"Now Listen to Me..."
Just some thoughts on current happenings:
There are 17 recommended films to watch on Turner Classic Movies in the U.S. this month:
Those who missed TCM's showing of Bonnie and Clyde last month will have another chance to see this watershed gangster saga, re-imagined as the mythical romantic exploits of an impossibly gorgeous but infamous couple in crime. A prior review here includes last month's special contribution from Bob DiMucci who informatively reports on some of the film's critical responses at the time of its release. Following that, are my personal recollections at the tender age of 12 upon seeing this radically-new expeditious approach to American cinematic storytelling. The Barrow Gang will strike on TCM Saturday, November 4 at 5pm PST.
“What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that …” Thus, the title of Raymond Chandler’s first Philip Marlowe private detective novel is explained in his book, although absent in the two subsequent film translations of 1946’s The Big Sleep.
There was a pre-release version of the film made during WWII that was shown to some U.S. servicemen but was subsequently shelved because its studio, Warner Bros., wanted to rush a few of their war-themed films into theatres while the subject was still topical. One of these war pictures, Confidential Agent (1945), was heavily criticised for Lauren Bacall’s unconvincing performance. Fearing further critical backlash regarding Bacall in The Big Sleep, her agent Charles Feldman, along with producer Jack L. Warner, decided that re-shoots were necessary— ones that would capitalise on star Humphrey Bogart and Bacall’s previous film and real-life romantic chemistry— who sizzled in their first on screen pairing together, To Have and Have Not (1944). These lively scenes of sexual innuendo in The Big Sleep's theatrical version (contributed by an uncredited Julius Epstein of Casablanca fame), added caviar to the oyster, creating the ultimate cinematic aphrodisiac. The pair's enhanced romantic involvement (not present in Chandler's novel), also strengthened Marlowe's resolve to protect Bacall's character. The widely-released version even dropped some scenes to tighten the pace, one in particular that allowed a summarisation of “who killed whom”, helpful to those viewers diligently trying to follow The Big Sleep’s exhaustively complicated plot. Another significant change concerned actress Pat Clark (Mona Mars), from the pre-release version being replaced by Peggy Knudsen in the theatrical release due to Clark’s unavailability during re-shoots.
The Big Sleep’s chain of events are practically impossible to nail down due to the countless scores of characters, some of whom are never seen, unwitnessed activities, and speculations that are often made while other significant events and conflicts occur during our central character’s investigation. Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart adeptly personifying himself), our guide through this labyrinth of blackmail, gambling debts, love triangles, organised crime, drugs, pornography, and murder, may act like he’s on top of things, yet still appears to be hypothesising on some of what’s really going down, primarily due to the number characters being present when many of the most malicious acts he’s failed to personally witness are committed. If one cannot figure it all out, don’t worry, neither could the filmmakers nor even Raymond Chandler!
Compensating for this confusing pile up of plot exposition, is The Big Sleep’s one-of-a-kind, immensely satisfying character interactions. Scriptwriters’ William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman, adapting Chandler’s novel, have creatively gone all out to make each and every battle of wits and bravado encounters of the most engrossing kind. No less captivating and unique are those preciously congenial meeting of the minds, brilliantly composed for maximum delight with their infinitely quotable repartee; viewers are certain to remember, as long as they don’t get too distracted by the plot mechanics. Everyone involved in bringing this film to life seem to be having a blast including stars Bogart and Bacall, supporting actors Martha Vickers, Dorothy Malone, John Ridgely, and Charles Waldron, et al, composer Max Steiner contributing one of his more playful, enthusiastic but appropriate scores and, most of all, director Howard Hawks who passionately aligns and encourages his talented contributors in such superb fashion. The Big Sleep (the theatrical version), will awaken Saturday, November 4 at 5pm PST.
Complaining about the far-fetched circumstances in films noir is like objecting to the lack of realism in a Picasso painting. What I mean is that lovers of these criminally rich cinematic delights oughtn’t to bother picking out the implausibilities, since it is practically a hallmark of noir's style. These thoughts immediately came to mind when confronted with the relatively little known noir thriller Split Second (1953), about a criminal gang on the run, hostages in tow, who have purposely chosen a nuclear testing site as their hide out, one that is set to be employed sooner than they expect.
Say what you will about the film’s unlikely premise, it establishes a truly inspired analogy between violence initiated on a personal scale by the escaped convicts, and its far greater destructiveness when enacted by a sanctioned superpower. Split Second also happens to be a charismatically rich, taught and suspenseful noir, packed with social vitriol. It's been confidently directed by (although non-appearing), actor Dick Powell, who is ably assisted by an energetic cast, and RKO’s ace combination of go-to cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca and composer Roy Webb. Jan Sterling's character remarks: "Quite a spot... between the devil and the bright red bomb", an apt description for this cinematic explosive, next up on Eddie Muller’s Noir Alley and will start ticking Sunday, November 5 at 7am PST.
Next, The Shop Around the Corner, previously recommended here, will open for business and our viewing pleasure Wednesday, November 8 at 5pm PST.
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. Perhaps for this narrative distinction, authors Borde and Chaumeton in the filmography of their highly respected book Panorama of American Film Noir 1941 - 1953, and the first to be published on the subject, included The Best Years of Our Lives as film noir.
The film portrays no crime, the focus is not on Andrews’ experiences alone, and he comes out better off at the end without his superficial but admittedly gorgeous wife, which for myself, collectively place this film well outside of noir’s dark and gloomy world of illegal activity. Previously, I highly praised The Best Years of Our Lives for its exceptional musical score composed by Hugo Friedhofer in the first part of a series entitled Top Ten: Motion Picture Music Treasures. This emotionally powerful tour de force will commence on TCM Saturday, November 11 at 2pm PST.
For a far more light-hearted romantic escapade, it's hard to beat the musical Guys and Dolls, a previous TCM recommendation here. You can bet they'll show on Sunday, November 12 at 4:15am PST.
Both the Historical Dictionary of Film Noir (Spicer, '10), and the Film Noir Guide (Keaney, '03), list Casablanca as film noir. Decide for yourself when this revered classic, previously reviewed here, travels to TCM Sunday, November 12 at 12:45pm PST.
A sterling example of how to present complex and enthralling characters, all of whom develop naturally while still holding our intense fascination is Citizen Kane, a previous TCM recommendation here. This American film masterpiece, the only U.S. film represented on our Top Ten: World Cinema Treasures, will begin Wednesday, November 15 at (early morning) 3am PST.
Immediately following Citizen Kane is one of film noir's finest, Gun Crazy, previously reviewed here. Noir's most distinguishing feature, a focus on their criminal participants' psychology, marks a major shift regarding motive: In the earlier "gangster" films, money and power provided enough reason for the pursuit of illegal gains whereas in noir, the internal cause behind the action is paramount, and runs so much deeper... and darker. See for yourself, Wednesday, November 15 at 5:15am PST.
Like some of those motion pictures already recommended this month, Vertigo is another film that contentiously divides both experts and fans alike as to whether it should be included in the film noir category. Listing it as noir are the following: Film Noir Encyclopedia 4th Ed. (Silver, Ward, et al. '10), Dark City (Selby, '84), Historical Dictionary of Film Noir (Spicer, '10), Film Noir Guide (Keaney, '03), and Film Noir: Films of Trust and Betrayal (Duncan, ’02). For myself, I consider Vertigo not to be noir, the reasons for which are explained toward the latter part of my extensive review (meant for those who have seen the film), here. Either way, Vertigo is loaded with a wealth of multi-faceted insights and hidden rumination on human relationships. Viewers can enrich their lives on Wednesday, November 15 at 5pm PST.
In keeping with their salute to Jimmy Stewart this moth, immediately following Vertigo, TCM is featuring another of the star's top-of-the-line performances. And in keeping with our semi-theme of "noir or not", check out Anatomy of a Murder which is also considered film noir by the Historical Dictionary of Film Noir (Spicer, '10). What is not up for debate is this film's well-earned status as one of the most authentic and enthralling courtroom dramas of all time. Previously reviewed here, the trial will begin Wednesday, November 15 at 7:30pm PST.
TCM's current monthly schedule can be confirmed by clicking on any of the above 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 TCM's programme.
(To Be Continued...) A.G.