Saturday, March 24, 2012


Before we get started, let’s have a big round of applause for Kristina Dijan of Speakeasy for suggesting this particular TotED post! Between chatting online at the Speakeasy site, The Dark Pages; Shadows and Satin, and Twitter, Kristina and I have discussed and good-naturedly joked about various film noirs. In a recent communiqué, we happened to discuss the similarities between two classic 1940s thrillers by Fritz Lang (1890—1976), namely 1944’s The Woman in the Window (TWitW) and 1945’s Scarlet Street (SS). Clever gal that she is, Kristina thought it would be great fun if I discussed both of these films, and before you could say, “Cheese it—the cops,” The Woman in the Window vs. Scarlet Street Smackdown was ready to rumble! Many thanks for the great suggestion, Kristina!

When I was a teenage movie buff (hey, maybe some fresh new classic blogger should give the title I Was a Teenage Movie Buff a good home in some nice warm blog, if someone hasn’t already done so! But I digress….), I mostly knew who Fritz Lang was because of Metropolis (1927) and M (1931). It wasn’t until years later that I learned more about director/writer/producer Lang’s body of work. But once I finally had the opportunity to see these suspense dramas, both of them produced by Walter Wanger (Alfred Hitchcock's 1940 thriller Foreign Correspondent) and his beautiful and talented wife Joan Bennett, both films grabbed me and held me riveted to the TV, intrigued by those films’ similarities and differences! Also, both movies had Milton Krasner as Director of Photography (All About Eve, The Set-Up, the Oscar-winning Three Coins in the Fountain) but H.J. Salter composed the SS score, while TWitW was scored by Arthur Lang and an uncredited Hugo Friedhoffer, Charles Maxwell, and Bruno Mason.

With all due respect for Lang, I must admit that Edward G. Robinson was the main attraction in our little smackdown as far as I was concerned. Born Emmanuel Goldenberg in 1893 in Bucharest, Romania, Robinson emigrated to New York City with his family when he was 10. “Eddie,” as friends called him, rose to stardom playing gangsters and other tough guys in films like Little Caesar, Five Star Final, Tiger Shark, and the Damon Runyon/Howard Lindsay mobster comedy A Slight Case of Murder. However, during his long career, he also proved to be both a fine leading man and a character actor of great talent and range in such films as The Stranger (1946), The Prize (1963), and Robinson’s final role, in Soylent Green (1973), which particularly touched my heart. This time around, we’ll be seeing Robinson’s sensitive side as Our Man Eddie finds himself becoming putty in the hands of dangerous dames and conniving crooks! Where’s his sensible, fearless Double Indemnity character Barton Keyes when you need him?

Both TWitW and SS are set in my hometown, New York City, and both films have the same three stars: Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Dan Duryea. Taken at face value, it looks as if the leads in TWitW and SS are more or less playing the same character archetypes:
  1. Our man Edward G. Robinson as a kind, dignified older gent whose quiet life is turned upside-down when he finds himself infatuated with a pretty young woman who may or may not make a chump out of him. Talk about “middle-age crazy!”

  2. Joan Bennett as a beautiful young woman of negotiable affections, as Vinnie would say. She was a member of the renowned Bennett acting family, which included dad Richard Bennett, sister Constance Bennett of Topper fame, and younger sister Barbara Bennett of The Valley of Decision. Joan’s long, successful career included silent films; the 1933 version of Little Women; our director Fritz Lang’s Man Hunt (1941); Father of the Bride (1950), with Joan as the mother of bride-to-be Elizabeth Taylor and the wife of comically beleaguered Spencer Tracy, followed by the sequel Father’s Little Dividend (1951); Dark Shadows on TV and in the feature film House of Dark Shadows; and Dario Argento’s giallo horror classic Suspiria (1977). She started her acting career as a blonde, but I think our Joan always looked best as a brunette, whether she played good girls or shady ladies.

  3. Dan Duryea as a sleazy opportunist who’s not above blackmail and violence to get what he wants. For most of his long career, Duryea excelled at playing Guys We Love to Hate in such classics as Ball of Fire and Criss Cross (no relation to Robinson’s character in SS, but do read and enjoy our friend and fellow blogger John Greco’s stellar review at his blog Twenty-Four Frames!) A native of White Plains, New York (just a short drive from the Bronx neighborhood where I lived for much of my youth!), Duryea’s character actor career was born when he became a Broadway star in the original stage versions of Dead End and The Little Foxes, the latter starring the great Tallulah Bankhead. The Little Foxes also became Duryea’s Hollywood debut; this time he played opposite another powerhouse star, the great Bette Davis! Despite his usual roles as rotters and bounders, Duryea was by all accounts a nice guy in real life (indeed, he’d been a scoutmaster and a PTA parent!),
Let’s get this noir party started!

Dashing young Fritz Lang
The Woman in the Window (1944)
Versatile writer/producer/director Nunnally Johnson brought audiences such classic films as The Grapes of Wrath, The Three Faces of Eve, The Gunfighter, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, and How to Marry a Millionaire. He proved to be quite adept at film noir with The Woman in the Window (TWitW), based on J.H. Wallis’ novel Once Off Guard. Wanger and Bennett had been feeling stifled at Universal, so along with Lang, they joined forces to create their production company Diana, named after their daughter, providing Lang with the artistic freedom he craved. It was the first time that Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, and Dan Duryea had worked together. TWitW was set mostly in Manhattan, with side trips to the Henry Hudson Parkway, leading from Manhattan to the Bronx to Westchester County, near where our family lived at the time. The scene in question involves our desperate heroes trying to ditch a corpse—but I’m getting ahead of myself! (I assure you it wasn’t nearly as scary when we actually lived there!) Our protagonist is Assistant Professor Richard Wanley (Robinson), who we first see lecturing about “Some Psychological Aspects of Homicide” at the fittingly named Gotham College. Somehow I get the feeling our hero’s knowledge on this particular topic has more to do with book smarts than street smarts! Although it’s clear that Richard truly loves his wife and kids, he and his friends are nevertheless “summer bachelors” in the city while their wives and kids head for the country for fresh air and sunshine. But when the fam’s away, will the husbands stray? Is it beer o’clock and the boys are buying? Richard, for one, is perfectly happy to take it easy at his men’s club with a good book.

Richard was gonna read 
King Solomon's Mines,
but this is more fun!

Richard first sees the titular portrait of a beautiful, ethereal brunette in the window of a midtown Manhattan art gallery. His colleagues, District Attorney Frank Lalor (Raymond Massey of Mackenna’s Gold; Abe Lincoln in Illinois; The Fountainhead; and Arsenic and Old Lace, in which Massey replaced original Broadway cast member Boris Karloff) and Dr. Michael Barkstane (Edmund Breon of Goodbye, Mr. Chips; Gaslight; The Thing from Another World) have been admiring the portrait, too, playfully anointing her “our dream girl.” DA Frank gives his friends a word of friendly caution: “In the District Attorney’s office, we see what happens to middle-aged men who try acting like colts.” Hey, Massey played Abe Lincoln; he wouldn’t kid us about a thing like that!

What a picture: Still Life with Horndog
When Richard leaves after dark, he’s startled by a reflection in the art gallery’s glass window. It’s the woman in the window herself, lovely young Alice Reed (Bennett). She has a sweet smile and a frisson of loneliness about her, so Richard gallantly escorts her home for a nightcap. She shows him her etchings, ruefully mentioning that a man is paying for her swanky apartment. Richard and Alice chat and chastely enjoy each other’s company and champagne. Richard isn’t the two-timing type, though he does admit that “I should say no, I know, but I haven’t the slightest intention of saying it.” How about saying, “Help! Police!” Suddenly an older man wearing one of those straw boater hats bursts into Alice’s apartment and flies into a murderous rage—knocking over furniture, breaking glass, the works! It’s kill or be killed for poor Richard, and since they didn’t have anger management classes back in 1944, Richard fights back. To the horror of all concerned, Richard ends up killing Boater Hat Man in self-defense. They’re both panicky since Alice’s late sugar daddy was meeting her at the apartment on the sly. They pull themselves together and improvise a desperate plan to save their skins: if Richard leaves one of his belongings behind for Alice, and she leaves something for him, that’ll be a clue in case, God forbid, Richard doesn’t come back. In addition to the vest Richard opts to leave behind, Alice has another clue she only discovers after Richard bundles up Boater Hat’s corpse and leaves: his monogrammed pen!

I honestly didn't know where this joke came from --
the hubby had to show me!

Look who's playing Eddie G's son:
fellow Little Rascal Bobby Blake!

What a crazy party! Mama told me not to come! 
The suspense is nerve-wracking; every time Richard seems to have put the killing behind him, some new wrinkle emerges to taunt him. Will Richard’s loose brakes be our hero’s bad break? Will the critters who live along the Henry Hudson Parkway find the dead hothead has become a maggot condo? And what about Heidt (Duryea), the oily opportunist who smells an opportunity for blackmail? Things get worse when the dead man is finally found by the Bronx River Parkway Extension. He’s no Sterno bum that nobody will miss: he’s financier Claude Mazard (Arthur Loft from The Glass Key—and our other Fritz Lang Smackdown movie, Scarlet Street!), who was apparently always quick to anger. That’s what you get for underestimating quiet, unassuming college professors!

George “Spanky” McFarland of The Little Rascals/Our Gang has an uncredited role in TWitW, but it’s my favorite bit in the movie! He plays the Boy Scout in the newsreel who makes the gruesome discovery…
“I was practicing woodcraft in the woods just off the Bronx River Parkway Extension when I found Mr. Mazard’s remains. No, I was not scared. A Boy Scout is never scared. If I get the reward, I will send my younger brother to some good college, and I will go to Harvard.”
"Honest, dude, this isn't the WWE tryouts!"

Frank is on the case, and he brings Richard along, saying it’ll be an interesting adventure. But is he really trying to trap Richard, or is it plain old paranoia? It doesn’t help that our hero keeps slipping up and innocently commenting on incriminating evidence. I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone who hasn’t seen TWitW, but I will say the denouement either leaves audiences relieved, laughing, or furious. SPOILER-ISH: Personally, I like it, if only because I’m a sucker for a funny, upbeat ending!


Venerable film icon Fritz Lang
Scarlet Street (1945)
Named in honor of Greenwich Village’s famous Carmine Street, one of the world’s most celebrated art meccas, it’s almost a miracle that SS was able to be shown in neighborhood theaters at all back in 1945! It was initially banned in New York, Milwaukee, and Atlanta for fear that its “obscene, immoral, inhuman, sacrilegious” subject matter might turn decent moviegoers everywhere into hordes of hooligans. In any case, SS eventually got away with minor cuts, and Joe and Josie Average could watch it in their hometown bijou and make up their own minds about the flick.

I like the stylized artwork here; perfect for phony Kitty!
Kitty and Johnny were lovers—and layabouts,
too busy with their “mad love” schtick to check
Chris’ bank account and see if he’s rich enough to sponge off of. 
Set in New York City, Robinson stars as our protagonist Christopher “Chris” Cross (no puns intended about Robert Walker in Strangers on a Train). As the film begins, Chris is being feted by his company for his 25 years of faithful service (or is that servitude?) as cashier for clothing retailer J.J. Hogarth & Company. Chris is happy as can be with his lovely inscribed pocket watch, and everything’s jake until Chris’ colleagues insist that their clean-cut compadre live a little. So he shares a smoke with them, and wouldn’t you know the men all light up using the same lit cigar, despite Chris’ superstitious reaction (including crossing his fingers)? Haven’t these guys ever seen Three on a Match? (If not, see FlickChick’s Three on a Match review over at A Person in the Dark from last fall!)  With life seemingly bypassing Chris and his cronies now that they’re nearing retirement age (I say they should stop whining and use their free time to mentor kids or something!), it’s no wonder they stare longingly, if not lasciviously, at the beautiful blonde in the big boss’ limo, clearly being pampered by her rich sugar daddy. But Chris has his own simple pleasures, like his hobby, painting—that is, when his harridan wife Adele (British character actress Rosalind Ivan) isn’t nagging him or reminiscing about her late heroic husband, Detective Homer Higgins, who drowned trying to save a woman in the East River. The pose in Homer’s portrait is hilariously pompous, and I love the dry disdain that slips into Chris’ tone when he says Homer’s name. It reminds me a bit of the scene in Witness for the Prosecution when Elsa Lanchester’s chirpy, peripatetic Miss Plimsoll chatters about her lawyer fiancee’s death: “Peritonitis set in, and he went like that (snapping her fingers).” Charles Laughton growls, “He certainly was a lucky lawyer.” Ever “supportive,” Adele constantly belittles his neo-primitive artwork, which others say lacks perspective. Too bad Adele didn’t join Homer in the East River! Sheesh, with all those negative, browbeating busybodies breathing down Chris’ neck, Michelangelo himself would be so distracted that he’d be lucky to finish drawing a stick figure, much less create a decent painting! It’s almost funny to hear Chris and his aging colleague Charlie (Samuel S. Hinds, whose resume includes Buck Privates; It’s a Wonderful Life; Call Northside 777) talk about having too much time on their hands, when nowadays so many people are either overscheduled or while away too much time on TV or the Internet. Can I get the free time that our hapless hero finds himself in, minus the agita?

Mother of Mercy, is this the end of Chris' dignity?
After the company dinner, Chris sets out for his Brooklyn apartment, and finds himself losing both his perspective and his sense of direction in the streets of Greenwich Village while he tries to find his way back home. (For those who aren’t familiar with the Village’s layout, things get tricky once you leave Manhattan’s numbered streets and find yourself confronting actual street names such as Perry Street, Barrow Street, and Houston Street, the latter being pronounced “House-ton.”) He comes across upon a pretty young brunette in a see-through raincoat who’s being assaulted by an equally young ruffian. Chris gets his Sir Galahad moment as he smashes the jerk with his umbrella in the great Foul Play tradition!
The brunette’s name is Katherine “Kitty” Marsh, a slightly naïve yet bold and beguiling brunette whose hints of tawdriness go sailing over Chris’ poor innocent head. For a tawdry dame, she sure has a smart Travis Banton wardrobe, especially after Chris becomes her sugar daddy. (For some reason, the IMDb doesn’t show Travis Banton’s SS screen credit, but you can read Christian Esquevin’s great 2010 “Batty for Banton” post over at Silver Screen Modiste!) Flattering our Gent of a Certain Age, Kitty coos, “You’re not so old…You’re not a boy, you’re just mature.” As they share a drink at local watering hole Tiny’s, Chris unwittingly talks about his love of painting in ways that mislead Kitty into thinking Chris is a man of financial means, and persuades Chris to get a gorgeous pad on the titular street that he can use to paint in peace. What’s more, the joint used to belong to renowned artist Diego Rivera, no less (including pictures he drew randomly around the house)!
Part of me wanted to hug Chris because I felt badly for him, while another side of me wanted to shake him by the shoulders, yelling, “Dude, snap out of it! That dame is trouble! Scram outta there and stay out, before it’s too late!” Besotted Chris doesn’t realize that the ruffian he smacked with his umbrella also happens to be the ironically-named Johnny Prince (Duryea), who happens to be Kitty’s boyfriend, though Kitty’s passing Johnny off as her friend/roomie Millie’s beau when Chris is around. People will say they’re in love, though the understandably cynical Millie (Margaret Lindsay from Jezebel; Bordertown; The Dragon Murder Case; The House of the Seven Gables; and the Ellery Queen movies of the 1940s) begs to differ, since it’s clear to her that Kitty and Johnny, shall we say, like it rough (maybe Kitty had an abusive childhood):
Millie: “That guy pushes you around the way I wouldn’t push a cat around.”
Kitty: “You wouldn’t know love it if hit you in the face.”
Millie (as Kitty storms out): “If that’s where it hits you, you oughta know!”

The look of love? Not for conniving Kitty!
What’s more, Kitty comes honestly by her nickname, “Lazy Legs.” She may have gorgeous Banton clothes, but with her apparent allergy to work (including housework), she won’t be seeking employment as a cleaning lady anytime soon! Things get even crazier when Johnny decides to get Chris’ paintings evaluated—and bona-fide art critics love them! In rapid succession, sly Johnny becomes Kitty’s agent; Adele sees the amazing art of “Katherine Marsh;” Chris finds out Kitty's been selling his paintings under an alias—and he’s thrilled, because now he thinks this will help him keep Kitty! I’ll say this for Chris: he sure knows how to take life’s lemons and make lemonade, without noticing any sour aftertaste.  It’s enough to keep your head spinning as screenwriter Nichols’ tangled but compelling web also encompasses Det. Homer Higgins (Charles Kemper of Intruder in the Dust, The Southerner, Where Danger Lives) who’s now a bum back from the dead (he couldn’t stand Adele, either, so he faked his death) and willing to stay that way—for a price. It all ends in betrayal, murder, misery, and frame-ups that stick. Alas, poor Chris’ basic decency is no match for his guilty conscience as the voices of the dead taunt him, dooming him to walk all over New York, homeless and hopeless. With the crazy twists and turns plot-wise and emotion-wise, at times it’s almost like a pitch-black comedy (not necessarily a bad thing)!

Wonder if this toenail-painting scene
gave Kevin Smith the idea for Clerks?
Even considering its then-controversial subject matter, SS certainly had an impressive pedigree, including a script by Dudley Nichols adapted from Jean Renoir’s 1931 French melodrama La Chienne (The Bitch). Nichols had already grabbed Hollywood’s attention when he won the Best Screenplay Oscar in 1936 for The Informer—and refused it, in order to show solidarity with his colleagues at The Screen Actors Guild, who were on strike at the time. I wonder if that’s what gave Marlon Brando the “Sacheen Littlefeather” idea back in the 1970s? (Nichols eventually got his Oscar statuette in his hot little hands in 1949.) Nichols went on to write such classic screenplays as Bringing Up Baby (1938), Stagecoach (1939), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), and And Then There Were None (1945).  I found myself wishing that Ball of Fire’s Professor Potts and Sugarpuss O’Shea could’ve shown up to have an intervention with Chris before he got in too deep! Consider this a compliment, because it means Lang and Nichols made me care about these characters, especially poor hapless Chris. This role captures Robinson at his most endearingly, tragically vulnerable. How the man never won an Oscar in competition is one of the Academy’s mysteries. Yeah, I know Cary Grant and Myrna Loy and countless other greats didn’t get Oscars or even nominations, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. At least he reportedly knew he was going to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award before he died of cancer, though it’s a shame Eddie didn’t live long enough to enjoy even that honor. I’m glad we have so many of his movies to remember him by and enjoy, though!

Decision:  If you like your Fritz Lang film noirs with a spoonful of hope, chances are you'll love The Woman in the Window.  If you like your Fritz Lang noirs dark, with wry gallows humor, head for Scarlet Street.
See, there's something for everyone!

Bonus! !: George "Spanky" McFarland's show-stealing moment in The Woman in the Window!

Friday, March 9, 2012

MURDER, MY SWEET: Tough Guys Don’t Sing

The hard-boiled 1944 mystery Murder, My Sweet (MMS) forever changed the career of its star Dick Powell (not to be confused with William Powell from my recent After the Thin Man post). Arkansas native Powell began his career as a singer with Charlie Davis’s orchestra before Hollywood grabbed him, eventually steering Powell’s career path from juvenile crooners in such musicals as 42nd Street, Dames, Gold Diggers of 1933, and Flirtation Walk (read Classic Filmboy’s post about it here!) to hard-boiled detectives, ex-cons trying to resume their lives only to find themselves in deeper trouble, and other noble tough guys in such suspense thrillers as Cornered (1945), Johnny O’Clock (1947), Cry Danger, and The Tall Target (both 1951). (Dick Powell did some nifty comedies, too, but that’s a blog post for another time.)

Although Howard Hawks’ film version of The Big Sleep (1946) is still my favorite adaptation of author Raymond Chandler’s novels about the tough yet noble L.A. private detective Philip Marlowe, MMS is a darn close second. How close? Thisclose! I like Powell’s portrayal of Marlowe as a noble and essentially decent man, insouciant yet soulful, and nobody’s fool. In certain ways, it seems to me that in Humphrey Bogart’s portrayal of Marlowe in The Big Sleep, he has a better shot at getting the best of the bad guys, as well as getting the girls (especially in a Hawks film!), though his heart eventually belonged to Lauren Bacall’s Vivian Rutledge. In MMS, by contrast, Powell’s Marlowe comes across to me as a likable, determined underdog who keeps on pitching without losing his wry sense of humor.
Dick Powell witnesses film history as Claire Trevor
performs film noir's first facepalm!
When I think about Powell’s metamorphosis from crooner to tough guy, I’m reminded of Mel Brooks’ The Producers, of all thingsspecifically the scene where Christopher Hewett, as director/choreographer Roger DeBris, complains about the creative rut he’s been in: “Dopey showgirls in gooey gowns! Two-three-KICK-turn, turn-turn-KICK-turn! It’s enough to make you puke.” Well, Powell was equally eager to change his image! Come to think of it, after MMS, he had another hit in Cornered (1945) as a Canadian Royal Air Force veteran, foiling hidden Nazis and avenging the death of his French war bride. But I digress….

Despite the doubts voiced by Powell’s fiancée June Allyson, he was determined to go out for hard-boiled roles. No doubt Powell also realized that at the age of 40, he was a tad long in the tooth to play a juvenile anything. But Powell jumped right in, looking for the right role. For starters, he seemed to be the only leading man in Hollywood eager to tackle the role of antihero Walter Neff in Double Indemnity, bless him! But Double Indemnity was a Paramount production, and Powell was under contract to RKO, so Powell had to wait until MMS to repurpose himself as a big-screen tough guy. It was well worth the wait, as Powell turned out to be one of the finest actors to play Philip Marlowe. Even June Allyson approved of the finished product! (Powell and Allyson wed and had a long, happy marriage until his death in 1963 from complications of the cancer the entire cast eventually suffered after filming The Conquerer. But that, too, is a story for another time.) For more about the fascinating life and times of Dick Powell, click this link to Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings and her awesome birthday salute from last November!

Marlowe goes “grouse-hunting,”
and finds out it’s Moose season!
Director Edward Dmytryk (The Falcon Strikes Back, The Caine Mutiny, Mirage, and more) and Director of Photography Harry J. Wild (Oscar-nominee Army Girl, His Kind of Woman, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) truly captures the moody visuals and emotions. The opening credits are noir all the way, with cops sweating our man Marlowe — not that Marlowe can see them, since his eyes are heavily bandaged, for reasons that will become clear later. Is this what they mean by blind justice? Well, at least with the bandages, Marlowe won’t get smoke in his eyes. The story is told primarily in flashback, but the script by screenwriter John Paxton (who, in addition to MMS, wrote Cornered; Fourteen Hours; The Wild One; Crack-Up; How to Murder a Rich Uncle; and On the Beach) is tight, suspenseful, and brimming with great dialogue that does Chandler’s source material proud.

Guilt’s written all over Lindsay Marriott’s face—and coat!
Marlowe starts out with two clients. The first one is a mountain of a man, Moose Malloy (wrestler-turned-actor Mike Mazurki), fresh out of jail and determined to find his long-missing girl Velma Valento. There’s been an awful lot of water under that bridge since Moose was in the jug, but he’s a persistent guy, to say the least. Marlowe’s second client is Lindsay Marriott (Douglas Walton, whose films included The Count of Monte Cristo; the 1935 version of Mutiny on the Bounty; The Picture of Dorian Gray—no relation!—and Bride of Frankenstein, playing Percy Shelley!). A foppish fellow, Marriott hires Marlowe to accompany him to a woodsy “petting spot” (complete with a deer for petting, but the critter scrams when danger rears its head) in order to get a valuable trinket belonging to an unspecified lady friend. Instead, Marlowe is knocked unconscious by an unknown party, in classic film noir style:

“I caught the blackjack right behind my ear. A black pool opened up at my feet. I dived in. It had no bottom. I felt pretty good—like an amputated leg.

Our man Marlowe wakes up to find Marriott beaten to death in the car, and a young woman shining a flashlight in his face, asking if he’s all right. Clearly the pretty young interrogator was expecting someone else, because she hightails it outta there but quick! Marlowe wants to get to the bottom of this: “I’d like to know who, besides me, might have killed Marriott. He gave me one hundred dollars to take care of him and I didn’t. I’m just a small businessman in a very messy business, but I like to follow through on a sale.” Soon Marlowe is up to his eyeballs in violence and suspense, wrapped in a case involving:
  • A missing jade necklace valuable enough to kill for;
  • Kidnapping Marlowe, including drugging him to keep him quiet or make him talk, as needed;
  • Lewin Lockridge Grayle (Miles Mander in a poignant performance), the rich, elderly jade expert who really owns the missing jade necklace;
  • Jules Amthor (Otto Kruger), a distinguished-looking gent who airily admits, “I am in a very sensitive profession, Mr. Marlowe. I am a quack. Which is to say, I’m ahead of my time in the field of psychic treatment.”
  • Romance with two very different women: the wholesomely lovely Ann Grayle (Anne Shirley), and Helen Grayle (Claire Trevor), the hot “big league blonde” stepmother who Ann loathes and Grayle loves practically to the point of obsession.
The coaster is clear!
Every performance is perfect, for my money. Mike Mazurki was one of film noir’s most memorable tough guys, and he and Powell play off against each other well. Ironically, the filmmakers made the already-tall Mazurki look even more intimidating, thanks to the magic of forced perspective. But don’t let Mazurki’s fearsome looks fool you; he was a Manhattan College grad and a witty conversationalist. Compassionate, too: in the 1960s, Mazurki founded the “Cauliflower Alley Club,” a non-profit organization that awarded scholarships and financial assistance to retired or injured wrestlers and their families.

In their TCM Web site articles, Frank Miller & Felicia Feaster noted that Powell wasn’t the only actor to chafe against typecasting in MMS: “Anne Shirley and Claire Trevor both conspired to do a little acting-against-type of their own, and petitioned for the proverbial good girl Anne to play the scheming fatale and for Claire, used to playing molls and floozies, to play the ‘good and dull’ (as Anne put it) nice girl. But to no avail: conventional typecasting was followed and the actresses delivered expected versions of their usual screen personas…As a consolation prize, Shirley demanded that her heiress character at least get to wear a mink coat, a bit of glamour missing from her usual run of working-class characters.” Personally, I thought Shirley and Trevor were perfect in their roles—a classic case of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” What’s wrong with playing to your strengths?

The great supporting cast includes Otto Kruger (Saboteur, Hitler’s Children, Wonder Man) as smooth, sinister quack Jules Amthor, who also has a racket in which pretty boys like the late Mr. Marriott take pretty women like Helen Grayle dancing and driving only to become hold-up victims, not taking lives. But Marriott’s death changes things, as our man Marlowe later explains to Police Lieutenant Randall (Don Douglas):
“Amthor’s a tough cookie. He works some kind of complicated (psychological) routine on gals with broken-down libidos. I think Marriott was his contact man…The jewelry Marriott was supposed to be buying back was a jade necklace belonging to one of Amthor’s patients, worth about one hundred thousand dollars. Marriott might have been crossing up Amthor, I don’t know. Anyway, he fumbled the ball…Amthor figured I must’ve picked it up. He figured wrong; I disappointed him. I didn’t have the jewelry, and I didn’t talk. But he has a little rest home where you learn to talk. It’s operated by a guy who calls himself Dr. Sonderborg. He’s a whiz with a hypo. He’s at 23rd and Descanso.”
I bet Marlowe wishes he was in that romantic Spellbound door-opening scene instead of
Dr. Sonderborg's House of Horrors! Where’s Ingrid Bergman when you need her?
The nightmare montage in which Marlowe is drugged and tormented is worth the price of admission in itself, with truly compelling imagery courtesy of F/X whiz Vernon L. Walker and Douglas Travers. Interestingly, some of MMS imagery brings to mind Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound, which came out sometime around that same year. However, I believe MMS came out first, and I’d go so far as to say it’s markedly more sinister (appropriately so), though I love both films.

At Florian’s, they don’t care what Semisonic sings;
it ain’t closing time until Moose says so!
Chandler’s original 1940 novel was actually titled Farewell, My Lovely, and that was its title in its initial theatrical release in New England and Minneapolis. But to those audiences, Farewell, My Lovely sounded like just another one of those sappy musicals that Powell was trying to leave behind. So it was farewell to the lovely original title, and a hearty hello to the gripping new title. In addition to Powell’s tough new screen image, the resulting smash hit revitalized Powell’s career big-time as he eventually added producer and director to his formidable list of accomplishments.

This particular Chandler tale was filmed three times over the years, and its first version wasn’t even a Philip Marlowe movie! The novel was first adapted into an entry in the Falcon series in 1942, namely The Falcon Takes Over, starring Suave Hall of Famer George Sanders. They plugged the plot of Farewell... into one of Michael Arlen’s Falcon adventures, packing as many of the characters as possible into its 65-minute running time. Heck of a cast, too: Ward Bond as Moose Malloy; Team B. fave Hans Conreid as Lindsay Marriott; and Turhan Bey as Jules Amthor! I’ve only seen it in bits and pieces, and I’d love to catch up with the whole film sometime. MMS was the next version of Chandler’s story. I also loved the third version, Dick Richards’ 1975 remake of Farewell, My Lovely with the great Robert Mitchum at his world-weary, sleepy-eyed best, and Sylvia Miles was deservedly nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance as Jessie Florian. (I saw it in our local bijou when I was 12; I forget whether I saw it with my mom or my older brother Peter, but to this day I’ve never forgotten the film itself!) Maybe I need to do another blog post sometime comparing all the different versions of the film!

 I dress up, I dress down...
Chandler had sold the MMS movie rights to RKO years before, and he considered it the best film version of his work—high praise indeed, considering the ornery Chandler had been difficult to work with in later years while adapting scripts with Billy Wilder for Witness for the Prosecution and Alfred Hitchcock for Strangers on a Train. Anyway, getting back to Chandler’s good side, he was delighted to note that MMS’ success had helped to make him a best-selling author, even outselling the hard-boiled mysteries of competitor Dashiell Hammett. In fact, Powell played Marlowe again in 1954, this time for a TV adaptation of The Long Goodbye for the anthology series Climax!
Many of Powell’s noir films were written and/or produced by New Jersey native Adrian Scott, including the Oscar-nominated drama Crossfire; the aforementioned Cornered; Mr. Lucky; The Boy with Green Hair; and Deadline at Dawn. For a while, it was something of a family affair when Scott married MMS co-star Anne Shirley shortly before MMS was released. Unfortunately, both Scott and Dmytryk were blacklisted as two of the Hollywood 10, which didn’t do the marriage any good. Indeed, Shirley eventually left Scott with a “Dear John” letter. That said, Shirley ended up having a long, happy marriage to screenwriter Charles Lederer, whose many scripts included The Thing from Another World (1951) and Kiss of Death. Although Scott’s blacklisting kept him from working under his own name in Hollywood at that time, he still wrote as a front for the British television series The Adventures of Robin Hood with his second wife, Joan LaCour.

I'll show RKO I can too play slinky film noir dames!
Native New Yorker Anne Shirley had been born Dawn Evelyeen Paris in Manhattan. Little Dawn’s father died while she was still a baby. Money was tight, but Dawn’s photogenic cuteness soon became her family’s bread and butter. At the age of 16 months, the little tyke was working as a photographer's model under various names, particularly “Dawn O’Day.” As she grew into a lovely, wholesome-looking young lady of five-foot-two, auditions began for the 1934 film version of author Lucy Maud Montgomery’s beloved novel Anne of Green Gables (also one of my dear late mom’s favorites). Dawn won the title of spunky, spirited Anne over hundreds of young aspirants, and she officially became Anne Shirley—literally, when she changed her name to that of the beloved character she played. Hey, it worked for future Oscar-winner Gig Young (formerly Byron Barr) in The Gay Sisters (1942)! A few years later, Shirley earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for the role of Barbara Stanwyck’s daughter in the classic 1937 tear-jerker Stella Dallas. Shirley’s many other roles included Anne of Windy Poplars, the 1940 sequel to Anne of Green Gables; and The Devil and Daniel Webster, which won an Best Score Oscar for one of my favorite movie music composers, Bernard Herrmann, under the title All That Money Can Buy.

Moose thinks the price of cab rides is un-fare!
Anne Shirley wasn’t the only native New Yorker in the MMS cast: Claire Trevor came from the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. Her star rose after her Oscar-nominated performance in Dead End (1937) and John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939).  According to Dawn Sample of Noir and Chick Flicks, Trevor’s Bad Girl With A Heart Of Gold roles eventually earned her the title “Queen of Film Noir,” playing even more dangerous dames in films like Born to Kill (1947). Trevor had been working for years at 20th Century-Fox, but in Robert Osborne’s intro to a TCM broadcast of MMS, he revealed that at the time Trevor was cast in MMS, she was freelancing, making only one or two films a year, including Johnny Angel (1945) and Crack-Up (1946). Trevor was only 5-foot-1 in her stocking feet (again with petite people!), but her powerhouse presence made her bigger than life during her long, award-winning career, which also included her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Key Largo (1948) and her Emmy for the Producers’ Showcase telecast of Dodsworth (1956), as well as another Oscar nomination, this time for The High and the Mighty (1954). Anyone here know if any enterprising casting directors ever put Trevor, Alan Ladd, and/or Veronica Lake in the same movie? Now there’s a flick I’d like to see! But I digress…

In addition to being Dick Powell’s wildly successful transition from All Singing! All Dancing! All Comedy! movie roles, MMS also happened to be the first-ever movie in which Chandler’s iconic Marlowe was portrayed on the silver screen! In fact, according to the TCM Web site, MMS came out even before The Big Sleep, and it’s considered to be the most faithful to both the plot and the spirit of Chandler’s original novel. I wouldn’t be surprised if the success of MMS got my man Howard Hawks thinking “Hey, we could totally do a flick like that!” or words to that effect.

Aw, so romantic! Does that mean love really is blind?

Hey, I'm A 7x7 Link Award Recipient!

To my surprise and delight, friend and fellow blogger Rachel of The Girl with the White Parasol blog fame has kindly included me among the seven recipients of the 7x7 LinkAwards! Thanks, Rachel! Gee, I hope I’m doing this right!
The rules of this award are as follows:
Tell everyone something that no one else knows about:
Well, I don’t know how many of you and/or my fellow bloggers are aware that I was diagnosed as autistic in 1966 when I was three years old, according to the folks at both The Cornerstone School and the Kennedy Child Study Center. How’s that for a conversation starter?  Seriously, at that time, I really was displaying the classic symptoms of autism as they knew it back then. It’s a long story, but if you’re interested, you’re welcome to check out Dr. Gilbert Kliman’s nonfiction book Reflective Network Therapy in the Preschool Classroom (available on Anyway, as you can see, I got better!

Now to link to one of my posts that I personally think best fits the following categories, as per Rachel’s instructions:
Most Beautiful Piece:
Even though Marilyn Monroe’s femme fatale in my January Niagara post was a beautiful rose with poisonous thorns, I’m putting her in the Beautiful Piece category for NIAGARA: Falling for the Wrong Girl Can Be Murder” because of her brilliant performance as one of the ultimate Bad Girls of movie history, and because, let’s face it, she’s stunningly beautiful!


Most Helpful Piece:
That would be another Team Bartilucci joint, this one from November 1, 2010, as part of the Blogging for Autism day: “Siobhan Maggie Bartilucci in One Million Words or Less.” Our daughter Siobhan is not only the apple of our collective eye, she’s also an apple that didn’t fall far from the tree. Like me, Siobhan (her nickname is Shugie, as you folks might have seen in the Ball of Fire/Oscar blog post) was diagnosed with both ADHD and what eventually came to be known as Asperger’s Syndrome. Happily and luckily, we were blessed in that both of us were deemed to be quite high-functioning, and both of us were able to thrive in mainstream schools. Our family is notorious for our irreverent sense of humor as well as our personal triumph, so if you haven’t already read this post, we hope you’ll find it as entertaining and triumphant as Siobhan is (what can I say, we’re proud of our kid!).

Most Popular Piece:

Like many of you, I seem to get the most enthusiastic responses from various Blogathons, and the recent CMBA Comedy Classics Blogathon resulted in my—or more accurately, our—most popular post to date, when my dear hubby Vinnie Bartilucci (The Forty-Year-Old Fanboy and Is That Really Desirable?) did one of our Team Bartilucci team-ups to write about Ball of Fire and Oscar as part of a Wedding Day Wackiness double-feature.  Vin is as much fun to write with as he is to live with (not to put the whammy on it! :-)), and this latest team-up was great fun for both of us!
By all means, feel free to follow Vinnie’s witty, cheeky blogs, too:
The Forty-Year-Old Fanboy:

Is That Really Desirable?

Most Controversial Piece:

That would be my short story The Big Sleepybye. Actually, this piece wasn’t as controversial as I feared, but that may simply be the result of my still being quite new to blogging and therefore having very few readers at the time. :-)  The Big Sleepybye is one of my comedic short stories, about a writer with a young child and new baby, and what happens when she tries to focus on a hard-boiled detective story she’s trying to write in the midst of all this Mommy-ing. This appeared in the literary magazine Alternative Motifs in 2006, and I ran it at TotED in September 23, 2010. The “controversial” part is that the story contains comical violence and spurting bodily fluids—no, it’s not blood, but what it is kinda freaked out male readers. I think the gals reading this can take it, though. especially any gal who's given birth. Give it a try and see what you think!
Mystery, suspense, and hilarity ensue at
NYC's Metropolitan Museum of Art in
The Big Sleepybye!

Most Surprisingly Successful Piece:
I was pleasantly surprised at the positive things everyone had to say about my May 2011 post Dorian’s Mother’s Day Smorgasbord: a Four-Course Meal of Fiction, Food,and Fond Memories.” It was a happy hodgepodge of our favorite family photos and anecdotes, with four sections, or “courses,” ranging from stories my late mom and I had always enjoyed, Hollywood haikus, one of our favorite family anecdotes about my mom meeting Marlene Dietrich, and our family recipe for sweet potato waffles! I think it went over well because, hey, everyone has a family, and we all have family stories to pass on to future generations!

Most Underrated Piece: 
My first
TotED piece (aside from my introductory blog post giving y’all my life story) from August 23rd, 2010, “’If I Let You Change Me, Will That Do It?’ New Spins on Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.”It was a playful, tongue-in-cheek rumination about what Scottie Ferguson and Madeleine Elster  (SPOILERS if by some twist of fate you aren’t familiar with Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo — but surely nobody here missed the superb A Month of Vertigo with ace blogger The Lady Eve and pals earlier this year?) would do if Scottie and Madeleine-in-Judy-mode decided to try to make a life together.

Most Pride-Worthy Piece:

In September 2010, I first learned of filmmaker Daniel Raim from his Oscar-nominated short documentary The Man on Lincoln’s Nose (2000).  In it, Raim really poured his heart into the titular 40-minute documentary, and I (and other film fans) found it as is as fond and upbeat as it was riveting. It focused on the gentlemen who worked on the classic films of Alfred Hitchcock and so many more, including veteran storyboard artist Harold Michelson, veteran production designer Robert F. Boyle and Al Nozaki, all great friends who’d worked together on these landmark films. This 40-minute documentary is as fond and upbeat as it is riveting. But Raim didn’t stop there: Boyle, Henry Bumstead, and art director Al Nozaki and his comrades shared their stories in Raim’s subsequent 2010 feature-length documentary Something's Gonna Live (2010), combining the men’s insights during their twilight years. I was among the bloggers and other movie fans who helped to spread the word about Something’s Gonna Live, following it through its word-of-mouth triumphs, including a premiere at L.A.’s Laemmle Hall. It was time well-spent, for us and for anyone who loves classic films!

 I had a heck of a time narrowing all the bloggers down to only seven, but here are the ones that leapt readily to mind:

Seven Blogs for Seven Awesome Bloggers:

Shadows and Satin
(from the folks who brought us The Dark Pages!)

ClassicBecky’s Brain Food

…in so many words

Another Old Movie Blog

Thrilling Days of Yesteryear

My Love of Old Hollywood

True Classics

Thanks again, Rachel and friends; you guys are the awesome!