The Cinema Cafe

Serving Cinema's Tastiest Treasures

"Now Listen to Me..."

Just some thoughts on current happenings:

 

There are 6 recommended films to watch on Turner Classic Movies in the U.S. this month:

 

The first is the 1945 British horror classic Dead of Night.

An architect, Walter Craig, drives down a country road and suddenly comes upon the estate where he has been appointed to oversee some renovations. Looking at the house in bewilderment, he shakes his head. Why we wonder? Well, we're about to find out in a group of chilling events that all form part of Craig's recurring dream including, astonishingly enough, the appointment itself. As he is being welcomed by the owner, Craig senses familiarity with certain details not only of the residential layout but the visiting guests, who he will increasingly involve in his own ominous premonitions. Each of the boarders, in turn, will describe their own supernatural experiences which skillfully dovetail in the film's surreal and frightening conclusion.

 

 

The strange experiences described by the visitors help make this film a portmanteau; they are individually based on stories by different writers like John Baines and Angus MacPhail, and directed by a host of Ealing Studios' finest, including Alberto Cavalcanti and Robert Hamer. The stories within the story are fascinatingly eerie and strongly contribute to the film's cumulative effect of impending doom.

 

 

 

The "golfing story" is probably the weakest, due to its light-comedic tone. The most startlingly potent is saved for last: "The Ventriloquist's Dummy." This extraordinary tale of encroaching madness is so unique and inspired its influence can be seen in subsequent treatments e.g. "The Dummy" episode of the original Twilight Zone series and the William Goldman novel adapted into the film Magic. In addition, Dead of Night's last experience related by a skeptical psychiatrist has a flashback of its own, making it a flashback within a flashback within a dream. What imagination! As an added bonus it contains a bravura performance by Michael Redgrave as the ventriloquist. His final episode will spill over into the film's most terrifying scene at the country house, ingeniously mixing illusion with reality until it's impossible to discern which is which.

 

 

When the architect is finally safe and "out of the woods", palpably relieved that the ordeal is over, the filmmakers have still another surprise up their sleeve, making this one of the genre's most memorable and noteworthy achievements. The nightmare begins on TCM (updated) Monday, April 10 (late evening) at 1:30am PST. 

TCM's current monthly schedule can be confirmed by clicking on any of the above film images. For those who live in parts of the U.S. other than the western region, the time zone can be adjusted in the upper right-hand corner of the schedule.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My next recommendation is 1950’s D.O.A.

This has to be one of the most dynamic noir films ever made just for its brilliant premise alone, confronting us right from the opening: A nondescript accountant, Frank Bigelow, (played with all of his considerable might by Edmond O’Brien) walks into a police station to report a murder. The captain asks who was murdered. “I was”, Bigelow says. Due to the fact he was given a slow acting poison in a bar while on vacation, and that it wasn’t discovered until the next day, he’s a "dead man walking" and there’s not a thing anyone can do to save him. As Bigelow elaborates, the story flashes back to the events leading up to that fateful night and his later disbelief when confronted by the doctor’s report. This results in a desperate but exhilarating run through the streets of San Francisco, and his vigorous one-man pursuit of the person who killed him. During his attempts to unveil and punish the culprit, we witness a man singularly focused, unafraid and driven. His investigation will take him into noir’s nightmarish underbelly filled with some of the most despicable characters ever seen on the screen (vividly portrayed by the likes of Neville Brand, William Ching and Luther Adler), who ironically want him deader than he already is! If you’re intent on figuring out its complicated plot, you’ll have to stay on your toes with all of the backtracking and red herrings that present themselves along this existential journey. It’s a terrific journey, though, full of exciting locales, photographed in true noir fashion. Watching Bigelow’s one-man quest during his final hours is riveting. He may have started off as an "average Joe” unaccustomed to life’s harsh reality of avarice, criminal enterprise, and murder, but by the time he’s concluded his mission, he’ll look quite at home in these newly discovered sordid surroundings. At the end, he's been transformed into a kind of noir superhero, whose self-appointed purpose was to meet out justice with a vengeance, before it's too late. In addition, there’s an emotional subtext in an unconditional love held by Bigelow’s secretary that makes his demise heartfelt and tragic. This man's nightmarish investigation into his own murder will occur on TCM (updated) Sunday, November 6 at 1:15pm PST. (For TCM's current monthly schedule or to adjust the time zone for other parts of the U.S., click on the above image.) 

 

 

 

D.O.A. is part of the network’s ongoing Summer of Darkness series featuring a plethora of iconic films noir Fridays through the end of July. The schedule can be explored by clicking on the "TCM Summer of Darkness" image. Keep in mind this special program lists all showings at Eastern Standard Time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My third TCM recommendation is Wanda (1970, U.S.A.)

Hidden Gem #29 is an ultra-realistic and low budget cinéma-vérité that concerns its title character: A drifter on the skids in rural Pennsylvania. An inability to cope with harsh circumstances has caused Wanda to abandon her husband and children. She wanders aimlessly through the bar scene with little common sense and winds up with a callous criminal, Mr. Dennis (forcefully portrayed by Michael Higgins). Although Mr. Dennis treats her like dirt, he's able to capture Wanda's keen interest and subsequent obedience, additionally involving her in the most dangerous of criminal pursuits.

Using this kind of despairing material to secure an audience’s attentiveness is extremely risky. The filmmakers succeed because of a consummate attention to detail and highly perceptive exploration of their characters. As gritty as the images are, (the film was shot in 16mm and blown up to 35mm) the honesty behind them is captivating. There's a pointed contrast of Wanda dressed in white with her little innocent looking girlish hairdo against a backdrop of cold, emotionless reality, represented by an environment as grimy as the coal it produces. This gem was written and directed by actress Barbara Loden (Wild River, Splendor in the Grass) who also stars as Wanda. Sadly, it proved to be a “one off” feature-length directorial effort. The actress died of cancer in 1980 at the age of only 48.  With this one film, Loden bared her soul and reached a supreme level of truth, remindful of what only the greatest masters of cinema have so successfully accomplished: De Sica, Ozu, Bergman, etc. This must see masterpiece of such strong visionary conviction is one of the art form's greatest achievements. Wanda will arrive on TCM (updated) Wednesday, March 8 at 9:30am PST. TCM's current monthly schedule can be confirmed by clicking on the above film image. For those who live in parts of the U.S. other than the western region, the time zone can be adjusted in the upper right-hand corner of the schedule.

 

 

 

My last three recommendations are all films noir taken from the ‘Summer of Darkness’ series.

After World War II many returning servicemen were disillusioned to find jobs were scarce and their wives’ (or girlfriends’) faithfulness even scarcer. The Best Years of Our Lives addresses this reality head on when the Dana Andrews character finds it impossible to please either his previous employer or trophy wife upon his return to civilian life. The film portrays no crime, the focus is not on Andrews’ experiences alone, and he comes out better off at the end with a true love and a promising new job, which collectively place this film well outside of noir’s dark and gloomy world.

The 40’s post-war experiences of those struggling to adjust were also a concern of many noir writers and filmmakers. If noir addresses the subject of a wife’s infidelity, the storytellers would most likely zero in on the husband’s anguished thoughts and feelings of betrayal, with the resulting drama ramped way up often leading to murder, exemplified in the films The Blue Dahlia, Black Angel and 99 River Street. Typically, but not always, the betrayer’s self-centred, hardened attitude would be gleefully flaunted e.g. “With all my heart, I’m still in love with the man I killed” as Bette Davis finally admits to husband Herbert Marshall in The Letter.

 

This brings us to my fourth TCM recommendation, 1949’s film noir Tension.

Warren Quimby (played to perfection by Richard Basehart) works as a pharmacist which might as well read ‘masochist’ as far as his brutally punishing relationship with wife Claire goes. Claire Quimby is played with relish by one of noir’s greatest femme-fatales, Audrey Totter. Warren gives new meaning to the term "cuckolded." He's tortured so relentlessly by his uncaring and unfaithful wife that when his thoughts turn to the perfect murder, one can’t help but become his cheerleader. This high-octane noir contains explosive twists, enjoyable casting surprises, and is one of the genre’s best kept secrets. Tension can be ‘felt’ on TCM (updated) Sunday, March 26 at 7am PST. As an added bonus, this particular TCM showing will be introduced by the "Czar of Noir" Eddie Muller as part of his ongoing series 'Noir Alley'. For more information on 'Noir Alley' click here.

 

 

 

 

Then there’s another kind of tale involving a headstrong female, The Narrow Margin.

A gangster’s widow is being transported from Chicago to L.A. to testify against the mob who would prefer she arrive dead if at all. Almost all of the action will take place on board a train and contains a whale of story twist that even when you know it’s coming, still surprises big time! Another noir stalwart, actress Marie Windsor, plays the ex-mob wife full of acutely sarcastic pessimism. It’s almost like being killed wouldn't be so bad, as long as everyone listens to her endlessly whinge about it first. Her choice barbs hurled toward noir veteran Charles McGraw, playing her police escort, are relentless. Both characters consistently try and out do one another in cynical contempt, much to our delight. The mobsters who want her "silenced" are mostly shrewd and formidable, intensifying the suspense. Director Richard Fleischer (Armored Car Robbery, The Clay Pigeon, Follow Me Quietly) excels in these short and punchy thrill rides and leaves us marveling at his economic, controlled storytelling. This practically perfect little noir pulls into the TCM station (updated) Sunday, November 13 at 6pm PST.

 

 

 

Finally there’s Yvonne De Carlo’s Anna Dundee in Robert Siodmak’s brilliant noir 1949’s Criss Cross.

The film’s title, which appropriately refers to the plot mechanics, might as well pertain to De Carlo’s character as well. Unlike the previously mentioned noir women, Anna's fidelity seems ambivalent throughout relying perhaps on who she thinks will come out on top. The trouble is ex-husband Steve Thompson (played appropriately bitter but resilient by Burt Lancaster) is still carrying the torch. He will take some tremendous chances to help Anna stay safe from her tempestuous new husband Slim (noir’s always reliably slimy Dan Duryea). Steve will go so far as to suggest to Slim’s gang, and participate in, a daring robbery at his workplace simply to excuse his being with Anna when Slim was out of town. This noir bears a strong resemblance in plot and style to another Siodmak triumph with Lancaster, The Killers, made a few years earlier and is similarly abetted by an emotionally infused score by Miklos Rozsa. It will wind its way onto TCM Friday, July 31 at 5pm PST.  

 


Some critics of various noir films have complained about their stories’ lack of realism. To me, the more fantastic narrative developments are often the most enjoyable part! For one thing, it offers the viewer a chance to feel a little better about their own comparatively sunnier circumstances. Additionally, some fans take comfort in knowing that noir storytellers empathise with their lesser, but still familiar, personal hardships. Many of noir’s often far-fetched scenarios are quite capable of enrapturing us in "what will happen next." This is due to our increased concern over how these protagonists will overcome their formidably difficult circumstances. Noir's extreme situations are, in fact, so cinematically commonplace, they’re practically a prerequisite for the dramatically intense narratives we've come to expect and enjoy in this genre.  

 

TCM's current monthly schedule can be confirmed by clicking on any of the above film images. For those who live in parts of the U.S. other than the western region, the time zone can be adjusted in the upper right-hand corner of the schedule.

 

 

 

 

 

The Soundtrack recommendation for July is a newly released compilation of film music taken from a concert held in the Canary Islands. Most of the music there was making its world premiere live performance. Fimucité 6 - Universal Pictures 100th Anniversary Gala is a limited release 2 CD set spanning 81 years of film music created for Universal Studios. This offers a great one-stop way to hear a wide variety of various film composers’ most inspired creations and is available at a bargain price to boot. Additionally one will hear over 20 minutes of the late composer James Horner’s fabulous musical compositions. It is available directly from the manufacturer Varese Sarabande who ship internationally. All of the information about this exciting release and ordering information can be seen by clicking on the accompanying image. 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Happy Birthday shout-out to the lovely and talented actress Nancy Olson, who turns 87 on July 14th. She is probably best known for her portrayal of Betty Schaefer, William Holden’s off-hours writing partner in Sunset Boulevard. Nancy also had important roles (all opposite Holden) in Union Station, Force of Arms, and Submarine Command. She gave additional inspired performances in So Big, Battle Cry, and Pollyanna amongst others.

 

I’ve included a fascinating video from an appearance she made last year in Los Angeles. She talks about her career especially her admiration for Sunset Boulevard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My DVD recommendation this month is unusual since it concerns an exclusive Australian release of an American film, previously thought lost until being restored and shown at 2012’s Noir City Film Festival. It is 1949’s The Great Gatsby.

I have to say that I really enjoy and admire this version. Alan Ladd is perfect as Jay Gatsby, effectively communicating the mystery, ambition and singular romantic obsession the role requires. Less demonstrative in the romance department is Betty Field’s Daisy Buchanan, but her character's outspoken self-assurance is refreshing for this interpretation. For golden age film lovers, there are additional surprises in the casting of some superb character actors. The screenplay, co-written by Richard Maibaum of James Bond fame, provides a welcome depth to Gatsby due in part to its engaging flashback scenes. This Alan Ladd/Betty Field vehicle makes for a fascinating comparison to the 1974 Redford/Farrow, 2001 Stephens/Sorvino and 2013 DiCaprio/Mulligan versions. For myself, this 1949 take on F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic is the 'greatest' Gatsby of them all. The DVD from Universal/Madman is fully licensed and taken from the recently restored print. Australians so far are the lucky recipients! Information on the DVD can be seen by clicking on the film’s image.

 

A.G.