Tag 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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Cadmium Yellow, Blood Red Bookcover

**trumpet fanfare, please**

It is my honor to announce the unveiling of a new e-bookcover design (created by me) for Jacqueline T. Lynch’s detective series! Cadmium Yellow, Blood Red has just been republished with the new cover on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. This is the first book in the Double V Mystery series. Set in 1950s Connecticut, it centers on an unlikely pair of amateur sleuths, thrown together because of a murder. Hop over to Jacqueline’s blog for a peek at the first chapter, brilliantly illustrated with classic film screen caps. I wish all books could be illustrated this way.

I had so much fun designing this cover and the logo for Double V. It’s a dream come true for me to create a cover for a Noir-inspired series. And I must admit, I genuinely squealed to see a piece of art I designed load on a real life Amazon page. :)

Heartfelt thanks to Jacqueline for giving me this truly thrilling opportunity.

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Filed under My Art

An Interview with Patricia Hammond, part 2

Yesterday, I brought you the first half of my interview with Patricia Hammond, The Canadian Nightingale. Today I have the conclusion for you where Patricia and I compared notes on dressing vintage, fixing vintage hairstyles, finished up our chat about classic film stars and looked back on childhood memories.

–:–:–Continued from Interview With Patricia Hammond, Part 1–:–:–

You also like Lizabeth Scott, I have to say, I think she’s amazing. She’s my favorite Noir person.. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.

Ohh yes! Well, isn’t that Barbara Stanwyck?

Yes, it’s Barbara Stanwyck, but Lizabeth Scott just, I think she steals it.

Yes, she does, it’s true!

I love it, she’s so feral. She’s so like a little wild animal. She talks like a kind of old man.

[laughter]

It’s true, sort of out of the side of her mouth a little bit?

Yes! “I’ve got a bus to catch…”

[laughter]

She sang, she was dubbed in a lot of these films, but she actually sang and I think she released an album.

I didn’t know that!

Oh yeah! I think she appears on- not the Ed Sullivan show, but one of those variety shows, actually singing from her album. And it’s a very different voice from what usually dubs her.

Oh my gosh. See I could never understand the point of dubbing actors and actresses who really could sing.

Yes, I know! There was this famous man – Dana Andrews?

Yes, Dana Andrews!

He’s on your list!

[laughter] Yes he is!

He was in, was it State Fair?

Yes, it was!

He was a professional baritone, and yet he was dubbed. And somebody said, “Why on earth, with your ability would you ever let that happen?” And he said, “Oh, the guy probably needed the money.”

Yes, he didn’t want to take to the job away.

Isn’t that sweet?

It is sweet! He was a great guy. I do wish he had been able to sing it though.

Oh, I know isn’t it a shame.

I notice for the photos on your website you are all dolled up in vintage attire. Do you actually wear vintage clothes, like everyday?

Well, this is what I think is so great about what you do. You actually make up clothes from vintage patterns.

Yes!

Which is brilliant, I think that’s wonderful because then you can actually wear them like they would have in the day. If you’re wearing something vintage, I don’t know about other people, but I fear for them. I think, “Oh this thing has made it unscathed more or less through 70 years and here I am wearing it on this filthy bus!”

Precisely.

I don’t want anything to happen to it, it’s an old survivor. But if it’s a replica, I can live a normal life in these wonderful clothes. But yeah, I wear a lot of replicas. I like some Betty Page. It’s made in Las Vegas.

Yes, I know, isn’t it neat?

Yes. I’m not one for the big crinoline thing, that’s too late for me. There’s one here called Silk and Sawdust. Kind of expensive, but they are all handmade by this girl. I wish I was like you and could make my own clothes.

It’s very fun. Because you get to pretend that you’re back in the 40s making it, saving your pennies.

Exactly, when choosing the material was where you got excited.

Yes!

It’s so wonderful to have that concept of going to a shop and saying, “Ooh I like this calico! I like this calico here.” It’s like the Little House Books!

You’re right, it is!

Oh I love those books, especially the first one. The Little House in the Big Woods. And yeah, precisely that happens. They go to the big town and Ma gets really excited about the bolts of fabric. It’s a great process.

Yes, it really is. And it makes you think more about your clothes. Why you are making it, where you’re going to wear it. It’s not so much of an impulse buying thing.

Yes, you really think about it. Having said that, places like TopShop and H&M are really into vintage. They literally copy old patterns now. I think it’s pretty official that they do that. So, if you really steel yourself and go there and get over the idea that the clothes are made in China under pretty bad working conditions, you can pick up some pretty convincing clothes.

When I perform my pre-war or first world war stuff I wear dresses by this lady in California called Nataya – they are really convincing. I don’t think she sets out to be a replica dress designer, but she certainly is taking her inspiration from that time.

Do you wear hats, too?

I love hats!

I do too!

Oh, hats are great. Do you ever find that it’s much easier to match the dress to the hat, than the hat to the dress?

YES.

[laughter]

Yeah, a really nice hat, there is nothing like it. But I don’t tend to perform in them because I think they obscure the facial expressions. They kind of make me feel less free with the song somehow.

Do you have a vintage hairstyle, as well?

I have a couple of vintage wigs.

You do?

Confessions, confessions! Here in East London, there is a street near Finsbury Park tube station which is basically a street of wigs. It’s loads of wigs. And I found this wonderful 20s bob made of real hair which is so convincing. And when you have a 20s bob in real life, you’re kind of stuck with it.

Yeah.

That’s it. But it’s so good. Just to be able to stick that on your head and not worry. Because it’s got bangs. And also, snoods are really useful.

Oh, yes! I have snoods too.

Oh, gosh! Because when you are doing a vintage hairstyle, it’s always the ends. It has to be all sort of packaged in there and all smooth. And you cannot have stragglers really, to be truly authentic and that’s a real drag.

It is! That’s the hard part.

So, a snood just answers all of that. You stick your hair in there and there it is!

Yup, and you’re done and it’s really easy and fast.

Yes, stick a flower in if you’re being fancy. And hairpieces are really, really useful. They used them at the time, as well. Those kind of clip-in, kind of braided buns.

And actual curls and things that they would put on top of their head.

Yes, yes, yes. The main thing I find is the fringe – I keep saying fringe, but you say bangs!

Oh, yes!

That was my first kind of- when I moved over here from Canada it was my first thing that I had to change. Bangs to fringe.

Did you change a lot of your phrasing when you moved?

A few things. Lift instead of elevator. Interval instead of intermission. But yeah, I had to change quite a few things. Oh yeah – thong, say flipflop instead. Because thong is actually a skimpy undergarment.

[laughter]

Did you have trouble growing up with the other kids not wanting to hear about your love for vintage music?

YES! Yes, yes. Absolutely. Did you?

Somewhat. I kind of distanced myself from people who didn’t agree with me.

Good for you! Did you go to a school that was large enough that you could find a few friends?

Yes, I had a little group of one or two.

Elementary school, I went to a school with like 90 kids in it.

Oh wow.

Yeah, that was tough because there was nobody else. Absolutely nobody else who was interested in old things. I got teased horribly for dressing in thrift store clothes. Oh that’s another: English to American or American to English, is charity shop and thrift store.

Oh yes! I love charity shop, I think that sounds better.

[Laughing] Sweet. But I was teased for dressing in thrift shop clothes, which it was a financial necessity in my case. It wasn’t so much of a conscious decision, but then it became a conscious decision.

Yeah, it’s very popular to do right now.

Yeah! It it sounds like with your friends, the same thing. When I went to high school and there were more kids, there were a couple of punks and they absolutely respected my desire to be different. It wasn’t different in the way they were different, but because it was different in itself, it was laudable. So that was good. I’m kind of a vintage punk in a way.

Well, at least you were able to find somebody who could understand it on some level!

Yeah, yeah yeah! Do you have scene where you are?

Well, we have a small vintage dancing culture, but it’s not at all like the vintage world you have in England. You’re so lucky to have the clubs and the stores. It’s amazing. We don’t have anything like that here.

It’s really caught on here, it’s funny because when I was in Vancouver in the mid-nineties, there was all this huge swing dance, burlesque, vintage scene and that was back in the mid-90s and then it kind of faded away. And then it came to London – kind of. Like, sort of 2003, 2004 and now everywhere you look there is burlesque, there’s vintage, there’s reenactors – everything. There was always a big reenactor scene, I think with vintage cars and that sort of thing, but yeah, it’s really caught on.

Yeah, here in America, all we really have are the cars and the people who know about the cars. There’s never really anybody who dresses up in the era and does anything, except for maybe like actual World War II military reenactments sometimes.

Yeah, that’s what we’ve always had. Yes. I think that always is going to be there. But it’s interesting the different layers of nostalgia. But it’s funny that musically, there usually it’s “Oh yes, we’ll have a vintage DJ!” But actually having a genuine band is much more rare then you might imagine.

I hope that with this CD, it will bring forward another genre, another kind of thing. It’s not classical, it’s not jazz, it’s not crossover. It’s its own thing.

Yes, it’s a whole entire style in and of itself.

Yeah, it is exactly that. And it’s hard to define. Old songs, nostalgia. I just like to say it’s just songs.

Yes, truly good songs, sung by a lady who really knows how to sing!

Awwww! Wow! I like this!

Well that’s so rare now, to have people who can actually sing.

Well, it’s funny – you don’t want opera singers to do it because they’ll sort of strangle the life out of it. They’ll make it so arch and big and you lose all the intimacy.

Right, you can’t understand the lyrics.

Yeah, and modern singers kind of bring their own modern sensibility to it and it turns into something different. Though I wouldn’t like to think that I’m kind of stuck away in another world or stagnant in any way. I just like to think that this is how, when I look at the old music, it kind of jumps out at me. And then I work with these musicians who are amazing. The two who did the arrangements for the album, Matt Redman and Nick Ball. These young guys – they are so clever and are really very good at looking at what’s on the page and saying, “Oh I hear a flute there,” or “I think this could really have an early ragtime kind of feel.” then bringing out, say, a mandolin and a pair of spoons! It’s just fleshing out the bones and I hope there’s a lot of flesh.

Yes, I think there is! It has a great sound, a really full-bodied sound and it draws you in. It’s the sort of thing- I was listening to it this morning – you kind of can’t do anything else while you’re listening to it. It’s so captivating.

Ohhh! Oh that’s wonderful! Well, I’d like to think that people can.

Well, at least on the first listen, you have to stop and really listen to all of it, because there is just so much to hear.

Oh that’s marvelous! That’s really wonderful!

Thank you so much for giving me the chance to talk with you, Patricia. I had a wonderful time!

Well, likewise! I wish you lived nearby, we could watch the Strange Love of Martha Ivers!

I wish I did, too! I would love to come and watch you perform. If you come to America, I’m definitely coming to see you!

Oh, I hope we’re coming to America. That would be fantastic!

–:–:–:–:–:–:–:–:–:–:–:–:–:–:–:–:–:–:–:–:–:–:–:–:–:–:–:–

I’d like to extend my sincerest thanks to Patricia and her publicity team for giving me the chance to talk with her. And I urge all of you to head over to her website and check out the tracks from her new CD! And after that check out her new blog!

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Filed under Classic Movies, Music

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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Filed under Film Bloggers, Movie Review, Noir

Sneak Peek: Veronica

The luscious velvet ribbon arrived yesterday, so Veronica is on her way to being finished.

I got two colors, one lighter and more orangey the other duller – more gold.  I wasn’t exactly sure which would match my fabric and I didn’t have the patience to wait for samples.  Have a look.  The yellow floral fabric underneath is the outside of Veronica.  The inside is equally pretty. ;)

Choice #1 - Gold
Choice #1 – Gold
Choice #2 - Marigold
Choice #2 – Marigold

I decided to use the Marigold color.  The Gold color will show up in another project soon!

BTW – Here is the one and only Veronica Lake.  I am guessing that she is the inspiration for the name of this bag I’m making.  She’s the originator of the infamous “peek-a-boo” hairstyle.  She made some simply marvelous film noir movies with a guy named Alan Ladd.  She was perfect as the femme fatale.

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Filed under Fashion Backward, Film Bloggers, Sewing