Mary Astor’s career was a long one going back to the early 1920′s. Over the years her career continued to grow until an infamous marital scandal broke in 1936 while she was making William Wyler’s “Dodsworth.” During the court battle her husband Dr. Franklyn Thorpe threatened to submit Astor’s spicy, fully detailed, diary as evidence of her infidelities with George S. Kaufmann and other celebrities. Ultimately, the diary was never offered to the court. Astor’s career could have been in jeopardy, since as with most actors at the time, a morality clause was included as part of the contract. Fortunately, Sam Goldwyn refused to fire her and she continued in her role as Edith Cortwright, Huston’s lover in the film. “Dodsworth” was a hit and Astor amazingly entered what could be considered her peak period with films like “The Prisoner of Zenda,” “The Hurricane,” “Midnight,” “Brigham Young” leading her into arguably her best year, 1941, with “The Maltese Falcon” and an Academy Award winning role as Best Supporting Actress for her role in “The Great Lie.”
After the successful year of 1941, along with its follow up with films like “Across the Pacific” and Preston Sturges, “The Palm Beach Story,” both in 1942, Mary Astor’s career hit another serious bump in the road. She made the mistake of signing a contract with MGM where they pretty much regulated her to playing “mother” roles in films like “Meet Me in St. Louis” and “Little Women.” In the 1944 musical, Astor, only 38 at the time, played the mother of Judy Garland who was 22. Suffice it to say, Astor was not happy. One of the few meatier roles MGM tossed Mary’s way came in 1948. Continue reading →
Based on Lucille Fletcher’s highly popular radio play, “Sorry, Wrong Number” was brought to the screen in 1948 by producer Hal B. Wallis and Paramount. The film was directed by Anatole Litvak and stars Barbara Stanwyck and Burt Lancaster. The original radio show featured Agnes Moorehead and was primarily a tense one woman dialogue for the complete twenty-two minute show. The program was so popular, Moorehead reprised her role several times over the years, but when Wallis and Paramount purchased the property, they decided Moorehead was not a big enough star for the lead role in the film. So here came Stanwyck who had just signed a contract with Wallis making this her first film under the new agreement.
To expand the original short radio script into a feature film, Lucille Fletcher “opened” up her original story which she accomplished by adding a series of flashbacks and even some flashbacks within flashbacks, expanding the role of the husband, played by Lancaster. Fletcher would also turn the screenplay into a novel the same year the movie was released.
Stanwyck is Leona Stevenson, the bed ridden wealthy invalid, neurotic to the core, with more pills on her end table than Pfizer Inc. produces in a month of Sundays. She is confined to her lavish bedroom apartment, overlooking the New York City skyline. One evening Leona, attempting to call her boy toy husband Henry, accidently due to crossed telephone lines, overhears two men discussing a murder plot. She calls the police, then her father and finally her doctor, but no one believes her. Continue reading →
Steely eyed and sexy, that’s Barbara Stanwyck at her best. No one conveyed the tough dame, determined yet alluring look that can arouse a man’s loins any better. With a screenplay by Robert Rossen (Force of Evil) based on a story by John Patrick, “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers” is a hybrid twisting mix of film noir and 1940′s women’s melodrama with Stanwyck’s dangerous female right in the middle.
It’s the late 1920′s when Martha Ivers, a young orphaned teen, living with her rich aunt (Judith Anderson) strikes the older woman with a cane causing her to fall down a flight and stairs and die. Witnessed by her friend, Walter O’Neil, the boy backs up her story to his father, a hungry and ambitious lawyer, that the older woman did in fact “fall” with no help from Martha. The father suspects that’s not what really happened but realizes Martha, as her aunt’s only living relative stands to inherit a fortune and will make for a perfect wife for his awkward son. Continue reading →
If 1952 made Marilyn Monroe a name, a rising new film star, in 1953 she exploded on the screen with three standout Technicolor productions. “Niagara,” “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and “How to Marry a Millionaire” all of which would help define the Monroe celluloid doctrine. Her screen persona was now full blown and propelled her into the Top 10 list of Hollywood stars.
Henry Hathaway’s “Niagara” opens with two great shots of natural beauty, first is the mighty Niagara Falls with millions upon millions of gallons of water falling with God given power. The second shot is our first view of Marilyn Monroe lying naked under a thin sheet in her motel bedroom. Light shines through the sheet giving us a silhouetted shape of her right thigh. In her hand, a cigarette dangles over the side of the bed. The look on her face is one of satisfaction making one wonder what she was doing while her husband Joseph Cotten was off admiring the falls. We quickly come to learn this marriage is in trouble. When she hears her husband’s keys unlock the door, she puts out the cigarettes, rolls over, her back to the door, faking she’s asleep. This all happens within the first three minutes of the film. Continue reading →
Nothing seems to make sense in “Kiss Me Deadly,” even the opening credits roll backwards. Author Mickey Spillane hated the movie, screenwriter AI Bezzerides hated the book and film goers back in 1955 must have been confused with what it was they were exactly looking at. Sure there was a P.I. and plenty of hot looking dames with legs that went from one end of the screen to the other but, this is the 1950′s, the time of The BOMB, we’re not just dealing with dope here, this time it’s serious.
Ralph Meeker’s Mike Hammer may just be the dumbest P.I. to ever grace the screen, still director Robert Aldrich gives us one of the great film noirs of all time with a touch of science fiction tossed in just for good measure. It’s violent, sexy, nasty, and one of a kind. The film’s ending is one of those, to use an antiquated 1960’s term, mind blowing, one of the great film endings that will stay with you long after the film is over. Meeker is perfect as the thuggish Mike Hammer, a bedroom dick, who is not beyond letting his secretary/ lover, Velda (Maxine Cooper) have sex with someone just to gain information on the case. Continue reading →
Bad cops, family values and the middle class American dream are the themes driving Joseph Losey’s dark riveting film noir, “The Prowler.” Whenever one thinks of voyeurism in the cinema, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” tops the list. For 110 minutes we watch James Stewart observe what goes on in the magnificent studio constructed Greenwich Village court yard. But “Rear Window” was not alone in approaching this topic, in fact, released at almost the same time, within a week of each other was another film, this one from Columbia called “Pushover.” It was directed by Richard Quine and starred Fred MacMurray and a young Kim Novak. Plenty of other films have dabbled in voyeurism including “Psycho,” “The Conversation,” “Peeping Tom,” “Body Double” and more recently “Suburbia.” If one thinks about it, and if you take it to the extreme every film is voyeuristic, subsequently making every moviegoer a voyeur. Now, doesn’t that make you feel good?
So now that you feel nice and dirty we can delve into Joseph Losey’s ”The Prowler”, a nasty tale of bad cops, misplaced trust, repressed sexuality, desires and chasing the middle class American dream. That last piece is part of what would get Losey in trouble with the HUAC. It may seems insignificant today but back in the early 1950′s right wing communist witch hunters looked at “The Prowler” as downright subversively un-American, but more on this later. Continue reading →
Early in his feature film directing career Richard Fleischer made a series of exciting low budget film noirs, among them, The Clay Pigeon, Follow Me, Quietly, Armored Car Robbery and his masterpiece, TheNarrow Margin. Filmed in deep rich black shadowy light, most of the film taking place on a train, the confined space resulting in a claustrophobic tense ride filled with twists and turns that do not let up for a second.
Two L.A. cops, Walter Brown (Charles McGraw) and Gus Forbes (Don Beddoes)are sent to Chicago to pick up Mrs. Frankie Neal (Marie Windsor), the wife of a slain mobster, and escort her back to the City of Angels to testify before a grand jury. Neal is an acid tongued dame, at one point described as the “poison under the gravy.” The two cops expect a rough trip back, they’re right, even before they get out of Neal’s low rent building, Forbes is shot dead. Brown manages to get his witness onto the train. The mob boys are also on board, they don’t know what she looks like but they know she’s on board. Brown keeps her hidden away in a compartment while he attempts to smoke out the killers. Continue reading →
Sexually and sadistically charged “The Big Combo,” is a paradigm for what can be accomplished with spare change filmmaking. This film, and the earlier work, “Gun Crazy” (1950) are director Joseph H. Lewis’ masterpieces. While on the surface, a straight forward cops and gangster film, Lewis has created a world of brutally bold, off beat characters filled with dark shadows and high contrast lighting, courtesy of the brilliance of the master noir cinematographer John Alton (T-Men, He Walked By Night, Raw Deal and The Crooked Way).
For the past six months Lt. Leonard Diamond (Cornel Wilde) has stopped at nothing in going after the sadistic underworld thug Mr. Brown (Richard Conte). He has spent more than $18,000 of the department’s money stubbornly trying to get the goods on Brown and put him out of commission. Instead all he has accomplished is to get himself reprimanded by his Captain (Robert Middleton) for spending too much department time and money on a fruitless project. Brown is too powerful, the Captain explains, and has too many connections in high places. Also in the mix is Susan Lowell (Jean Wallace), an iceberg cool blonde society girl gone bad. This wild child gets her kicks walking on the wild side, seduced by Brown’s sadistic, rough, crude style and his lavish lifestyle of money and sex. Diamond hopes to get to Brown through her but only finds himself infatuated by the cool blonde beauty himself. Continue reading →
In the 1950’s film director Phil Karlson put out a series of solid crime dramas including, “Scandal Sheet,” “Five Against the House,” “Tight Spot,” “The Phenix City Story” and two works with John Payne, “Kansas City Confidential” and “99 River Street.” Karlson made his way up from Poverty Row working with the Dead End Kids (Live Wires and Bowery Bombshell) and Charlie Chan (Dark Alibi) to working on “B” features for the big Hollywood studios. In the 1960’s Karlson worked with Elvis (Kid Galahad), Glenn Ford (A Time for Killing), also a couple of Dean Martin’s Matt Helm films before hitting box office big time with the south’s version of Harry Callahan, “Walking Tall,” the story of Buford Pusser, a Southern lawman willing to break the law in order to fight injustice.
In “99 River Street,” former boxer Eddie Driscoll (John Payne) is now a cab driver scraping by with a job and an unsatisfied ex-showgirl of a wife, Pauline (Peggie Castle), unhappy working in a flower shop to help make ends meet and unhappy being married to a “pug.” Eddie was an up and coming boxer, everyone knew who he was, winning more than 60 fights without a knockdown until the night he goes up against the current champ and ends up with a deep cut above his eye and the doc calling the match over. Now Eddie is driving a cab, just another guy on the street, with a wife who is fed with the low rent lifestyle. Continue reading →