web analytics

Posts tagged ‘film noir’

John Galliano Claims Film Noir As Inspiration For Dior, Spring 2010

By , 6 October, 2009, No Comment

John Galliano continued his “tailoring-with-underwear” theme with Christian Dior’ Spring 2010 couture collection. According to Sarah Mower, this collection is based on a forties film noir theme:

Galliano said he found the cinematic cue while thinking about Lauren Bacall. “She was a great Dior client; there are amazing photos of her in the salon with Bogart. It was that and Arletty in Hôtel du Nord,” he said. That central character—a provocative, smoldering femme fatale with a side-parted, over-one-eye hairdo and red lips—gave him free reign to script a wardrobe narrative. It started with abbreviated wartime trenchcoats, flipped through silver lamé dresses, arrived at a sequence in which the heroine is seen in her scanties, and then followed her out to make a drop-dead entrance in some nightclub or other.

Christian Dior, Photo by Monica Feudi

Christian Dior, Photo by Monica Feudi

Dior Runway, Spring 2010, Photo by Monica Feudi

Dior Runway, Spring 2010, Photo by Monica Feudi

But when I look at the photographs of what walked down the runway, what I saw was fashion stories depicting wealthy women deemed homeless, each doomed to wear whatever she had on her back that night her house burst into flames. That may sound like “film noir” to some, but to me, it was far more 1980’s Madonna than 1940’s Bacall; right down to the ZZ Top Legs video girl ankle socks.

Pink Pumps and White Ankle Socks in ZZ Top's Legs Video

Pink Pumps and White Ankle Socks in ZZ Top's Legs Video

Of the 47 looks shown, only two seemed to have the elegance of Bacall and real film noir style in mind. The first, a bustier bodice with skirt, seems to have forsaken the less-is-more mantra with a bulky necklace.

Glamorous Bustier Skirt Dior Combo SS2010

Glamorous Bustier Skirt Dior Combo SS2010

This red ensemble is fabulous though — had Bacall dared to bare her bra, this one seems most likely to be chosen.

Elegant Vintage Style in Red, Dior 2010

Elegant Vintage Style in Red, Dior 2010

All Christian Dior photos by Monica Feudi.

Ready To Get Manhandled?

By , 27 August, 2009, 2 Comments

Manhandled Film Poster (1949)

Manhandled Film Poster (1949)

Manhandled (1949) is another one of those films you’ve probably not heard much about — and if you have, you probably heard about it from one of those film critics who didn’t have anything good to say about it.

Stupid film critics. *sigh*

Thankfully I was spared such dim views from dimwits because I’d never heard of Manhandled before watching it on TCM the other night; and I missed most of Robert’s pre-film talk to boot, vaguely catching something about it being a rare Dorothy Lamour film because she was out of her usual sarong (& that it was one of her last films due to the dreaded “aging” that nixed many a beautiful woman’s Hollywood career). So overall, I had few, if any, expectations.

This was a good thing — but it also added to the confusion too. For Manhandled is one film that nearly defies categorization.

There’s intrigue and danger in this vintage who-dun-it of a psychologist’s secretary (Dorothy Lamour) who divulges too much about the patients & her work… When a man confesses his dreams of killing his wife, you might surmise who will end up dead; but from then on out, who knows?

Manhandled does everything it can to keep you on your toes.

You might be pretty sure Dan Duryea (Lamour’s supposed boyfriend) did it; he does have the murder victim’s missing jewels…

dan-duryea-in-manhandled

But what about the victim’s husband — the patient who confessed his dreams of murder?

The police are sure it’s Lamour. (Why her more than the psychologist himself? Duryea helps with that!) Sterling Hayden, as the insurance investigator trying to recover the missing jewels, doesn’t seem to want to believe the secretary could have done it; but maybe he’s too quick to judge…

Hayden and Lamour in Manhandled

Hayden and Lamour in Manhandled

You’ve got good cops playing the “bad cop” to Hayden’s “good cop” treatment of innocent Lamour — and Duryea, the former cop now gum-chewing gum-shoe, who’s full of artificial sweetener (if not crap). Just try to figure it out — and how the film will end!

Interrogation Scene From Manhandled

Interrogation Scene From Manhandled

A black & white film, with much of the style & moody substance of film noir, Manhandled also throws in some comedy — and not the wry, dry, sort either. Manhandled throws you oddball quirks (like when Irving Bacon as Sgt. Fayle charmingly hops into a room just before the door closes), reoccurring gags (the police car has no breaks), and even a few down-right odd situations (like when Detective Lt. Bill Dawson, played by Art Smith, nearly falls asleep on his feet, passing for a drunk). For many of the other viewer-slash-reviewers, the comedy is Manhandled‘s downfall; they want the movie to be a traditional film noir — or at least a straight-up, straight-laced suspense-filled mystery thriller. But both hubby & I found the comedy, even the unnecessarily disarming. It was part of the confusion, the slight of hand; it may have been a distraction, a deviation from formulaic film, but, like Tarantino’s work, in a way that adds to the film.

Whatever you think of the film’s blending of noir & comedy, it’s the dialog which makes & moves this sophisticated film. Some lines are arguably continuity errors, saying things that weren’t exactly told to them; but these lines serve to reinforce the complicated happenings to the viewer. Best of all are how a few lines are used to cover pages of context.

For example, when Duryea goes to get a kiss from Lamour, he asks her if she “doesn’t like him, kitten” to which she replies that she likes him fine, but she’s just not willing to make a second mistake… This clarifies the earlier scene in which Lamour is seen affectionately speaking to a photograph of a little girl; you now know that the child may be her daughter, but Lamour is no fallen woman — her poor circumstances are due to a shove from a cad. Especially important when watching a film made under Code influences.

Perhaps it’s not so odd that I would adore the film & its dialog…

Manhandled was based on a story, The Man Who Stole a Dream, by L.S. Goldsmith and the screenplay was written by Whitman Chambers, a man who authored over twenty published novels and many short stories in the mystery & crime genres. Chambers also had many screenplays to his credit — plus uncredited contributions to one of my favorite films, To Have and Have Not. (Another film I’ve had to defend from critics.)

In any case, Manhandled is an excellent film.

Dorothy Lamour Being Manhandled

Dorothy Lamour Being Manhandled

I won’t say anymore about Manhandled; you ought to enjoy it for yourself. Which will be difficult as the film apparently, sadly, is not available on DVD (other than what appears to be pirated copies) — you’ll have to keep an eye out for TCM’s next showing of Manhandled.

Of All The Gin Joints… Femme Fatale Fitted Suits Walk Into My Life

By , 13 August, 2009, 5 Comments
Mildred Pierce

Mildred Pierce

When most people think of the fashions women wore in film noir, they think of the sultry, clingy, glamour girl gowns worn by torch singers. They are stunning — but me? I always think of the fabulous female forms in those fabulous fitted suits.

Maybe someone has done an accounting to see which sort of fashions appeared most often in film noir features… I don’t have any idea, myself.

But even if the glamour girl gowns out-number the fitted suits, the suits are more far more iconic to me.

The suits conveyed a sense of power on the part of the women — even if in their situations they were doomed and therefore powerless by definition.

And when they performed the simple act of removing their suit jacket, oh the sexual tension!

Casablanca

Casablanca

Every film noir script or pulp detective novel I ever wrote (yup, I’ve got folders full of ’em!), always featured a woman as powerful & wise as she was beautiful & jaded — and she always walked in wearing a fitted suit above those clicking high heeled shoes. And so, here’s a salute to the film noir femme fatale fitted suit!

1940’s fitted black suit by B. Altman & Co. Fifth Avenue New York:

Black Fitted Vintage Women's Suit

Black Fitted Vintage Women's Suit

A stunning vintage Adele Simpson suit with Ermin collar:

1940s Adele Simpson Suit With Ermin Collar

1940s Adele Simpson Suit With Ermin Collar

Pretty vintage lemon yellow gabardine suit:

Vintage Yellow Gabardine Suit

Vintage Yellow Gabardine Suit

A vintage rayon suit in a rainy grey color and deco detailing:

Vintage Femme Fatale Suit

Vintage Femme Fatale Suit

And this 1940’s women’s black suit jacket — with blue glass beading:

1940s Suit Jacket With Glass Beading

1940s Suit Jacket With Glass Beading

If You Love Film Noir & You Know It, Your T-Shirt Will Surely Show It

By , 6 August, 2009, No Comment

The I (Heart) Noir tee shirt:

I ♥ Noir T-shirt

I ♥ Noir T-shirt

Safe In Hell

By , 15 April, 2009, 5 Comments

When I applied to join the Large Association of Movie Blogs (The LAMB) (I am thrilled to now be a member!), I was asked to name no more than three of my favorite films. That’s a tough order for any Gemini, let alone a moody female, but rules are rules. So one of the films I listed, which certainly makes nearly any of my Top 20 Movie lists (no matter the category), was Safe In Hell (1931).

Safe In Hell, 1931

Safe In Hell, 1931

Safe In Hell is one of my favorite Wellman films and a great example of work prior to full force of The Motion Picture Production Code — so it’s no coincidence that it provides a feast of discourse for females.

A film history tidbit about Safe In Hell, from TCM, explains a lot about the quality of the film too:

An interesting footnote to Safe in Hell is that Wellman cast two popular black actors of the day, Nina Mae McKinney and Clarence Muse, as what are practically the movie’s only positive and reputable characters. And this was a period in which blacks were routinely stereotyped or exploited. Frank T. Thompson, in a biography of Wellman, points out that, while the film’s written script was filled with “a white writer’s idea of ‘Negro dialect,’ no such talk reaches the screen. Either McKinney and Muse had enough clout to demand that they speak in normal language or Wellman just wanted to avoid a convenient cliche.”

Surely the cliched speech would have made the movie more corny & less memorable — or memorable for less-than-good reasons.

The story centers around Gilda (Dorothy Mackaill), a woman who, before we are introduced to her, had been seduced away from pining for a sailor at sea & tricked into dating a married man, Piet Van Saal (Ralf Harolde). Gilda was a good girl caught in a bad situation, only made worse by the married man’s wife who did what she could to ensure that Gilda’s name was “Mud” — or worse. Left both with a ruined reputation and a need to survive, Gilda does what you imagine a woman — especially a “Wild Bill” Wellman woman — would do; she becomes a prostitute.

While all of this has happened before the film begins and told to us through film dialog, it’s an important part of the movie’s story. It not only sets Gilda up as a “good girl at heart,” a victim of circumstance, but provides the cultural context of a woman’s powerlessness. Not only are women secondary to men, but there’s a social order used by women to keep or push other women down the ranks. To some extent this is still done today, with women blaming “the other woman” for their man’s cheating ways; and societal disapproval of “loose women” turning into a very real disowning, as these women are abandon and left to whatever “mercies” they can find & scrounge for in the crumbs of men.

Dorothy Mackaill (Not So) Safe In Hell

Dorothy Mackaill (Not So) Safe In Hell

When Gilda responds to a phone call from her Madam to meet a “John” at a hotel, she’s surprised to discover that her client is none other than the married man who deceived her and put her in this position. She refuses to stay — and when he says she’s in no position to deny him, she declares, “Any man but him.” A struggle ensues, a fire starts, the man is declared dead, and Gilda is suspected of the damages and death.

Warned by the Madam, Gilda prepares to get out of town & live a life on the lam — just as the good sailor, Carl Erickson (Donald Cook), returns from sea.

Carl doesn’t know the whole story, but he’s desperate to help his girl. Being a sailor, he both knows of a place where there’s no extradition laws, (Tortuga, a Caribbean Island) and has the means to smuggle her there.

When they arrive at the only hotel on the island, Gilda quickly discovers she’s not just the only white woman in the hotel but the only white woman on the whole island. The other hotel residents, also criminals hiding out from the law, begin to drool and dream at the site of Gilda. (Their leering lust is so comical that you might be reminded of old cartoon wolf “aaooga”s — which, as a woman, I feel isn’t so far off from male reactions of today lol)

Before Carl’s ship leaves, he & Gilda run off to church where they hold their own marriage ceremony, promising their love & dedication to one another. She is to wait, alone in her room, and be a good girl until he returns.

Gilda does her best. Endless days alone in her room playing solitaire, lounging, and staring out the window to look at the sea for Carl’s ship to return, punctuated by quick trips to the front desk (or dockside) in search of mail from Carl.

She’s lonely.

It’s hot.

She’s bored out of her mind.

Meanwhile, conversation among the lust male criminals, as you might imagine, revolves around two things: competition for Gilda’s attentions and life on the island.

As she bats away invitations & advances in lady like fashion, we learn that this is no island paradise. The law on the island, Mr. Bruno (Morgan Wallace), is happy to not extradite because he prefers to play God, leveraging hanging and prison work camps into prosperity for himself. The prison work camps are so bad that hotel guests debate which is worse, death or the camp — leading them to conclude that they are, as the movie’s title states, safe in hell.

Of course the shady lawman, Bruno “The Hangman,” has eyes for Gilda. But more than eyes, he has the means to maneuver her into his arms.

When his advances are refused, he makes sure that Gilda receives no mail and suggests that Carl’s intentions were if not pure to begin with, that he’s changed his mind… Leaving Gilda to feel abandoned and alone.

Eventually, Gilda gives into the loneliness, fear and boredom of her isolation and accepts one of the endless invites to have dinner with the other hotel residents.

Gilda As Guest Of Honor In Safe In Hell

Gilda As Guest Of Honor In Safe In Hell

After just one night of partying with the men, Gilda, who still desperately hopes for Carl’s return, returns to keeping to her room. She hasn’t done anything unforgivable (i.e. no sex), but decides that she must remain faithful to Carl and her promise.

One afternoon, during yet another hopeful-turned-soul-crushing trip to the docks for mail which isn’t there (because, remember, Bruno is intercepting it), Gilda spots Piet, the married man she (and the law) believe she’s killed is alive!

Piet is alive and hiding out on the island because he used the fire to fake his own death and is now on the run from authorities for the insurance fraud. Both are happy to see each other; she because she’d like to clear her name, but he because he’d like to continue the “romance.” When he refuses to help clear her name & she refuses, again, his advances, Piet begins a smear campaign. He informs the hotel residents and the island law that Gilda is anything but a faithful bride, a dutiful & faithful girlfriend, or a lady — she’s a prostitute. The thin veneer of respect removed, all the men’s lusty leering turns into dirty scheming.

Stripped of whatever dignity & hope she’d had, Gilda finds herself without any defenses — save for the locked door of her small hotel room.

While Gilda’s vulnerability is something most women can identify with (to some extent, anyway), Bruno’s not only furious to discover that it’s a prostitute not a lady who’s been refusing his advances, but, because he has Carl’s letters, he knows that his time is short — Carl’s on his way to bring her back to America with him. Furious and with the circumstances forcing his hand, he has to make his move.

Spoiler Alert! What follows may ruin the film for you; so don’t read if you’d rather watch the film & have it unfold for you as film should.

Using Piet’s arrival as a threat to her own safety, Bruno gives Gilda a gun for her own protection; guns are illegal for anyone but the law on the island, but “she’s his friend, so it will be OK.” Then he arranges it so that Piet, who is still under the all-too male assumption that he has rights to Gilda, can gain access to her room.

When Piet tries to rape Gilda, she defends herself, using Bruno’s gun — killing Piet for real this time.

One of the hotel-hide-out-residents is a lawyer. He defends her and it looks like he will escape The Hangman’s noose — but while she hopefully awaits the jury’s decision, Bruno The Hangman himself comes to visit her and he explains that even should she be found innocent of the murder, there’s still the matter of her illegal possession of a gun…

That’s when it hits her: Bruno has set her up to get her in his prison where she’ll be his.

Gilda runs from the room and throws herself at the judge — for the kind of mercy you can only find in film noir. She confesses that she killed Piet in cold blood; he’d never attacked her, that she shot him in the back. Then she turns to smarmy hangman and says, “The only way you’ll touch me is when you put that rope around my neck!”

She is sentenced to hang, of course, but given a brief escorted visit back to the hotel to pack up her things. Carl, who has impeccable timing regarding Gilda’s packing activities, arrives now. Gilda convinces her guard to give her a few minutes alone with the happy — and oblivious — Carl. (And she convinces her lawyer to go along with the skit to follow.) She then convinces Carl that she’ll follow him back to the states on the next ship; there they will live virtuous lives of happiness and love. As he leaves happy & hopeful, Gilda instructs her lawyer not to inform Carl of the truth ’til after the deed is done and she is gone.

Affairs in order, Gilda now turns to accept the fate of her own construction.

As Pagan Moon plays, we are mesmerized by a moment… The beautiful exposed neck of Gilda, presented with the film lighting version of an aura of goodness… The smarmy tear-covered face of Bruno, who now realizes what he’s done…. And then glorious Gilda, resplendent in the power of good & finally in control, strides off to her execution, leaving the impotent & evil law man trailing behind her.

And that’s why Safe In Hell is a movie that I categorize as film noir — other critics be damned.

Sadly, Safe In Hell is not available in DVD (or even VHS); we must ait for another airing on TCM — and while we do, pressure Warner Brothers to release it:

Warner Bros.
Warner Home Video
4000 Warner Blvd.
Burbank, CA 91522-0001

Phone: 818-954-6000
Fax: 818-954-7305

Don’t You Sometimes Hate Yourself?

By , 19 March, 2009, No Comment

Recently I posted about my movie watching group and how we were going to push past preconceptions regarding certain films and watch them — finally. This past week was our first effort and we watched “my” former rejection, Sunset Boulevard (1950).

I’d previously rejected this film because I thought I knew it. That most-mocked line from the (nearly) final scene, “Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up,” has become such an over-used quip that I shuddered when people dropped (forced) the cliched line into conversation. But I was more than bored with the film…

The parodies of Gloria Swanson as Sunset Boulevard‘s Norma Desmond, the aged and forgotten silent movie star who lives in the past, have so permeated pop culture that I actually thought of Gloria as that character. Sure, I thought she was beautiful, but I just knew Gloria had failed when the talkies came out just as her character, Norma, had.

One of the first times I’d ever seen such a parody of the film was when I was a youngster. It was Carol Burnett and her non-too-cleverly-disguised ‘Nora Desmond’ character.

From then on, every parody, quote, reference and mere suggestion of the film’s possible reference made me sigh with boredom.

And when I suggested it to my movie group, there were sighs all around; all of them had done their best to avoid this film too, and none were happy to have it suggested. Ah, the perfect film for our project then, ey? *wink*

Oh, the poetic justice then, that each and every one of us (six women), fell in love with the film.

And Gloria Swanson? Oh, honey do I owe you an apology! You were brilliant!

I’d tell you more about the film and our reactions, but that would be yet another tired review of a film you thought you knew. And I have no desire to do that — to you, or the film. I’d much rather prefer that you just knew that the lot of us ashamedly ate our hats; and I invite you, encourage you, to do the same.

Please.

Oh, and if you or someone you know has been avoiding film noir, our group decided that this would be the perfect film to pop your noir cherry. One of the many delights of Sunset Boulevard is the sublime, nearly perverse, sense of humor which adds the perfect edge to what some fear is the “all melodramatic gloom all the time” that is film noir. (Note: Neither myself not the other members of my film group dislike film noir or feel that’s a fair statement; but that’s the sort of comment we hear from noir nay-sayers, and so we’d like to offer this movie up as a very enjoyable entre to the genre.)

Now, just go watch Sunset Blvd. You’ll be glad you did.

PS The title of this post comes from a great line in the movie:

Betty Schaefer: Don’t you sometimes hate yourself?
Joe Gillis: Constantly.

King Creole’s Queen: Carolyn Jones

By , 12 January, 2009, No Comment

If you haven’t seen King Creole (1958), it’s probably because you’ve dismissed it as “just another Elvis movie.” Even if you’ve heard that it’s his best film, you likely smirk, “Well, the competition isn’t that rough; they’re all just some schlock created around pretty babes and musical interludes.”

I’m certainly not the one to dismiss classic Elvis kitsch films (I adore the music, fashion and the babes right along with looking at The King himself), but I have to tell you that King Creole isn’t just good by comparison to his other films; it’s a good film period.

Elvis King Creole Promo

Elvis King Creole Promo

Now real film critics will tell you that Elvis was saved by a good director (Michael Curtiz — yes, the one behind my film nemesis, Casablanca), a movie based on book (the 1952 novel A Stone for Danny Fisher, by Harold Robbins) as opposed to one with its plot concocted by gyrating bodies and rhythms, and, the real cynics, will point to the fact that Elvis’ handlers hadn’t yet sold him out on settling for the safety of a screen franchise — and all of that’s true to one degree or another — but what makes this film really work is all of the above and the fact that Elvis has a supporting cast of real actors, as opposed to entertainers. The cast included Walter Matthau, Academy Award winner Dean Jagger, and Academy Award nominee Carolyn Jones.

In short, it was a real film project.

The proof of which is the official film history notation that James Dean was set to play the lead role of King Creole as straight drama but when he was killed in a car crash, the role was open for Elvis — at which time, the musical numbers were added. And when I say “added”, that’s what I mean; this film is a story, not a music vehicle. In fact, some argue that they find the music lackluster in comparison to the acting — something I’m not sure how they can say after the film’s opening with jazz vocalist Kitty White:

While the promotional materials (in color, while the film is black and white) showed Elvis surrounded by the usual bevy of babes, that’s rather misleading. The film is a more character study than romance — and in fact, it wouldn’t be wrong in my book to classify this as film noir. Or at least film noir lite.

Elvis and Babes Publicity Photo For King Creole

Elvis and Babes Publicity Photo For King Creole

In any case, there’s only one woman who stands out in this film. That woman is Carolyn Jones. Her performance is equal to, if not better than, Elvis’s. But then it would have to be. She plays Ronnie, a victimized moll about as cliché as it gets. While the rest of the girls are virtually bobby-soxers in comparison (even the cheeky Banana Girl), Jones’ Ronnie has all the dark romance such a character ought to have — at least to be alluring.

Carolyn Jones and Elvis Presley Still From King Creole

Carolyn Jones and Elvis Presley Still From King Creole

She blends sophisticated sexuality and the alcoholic’s self-medicating self-loathing with exhausted victimization & a dash of “maybe I’m not too-worldly-to-hope?” In today’s terms, she’s an over-experienced cougar with an unsure hand forced to manipulate a teen-aged bad boy (one who actually is less likable, actually abrasive with his anger, resentment and shame than the iconic standard). There’s certainly chemistry.

Danny and Ronnie Kiss

Danny and Ronnie Kiss

Danny may be drawn to Ronnie for all the right reasons, or even the wrong ones, but in any case, these two are doomed in several ways… But enough of the plot; let’s move onto the glamour.

In terms of glamour, the best thing to discuss is Carolyn’s hair.

While her hair is the chic and sophisticated bob which matches her role as former sultry singer, woman of the world, now owned as both a trophy & a tool by the gangster, there are those bangs…

Scene from King Creole

Scene from King Creole

The bangs are both blunt and severe, emphasizing the mature lines in her face, yet those open spots, those pixie-like wisps, pose the question of play… But what kind of game is this? Those bangs beguile with the questions they beg.

But what really mixes the message of Ronnie’s character are those soft curls, which, especially when seen from the side, offer more than some glimpse of the clichéd hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold but offer up a softness, a tenderness, which contradicts her otherwise worldly air.

Carolyn Jones' Soft Curls

The Soft Side Curls Of Carolyn Jones

It’s those curls, which we & Danny see when we take those sly side glances at her while we try to secretively evaluate her, which make us want to rescue her — and therefore find escape ourselves.

Elvis and Jones on King Creole

Elvis and Jones on King Creole