Bryan Foy and John Alton: An Unlikely Team

Producer and director Bryan Foy, 1930

To view the “Anthony Mann/John Alton Noir” theme on FilmStruck, click here.

Anthony Mann gained a reputation for creating lean, mean film noirs with the help of cinematographer extraordinaire John Alton. Mann’s stylish direction and memorable characters in film noir, as well as in Westerns and dramas make him a favorite among classic movie lovers. You can count the Streamliners among Mann-fans based on the many FilmStruck posts about the series “Anthony Mann/John Alton Noir,” including my own article from earlier this year.

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The Past Is Always With Us: The Naked Kiss (1964)

NAKED KISS, THE (1964)

To view The Naked Kiss click here.

Samuel Fuller developed a reputation over time of being the tough guy director of movies like Pickup on South Street (1953), The Steel Helmet (1951) and The Big Red One (1980). This is all well and good but his films have a sense of style, and insight at their core, that belies the notion that Fuller can be pigeonholed as the cigar-chomping model of masculinity behind the camera. He may well have been, but the man put together more movies about regret and despair than most directors and occasionally dipped deeply into the well of sentimentality. In 1964, he put together a movie whose story and plot could have easily been mistaken for the kind of movie directed by Douglas Sirk, although with completely different results. In fact, The Naked Kiss (1964) may be described as the best movie Douglas Sirk never made.

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Sudden Fear (1952): Joan Crawford’s Shock to the System

SUDDEN FEAR (1952)

To view Sudden Fear click here.

As the first season of water cooler sensation Feud has recently finished airing, it’s funny to reflect how certain movie stars tend to surge in public interest at random intervals. Case in point: Joan Crawford, whose films have been TCM and home video favorites among younger viewers and who is now enjoying her biggest pop culture awareness since Faye Dunaway turned her into a domineering camp icon in Mommie Dearest (1981). It’s become common for movie fans to pigeonhole much of Crawford’s work as campy or, more commonly, as “women’s pictures,” which tends to fence them off into some kind of minor category apart from all those war films and biblical epics.

Well, the joke’s on those critics considering how little Crawford’s films have dated and how many people still watch them. You can certainly be amused by Joan’s more outrageous ventures into the surreal, e.g. Torch Song (1953), but she was a woman who could grab that camera and hold your gaze stronger than just about any other movie star out there. Fortunately she had a work ethic that wouldn’t quit and made loads of films both within and outside the studio system, which means you can spend much of your love stumbling on a Crawford film that doesn’t get regular play. [...MORE]

John Alton and Film Noir: Painting with Light and Shadow

RAW DEAL (1948)

To view Raw Deal click here.

A shadowy, expressive photography defines film noir. It creates the kind of heavy mood and atmosphere that the German Expressionists called stimmung. The genre seemed to bring out the best in cinematographers, but two have been singled out by scholars and historians—Nicholas Musuraca and John Alton.

Musuraca photographed noir favorites such as Out of the Past (1947) and The Hitch-Hiker (1953), while John Alton’s work in the genre was in B-movies for directors Steve Sekely (Hollow Triumph [1948]), Joseph H. Lewis (The Big Combo [1955]), and Anthony Mann. Alton shot six films for Mann; five of them are streaming on FilmStruck, including the noir Raw Deal (1948).

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The Killer is Loose: He Walked By Night (1948)

HE WALKED BY NIGHT (1948)

To view He Walked By Night click here.

He Walked By Night (1948) strips the police procedural to the bone. There are no backstories or love interests, just the case at hand, rigorously filmed by director of photography John Alton and directors Alfred Werker and Anthony Mann (FilmStruck is streaming five Anthony Mann/John Alton Noir collaborations: T-Men [1948], Raw Deal [1948], He Walked By NightBorder Incident [1949] and Devil’s Doorway [1950]). Inspired by the 1946 crime spree of former Army Lieutenant Erwin Walker, the movie is obsessed with process, of both the cops and the killer. The police methodically trudge through witness interviews and crowdsource a sketch of the suspect, while the equally conscientious criminal attempts to wipe his identity from public record. Made in the semi-documentary style popularized by The Naked City (1948), though on a lower budget, it can be no-frills to the point of abstraction, as both sides of the law disappear into the shadows of Los Angeles’ sewer system. [...MORE]

Joan Bennett: Fritz Lang’s Muse

SCARLET STREET (1945)

Joan Bennett got her start in Hollywood as a lovely, demure, fair-haired ingénue but made her mark as a sexy, feisty, dark-haired femme fatale. Her transformation was atypical in Tinseltown where many natural brunettes such as Carole Lombard, Lana Turner, Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield, found success after becoming bottle blonds. Bennett’s makeover happened during the production of Trade Winds (1938), an amusing crime-drama where she plays a woman on the run from the law who is forced to change her appearance. She looked so striking as a brunette that she was inundated with fan mail after the film’s release and got approval from national hairdresser associations who publicly admired her exotic new ‘do. Critics disapprovingly compared her to Hedy Lamarr but according to the actress’s autobiography (The Bennett Playbill), she relished the idea of escaping the “bland, blond, innocent” image that had dogged her and the change of appearance brought about a newfound personal and professional confidence. Afterward Bennett became politically active, fell in love with producer Walter Wanger and began a creative partnership with director Fritz Lang that would forever alter the trajectory of her career.

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On Film Noir, Poetic Realism and “The Myth of Gabin”

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If you are a fan of film noir, and who isn’t, I suggest checking out the French film movement from the 1930s known as Poetic Realism. Noir fanatics are attracted to the genre’s dark romanticism with its haunting fatalism, melancholy mood and doomed characters—conventions shared with Poetic Realism. Until the end of February, FilmStruck is streaming seven films under the theme French Poetic Realism, including three featuring Jean Gabin. Gabin has been compared to Humphrey Bogart, not because they resemble each other, or employ similar acting styles, but because both became icons of the silver screen. In France, Gabin in his working-class cloth cap is an icon representing Poetic Realism, while Bogart in his fedora and trench coat is the face of film noir.

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Vigilante Justice: The Big Heat (1953)

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William P. McGivern created Harry Callaghan, better known as Dirty Harry. Not literally. He created the literary environment that made Harry Callaghan possible, as well as Paul Kersey, the vigilante at the center of Death Wish (1974). McGivern was the writer who gave us The Big Heat (1953) and Rogue Cop (1954), both made into movies in the fifties and the former, The Big Heat, gave us the character of Detective Sergeant Dave Bannion, the cop at the heart of the film who fights against a corrupt system outside the lines, quitting his job to pursue vigilante justice on his own. It’s a good story but is Dave Bannion a good guy? Is there a good guy in the story? Maybe.

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Take Time for Time Without Pity (’57)

TIME WITHOUT PITY (1957)

Isn’t Michael Redgrave simply marvelous? No matter the role, Michael Redgrave brings a sort of respectability and class; he commands the screen. Take his brief performance as the unnamed, mysterious uncle in Jack Clayton’s The Innocents (1961). The few minutes he is on screen, sharing a scene with that naive, inexperienced governess played by Deborah Kerr, Redgrave dominates, casting an unsettled tone over the film from the very start. The uncle never reappears in the film, his character only being mentioned occasionally in passing conversation. And yet, his domineering presence is felt until the last haunting moment of the film. Or how about Redgrave’s performance in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938), a great thriller surrounding mystery, missing persons and intrigue. Then there is Redgrave’s performance in the wonderfully bizarre Dead of Night (1945), which tells its interesting story in a series of vignettes; Redgrave’s insane ventriloquist character being absolutely terrifying. I recently discovered Redgrave’s masterful performance in the little known Time Without Pity (1957), now available on The Criterion Channel of FilmStruck (and coming to the FilmStruck portion of the service on February 10, 2017). Directed by blacklisted American expatriate Joseph Losey, Time Without Pity is an effective, taut noir thriller.

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It’s Okay with Me: The Long Goodbye (1973)

THE LONG GOODBYE, Elliott Gould, 1973

As with many years past, I’m spending the transitional period between Christmas and New Year’s in Los Angeles — and as anyone else around here can tell you, it’s a calm but vaguely spooky environment. All of the usual traffic jams and chattering people have temporarily vanished into the ether, leaving a city still filled with sunlight, palm trees and holiday decorations everywhere. We’ve seen a lot of notable films shot in L.A. over the decades (and you can sample most of them in the superb documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself), but the one that really captures this eerie feeling of being in L.A. at winter time (even if it isn’t specifically set at that time of year) is The Long Goodbye (1973), one of the great ’70s noir films and a highlight in the career of director Robert Altman. [...MORE]

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