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Kingrat's Adventures in Film Noir

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Kingrat's Adventures in Film Noir

Postby moira finnie » May 5th, 2013, 1:10 pm

In an effort to consolidate and gather the wonderful posts being entered on the board for the last week as TCM festival attendees reflect on their recent and past experiences, the following posts originally posted in the Noir Films thread has been copied here. Enjoy!

Kingrat discusses the difficult choices any noir aficionado faces, though his analysis of Try and Get Me makes it an understandable choice:

One of my toughest decisions at the festival was to choose between TRY AND GET ME (1950, dir. Cy Endfield) and MILDRED PIERCE with Ann Blyth in attendance. I happened to see Eddie Muller at the bar in Club TCM, an appropriate place for the czar of noir, and asked him about Cy Endfield, saying that he seemed to be a better director than his reputation. EM: “Which is zero.” We both like ZULU; Muller said that HELL DRIVERS is great; he hadn’t seen SEA FURY, which I like; and he urged me to see TRY AND GET ME. Which is why SueSue will have to tell you about MILDRED PIERCE and Ann Blyth.

Beau Bridges and several members of his family were present, and Beau said that he felt that his father was there in spirit. Beau said that Lloyd Bridges was particularly proud of four films: HOME OF THE BRAVE; TRY AND GET ME; HIGH NOON; and the live TV drama TRAGEDY IN A TEMPORARY TOWN, with a Reginald Rose script. This is the one where Bridges was supposed to bring a baseball bat on stage to smash the headlights of cars of a mob trying to lynch a Hispanic man, but he forgot to bring the bat when he entered. Instead, he went wild and accidentally used the word “g.d.” which was forbidden on television. Beau Bridges also said that his father was a great dad. According to Beau, his father was blacklisted because he had invited the African-American actor Jimmy Edwards home to dinner. They had worked together in HOME OF THE BRAVE.

Eddie Muller said that he had asked Beau if he wanted to bring his family to a film where his dad plays a psycho killer. Cy Endfield was blacklisted and moved to England to work. Because his name was Cyril Raker Endfield, people tended to assume he was English, just as Jules Dassin had to be French. By the way, Endfield is sometimes billed as Cy Enfield and sometimes as C. Raker Endfield.

As advertised by the czar of noir, TRY AND GET ME is quite good. It’s based on the same incident which inspired Fritz Lang’s FURY, an actual lynching in San Jose in the early 1930s. However, the stories are not at all alike except for the storming of the jail scenes. In FURY Spencer Tracy is innocent; I don’t think it’s spoiling the story to say that in TRY AND GET ME this is not the case. The film opens with Frank Lovejoy (excellent in the main role) returning home after failing to get a job. We’re in GRAPES OF WRATH territory. As a noirish fate would have it, instead he meets Lloyd Bridges, who cleverly recruits him for the dark side. Bridges is just terrific. These scenes are, in effect, seduction scenes, and that’s how Bridges plays them and Endfield directs them.

A major theme of the film is how the newspapers build up a series of small-time robberies into a “major crime wave,” probably by East Coast gangsters who have moved in. Richard Carlson, who looks and sounds amazingly like Hugh Marlowe, plays the columnist who fans the flames. He is then aghast when he realizes that he’s created a mob mentality. The voice of reason is his friend, an Italian nuclear physicist (based on Fermi, perhaps?).

That morning I’d seen CAPE FEAR—not exactly a day of light comedy—so I was particularly struck by the contrast between TRY AND GET ME’s emphasis on social breakdown as the reason for crime and Robert Mitchum’s totally evil predator in CAPE FEAR. Does TRY AND GET ME’s faith in social improvement now seem a bit naïve? There’s no explanation for the evil in CAPE FEAR: it’s just there, hard-wired into Max Cady, the Mitchum character.

A fun fact: Beau Bridges hadn’t known beforehand that his mother has a bit part in TRY AND GET ME, playing a reporter who’s come down from San Francisco to cover the case. Eddie Muller didn’t know that, either.


Later on, Kingrat posted about The Killing too:

Before The Killing was shown at the festival, Dennis Bartok interviewed Coleen Gray. She needed assistance getting on and off stage, but mentally was quite sharp and seemed very much like the sweet character she often played. Though it’s only hearsay, she has heard that Stanley Kubrick was looking for a “Coleen Gray type” and someone said, “What about Coleen Gray?” He did not interview her.

She had heard he was a brilliant up-and-comer, so she went to see Killer’s Kiss, which was playing in Inglewood on the lower half of a double bill with Summertime. [You have to love the way Hollywood marketed their films.] At the end of Killer’s Kiss, there was spontaneous applause, which hadn’t occurred for Summertime.

Sterling Hayden had been in the OSS. He was quiet and she was quiet; her code of conduct was not to interrupt another actor’s train of thought. Hayden was a gentleman who knew what he was supposed to do. She thought he was perfect in the movie. As she said, her scenes were “bookends” in the film, so she didn’t work with actors like Timothy Carey. She hadn’t met him before but had seen him baring his teeth in films.

Kubrick’s wife, Ruth Slobotka, was the art director. She remembers that Ruth Slobotka wanted the curtains to hang at a certain angle, then the set man later came by and straightened them, RS later came back on set and re-arranged them, etc. She said she wanted to watch the movie again to see how the curtains finally looked. (Darn it, I forgot to look for this.)

She had imagined that this new genius would invest her with new qualities. In actuality, Kubrick didn’t give her notes. He just printed the scene. (My take is that Coleen Gray gave the qualities her character needed, so Kubrick didn’t interfere with something that worked.) Kubrick did do a good bit of work with Marie Windsor, who has, as Coleen Gray noted, the leading female role.

Coleen Gray suggested that a good story is the apex of the triangle with the director at the left of the base and the actors on the right. She was thrilled and delighted by the finished film—which was indeed the reaction of the audience at the festival.

Really, what’s not to like about The Killing? I could note that the ending is taken from a famous John Huston film, but it works well here, too. Sterling Hayden is at his best (he did not seem remarkable to me in Johnny Guitar or The Asphalt Jungle, or maybe he just got overshadowed by gifted co-stars in the latter film). Coleen Gray is right as the nice girl who’ll go along with her man even against her better judgment. The script is a well-oiled machine. Hey, someone has to play a wacko killer: how about Timothy Carey? The audience loved him, just as they loved Elisha Cook, Jr. and Marie Windsor as a less than perfect couple. We relished every line and every glance. People left the theater talking about Cook and Windsor. I also loved Kola Kariani as the combination chessmaster/thug. What a marvelous conception.

CineMaven and I chatted after the film about the Jay C. Flippen character. She asked if I thought he seemed to have a crush on Sterling Hayden when he suggests that the two of them go off together and disparages the idea of Hayden marrying. Yes, that’s exactly what I saw, and I have little doubt that’s what the actor and director intended.

Kubrick’s direction is outstanding. Notice, for instance, the way he introduces several characters with panning shots which carry them past places which will be significant in the story. Some of the scenes with Marie Windsor and Elisha Cook, Jr. are done in long takes, which you may not notice because the dialogue is so good. One woman who teaches film said that The Killing changed her view of Kubrick, and I agreed. This is definitely my favorite; I prefer the films before 2001: A Space Odyssey where actors and story are as important as directorial effects. Concepts become much more important than characters in his later films, but The Killing is one of those fortunate films where everything seems to have gone right. One of the top noirs? You bet.
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Re: Kingrat's Adventures in Film Noir

Postby Rita Hayworth » May 5th, 2013, 2:57 pm

Thanks for posting this Moira ... I would love to go one of these someday and I afraid that I'll get lost in the shuffle. With all these things to do, movies to watch, interviews to listen and get a chance to see Robert Osborne, past Stars, and all that in between ... I would be flabbergasted by all of this. Reading this ... and all of those wonderful film noir ... all of you down there are in paradise!

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Re: Kingrat's Adventures in Film Noir

Postby kingrat » May 6th, 2013, 6:06 pm

Eddie Muller quipped that he’d never have believed it if you’d told him that in two years of film noir at the festival he’d show two films with Googie Withers and none with Robert Ryan. He talked about the earthiness of Googie Withers in It Always Rains on Sunday (1947, dir. Robert Hamer) and mentioned that she married her leading man, John McCallum.

He also commented that Robert Hamer, best-known for directing Kind Hearts and Coronets, was a closeted homosexual who became such a heavy drinker that eventually he was unemployable. He died at the early age of 52. [By the way, another excellent Hamer Brit noir is The Long Memory, starring John Mills, and he also directed the mirror story in Dead of Night.] When Muller said that at this time homosexuality was illegal in Britain, there were sounds of surprise around from some in the audience. That certainly tells you how things have changed in our lifetime, and how little young people know about the history of even the recent past.

Some have compared It Always Rains on Sunday to Robert Altman because of its interlocking plots as well as to the British “kitchen sink” drama which came along in the 1950s. In other words, it’s different from American noir. Googie Withers does stand at the sink and peel potatoes, by the way. The blue-collar East End of London setting and the interlocking stories could also be compared with Carol Reed’s mid-1950s film A Kid for Two Farthings, which is in an entirely different tonal range, comedy and romance and gentle fantasy.

Googie Withers plays a former barmaid who has married a dull older man with two daughters after the man she loved was sent to prison. But he escapes, and his first thought is to head for her. The police have the same idea. The action of the film is set over a 24-hour period, in the course of which various relationships change or are tested.

The audience enjoyed It Always Rains on Sunday. Except for the climactic chase sequences, it doesn’t have the excitement of some American noirs, but Hamer and his actors create a solid and believable world. I hope this will appear soon on TCM.

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Re: Kingrat's Adventures in Film Noir

Postby JackFavell » May 6th, 2013, 8:48 pm

I hope so too, I'd love to see it. Kind Hearts and Coronets is a wonderful film.

I'm sure you've read about John Gielgud's arrest that happened a mere 5 years after this Hamer movie was made, how it came close to destroying his career. I think people now would be shocked to read about it, not realizing that it was against the law at the time. However the case actually helped turn things around eventually.

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Re: Kingrat's Adventures in Film Noir

Postby kingrat » May 7th, 2013, 4:31 pm

Somewhere in the middle of Cape Fear (1962, dir. J. Lee Thompson) I was devoutly wishing I’d gone with Lynn and her husband to see Bugs Bunny. Nobody told me this would be so much more harrowing on the big screen, though I should have known. Oddly enough, it was one of the dialogue scenes that was the most upsetting, where Mitchum relishes telling Gregory Peck about his revenge on his ex-wife. Shannon Clute’s introduction to the film mentioned how some of the initial reviews thought the film was suspenseful and well-made, but complained about the sadism. I’m with the original reviewers on this one, not that films and television aren’t much more explicitly sadistic now.

Well-made, however, Cape Fear definitely is, superbly directed by J. Lee Thompson. The first third of the film is especially good, both in the composition of shots (one example out of many: while the family is bowling, there’s a shot of Polly Bergen and Gregory Peck with the unseen Mitchum at the apex of the triangle above them) and the editing rhythms. The climactic scenes are well-done, too, as Mitchum comes horribly close to executing his revenge.

Shannon Clute also made the excellent point that Cape Fear was unusual for its time in portraying the feelings of women who had been raped and their reluctance to testify in court. He noted that the film, according to the standards of the times, uses the word "attacked" rather than "raped." Certainly the film is very sympathetic to women who have been victimized, and Shannon noted that Barrie Chase has the line that "Girls like me have families, too."

After the film, Barrie Chase was introduced. Unlike some of the stars, she not only needed no assistance, she increased her pace like a 20-year-old as she went down the aisle of the Egyptian Theater onto the stage. As a friend of mine once said enviously, “Those little bird-like women hold up well.” Barrie Chase said she found out only two years ago at a noir festival that Gregory Peck was the one who wanted her for the film. He had seen her performing on television with Fred Astaire and thought she would be right for the part, as indeed she was. When J. Lee Thompson met with her, he was impressed that she had seen some of the “kitchen sink” films he had made in England. She liked working with him very much.

She had never met Robert Mitchum, and her first day on the set was what she called the “rape/sodomy scene” where she is lying face down on the bed. When Mitchum stood over her and swung back and forth, she said it became apparent that he was not wearing underwear. This made her laugh. They also did a scene (not in the final film, I think) where she was supposed to try to run out of the room and Mitchum would catch her. Mitchum told her just to keep running and he would grab her, although on the first take she ran all the way out of the room.

The morning of the scene she has with Mitchum in the front seat of a car, he had been partying all night and had not gone to bed. He told her to let him know when the director was ready, and promptly took a nap. At the right time, she nudged him, he woke up, and gave a letter-perfect performance on the first take.

Barrie Chase read a letter from Gregory Peck in which he said that he thought her performance was excellent and he hoped they could work together again, saying it was too bad that their first film together wasn’t so good. If you wonder why Peck felt that way, he had invested some of his own money in the project and the movie wasn’t that successful at the box office. He retained the rights to the source novel (John D. MacDonald’s The Executioners) and made money selling the rights to the remake.

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Re: Kingrat's Adventures in Film Noir

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » May 7th, 2013, 9:23 pm

David, your recaps are wonderful. I am so glad you were able to write about these films. I also was torn between Mildred Pierce and Try and Get Me. But I wanted to see Ann Blyth talk about Mildred Pierce, and she was delightul. Your essays are the next best thing to being there, and I an grateful for your in-depth reports and delicious details.
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Re: Kingrat's Adventures in Film Noir

Postby JackFavell » May 8th, 2013, 6:02 am

Thanks for talking about Barrie Chase! Sounds like she's doing great! Those dancers (who don't have anorexia) live forever, thanks to all that exercise! Really interesting take she had on her experiences with J. Lee Thompson, Mitchum, and Peck. Loved hearing about Mitchum.

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Re: Kingrat's Adventures in Film Noir

Postby RedRiver » May 8th, 2013, 1:00 pm

To me, CAPE FEAR is the ultimate in psychological suspense. It's terrifying, exciting and maddeningly deliberate. Every...CRACK...of a twig puts the viewer precisely where the talented director wants him to be. The quiet, seemingly peaceful, small town aura suits the story perfectly. It's much scarier here than it would be in a major city. You expect violent crime in the city. The dialogue is exceptionally well written. Most, if not all of it, serves the story; moving the plot along, rather than just "having people talk."

Mitchum's character is a monster. His treatment of poor Miss Chase is revolting. But more recent films by Scorcese, Tarantino and a score of less talented artists are much more graphic. Some may consider this classic too harsh. I long for the relative innocence. When suspense was about what MIGHT happen. Not what's spewing out all over the screen.

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Re: Kingrat's Adventures in Film Noir

Postby Rita Hayworth » May 8th, 2013, 2:44 pm

So true, of CAPE FEAR ... That's one movie that's alone worth watching - Mitchum made it memorable in more ways than one!

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Re: Kingrat's Adventures in Film Noir

Postby kingrat » May 15th, 2013, 11:14 am

I just remembered something else that Barrie Chase said when Cari Beauchamp interviewed her. The producer of CAPE FEAR wanted her to wear short shorts and a halter top (her gesture suggested tying a blouse or halter top around her chest). "Producers never change," Cari Beauchamp quipped. However, the director, J. Lee Thompson, wanted her to wear her own clothes, and that is what she did.

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Re: Kingrat's Adventures in Film Noir

Postby moira finnie » May 15th, 2013, 11:24 am

kingrat wrote:I just remembered something else that Barrie Chase said when Cari Beauchamp interviewed her. The producer of CAPE FEAR wanted her to wear short shorts and a halter top (her gesture suggested tying a blouse or halter top around her chest). "Producers never change," Cari Beauchamp quipped. However, the director, J. Lee Thompson, wanted her to wear her own clothes, and that is what she did.

Speaking of Barrie Chase, an extended interview with Ms. Chase is here:

viewtopic.php?f=18&t=4788&p=94974&hilit=barrie+chase#p94974
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Re: Kingrat's Adventures in Film Noir

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » May 15th, 2013, 7:48 pm

RedRiver wrote:To me, CAPE FEAR is the ultimate in psychological suspense. It's terrifying, exciting and maddeningly deliberate. Every...CRACK...of a twig puts the viewer precisely where the talented director wants him to be. The quiet, seemingly peaceful, small town aura suits the story perfectly. It's much scarier here than it would be in a major city. You expect violent crime in the city. The dialogue is exceptionally well written. Most, if not all of it, serves the story; moving the plot along, rather than just "having people talk."

Mitchum's character is a monster. His treatment of poor Miss Chase is revolting. But more recent films by Scorcese, Tarantino and a score of less talented artists are much more graphic. Some may consider this classic too harsh. I long for the relative innocence. When suspense was about what MIGHT happen. Not what's spewing out all over the screen.


I have to agree with everything you've said, Red.

And I am so grateful for David's wonderful reports.
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Re: Kingrat's Adventures in Film Noir

Postby moira finnie » May 15th, 2013, 8:36 pm

David, the way you described Barrie Chase reading the letter sent to her from Gregory Peck was so touching. Perhaps I am reading into it, but it seemed that she cherished that letter.

I was so glad to read her appreciative remarks about J. Lee Thompson, who is so well remembered for his big action movies but rarely recalled for his best small films made in the UK, such as Ice Cold in Alex and Tiger Bay. Both of those movies feature fine performances from members of the Mills family--John in both and a very young Hayley in the latter film. Sadly, in an interview near the end of his life, Thompson was his severest critic, commenting once that “I’ve been accused of selling out, and when I look back, I really can’t argue with that description of my career.” I don't think that he knew that any of his American movies would linger in memory, much less being revived at film festivals.
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Re: Kingrat's Adventures in Film Noir

Postby kingrat » May 16th, 2013, 11:17 am

Moira, Barrie Chase clearly treasured the letter from Gregory Peck.

I wish that TCM would show those early English films of J. Lee Thompson, none of which I've seen. For a while, he was a very fine director.

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Re: Kingrat's Adventures in Film Noir

Postby RedRiver » May 16th, 2013, 2:58 pm

Certainly THE GUNS OF NAVARRONE is nothing to be ashamed of. A tense and atmospheric action film. I just checked his credits on the internet. Most of it, I haven't seen. Or even heard of. Maybe some of it's not what the director himself would have liked. But you know what? Everybody has to make a living. A filmmaker who made three or four top notch movies can be proud of his work. A couple of Planet of the Apes sequels? Well...it's not exactly Dr. Moreau, but I've seen worse!


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