Silents are Golden: A Closer Look at – Greed (1924)

Silents are Golden: A Closer Look at – Greed (1924)

With its deeply, grittily realistic story and grand, almost operatic themes, Frank Norris’s 1899 novel McTeague is one of the great American books of the late 19th century. While many critics disliked it at the time for being overly “vulgar,” “depressing” or even “hideous,” its powerful story would leave an impact on generations of readers.

A famous symbolic shot from Greed.

One such reader was film director Erich von Stroheim. Born in Austria to a lower-class family, he came to America insisting he was descended from Prussian noblemen and stuck to the story like glue. He would specialize in playing villainous “Huns” onscreen during the propaganda-soaked era of World War I and by the late 1910s had started directing. Obsessed with military life and uniforms, he was said to sometimes wear a Prussian uniform even offscreen.

An intense von Stroheim on set.

Von Stroheim’s films took sophisticated looks at the themes of sex and seduction – often with himself in the role of a villainous seducer – and he was always happy to push the envelope. He also pushed the envelope on his studio budgets, insisting on lavish replicas of Monte Carlo or imperial Vienna. But when he decided to adapt McTeague to the big screen, it was the idea of bringing its macabre story to life with humble, real-world locations that excited him.

ZaSu Pitts, Gibson Gowland, and Hughie Mack.

The story concerns the dentist McTeague, a large, gentle, slow-witted man who runs his little business out of his apartment in San Francisco. His friend Marcus, a confident blowhard type, is engaged to Trina Sieppe, a sensitive, fluttery sort of young woman. McTeague finds himself powerfully attracted to Trina, and Marcus decides to “sacrificially” break things off with her. In time McTeague and Trina marry, and by a strange stroke of good luck, Trina discovers she won $5,000 in a lottery. This is unwelcome news to Marcus, who becomes very jealous.

Despite their sudden fortune, the McTeagues live modestly and Trina becomes more and more obsessed with hoarding her winnings. She becomes a miser and a frustrated McTeague turns to drink. Marcus has his revenge by informing the authorities that McTeague doesn’t have a dentistry license. And everything keeps going downhill from there.

An increasingly tragic Trina.

Naturally, this grim plot fascinated von Stroheim. His casting decisions were arguably perfect: the husky Gibson Gowland, who had played a mountain guide in von Stroheim’s hit Blind Husbands (1919), was chosen to play McTeague. Danish actor Jean Hersholt would play the greasy Marcus Schouler. Fragile-looking ZaSu Pitts, who was known for comedy roles, would be an ideal Trina. And various other comedians were chosen for other roles, such as Dale Fuller, Chester Conklin, and Frank Hayes. Von Stroheim had reasoned – correctly – that their comic skills would help them excel at more dramatic roles.

Gowland as McTeague.

He wanted to set his film in the same Polk Street neighborhood Norris described but found it had been largely destroyed by the 1906 earthquake. But he searched diligently until he found the perfect building with a large bay window to serve as McTeague’s dental parlor, situated at the corner of Hayes and Laguna. The waterfront and Shell Mount park, the setting of some memorable scenes, were happily unchanged and other buildings around Hayes and Laguna were perfect for the stores, the saloon, and the junk shop described in the novel.

That corner building survives today.

Von Stroheim threw himself, heart and soul, into filming Greed (he thought the title a better fit for the story’s operatic themes) and was obsessed with capturing the novel as perfectly and realistically as possible. He could even recite passages from McTeague from memory. His enthusiasm swept up his cast and also bystanders who came to watch the filming – writer Eleanor Ross wrote an essay describing what it was like in the Hayes and Laguna building:

“It was odd how these people spoke of all the characters in McTeague as if they really lived and breathed. In fact, owing perhaps to von Stroheim’s realism, they do live and breathe. ‘Knock again,’ someone was shouting. ‘Again! Again!’ The door opens; Marcus appears; they talk for a while; the door closes. Yet it must be shot again. ‘Von Stroheim shot a scene twenty-six times once,’ I was informed, ‘because it didn’t suit him.’”

Demonstrating a scene to Gowland.

Sometimes the realism was extended even beyond the sets. In a scene where Trina discovers a character has been murdered, Pitts went into the street and hysterically informed innocent passers-by what had “happened”  while the cameras secretly rolled, causing several people to call the police for real. In a scene where McTeague and Marcus wrestle, von Stroheim encouraged Hershoult to bite Gowland’s ear so hard that it bled, much to Gowland’s anger. Gowland did manage to successfully object to having a knife thrown at him in a key scene, even though the thrower was a skilled professional.

But most realistic of all were the Death Valley scenes, taken in – yes – Death Valley itself when the temp was soaring above 120 degrees. The grueling shoot, where members of the crew often suffered heat exhaustion and heatstroke, was so miserable that von Stroheim reportedly kept a pistol on him 24/7. Gowland and Hersholt had to actually crawl and fight on the blinding salt flats, clearly sweat-soaked and miserable onscreen. Von Stroheim reportedly screamed at them to “Fight! Fight! Try to hate each other as you hate me!” When shooting finally ended, it took Hersholt several weeks to recover his health.

Gowland and Hersholt in Death Valley.

The result of the memorable production was an astonishing 42 reels of film, which was about nine hours long. It was apparently shown once at MGM studios to friends and reporters on January 12, 1924. Critic Idwal Jones described von Stroheim as “sitting motionless in a straight chair, cane in hand and staring straight ahead as if boring through the screen… Every episode is developed to the full, every comma of the book put in, as it were.” Von Stroheim then cut this mega picture down to about 4 1/2 hours. Apparently, von Stroheim originally hoped would be shown over two consecutive evenings or one lengthy sitting, but studio executives disagreed and his precious film was chopped shorter and shorter until it ran about 10 reels.

Lobby card for the film.

While Greed did well, its reputation grew throughout the following decades and today it’s considered one of the finest silents ever made. Fans frequently mourn the loss of the 42-reel version, which was almost certainly destroyed. Happily today the 4 ½ version has been reconstructed with surviving stills added into the film, allowing us to get at least a strong idea of von Stroheim’s obsessive, manically-authentic vision.

Greed (1924)

–Lea Stans for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Lea’s Silents are Golden articles here.

Lea Stans is a born-and-raised Minnesotan with a degree in English and an obsessive interest in the silent film era (which she largely blames on Buster Keaton). In addition to blogging about her passion at her site Silent-ology, she is a columnist for the Silent Film Quarterly and has also written for The Keaton Chronicle.

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Monsters and Matinees: The A-Men of a B-movie Trilogy

The A-Men of a B-movie Trilogy

“When was the last atomic test in Vegas?”

That question is never a good sign for people in a horror/sci-fi film from the 1950s, but it is for the viewers who know that this is what they came to watch.

The atom bomb, radiation etc. have been the catalyst for favorite films of the era as they created the oversized ants of Them!, a Giant Gila Monster and the human monstrosities in The Day the World Ended and War of the Colossal Beast.

The Magnetic Monster (1953) is another film where the horror created by radiation grows to epic proportions. In a twist, we never see the title character, only its Earth-annihilating power and destruction which is enough.

Who can save the world from such a horror? The A-Men can.

The A-Men were the investigators in a film trilogy from producer Ivan Tors about the Office of Scientific Investigation. The Magnetic Monster was the first in ’53, followed in 1954 by Riders to the Stars and Gog, perhaps the most familiar title in the trio.

The movies were made under the A-Men Productions banner, a company Tors created with actor Richard Carlson who starred in the first two films and directed Riders to the Stars.

In other words, the real A-Men Productions company made three sci-fi movies where fictional A-Men saved the world. That’s kind of genius.

Actor Richard Carlson is one of the A-Men from the Office of Scientific Investigation who is trying to stop The Magnetic Monster.

In The Magnetic Monster, Richard Carlson and the OSI explore strange radiation and magnetic anomalies. I was excited to see Carlson was also in the second film, Riders to the Stars. But wait – he’s not reprising his role as the happily married father-to-be and scientist Jeff Stewart from The Magnetic Monster. He’s Jerry Lockwood, a college professor blindly in love with a model who clearly has no interest in him other than using his car.

And though classic movie star Herbert Marshall is the lead scientist in Riders and Gog – you guessed it – they aren’t the same character either. It’s puzzling that they each returned for a second film but played different roles, especially since the films were released within a year of each other. Then again, I will watch anything with Carlson and Marshall.

Herbert Marshall, left, Constance Dowling and Richard Egan have deadly mysteries to solve in Gog, the third film with the A-Men of the Office of Scientific Investigation.

Though the OSI films are not a trilogy in the traditional sense with a direct continuing storyline and returning characters, they have the common theme of space exploration. Here’s a quick look.

The Magnetic Monster

Dr. Jeffrey Stewart (played by Richard Carlson) is one of the A-Men – detectives with degrees in science – who work at the Office of Scientific Investigation. “A stands for atom. Atom stands for power – power man has unleashed but has not yet learned to control,” he tells us in his somber voiceover that opens the film to talk of new dangers threatening Earth as we look toward the sky.

He describes the A-Men as sounding like “the final word of a prayer” as in Earth’s last line of defense and that’s what they are about to be.  His narration continues through the film, noting dates and times to show how quickly the world can be on the verge of destruction. Here, it will take only 5 days.

It’s July 18, just an ordinary day. Jeff arrives at the OSI where he’s asked about recent atomic testing by co-worker Dr. Dan Forbes (King Donovan) who has found unexplained anomalies. But they’re quickly called across town where things have gone haywire in an appliance store. Could they be related?

All the clocks at the store are stuck at 12:12 even though it was 9 a.m. when the store opened. Objects are flying across the room, dryer doors are opening and closing and in a slightly comical moment, an innocent-looking push lawnmower almost cuts down the employees.

“Someone is wrecking my store with magnetic power!” the high-strung proprietor shouts.

Richard Carlson and other scientists work to stop the unseen Magnetic Monster.

The A-Men discover there is an unusually strong magnetic pull in the building that leads them to a body and a high-source of radiation.

In record time, they track it to Dr. Denker who has boarded a flight with a briefcase but is now quite ill. How do we know? Our stewardess tells us. “We’ve got a sick man on board – his gums are bleeding!” she cries out.

The kindly Dr. Denker spills as much info as he can before the radiation poison takes over his body. And this is where our film goes beyond the usual sci-fi mumbo-jumbo to use facts from the expert advice of scientists, whose names were included in the credits.

Denker was experimenting on an artificial radioactive isotope called serranium that he blasted with alpha particles for 200 hours, leading it to become unstable with an insatiable appetite for energy. It implodes every 11 hours with a need to be fed and will double its size. At some point, it will destroy the planet.

 “It’s monstrous,” Denker proclaims. “It’s hungry, it has to be fed constantly or it will reach out its magnetic arm to anything with its reach and kill it.”

This screenshot shows the massive Deltatron set in The Magnetic Monster. However, the Deltatron footage is from the 1934 film Gold. The two films are blended with rear projection making two actors in the center appear to be in front of the Deltatron.

One possible way to stop it could be to overfeed it with electricity until it bursts and is fissioned into two stable elements. That will take 900 million volts of energy but the closest they can get is the 600 million volts from the world’s most powerful Deltatron, located in a top-secret underwater facility in Nova Scotia.

Of course, 600 volts isn’t enough. Of course, Jeff will push it past its limit. And yes, the overprotective inventor of the Deltatron will scream lines like “This is preposterous. … This is impossible. … She’ll break up!”

The Magnetic Monster is filled with these wonderfully fun and melodramatic lines written by Tors and director Curt Siodmak. Other favorites: “We had sapped the strength of the city to keep a monster alive.” And “It’s growing – Jeff that’s a living thing!”

It all leads to the exciting climax where man fights man and an unseen creature at the Deltatron, an impressive “set” that will remind you of Metropolis for good reason. The Deltatron footage is from the 1934 German film Gold with the set designed by Otto Hunte, who also did Metropolis. The two films meld rather seamlessly thanks to some rear projection and extra set building.

Riders to the Sky

This second film in the trilogy also starts with narration, this time by Herbert Marshall as Dr. Donald L. Stanton who explains how man has met every challenge except the voyage to outer space.

What’s keeping us down? The fact that rockets – and therefore humans – are destroyed in space. The thought that meteors can fly through space without being destroyed (until they get into the Earth’s atmosphere) sparks a crazy idea that will lead to a lot of cloak and dagger activity to find men for a mission so dangerous they all have to be single.

An “electronic computer” sifts through 150 million names, boiling them down to 12 men who only know the government needs their help. They can’t even discuss their area of expertise when they first meet to undergo physical and mental testing by scientists including the smart and lovely Jane Flynn (played by Martha Hyer).

“I hope you’ll forgive us for testing your patience,” she tells them, and she means it. The men have been together for two hours in a room to test their patience. When one of them cracks under the pressure – “I’m a scientist, not a guinea pig,” he yells – he’s out.

Before he leaves, he calls it a suicide mission and he’s not far off. The “winners” of this contest will travel to space, try to grab a meteor and put it in a safety vessel inside their ship to keep its outer shell intact for testing on Earth.

This diagram in Riders to the Stars shows the “meteor scoop” that will be used for exactly what its name says it is.

How do you grab a meteor, you ask? With a meteor scoop. And yes, it is a silly invention even for a B-movie.

Finally, three men make the cut: Jerry, Dr. Stanton’s son Richard (William Lundigan) and poor Walter Gordon (Robert Karnes) who seems to be around just to have a third expendable guy.

Meanwhile Jane and Richard have bonded over the stars and each other if only to answer the question: Why is there an overwrought love song about the stars playing over the film’s opening credits?

The climax here is the trio of men in space, each in their own rocket, trying to scoop up a piece of a meteor. If you’ve made it this far in the film, just go with it.

Gog

Herbert Marshall returns, this time as Dr. Van Ness, who calls OSI after his top-secret underground facility in the New Mexico desert is sabotaged and people are dying. Two scientists testing the idea of freezing people (using monkeys, of course) to survive space travel, are frozen to death.

OSI sends David Sheppard (played by Richard Egan) to investigate, joining Joanna Merritt (Constance Dowling) who is there working undercover. The two must hide their work – and personal – relationship.

 To lend an authenticity to the film, everyone wears nifty jumpsuits or lab coats with color-coded armbands that allow them access to different floors.

Though they quickly track the sabotage to the N.O.V.A.C. (Nuclear Operative Variable Automatic Computer) which controls everything in the facility, they don’t know who is doing it or how. What role, if any, does the creator of N.O.V.A.C. play, the arrogant Dr. Zeitman (John Wengraf) who also has made the robots Gog and Magog. The robots are certainly clumsy by today’s standards and look harmless, but they are “always frightening” to Joanna and I’m sure to audiences at the time.

Gog, left, and Magog from the sci-fi thriller Gog.

As they frantically work to figure out this deadly mystery, bodies continue to pile up in unusual and, dare I say, clever ways such as death by high-frequency sound.

With help from Dr. Van Ness, the A-Men (and an A-Woman this time) solve their case again.

After Tors finished this final film in the trilogy, he created the sci-fi anthology syndicated series Science Fiction Theatre which aired 78 episodes from 1955 to ’57. A hoped-for A-Men TV show never came to fruition leaving Gog as their final investigation.

Trivia

Ivan Tors later made such family-friendly animal films as Flipper, Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion and the television shows Sea Hunt and The Aquanaut.

Constance Dowling’s final film performance was in Riders to the Stars. She was married to Ivan Tors from 1955 until 1969 when she died at age 49 from a heart attack.

Richard Carlson is known for his appearances in horror and sci-fi B-movies. The Magnetic Monster was his first in the genre.

…..

 Toni Ruberto for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Toni’s Monsters and Matinees articles here.

Toni Ruberto, born and raised in Buffalo, N.Y., is an editor and writer at The Buffalo News. She shares her love for classic movies in her blog, Watching Forever and is a member of the Classic Movie Blog Association. Toni was the president of the former Buffalo chapter of TCM Backlot and now leads the offshoot group, Buffalo Classic Movie Buffs. She is proud to have put Buffalo and its glorious old movie palaces in the spotlight as the inaugural winner of the TCM in Your Hometown contest. You can find Toni on Twitter at @toniruberto.

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Noir Nook: 75th Anniversary Noir

Noir Nook: 75th Anniversary Noir

There are so many noirs out there – some are good, some are not so good. Some are great.

And some are legendary.

This month, the Noir Nook is celebrating the 75th anniversary of the release of five legendary films from the classic noir era. A generation has passed since these features were first seen by those people out there in the dark, but they are iconic, unforgettable, and timeless – the kind of movies that you can see again and again, and never get enough.

The Big Sleep (1946)

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep (1946)
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep (1946)

I admit it – half the time, I don’t know what’s going on in this film. But I don’t care. It may have more twists than a Chubby Checker video, but it’s Bogie and Bacall! In a nutshell, the plot centers on private dick Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart), who’s hired by an elderly invalid, General Sternwood, to resolve gambling debts racked up by his reckless younger daughter, Carmen (Martha Vickers). This seemingly uncomplicated assignment morphs into something far more unwieldy, involving a cast of characters that include Sternwood’s smart and sexy older daughter, Vivian (Lauren Bacall); local racketeer Eddie Mars (John Ridgely); luckless grifter Harry Jones (Elisha Cook, Jr.); and Sean Regan, an Irishman hired by Sternwood to “do his drinking for him,” who flees before the start of the film and never makes a reappearance.

Trivia tidbit: This was the final film for Charles Waldron, who played General Sternwood. He died before the premiere of the film.


Gilda (1946)

Rita Hayworth in Gilda (1946)
Rita Hayworth in Gilda (1946)

Gilda is another film with plot points that escape me – but, again, who cares? In the title role of the tantalizing temptress, Rita Hayworth is simply mesmerizing. She’s in nearly every scene, and when she isn’t, you’re eagerly awaiting her return. The film is set in Argentina and opens with an introduction to the two male characters who, along with Gilda, form a dangerous triangle of passion, deceit, and murder. We meet small-time gambler Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) on the streets of Buenos Aires. When a group of locals realize that he’s cheated them out of their cash, Johnny is rescued from a certain beatdown by casino owner Ballin Mundson (George Macready), and before you can say “Bob’s your uncle,” Johnny has talked himself into a job with Mundson, eventually working his way up to the position of Right-Hand Man.

Trivia tidbit: The black dress that Hayworth wore in her famous “Put the Blame on Mame” number was designed by Jean Louis. He was reportedly inspired by the controversial 1884 painting by John Singer Sargent, entitled “Portrait of Madame X.”


The Killers (1946)

Virginia Christine, Burt Lancaster, and Ava Gardner in The Killers (1946)
Virginia Christine, Burt Lancaster, and Ava Gardner in The Killers (1946)

This film opens with one of my favorite scenes in all of noir. No matter how many times I see it, it always leaves me breathless. Two menacing dudes – played to perfection by William Conrad and Charles McGraw – show up in a small town looking for one Pete Lund, better known as the Swede (Burt Lancaster). The men make no bones about their motive: they plan to kill The Swede and, unfortunately for him, he’s not hard to find. After the killing, it’s discovered that the Swede left behind a life insurance policy, and investigator Jim Reardon (Edmond O’Brien) is assigned to find and pay off the beneficiary, a hotel maid who once saved the Swede from committing suicide. After talking to the maid, Reardon continues his investigation, tracking down the Swede’s friends and associates – including a treacherous femme named Kitty (Ava Gardner) – in order to unearth the story behind his murder.

Trivia tidbit: Virginia Christine, who played the Swede’s girlfriend before he met and was mesmerized by Kitty, gained fame years later as Mrs. Olson, the TV spokesperson for Folgers Coffee.


The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

Lana Turner and John Garfield in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
Lana Turner and John Garfield in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

One of the first noirs I ever saw, The Postman Always Rings Twice is among my favorites from the era. The story is straightforward: a drifter has an affair with the wife of a roadside diner owner and the two plot and carries out the murder of her husband. It’s a simple description that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the shadowy delights this movie has to offer. There’s gorgeous Lana Turner as the duplicitous wife, Cora Smith; John Garfield as Frank Chambers, the drifter who allows his passion to be converted into murder; and Cecil Kellaway as Cora’s hapless hubby. And to spice things up even further, we have Leon Ames as the district attorney who’s not fooled by the couple’s innocent act, Hume Cronyn as the wily defense attorney, and Audrey Totter in a small but pivotal role as Madge, a lunch counter waitress who catches Frank’s eye. From Lana Turner’s nearly all-white wardrobe to the steamy chemistry between the murderous couple, to the film’s unexpected conclusion, there is just so much about this movie to love.

Trivia tidbit: As in the James M. Cain novel on which the film is based, Madge’s initial occupation in the movie was a lion tamer. (Seriously.) A scene was actually filmed where she introduces Frank to her lions, but the idea was later scrapped and she became a waitress instead.


The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

Van Helfin, Barbara Stanwyck, and Kirk Douglas in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)
Van Helfin, Barbara Stanwyck, and Kirk Douglas in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

This movie stars two of my favorite noir femmes: Barbara Stanwyck and Lizabeth Scott, making it an automatic winner in my eyes. Toss in the uber-talented Van Heflin and Kirk Douglas, and you’ve got the makings of a cinematic gem. As this feature begins, we’re introduced to three of the principal characters as children: Martha, who is being raised by her wealthy, much-hated aunt, and her two friends, adventurous and exciting Sam, and mousy Walter, the son of her aunt’s sycophantic advisor. During a confrontation on a dark and stormy night (really!), Martha strikes and kills her aunt, blaming the murder on a mysterious fleeing intruder. As an adult, we learn, Martha (Stanwyck) has become the powerful proprietor of a mill empire and Walter (Douglas) is her district attorney husband. We also learn that years before, when a former employee of the family was arrested for a hold-up, Martha and Walter conspired to accuse the man of her aunt’s murder and secure his conviction and execution. Meanwhile, Sam (Heflin), now an itinerant gambler, returns to town – not realizing that Martha and Walter have incorrectly assumed that he knows the truth about her aunt’s death – and a curious quartet is formed when Sam befriends a local down-on-her-luck girl, Toni Marachek (Scott).

Trivia tidbit: This film marked Kirk Douglas’s big-screen debut.

Treat yourself to a celebration of these legendary films that were released 75 years ago – watch one or watch them all! You’ll be glad you did.

– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Karen’s Noir Nook articles here.

Karen Burroughs Hannsberry is the author of the Shadows and Satin blog, which focuses on movies and performers from the film noir and pre-Code eras, and the editor-in-chief of The Dark Pages, a bimonthly newsletter devoted to all things film noir. Karen is also the author of two books on film noir – Femme Noir: The Bad Girls of Film and Bad Boys: The Actors of Film Noir. You can follow Karen on Twitter at @TheDarkPages.
If you’re interested in learning more about Karen’s books, you can read more about them on amazon here:

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Silver Screen Standards: Vincent Price

Silver Screen Standards: Vincent Price

Vincent Price
Vincent Price, “The Merchant of Menace”

During the Halloween season we naturally think of Vincent Price, that undisputed icon of horror whose many roles in the genre put him in the exalted company of Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Christopher Lee. Price became so associated with horror that he earned nicknames like “The Merchant of Menace,” but the actor with the distinctively plummy voice was truly a man for all seasons, with a long career that encompassed many different genres. Like most Gen Xers I first encountered Price in the late 1970s and early 80s, when he was making kid-friendly fare like Vincent (1982), The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo (1985), and The Great Mouse Detective (1986) as well as Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” hit (1983) and Edward Scissorhands (1990). Once I started seeking out classic movies, I realized what an amazing and diverse career Price actually had and how we don’t really appreciate him fully unless we look at his roles outside of horror as well as his performances in the creepy classics we most remember him for today.

Vincent Leonard Price Jr. was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1911, where his father was the president of a candy company. His wealthy upbringing gave him access to quality education and the opportunity to travel; he earned degrees in the humanities at Yale and then moved on to study art and history in London at the Courtauld Institute. Price made his stage debut in the UK in the 1930s but soon moved into film with his first screen appearance in Service de Luxe (1938), a romantic comedy in which he took the lead role opposite Constance Bennett.

Service de Luxe (1938) Vincent Price and Constance Bennett
Vincent Price made his film debut in the unlikeliest of places, as the leading man to Constance Bennett in a romantic comedy called Service de Luxe (1938).

After that he worked regularly, amassing an astonishing list of over 200 credited roles before his death in 1993, with at least one for almost every year. Along the way, he also became known as an art collector and chef and lectured about both of those passions as well as literary topics. Despite his cultured interests and Ivy League background, Price never seemed to take himself or his work too seriously; he played villains with relish and gleefully hammed it up in horror comedies and special appearances like his guest-star turn on The Muppet Show in 1977. Although he was never even nominated for an Academy Award, his fans were legion and his legacy assured when he died of lung cancer at the age of 82.

The Baron of Arizona (1950) Vincent Price as James Reavis
As odd as a Vincent Price Western might seem, Price is perfectly cast in The Baron of Arizona (1950) as James Reavis, the daring fraudster who tried to steal a state.

It’s strange to think that an actor so known for horror got his first film role in a romantic comedy, but Price always had a talent for the comedic, whether that comedy was light or pitch black. It would serve him well in horror comedies like The Raven (1963), The Comedy of Terrors (1963), The Monster Club (1981), and House of the Long Shadows (1983), among others. Price also seems an unlikely choice for a Western, but there he is in the lead role in Samuel Fuller’s The Baron of Arizona (1950), a biopic about a real-life swindler who tried to claim ownership of the entire state of Arizona in the late 19th century. You can also find him in Curtain Call at Cactus Creek (1950), in which he plays a hammy actor, a type he would most memorably return to in Theater of Blood (1973). Even in his later years’ Price still turned up in surprising places, most notably in the gentle, intimate drama The Whales of August (1987), in which he joins other icons like Lillian Gish, Bette Davis, and Ann Sothern.

The Three Musketeers (1948) Vincent Price and Lana Turner
In the 1948 adaptation of The Three Musketeers, Price plays the villainous Cardinal Richelieu, seen here scheming with Milady de Winter (Lana Turner).   

Price worked more often in genres that had certain elements in common with his horror pictures, particularly historical dramas where his talents as a heavy came in handy. After his romantic comedy debut, Price made a number of period dramas and demonstrated a high degree of comfort in tights, Elizabethan ruffs, and other antique costumes that he would don many times in his horror roles. His second film was the star-studded spectacle, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), starring Bette Davis and Errol Flynn, in which Price plays Sir Walter Raleigh. From there he went to roles in Tower of London (1939), Brigham Young (1940), Hudson’s Bay (1940), The Song of Bernadette (1943), and The Ten Commandments (1956). He was always a solid casting choice for a dissipated nobleman, a corrupt priest, or an ambitious schemer of any stripe. His curling sneers and dripping sarcasm made him an actor audiences loved to hate in a juicy villain role. In the Gothic period thriller, Dragonwyck (1946), Price gives a delicious but perfectly serious performance as the Byronic husband of Gene Tierney’s naïve heroine, and in The Three Musketeers (1948) he tackles the role of the main villain, Cardinal Richelieu. Even if he had never become a horror icon his work in these films would have ensured him a place in Hollywood history.

Laura (1944) Gene Tierney and Vincent Price
A young and rather dashing Vincent Price appears with Gene Tierney’s title character in the noir classic, Laura (1944).

Classic noir is another genre where Vincent Price’s screen persona works well, and his years at Fox saw him in a pair of notable noir pictures starring Gene Tierney, the justly beloved Laura (1944), and Leave Her to Heaven (1945). The less successful Shock (1946) merged themes of noir and horror with Price as a murderous psychiatrist who runs a private sanitarium. In His Kind of Woman (1951) Price got another memorable noir role as – what else? – a ham actor who befriends Robert Mitchum’s protagonist. Unfortunately, noir roles dried up fairly quickly, and Price spent much of the 1950s bouncing around in television roles and smaller film parts while House of Wax (1953) and The Fly (1958) prepared the way for the great horror performances that were on the horizon.

House of Usher (1960) Vincent Price
Films like House of Usher (1960) made Vincent Price one of Hollywood’s greatest horror stars.

Most classic movie fans know and love Vincent Price as a horror star, as well they should. It wouldn’t be Halloween without movies like House on Haunted Hill (1959), The Tingler (1959), House of Usher (1960), Tales of Terror (1962), and The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971). Still, we shouldn’t forget about Price once November rolls around and the jack-o-lanterns get traded in for pumpkin pies. Whatever the season, from The Eve of St. Mark (1944) in April to The Whales of August (1987), there’s a Vincent Price picture to match it.

— Jennifer Garlen for Classic Movie Hub

Jennifer Garlen pens our monthly Silver Screen Standards column. You can read all of Jennifer’s Silver Screen Standards articles here.

Jennifer is a former college professor with a PhD in English Literature and a lifelong obsession with film. She writes about classic movies at her blog, Virtual Virago, and presents classic film programs for lifetime learning groups and retirement communities. She’s the author of Beyond Casablanca: 100 Classic Movies Worth Watching and its sequel, Beyond Casablanca II: 101 Classic Movies Worth Watching, and she is also the co-editor of two books about the works of Jim Henson.

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Western RoundUp: Lone Pine Film Locations

Western RoundUp: Lone Pine Film Locations

In past Western RoundUp columns, I’ve written on multiple occasions about Westerns filmed in Lone Pine, California.

Countless Westerns were filmed in Lone Pine’s Alabama Hills and other nearby areas. Past columns include a look at Hop-a-Long Cassidy (1935) On Location in Lone Pine and Lone Pine Favorites; the latter column includes photos of Lone Pine locations from Rawhide (1951), 7 Men From Now (1956), and The Hired Gun (1957).

It’s great fun for a Western fan to explore the area and see where favorite films were shot. For this month’s column, here’s a look at a few more Western locations filmed in the Lone Pine area.

The Cisco Kid and the Lady (1939)

Cesar Romero plays the Cisco Kid in a very enjoyable film which I saw for the first time at this year’s Lone Pine Film Festival.

In a story somewhat reminiscent of the oft-filmed Three Godfathers story, the genial bandit the Cisco Kid and his friend Gordito (Chris-Pin Martin) find a dead miner’s baby in the middle of the desert. The baby ends up in the care of a lovely schoolteacher (Marjorie Weaver); meanwhile, the Cisco Kid works to locate the mine which is the baby’s inheritance.

After seeing the movie, we went on a tour of the locations with guide Greg Parker, who prepared a booklet of screenshots for us to compare to the actual locations.

Here are two examples of screenshots and my photos of the actual Alabama Hills locations, which haven’t changed a bit since filming. A few decades are but a blip of an eye in the history of these rocks!

The Cisco Kid and the Lady (1939)
On location today
The Cisco Kid and the Lady (1939)
On location today

Yellow Sky (1948)

Yellow Sky is a terrific William Wellman Western starring Gregory Peck as an outlaw, with Anne Baxter as a woman Peck and his gang (including Richard Widmark and John Russell) meet while hiding in a ghost town.  

I wrote about the movie in my 2018 Lone Pine Favorites column, but at the time I didn’t have location photos to share.  This year we did some exploring on our own and found the water hole seen in the movie.

First, here are a couple of screenshots of the area as seen in the film.  That’s Baxter standing on a rock while holding a rifle; Russell is drinking water at the bottom of the photo.

Yellow Sky (1948)
Anne Baxter and John Russell in Yellow Sky (1948)

Compare those scenes to the actual location, seen below; the water hole was located in the foreground. We were delighted to discover that a tiny man-made “dam” created by the filming crew to create the water hole still exists today. 

On location of Yellow Sky (1948)
Man-Made Dam

Visitors to the Alabama Hills can also find permanent changes left behind by the crews of several other films, including Army Girl (1938), Gunga Din (1939), The Hitch-Hiker (1953), and King of the Khyber Rifles (1953); they might not be readily apparent to the casual observer, but those in the know can spot them easily.

The Law and Jake Wade (1958)

Robert Taylor plays Marshal Jake Wade, who repays an old debt when he busts outlaw Clint Hollister (Richard Widmark) out of jail.

The ungrateful Clint later takes Jake and Jake’s girlfriend Peggy (Patricia Owens) hostage, and they ultimately have a confrontation in a ghost town.

Unlike many Westerns shot in the Lone Pine area, The Law and Jake Wade didn’t film in the Alabama Hills; instead, the crew built a ghost town on the opposite side of town, in the same area where a town was built a couple of years earlier for Bad Day at Black Rock (1955).

Like movies filmed in the Alabama Hills, the ghost town scenes have the same great views of Lone Pine Peak and Mount Whitney in the background.

Here’s a screenshot of the town from the movie
Here’s how the same area looks today

and I also have a 2019 photograph of tour guide Jerry Condit holding a still of the ghost town set:

The Tall T (1957)

The Tall T is one of the outstanding Westerns Randolph Scott made in collaboration with director Budd Boetticher.

For the majority of the film, Scott and Maureen O’Sullivan are held prisoner by outlaw Richard Boone at a cave.

The Tall T (1957)
The film crew added the “cave entrance” to an imposing “mountain” of rocks, as seen here

Ride Lonesome (1959)

I wrote about another Scott-Boetticher film, Ride Lonesome, in my very first Western RoundUp column. It’s a film I’ve seen multiple times, which gets better on each viewing.

This year our friend, Lone Pine tour guide Don Kelsen, took us and a few other people on a hike to a location seen at the beginning of the movie. It was a bit of an uphill climb getting there, but very worthwhile!

Here’s a screenshot of an opening scene in the film where Randolph Scott captures James Best:

And here’s the location today. The rocks in the screenshot can easily be matched up with this photo.

Visiting film locations such as these is both fun and informative, giving the Western fan new perspectives to appreciate when watching films made in Lone Pine.

The photographs of the Alabama Hills accompanying this article are from the author’s personal collection.

– Laura Grieve for Classic Movie Hub

Laura can be found at her blog, Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, where she’s been writing about movies since 2005, and on Twitter at @LaurasMiscMovie. A lifelong film fan, Laura loves the classics including Disney, Film Noir, Musicals, and Westerns.  She regularly covers Southern California classic film festivals.  Laura will scribe on all things western at the ‘Western RoundUp’ for CMH.

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Classic Movie Travels: Agnes Ayres

Classic Movie Travels: Agnes Ayres

Agnes Ayers Headshot
Agnes Ayres

While many women worked alongside the great Rudolph Valentino, Agnes Ayres was able to do so alongside him in the notable silent classic The Sheik (1921). Though known for this role, she appeared in many other silent films of the era.

Agnes Eyre Henkel was born on April 4, 1891, in Carbondale, Illinois, to Solon Augustus and Emma Henkel. She was the youngest of two children, growing up in Comden, Illinois, with an older brother named Solon William. When her father passed away, Emma remarried a farmer named Franklin Rendleman. Ayres would end her education in the 8th grade when the family moved to Chicago. Though she intended to study law, her ambitions would change.

While working as a bookkeeper, Ayres was spotted by an Essanay Studios Chicago director and offered a role as an extra in a film. Inspired to act, her family moved to Manhattan, where Ayres pursued an acting career. Due to her strong resemblance to actress Alice Joyce, Ayres was cast as the sibling of Joyce’s character in Richard the Brazen (1917). During this time, she married army officer Frank Shuker, though they would divorce in 1921.

Ayres’s career continued to progress Paramount’s Jesse Lasky learned of her and gave her a role in Held by the Enemy (1920). She and Lasky also struck up a romance at this time.

The Sheik (1921) Movie Poster
The Sheik (1921)

Ayres’s pivotal role came in The Sheik, in which she portrayed heiress Lady Diana Mayo. Following the film, she took on additional starring roles, including The Affairs of Anatol (1921), Forbidden Fruit (1921), and The Ten Commandments (1923). She would play the Mayo character in The Sheik’s sequel, Son of the Sheik (1926).

As her relationship with Lasky ended, Ayres went on to marry Mexican Diplomat S. Manuel Reachi. They would have a daughter named Maria before divorcing in 1927.

In addition to appearing in her last major film role in The Donovan Affair (1929), Ayres lost her fortune and assets in the stock market crash. Struggling financially, she sought work on the stage, returning to vaudeville and hoping to execute more starring film roles. Unfortunately, she was unable to achieve star billing again and carried out mostly uncredited roles before retiring from acting in 1937 and turning to real estate.

Agnes Ayers Headshot Hat
Agnes Ayres

Once retired, Ayres was committed to a sanatorium and lost custody of her daughter. She passed away on December 25, 1940, from a cerebral hemorrhage. She was 42 years old and interred at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Today, the Union County Historical Society has a collection of Ayres memorabilia that was exhibited in 2019 in conjunction with a screening of The Sheik in Cobden, Illinois. In attendance was Ayres’s daughter, Maria, who had never visited Cobden before. The Union County Historical Society is located at 117 S. Appleknocker Drive in Cobden.

Union County Historical Society at 117 S. Appleknocker Drive, Cobden, IL
Union County Historical Society at 117 S. Appleknocker Drive, Cobden, IL

The former Essanay Studios Chicago is located at 1345 W. Argyle St., Chicago, Illinois.

Essanay Studios at 1345 W. Argyle Street, Chicago, IL
Essanay Studios at 1345 W. Argyle Street, Chicago, IL

In 1900, Ayres is documented as living in Cobden with her mother, stepfather, and brother. By 1910, she was living at 4008 W. Adams St. in Chicago and working as a bookkeeper. In 1930, Ayres lived at 1615 Martel Ave. in Los Angeles, California. In 1940, she resided at 834 N. Alfred St. in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, none of these homes exist today.

Ayres does, however, have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, located at 6504 Hollywood Blvd. in Los Angeles.

Agnes Ayers Walk of Fame Star
Ayers’ Star on the Walk of Fame

Ayres continues to be celebrated through her silent film roles.

–Annette Bochenek for Classic Movie Hub

Annette Bochenek pens our monthly Classic Movie Travels column. You can read all of Annette’s Classic Movie Travel articles here.

Annette Bochenek of Chicago, Illinois, is a PhD student at Dominican University and an independent scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She manages the Hometowns to Hollywood blog, in which she writes about her trips exploring the legacies and hometowns of Golden Age stars. Annette also hosts the “Hometowns to Hollywood” film series throughout the Chicago area. She has been featured on Turner Classic Movies and is the president of TCM Backlot’s Chicago chapter. In addition to writing for Classic Movie Hub, she also writes for Silent Film Quarterly, Nostalgia Digest, and Chicago Art Deco SocietyMagazine.

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Charles Boyer: The French Lover – Book Giveaway (Nov)

“Charles Boyer: The French Lover”
We have Four Books to Giveaway this Month!

CMH is happy to announce our next Classic Movie Book Giveaway as part of our partnership with University Press of Kentucky! This time, we’ll be giving away FOUR COPIES of Charles Boyer: The French Lover” by John Baxter.

In order to qualify to win this book via this contest giveaway, you must complete the below entry task by Saturday, Nov 27 at 6PM EST. Winners will be chosen via random drawings.

Charles Boyer: The French Lover

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We will announce our four lucky winners on Twitter @ClassicMovieHub on Sunday, Nov 28, around 9PM EST. And, please note that you don’t have to have a Twitter account to enter; just see below for the details.

To recap, there will be FOUR WINNERS, chosen by random, all to be announced on Nov 28.

Charles Boyer

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And now on to the contest!

ENTRY TASK (2-parts) to be completed by Saturday, November 27, 2021 at 6PM EST

1) Answer the below question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog post

2) Then TWEET (not DM) the following message*:
Just entered to win the “Charles Boyer: The French Lover” #BookGiveaway courtesy of @KentuckyPress & @ClassicMovieHub – #EnterToWin http://www.classicmoviehub.com/blog/charles-boyer-the-french-lover-book-giveaway-nov/

THE QUESTION:
What is your favorite Charles Boyer film and why? And, if you’re not familiar with his work, why do you want to win this book?

*If you do not have a Twitter account, you can still enter the contest by simply answering the above question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog — BUT PLEASE ENSURE THAT YOU ADD THIS VERBIAGE TO YOUR ANSWER: I do not have a Twitter account, so I am posting here to enter but cannot tweet the message.

NOTE: if for any reason you encounter a problem commenting here on this blog, please feel free to tweet or DM us, or send an email to clas@gmail.com and we will be happy to create the entry for you.

ALSO: Please allow us 48 hours to approve your comments. Sorry about that, but we are being overwhelmed with spam, and must sort through 100s of comments…

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Don’t forget to check our chats in our Screen Classics Discussion Series with University Press of Kentucky and @CitizenScreen. You can catch them on Facebook and YouTube:

Jayne Mansfield: The Girl Couldn’t Help It — with Author Eve Golden

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Vitagraph: America’s First Great Motion Picture Studio – with Author Andrew Erish:

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Jane Russell and the Marketing of a Hollywood Legend – with Author Christina Rice:

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Growing Up Hollywood with Victoria Riskin and William Wellman Jr:

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About the Book: Charles Boyer: The French Lover is the first biography of Boyer to exist in English in almost forty years. Author John Baxter artfully presents the often-tragic life of this often overlooked, yet profoundly impactful French actor. Baxter relates how Boyer (1899–1978) established himself in the theater and cinema of France, confidently transitioning from silent film to sound and making a name for himself as a romantic leading man in Hollywood through the early 1940s. During World War II, Boyer put his career on hold to become politically active on behalf of his occupied home country. Upon returning to the stage and screen, Boyer adapted effortlessly to postwar character roles in both Europe and the United States. He entered television in the 1950s as both producer and performer, and then remade himself as a comedy performer in the 1960s. Nominated four times for Academy Awards, he was honored by the Academy only once―a special honorary award received for his activities on behalf of France during World War II.

Click here for the full contest rules. 

Please note that only United States (excluding the territory of Puerto Rico) and Canada entrants are eligible.

Good Luck!

And if you can’t wait to win the book, you can purchase it on amazon by clicking below:

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–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

Posted in Books, Contests & Giveaways, Posts by Annmarie Gatti | 22 Comments

Film Noir Review: 10 (More) Film Noir-Horror Crossovers

10 (More) Film Noir-Horror Crossovers

Horror and noir are the demented cousins of cinema. Dark in style and content, they approach the worst elements of mankind from different angles, though they often arrive at the same morbid destination. Given how much these two styles have in common, it’s no surprise to see how often filmmakers intermingle them.

We here at Classic Movie Hub have already provided a Whitman’s sampler of noir-horror crossovers to watch during the Halloween season, but there are so many choice options that we decided to take a page from the horror genre and craft a sequel post. With that said, here are 10 (more) film noir-horror crossovers you should consider.

The Seventh Victim (RKO, 1943)

The Seventh Victim (RKO, 1943)
‘The Seventh Victim’ was Mark Robson’s directorial debut.

The Seventh Victim is a chilling entry from director Mark Robson and producer Val Lewton. The latter had previously blurred genre lines with classics like Cat People (1942) and The Leopard Man (1943), but here, he pushes the feverish uncertainty of the unknown to its breaking point.

The film details the efforts of Mary (Kim Weston), a woman desperately seeking to rescue her sister from a shadowy cult organization. There are genre-defining images littered throughout the film, whether it be the cult depiction that anticipated Rosemary’s Baby (1968) or the anxiety-inducing shower scene that feels like a preamble to Psycho (1960). There’s a wealth of chills and amoral thrills here, and it’s aged like fine wine.

Nightmare Alley (20th Century Fox, 1947)

Nightmare Alley (20th Century Fox, 1947)
Stanton Carlisle (Tyrone Power) plots his next move.

Nightmare Alley has gotten a boost recently, thanks to the Criterion Collection release and the upcoming remake helmed by Guillermo del Toro. The Oscar-winning director may seem like an odd choice to helm a film noir, but one need only watch the 1947 version to realize that del Toro’s grotesque aesthetic is perfectly suited to the source material.

Nightmare Alley is a nihilist masterpiece that chronicles the rise and fall of Stan Carlisle (Tyrone Power), a manipulative carnival barker who betrays everybody he knows and pays the ultimate price. The film boasts Power’s finest performance ever, and the ending ranks among the most devastating in all of noir.

Night Has a Thousand Eyes (Paramount Pictures, 1949)

Night Has a Thousand Eyes (Paramount Pictures, 1949)
The Mental Wizard (Edward G. Robinson) copes with his torturous skill.

Edward G. Robinson is most often associated with gangsters, but he was often at his best when he was playing men racked with insecurity. One of these fascinating men is John Triton, the “Mental Wizard” at the heart of Night Has a Thousand Eyes. Triton’s ability to predict the future is no sham, but the price for accuracy is that he’s helpless to save those he cares about.

Things take on a more salacious angle when Triton’s best friend Whitney (Jerome Cowan) discovers he can profit from these morbid epiphanies. We don’t spoil the ending, but noir director John Farrow does a good job of keeping the viewer guessing until the very end. 

Dementia (Exploitation Pictures, 1955)

Dementia (Exploitation Pictures, 1955)
Silent screams in ‘Dementia’.

Dementia is a strange little film. It follows a young woman’s nightmarish experiences during a single night in Los Angeles’s skid row, and has no dialogue or discernable plot. It makes up for these deficiencies with a chilling atmosphere and a foreboding rhythm that becomes hypnotic.

Oftentimes horror films explain away too much, but Dementia is frightening because of how little in divulges. It makes sense in a sort of dream logic way, and one could easily draw a parallel between the film and David Lynch’s abstract noir outings like Lost Highway (1997) and Mulholland Dr. (2001).

Les Diaboliques (Cinedis, 1955)

Les Diaboliques (Cinedis, 1955)
Attempted murder takes on a surreal twist.

A landmark French film, Les Diaboliques tells the story of a woman and her husband’s mistress who conspire to murder the man. Once they’ve committed the crime, however, they lose sight of the body and begin to have surreal encounters with those around them. The disorienting tone of the film is its greatest asset, as one can never really tell where reality ends and the nightmarish headspace of the main women begins.

Similar to The Seventh Victim, there are tons of elements here that have gone on to inspire generations of domestic horror films. The premise and the sterile atmosphere by director Henri-Georges Clouzot were integral to the making of Psycho and the popularization of the “plot twist” in modern pop culture.

The Night of the Hunter (United Artists, 1955)

The Night of the Hunter (United Artists, 1955)
The dichotomy of love and hate in ‘The Night of the Hunter’.

Charles Laughton is rightfully heralded as one of the greatest supporting actors of all time. It’s a shame, however, that he never felt compelled to make a second directorial effort, given how brilliantly his first turned out. The Night of the Hunter is a Gothic hybrid of horror and noir that drops the audience into the perspective of terrified children.

Laughton’s direction is remarkably assured and realized for a rookie, as is his ability to get strong performances. Shelley Winters and Lillian Gish are perfect as the victim and the matriarch, while Robert Mitchum, with his tattooed knuckles and righteous drawl, delivers one of the creepiest performances ever committed to film. Love it or hate it, The Night of the Hunter leaves a big impression.

Psycho (Universal Studios, 1960)

Psycho (Universal Studios, 1960)
Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) checks in and fails to check out.

In his book Dark City, historian Eddie Muller points to Psycho as the swan song for classical film noir. He asserts that the first act of the film, dealing with Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), and her decision to steal money, constitute a classic noir premise. It’s only when Marion’s quest is cut short, and she’s murdered in the Bates Motel bathroom, that the film takes a violent turn into something different; something new.

It’s for these scholarly reasons that Psycho warrants inclusion on the list. The film will always be recognized as horror, but Hitchcock’s manipulation of classic noir tropes, right down to the casting of Leigh as a vulnerable woman at a motel (Touch of Evil, anyone?) makes it an important cultural bridge as noir matured into the 1960s.

The Cabinet of Caligari (20th Century Fox, 1962)

The Cabinet of Caligari (20th Century Fox, 1962)
The surreal landscape of Dr. Caligari.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) was a seminal film in the German Expressionist movement. It laid out many of the style’s core themes and values, and would eventually lay the groundwork for what became American film noir. It’s fascinating then, to see what American producers did with the 1962 remake.

The Cabinet of Caligari, as it is renamed here, does away with the more outlandish designs of the original and focuses more on the disconcerting tone. It plays more like a Twilight Zone episode with noir trimmings, and a damn good episode at that. The ending may not differ too much from the original, but the solid execution helps it to maintain its impact.

Eyes of Laura Mars (Columbia Pictures, 1978)

Eyes of Laura Mars (Columbia Pictures, 1978)
Laura Mars (Faye Dunaway) attempts to eradicate her visions.

Faye Dunaway was talent personified in the 1970s, and Eyes of Laura Mars is only one of the many films that can attest to this. She plays the titular Laura Mars, a fashion photographer who begins to have visions of violent murders. Her attempts to prevent the murders before they occur lead her to join forces with a skeptical cop (Tommy Lee Jones) who may be hiding a secret of his own.

The film feels purposely modeled in the Hitchcock/DePalma mold, so much so that one would never guess the director was journeyman Irvin Kershner. In truth, the film bears the fingerprints of its screenwriter, John Carpenter, who delights in melding the pulp genres of his youth. Coupled with the commanding lead performances, and this is one horror-noir you won’t be able to take your eyes off.

Manhunter (De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 1986)

Manhunter (De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 1986)
Will Graham confronts pure evil.

The world of Hannibal Lecter has always been one that teetered on the edge of film noir. It flirts with many of the same tropes as classic noir, but it always skirts it slightly, to focus on horror or broader drama. The only time Lecter truly felt a part of noir was when Michael Mann deigned to make the neon-tinted masterwork Manhunter in 1986.

The film is utterly chilling, not only in the grotesque depictions of Lecter (Brian Cox) and the Tooth Fairy Killer (Tom Noonan), but the twisted headspace that allows FBI profiler Will Graham (William Petersen) to track them down. The gloom of the film is oppressive, and the setting of the finale is covered in so many neon lights and creepy sound effects that you’d swear it was a haunted house. FBI work has never been so frightening.

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You can read all of Danilo’s Film Noir Review columns here.

–Danilo Castro for Classic Movie Hub Danilo Castro is a film noir specialist and Contributing Writer for Classic Movie Hub. You can read more of Danilo’s articles and reviews at the Film Noir Archive, or you can follow Danilo on Twitter @DaniloSCastro.


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Silents are Golden: Silent Directors – The Ingenious F.W. Murnau

Silents are Golden: Silent Directors – The Ingenious F.W. Murnau

F.W. Murnau Headshot
F.W. Murnau

Very tall and described as having an “icy, imperious disposition,” F.W. Murnau certainly fit the stereotypical idea of a German silent film director. Highly cultured, his love of the arts and extreme attention to detail resulted in some of the finest works of the silent screen–and indeed, of cinema in general. Some would even say his masterpiece Sunrise (1927) is the finest film ever made.

George O'Brien and Margaret Livingston in Sunrise (1927)
George O’Brien and Margaret Livingston in Sunrise (1927)

The future director of Nosferatu (1922) and The Last Laugh (1924) was born Friedrich Wilhelm Plumpe in 1888, in what was then the province of Westphalia in Prussia. He had two brothers, two stepsisters, and his father owned a cloth factory. A precocious child, he enjoyed staging plays at the family home and was voraciously reading Shakespeare, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche well before he was a teen.

As a young man Murnau studied philology in Berlin and then art history and literature in Heidelberg. While in Heidelberg he met Max Reinhardt, the legendary Berlin theater director who was highly influential in encouraging Expressionism. While acting in the director’s theater he adopted the stage surname “Murnau,” after a small town south of Munich. Upon graduation he stayed with Reinhardt, learning the ropes of directing, until World War I broke out. He joined the Imperial German Flying Corps and flew numerous missions in northern France. Incredibly, he was in eight plane crashes and walked away each time without serious injuries.

F.W. Murnau pilot WWI
Said to be a photo of Murnau (on the right) in front of his aircraft.

After landing in Switzerland he was arrested and spent the remainder of the war as a POW. He didn’t let his time in the internment camp go to waste, working on plays, a film script and helping compile propaganda films for the German embassy. By the end of the war, Murnau had decided that film – already an obsession of his – was his future.

Upon his return to Germany he started a small film studio (Germany was full of tiny studios at the time) with the great actor Conrad Veidt. His first feature film was the Gothic tale Der Knabe in Blau (1919) and his second was Satanas (1920), inspired by D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance (1916). He worked with a number of key figures in the German Expressionist movement: Robert Wiene, director of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920); Caligari’s screenwriter Carl Mayer; and scenarist Thea von Harbou, wife of director Fritz Lang, to name a few.

 Director F.W. Murnau
Director Murnau

But while Murnau had been soaked in the highly stylized atmosphere of German Expressionism, he had a gift for bringing that atmosphere to film while having a steady grip on realism. Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922) is the most famous example, with its dramatic lighting, macabre story (gleefully ripped off from Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel) and real-world locations. Produced by Prana Film, a small studio that wanted to specialize in occult-themed features, it was a bridge between the extreme stylization of German Expressionism and the naturalness of films from European countries like Sweden and from Hollywood. Prana Film was sued into oblivion by Stoker’s widow, but that didn’t keep Nosferatu from surviving and becoming the classic it is today.

Max Schreck as Count Orlok in Nosferatu (1922)
Max Schreck as Count Orlok in Nosferatu (1922)

It was thought that Murnau’s The Last Laugh (1924), with its emotional story of a hotel doorman who loses his station and its incredibly fluid camerawork, is what caught the attention of Hollywood. In reality Murnau signed a contract with William Fox shortly after the film premiered in Berlin – and long before U.S. audiences got to see it. By this point he was gaining a reputation as a highly skilled director and may have been recommended by cameraman Karl Freund.

Emil Jannings as the hotel doorman in The Last Laugh (1924)
Emil Jannings as the hotel doorman in The Last Laugh (1924)

The contract was an undeniable deal: Murnau would have a big budget, all the Hollywood sets and equipment he needed, and free reign to make whatever pictures entered his head. But in spite of this he fastidiously stayed in Germany awhile longer to create Faust (1926), one of his masterpieces. Based on Goethe’s version of the well-known German legend, it contained some of the most remarkable scenes ever filmed – including the giant demon Mephistopheles standing over a medieval town, releasing the black plague (the set used fans and billowing soot).

Faust (1926) Mephistopheles
Faust (1926)

Upon the completion of Faust, Murnau finally headed to Hollywood. His first film would be the prestige picture Sunrise, A Song of Two Humans (1927), which required sets of a peasant village and a vast (or seemingly vast) city street. The latter was created with ingenious use of forced perspective, attracting legions of cameramen, set designers, and designers eager to crawl through it and see it was done. It would also use ingenious camerawork, fixing the camera to a track in the studio ceiling so it could appear to “float” through a foggy marsh. Actors Janet Gaynor and George O’Brien considered it an honor to be the film’s leads, and the production was a special experience for both.

George O'Brien and Janet Gaynor in Sunrise (1927)
George O’Brien and Janet Gaynor in Sunrise (1927)

Sunrise turned out to be a stunning achievement and very influential in Hollywood. It would win one of the first Academy Awards in the category “Unique and Artistic Picture.” Many directors (even John Ford) would try to imitate Murnau’s style, using dramatic lighting and careful tracking shots. Murnau followed up with Four Devils (1928), which is unfortunately lost today, and the wistful City Girl (1929), made just as most studios had switched to talkies.

Sadly, we’ll never know what the great F.W. Murnau would’ve done with the talkie era, with its initial limitations but also its possibilities. His last silent film was Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931), a dramatic love story filmed in Tahiti. Only a week before it premiered, Murnau was being driven up the Pacific Coast Highway from Los Angeles in a chauffeured car. The young driver crashed the car against a pole and Murnau suffered a severe head injury. He died the next day, at only 42 years old.

F.W. Murnau
F.W. Murnau

–Lea Stans for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Lea’s Silents are Golden articles here.

Lea Stans is a born-and-raised Minnesotan with a degree in English and an obsessive interest in the silent film era (which she largely blames on Buster Keaton). In addition to blogging about her passion at her site Silent-ology, she is a columnist for the Silent Film Quarterly and has also written for The Keaton Chronicle.

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Noir Nook: YouTube Bs – Highway Dragnet (1954)

Noir Nook: YouTube Bs – Highway Dragnet (1954)

YouTube is a treasure trove of film noir classics – on it, for free, you can find gems like Scarlet Street (1945), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), House of Strangers (1949), Kansas City Confidential (1952), and many other major studio releases from the era.

Highway Dragnet (1954) Movie Poster
Highway Dragnet (1954)

I’ve discovered, though, when scrolling through the seemingly endless noir offerings on YouTube, that there are far more obscure ‘B’ pictures than there are features that are familiar to most noir fans. I usually give these movies the “go by” (as Joe Gillis from Sunset Boulevard would say), but recently, my curiosity got the better of me. They can’t all be clinkers, I figured. So I decided to find out.

This month’s Noir Nook is the first in a series of “YouTube Bs” – low-budget, little-known features from the film noir era that are worth your time. My inaugural feature is Highway Dragnet (1954), starring Richard Conte, Joan Bennett, and Wanda Hendrix.

Highway Dragnet (1954) Old Las Vegas, Nevada
Old Las Vegas, Nevada

Released by Allied Artists, the film opens at night in Las Vegas – it’s fascinating to see all of the old casinos (to me, at least – I LOVE Vegas), most of which are no longer standing. The camera takes us inside one of these, where we see Jim Henry (Conte), a recently discharged Marine, lose a couple of coins in a slot machine and then sit beside a rather inebriated blonde at the bar. Her name is Terry Smith and she’s an ex-fashion model – her picture is hanging on the wall of the bar, and Jim makes the mistake of telling her how beautiful she was “back then.” Terry takes offense and a rather public brouhaha ensues, which ends when Terry plants a big, wet one on Jim and we fade. To. Black.

Richard Conte and Wanda Hendrix in Highway Dragnet (1954)
Richard Conte and Wanda Hendrix in Highway Dragnet (1954)

We next see Jim the following morning, hitchhiking along the highway, when he’s nabbed at gunpoint by the local police. Turns out that Terry has been murdered – strangled with some kind of strap – and Jim’s on the hook for the killing. He loudly protests his innocence, but Lt. Joe White Eagle (Reed Hadley) of the Las Vegas police department doesn’t believe him. Especially when he finds a gun and a torn and bloody shirt in Jim’s suitcase, Jim’s bracelet under the dead woman’s body, and an alibi that doesn’t check out. The lieutenant and his men prepare to place Jim under arrest, but Jim isn’t having it, and in one of the coolest moves I’ve seen in a while, he kicks the lieutenant in the face, takes the guns from the men, and escapes in a police car.

Joan Bennett in Highway Dragnet (1954)
Joan Bennett in Highway Dragnet (1954)

When Jim spies two women on the highway with a stalled car, he finds a place where he can change out of his Marine uniform and get rid of his identification, then joins the women to offer his help. Once the car is fixed, Jim winds up behind the wheel of the car, helping the women — professional photographer Mrs. Cummings (Bennett) and her model, Susan Wilton (Hendrix) – drive to their next job. This sets up the rest of the film, as Jim tries to elude the police manhunt and we (and the women) try to figure out if he’s guilty or innocent.

Richard Conte in Highway Dragnet (1954)

I must admit that I had rather high hopes when I saw the cast of this film – Richard Conte is one of my favorite noir performers, and Joan Bennett is always a welcome sight. And I wasn’t disappointed. It was no Double Indemnity, but it held my interest from the very first scene, and director Nathan Juran kept the proceedings moving at a steady clip. There’s nary a dull moment in this 71-minute feature, although there were a number of unintentionally humorous moments, intended to ramp up the tension, but always involving some kind of misdirection or nick-of-time circumstance. But even this, for me, adds to the film’s quirky charm.

Grab yourself some popcorn, tune into YouTube, and see what you think. And meanwhile, enjoy some trivia tidbits about the film’s cast and crew:

  • The director was Nathan Juran. You may not have heard of him, but you’ve certainly heard of two films he directed in 1958: Attack of the 50 Foot Woman and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. He also won an Academy Award for Art Direction for How Green Was My Valley (1941).
  • House Peters, Jr. (who I first noticed because of his unusual name) played a small part as a state patrol officer. Peters’ main claim to fame is that he served as the face and body of Mr. Clean in the commercials for the Procter and Gamble cleaning product.
  • Lt. White Eagle (I assume he was supposed to be a Native American?) was played by Reed Hadley. If you don’t recognize his face isn’t familiar, his voice may be familiar – he served as narrator for numerous noirs and other films, including The House on 92nd Street (1945), T-Men (1947), He Walked By Night (1948), and Canon City (1948).
  • Terry Smith was played by Mary Beth Hughes, the star of one of my favorite Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes, I Accuse My Parents (1944), as well as one of my favorite obscure noirs, The Great Flamarion (1945). Hughes quit acting in the early 1960s and worked as a receptionist in a plastic surgeon’s office. In later years, she also worked as a telemarketer and opened her own beauty parlor.
  • A small role as a sassy waitress was played by Iris Adrian, who specialized in these kinds of parts. You can also see her in such films as the Barbara Stanwyck starrer Lady of Burlesque (1943) and Go West (1940) with the Marx Brothers, as well as numerous Disney features later in her career, including That Darn Cat! (1965), The Love Bug (1968), The Shaggy D.A. (1976) and Freaky Friday (1976). She died in 1994 at the age of 82, due to complications from injuries she suffered in a Northridge, California, earthquake.
  • The film was co-produced and based on a story co-written by Roger Corman, who would make a name for himself as the producer of more than 500 films. He’s still working as of this writing, with a new film set to come out later this year.
  • You may know Wanda Hendrix from her prominent role in the 1947 noir Ride the Pink Horse. She was married to war hero-turned-Western screen star Audie Murphy, but the union was short-lived, reportedly plagued by Murphy’s combat-related paranoia and violence. Hendrix left Murphy after less than a year, and later married the brother of actor Robert Stack. She died of double pneumonia at the age of 52.
  • Two actors who enjoyed their respective heydays a decade earlier were seen in small parts – Frank Jenks and Murray Alper. Jenks is best remembered for his role as a fast-talking reporter in His Girl Friday (1940), and Alper can be seen in such classics as The Maltese Falcon (1941), Saboteur (1942), and They Were Expendable (1945).

If you get a chance to watch Highway Dragnet, I hope you’ll come back and share your thoughts. And stay tuned for more YouTube Bs!

– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Karen’s Noir Nook articles here.

Karen Burroughs Hannsberry is the author of the Shadows and Satin blog, which focuses on movies and performers from the film noir and pre-Code eras, and the editor-in-chief of The Dark Pages, a bimonthly newsletter devoted to all things film noir. Karen is also the author of two books on film noir – Femme Noir: The Bad Girls of Film and Bad Boys: The Actors of Film Noir. You can follow Karen on Twitter at @TheDarkPages.
If you’re interested in learning more about Karen’s books, you can read more about them on amazon here:

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