Bernie pic

Bernie pic

Friday, 4 January 2019

Welcome to another free double bill of film noir

A Noirishing Feast Awaits

Come with me . . . 

TONIGHT’S  (from 8.30pm Friday, Hollywood time) double feature of film noir presents The Strange Woman (1946) and D.O.A.(1949) Both are good-quality prints and ad-free during their running times. In the tradition of cinemas past, the main feature D.O.A. will run second. Links to the films follow the reviews.
Grab your popcorn as I, your humble projectionist, crank up the projector for the first reel of The Strange Woman.

WHAT really annoys me about reviewers on Amazon and other book sites is when they say they don’t like the characters. I mean, did Bret Easton Ellis expect you to like the characters of American Psycho? After watching The Strange Woman, I can understand the criticism against unlikable characters.
The Strange Woman is a good film, well directed and photographed, with more than adequate acting. But the main characters are without exception as unattractive a bunch as are likely to cross a screen in front of you. This makes the movie less engrossing as the viewer is less invested in hoping protagonists avoid the inevitable noir calamities.

Strange start
THE OPENING CREDITS offer little guidance of what is to follow. They are in a flowery font suggesting a period romance when what is in store is a harrowing period noir. I suspect the filmmakers intended to fool viewers and thus make the film more memorable.
The movie itself begins with a scene with children which is important to explain the actions of the adults they become. This technique is unusual for noir but is effective here and in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) which I consider a superior film to The Strange Woman.
You will notice the word “strange” in both films. Strange Woman is definitely a Biblical reference, quoted in the film by travelling fire-and-brimstone evangelist Lincoln Pettridge (Edward Biby). [Little is known about Mr Biby who has a strong and essential cameo in the film. He seems to have been something of a bit player in Hollywood, not significant enough to have a Wikipedia entry. Ah well, we legion of bit players can empathise.] Strange in the Bible refers to a seductress though the notion of stranger or outsider is also there. Perfect to describe Jenny Hagar (Hedy Lamarr) the impoverished daughter of a physically abusive father who uses her sexuality to enter wealthy, sanctimonious upper-middle-class society.

The players
THE STRANGE WOMAN was the 16th Hollywood film of Austrian-born Lamarr who was deprived of lines in her early films by producers and directors who considered she lacked talent. In The Strange Woman, she gives a good performance though, to my mind, she does not display enough of the redeeming features of a great femme fatale. Director Edgar G. Ulmer had relative success the previous year with his low-budget noir Detour (1945) which returned may multiples of its budget of under $100,000 ($1.3m in today’s values) 
        The success of Detour allowed Ulmer to play with a much larger budget for The Strange Woman which he still managed to exceed by $1m ($13m in today’s terms). What Ulmer managed to do in Detour was to assist in the creation of the definitive femme fatale in Vera (played by unknown Ann Savage). With a much bigger budget to have exploding fires, runaway carriages, and river rapids ravaging canoes, Ulmer and Lamarr are unable to conjure the nuances of the good and evil of a classic femme fatale as Savage did. Even when Jenny (Lamarr) performs good deeds, giving money for childhood education and poverty relief, her motives are self-centred about her own deprived childhood, and we are reminded of the atrocious acts she is capable of.
Maybe I am being harsh on Lamarr and the fault largely lies in a script written by veteran producer Hunt Stromberg and Ulmer which painted Lamarr as too dark a villain early on. The Strange Woman at times has the ambience of an up-market exploitation film.

Character actor Gene Lockhart as creepy merchant Isaiah Poster has an extended role in the film and takes the acting honours. The close-up of Poster leering at Lamarr’s exposed shoulder is one highlight of the film.
Another outstanding performance in a smaller part is that of Olive Blakeney as Mrs. Hollis, the compassionate but surprisingly worldly-wise housekeeper.


KATHLEEN LOCKHART who plays Mrs. Partridge was in real life the wife of Gene Lockhart and the mother of June Lockhart ( in television hits Lassie and Lost in Space). And the grandmother of Ann Lockhart (recurring minor roles in television’s The West WingNCIS, the Law & Order franchise,) Kathleen Lockhart appeared in the noir Lady in the Lake (1947)

The director

THE STRANGE WOMAN director Edgar G. Ulmer  directed classic low budget noirs, Bluebeard (1944) Strange Illusion (1945) and Detour (1945). His life and art encapsulates the ethos of noir and it is a crying shame Hollywood has not commissioned a biopic of Ulmer (created in the neo-noir style, of course).
Ulmer was an Austrian Jewish set designer who in the 1920s worked for directors  F. W. Murnau, Robert SiodmakBilly Wilder, and Fred Zinnemann who all later fled Europe for Hollywood. Ulmer came to Hollywood with Murnau (Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror 1922, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans 1927) in 1926.
Ulmer tuned to directing and his second feature was the big-studio horror film The Black Cat (1934), starring Béla Lugosi and Boris Karloff. It was the hit of the year for Universal Pictures and should have assured Ulmer’s future as a big-budget director. But . . . there’s always a but with noir. But Ulmer began fooling around with Shirley Beatrice Kassler, wife of producer Max Alexander, nephew of Universal studio head Carl Laemmle. Ulmer was blackballed by all major studios and began a career in low-budget films which has endeared him to generations of noir lovers.

Uncle Carl Laemmle
Has a very large faemmle
– Ogden Nash
The cinematographer

FRENCH-AMERICAN LUCIEN ANDRIOT directed more than 200 films, mostly on modest budgets during his career. He worked with French director Jean Renoir. Andriot shot all genre and styles of film and his noir after The Strange Woman included Dishonored Lady (1947, public domain) also starring Lamarr, Johnny One-Eye (1950) and Borderline (1950).

A great line and a weird one
JENNY HAGAR (Lamarr) to her father: “Men like me and it’s the men who have the money in this world.”
Tim Hager (Dennis Hoey) who is about to take a stockwhip to his daughter: “This is one beating you won’t like.”
What are you insinuating there, Dad?
(British actor Hoey played Inspector Lestrade in six Universal Studio Sherlock Holmes films from 1942-46.)

The verdict

Intermission ad break
DO YOU HAVE somewhere to review an eBook? I have five complimentary review eBook copies of my neo-noir Iraqi Icicle to give to reviewers. I just need honest reviews not professional ones.
By the way, that noir scene on the cover of Iraqi Icicle is from tonight’s main feature.
Be among the first five people to email me: and tell me whether you want a Mobi copy for Kindle or an ePub or PDF version.

Now, on to our main feature:
Main feature D.O.A.1949

THIS IS MY SECOND FAVOURITE MOVIE in all of noir. At this early stage of our 15 evenings, I won’t say what my favourite is. I will say it, like D.O.A., it is in the public domain.
What’s not to love about D.O.A., the police and ambulance acronym      for Dead On Arrival at hospital. The beginning grabs the viewer by the throat. There is a doozy of a plot twist, the best in noir, and that’s at 2:48 in. The flashback, a technique which noirists love, begins about a minute later.

Pamela Britton, future Mrs Brown, on TV's My Favorite Martian, with Edmond O'Brien

Frank Bigelow (Edmund O’Brien) – what an evocative noirish name – an ordinary small-town accountant takes his first puff on a cigarette  at 3.46 and his female client, draped across his desk, begins the first sexual innuendo at 3.59. It is not 4min in and we know there will be fireworks in Noirtown tonight.
Frank wants to let his hair down in the big city pf San Francisco) without his pretty office assistant/ girlfriend Paula (Pamela Britton),
Arriving at the St Francis Hotel – there really was and is such a hotel – Frank feels guilty about his plan. That does not stop him from leering at attractive women accompanied by blokey sound effects which might not pass muster in a film today.   

The scene in the jazz club, The Fisherman, with the squares mingling with the hip cats, is quite stunning. The jazz musos were: Jadie Carson (bandleader), Teddy Buckner (trumpet), James Van Streeter (tenor sax), Ray Laurie (piano), Shifty Henry (bass) and Al 'Cake' Wichard (drums). They were miming to the soundtrack which had been recorded by a different band. Teddy Buckner played another muso in the 1969 neo-noir They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
That’s enough of the plot to whet the appetite without spoilers.

The players
EDMOND O'BRIEN starred in two films which have been deemed as classic noir. D.O.A. is one and The Hitch-Hiker (1953), the first noir directed by a woman, is the other. Actor/ director/ screen-writer/ producer Ida Lupino, who directed The Hitch-Hiker is a towering presence in noir, though in real life she was a short and beautiful woman, also someone whose life would make a good biopic.
The common link between Edmond  O'Brien ‘s characters om D.O.A.  and The Hitch-Hiker is the notion of an ordinary person swept up in extraordinary perilous events over which they have no control.
Some film critics suggest this parallels the funk of U.S. citizens during the Cold War between America and the Soviet Union which has an approximate starting date of 1947. Such an analysis is obviously true of the noir classic Kiss Me Deadly 1955. But I believe themes  of powerlessness or uneven power are more universal and common to many if not most noirs including those before the Cold War.
The notion of an ordinary person in dire peril is the basis of the suspense of much of Alfred Hitchcock's greatest works. Appearing to be a a genius of plotting where the viewer cannot see the seams, Hitchcock in reality using a formula where he piles on details of an ordinary life to be later shattered. Hitchcock's 1951 noir Strangers on a Train is an example. Coincidentally, or perhaps not,  the music director of D.O.A. and Strangers on a Train was  Dimitri Tiomkin
Two cameos in D.O.A. are outstanding one from a newcomer another from a veteran of the theatre.

Neville Brand was a decorated war hero who earned his acting craft through the GI bill which paid for retraining after the war.  DOA provided him with his first credited role and what a juicy role it was as the psychotic heavy, Chester.  The scene where Chester is driving prank to a place to bump in all is beautifully filmed and menacing acted by Brand. The actor adds depth to his edgy performance Chesater refers to himself. As a lover of D.O.A. and a writer who has used the device of a character speaking in the third person, I find it disconcerting U.S. President Donald Trump regularly does it.
Neville Bland went on to a long career, often as a villain in westerns and crime dramas, in film and on television.

Luther Adler was a respected Broadway performer who took on acting roles from the 1930s.  Here he plays the suave criminal, Majak. Expressing fatherly concern for Frank in what seems an Eastern European accent, Adler renders chilling role as the urbane villain, first affected by Sydney Greenstreet in The Maltese Falcon 1941


THE ACTOR pointing the gun at Edmond O’Brien on the cover of my novel Iraqi Icicle is 21-year-old Laurette Luez.
The way I remember it, Amazon bans covers with guns pointing out at the reader. I wanted a real gun to contrast with my clown’s water-pistol flower and the one in Luez’s hand complied with Amazon’s restrictions.
The year after D.O.A., Luez, who had an Australian mother, appeared in a minor role in Kim (1950) where she had a love scene with another Australian actor Errol Flynn.
In Rudyard Kipling’s novel on which the film was based, the villains of the piece are Russian spies. Big studio MGM wanted to film the book during World War II, but they did not want to offend Russia which was a war ally. Bu 1950 it was okay to offend Russia, the dominant country of the Soviet Union. And Russians have been Hollywood villains ever since, even after the dissolving of the Soviet Union in 1991`

The director
D.O.A. director Rudolph Maté was born into a Jewish familu in Poland and worked in Hungary as a cinematographer before moving to the United States in the mid-1930s. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography in five consecutive years from 1940. Maté rutbed his hanf yo directing in 1947 and the bufgets he wsas witkiubg with plummeted. His second film was the noir The Dark Past (1948) and his third was D.O.A. Later noirs include Union Station (1950) The Green Glove (1952) Paula (1952) Second Chance (1953) and Forbidden (1953)

The Musical Director
The bio of musical director Dimitr Tiomkin fits the narrative of Cold War noir. He was classically trained im Russia before the Bolshevik Revolution, moved to the U.S, after the revolution In 1929, after the stock market crash, he moved to Hollywood, where he became best known for his scores for Western films, including Duel in the SunRed RiverHigh NoonThe Big SkyGunfight at the O.K. Corral, and Last Train from Gun Hill.
Tiomkin received 22 Oscar nominations and won four Oscars, two for High Noon, and one each for The High and the Mighty, and The Old Man and the Sea.

The Cinematographer

Ernest Laszlo was a Hungarian-American cinematographer who made 69 Holluwod films gtom 1927-1977
Nominated for eight Academy Awardsm he win fior Ship of Fools. (1966) Hi other noirs include Cover Up (1949) Impact (1949) Manhandled (1949) The Big Knife (1955) Kiss Me Deadly (1955) and While the City Sleeps (1956)

The verdict

Next Week’s double bill starts from 8pm Hollywood time on Friday January 11.
On the bill are The Great Flamarion 1945 with Erich Von Stroheim and Dishonored Lady 1947, again with La Lamarr.
See you then.

Having watched two frenetic noirs, we will mellow out with a sad song which has a line about an old-time movie.


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