Hollywood at Play: The History and Use of Publicity Stills, Exclusive Guest Post by Author Mary Mallory


The History and Use of Publicity Stills

In the early decades of the Twentieth Century before the invention of television and the internet, the Hollywood motion picture industry sold itself and its products to the general public through the use of still photographs distributed to magazines and newspapers to entice consumers into buying movie tickets. As film studio photographers Elmer Fryer and Fred Archer described it in a 1928 article about still photography, “The still sells the movies.” Hollywood’s motion picture still photography defined sophisticated style, shaped personas, and created the iconic image of “a movie star” as we know it today.

As a fledgling medium in the early 1900s, the film industry developed all necessary practices as they went along, inventing the hows and whys of each step in the process of motion pictures from production through exhibition and distribution, including publicity. In the beginning, producers merely copied earlier forms of entertainment like the circus, devising eye-catching, colorful posters selling mostly company brand names and offering a bare hint of a story. By the end of the decade, scene stills further elaborated plots and action.

Mabel Normand Hartsook
Mabel Normand Hartsook

Three events around 1910 ushered in the age of publicity photographs and the beginnings of celebrity culture. Newspapers established departments to review films in 1909. After years of moviegoers asking the name of stars appearing on the silver screen, studios finally began crediting actors playing the roles in their films in 1910, with Universal’s Inependent Motion Pictures Company (IMP) the first to name Florence Lawrence as a star. Most importantly, film producer J. Stuart Blackton published the first fan magazine devoted strictly to the art of moving pictures, Motion Picture Story, in 1911.

To take advantage of these new publicity avenues, stars visited important portrait photographers frequented by theatrical performers, such as Albert Witzel, Fred Hartsook, and Nelson Evans in Los Angeles, for portrait sittings. They ordered vast quantities of prints to send to magazines and newspapers for reproduction and in so doing, create name recognition, greater popularity, bountiful box office receipts, all leading to higher salaries.

Classic Movie Posters as PublicityClassic Movie Posters as Publicity

Studios themselves employed portrait stills to build name and studio recognition and hopefully attract movie lovers to theatres. They shot star portraits to be employed as personality posters at film theatres or to sell or give away as fan photos, as well as occasionally making specialty shots requested by fan magazines. They also increased the shooting of scene stills, so that sets of eight images per film title could be employed as window or lobby displays in local movie palaces.

Anita Louise Makes Apple Strudel
Anita Louise Makes Apple Strudel

Photos acted as a recognizable and attractive product appealing to consumers and hopefully therefore to box office revenues. Renowned stillsmen Fred Archer and Elmer Fryer described these uses in an article entitled “Still Photography in Motion Picture Work” in the 1928 issue of Transactions of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers. “In the advertising field the still picture is used to illustrate and help plant the articles broadcast by the publicity department throughout the periodical world and it is used for lobby displays.”

Betty Furness Shooting Pose
Betty Furness Shooting Pose 

By the late teens, magazines and newspapers became the primary avenue for advertisers to reach consumers, as virtually every person read a daily paper or perused journals. Print outlets searched for photographs to illustrate stories and to fill extra space and pages required to fit in all this advertising, helped by the low cost to reproduce these images. In Still: American Silent Motion Picture Photography, Dr. David Shields quotes from the 1938 book Photography and the American Scene regarding their usage. “The half-tone, more than any other factor, has been held responsible for the tremendous circulation of the modern periodical and newspaper. It has, indeed, revolutionized the mechanics of journalism, for it has completed changed methods of advertising.” Motion picture studios quickly recognized the opportunity to fulfill print media’s demands and obtain free publicity in the process, creating a quid pro quo system to fulfill each other’s needs.

To satisfy the heavy demand for publicity stills, studios established full photography departments in the early 1920s to shoot and produce the images. Stillsman Donald Biddle Keyes established the first film photography gallery/studio in the early 1920s at Famous Players Lasky, and virtually every other production company quickly followed. Most photography department heads focused on portraits, while one photographer shot scene stills, another off-camera, candids or special shoots, and the like.

Greta Garbo Stills in Silver Screen 1930Greta Garbo Stills in Silver Screen 1930

Historian John Kobal describes how studio portraiture “was not merely to photograph established celebrities…but to help create something entirely new…a breed of celebrity with the extraordinary power to transfix.” The photographers’ dramatic lighting, dynamic compositions, artful negative retouching, and artistic eyes influenced the American public’s perceptions of celebrities and their personalities. Stars were defined as sexy, glamorous, thoughtful, foreboding, all through the scintillating camerawork of these often unsung and forgotten men.

Studios shot millions of photographs of actors, executives, scenes, and behind-the- scenes action, which they then freely distributed to magazines and newspapers, usually with a snipe (caption) typed on or glued to the back of the print describing the person, film, or event. A letter often accompanied these images, giving further detail on the person or film pictured and even suggesting usage in the edition. The studios required no payment or permission to run the images, just asking for a credit line if they were employed, and none of the images were ever sent to the United States Copyright Office.

Men Stars Cook 1930Men Stars Cook 1930

These images covered the gamut of subjects and departments found in newspapers and magazines so they could easily be plugged into an empty page or section. To hit women’s areas of interest, photos of fashion, home decoration, cooking, pets, religion, and even children were shot. Images of sports, travel, automobiles, and the like catered to men’s interests.

Cheesecake and beefcake images of stars in swimsuits always seemed popular. In an article about short films benefiting local exhibitors in the December 26, 1925 issue of Exhibitors Trade Review, Universal Studios President Carl Laemmle stated, “Editors know their readers like to see pictures of attractive young girls; the next time you submit a publicity still from your feature, include one or two scenes from a Century Comedy with its dozens of cuties – you’ll find the editor not only publishes it, but also gives it preferential space.”

Bob Hope how to carve a turkeyBob Hope, How to Carve a Turkey

Humorous photographs remained a steady staple, while prints illustrating Easter, July 4, Halloween, Christmas, and the like could fill out holiday pages. Karie Bible and I found enough of these stills that we wrote the book Hollywood Celebrates the Holidays just two years ago. Most print editions ran single images, but they could mix and match prints from different studios on the same subject and fill out a full page if so needed.

Over the next 50 years, photographic stills remained the most potent publicity tool of film studios in promoting their new productions and stars. Variety even reported in 1953 that Twentieth Century-Fox distributed 50,000 free stills promoting the blockbuster filmThe Robe shot in the outstanding new Cinemascope format before it opened in theatres.

The House I Live In Frank Sinatra
The House I Live In, Frank Sinatra

As trailers and then television became the main outlets for movie publicity in the 1950s and 1960s, the usage of still photography began declining at film studios. Just like the industry’s early days, stars began hiring their own photographers to shoot portraits or images for periodicals. Marilyn Monroe even formed a company with her favorite photographer Milton Greene.

Gradually new forms of media like TV and later the world wide web served as the main publicity outlets for studios and production companies. The development of social media allowed actors to bypass studio control and directly speak to their fans or promote their own projects. Stars themselves began fashioning their own publicity materials through selfies and promotional items shared on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media outlets, often cutting the studio or production company completely out of the process. in an ironic way, contemporary publicity is returning to the self-promoting days of the early motion picture industry.

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–Mary Mallory for Classic Movie Hub

Mary Mallory is a film historian, photograph archivist, and researcher, focusing on Los Angeles and early film history. She is co-author of the book Hollywood at Play: The Lives of the Stars Between Takes (with Stephen X. Sylvester and Donovan Brandt) and writes theatre reviews for The Tolucan Times and blogs for the LA Daily Mirror. Mallory served on Hollywood Heritage, Inc.’s Board of Directors, and acts as a docent for the Hollywood Heritage Museum. You can follow her on twitter at @mallory_mary.

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The Politics of Yankee Doodle Dandy – Exclusive Guest Post by Author Alan K. Rode (Michael Curtiz: A Life)

The Politics of Yankee Doodle Dandy

The notion for a biographical film about legendary show business powerhouse George M. Cohan had been kicking around Hollywood since the late 1930s. The father of American musical comedy claimed to be born on July 4, 1878 and began treading the boards at age eight in the family vaudeville act. During his career, he wrote more than 150 original songs, including the standards “You’re a Grand Old Flag” and the country’s most popular song during World War I, “Over There.” Cohan produced more than fifty musicals and plays.  At one point, five of his shows, co-produced with Sam Harris, ran simultaneously on Broadway. Cohan did it all: he was a playwright, composer, lyricist, actor, singer, dancer, and producer.

By 1941 he was ill and realized that his days were numbered. His ego was piqued by the notion of a movie biography to enshrine his legacy (he had already published his autobiography at the age of forty-seven), but he had serious misgivings about films. He had appeared in several silent movies that failed to capture his feisty style. After his popularity began to fade, Cohan starred in two early talkies.  His second picture, The Phantom President (1932), was a fiasco. Cohan compared the experience to a stretch at Leavenworth Penitentiary and vowed never to return to Hollywood.

Yankee Doodle Dandy posterIn his much publicized Anglo-Hungarian diction, Michael Curtiz described Yankee Doodle Dandy as “ the pinochle of my career.

But impending mortality mellowed his outlook. He negotiated with Samuel Goldwyn — who initially committed to a Cohan film starring Fred Astaire before the actor-dancer dropped out — and consulted with his close friend, the actor Edward McNamara. A former Irish cop who made more money pretending to be one, McNamara was also a pal of James Cagney. McNamara urged Cohan to consider Cagney to portray him while simultaneously pitching the project to the star. Around the same time, Variety’s publisher, Abel Green, advised Jack Warner about Cohan’s interest in a bio-musical film. Warner and Hal Wallis were intrigued. Wallis contacted William Cagney about having his older brother portray George M. Cohan and was surprised when James declined the role.

Cagney refused to play the part because of his personal feelings towards the show biz legend. Cohan had an infamous falling-out with Actors Equity in 1919 after he opposed a strike by actors from his position as an owner-producer. Cohan’s refusal to join Equity further damaged his reputation. As a charter member of the Screen Actors Guild (he would be elected SAG president in September 1942), Cagney was diametrically opposed to Cohan’s position. Cagney’s trade-unionist liberalism, nurtured by his impoverished background and accentuated by a adversarial relationship with Jack L. Warner (characterized by continual squabbles over money, movies and suspensions) fed into an instinctive mistrust of producers. Although he respected Cohan as a great performer, he couldn’t countenance portraying a man that he regarded as an anti-union reactionary.

But changing political winds convinced Cagney to reverse his decision and to reexamine some of his own positions. In August 1940 an ostensible Communist Party member named John Leech testified during Los Angeles grand jury proceedings that Cagney, along with other famous Hollywood personages, including Humphrey Bogart, Fredric March, and Franchot Tone, were Communists, members of Communist “study groups,” or contributor-sympathizers. With regard to Cagney and the others, the charges were demonstrably false, but the newspapers had a field day.

Bill Cagney, summoned to a meeting with Jack Warner, needed to rehabilitate his brother’s reputation, and fast: “[Jack Warner] told me in no uncertain terms that if my brother didn’t clean his skirts of this charge, he was going to destroy him.” James had already been moving politically right at the behest of his wife by shedding some of his extreme left-wing friends, including the screenwriter John Bright, and maintaining a more conservative social circle that included Robert Montgomery and his Irish Mafia pals of Pat O’Brien, Lynne Overman and Frank McHugh.

Jack L. Warner and Michael Curtiz looking at Yankee Doodle Dandy scriptJack L. Warner’s contributions to Yankee Doodle Dandy are best characterized by the words: “Hurry up.”

The younger Cagney contacted Martin Dies, chair of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and arranged for James to testify. Dies, whose committee accused ten-year old Shirley Temple of being a Communist dupe in 1934, eventually issued a public statement clearing Cagney. The actor’s opposition to Yankee Doodle Dandy, as the Cohan picture was eventually titled, evaporated. As William Cagney related to the writer Patrick McGilligan, he told his older brother: “We’re going to have to make the goddamndest patriotic picture that’s ever been made. I think it’s the Cohan story.”

Yet animus persisted between Warner Bros. and the Cagneys. James regarded executive producer Hal Wallis as a front-office suit responsible for reinforcing the actor’s image as a screen gangster. The chill was mutual. “He [Cagney] and I never became friends,” admitted Wallis. “He was cold to me and I wasn’t particularly fond of him.” Wallis also brooded over being forced to accept William Cagney as associate producer for the film (a condition of James Cagney’s 1938 contract with the studio). Fully aware of the battle lines, Michael Curtiz would walk a tightrope to maintain relationships with both sides while directing Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Wallis assigned Robert Buckner to write the script. Buckner’s specialty was drama and Westerns—he had no experience with musicals or lighter material—but he did a thorough job that took more than half a year. Cohan’s contract gave him script and title approval in addition to his $125,000 fee and 10 percent of the gross receipts over $1,500,000. He also had the final say on characters and all references to his family. Cohan approved Cagney to portray him but had his own ideas about the screenplay. He wanted to expunge any romantic or personal aspects from the screenplay and stubbornly resisted any effort to portray his life as other than a series of professional triumphs.

Jack Warner, Michael Curtiz and Hal Wallis
Warner, Curtiz and Wallis:  A brilliant filmmaking triumvirate

After Cohan submitted 170 pages of script changes, Buckner, along with Wallis and William Cagney, crafted a letter that begged Cohan to allow them to take a limited amount of dramatic license in order to produce an entertaining musical biography. Using the recently successful Knute Rockne All American (1940) as an example, the trio beseeched Cohan for some reasonable flexibility. The letter swayed Cohan, who eventually compromised to a limited extent. The script was revised to introduce a fictional Mrs. Cohan named Mary, who would be played by sixteen-year-old Joan Leslie. There would be no mention of his first wife, who left him in 1907 (and would unsuccessfully sue Cohan and Warner Bros. over the film), or his second (successful) marriage. Cagney, who was uncomfortable displaying any type of sexual intimacy onscreen, would further downplay the romantic angle. Cohan’s relationships with other characters, including his family and particularly his partner, Sam Harris, were idealized. It became the story of a triumphant show-business personality living a storybook life.

But there was still James Cagney to contend with. When the star read through Buckner’s final draft (with contributions by the screenwriter Edmund Joseph) on his Martha’s Vineyard farm, he was appalled: “I read it with incredulity. There wasn’t a single laugh in it, not the suggestion of a snicker. And this was a script purporting to be about a great American light entertainer, a man who wrote forty-four Broadway shows, only two of which were not comedies.”

Cagney refused to do the movie unless the script was gone over thoroughly by Julius and Philip Epstein, who had impressed him with their work on The Strawberry Blonde (1941).  They transformed the stilted relationship between the Cohan and Mary characters into a charming romance. Comic scenes between the music publisher characters Goff and Dietz were added, and the Epsteins also built up the character of the couple’s daughter, Josie Cohan, played by Jeanne Cagney.  They also added the poignant death scene of Cohan’s father played by Walter Huston and the “Over There” coda, which concluded the film on an upbeat note.

During the production, Robert Buckner complained about the changes to his screenplay. He challenged the studio’s intention to grant the Epstein brothers equal screenwriting credit, informing Wallis that he was ready to take the issue to the Writers Guild. The Cagneys viewed Buckner as a Wallis loyalist who delivered a lousy script, attempted to undermine them, and was now trying to ace out the writers most responsible for the film’s success. Despite the friction, production would begin on schedule, even as it became shaped by bigger events.

James Cagney, Michael Curtiz and James Wong HoweThree artists at work: James Cagney, Michael Curtiz and James Wong Howe.

The morning after Pearl Harbor was the first day of production on Yankee Doodle Dandy. Rosemary DeCamp, cast as Cagney’s mother, re- called the real-life drama that occurred before the cameras rolled:

The crew was standing still with grave faces. Jeanne Cagney, Walter Huston and I, made up and elaborately costumed, were staring at a little radio emitting the sound of President Roosevelt’s voice along with a lot of static. Mike Curtiz the director and Jimmy Cagney came in through the freight dock and walked across the big soundstage toward us. Mike started to speak, but Walter held up his hand. The president finished with the grave news that we were now at war with Japan and Germany. Then, the national anthem blared forth. Some of us got to our feet and sang the lyrics hesitantly. At the end, Jimmy said, clearing his throat, “I think a prayer goes in here . . . turn that damn thing off.” Someone did. We stood in silence for a full minute. Jeanne and I dabbed our made-up eyes carefully. Mike bowed and with his inimitable accent said, “Now boys and girls, we haff work to do . . . we haff bad news . . . but we haff a wonderful story to tell the world. So let us put away sad things and begin.”  From that momentous first morning, everyone on the set understood that Yankee Doodle Dandy would be a special picture.

The outbreak of the war was certainly a motivating factor, but it was the seamless collaboration between Cagney and Curtiz that inspired the rest of the company. During Angels with Dirty Faces and Captains of the Clouds, the star and director had developed a bond of trust. Curtiz knew he did not have to explain to Cagney how a scene should be played, nor did Cagney need to tell the director how to shoot the picture. Curtiz was also on his best behavior with the rest of the cast and crew, realizing that anything less would not be tolerated.

Joan Leslie, who would celebrate her seventeenth birthday during the production, remembered the collaborative synergy on the set that was unique for a Warner Bros. film: “Mike was so happy because he had everything he wanted: a wonderful script, a terrific cast, and don’t ever sell Bill Cagney short as the associate producer! He was on set every day and deeply involved in every aspect of the production. But it was Jimmy who inspired everyone, especially Mike. Jimmy suggested and added so many things and Mike would say, “Okay, Jimmy, that sounds great.” It was a beautiful thing to see.” Curtiz was delighted just to be the director of Yankee Doodle Dandy. The flag-waving jingoism and the overt sentimentality that future critics would characterize as maudlin were, to him, the picture’s most appealing aspects. Curtiz wore his American patriotism like a badge of honor— even more so with war recently having been declared.

Yet Curtiz remained Curtiz. “He was a ruthless authoritarian with an eagle eye,” remembered Rosemary DeCamp. “He could walk on a crowded set with extras and instantly spot the one with a missing earring, or twisted tights or running mascara.” Joan Leslie recalled how Curtiz continued to rely on his wife Bess Meredyth when a seemingly intractable script problem arose. “He would take it home and his wife, you know, is a very fine writer . . . and the next morning, he would come back, he’d say, ‘I know what we’re going to do.’ And we’d just bang into it and it was as smooth as silk.”

Curtiz (at far left with cigarette) directs the “Harrigan” number with Cagney & Joan Leslie with Chester Clute and George Tobias (back to camera)
Curtiz (at far left with cigarette) directs the “Harrigan” number with Cagney & Joan Leslie with Chester Clute and George Tobias (back to camera).

For Curtiz, working with Cagney was the equivalent of having a co-director. For the charming “Harrigan” number, Cagney walked it through with Joan Leslie. After glancing at Curtiz, who nodded, Cagney did a run-through followed by the first take that Curtiz immediately printed.

Curtiz conceived the remarkable staging of the “It’s a Grand Old Flag” number, writing to Hal Wallis: “This seems to me to be the most important number in the show, particularly now in view of the declaration of war. It must be sold, not only musically, but also with a dramatic setting that brings out its theme and spirit. I have discussed this idea with Bill Cagney and he approves of it. Carl Weyl has built a miniature and drawn sketches to illustrate my plan, and I can best show these to you on the stage.”  He sold it after rehearsing the rousing number in front of an audience that included Wallis and the brothers Warner. It remains the most memorable sequence in the film.

Curtiz also repurposed the “Over There” number so there would be an audience of soldiers singing with Cagney and Frances Langford. He worked out Jerry Cohan’s deathbed scene by Walter Huston after entreating the Epstein brothers to “give me the tear in the eye” sentiment. The brothers eventually complied, writing what Julius believed was pure hokum: “We thought they’d never use it. But they did and it was one of the best scenes in the film.” All told, the director submitted seven different scenes to William Cagney to include in the picture while changing and adding additional bits of business.

The behind-the-scenes acrimony was unseen by most of the cast and crew, but both Cagneys became fed up with the incessant infighting. After Wallis quarreled with Bill Cagney about setting up a third unit to film the prologue, James Cagney notified Warner Bros. that he was exercising the “happiness clause” in his 1938 contract and would be leaving the studio at the end of the picture. Jack Warner and Wallis quickly backed off and tried everything they could to persuade him to change his mind.

An immediate benefit of Cagney’s resignation was that his brother was permitted to function as an actual producer for the balance of the picture rather than as a Hal Wallis sock puppet. Jack Warner’s ritualistic hounding of Curtiz over the production schedule receded. The film proceeded in comparative harmony; it was one of Curtiz’s happiest experiences at Warner Bros.

Yankee Doodle Dandy wrapped on April 27, 1942. Curtiz brought the film in at a relatively economical $1,532,000. Jack Warner launched the biggest publicity campaign in the studio’s history. The gala May 29 premiere in New York at the Warner Hollywood Theater doubled as a war bond drive. It was the first day of what would be an incredible nineteen-week run at the Hollywood, which totaled more than $323,000 in ticket sales. Yankee Doodle Dandy would gross more than $6 million on its initial release as Hollywood’s second-most profitable film of the year.  The reviews were all raves. Curtiz would remember the debut of Yankee Doodle Dandy as one of the high points of his career.  Despite his reputation for being difficult, the director demonstrated a deftness that kept both his bosses and the star of the picture happy while turning out a memorable hit picture. Michael Curtiz would characterize Yankee Doodle Dandy in his typically mangled syntax as “the pinochle of my career.”

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– Alan K. Rode for Classic Movie Hub

Writer and film scholar Alan K. Rode is the author of Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film and Charles McGraw: Film Noir Tough Guy. He is the host and producer of the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs, California, and director-treasurer of the Film Noir Foundation.

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Silents are Golden: Paving The Way For The Movies–A Nod To Victorian Film Pioneers

Paving The Way For The Movies — A Nod To Victorian Film Pioneers

When you study the origins of film, it almost seems to have begun by magic. For centuries there was painting and sculpture. By the 19th century there was also photography. And near the start of the 20th century, suddenly, there were films. But “moving pictures” didn’t just spring out of thin air, of course. They were not only the descendants of magic lantern shows, but they were the result of many experiments and breakthroughs by a variety of individuals, who persisted through technical difficulties, patent wars, and the use of some pretty wacky Victorian machines.

The first inklings of what would become “film” are usually credited to Eadweard Muybridge (who spelled his first name that way on purpose). The very picture of a somber Victorian professor, Muybridge was actually a creative and at times erratic individual who became deeply interested in professional photography in the 1860s. (His personal life was quite the doozy–try looking up “Muybridge” and “homicide” if you’re curious.) He specialized in landscape photos, travelling far into the Old West to capture its wide open spaces.

Eadweard Muybridge

He also specialized in incredible beards.

In 1872, he was asked to help settle a much-discussed debate that had been raging from sea to shining sea — when a horse was trotting, was there an instant when it had all four feet off the ground?! (Those 1870s debate topics, they were intense.) Muybridge decided to photograph trotting and running horses by lining up a series of cameras attached to threads stretched across a racetrack. These snapped photos when a running horse triggered the threads. After a few years of increasingly sophisticated experiments, Muybridge took his photography show on the road and gave lectures on the topic with the help of his zoopraxiscope — a kind of fast-working early slide projector. One journalist described it as a “magic lantern run mad.” (And yes, his photos of running horses with all four hooves off the ground did settle the debate.)

One man who was directly inspired by Muybridge’s experiments was Étienne-Jules Marey, the maker of many delicate and beautiful machines that measured heartbeats and muscle movement. An admirer of Muybridge, Marey wanted to take similar, rapid-succession photos of birds in flight. In 1882 he devised a “chronophotographic gun,” a camera that could take 12 photos per second on one image plate and which looked very much like a chunky, cumbersome gun. His experiments in Naples amused the locals, who dubbed the man walking around all day aiming at birds without actually shooting them “the silly from Posillipo.”

They may have had a point.

The Parisian Charles-Émile Reynaud invented the praxinoscope in 1877, where a strip of figures on the inside of a spinning cylinder blended together to create an apparently moving image. Initially devised as a child’s toy, he would continually tweak his invention and eventually figure out how to hook it up to a projector. By the 1890s he had fine-tuned his creation to the point where he could put on “Pantomimes Lumineuses,” or moving picture shows which used colored animation on moving bands (similar to film strips). In later years Reynaud would become penniless, throwing his animations into the Seine not long before passing away in a hospice in 1918. Little did he know that one day Walt Disney himself would pay him homage on an episode of the Disneyland T.V. show.

One of the world’s oldest “movie posters.”

Another key figure in cinema’s development was Ottomar Anschütz, a photographer who quickly gained an esteemed reputation thanks to his work in chronophotography in the 1880s (a bit different from Marey’s multiple images) as well as his invention of a shutter that took photos at 1/1000 of a second. He invented the tachyscope, which had a glass disk printed with images viewed by spinning a crank, and eventually upgraded it to an electrotachyscope, which used two discs and a projector. Although his work was widely admired (he even worked for the family of Kaiser Wilhelm II), he was such a perfectionist that when celluloid film strips came into vogue he ended his chronophotographic work, convinced that the new medium produced images of slightly inferior quality.

The 1880s in general was the decade when cinema made its most rapid strides. Inventors were taking notice of all the new glass, brass and wood cameras and projectors and were rapidly devising machines of their own. Thomas Edison and his assistant W. K.-L. Dickson were inspired by Muybridge, Marey and Anschütz to do experiments with “moving pictures” themselves, resulting in the invention of the kinetoscope around 1891. Edison was probably the most instrumental figure in making moving pictures a profitable business — he and his team were responsible for creating the “Black Maria,” the first film studio in the world.

Humble beginnings.

George Eastman figured out how to replace the usual glass plates with new, emulsion-coated paper strips in 1885. In 1888 inventor Louis Le Prince created a single-lens camera capable of recording images on Eastman’s film. His experimental shots, Roundhay Garden Scene and Leeds Bridge (both 1888), are the very oldest films that exist today, earning Le Prince the title of “Father of Cinematography.” He beat William Friese Greene to that title by a year — in 1889 Greene invented a camera that could take 4-5 frames per second on paper film. However, Le Prince’s camera was more efficient.

Brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière were comparatively late to the party when they debuted their cinématographe in 1895. However, they not only had the inspired idea of adding perforations to their film strips — so that a mechanism could “grab” the film and advance it through the camera more easily –  but they were among the earliest to give public demonstrations of their work. While the brothers (amazingly) considered film little more than a novelty, one man who attended one of their demonstrations recognized its artist power immediately — Georges Méliès.

Little did the Lumières know what they had unleashed.

While it’s easy to argue over which inventor receives the most credit for the creation of the cinema — Muybridge often gets cited, as does Edison, and I’m a Le Prince gal myself — in reality it was an informal group effort with many inventors studying and building upon each other’s ideas, lens by lens, and boxy camera by boxy camera. It took dreamers like Georges Méliès and other visionary directors to take film to the place where it is today, but the great inventors of the past will always have a massive share in its legacy.

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Note: To read more about these and other Victorian film pioneers, I highly recommend paying a visit to the very thorough and well-researched Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema site — a very helpful source for this article!

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–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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Vitaphone View: Finding Early Technicolor Films

 

Finding Early Technicolor Films

Most film buffs know how unstable nitrate film is, and how over 90% of black and white motion pictures made before 1930 have decomposed and no longer survive.  The survival rate of films made in the early 2-color Technicolor process is even lower.

The superb and award winning book The Dawn of Technicolor 1915-1935 by James Layton and David  Pierce chronicles that attempts to create color in film was a long and difficult journey. The first feature in the red/green two-color Technicolor process was The Toll of the Sea (1922) and starred Anna May Wong.  Few other all-color silent features were made, with Douglas Fairbanks Sr.’s The Black Pirate (UA/1926) being the best known. Technicolor was largely relegated to brief inserts in otherwise black and white features such as The Merry Widow (1928)  and The Phantom of the Opera (1925). Keaton’s Battling Butler (1926) opened with a brief Technicolor scene, but soon reverted to monochrome. Shorts — especially travelogues and fashion shows — used color more often.

Recently found Technicolor fragment, lasting about 45 seconds, from SALLY (WB:'29). Ford Sterling (l) and Joe E. BrownA recently found Technicolor fragment, lasting about 45 seconds, from Sally (WB/’29). Ford Sterling (l) and Joe E. Brown.

With the coming of sound, the Technicolor Corporation saw its stock and usage rise dramatically. Because of the technology’s use in many sound musicals, more Technicolor footage was used in 1929-30 than in the previous fifteen years combined.  The demand strained Technicolor’s production and quality control capabilities, and sometime less than stellar prints were produced. Technical quality eventually improved by 1931, but by then the Depression led studios to cut back drastically on its use.

But during the peak Technicolor season of 1929-30, audiences could enjoy such all-Technicolor  features as On With The Show (the first all color/all-talkie feature), Gold Diggers of Broadway, and The Rogue Song. Other musicals used key scenes in Technicolor, as in Married in Hollywood, Show of Shows (actually almost 80% color), and Show Girl in Hollywood. Use of color dropped precipitously from 1931-33, with Warner Bros using up its contractual commitment to buy color stock from Technicolor mainly in shorts and just three features. With the perfection of three-strip Technicolor in 1932, studios again began using color more frequently as the process vividly reproduced the entire spectrum.

Technicolor fragment from ON WITH THE SHOW (WB:'29), the first all color talkie featureTechnicolor fragment from On With the Show (WB/’29), the first all color talkie feature.

Fast forward to the mid-1950’s. The Technicolor Corporation was holding the original nitrate negatives of  hundreds of two-color titles, mainly from the 1929-32 period. They notified the studios that they needed to pay for them or else they would be discarded. The major studios saw little need for negatives made in the now defunct process. Black and white negatives were kept in some cases but otherwise the color matrices were discarded.  This explains why so much Technicolor material from the early days of sound no longer exists.

Some prints of 1929-30 musicals were still “out there” however, surviving from their original theatrical runs. It fell to dedicated collectors and committed studio personnel to help find and restore whatever Technicolor footage might turn up.

Sometimes — as with the eye-popping all Technicolor 1930 Paramount musical Follow Thru – a complete 35mm nitrate print evaded the ravages of time in great shape, and needed little restoration before it was preserved by UCLA.  Eddie Cantor’s Whoopee! (1930) was found complete — but in an overseas archive. And as reported in my earlier blog, Australia produced some of the most important Technicolor re-discoveries since Hollywood prints sent there for original runs were too expensive to return.  As such, long lost color material for Gold Diggers of Broadway, Mamba and the long-lost Three Stooges color short Hello Pop! were all found “down under”.

Technicolor fragment, lasting under a minute, recently found in England. Pictured from SHOW OF SHOWS (WB:'29) Arte Frank Fay (l) and comic Sid SilversAnother Technicolor fragment, lasting under a minute, recently found in England. Pictured from Show of Shows (WB/’29) Arte Frank Fay (l) and comic Sid Silvers.

The all-Technicolor $2 million Universal production of 1930’s King of Jazz had survived in a pathetically washed out, truncated color print. The faded survivor bore little resemblance to the film’s  crisp and lush initial release. In 2012, a complete original 35mm nitrate print of King of Jazz was found by The Library of Congress. It was extremely fragile, but all there. The Layton and Pierce book cover the details of the film’s restoration, which took several years. Universal’s efforts produced, unquestionably, the most beautiful early Technicolor restoration to date.  Colors are bright and true to the process, and none of the fuzziness seen in some other color films of the period is evident. Screenings worldwide have evoked sighs and applause from audiences.

Recently, and entire, truly beautiful, Technicolor reel of the “Sisters” number from Show of Shows was located at the British Film Institute (BFI). While this footage had survived in black and white, seeing it in vibrant two-color Technicolor is a revelation. In the number, multiple actresses who (mostly) were actual sisters,  appear.

SISTERS Still from Show of Shows Dolores and Helene Costello 1929Dolores and Helene Costello in the “Sisters” number of Show of Shows (WB/’29). A beautiful Technicolor 35mm nitrate print was found at the British Film Institute several years ago.

In 2015 and again in 2016, some more amazing,  but also frustrating, Technicolor discoveries surfaced. At a small British museum, two cookie tins with 45-60 second 35mm Technicolor fragments of scenes from 1929 Warner Bros musicals were found. We believe the source of these brief survivors is from children’s toy projectors, which incredibly included some highly flammable strips of film for the kiddies to play with! The fragments were mute, as the sound was on a separate Vitaphone disk. Represented in this cache of discoveries were scenes from On With The Show, Sally, Gold Diggers of Broadway, and Show of Shows. With few exceptions, these fragments were previously unknown to survive in color.

The Vitaphone Project is now working with Warner Bros to repatriate and preserve this footage, and to ultimately get the color footage incorporated into the surviving otherwise black and white features.

With more film rediscoveries in the past five years than the previous thirty, we can only hope that Technicolor continues to be an important part of that exciting trend.

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– Ron Hutchinson, Founder of The Vitaphone Project, for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Ron’s Vitaphone View articles here.

Ron is widely recognized as one of the country’s foremost film historians, with special emphasis on the period covering the transition to sound (1925-30) and early attempts to add sound to film. As the founder of The Vitaphone Project, he has worked with Warner Brothers, UCLA, LOC and private collectors worldwide to find previously lost soundtrack discs and restore early sound shorts. Ron’s unique knowledge has  been sourced in over 25 books as well as documentaries for PBS and TCM, and commentary for “The Jazz Singer” DVD boxed set. He was awarded the National Society of Film Critics “Film Heritage Honor” for his work in film preservation and discoveries, and was the presenter of rare Vitaphone shorts at the 2016 TCM Film Festival. For more information you can visit the Vitaphone Project website or Facebook Group.

And, if you’re interested in exploring some of these newly discovered shorts and rarities, you can pick them up on DVD via amazon:

               

Posted in Posts by Ron Hutchinson, Vitaphone View | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Kino Lorber Film Noir (Facebook/Blog) Blu-Ray/DVD Giveaway Contest (November)

Celebrating Noirvember All-Month Long with Kino Lorber!
DVD/Blu-Ray Giveaway, Winner’s Choice of 4 Classics

Okay, now it’s time for the Facebook/Blog version of our Kino Lorber Classic Horror Giveaway Contest! This time we’ll be giving away two Film Noir Classics via Facebook and this blog, courtesy of Kino LorberEach of our two winners will be able to choose their prize from the four titles listed below. And, remember, we’re also giving away EIGHT MORE DVDs/Blu-Rays via Twitter this month as well, so please feel free to enter that contest too…

In order to qualify to win this prize via this Facebook/Blog contest giveaway, you must complete the below entry task by Saturday, December 2 at 10PM ESTWe will pick our two winners via a random drawing and announce them on this Blog the day after the contest ends (Sunday December 3rd).

If you’re also on Twitter, please feel free to visit us at  @ClassicMovieHub for additional giveaways — because we’ll be giving away EIGHT MORE Kino Classics there as well! PS: you don’t even need a twitter account to enter! (Click here for twitter contest details)

Dr. Middleton (George Sanders) informs Harvey Bone (Laird Cregar) of the terrible secret that he's kept hidden away.

George Sanders and Laird Cregar, Hangover Square

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ENTRY TASK to be completed by Saturday, December 2 at 1oPM EST —

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

THE QUESTION:
What is it about classic film noir that appeals to you most? 

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…

…..

Here are the titles up for grabs:

               

The Man Who Died Twice (1958): Blu-Ray or DVD available. An innocent woman must survive a murderous reign of terror by hired killers, drug lords and vice kings of the underworld. A nightclub singer (Vera Ralston, I, Jane Doe) becomes mixed up in illegal drug dealings and the mob shortly after witnessing her husband’s supposed death and the murder of a couple of narcotics agents. Republic Pictures veteran Joseph Kane (Dakota) directed this suspenseful film noir gloriously shot in black-and-white and cinemascope by Jack A. Marta (Framed, Duel) with a screenplay by Richard C. Sarafian (Vanishing Point). This exciting crime thriller co-starred Rod Cameron (TV’s State Trooper and City Detective) and Mike Mazurki (Murder, My Sweet). Brand New HD Master from a 4K Scan.

The Scar (1948):  Blu-Ray or DVD available. Originally released as Hollow Triumph, this top-notch film noir suspense thriller gave actor Paul Henreid (Casablanca) a chance to trade in his romantic image for not one, but two sinister performances. After a botched hit on a casino, gambler John Muller (Henreid) has nowhere to run and with a band of killers hired by a rival mobster on his trail, he’s mistaken for the psychiatrist Dr. Bartok, his dead ringer. He decides to kill Bartok and impersonate him, but it’s not long before the doctor’s beautiful secretary (Joan Bennett, The Woman in the Window, Scarlet Street) is on to him and Muller discovers the doctor had a few of his skeletons in the closet. Written by film noir veteran Daniel Fuchs (Criss Cross, Panic in the Streets), beautifully shot by the great John Alton (He Walked by Night) and wonderfully directed by Steve Sekely (The Day of the Triffids). Newly Re-mastered in HD.

Hangover Square (1945): BLUE-RAY only. From the star and director of The Lodger – The great Laird Cregar (I Wake Up Screaming) gives a staggering nightmarish performance as an amnesiac London composer George Harvey Bone, who learns that a murder occurred during one of his blackouts and starts to worry that he himself may be the murderer. Although a Scotland Yard report proves his innocence, Bone’s murderous streak reveals itself when a pub singer with ulterior motives betrays him. Featuring glorious black-and-white photography by Oscar-winner Joseph LaShelle (Laura) and startling direction by Hollywood veteran John Brahm (The Undying Monster). Also starring Linda Darnell (The Mark of Zorro), George Sanders (Witness to Murder), Glenn Langan (Dragonwyck), Faye Marlowe (The Spider) and Alan Napier (Driftwood), Hangover Square is a psychological chiller you won’t soon forget. Brand New 4K Restoration.

Daisy Kenyon (1947): BLUE-RAY only. Joan Crawford (Mildred Pierce), Dana Andrews (Boomerang) and Henry Fonda (The Ox-Bow Incident) deliver dazzling performances in this highly polished and slick love triangle directed by the great Otto Preminger (Laura). Daisy Kenyon (Crawford) is a lovelorn commercial artist caught in a romantic triangle with two men – one she loves but cannot have and one whose love she cannot return. While in an emotionally draining love affair with married attorney Dan O’Mara (Andrews), who refuses to leave his wife, she meets returning army sergeant Peter Lapham (Fonda) – a decent and gentle man who instantly falls in love with her. Although she carries a torch for Dan, she knows Peter will give her the secure life she desires and she agrees to marry him. But when Dan divorces his wife, Daisy is suddenly torn between her obligations… and her passions. Featuring stunning black-and-white cinematography by legendary award-winning cinematographer Leon Shamroy (Leave Her to Heaven, The King and I, Cleopatra).

hollow triumph, the scar 1948 paul henreid joan bennettPaul Henreid and Joan Bennett, The Scar

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You can visit Kino Lorber on their website, on Twitter at @KinoLorber or on Facebook.

Please note that only Continental United States (excluding Alaska, Hawaii, and the territory of Puerto Rico) entrants are eligible.

And — BlogHub members ARE eligible to win if they live within the Continental United States (as noted above).

For complete rules, click here.

And if you can’t wait to win any of these titles, you can click on the images below to purchase on amazon :)

Good Luck!

–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

Posted in Contests & Giveaways, Posts by Annmarie Gatti | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story, DVD Giveaway Facebook/Blog Book (November)

Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story
DVD Giveaway #2

Okay, now it’s time for the Facebook/Blog version of our “Harold and Lillian” Giveaway Contest! This time we’ll be giving away one copy of the DVD via Facebook and this blog, courtesy of Kino Lorber. And, remember, we’re also giving away FOUR MORE DVDs  via our Twitter contest this month as well, so please feel free to enter that contest too…

In order to qualify to win this prize via this Facebook/Blog contest giveaway, you must complete the below entry task by Saturday, December at 10PM ESTWe will pick our winner via a random drawing and announce him or her on Facebook and here on this Blog the day after the contest ends (Sunday December 3).

If you’re also on Twitter, please feel free to visit us at  @ClassicMovieHub for additional giveaways — because we’ll be giving away FOUR MORE copies of the DVD there as well! PS: you don’t even need a twitter account to enter! (Click here for twitter contest details)

Harold and Lillian horizontal

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ENTRY TASK to be completed by Saturday, December 2 at 1oPM EST —

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

THE QUESTION:
What is it about the movie subject that appeals to you most? 

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…

…..

About the movie: Movie fans know the work of Harold and Lillian Michelson, even if they don’t recognize the names. Working largely uncredited in the Hollywood system, storyboard artist Harold and film researcher Lillian left an indelible mark on classics by Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, Mel Brooks, Stanley Kubrick, Roman Polanski and many more. Through an engaging mix of love letters, film clips and candid conversations with Harold and Lillian, Danny DeVito, Mel Brooks, Francis Ford Coppola and others, this deeply engaging documentary from Academy Award®-nominated director Daniel Raim offers both a moving portrait of a marriage and a celebration of the unknown talents that help shape the films we love.

…..

You can visit Kino Lorber on their website, on Twitter at @KinoLorber or on Facebook.

Please note that only Continental United States (excluding Alaska, Hawaii, and the territory of Puerto Rico) entrants are eligible.

And — BlogHub members ARE eligible to win if they live within the Continental United States (as noted above).

For complete rules, click here.

For complete rules, click here.

And if you can’t wait to win any of these titles, you can click on the image below to purchase on amazon :)

Good Luck!

…..

–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Noir Nook: Two Fab Film Noirs

Noir Nook:  Two Fab Film Noirs

In last month’s column, I offered up the first in a series of columns on low-budget, B-level films noir that nobody ever talks about. This time around, I’m taking a look at films that are not quite in the “I’ve-never-even-heard-of-this-movie” category, but they also aren’t the first noirs that come to mind when you think of the best of the era. I’m shining the spotlight on two of these noirs that are first-rate and appreciated by many, but don’t often get the raves afforded to the better-known features.

1. Johnny Eager (1941)

Johnny Eager poster

This glossy MGM noir stars Robert Taylor in the title role of a slick ex-con who appears to have gone straight, by way of his job as a taxicab driver, but who’s really just up to his old tricks. He’s actually the top man in a gambling syndicate who’s working behind the scenes to open a dog track, and coolly bulldozing anyone who gets in his way. That includes stone-hearted District Attorney John Benson Farrell (Edward Arnold), whose sociology student daughter Lisbeth (Lana Turner) meets and falls hard for Johnny. When Farrell files an injunction to stop Johnny’s dog track plans, Johnny craftily uses Lisbeth as ammunition in his war against the D.A.

Two Fab Film Noirs Johnny Eager,  Van Heflin, Patricia Dane, Robert TaylorVan Heflin, Patricia Dane and Robert Taylor in Johnny Eager

Others in the story include Johnny’s right-hand man, Jeff Hartnett (Van Heflin, in an Oscar-winning role), characterized by his addiction to alcohol, his high level of intelligence, and his almost reluctant devotion to Johnny; Julio (Paul Stewart with an Italian accent), one of Johnny’s underlings, who proves to be more trouble than he’s worth; and Johnny’s long-suffering girlfriend Garnet (Patricia Dane), who gets the heave-ho when Johnny discovers that Lisbeth is more to him than just a means to an end.

Trivia tidbit:  The director of the film was Mervyn LeRoy, who helmed nearly 80 films – including such well-known features as Gold Diggers of 1933, Random Harvest, and Mister Roberts – but Johnny Eager was his only noir.

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2. Sudden Fear (1952)

Sudden Fear posterThis film has long held a special place in my heart – the first time I saw it was at the Music Box Theater in Chicago, and I instantly fell in love. It stars Joan Crawford as wealthy playwright Myra Hudson and Jack Palance as Lester Blane, the stage actor with whom she falls in love and marries. For a time, the union appears to be idyllic – Myra walks around with perpetual stars in her eyes and Lester certainly seems devoted enough. That is, until he runs into his old flame Irene, played by Gloria Grahame. (Not that you can blame him. Who could resist Gloria Grahame?)

Sudden Fear (1952), Gloria Grahame, Jack PalanceGloria Grahame and Jack Palance in Sudden Fear

Once Lester and Irene reconnect, all marital bets are off, and things take a turn for the worse when Lester discovers (he thinks) that Myra plans to leave him a mere pittance in her will. So what’s the solution? Kill Myra, of course! But Lester and Irene didn’t reckon on one little stumbling block to their best-laid plans: Myra herself.

Trivia tidbit: Sudden Fear marked the big-screen debut of Touch Conners – who later changed his name to Mike Connors and was best known for the starring role in the popular television series Mannix. (Incidentally, Connors lived until January 2017, when he passed at the age of 91.)

Stay tuned for more fab films noir in future columns!

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– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub

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:

 

Posted in Noir Nook, Posts by Karen Burroughs Hannsberry | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Film Noir Review: 10 Classic Film Noir-Horror Crossovers

10 Classic Film Noir-Horror Crossovers

Horror and film noir have always been kindred spirits. The bleakest of movie genres, they’ve spent decades exploring the dirty crevices of humanity and projecting their findings on the big screen. They have their cosmetic differences of course, with noir fixating on urban decay and horror reveling in the supernatural, but their thematic similarities make it so that when they do cross paths, it is a match made in heaven hell.

So, as you unpack the remnants of your Halloween candy, Classic Movie Hub has decided to bring you ten horror-noir crossovers that’ll make you hang up your fedora and think twice about answering your door come nightfall.

1. The Leopard Man (RKO Pictures, 1943)

Teresa stumbles upon the escaped leopard as she rushes to get home.

Teresa (Margaret Landry) stumbles upon the escaped leopard as she rushes to get home.

Val Lewton’s influence on horror cannot be overstated. His films revolutionized the genre, from his moody, gothic aesthetic to the notion that sometimes the scariest creatures are the ones we can’t see. Cat People (1942) and I Walked With a Zombie (1943) have been praised for their unnerving complexity, and rightfully so, but the film I’ve chosen for this list is 1943’s The Leopard Man.

The third and final collaboration between writer/producer Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur, The Leopard Man is a marvelous red herring of a movie. We’re led to believe that an escaped leopard has been killing innocent people in New Mexico, only to be have the rug pulled out from under us and replaced with a darker, more disturbing truth. I won’t spoil the twist, but rest assured that it’s a darn good one.

Based on a novel by pulp author Cornell Woolrich, The Leopard Man is arguably the scariest of Lewton’s works– a masterful balancing act of fear and blinding paranoia.

2. Hangover Square (20th Century Fox, 1945)

Dr. Middleton (George Sanders) informs Harvey Bone (Laird Cregar) of the terrible secret that he's kept hidden away.

Dr. Middleton (George Sanders) informs Harvey Bone (Laird Cregar) of the terrible secret that he’s kept hidden away.

Hangover Square gleefully drops us into the shoes of its unstable protagonist, Harvey Bone. Played with magnificent bluster by Laird Cregar, Bone is a composer who suffers from blackout migraines– or so his therapist (George Sanders) tells him. As we come to learn, these blackouts act as a coping mechanism whenever Bone gives in to his deviant and murderous desires. It’s a classically noirish method of denying harsh realities.

Once Bone learns of his double life, however, he promptly embraces his deviant nature and goes full serial killer, while the audience is dragged along for the ride. The intrusive camerawork does a great job of getting us into Bone’s headspace, sharing in his fragile, constantly shifting state, and even opening up some room to feel sympathy for him before his inevitable demise.

Said demise, a fiery parade of music and mayhem, would go onto inspire the creation of horror icon Sweeney Todd.

3. The Spiral Staircase (Universal Pictures, 1945)

Helen (Dorothy Maguire) realizes there may be a killer at the top of the spiral staircase.

Helen (Dorothy Maguire) realizes there may be a killer at the top of the spiral staircase.

A gothic offering from director Robert Siodmak, The Spiral Staircase is sure to frighten anyone who’s left home alone on a dark night. The film is about a mute housekeeper named Helen (Dorothy Maguire), who’s hired to care for a labyrinthine home in the English countryside. The house initially provides a peaceful silence, but that gets shattered once Helen discovers she’s not alone. There’s a serial killer on the loose, and it appears that he’s chosen Helen as his next victim…

Those familiar with Siodmak’s other works (Phantom Lady, The Killers) should know what they’re getting into here: evocative storytelling, airtight pacing, and crisp black-and-white imagery. The film has a nimble quality to it, playing off of Helen’s frazzled mind state as she searches the grounds, knowing each shadowy corner could be her last. It makes for thoroughly antsy viewing.

Again, I’d recommend watching the film in the company of others. Especially if any spiral staircases are nearby.

4. Decoy (Monogram Pictures, 1946)

Left to Right: Dr. Craig (Herbert Rudley), Margot Shelby (Jean Gillie), and Jim Vincent (Edward Norris) attempt to bring their boss (Robert Armstrong) back from the dead.

Left to Right: Dr. Craig (Herbert Rudley), Margot Shelby (Jean Gillie), and Jim Vincent (Edward Norris) attempt to bring their boss (Robert Armstrong) back from the dead.

The gloriously mean-spirited Decoy might seem like a traditional film noir on the surface: femme fatale Margot Shelby (Jean Gillie) attempts to cheat a kindly doctor and her gangster boyfriend on her way to the top. But things take a decidedly supernatural turn when the gangster boyfriend– who hid a bundle of loot in the desert — is captured and sentenced to the gas chamber.

Not one to give up easily, Margot concocts a genuinely batty scheme that sees her seduce the doctor, steal her boyfriend’s corpse, and, well, attempt to bring him back to life. The craziest part is that it actually works.

The reanimation sequence brings this film noir to a screeching halt, only to have it start up again and hop on the fast track to horror central. The betrayal and brutality that follows makes Dr. Frankenstein’s ordeal look positively quaint by comparison. A career high for both Gillie and her husband at the time, director Jack Bernhard.

5. Secret Beyond the Door (Universal Pictures, 1947)

Mark Lamphere (Michael Redgrave) gets a bit too carried away with his new bride Celia (Joan Bennett).

Mark Lamphere (Michael Redgrave) gets a bit too carried away with his new bride Celia (Joan Bennett).

Monsters and murderers are certainly frightening, though sometimes, the biggest threat can come from those close to us. Perhaps even from a spouse. 1947’s Secret Beyond the Door explores this idea through the perverse union of Celia (Joan Bennett) and her new husband Mark (Michael Redgrave). Charming enough on the surface, Mark practices a rather morbid hobby behind closed doors: he likes to build exact replicas of rooms where notorious murders have taken place.

Needless to say, Celia is a little unnerved by this. Especially when Mark explains that the room’s symmetry can dictate the actions that take place within– a replica of the murderer, so to speak. It’s all very hammy and verbose, but director Fritz Lang knows how to generate unspoken tension, and each scene builds upon the next like a terrifying game of jenga. You begin to worry about Celia being in the same house, let alone the same marriage.

Secret Beyond the Door sucks you into its domestic nightmare, and may even have you glancing at your spouse a bit different afterwards.

6. The Amazing Mr. X (Eagle-Lion Films, 1948)

Left to Right: Christine Faber (Lynn Bari), Alexis (Turhan Bey), and Janet Burke (Cathy O'Donnell) attempt to contact the dead.

Left to Right: Christine Faber (Lynn Bari), Alexis (Turhan Bey), and Janet Burke (Cathy O’Donnell) attempt to contact the dead.

I’ll admit the title of The Amazing Mr. X doesn’t sound all that promising. Eagle-Lion Studio definitely should have stuck with the film’s UK title, The Spiritualist, which strikes much closer to the heart of its chilling story. It revolves around Christine (Lynn Bari), a mourning widow who hears the voice of her late husband one night on the beach. Determined to learn more, she connects with a mysterious psychic (Turhan Bey) who may or may not be playing her for a sucker.

This is a cheap film, there’s no two ways about it, but the dreamy cinematography of John Alton gives each scene a sensation of uncertainty. We don’t know if Christine is imagining her ghostly encounters or simply falling prey to suggestion in her fragile state. Even better, the story runs us ragged from one possible answer to the next, until we’re left utterly baffled in the final act. It’s a fun way to spend 80 minutes.

Those who enjoy the film should also check out 1948’s Night Has a Thousand Eyes, a similarly coarse look at the world of psychics and fortune tellers.

7. Alias Nick Beal (Paramount Pictures, 1949)

Joseph Foster (Thomas Mitchell) gets bamboozled by satanic salesman Nick Beal (Ray Milland).

Joseph Foster (Thomas Mitchell) gets bamboozled by satanic salesman Nick Beal (Ray Milland).

A retelling of the Faust myth with guns and fedoras, Alias Nick Beal is another forgotten gem of the 1940s. Ray Milland plays the titular character, a smooth talker who strikes a business deal with a bumbling district attorney (Thomas Mitchell) to clean up the streets. Of course, the deal comes at a great price, and the district attorney is left scrambling to escape his evil predicament before its too late.

What I like most about Alias Nick Beal is that it tackles its source material with some nuance. Milland is definitely playing a version of Satan here, and wonderfully, I might add, but the film doesn’t hammer us over the head with it. Beal’s creepiest moments are often the ones that draw little attention to themselves, like when he’s first seen exiting a mysterious fog, or the way he simply appears in a scene as opposed to entering through a door.

It may not be as profound as some of the other inclusions on this list, but Alias Nick Beal (also released as Strange Temptation) is still worth checking out.

8. Dark City (Paramount Pictures, 1950)

Danny Haley (Charlton Heston) attempts to ward off the attacks of boogeyman killer Mr. Vincent (Mike Mazurki).

Danny Haley (Charlton Heston) attempts to ward off the attack of boogeyman killer Mr. Vincent (Mike Mazurki).

1950’s Dark City, like Decoy before it, took a noir premise and twisted it to the point of being unrecognizable. The film revolves around a gang of card sharks (Charlton Heston, Ed Begley, Jack Webb) and the fallout of one of their marks committing suicide. Initially, the police look to be their biggest problem, but then the mark’s mysterious brother comes into town looking for revenge– brutal, otherworldly revenge.

To be clear, we’re never told if this vengeful figure, played by Mike Mazurki, is meant to imply a supernatural presence. But we certainly get allusions to it, in the way he taunts and terrifies members of the gang before killing them. His face constantly remains hidden in these scenes, further shrouding whether or not there is humanity to his actions.

That’s not even getting into the film’s terrifying climax, which plays out like a direct precursor to John Carpenter’s slasher classic Halloween (1978). For a more detailed breakdown of Dark City, click here.

9. Angel Heart (Tri-Star Pictures, 1987)

Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) attempts to solve the mystery of the occult in 1950s New Orleans.

Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) attempts to solve the mystery of the occult in 1950s New Orleans.

Far and away the most unsettling film on the list, Angel Heart is a true masterpiece of the macabre. Mickey Rourke plays Harry Angel, a scruffy private detective who’s hired to track down a missing crooner in 1950s New Orleans. It appears the crooner was heavily into the occult, however, which means Angel has to turn over some unsavory rocks and question some deranged characters in his search. When he finally does track the crooner down, it’s a plot twist for the ages.

This film continues to scare the hell out of me. The script’s weblike narrative is masterfully spun, but beyond that, it’s the morbid, forlorn atmosphere that continues to haunt on repeat viewings. Rourke plays the most doomed gumshoe who ever lived, a film noir trope stuck in a flick that turns satanic before its final reel.

Angel Heart is not for the faint of heart, particularly with regards to some of its more graphic content. That being said, few horror-noir combos pack such a deafening punch.

10. Cast a Deadly Spell (HBO, 1991)

Philip Lovecraft (Fred Ward) provides a light for one of Los Angeles' monstrous denizens.

Philip Lovecraft (Fred Ward) provides a light for one of Los Angeles’ monstrous denizens.

What a wacky mystery this is. Cast a Deadly Spell openly mocks horror and film noir, while simultaneously playing into the tropes of both genres. It’s set in a fictional version of 1948, where monsters and mythical beasts exist, zombies are used as cheap labor, and human beings use magic on a regular basis. Except, that is, private detective Philip Lovecraft, played with resigned swagger by Fred Ward.

Lovecraft is a dogged, old fashioned sort, which proves crucial when a tawdry Los Angeles scandal threatens to eradicate the entire planet. I won’t spoil the details– honestly, I wouldn’t even know where to begin– but I will say that Cast a Deadly Spell is loads of eccentric fun. Ward opts to play it straight opposite a gallery of grotesque creatures, and the results land somewhere between Chinatown and Disney’s Halloweentown.

HBO released a Lovecraft sequel in 1994 titled Witch Hunt, though it lacked the playful eccentricity of this film.

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–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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Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story, DVD Giveaway (November)

Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story
DVD Giveaway

“Passionate and Beguiling” -Owen Gleiberman, Variety

We are happy to announce another fun giveaway this month, courtesy of Kino Lorber. This time, we’ll be giving away FOUR copies of the delightful documentary Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story. But please stay tuned because we’ll also be giving away ONE more DVD via a separate Facebook/Blog giveaway this month too…

Harold and Lillian horizontal

In order to qualify to win one of these DVDs via this contest giveaway, you must complete the below entry task by Saturday, December 2 at 10PM EST. However, the sooner you enter, the better chance you have of winning, because we will pick a winner on four different days within the contest period, via random drawings, as listed below… So if you don’t win the first week that you enter, you will still be eligible to win during the following weeks until the contest is over.

  • November 11: Two Winners
  • November 18: Two Winners
  • November 25: Two Winners
  • December 2: Two Winners

We will announce each week’s winner on Twitter @ClassicMovieHub (or this blog, depending how you entered), the day after each winner is picked at 10PM EST — for example, we will announce our first week’s winners on Sunday November 12 at 10PM EST.

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ENTRY TASK (2-parts) to be completed by Saturday, December 2 at 10PM EST — BUT remember, the sooner you enter, the more chances you have to win…

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 “Harold and Lillian” #DVDGiveaway courtesy of @KinoLorber and @ClassicMovieHub

THE QUESTION:
Why do you want to win this DVD? 

*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.

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…

…..

You can visit Kino Lorber on their website, on Twitter at @KinoLorber or on Facebook.

Please note that only Continental United States (excluding Alaska, Hawaii, and the territory of Puerto Rico) entrants are eligible.

And — BlogHub members ARE eligible to win if they live within the Continental United States (as noted above).

For complete rules, click here.

And if you can’t wait to win any of these titles, you can click on the image below to purchase on amazon :)

Good Luck!

–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

Posted in Contests & Giveaways, Posts by Annmarie Gatti | Tagged | 14 Comments

Kino Lorber Noirvember Blu-Ray/DVD Giveaway Promotion (via Twitter)

Celebrating Noirvember with Kino Lorber!
DVD/Blu-Ray Giveaway, Winner’s Choice of 4 Classic Titles

This month we celebrate Noirvember courtesy of our friends at Kino Lorber! We are happy to say that we have EIGHT classic noir DVD or Blu-Rays to giveaway on Twitter this month, winners’ choice of four classics. But please stay tuned because we’ll also be giving away TWO more DVDs/Blu-Rays via a separate Facebook/Blog giveaway this month too. That said, here we go…

Daisy KenyonDana Andrews and Joan Crawford, Daisy Kenyon

In order to qualify to win one of these prizes via this contest giveaway, you must complete the below entry task by Saturday, December 2 at 10PM EST. However, the sooner you enter, the better chance you have of winning, because we will pick two winners on four different days within the contest period, via random drawings, as listed below… So if you don’t win the first week that you enter, you will still be eligible to win during the following weeks until the contest is over.

  • November 11: Two Winners
  • November 18: Two Winners
  • November 25: Two Winners
  • December 2: Two Winners

We will announce each week’s winner on Twitter @ClassicMovieHub (or this blog, depending how you entered), the day after each winner is picked at 10PM EST — for example, we will announce our first week’s winners on Sunday November 12 at 10PM EST.

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Here are the titles up for grabs:

               

The Man Who Died Twice (1958): Blu-Ray or DVD available. An innocent woman must survive a murderous reign of terror by hired killers, drug lords and vice kings of the underworld. A nightclub singer (Vera Ralston, I, Jane Doe) becomes mixed up in illegal drug dealings and the mob shortly after witnessing her husband’s supposed death and the murder of a couple of narcotics agents. Republic Pictures veteran Joseph Kane (Dakota) directed this suspenseful film noir gloriously shot in black-and-white and cinemascope by Jack A. Marta (Framed, Duel) with a screenplay by Richard C. Sarafian (Vanishing Point). This exciting crime thriller co-starred Rod Cameron (TV’s State Trooper and City Detective) and Mike Mazurki (Murder, My Sweet). Brand New HD Master from a 4K Scan.

The Scar (1948):  Blu-Ray or DVD available. Originally released as Hollow Triumph, this top-notch film noir suspense thriller gave actor Paul Henreid (Casablanca) a chance to trade in his romantic image for not one, but two sinister performances. After a botched hit on a casino, gambler John Muller (Henreid) has nowhere to run and with a band of killers hired by a rival mobster on his trail, he’s mistaken for the psychiatrist Dr. Bartok, his dead ringer. He decides to kill Bartok and impersonate him, but it’s not long before the doctor’s beautiful secretary (Joan Bennett, The Woman in the Window, Scarlet Street) is on to him and Muller discovers the doctor had a few of his skeletons in the closet. Written by film noir veteran Daniel Fuchs (Criss Cross, Panic in the Streets), beautifully shot by the great John Alton (He Walked by Night) and wonderfully directed by Steve Sekely (The Day of the Triffids). Newly Re-mastered in HD.

Hangover Square (1945): BLUE-RAY only. From the star and director of The Lodger – The great Laird Cregar (I Wake Up Screaming) gives a staggering nightmarish performance as an amnesiac London composer George Harvey Bone, who learns that a murder occurred during one of his blackouts and starts to worry that he himself may be the murderer. Although a Scotland Yard report proves his innocence, Bone’s murderous streak reveals itself when a pub singer with ulterior motives betrays him. Featuring glorious black-and-white photography by Oscar-winner Joseph LaShelle (Laura) and startling direction by Hollywood veteran John Brahm (The Undying Monster). Also starring Linda Darnell (The Mark of Zorro), George Sanders (Witness to Murder), Glenn Langan (Dragonwyck), Faye Marlowe (The Spider) and Alan Napier (Driftwood), Hangover Square is a psychological chiller you won’t soon forget. Brand New 4K Restoration.

Daisy Kenyon (1947): BLUE-RAY only. Joan Crawford (Mildred Pierce), Dana Andrews (Boomerang) and Henry Fonda (The Ox-Bow Incident) deliver dazzling performances in this highly polished and slick love triangle directed by the great Otto Preminger (Laura). Daisy Kenyon (Crawford) is a lovelorn commercial artist caught in a romantic triangle with two men – one she loves but cannot have and one whose love she cannot return. While in an emotionally draining love affair with married attorney Dan O’Mara (Andrews), who refuses to leave his wife, she meets returning army sergeant Peter Lapham (Fonda) – a decent and gentle man who instantly falls in love with her. Although she carries a torch for Dan, she knows Peter will give her the secure life she desires and she agrees to marry him. But when Dan divorces his wife, Daisy is suddenly torn between her obligations… and her passions. Featuring stunning black-and-white cinematography by legendary award-winning cinematographer Leon Shamroy (Leave Her to Heaven, The King and I, Cleopatra).

hollow triumph, the scar 1948 paul henreid joan bennettPaul Henreid and Joan Bennett, The Scar

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ENTRY TASK (2-parts) to be completed by Saturday, December 2 at 10PM EST — BUT remember, the sooner you enter, the more chances you have to win…

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 Noirvember #DVDGiveaway courtesy of @KinoLorber and @ClassicMovieHub

THE QUESTION:
Which of the above films would you like to win and why? 

*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.

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…

…..

You can visit Kino Lorber on their website, on Twitter at @KinoLorber or on Facebook.

Please note that only Continental United States (excluding Alaska, Hawaii, and the territory of Puerto Rico) entrants are eligible.

And — BlogHub members ARE eligible to win if they live within the Continental United States (as noted above).

For complete rules, click here.

And if you can’t wait to win any of these titles, you can click on the images below to purchase on amazon :)

Good Luck!

–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

Posted in Contests & Giveaways, Posts by Annmarie Gatti | Tagged , | 23 Comments