Category Archives: Noir

Breaking Bad and The Bribe (1949)

RobertTaylor_thebribeA husband with a fatal medical condition, trying to provide for his family by performing illegal services for a conglomerate. A wife doing what she can to get through it and make ends meet with a simple job. A cop who is too close to the situation and questions whose side he is on.

Sound familiar? Nope, I’m not actually describing the plot of Breaking Bad. The above are the main highlights of The Bribe, a lesser-known Noir from 1949 starring Robert Taylor, Ava Gardner, John Hodiak, Vincent Price and amazingly enough, Charles Laughton.

[Warning – there will be some frank talking about plot points of Breaking Bad here. If you wish to avoid spoilers and have not seen the final season, avert your eyes now!]

To anyone who has seen the film, it’s not a really solid parallel, no. John Hodiak’s character is pathetic, pitiable and rather annoying, but he is by no means Walter White. He merely develops a medical condition that grounds him as a flier and then uses his knowledge of planes to help a deliciously evil Vincent Price test planes for nefarious ends. Ava Gardner as his wife does not experience the incredible transformation of character Skyler White goes through, but she does show glimmers of the calculating femme fatale Skyler became. Especially when her family (in this case, husband John Hodiak) is on the line. Robert Taylor shines as the special agent sent to ferret out the illegal dealings. He’s straight as a pin when he begins the crusade and by the end of the film, his feelings for Ava have so changed him, he questions everything he ever believed in. It’s somewhat like Walter White’s DEA brother-in-law Hank Schrader, who suffers such a betrayal with Walt’s choice of career, it causes him to become obsessed with taking Walt down.

The movie is an enjoyable Noir with some gorgeous 40s fashions, a fun little song and a host of remarkable stars. But by far, my favorite aspect of all is Charles Laughton’s Pie Shape. The fact that the great Charles Laughton would ever deign to play such a preposterous character is notable in itself. And then to have played him with such sincerity and perfection, it’s just unforgettable. Pie Shape is hard to peg at first. He’s just in the background, being remarked upon with bewilderment by Robert Taylor’s character. In between his whiny complaints about the condition of his feet and his completely serious showcase of the foot x-rays explaining his pain, he somehow becomes endearing. And that is the genius of Laughton: the ability to make even the most unlikable of characters human.

So, perhaps my parallel is a stretch, but it’s similar enough to deserve commentary, even if it’s purely coincidental. And being the rabid classic film fan I am, I would love to believe The Bribe was a source of inspiration to Vince Gilligan. Plus, there is one little line that connected a few dots for me in the similarities. When Ava Gardner is having a particularly hard time of it with her husband, Charles Laughton walks in, sets down his rain soaked poncho and asks “Things breaking bad?”

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My Art: End of the Line

As you may have already deduced, I graduated from college earlier this year. Graduated! Diploma and all. In order to graduate, I needed to create a Senior Project and display it in a local gallery. This I did and had a great time in the process. You will not be surprised to learn that I used this project as an excuse to sit around and watch classic films as research. So, please have a look! I’m finally ready to share it with you.The project is a marketing campaign for a classic film festival I named End of the Line. It’s a festival of 5 classic Noir films all centering around trains. It took me ages to decide which to choose, but I narrowed it down to:

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

Double Indemnity (1944)

Terror By Night (1946)

The Tall Target (1951)

The Narrow Margin (1952)

The campaign consists of a logo, 5 redesigned film posters, 6 ticket designs, a website and a display area for the gallery. In addition, I designed trading cards with my information on them to give to patrons and a teaser poster to advertise my project at the show. We needed to have an artist’s statement/thesis to hang on the wall next to our projects, too.

THESIS

In the creation of a marketing campaign for a five film festival of classic Noir drams, I highlight fresh aspects of the films presented. With the intent of piquing the interest of young adults, I have rebranded the films with vintage inspired graphics and factual interpretations of the plots. The common thread tying all five films together is the fact that each plot centers around a train journey gone awry.

The supporting promotional materials serve both a functional and commemorative purpose in the campaign. Intended for use in small theatres across the country, the campaign would be available for owners to purchase and host at their discretion.

THE POSTERS

One of the reasons I decided to pursue this project was the frustration I felt attempting to explain the incredible world of classic movies to people my age. I have actually talked with people who refused to watch a classic film “because it’s black and white.” I remember the conversation well, probably because that comment was akin to The Hulk punching me in the face. Before that, I naively believed everyone would be excited to hear about this wonderful cinematic world I had discovered.

Armed with this knowledge of general oafishness, I set out to reveal the stylish, fascinating and wholly worthy nature of classic movies in a way the younger generations could appreciate. I soon realized the most important piece of this mission would be the redesigned posters. Clean, bold and easy to understand at a glance were my goals. I wanted to depict the films truthfully and in a visually appealing way without giving away any plot points, but at the same time hold the interest of diehard fans.

THE TICKETS

The tickets were the easiest piece to design, but the hardest to get printed successfully. If you look closely, you can see every one of them is perforated so the stub can be separated from the ticket. The festival pass even has 5 perforations on the same ticket. You can imagine how a printer handled this. They printed the tickets (all 350 of them…) and forgot to perforate them. I nearly died when the man called and told me that the day before the show opened. I’m not a pushy person at all, but I told him in no uncertain terms he better get them fixed and fast. Thankfully, they were.

Anyway, for these tickets I wanted to combine the idea of movie tickets and train tickets with the integration of a vintage railroad hole puncher. Every ticket has a white circle on the back to be punched at the time you enter the theatre. It’s a purely commemorative gesture, but I felt it was an important touch to lend a train journey feel to the promotional materials. This punch was a lucky Etsy find – it creates a bee wing shape!

THE WEBSITE

eotlff.com – This little site made me so happy when it was finished. I wrote the code for every single thing you see there. All the hovers, all the links, every image you see. I typed out every single character that makes this site work. I even bought a domain and uploaded the whole tidy little package to the server. Be sure to take a peek at the Films page. That was my favorite part to code. (I’m told it doesn’t look to full advantage in Internet Explorer, though…)

THE DISPLAY

Apologies for the subpar photos – no matter how I tried, I couldn’t get a decent photo in this space! It looked marvelous in person, I promise. The black backdrop is a 6′ by 8′ vinyl banner I designed. See those map dots? Those are the actual departure and destination cities in each of the movies, arranged with mild geographical accuracy. (I fretted over the fact it wasn’t geographically correct for months. Eventually, I realized it didn’t matter all that much.) The vintage suitcases were an almost-last-minute revelation that helped bring the whole project together. I tied the stacks with jute rope and thick wire to prevent anyone walking off with them. It worked well!

The incredible sample suitcase served as a holder for the tickets and trading cards. Visitors to the show were allowed to take those as souvenirs. I had to take this suitcase to a metal shop and have a piece of metal cut to fit so it would stay open. The man who helped me figure out the fix was the nicest guy. He made the problem of transforming this suitcase into a display piece a fun adventure, instead of the headache I was anticipating.

THE TEASER POSTER

About a month before the show opened in the main gallery, a smaller gallery hosted a show of the teaser posters my class created. The design above was one of my original ideas, but I couldn’t find a way to make it work with one of the movies. It turned out to be the perfect solution for this poster. The blue circle contains a block of text we absolutely had to have on our posters (mandate from the college’s marketing department). It contained the name of our college and the exact place of the main show. I’ve changed it to gibberish now, but you get the idea. At the time, the QR code in the lower right corner created a reminder for the event in your phone if you scanned it. It now leads straight back here to my blog.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Even though this was the only project I’ve ever worked on that brought me close to tears, it’s my favorite. I’m proud of it, even after looking at it for the first time since it was completed back in April. (I have a policy of putting away all my finished work and taking it out again months later to reassess it. When you are in the thick of an idea, it’s difficult to see it with critical eyes.) That said, I’m really interested in your opinions. In fact, the whole time I worked on this, I kept considering what you guys would think. Did I do the films justice? Are the posters appealing to people who know all about the films? You tell me.

I’ve finally summoned up enough courage to share this here, so please don’t be shy with your thoughts!

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Filed under Classic Movies, My Art, Noir

Movie Review: Appointment with Danger (1951)

At first flicker, Appointment with Danger looks like a boilerplate low-budget Noir thriller from the 50s. Enjoyable and mildly exciting, but nothing to write a blog post about. However, after you survive the credits adorned with the postal seal and a short propaganda piece touting the Postal Inspectors as saviors of the world, you realize this is no ordinary B-picture. You’re dropped in a cheap hotel room where a fiendish crime is taking place, illuminated only with the intervals of a flashing sign. Cue the fadeout and our two crooks from the hotel room are making a getaway aided by a fast roadster and torrents of rain. But who are these crooks? You may well ask:

That’s right – Henry Morgan and Jack Webb, aka Gannon and Friday of Dragnet fame. As it turns out, the dynamic duo of 50s crime fighting boast a secret past they never divulged in their fervent search for “the facts” later in life. As it happens, the two of them see quite a bit of action on the wrong side of the law in Gary, Indiana.

En route to dispose of their dastardly hotel deed, George (Harry Morgan) stops to aid a nun-in-distress with her obstreperous umbrella while Joe (Jack Webb) attempts to hide from the nun’s percipient gaze. But alas, Morgan and Webb just weren’t cut out for the thug-life. Their victim in the hotel room turns out to be a postal inspector (which means ALAN LADD is coming to get them) and worse still, the Umbrella Nun remembers them both (despite Webb’s valiant efforts to melt into the shadows). As Morgan and Webb discover later, the habited lady in distress is no ordinary nun.

The hero of Film Noir himself, Mr. Alan Ladd (do be sure to note his fabulous hair – this is the kind of hair that falls down over his eye at strategic moments to melt a girl’s heart) is hard-boiled postal inspector Al Goddard. He’s as cynical as they come, and even doubts the integrity of the Umbrella Nun (Phyllis Calvert). In the course of the investigation, he encounters Jan Sterling as a gangster’s moll. She’s not to be missed.How to Wear a Fedora 101. Take notes, fellas.

Okay, no more spoilers on the plot, I promise. Aside from the startling cast choices and Alan Ladd appeal, Appointment with Danger holds another element of interest for me. Some of the action takes place in a Midwestern town I once inhabited:The idea of Alan Ladd calmly leaping off freight trains in a town I once called home is pretty darn thrilling, I must admit. The shot of him above with the Junction sign is not in the Midwest. The mountains in the distance are undoubtedly somewhere closer to the Californian coast. But the shot on the platform, with the distinctive station on the left? That one IS a Midwestern town; the one where I maintained an address for a time.

This is the view of the station from the street. Alan Ladd is pictured from the train side of the station, of which photos seem to be impossible to find. But if you look at the roof line of the train side of the building, you see it has the plain peak, as in the screenshot. And the distinctive arched window with decorative contrasting detail at the top is the same, too. The taller structure in the screenshot does not exist today so far as I can tell, but it may have been a building next to the station that has since been torn down. The station is now a reception hall for weddings and events.

How’s that for some Hollywood in my hometown?

Be sure and check out Steve-O’s fabulous review of this film with a more complete plot analysis.

Watch Appointment with Danger for yourself: Netflix, Amazon.

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The Noir Girl Uniform

The *Official* Noir Girl Uniform

Silhoutte

I wore an outfit very similar to this today at school. I created it just so I could wear the precious green wool hat from my avatar photo. It was terribly exciting garb to spend my day in, so much so I’ve decided to make it my official uniform. If I ever get to meet any of you lovely dears in person, this is how you’ll know me! I’ll be the girl in the bright green hat, lost in her own world of wardrobe satisfaction.

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Filed under Fashion Backward, Noir, Pick-me-ups, School

Marilyn Monroe {180 Tag}

My friend Kate of Silents and Talkies started a tag last week that I think is pure genius.  I liked the idea so much, I’ve decided to tag myself with it.

Here’s Kate’s criteria: “Name an actor, actress or director that you started out despising (or just really not liking) but ended up loving. Or vice versa, someone you started out loving and ended up despising (or just really not liking) — and explain why.

I’m sure I’m going to shock some people with my choice for this tag, but I love shocking people so here goes – My choice is Marilyn Monroe, “a star I started out despising and ended up loving.”

“But how can you dislike Marilyn?” you cry incredulously, the indignation rising. I’ll try to explain.

When I was a budding early teen film fan, I saw snippets of Marilyn in Bus Stop and Clash By Night. I don’t think I ever watched either film totally through until much later. I did make it through Some Like It Hot, and while boosting my crushes on Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis, it did nothing to alleviate my prejudice against Marilyn.  When I saw Marilyn on screen, her sexy whisper grated on my nerves like nails on a chalkboard. The dumb blonde image she often embodied offended me to no end.  The entire idea of Marilyn as nothing more than a sex symbol put me off in every way. I’m a modest creature by nature (probably very modest according to modern standards) so at the time, the whole “in your face” sexuality Marilyn oozed just made my skin crawl. She reminded me too much of the modern culture I was vigorously fighting against.

After many years of living in “Marilyn Despisal,” I had my epiphany last year. The Film Noir Classic Collection box sets were on sale at Amazon, so like a good Noir fan, I snatched them up right away. Looking over the films included in each set, I saw Clash By Night was in Volume 2. It was disappointing, not only because it wasn’t a favorite of mine, but because I couldn’t understand how it was considered Film Noir. Despite these objections, I bought it anyway. My mom and I made our way through each box set, one by one. When it came time to watch Clash By Night, I wasn’t expecting much but decided to give it chance. The result was a complete turnaround on my views of Marilyn.

Maybe it happened because I have matured, maybe I was just in a weak moment, or maybe it was just my time to become a Marilyn fan. No matter what the reason, Marilyn disarmed me with her fresh honesty, sweetness, and down to earth manner. Marilyn was gorgeous, but she acted like she didn’t know or care. She was (or at least seemed) blissfully ignorant of her physical beauty. It’s a truly remarkable quality found in few. I get so annoyed with modern female film stars who walk around virtually screaming “Hey, look at me, I think I’m drop dead gorgeous!” And, it’s practically never true, anyway.  Marilyn comes up tops against them all.

Clash By Night is one of my favorite Marilyn films for all the reasons I’ve already mentioned plus one more.  The chemistry she has with Keith Andes is electric. If you ask me, Marilyn and Keith steal the whole film from Barbara Stanwyck and Paul Douglas (I say this even as a huge Paul Douglas fan). It’s obvious Marilyn and Keith’s characters have a strong physical attraction to each other, but they also share a meaningful friendship which allows them to kid around and just be silly. It’s easy to imagine their characters having a successful marriage, still being able to laugh with each other even 50 years on.

So, now as a Marilyn Monroe convert, I seek out every film she made, finding that each and every one has merit of some kind and is a wonderful film. She’s one of those actors who guarantees the success of a picture by her very presence. I recommend all of her films I have mentioned in this post. Her whisper has grown on me over time, and I now see it as a reflection of her shyness. The dumb blonde cliche which offended me so much before now only serves to remind me of the real Marilyn, who was not dumb at all. In fact, she was smart enough to figure out a way to escape her type-casting that studio heads would be forced to accept. And while I can recognize the image of Marilyn as a sex symbol, I have learned to look past it and see her as the kind hearted, fragile person she actually was. I suppose, in the end, Marilyn has the last laugh on me. And you know what? I don’t mind a bit.

And with that, I hereby tag the following bloggers with the 180:

Nicole at Classic Hollywood Nerd

Laura at Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings

Matthew at Movietone News

(Have you ever noticed how I tag a lot of the same people? I hope they don’t get mad at me!)

If you would like to do a 180 of your very own, go ahead! Don’t be shy: write it up, post it and let me know. I’ll link it for you here as one of my tag-ees.

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Anatomy of an Entertainment Center

Our friend Raquelle at Out of the Past issued a challenge to her fellow classic film lovers to give a tour of our entertainment centers to the bloggie world.  One common thread I’ve noticed so far is how we all watch so many films, and obviously spend quite a bit of time in front of our sets, but several of the responders (including myself) are not luxuriating in a huge, plasma flat screen set.  We’re making due with our ancient tellies and finding them completely adequate.

Well, enough of these musings – on to the tour! (btw-I’ll be referring to stuff as “ours” because none of this is actually mine – it belongs to our family.  I have a care taking relationship with all of it, though, so it’s sort of mine.)

TV

Our tv is awfully old. Probably at least ten years.  It’s a Sony and actually it is flat screen.  I’ve tried find reasons to talk myself into getting a new one, but this one works just fine and has no intention of breaking anytime soon.  It lives in a cupboard which hides as much of its ugliness as possible.  (Have you ever noticed how ugly electronics are?   The person who makes electronics visually pleasing will make a fortune.)  Note on the left side – that’s my movie notebook.  On the right side are my Mom’s precious Julia Child DVDs.  They hold that place of honor because they are played a lot in our house. :)

Under the tv is a cupboard with doors that hides the satellite box, dvd/vcr players and part of my enormous, embarrassing collection of VHS tapes (image on the right of TV image).

Secret VHS Stash

Here’s a shot of the rest of my VHS collection.  I’m a notorious organizer, so my VHS collection is cataloged.  Each tape has a number, which is recorded in a notebook I keep by the tv.  I write down all the titles on this list, and have an alphabetical version on my computer.  These are my “films worth saving.”  This list has grown and grown and grown – to the point where I have 155 tapes in this library right now.  I think I’m going to adopt Raquelle and Jonas’ method of labeling the side of the box, instead of the front.  It would save tons of space!

my-movie-notebook

My notebook – just a three ring binder that I covered in wallpaper so it would be worthy of what it was meant to hold.  It has my current copy of Now Playing, along with a smaller notebook where I write down each day’s movie recordings.  If I didn’t write it down, I’d never remember to set everything up.

catalog-system

These are my film catalog lists.  The handwritten one is arranged according to the number of the tape.  The typed one is each title arranged in alphabetical order.  Titles in green are Christmas films (a new feature I came up with this year!).  The red ones are films I have on more than one tape – duplicates.

glimpse-of-dvds

glimpse-of-dvds-1

Our DVD collection: it’s scattered around partly for lack of enough space in one area, partly for easy access.  Most of the collection is stored in the huge windowseat in our library. (Yup, we actually have a room in our house called “The Library” – we really do keep all of our books in this room, too.)  The rest of the DVDs are around the tv in smaller cupboards on the sides – organized by genre mostly.  British-made (Agatha Christie’s Poirot, Miss Marple (the ones from the 80s – not those new ones), Danger UXB, Upstairs, Downstairs and Pride & Prejudice, of course), Film Noir, General Classic (The Andy Griffith Show, The Avengers), etc.  You can see our much loved sets of Nero Wolfe DVDs on the shelf.  The show starring Timothy Hutton and Maury Chaykin was fabulous and so underrated!dvd windowseat

This is such a fun idea.  Thanks for suggesting it, Raquelle!

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Movie Review: The Blue Dahlia

I’m finally earning my name here, because I am getting to review one of the best noir flicks there is.  I have seen this movie once or twice already, but due to the unexplained fact that TCM seems to have something against Ladd/Lake films, I have been waiting years to see it again.  TCM finally lifted the ban yesterday and gave everyone a treat.  (Btw – if anyone out there knows the reasons why TCM seldom plays the Ladd/Lake films, I’d love to hear about it!)

Just a note to avoid misunderstandings:  The Blue Dahlia is not to be confused with The Blue Gardenia (1953) (which is another great film noir you’re going to hear more about soon) or The Black Dahlia (The failed 2006 attempt at recreating classic film noir.  The title of that film comes from an actual murder case that happened soon after our film was released.  The newspapers dubbed the case “The Black Dahlia” to capitalize on the success of our film and sensationalize the case in the process.)

Back to the review: One of the reasons this film is fantastic is that it is based on a story by Raymond Chandler and he wrote the screenplay.  The basic gist of the story of The Blue Dahlia (1946) revolves around Alan Ladd being accused of murdering his wife.  He didn’t do it, of course, but he’s the only one who believes that.  Although there is one other believer:  Veronica Lake.  Ladd has two friends who are played by superb character actors Hugh Beaumont (aka Ward Cleaver, Beaver’s dad) and William Bendix (affectionently know in our house as Bendi).  You’d never think Ward Cleaver could have been mixed up with such a bunch of shady characters!  It is obviously long before he met June and she reformed him.  ;)

William Bendix is hilarious and sweet as the shell-shocked war vet Buzz.  He has a lot of good lines, especially when he’s mad at people.  Veronica Lake’s clothes in every single scene are noteworthy.  The Blue Dahlia is worth watching just for her clothes alone.  Then, there is the darling roadster that Ladd and Lake spend a good part of the film driving in.  Now I know why I have such a partiality to 40’s roadsters.  :)

The title comes from the name of a nightclub owned by one of the film’s many suspicious characters.  This man always sends blue dahlias to the women in his life.  Sadly, as far as I know, there are no true blue dahlias in real life.  Just a figment of Raymond Chandler’s imagination.

I’ll leave you with this great bit of repartee from Ladd and Lake:

Johnny Morrison: “You oughta have more sense than to take chances with strangers like this.”

Joyce Harwood: “It’s funny, but practically all the people I know were strangers when I met them.”

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