the book, “Scarlett Fever”(1977) by William Pratt, I love this description of 1939:

Nineteen hundred and thirty nine……Ninotchka laughed, Mr. Smith took a trip to Washington and Dorothy soared over the rainbow…..John Ford rode  a Stagecoach to glory, Bette Davis was victorious and Emily Bronte’s vision materialised…….

“……..the rains came and so did Ingrid Bergman, William Holden and even Greer Garson (who said goodbye to Mr. Chips………Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer had a love affair worth remembering, while Beau Geste’s new sweetheart was Susan Hayward.”

“……..it was a world of idiot’s delight, mice and men, babes in arms, the women and Shirley  Temple in Technicolor……there were drums  along the Mohawk and more of Fred and Ginger, while Gulliver, Juarez, Destry, Gunga Din and Jesse James were in the company of Elizabeth and Essex……..”

“………throughout the real world , tremors of destruction prevailed and the need for escape had never been so great, as Americans realised their safe civilisation could soon end…….it may have been the last completely romantic time  for Hollywood  films  – to be cherished for decades thereafter………

It was the year of GONE WITH THE WIND.”

 

Some of the other classics from that magical year.

 

 

 

 

 

So 1939 has this reputation  and is considered by many to have the largest number of memorable films of any of Hollywood’s classic years.
I’d love to hear from anyone who wants to dispute its reputation.
I had a quick look at Wikipedia’ listing of films by year. 1937 seems to have had its share of good features:

NIGHT MUST FALL…..KNIGHT WITHOUT  ARMOUR…..100 MEN AND A GIRL……..THE AWFUL TRUTH….STAGE DOOR……A STAR IS BORN……DEAD END……THE PRISONER OF ZENDA…….CONQUEST…. HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT……..LOST HORIZON…..TOPPER…..EASY LIVING…..CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS…..SHALL WE DANCE…….NOTHING SACRED…..MARKED WOMAN…….THE FIREFLY…..MAYTIME.

 

Or is all down to personal taste. I’d probably pick 1946 over 1939, possibly because it was the era of Noir – more great titles – NOTORIOUS…..THE KILLERS…..THE BIG SLEEP…….THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES…..THE YEARLING……GILDA…….IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE…….THE JOLSON STORY.

 

Comments welcome!

 

 

 

 

 

ARLENE DAHL is 96 today

Birthday wishes to the lovely Arlene Dahl.

 

 

Arlene had star status in her second film, MY WILD IRISH ROSE.

 

 

With Joel McCrea in THE OUTRIDERS.

 

THE DIAMOND QUEEN.

 

With John Payne in CARIBBEAN.

 

With Robert Taylor in AMBUSH.

 

 

BENGAL BRIGADE

 

 

With James Mason. JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH.

 

With husband Lex Barker.

 

Marriage to Fernando Lamas.

 

Arlene has been married to Marc Rosen since 1984.

 

In 1962, Arlene had a nighclub act in Las Vegas which was very successful.

She also appeared on stage in APPLAUSE.

 

 

PATRICIA HITCHCOCK (1928-2021)

The death of Patricia Hitchcock O’Connell has been announced. She was 93.

Patricia, daughter of Alfred Hitchcock and Alma Reville did train as an actress ,both in California and at RADA in London, but on her marriage in 1952, she made few acting appearances.

Known as ‘Pat’, she had small roles  in three of her father’s films – STAGE FRIGHT, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and PSYCHO.  She also appeared in several episodes of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS in the 1950s.

She said, “Whenever they needed a maid with an English accent”, she’d be considered.

British film director Alfred Hitchcock walks with his wife Alma Reville and their daughter Pat Hitchcock aboard the Queen Mary at Southampton, Great Britain, before departure to America, on March 04, 1939. In United States he is to become Britain’s most successful film export since Charlie Chaplin (and soon hookes up with another ex-pat Englishman, Cary Grant). (Photo credit should read -/AFP/GettyImages)

Pat, of course, was often interviewed about her father and was an invaluable direct connection with the workings of the great director. She also co-wrote a book about her mother, “Alma Reville, The Woman Behind The Man.”

The Hitchcock family.

 

With Jane Wyman the set of STAGE FRIGHT, made in London when Pat was attending RADA.

 

STRANGERS ON A TRAIN

 

 

 

 

THIS ‘IN THAT 23

…………….Due in the U.K on 20th September, 2021, a limited edition (3,000 copies) blu-Ray of JOHNNY GUITAR. From Eurekavideo.co.uk at £24.99 and includes a 60 page collectors book among the extras.

The film has been out on blu-Ray for some time in America and Germany. Olive Films brought it out in 2012.

There have been more attractive dvd covers in the past:

 

 

…………..Gene Tierney’s portrait from LAURA can be seen in colour in the Danny Kaye film  ON THE RIVIERA (1951) – Gene costars in this remake  of THAT NIGHT IN RIO.

Marcel Dalio, Danny Kaye.

 

…………Watching “Tension”  recently, a query for anyone who knows the film.  I can’t figure why the Audrey Totter character murders her lover. There is a suggestion she is too timing him, but it’s still not clear why she pulls a gun.

Any ideas?
Love the duo of Barry Sullivan and William Conrad   as the cops. ( Conrad is just so cool! His best pairing is with the other ultimate of cool, Charles McGraw.)

Great part for Audrey , and Richard Basehart  always  good.

Richard Basehart, Barry Sullivan, William Conrad

 

Love how the mild mannered Basehart character adopts a new persona by simply swapping his spectacles for contact lenses and wearing snazzier clothes.

 

And always a pleasure to see Tom D’Andrea playing a role similar to his helpful taxi driver in ”Dark Passage”.    Here, he works in the drug store which Richard Basehart manages , and tries to warn Basehart about his unfaithful  wife.

 

…………Sorry to hear of the death this month of Jane Withers at 95. Born in 1926, Jane was very popular in her Fox films of the 30s. She played opposite Shirley Temple in BRIGHT EYES (1934) . Her subsequent films were more modestly budgeted than Shirley’s, but they were very popular. She could sing, dance and was a natural mimic of the stars. She was called ‘Hollywood’s favourite brat.’

In her later years, Jane always talked of her  love of old Hollywood. She was friends with Rita Hayworth since they appeared in PADDY O’DAY in 1936, and gave the eulogy at Rita’s  funeral.

Having made nearly 40 films, Jane retired in 1947 to raise a family, but was brought back to the screen by George Stevens for GIANT as a Texas neighbour of the three main characters.
And then, for a decade she was on television as Josephine the lady plumber, advertising Comet cleaner.

 

“Bright Eyes”.

 

 

With Rita Hayworth

 

 

 

……….Finally,  a quiz for western fans. What is Mr.Peck looking at and why:

 

HOLLYWOOD PINUPS

So much of vintage Hollywood was black & white, even the photographic publicity stills which came out at the time.

Nowadays, with modern technology, you  can find beautifully colorised versions of those black & white photographs, and personally, I love the vibrancy of some of those photos which seem to bring the stars to life as if they had just been before the photographer yesterday.

Someone who has spent a lot of creative time and energy in colorisation is Australian  Tom  Maroudas  whose website https://hollywoodpinups.com  has hundreds of photos to view and purchase.

From the Silents through to the 1960s, Tom digitally restores, enhances from B&W originals , scans from vintage prints or camera negatives. The photos are then printed on Kodak premium paper.

The 5 sizes of prints range from 8×10 up to 24×30, with prices from $29.95 to $99.95.

 

Below are some of these beautiful prints. Where possible Tom identifies the date of the photo and the photographer.

Edward G. Robinson

 

Greer Garson.

 

The original B&W photo of Greer.

 

Basil Rathbone

 

Deanna Durbin

 

Tyrone Power

 

Alan Ladd

 

Bette Davis

 

Fredric March

 

 

Joan Crawford, Clark Gable

 

George Raft

 

 

Errol Flynn

 

Tom also provides photos for book  covers.

 

 

NIGHT AFTER NIGHT (1932)

My first viewing of Mae West’s debut film, NIGHT AFTER NIGHT(1932) was interesting.

Overall, an ok story made worth watching by a couple of scenes which I liked a lot.

 

If ever a poster was misleading, this is it – it is by no stretch a ‘sinister house.’

George Raft runs a high class  speakeasy . He gets a lot of well off clients and wants to be more like them.

 

Mae West, George Raft

Mae West sashays in almost half way through the film – and steals it, even though she only has about fifteen minutes screen time.

Right from the starting gate, she’s off and quipping in her very first scene, as she comes into the club and the hat check  girl admires her jewels :

”Goodness, what beautiful diamonds!”

Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie.”

 

Wynne Gibson

I’m not sure what that is skulking round Wynne Gibson’s shoulders  but it looks dangerous . She’s mad because Raft has taken an interest in Constance Cummings, a high society  woman.

 

Constance Cummings

Constance Cummings was only 22 and showed she had a big career in front of her. However she married an Englishman in  1933 and moved to England the following year. She made about twenty films in the early 30s and only acted sporadically in England – including “ Blythe Spirit.”

 

George Raft, Alison Skipworth

I was very impressed with 70 year old English actress, Alison  Skipworth , as ‘Miss Jellyman’, who has some lovely scenes, both with Raft and with Mae West.

Raft has employed her to help him speak properly and to give him topics for conversation when he finally gets round to inviting Ms. Cummings for dinner.
We generally don’t rate George Raft’s acting range, but I love how, in this film, whenever he meets Alison, his manner and tone change completely. He respects and admires her . And even invites her to his dinner date, so that she can introduce some news items they have been talking about.
Unfortunately Mae , playing a former girlfriend of Raft, interrupts the tete-a-three and ends up getting Alison drunk.

There is a very funny scene the following day when Mae suggests Alison could work for her. Alison thinks Mae is a ‘lady of the night’ and says: ”Dont you think I’m a bit old?”

Mae laughs and points out she runs a chain of beauty parlours and thinks Alison would make a great hostess.

 

 

Roscoe Karns

Roscoe is so good as George’s wing man, ready to step in any time for his boss and pal.

 

Mae West, Constance Cummings, Wynne Gibson, Alison Skipworth.

The ladies in Raft’s life. He should end up with Mae but settles for Constance.

Seems a waste not to give Mae a song in the film.

 

 

Some translations I don’t have to look up.

 

The recent blu-Ray release has Mae West’s name up first . And why not.

’Variety’ in 1932 got it right: “Paramount won’t be taking a chance to shoot the works on her from now on.”

Not short of 90 years old, the Blu-ray print of “Night After Night” is excellent.

I’d like to see some more of Alison Skipworth. She was in “Six of a Kind”, “Madame Racketeer”, “Hitch Hike Lady.”

 

 

 

Paramount were giving George Raft his first starring role.

Rumours and Speculation

A word of warning for film fans – Don’t believe everything you  read in the magazines!

The following little snippets seem to be more gossip than anything  else. Best one says Clark Gable will definitely NOT  be Rhett Butler!

It’s fun to think if these casting choices had gone ahead. Personally, I can see many of them working. Any thoughts?

 

1937:

.           The suggestion of Charles Laughton as the schoolmaster hero of GOODBYE MR CHIPS is on again.

Charles Laughton

 

            Walter Connolly gets the distinction of being the first player cast for an important part in GONE WITH THE WIND. He will play ‘Gerald O’Hara’, Scarlett’s father. Scarlett herself still remains uncast. Rumours that Paulette Goddard will have the part are on again.

Walter Connolly

The only other item of news about the picture is purely negative – Clark Gable will NOT play ‘Rhett Butler.’ 

 

  • 1938:
    Selznick wants Jean Arthur to costar with Charles  Boyer in  INTERMEZZO, a remake of a Swedish film.

 

    Charles Boyer, Jean Arthur.

 

Mae West is trying to get Basil Rathbone as her leading man in CATHERINE THE GREAT.


Zanuck plans to star young Lynn Bari in THE RAINS CAME , which for months has been rumoured as Dietrich’s comeback. Lynn’s costar may be Ronald Colman who is very keen on the story.

 

  • 1939:

Both Cary Grant and Robert Taylor are being suggested for Garbo’s  leading man in NINOTCHKA.

 

Myrna Loy is to star in THE FORSYTE SAGA. Originally it was planned to make it in England on a GWTW scale, but that being out of the question,it will be made at Culver City early next year.

 

(Wonder why it took another ten years before it came to the screen.)

    Myrna Loy

 

  • 1941:

We may see Astaire and Rogers together again. It is RKO’s  idea and if it matures the title will be, appropriately, “TOGETHER AGAIN.

Wait another 8 years and ask MGM.

 

Paulette Goddard has been tested for the lead in FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS, as have a number of other actresses.

 

  • 1942:

Hedy Lamarr has secured one of the plum roles of the year – the important role of ‘Jade’ in Pearl Buck’s story ‘DRAGON SEED.

 

 

Warners  have taken that famous novel,MOBY DICK, off the shelf and are dusting it off for Errol Flynn. Just a word of warning. The sea captain must not be a glamour boy.