Noirvember: The Top Ten Noir Films That I Still Haven’t Seen

73

Noirvember is finally here, and I honestly couldn’t be any more excited for it! In the years past I haven’t really been able to dive in and honor what’s slowly but surely become my favorite classic film genre, but this time around I’m hoping to change all of that. I figured that a top five or ten list of my favorite noirs would be just the thing to write about in keeping with my promise to provide a steady stream of original content throughout the rest of the year, but I soon realized that just about every noir-loving blog will be compiling that very same type of list over the course of the month. While of course I think that’s a great thing, as everyone has his or her own differing opinions about which noir films reign supreme, I think now would be a great time for me to devote some time to the movies that I still haven’t been able to sit down and watch for one reason or another. Though I’m no Czar of Noir like my favorite Turner Classic Movies host Eddie Muller, I’ve seen my fair share of murder dramas and crime thrillers. These ten films, however, are the ones that have frustrated me the most because they’ve managed to evade my eyes, and are from what I understand some of the best noirs that I still haven’t been able to see. Of course there are plenty more where this came from, but I’m making it my own personal goal to watch as many of these particular features as I can before the month is over.

10. Thieves’ Highway (1949)

59

I could probably list a million reasons why Thieves’ Highway (1949) has intrigued me ever since I first discovered the film, but most of them honestly have to do with Eddie Muller. Ranked number thirteen on his list of the Top 25 Noir Films, he claims that this was the picture that first got him hooked on noir. From what I can tell it’s no surprise as it seems to comprise of an intriguing chain of events starring none other than Richard Conte, an actor who I’ve adored in everything I’ve seen him in from The Blue Gardenia (1944) to his incredible performance on The Twilight Zone in 1959, and Valentina Cortese, an actress who I’ve been dying to see onscreen. Muller gave the movie special attention in one of the many short features that ran on Turner Classic Movies promoting the premiere of Noir Alley, a special program on the channel that highlights one picture from the genre per week. He talked about one particular steamy scene in which Cortese plays tic-tac-toe across the bare chest of Conte using her long fingernails, a not-so-subtle approach to depicting sex onscreen when the Hayes Code forbade it under normal circumstances. This entrancing pairing immediately piqued my interest, and the film’s plot made it a high priority on my list of need-to-see noirs.

9. Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

60

As you might remember, I mentioned this past summer that I was enrolled in Turner Classic Movies’ The Master of Suspense: 50 Years of Hitchcock online course. I thoroughly enjoyed it and had a great time learning about the esteemed director, and going into it I promised myself that I would take the time to focus on films of Hitchcock’s that I hadn’t gotten the chance to watch before rather than simply watching the same few over and over again. Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and Notorious (1946) were the two that I instantly put on my watchlist, and coincidentally both were featured in the course as Hitchcock’s main contributions to film noir. Unforunately, I was so engrossed in the curriculum itself that I managed to see Notorious (1946) but not the picture that I had been looking forward to seeing the most, Shadow of a Doubt (1943). This has just been one of those movies that’s slipped through the cracks for me somehow, which is a shame because I’ve been looking forward to seeing Teresa Wright in a film and Joseph Cotten intrigued me immensely after I saw him display his acting chops in Citizen Kane (1941) and Journey Into Fear (1942). I’ve tried my best to stay away from anything that would reveal the ending of the film, but from the bits and pieces of information that I’ve accidentally found, I believe I’m in for some gripping twists and turns.

8. The Night of the Hunter (1955)

61

This is a movie that I certainly believe has permeated pop culture and cemented itself as a classic in every sense of the word. I saw the iconic shot of Robert Mitchum leaning against a fencepost with the words ‘LOVE’ and ‘HATE’ tattooed on his knuckles long before I had any idea what the film was even about, and when I finally did learn about The Night of the Hunter (1955)‘s captivating storyline I was more than eager to see it. I’ve mentioned earlier in the article that there are just some movies that slip through the cracks, and that’s definitely an understatement when it comes to this film. If I recall correctly I’ve tried to watch this one five or six different times as it’s screened on TCM quite often, but something always gets in the way like a scheduling conflict or even a phone call at the exact wrong time that lasted just a little too long. It’s become really irritating to me at this point, and if there’s any film on this list that I’ll really groan about if I don’t manage to watch it at long last, this one is it. I’m really looking forward to seeing both Robert Mitchum’s acting, which from what I’ve heard is at his diabolical best, and Charles Laughton behind the camera for a change for his only feature film as a director. Even more inviting is the fact that I still haven’t seen a Lillian Gish feature, though I’ve admired her in photographs for as long as I’ve been interested in classic film, so all in all I’m hopeful that this one will be a real treat.

7. The Third Man (1949)

62

In some circles that I know about, admitting that you have yet to watch The Third Man (1949) is almost as bad as admitting that you haven’t seen Citizen Kane (1941), and sometimes I’ve found that it’s even worse. It’s not astonishing, as the two films were undoubtedly high ranking among Orson Welles’ many crowning achievements, and The Third Man (1949) earned both Welles and the aforementioned Joseph Cotten a great deal of respect in the film noir community after its release. I think it’s about time that I finally cross this one off of my list, and what promises to make this particular viewing even better is that I still haven’t influenced my own opinion beforehand by reading a single thing about the story. I’ve seen a couple of very artistic, Welles-esque shots that seem to solidify the cinematography at least within the confines of noir, but aside from that I’ll be going into this viewing completely blind. Usually I like to learn as much as I can about a film before I actually sit down and watch it (with the exception of the ending, of course), mostly so I don’t end up stuck with a picture that I don’t enjoy, so this is quite a rare feat for me. Wish me luck this month as I finally sit down and give it a try, and let me know what you thought of The Third Man (1949) if you’ve seen it before!

6. The Big Heat (1953)

63

This is another film that I’ve tried to watch multiple times, though I really would have seen The Big Heat (1953) if it weren’t for the fact that the version I found online was the version with audio commentary for some reason. So many different aspects of this movie interest and appeal to me; for one thing, this is the only movie that I’ve heard of that was based on a newspaper serial. I assume that’s sort of the equivalent of someone making fanfiction into a movie today, or maybe a post on social media. To me it’s pretty rare that something from that medium would be considered so great that there would be a demand for a film, and as a result I have high hopes for the plot. Of course there’s also the stellar cast, with Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame. I’ve been especially enamored by Grahame ever since I watched her alluring performance in another classic noir (and Eddie Muller’s personal favorite), In A Lonely Place (1950). If any film showed me that such a glamorous woman could carry a dramatic picture, that one is it, and I’m incredibly excited to see her try on another noir for size. With two incredible actors and a tagline that eerily states “Somebody’s going to pay… because he forgot to kill me!”, I’m sure that I’ll be on pins and needles until I sit down to watch this film.

5. The Glass Key (1942)

64

Yes, you’re reading this right: I have not one, but two of the noirs that paired Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake on my list. The reason is simple: Even though I’ve only seen three of her films, I would easily place Veronica Lake on a list of my top ten favorite actresses. Her unattainable beauty and relatable personality make for a unique and riveting combination, and I always adore watching her onscreen. Of course she was best known for her contribution to noir, especially in the three pictures that she made with Alan Ladd: This Gun for Hire (1942), which I’ve already seen and enjoyed, and the two that have made my list, The Glass Key (1942) and The Blue Dahlia (1946), so I’d honestly feel like a phony if I claimed that I was such a huge fan of Veronica’s without watching these films in particular. What’s even more interesting about The Glass Key (1942) is that it’s based on iconic noir author Dashiell Hammett’s favorite of his novels. That’s quite a statement when you realize that he also penned novels like The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man, and once again this really makes me curious about the storyline of the film. Hopefully I enjoy The Glass Key (1942) as much as I loved This Gun for Hire (1942), because I’d be more than happy to rank this among my favorite films starring Veronica Lake.

4. The Blue Dahlia (1946)

 

65

Here’s the second of the two films starring Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd that made my list. This one was made long after their other onscreen pairings, during Veronica Lake’s unfortunate decline in Hollywood. While I’ve claimed that I’ve attempted to watch many of the films on this list, The Blue Dahlia (1946) is the one that I’ve actually seen the most of. I’ve tried to watch it a few times, and once again I’ve been interrupted for one reason or another, though with this film it’s always after the first couple of scenes. I could probably recite the beginning interactions between Ladd’s character Johnny Morrison and his unfaithful wife by heart by now, but this month I really hope to finally sit down and watch the story unfold completely. While I don’t have a vast multitude of interests aside from classic film I will admit that true crime is definitely one of them, and if the title of this picture sounded familiar to you, you’re not alone. The title of the infamous unsolved crime “The Black Dahlia” came from this film; some believe that the moniker was given because it was the last movie she watched before she was killed, while others believe that it was because she wore dahlias in her hair. Whatever the reason the name stuck, and while of course it doesn’t directly relate, it does add another layer of intrigue and further motivates me to finally see this classic.

3. Murder, My Sweet (1944)

66

Murder, My Sweet (1944) is yet another film that Turner Classic Movies initially sparked my interest in, though it wasn’t because the movie in its entirety was shown on the channel. Instead I first heard about it in one of the segments shown in between pictures, a short documentary about noir director Edward Dmytryk. The narrator painted a beautiful picture of the director and his accomplishments, making me more curious about him than any other noir filmmaker that I’ve heard of. One of the facts that intrigued me most was that Dmytryk saw potential in romantic musical actor Dick Powell and decided to cast him in a serious crime drama, taking on the iconic role of Detective Philip Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet (1944). Marlowe was created by Raymond Chandler, a mystery writer that earned his place among Hammett and all of the other great authors of the genre. This character in particular has been portrayed onscreen countless times, most famously in this film by Powell as well as in The Big Sleep (1946) by Humphrey Bogart, and is considered by many to be the ultimate noir character. Not only was Murder, My Sweet (1944) given an immense amount of praise by the documentary, which of course made me eager to see it, but I’ve also noticed it on numerous rankings of the best noirs of all time, sometimes even making its way to the top spot. All of these reasons have led to me longing to finally see Dmytryk and Powell at their best, and I can’t wait to finally add this one to my film collection.

2. Nightmare Alley (1947)

67

The fact that I still haven’t seen Nightmare Alley (1947) is absolutely baffling to me. If you’re new to my blog you might not know this, but Tyrone Power is my favorite actor of all time. Hence, as you might imagine, I’ve seen the vast majority of his movies, but I still can’t really say why this one hasn’t been my top priority. At this point I’m downright ashamed to admit that I haven’t seen it, because I’ve known for a long time that it was Ty’s personal favorite of all of his films. Made after his service in World War II, Power was a weathered man at this point in his life, far from the youthful and dashing romantic idol type that he was confined to at 20th Century Fox in the late 1930s. Nightmare Alley (1947) was one of the first pictures that really allowed him to stretch the limits of his craft, and he was more than grateful for the opportunity to carry a film using more than just his looks. Even more compelling was that it took the coveted number seven spot on Eddie Muller’s Top 25 Noir Films list that I discussed earlier. According to Muller, Nightmare Alley (1947) is Tyrone Power’s “greatest contribution to the movies”, and if all of that doesn’t provide enough motivation for me to watch it, I honestly don’t know what will. Aside from Ty I believe that the picture as a whole is comprised of a talented group of actors, including Joan Blondell (who I’ve always admired) along with Coleen Gray and Helen Walker, two ingenues at the time who I’ve been eager to see onscreen. To me, Nightmare Alley (1947) is an absolute must this month.

1. Out of the Past (1947)

68

Of course everyone has their differing opinions on which noir is the best, but from what I’ve seen, there’s more or less a general consensus. I’ve read my fair share of lists discussing the best movies that stemmed from the genre, and from my experience one of these three usually earns the top spot: Double Indemnity (1944), The Maltese Falcon (1941), and surprisingly most often, this film. I haven’t seen it, so I’m really not aware what all the fuss is about yet, but I have the feeling that the incomparable acting style of Robert Mitchum has something to do with it. The cast in general couldn’t be more appealing, with the might of Kirk Douglas and the stunning beauty of both Rhonda Fleming and of course Jane Greer, two of the most gorgeous women I have ever laid eyes on, rounding out the main list of actors. I can truly say that each of the four have been people who I’ve wanted to see onscreen much more than I already do, Jane Greer especially as I’ve only seen her in one film. Once again Out of the Past (1947) makes Muller’s list, this time at number nine, though I wouldn’t exactly call his mini-review very favorable. “Face it, the meandering script is saved by Frank Fenton’s dialogue. But this is how we want noir to look and sound, so it gets cut lots of slack,” he writes, though he mentions that Kirk Douglas is “never better”, and that along with all of the acclaim that’s surrounded the picture for decades is more than good enough for me.

Advertisements

Five Top Five of December — Humphrey Bogart

30

Here I am with another installment of my Five Top Five series for December! Today I’ll be ranking the best films of rugged tough guy Humphrey Bogart as my contribution to my first ever blogathon, the Humphrey Bogart Blogathon! You can find the blogathon’s announcement here, and you can find the rest of the entries here! Without further ado, on with the post!

13

5. In A Lonely Place (1950)

46
Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame in a scene from In A Lonely Place (1950).

First up we have one of the two films that I saw for the first time at last year’s Humphrey Bogart Film Festival and thoroughly enjoyed. In this vastly underrated noir, screenwriter Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart), who is known for his drunkenness and belligerence, is given the arduous task of adapting the latest bestseller to the screen. Unwilling to read the book himself, he takes home a lovely hat check girl and fan of the novel named Mildred Atkinson (Martha Stewart) to summarize it for him in his home. When the girl is found murdered that very same night Steele becomes the police’s prime suspect, and when he is unable to cough up an alibi his alluring neighbor Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame) interferes in his defense. Dixon and Laurel become unlikely friends and eventually unlikely lovers, but will their love be enough when he becomes violent and doubts of his innocence creep into her mind? Bogart plays against type as a completely unlikable character in a Hollywood film about Hollywood, which was the fourth film produced by Bogart’s own production company, Santana Productions. With stellar writing, acting on the parts of Bogie and Gloria Grahame, and directing on the part of Nicholas Ray (husband of our leading lady at the time and the man who would go on to helm Rebel Without A Cause (1955)), In A Lonely Place (1950) deserves an immense amount of credit and should go down in history as one of the more sublime and dark noirs of the genre.

4. The Maltese Falcon (1941)

41
Bogie shows off the titular artifact in a publicity still for The Maltese Falcon (1941).

I know what you’re thinking; this film is far too much of a classic to be ranked so low on my list, but I must admit that this film took a few watches to fully understand the plot and arc of the story. Once I did understand, I developed an appreciation for it, but not quite as strong as my appreciation was and is for many of Bogart’s less convoluted pictures. This iconic movie is all about Sam Spade (Bogart), a private eye and half of Spade and Archer, a detective agency with his partner Miles (Jerome Cowan). One not so ordinary afternoon, a captivating brunette who goes by Miss Wonderly (Mary Astor) enters Spade’s office and begs for his help in finding her missing sister by sending one of the detectives to track the man who she’s supposedly in love with. Archer takes the case, trailing the man supposedly named Floyd Thursby, and winds up getting murdered in the process. With hardly any leads and nothing turning out like it seems on the surface, Sam Spade entangles himself in a web of crime and deceit, all revolving around a priceless artifact: The Maltese Falcon. Bogart puts his incredible “tough guy with a heart of gold” persona on full display in this film, and even though Spade makes some antihero-like decisions throughout its entirety, you know that he will swallow his pride and do the right thing in the end. This trope that resides in many of Humphrey Bogart’s roles is what really attracts my attention to his films, and this one is no exception. If you have a desire to check out some iconic noirs and see the likes of Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, and many more talented character actors in their best roles, check out this film immediately.

3. The Caine Mutiny (1954)

Next we have my favorite of the films that I saw for the first time at the Humphrey Bogart Film Festival. Here we find newcomer Robert Francis in the lead as Ensign Willie Keith, a recent graduate who reports to the USS Caine, a beaten up minesweeper called “the rust bucket” by its untidy and unorganized crew. The commander, Lieutenant De Vriess (Tom Tully), is liked by everyone on the crew except for Keith, who believes that those on the ship could use some good discipline. Soon De Vriess is relieved by Phillip Francis Queeg (Humphrey Bogart), a far more uptight yet bizarre captain, who makes mistake after mistake and covers each one up to the best of his ability. Keith and two of his good friends onboard the ship, Lieutenants Steve Maryk and Tom Keefer (Van Johnson and Fred MacMurray), begin to doubt their captain’s sanity, and when Queeg makes a decision that Keith believes would put the Caine‘s entire crew in jeopardy, he takes it upon himself to call for a mutiny and relieve Queeg of his position as captain. Every single performance in this ensemble cast is noteworthy, but Humphrey Bogart truly outdoes himself in his role as the possibly demented captain of the Caine. The scene in which Queeg crumbles on the witness stand in an attempt to defend himself against the crew’s mutiny is especially awe-inspiring, and quite possibly the best acting of his career. If you want to see a superb war epic and acting at its finest, go see this rare color film of Humphrey Bogart’s on his birthday.

2. Dark Passage (1947)

40
Bogie and Bacall share an embrace on the set of Dark Passage (1947).

Here we have another of Bogart’s dramas that doesn’t receive nearly enough acclaim. In it he plays the role of Vincent Parry, a convict on death row at San Quentin for the murder of his wife who makes a break for it at the start of the film. He doesn’t get very far at first, but luckily painter Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall) comes to his rescue and smuggles him in her car to her home in San Francisco. There she explains that she felt sorry for Parry and had sat in for every day of his trial, comparing it to the trial and execution of her own father who she believed was innocent in the murder of her stepmother. Parry hides out in Jansen’s apartment and the two are instantly attracted to each other, but destiny comes banging on the door in the form of Madge Rapf (Agnes Moorehead), a shrill and vindictive woman who is an imposing friend of Irene’s and who testified against Vincent at the murder trial out of jealousy. Will Madge and fate interfere and throw Vincent back behind bars, or will he find a better life and escape the electric chair? I find this to be a thrilling masterpiece and the best of the four Bogie and Bacall films. The directing and cinematography Delmer Daves and Sidney Hickox are revolutionary as the entire first half of the film is ingeniously shot from the main character’s perspective. This trick gives us a glimpse into Parry’s life that no other method would, and gives us a gratuitous amount of shots of Lauren Bacall, which I could never complain about either. I would strongly recommend this film to any Bogie and Bacall fan.

1. Dead Reckoning (1947)

47
Lizabeth Scott and Humphrey Bogart break for tea on the set of Dead Reckoning (1947).

My top pick is likely among my list of the most underrated films of all time. In the film Bogie plays Rip Murdock, an ex-paratrooper who tells most of his story in flashback. He and his best friend and fellow paratrooper Johnny Drake (William Prince) are taken by private plane to Washington, D. C. and surprised with the fact that Drake is to be presented with the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery and good deeds in battle. Before he is to receive it, however, Drake leaves town without a word. Determined to find out what happened and what caused his best friend’s disappearance, Murdock heads to his hometown. While there Rip digs a little deeper, and finds out that what was originally a disappearance has turned into a murder, and that Johnny was possibly involved in a murder of his own before he joined the army. To complicate matters even further, Rip finds the love of Johnny’s life, intriguing lounge singer Coral Chandler (Lizabeth Scott), and begins to fall in love with her himself. The exceptional writing by Oliver Garrett and Steve Fisher (based on a story by Gerald Addams and Sidney Biddell) is what truly makes this picture special. Almost every line is quotable in its own right, and while some of the acting may seem cliche or forced (on all counts with the exception of Bogie’s performance), you know that the dialogue spoken in the film is poetic and genuine. With beautiful and mysterious lines like “Go ahead, put Christmas in your eyes and keep your voice low. Tell me about paradise and all the things I’m missing. I haven’t had a good laugh since before Johnny was murdered.”, this film is chock full of romance and intrigue, and I classify it as a must see.

Five Top Five of November — Gene Tierney

34

Hello, everyone! I’m back with another installment of my ‘Five Top Five’ series, this time honoring the alluring Gene Tierney on her 96th birthday! Here I’ll be listing my top five films of hers, describing the plots, and discussing why I enjoy the films. As I mentioned in my first post in the series honoring Vivien Leigh, be sure to let me know if you enjoy these and I’ll be sure to continue the series with another Five Top Five of December!

5. Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)

35
Gene and Dana Andrews, together for a second time in Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950).

This was the first film that I ever reviewed on my blog (you can check out the full review here), and because of that it holds a special place in my heart. Tierney portrays Morgan Taylor, ex-wife of Ken Paine and also unknowingly his decoy in an illegal dice game. It doesn’t take long for her to take a liking to leading man Mark Dixon, a violent but effective detective who has already been warned by his superior that his bad cop attitude will get him in trouble, but still allows his boss’ premonition to come true when he accidentally murders a suspect who he is attempting to question. Fearing for his integrity and career Dixon attempts to cover up the killing, but the plot thickens when he learns that his main squeeze Morgan’s father is to be charged with the crime. Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950) is a gripping noir that walks the tightrope of right and wrong and reunites Gene Tierney with her director and leading man from Laura (1944), Otto Preminger and Dana Andrews, respectively. If you enjoy that classic at all, I would definitely recommend its equally intriguing, grittier counterpart, and the only reason why it’s so low on my list is because Gene is hardly anywhere to be found in the film.

4. The Razor’s Edge (1946)

39
Gene and Tyrone Power in a publicity still for The Razor’s Edge (1946).

If you know me well enough, you should know that I couldn’t possibly make a list of great Gene Tierney films without including one of the three that she starred in with my favorite actor, Tyrone Power. In this melodrama our birthday girl stars as socialite Isabel Bradley, fiancée of Larry Darrell. Larry isn’t as impressed with the glamour of the upper class as she is, which leads him onto a spiritual ten-year journey to find himself, losing Isabel in the process. When he returns, however, Isabel seems to be still in love with her former flame and wants to be with him despite already being married to a common friend of theirs. To make matters worse, she becomes intensely jealousand spiteful when Larry begins to fall in love with Sophie, another friend in their circle who fell on hard times after he left town. I truly admire Gene’s performance in this film, and she displays her stunning range as she reveals the darker side of Isabel’s personality. It’s no wonder that author of the original novel W. Somerset Maugham placed her at the top of his list of actresses for the role. If you enjoy pictures that include stellar acting performances and a flair for the dramatic, definitely include this film in your Gene Tierney marathon today.

3. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)

In this turn-of-the-century romance directed by Joseph L Mankewicz, Gene plays Lucy Muir, a widow desperately looking for a seaside home to rent so she can ditch her late husband’s rude family members. She quickly sets her sights on a picturesque manor and pays no attention to her real estate agent’s warnings that the home is haunted, even after finding out the truth for herself. Slowly but surely Lucy befriends the residing ghost, cantankerous sea captain Daniel Gregg, and the two develop an extraordinary romance as she attempts to assist him in writing his autobiography. Of course the book is considered a masterpiece and is picked up by a world-famous publisher, but along with the notoriety it also brings a suitor, a married children’s author by the name of Miles Fairley. The love that Lucy and the captain share is challenged when Miles enters the picture, and it makes both parties question their relationship and even themselves. I was a fan of this movie ever since I read the plot, and once I actually watched the film I certainly wasn’t disappointed. I doubt that there are many romantic films out there more unique than this one, and I would strongly recommend giving it a try if you enjoy well-written sentimental pictures with a twist like I do. If you do decide to catch this tearjerker, stay on the lookout for an appearance from a young Natalie Wood, who portrays Lucy’s daughter!

2. Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

38
Gene in her most devilish scene in Leave Her to Heaven (1945).

Gene Tierney recieved her first and only Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Ellen Berent Harland in this film, yet another villainous socialite who just like in The Razor’s Edge (1946) becomes obsessively attached to the man she loves. Unlike her role of Isabel Bradley, however, it is more apparent that Ellen is mentally disturbed and willing to go to greater and more sinister lengths to achieve her goals. The object of Ellen’s obsession is novelist Richard Harland, played by Cornel Wilde, who coincidentally looks similar to Ellen’s deceased father and the previous victim of her preoccupation. To make matters worse her former fiancé Russell Quinton and her sister Ruth get involved in the mix and are eventually caught in the crossfire of the film’s strange femme fatale. What stood out to me the most in this film is the striking use of color created by Natalie Kalmus, art direction by Maurice Lansford and Lyle Wheeler, and most of all cinematography, helmed by Leon Shamroy of Planet of the Apes (1968) and Cleopatra (1963) fame. The visuals alone make this film worth watching, but those combined with the compelling story and characters are what make this film a classic among fans of film noir, and it’s one of the only color films to recieve such acclaim in the genre. Add it to your list of Tierney films to watch, and you won’t regret it.

1. Laura (1944)

37
Gene looking radiant in a publicity still for Laura (1944).

Could I have really put any other Gene Tierney film at the top spot? Laura (1944) is the pinnacle of film noir, and quite possibly of filmmaking in general, and in it our birthday girl portrays the title character Laura Hunt, a (can you guess?) socialite who is found murdered at the beginning of the film. The first half is shown in flashback as her dearest friend Waldo Lydecker, played by Clifton Webb, reveals the story of her life to detective Mark MacPherson, in what I consider to be among Dana Andrews’ finest performances. As Mark learns more and more about the homicide victim in an attempt to solve her murder, he begins to imagine himself with her and finds her to be unlike any “broad” that he has ever known. Tensions rise when Laura’s fiancé Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price) catches wind of this, and suspense builds into a thrilling conclusion of who exactly killed Laura Hunt. Despite the film’s raving success, Gene never gave herself much credit for it: “I never felt my own performance was much more than adequate. I am pleased that audiences still identify me with Laura, as opposed to not being identified at all. Their tributes, I believe, are for the character — the dreamlike Laura— rather than any gifts I brought to the role. I do not mean to sound modest. I doubt that any of us connected with the movie thought it had a chance of becoming a kind of mystery classic, or enduring beyond its generation. If it worked, it was because the ingredients turned out to be right.” And right they certainly were, especially on the part of the film’s score, composed by David Raksin, which is revered even today, and even Vincent Price believed Laura (1944) to be his finest film. Needless to say, if you’re reading this and haven’t seen this masterpiece, you absolutely must.

Gene Tierney’s 95 Birthday Blogathon: My Analysis of Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)

NOTE: This post was actually posted on my Tumblr on November 19, 2015. I am just putting the post here for reference!

0

I would like to begin by once again thanking Simoa for hosting this wonderful blogathon and paying homage to such an incredible and kind actress as Gene Tierney. It was an honor to participate in such a wonderful project, and I wish it all the success possible. I’ll be putting the entirety of my analysis under a cut, because this will be fairly long. With all of that being said, I wish the lovely Gene Tierney a very happy birthday wherever she might be, and on with the post!image

I’ll start by saying that this film has so many elements of the typical noir that it almost feels like Ben Hect spun a wheel in order to find some of the elements of this story. The cynical detective who roughs up bad guys, but secretly has a heart of gold? Check. The dame who is somehow mixed up in all of the trouble and puts the detective in jeopardy? Check. The shady villain that somehow knows all of the answers despite the fact that his goons are as dumb as rocks? Check. The moral ambiguity of our antihero and many of the other characters is the bow that wraps up this archetypal noir. Despite all of this, I still feel like the film did not sacrifice any originality, and while it does fit into the genre of noir, I still found the screenplay to be incredibly exciting and was on the edge of my seat during the film’s entirety.

The making of Where the Sidewalk Ends was a Laura reunion of sorts, with Otto Preminger once again taking the helm as director (and this time producer as well), bringing along his very talented director of photography, Joseph LaShelle. It also features in the leading roles both of Laura’s stars, birthday girl Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews, in their fifth and final film together. However, the two most notable outsiders to this reuniting shaped the film as well. First we have screenwriter Ben Hect, who was the best of the best by most classic film standards, and by this time already had numerous classics like Queen Christina,Twentieth Century, Wuthering Heights, and His Girl Friday under his belt.

image
Left: Marilyn Monroe, circa. 1952; Right: Gene Tierney, Where the Sidewalk Ends.

Also thrown in the mix was costume designer Oleg Cassini, husband of our leading lady. This was his sixth collaboration with his wife, and essentially the last that occurred before their on again and off again marriage collapsed for good. His costumes for Gene in the film are as exquisite as casual wear can be to say the least, seeing as that is exactly what she wears for most of the film. The most notable garment was shown in the beginning of the film, however. A sultry red evening gown shared the same scene in which Oleg himself made a cameo, and it was difficult to focus on one of the other. Gene was offered a chance to keep the gown, but turned it down because the dress was so tight she could barely walk in it. Years later, the dress would be purchased at Cassini’s boutique by none other than Marilyn Monroe, who wore it often in 1952, including to receive her Henrietta Award for Best Young Box Office Personality. The dress was also voted ”the most risque design of the year” by a fashion magazine.

As far as the acting performances in this film go, I’ll first point out that I was thrilled to see Karl Malden in the opening credits, but seeing his small role in the film made me long for his more moving characters in films like On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire. Even still, Malden is one of my favorite supporting actors to date, but most of the cast members in this particular film weren’t very memorable. I’ll name the one exception. When I first saw Dana Andrews onscreen in Laura, I suspected that his stellar performance was just a fluke, and that the rest of his acting would be supbar. Where the Sidewalk Endsmade me throw that idea out of the window, and his incredible acting ability is what carries this entire film in my opinion. His portrayal of Detective Mark Dixon reminded me most of Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, as both Dixon and Sam Spade are hard-boiled detectives who are self serving during their respective film’s entirety, only to make the good and honest choice in the end.

Unfortunately I found our beautiful Gene’s performance to be forgettable in comparison to the mystique and dangerous Laura Hunt, but her presence onscreen always brightens my day no matter what film she’s in, so I had no real complaints. The two stars’ onscreen chemistry is undeniable and practically on fire, and I will never wonder again why the two made five films together. I’m starting to believe that the two could do just about anything onscreen for two hours and I’d still want them to wind up together in the end. All in all, the sheer talent involved in the making of this film is enough to capture anyone’s attention, and the fast-paced plot, superb screenwriting, and well and Andrew’s acting make Where the Sidewalk Endsa film to remember. I will agree with most critics when I say that it stands in the dark and gritty shadow of Laura’s more sophisticated noir, but that same realistic shadow is what noir is all about.