Saturday, May 14, 2022

Four Favorite Noirs

May 16th is National Classic Movie Day. As has become tradition, Rick at Classic Film and TV Café is hosting his annual blogathon in honor of the day. This year's theme is "Four Favorite Noirs." Click here and dive deeply into more of those shady dames and tortured guys.

When I learned the topic of this year's National Classic Movie Day blogathon, my heart sank a little. There are so many film folks who are really knowledgeable about Film Noir and I am definitely not one of those people.  So if you are, please forgive my limited exposure to the genre. I'm not sure what qualities define a film noir (I always see people asking "is it noir?" so maybe nobody really knows). There seem to be characters who are cold and cruel, yet there are also those who mask a romantic heart with cynicism. Oh, and at least one nutty, improbable thing happens to drive the story forward. Like I said, I'm no expert, but I am game, so here goes:

Too Late for Tears

Finders keepers, right?

I like this film because it is a great justification for driving a convertible in California. Not only is the weather great, but a bag of money might just happen to be tossed into your back seat. Hey, you never know!

Ugh..he's still breathing

I have to figure that Lizabeth Scott is on perfect noir babe and that Dan Duryea fits the bill as the guy who is bad but who underestimates the badness of his female partner in crime. Remember what I just said about a nutty plot device? I mean, Liz and her husband, poor Arthur Kennedy, are taking a ride in their convertible with the top down and a satchel full of money just lands in their back seat. When does that ever happen? The sight of all that dough really brings out the materialistic, faithless minx in little Liz and before you know it, she's involved in murder, blackmail and double crossing. What's a girl (who it turns out was a baddie before we even met her) to do when cornered? 

Every girl needs an assistant

Why accidently fall off her balcony in a fancy Mexican hotel, paving the way for the good guys to find peace and happiness, that's what.

Just in case you were feeling a little sorry for her

Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye

A rule of film noir: never mess with a seriously messed up dame

Oh my, James Cagney's Ralph Cotter makes Cody Jarret look like an honorable guy (didn't he always give his gang their fair share?). Cagney can't help but appear sympathetic, but he has a hard time of it here, especially after swatting Barbara Payton with a wet towel (well, she did throw a knife at him first). 

This film in no way comes close to "White Heat," but it does have some goodies to make it interesting in a I-can't-stop-watching-this-but-need-to-shower-afterwards kind of way.

First of all, it features the notorious Barbara Payton as some broken doll named Holiday. Initially she seems a little too nice for Cagney. She goes along for the ride with him for quite some time because I guess she has a yen for somewhat charming psychopaths. But - and this may be a film noir rule - never cross a crazy dame. How do we know she's crazy? After Cagney beats her with the aforementioned wet towel, she falls into his arms sobbing "I'm so alone!"

Cotter knows he's got one crazy dame here

There is a neat and weird little subplot about a New Age spiritualist church (that practices the psychology of knowledge) and Cagney's desire to seduce an heiress (Helena Carter) associated with the church. 

Cotter has only one philosophy and it ain't this one

He marries the heiress and they spend their wedding night in separate beds. Ah, 1950.....

Movie wedding night 1950 style: not only
separate twin beds, but full PJs, too

As Holiday finally has her fill of Mr. Nasty (his cheating and the fact that he murdered her brother finally push her over the edge), Cagney gets to deliver one more awesome death scene. Nobody died like Cagney. 

A broken champagne bottle is no match for
Holiday and her heater. Bye bye Ralph.

Brighton Rock

Pinkie and Rose

The most hateful character by far in my four chosen films is Pinkie Brown, the small time hood with a heart of pure lead. We never learn anything about his background or what makes him tick. He is simply presented to us, a fully grown psychopath. Pinkie is masterfully realized by Richard Attenborough, but this film adaptation of a Graham Greene story (and play) is downright depressing and fascinating at the same time. Maybe this is another rule of noir?

Set in the English seaside town of Brighton in the 1930s, Pinkie runs a brutal crime gang in a town that is crawling with brutal crime gangs. The Brighton Borough Council was so disturbed by the film's depiction of their city that a disclaimer was added to the beginning of the film stating that the gangs as shown in the story no longer existed (which may or may not have been true). 

Pinkie and Rose spend their wedding day by the sea

Probably the most disturbing part of the story is Pinkie's callous seduction of the innocent Rose. Pinkie's murder victim (a journalist) had a habit of leaving calling cards around places he visited. One such card, which could lead to the discovery of Pinkie's guilt, is found by Rose. In order to stop her from going to the police, Pinkie courts her and marries her.

Pinkie makes his recording: Rose can't wait to hear it

And just in case you are lured into believing that Pinkie has feelings for Rose, he makes this recording for her on their wedding day:

"What you want me to say is I love you. Well, here is the truth. I hate you, you little slut. You make me sick."

Shivers. Naturally, Rose doesn't have a gramophone to play the recording. When she can not go through with Pinkie's suicide pact as the law closes in, Pinkie dies while being pursued by the police and she is left only with the recording. Greene's original story ended with her hearing the recording in its entirety and being crushed by the truth. However, the movie's ending was changed in such a way as to preserve Rose's faith and innocence; she plays the recording and it sticks on the words "I love you." Greene hated it.

The Late Show

This photo of Martha Vickers is on Ira's bureau. What was she
to him? We never learn. It's just a neat noir nod

Not sure if this film could be called a noir - maybe a neo-noir with a New Age twist? But Art Carney's character certainly lives in a noir world that has passed him by and I just love it. 

Ira's partner (Howard Duff) turns up dead and he's on the case.

Carney is Ira Wells, an old school semi-retired detective with a bad gut whose former partner turns up murdered on his doorstep. Ira's quest to get to the bottom of the murder leads him to Margo Sperling, a New Age kook who wants Ira to find her missing cat. I think Margo, in another decade, would have visited that New Age church in "Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye," but I digress. Through a clever series of events, Margo's missing cat and Ira's dead partner are connected.

Ira and Margo work the case

There is a sexy femme fatale and lots of sleazy and quirky characters that fill in the blanks before all questions are answered.

The Femme Fatale

The quirky characters

Margo, played with such spirited joy by Lily Tomlin, begins to care about Ira and reluctantly, Ira starts to warm up to Margo. They are a real odd couple and their developing fondness for one another is at the heart of the film, although the story line is as good as any of the above-mentioned noirs (Robert Benton's screenplay was Oscar nominated). Not to spoil anything, but Margo gets her cat back and she and Ira might be available to crack another case.

Might as well take the ride together

So, I'm still not sure how to define film noir. It is usually black and white, but doesn't have to be, it usually is lower budget, but doesn't have to be, and there is a gorgeous and deadly femme fatale, but that is not necessarily so. I guess it's just a feeling, kind of like art: I'll know it when I see it.


Rick29 said...

You did just fine with highlighting four smart, stylish noirs! I haven't seen Brighton Rock in a very long time, so I need to seek it out again. My favorite of your quartet is Too Late for Tears. Lizabeth Scott is the perfect actress for the noir genre--from her husky voice to her perfectly-coiffed hair to the confident way she holds a gun. I wouldn'y mess with her--even when she's not playing the femme fatale (as in another wonderful noir, Pitfall).

Karen said...

I'm so intrigued by your picks! I absolutely love Too Late for Tears, and although I've only seen Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye once, many years ago, I remember it well and I remember that it's a good one! Several people have recommended Brighton Rock to me -- you can't imagine how eager I am to see it, especially with your write-up added to the recommendations. And I will definitely be on the lookout for The Late Show. I've definitely heard of it, but I've never seen it -- and now I'm adding it to my watchlist! Great write-up!

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Rick. You really made me think hard on these choices. And you made me go back and look at the way Lizabeth holds her gun - that is such a great observation.

FlickChick said...

hank you Karen. This genre is really up your alley, so your words mean a lot to me. "The Late Show," sadly, is not shown very often, but deserves to be.

Marianne said...

Too Late for Tears: can't go wrong with that one, right?! It's one of my all-time favorites, too. I've never worked up the courage to see Brighton Rock. I've heard it's pretty violent, but I guess I'll have to see it at least once. I haven't seen Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye either. I definitely have some catching up to do!

Silver Screenings said...

You've given me three new films to watch. The only one on your list that I've seen is Too Late for Tears, but the rest look utterly fabulous. I'm thanking you in advance.

P.S. I love how you wrote this.

Tynan said...

I've been meaning to watch Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye and some other Barbara Payton Noir, but I haven't gotten around to it. You've made me want to remedy this. I'm intrigued! Thank you.

FlickChick said...

Marianne - it seems everyone is on board for Too late for Tears. And what's not to like? Brighton Rock is a film I am very glad I saw, but not one I could watch too many times.

FlickChick said...

Hi Ruth - as always, thank you so much. Of them all, I hold a special place in my heart for The Late Show. I wish TCM would show it more often.

FlickChick said...

Tynan - Barbara Payton is one of those performers who you know is not the greatest, but you kind of can't take your eyes off of her. She and Cagney a funny little scene where she throws breakfast him (cups, sugar, food, etc.) and she's quite adorable.

The Classic Movie Muse said...

Wow, what a quartet of films! Sadly I haven't seen any of these, but your splendid write-up is telling me I need to fix that.

FlickChick said...

Thank you for stopping by, Muse. I'm a little light on noirs, too, but every now and again I get drawn in.

Hamlette (Rachel) said...

I think you're right that nobody really quite knows what is and isn't noir -- everyone has their own definition of it. I've gotten into some rather fraught "discussions" over some movies I consider noir that others don't, and vice versa, lol.

I haven't seen any of your picks, so I really enjoyed reading about them!

FlickChick said...

Rachel - I'm happy to hear I'm not the only one who can't quite put her finger on it.

Rebecca Deniston said...

Such great stuff here! I'm totally there for "Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye" especially, because Cagney is awesome.

FlickChick said...

Hi Rebecca - ha ha - why do you think I watched it? I could not agree more.


Girl, you naled the assignment!
Too Late for Tears is so iconic, so good - and, yes, it would be great to be driving a convertible and a bag of money just drop in. I still have to see Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye - which is a surprise I haven't seen, because James Cagney is my favorite actor.

Citizen Screen said...

Well, hell, if you didn't introduce me to three films noir I am now dying to see. Thanks for that, doll. The only one of your choices I am familiar with is TOO LATE FOR TEARS, which I very nearly included on my own list. That one is one of the most entertaining noir and, I believe, the best low budget one out there. Alas, I went with more mainstream, popular choices in case newbies wanted to be awed. Terrific entry.


FlickChick said...

Hi Le. Ah, Cagney is my favorite, too. I knew you were a woman of good taste!

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Aurora. I had to really think hard for this one, as I am not really as well versed in noir as so many others are. It's funny, but it seems that you could make an argument that almost any film is noir if you twist the argument into a pretzel.