According to most film historians, film noir developed during World War II, when Hollywood, in contrast to the rigid moral values of its pre-1940 films, began producing stories with morally ambiguous characters; murky, unstable plots; and indistinct markers between good and evil. War shortages also forced studio cameramen to improvise, using chiaroscuro lighting to hide inadequacies of the sets. Critics have also agreed that film noir emerged from an alliance between the hard-boiled school of American detective fiction (Chandler, Cain, Woolrich) and German expressionist cinema, imported by German-speaking émigrés in Hollywood. Having lost everything when they were exiled from Nazi Germany, German Jewish writers and directors brought a darker vision to Hollywood, one born of loss of home and identity, or betrayal by friends. Film noirs therefore often feature an atmosphere of paranoia and a visually threatening environment, expressed through high key lighting. Expressionist themes, like the doppelganger, urbanization and modernization, Freudian psychology, moral corruption, and insanity, consistently reappear in American film noirs. And, as in the case of anti-Nazi films produced during the war, film noirs often saw émigrés teaming with leftist filmmakers who would themselves be exiled by HUAC, and are the subject of our companion series this calendar, Hollywood Exiles in Europe.
Note: This series is presented in anticipation of the Skirball Cultural Center exhibit, Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950, running October 23, 2014–March 1, 2015. This compelling exhibition, which brings together film footage, drawings, costumes, posters, photographs and memorabilia, pays homage to the actors, directors, writers and composers who fled Nazi Europe and contributed greatly to American cinema and culture. For additional information please visit www.skirball.org
CRITICS NOTE: Any chance to see Ophuls masterful “Caught” on the big screen should not be missed.
Friday, August 22, 2014 – 7:30 pm Billy Wilder Theater
Double Indemnity (1944); Pitfall (1948)
Double Indemnity (1944)
Directed by Billy Wilder.
An insurance agent (Fred MacMurray) falls hard for a married woman (Barbara Stanwyck, playing hot), itching to get rid of her husband. Then, he falls even harder, after committing the perfect crime. Raymond Chandler’s adaptation of James M. Cain’s novel passes through the hard-boiled school of two American masters, before director Billy Wilder adds his own Central European Jewish exile view of moral ambiguity.
Paramount Pictures, Inc. Producer: Joseph Sistrom. Based on the novel by James M. Cain. Screenwriter: Raymond Chandler, Billy Wilder. Cinematographer: John Seitz. Cast: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Porter Hall, Jean Heather. 35mm, b/w, 107 min.
Directed by André de Toth.
Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive, with funding provided by the AFI/NEA Film Preservation Grants Program.
A claims adjuster for an insurance company (Dick Powell) falls hard for Mona (Lizabeth Scott), who he is supposed to be investigating, and ends up involved in embezzlement and murder. It is the story of a clerk, dreaming to break out of his tired bourgeois existence, as first given form in German expressionist films like “Die strasse” (1923). However, the noir city has been supplanted by a darker suburbia.
Regal Films, Inc. Producer: Samuel Bischoff. Based on the novel by Jay Dratler. Cinematographer: Harry Wild. Editor: Walter Thompson. Screenwriter: Karl Kamb. Cast: Dick Powell, Lizabeth Scott, Jane Wyatt, Raymond Burr, John Litel.
35mm, b/w, 86 min.
Saturday August 23, 2014 – 7:30 pm- Billy Wilder Theater
High Wall (1947); The Scarf (1951)
High Wall (1947)
Directed by Curtis Bernhardt.
Steven Kenet (Robert Taylor) is a war veteran with a brain injury who is committed to an insane asylum after he has apparently murdered his wife. However, the psychiatrist treating him begins to doubt his guilt (Audrey Totter). Loss of identity or memory is a common trope in film noir, associated with veterans who seek to repress the trauma of war, as it was in German Expressionist cinema.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp. Producer: Robert Lord. Based on the novel by Alan R. Clark and the play by Bradbury Foote. Screenwriter: Sydney Boehm, Lester Cole. Cinematographer: Paul Vogel. Editor: Conrad A. Nervig. Cast: Robert Taylor, Audrey Totter, Herbert Marshall, Dorothy Patrick, H.B. Warner. 35mm, b/w, 100 min.
The Scarf (1951)
Directed by E.A. Dupont.
A man (John Ireland) escapes from an asylum for the criminally insane, hoping to find out whether he was guilty of strangling his girlfriend with a scarf or not. Unfortunately, a lot of the people in this town on the edge of the desert can’t help him. Franz Planer’s moody cinematography keeps the atmosphere nightmarish and noir, with Ireland giving a surprisingly good performance at the center.
Gloria Productions, Inc. Producer: I.G. Goldsmith. Screenwriter: E.A. Dupont. Cinematographer: Frank Planer. Editor: Joseph Gluck. Cast: John Ireland, Mercedes McCambridge, Emlyn Williams, James Barton, Lloyd Gough. 35mm, b/w, 93 min.
Saturday, September 13, 2014 – 7:30 pm Billy Wilder Theater
Whirlpool (1950); The Blue Gardenia (1953)
Directed by Otto Preminger.
Ann Sutton is a kleptomaniac, but she might also be a murderer, having been found at the scene of the crime without any memory of how she got there. Giving one of the best performances of her career, Gene Tierney plays an innocent beauty who “performs” for men, just as she as an actress performs for the director. Indeed, Whirlpool has been interpreted as a metaphor of filmmaking.
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. Producer: Otto Preminger. Based on a novel by Guy Endore. Screenwriter: Ben Hecht, Andrew Solt. Cinematographer: Arthur Miller. Editor: Louis Loeffler. Cast: Gene Tierney, Richard Conte, José Ferrer, Charles Bickford, Barbara O’Neil. 35mm, b/w, 97 min.
The Blue Gardenia (1953) Print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive.
Directed by Fritz Lang.
Norah Larkin (Anne Baxter), a telephone operator, goes out on a blind date, gets terribly drunk, and goes home with an artist and blacks out. The next day the artist has been murdered and she is a prime suspect, although she remembers nothing. Director Fritz Lang’s portrait of a cold and desperate Los Angeles begins as a noir, but ends in the harsh light of a California summer.
Gottlieb Productions; Blue Gardenia Productions, Inc. Producer: Alex Gottlieb. Screenwriter: Charles Hoffman. Cinematographer: Nicholas Musuraca. Editor: Edward Mann. Cast: Anne Baxter, Richard Conte, Ann Sothern, Raymond Burr, Jeff Donnell.16mm, b/w, 90 min.
Monday, September 15, 2014 – 7:30 pm Billy Wilder Theater
The Locket (1946) Caught (1949) In-person: Norma Barzman.
Caught (1949) Print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive.
Directed by Max Ophuls.
After her fairytale marriage, Leonore Eames (Barabra Bel Geddes) is caught in an abusive relationship with her millionaire husband (Robert Ryan). When she meets a young doctor working in a health clinic for the poor, she sees a way out, but her husband is not ready to give her up. Director Max Ophuls’ romanticism here turns to film noir-ish morning after regrets, while creating a film à clef about the abusive head of RKO, Howard Hughes.
Enterprise Productions, Inc. Producer: David L. Loew, Wolfgang Reinhardt. Based on a novel by Libbie Block. Screenwriter: Arthur Laurents. Cinematographer: Lee Garmes. Editor: Robert Parrish. Cast: James Mason, Barbara Bel Geddes, Robert Ryan, Frank Ferguson, Curt Boist. 35mm, b/w, 88 min.
CRITICS NOTE: Any chance to see Ophuls’ Baroque masterpiece “Caught” on the big screen should not be missed.
Haunted by Freudianism, like many films interesting films of the period, Laurents cynical “Cinderella” script can be read as an early feminist text, as well as a mediation on the corruption of power. (It’s no coincidence that feminist film scholars championed the film in the 70’s.)
Upwardly mobile shop girl, mannequin Leonore, played with great nuance by Barbara Bel Geddes, finds herself trapped in a gothic mansion by Smith Ohlrig her insane, controlling husband, played to a fare the well by the consummate Robert Ryan. Ryan seethes with fear, paranoia and fury, As loathsome as Ohlrig is, Ryan makes us feel for the inner torment that drives him. Such is his genius. James Mason plays Dr. Larry Quinada, who runs a clinic for the poor where Leonore goes to work when she leaves Ohlrig.
Ophuls, the master of the sinuous moving camera, and master DP Lee Garmes, use elongated takes, high angle shots and deep focus to create an unforgettable ambiance, reminiscent, in its central relationship, of the equally tabloid-esque “Citizen Kane”. A woman suffers at the hands of her mogul turned Svengali. Like Kane, it is the bleakest portrait of American marriage, (and the desire to “marry up”) on screen.
Ophuls stages his shots like a 19th century painter. Ohlrig’s cavernous mansion is filled with towering doorways, neo-gothic walk-in fireplaces and endless stairs.
Ophuls uses overlapping dialogue to increase the claustrophobic psychological of his characters.
Using the new crab dolly (used in Hitchcock’s “The Rope”) Ophuls saved Enterprise Studios money by linking sets together in long expressive shots. He quickly mastered the articulations available: The crab dolly, operated by one of its designer Morris Rosen, could quickly and fluidly shift directions. Able to pivot, he could pan the camera in one direction, while the wheels slid and curved in another direction. Freed from shot-reverse shot, Ophuls created moody scenes of inner turmoil that enthrall the viewer.
Based on the novel “Wild Calender” by Libbie Block, Ohlrig’s character was based on Howard Hughes. Ophuls, who along with Preston Sturges, was fired off of “Vendetta’ by Howard Hughes, exacted revenge with this film, portraying Ohlrig (Hughes), to insiders, as the sadistic megalomaniac Ophuls considered him to be. (Laurents describes this in his memoirs.)
The film was the last project produced by David L. Loew and Charles Einfeld’s independent Enterprise Productions. Politically progressive Enterprise produced two John Garfield Noirs: Abraham Polonsky’s “Force of Evil” (1948) and Robert Rossen’s “Body and Soul” (1947), as well as two adaptations from novels by Erich Maria Remarque -“The Other Love” and “Arch Of Triumph” (which nearly sunk the company); two westerns- “Ramrod” and “Four Faces West”, the forgettable gagfilm “No Minor Vices”, and the fascinating comedy “So This Is New York, directed By Richard Fleischer and starring fabled wit Harry Morgan. A MUST SEE
The Locket (1946)
Directed by John Brahm.
Falsely accused of stealing a locket as a child, Nancy Monks (Laraine Day) becomes an adult kleptomaniac, pathological liar, serial wife with multiple husbands, and murderess, all the while playing the beautiful innocent. Told in a series of flashbacks and flashbacks within flashbacks, director John Brahm dissects the complex psychology of its central character through conflicting subjective narratives, while his claustrophobic sets and high key lighting create an atmosphere of dread.
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. Producer: Bert Granet. Screenwriter: Sheridan Gibney, Norma Barzman. Cinematographer: Nicholas Musuraca. Editor: J.R. Whittredge. Cast: Laraine Day, Brian Aherne, Robert Mitchum, Gene Raymond, Sharyn Moffett. 16mm, b/w, 85 min.
Friday, September 19, 2014 -7:30 pm Billy Wilder Theater
The Dark Mirror (1946); Jealousy (1945)
The Dark Mirror (1946)
Directed by Robert Siodmak.
When a doctor is murdered, several witnesses identify Ruth Collins (Olivia de Haviland) as a prime suspect, but she has several airtight alibis. Then, the police realize that Ruth has an identical twin sister and put a psychiatrist (Lew Ayres) on the case. The doppelganger motif, so prevalent in noir and German cinema (“Metropolis” ), allows director Robert Siodmak to construct a dark world of moral ambiguity, in which mirrors reflect multiple realities.
Inter-John, Inc. Producer: Nunnally Johnson. Screenwriter: Nunnally Johnson. Cinematographer: Milton Krasner. Editor: Ernest Nims. Cast: Olivia de Havilland, Lew Ayres, Thomas Mitchell, Richard Long, Charles Evans.35mm, b/w, 85 min.
Directed by Gustav Machatý.
Both melodrama and film noir, Jealousy tells the story of a suicidal émigré writer whose lack of success makes him increasingly depressed, jealous, violent and willing to commit murder; yet it is he, not his young wife who falls victim to a murder of passion. A story of exile and loss: loss of the mother country, of success, of self-esteem, of a loved one’s affections and of freedom. The film’s schizophrenic atmosphere is underscored through strong diagonal compositions and typical film noir high-contrast lighting.
Gong Productions, Inc. Producer: Gustav Machatý. Screenwriter: G. Machatý, Arnold Phillips. Cinematographer: Henry Sharp. Editor: John Link. Cast: John Loder, Jane Randolph, Karen Morley, Nils Asther, Hugo Haas, Holmes Herbert.
35mm, b/w, 71 min.
Monday, September 22, 2014 – 7:30 pm Billy Wilder Theater
Chicago Calling (1952); Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)
Chicago Calling (1952)
Directed by John Reinhardt.
Preserved by the Library of Congress.
Bill Cannon (Dan Duryea) is a loser and an alcoholic whose wife and child have left him. When his wife calls to say that their child is in the hospital, Bill desperately tries to raise the money for his phone bill, so he can stay in touch. Filmed in the seediest parts of Los Angeles’ old Bunker Hill, director John Reinhardt’s film is as much neo-realist as noir, the environment reflecting the hero’s emotional state.
Arrowhead Pictures Corp. Producer: Peter Berneis. Screenwriter: Peter Berneis, John Reinhardt. Cinematographer: Robert de Grasse. Editor: Arthur H. Nadel. Cast: Dan Duryea, Mary Anderson, Gordon Gebert, Ross Elliott, Melinda Plowman.
35mm, b/w, 76 min.
Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)
Directed by Anatole Litvak.
Preserved by the Library of Congress.
Wealthy New York socialite, Leona Stevenson (Barbara Stanwyck), is psychosomatically bedridden, married to a socially inferior husband who may be embezzling. After overhearing two thugs plot a murder on the phone, Leona desperately tries to warn the victim, only to realize that it is she. Claustrophobically structured in seemingly real time as a series of telephone calls, director Anatole Litvak’s film speeds to its depressing conclusion.
Hal Wallis Productions, Inc. Producer: Hall Wallis, Anatole Litvak. Based on the radio play by Lucille Fletcher. Screenwriter: Lucille Fletcher. Editor: Warren Low. Cinematographer: Sol Polito. Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Burt Lancaster, Ann Richards, Wendell Corey, Harold Vermilyea. 35mm, b/w, 89 min.
Friday, September 26, 2014 – 7:30 pm Billy Wilder Theater
Sleep, My Love (1948); Bluebeard (1944)
Sleep, My Love (1948)
Directed by Douglas Sirk.
Alison Courtland (Claudette Colbert) is a wealthy New York heiress who wakes up on a train to Boston without a clue how she got there. In fact, her husband is working hard to drive her to suicide, so he can cash in on the inheritance. While Douglas Sirk was dismissive of this Gaslight story, his cluttered Victorian sets, high key noir lighting and Colbert’s stellar performance are marks of the director’s expert hand.
Triangle Productions, Inc. Producer: Charles Buddy Rogers, Ralph Cohn. Screenwriter: St. Clair McKelway, Leo Rosten, Cyril Endfield. Cinematographer: Joseph Valentine. Editor: Lynn Harrison. Cast: Claudette Colbert, Robert Cummings, Don Ameche.35mm, b/w, 96 min.
Bluebeard (1944) Print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive.
Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer.
Dressmaker Lucille Lutien falls in love with painter and puppeteer Gaston Morell (John Carradine), who has a habit of strangling the women who model for his painting. As the police try to find the serial killer, sending Lucille’s sister undercover, Lucille remains in grave danger. Director Edgar G. Ulmer’s atmospheric recreation of 19th century Paris on no budget is enhanced by émigré cameraman Eugene Schüfftan’s extreme light and shadow.
PRC Pictures, Inc. Producer: Leon Fromkess. Screenwriter: Pierre Gendron. Editor: Carl Pierson. Cinematographer: Jockey A. Feindel. Cast: John Carradine, Jean Parker, Nils Asther, Ludwig Stossel, George Pembroke. 35mm, b/w, 70 min.
Sunday, September 28, 2014 – 7:00 pm Billy Wilder Theater
City That Never Sleeps (1953); Hollow Triumph (1948)
City That Never Sleeps (1953) Print courtesy of the BFI.
Directed by John H. Auer
Chicago cop, Johnny Kelly (Gig Young), dreams of escaping his boring job and wife and going to California with a nightclub stripper he’s infatuated with (Mala Powers). However, his last day on the job changes everything, as Johnny gets involved with gangsters and a crooked district attorney. Like The Naked City (1948), this noir features a gritty, realistic look at the city’s lowlifes through location photography and harsh lighting.
Republic Pictures Corp. Producer: Herbert J. Yates. Screenwriter: Steven Fischer. Cinematographer: John L. Russell Jr. Editor: Fred Allen, Tony Martinelli. Cast: Gig Young, Mala Powers, Edward Arnold, William Talman, Chill Wills.
35mm, b/w, 90 min.
Hollow Triumph (1948)
Directed by Steve Sekely
Recently released from prison and involved in the robbery of a mobster’s casino that has gone bad, John Muller (Paul Henreid) takes on the identity of psychiatrist Dr. Bartok, after killing him. His new identity, however, brings him no peace, Bartok having his own problems with gangsters. Like many film noir heroes, Muller can’t escape fate as he becomes entangled in a web of his own making.
Hollow Triumph, Inc. Producer: Paul Henreid. Based on the novel Hollow Triumph by Murray Forbes. Screenwriter: Daniel Fuchs. Cinematographer: John Alton. Editor: Fred Allen. Cast: Paul Henreid, Joan Bennett, Eduard Franz, Leslie Brooks, John Qualen.35mm, b/w, 83 min.