The Story of Barbara Graham in Robert Wise’s I Want to Live! (1958)

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Who is Barbara Graham, you ask? Well, read on.

Barbara Graham’s life reads like it dripped off the pages of a hard boiled crime fiction writer’s pen.  A sexy, voluptuous, lethal femme fatale born bad to the bone.  The newspaper media of the day even tagged Graham with the nickname “Bloody Babs.” Born Barbara Ford, she  had a tough life right from the beginning. Born in Oakland, CA. out of wedlock to a teenage mother, who would herself be sent to reform school when Barbara was two years old, the child bounced around from one  foster home to another. In her early teens Barbara would ironically be incarcerated in the same reform school her mother was in just a few years earlier.  At 16, back in her hometown of Oakland, alone, pretty, with little education, Barbara made money by “dating” sailors. The dates did not always results in sex, sometimes they were just dates. She tried leading a straight life, went to school, married, had two kids, but the marriage soon failed as did two other marriages. She apparently turned to prostitution, petty crimes and drugs, her friends all crooks and low-life’s. Barbara would soon end up in jail after being found guilty of perjury when she foolishly attempted to protect two of her thug pals from the law. Continue reading

After Dark, My Sweet (1990) James Foley

after-dark-my-sweetAuthor Jim Thompson created some of the darkest  pulp crime fiction ever to land between the covers of  greasy paperbacks left in two bit diners on dark rain soaked nights. He was a writer whose tales were filled with sleazy grifters and psychopaths. An alcoholic himself, Thompson’s works featured characters that drank too much booze, like it were a life saving device or a device to run away from life.

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Scandal Sheet (1952) Phil Karlson

scandal sheet 1Directed as if he were holding a sharp knife to the gut, “Scandal Sheet” was the first in a series of noirish crime films made by Phil Karlson in the 1950’s. Based on a novel (The Dark Page) by filmmaker Sam Fuller with a screenplay by Ted Shedeman, Eugene Ling and James Poe, “Scandal Sheet” moves along at a speedy pace throughout its 88 minute running time. Karlson’s dark world is aided nicely by cinematographer Burnett Guffey who manages to make the studio bound sets feel like the dirty grit of the big city.

Once a respectable New York City newspaper, but with a falling circulation, relentless editor Mark Chapman (Broderick Crawford) was brought in to turn the paper into a tabloid seeking sensationalistic rag exploiting the helpless victims of crimes. In return, he has more than doubled the papers’ circulation satisfying the majority of the newspaper’s board members. Crawford is intensely uncompromising as Chapman, a cynical man who has escaped from a previously secret life some twenty years earlier. Like many noir anti-heroes though, his past comes back to haunt him. In this case, it’s his wife. Continue reading

The Liberation of L.B. Jones (1970) William Wyler

liberation-lb-jones_420Many directors have gone out with a whimper instead of a bang. Last films by filmmakers have been notoriously bad or mediocre. Now this is not a hard and set fast rule but it seems a filmmaker’s best work is not toward the end of their careers. Don Siegel ended his directing career with “Jinxed,” Sam Peckinpah with “The Osterman Weekend,” Robert Aldrich with “All the Marbles,” and Billy Wilder with “Buddy, Buddy.” Even the great Chaplin laid an egg with “A Countess from Hong Kong.” Other directors have fared somewhat better yet few will claim Hitchcock’s “Family Plot,” Howard Hawks “Rio Lobo” and John Ford’s “7 Women” are among their best. Overall, last films by directors are generally a mixed and disappointing bag. Are they just too tired? Too old? Did they lose their creative spark or maybe just a bad choice?

Now, don’t get me wrong, being old or older does not automatically mean you are over the hill. Far from it. Returning to Hitchcock for a moment, let’s remember he was 72 or 73 when he made “Frenzy,” his next to last film. More recently, Martin Scorsese turned 71 in November and has “The Wolf of Wall Street” due later this year…and he shows no signs of slowing down. And then there is Woody Allen who recently turned 78 and is still turning out fine works like his most recent, “Blue Jasmine.” It may not be at the level of “Hannah and Her Sisters,” “Annie Hall” or “Crimes and  Misdeameanors” but the film is a remarkable, complex tale of one woman’s fall from grace and now trying  her place in a new world. Continue reading

Return From the Ashes (1965) J. Lee Thompson

Return Poster

The opening scene in this 1965 J. Lee Thompson film sets the pace and the mood for this interesting thriller. We are on a passenger train; a young boy of about 10 is banging on a door in the compartment. His mother attempts to get him to stop by bribing him with chocolate. The door suddenly bolts open and the boy flies out the door falling off the train to his death. The other passengers in the compartment are all in shock except for Michele Wolf (Ingrid Thulin) whose face remains an emotional blank sheet. The camera then focuses on her arm revealing the tattooed numbers forever burned onto her skin. Continue reading

Storm Fear (1955) Cornel Wilde

Strom Fear poster

Family conflict is at the heart of this independently made crime film. Directed by Cornel Wilde with a screenplay by Horton Foote (Trip to Bountiful), based on a novel by Clinton Seeley, Storm Fear pits brother against brother. At the core of the trouble is a woman, no surprise there either. Wilde directed eight feature films. Prior to this work he directed one episode of G.E. True Theater. Storm Fear was his first feature and it’s an impressive first time out.

Along with Wilde, the film stars Jean Wallace, his real life wife, Dan Duryea, Dennis Weaver, Lee Grant and Steven Hill. Hill, in what was only his second big screen role, is best known for his roles in Mission Impossible and later on in Law and Order. The only other member of the cast is young David Stollery, whose most notable role began the same year (1955) this film was released, in the Disney TV series The Adventures of Spin and Marty (he played Marty). Continue reading

Act of Violence Revisited

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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

Stromboli (1950) Roberto Rossellini

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Like her character, Karin in “Stromboli,” Ingrid Bergman found herself ostracized in real life from Hollywood and America after making this film with her director/lover Roberto Rossellini. Their affair and out of wed-lock child caused a scandal that found Bergman unable to find work in the United States for six years. In the film, Bergman is a Lithuanian refugee, released from an internment camp when she marries Antonio (Mario Vitali), an Italian and former prisoner of war. They go to live in his home in Stromboli, an almost deserted village located on a small volcanic island off the coast of southern Italy. Marriage and life in the poor village is far from what Karin envisioned for herself. Most locals who were born there have left. The ones who remain are a stoic group unwelcoming to strangers. Her attempts to brighten up their home by decorating are met with indifference from Antonio. Continue reading