Film Noir and Friendship – Noirathon

t-men-alfred-ryder-dennis-o-keefe-1947In a world where nothing is what it seems and human emotions get tossed aside for the sake of greed, power and money, it’s perhaps not surprising that relationships of any kind hardly ever last. And if love is meaningless is noir world, so is friendship. Private Hell 36 (1954, dir. Don Siegel) is a good example of this. So is The Third Man (1949, dir. Carol Reed). But sometimes, not all is lost and when danger lurks in the shadows, friendship can be the one relief in these people’s lives. Just look at T-Men (1947, dir. Anthony Mann). In it, Dennis O’Brien (Dennis O’Keefe) and Tony Genaro (Alfred Ryder) are  Treasury agents who go undercover in order to take down a counterfeit ring. Possibly the most tense of all noirs and arguably Anthony Mann’s best, T-Men‘s claustrophobic nature is counter-balanced by the relationship between the two agents. O’Brien and Genaro’s line of work leads them down a path of secrets, lies and deceit, coming from all sides, and their brief yet genuine friendship is the only thing they have, which makes Genaro’s demise particularly heart-breaking. Similarly, when Moe Williams, played by everyone’s favorite character actress Thelma Ritter in Pickup on South Street (1953, dir. Samuel Fuller) meets her end, it’s an especially sad moment. Moe is a police informant who remains loyal to her fellow petty crooks, including Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark), whom she’s known since he was a child. While their friendship is a long-lasting one, it’s her relationship with Candy (Jean Peters) that makes our list. The two bond over Candy’s shaky relationship with Skip and the subsequent exposing of government secrets, with Moe offering her advice on what to do. Moe’s motherly nature towards Candy is sweet and unusual and, yet again, one that takes the edge off in an otherwise secretive and shadowy world. But the greatest friendship in film noir belongs to perhaps the most iconic of them all. In Double Indemnity (1944, dir. Billy Wilder), Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) and Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck)’s may be the central relationship, but it’s Walter’s friendship with Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) that warms our hearts – and that’s something you don’t see in noir every day. Their easy-going banter is a breath of fresh air, Walter’s ‘I love you too’ is aww-inducing at first and heart-breaking in the film’s final reel, and Keyes’ disappointment when all is revealed is palpable. The ending is a truly soul-crushing one, in legendary noir fashion, and Walter and Keyes’ relationship has a great deal to do with it. A cautionary tale, like so many others, and one that offers an especially poignant lesson on one of noir’s most overlooked elements. Friendship can sometimes be the most mourned of relationships, and noir world is no exception. Because noir world is an unforgiving and cruel one, where nothing lasts and bad luck is out to get you. And oftentimes, people hang onto the one true thing they have. More often than not, to no avail.

For more posts on Noirathon, hosted by Maddy Loves Her Classic Films, click here.

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COMEDY GOLD #17: The horse from The Lady Eve (1941)

the lady eve 8Just when you thought Preston Sturges’ iconic screwball comedy The Lady Eve (1941) couldn’t get any better, in comes the horse that somehow managed to upstage both Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda for nearly three minutes.
At this point, mistaken identities and misunderstandings have well and truly done a number on our characters, and snake-expert Pike (Fonda) doesn’t know that socialite Eve (Stanwyck) is actually Jean, the con artist he met on the ship and with whom he fell in love, so he, of course, proposes. Again. The same proposal, the same lines as before, as soon as they get off their horses after a ride. Starting with Jean/Eve’s line ‘Stop that! Oh, I thought it was the horse’ as Pike tries to get closer to her, the horse provides some laughs as it gently starts headbutting Pike as he tries to get the words out. Pike’s exasperation is even funnier when you realize that both Fonda and Stanwyck were trying not to laugh the whole time. Sturges’ flair for combining screwball, soph-com, slapstick and farce has never been more wonderfully highlighted as it is in The Lady Eve and I, for one, am a sucker for this scene!

Four dialogue-free scenes in classic movies

In the words of Norma Desmond, ‘We didn’t need dialogue, we had faces’. Sometimes that’s all you need. Sometimes you don’t need dialogue to get the point across and these four dialogue-free classic movie scenes prove that:

Vertigo-007Scottie following Madeleine in Vertigo (1958, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) – The timeless beauty of Vertigo comes from the fact that it’s so many things at once. There are so many ways to look at it, so many possible interpretations, that The Garden has dispensed with that for now. But however you look at it, one could argue that the movie is well and truly set in motion when Scottie (James Stewart) follows Madeleine (Kim Novak) in search of answers. This dialogue-free sequence is both eerie and intriguing, and it carefully places the movie’s MacGuffin right where it should be. Not to mention that we get to enjoy Bernard Herrmann’s stunning score throughout – probably my favorite movie score of all time.

separating-eggs-woman-of-the-yearMaking breakfast in Woman of the Year (1942, dir. George Stevens) – The movie’s progressive message falls through in the last moments, but luckily we get to watch Tess (Katharine Hepburn in an Oscar-nominated performance) hilariously try (and fail) to make breakfast for her estranged husband Sam (Spencer Tracy). A testament to Hepburn’s often overlooked ability for physical comedy, it’s a funny little sequence and a sweet ending to the first movie collaboration of one of the screen’s – and real life’s – greatest couples.

DuckSoup13.pngThree hats from Duck Soup (1933. dir. Leo MacCarey) – This is unquestionably one of the funniest things I have ever seen. In fact, I almost didn’t watch it again just now as I wrote this, because I knew I’d get stuck in a Marx Brothers loop and would never finish this article. Bottom line is, this is one of the brothers’ funniest moments, particularly the Chico/Harpo duo, which is always a joy to watch. I could have chosen the mirror scene, but that one’s been talked about ad nauseam, and this is my favorite.

Rififi-1The heist from Rififi (1955, dir. Jules Dassin) – Quite possibly the single greatest dialogue-free scene in the history of cinema. As the gang, led by Tony ‘Le Stephanois’ (Jean Servais) break into Mappin and Webb, their excrutiatingly meticulous plan is laid out before our eyes from start to finish and thirty-two (THIRTY-TWO!) minutes go by just like that. It’s heart-pounding, nerve-wracking and breath-taking.

There are so many scenes to choose from, but these four will have to do for now. Maybe a Part 2 is in order?

 

 

SCREENPLAY BY: Sidney Howard

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Sidney Howard’s horrific death at the age of 48 in 1939 made him the first person to win a posthumous Oscar, when he won for the adapted screenplay of Gone with the Wind (1939, dir. Victor Fleming). Before that, he’d been one of the most prolific American playwrights of the 1920s and 30s.

Born in Oakland, California in 1891, Sidney Howard studied playwriting at Harvard under George Pierce Baker, with the likes of Eugene O’Neill, Phillip Barry and S. N. Berhman. After his first play, Swords, flopped on Broadway, They Knew What They Wanted was a critical success and won him the 1925 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. For the next few years, he had a string of both successes and failures, with such plays as Lucky Sam McCarver and The Silver Cord. In 1938, he co-founded the Playwrights’ Company, which aimed at producing plays, after its founding members became dissatisfied with the Theater Guild and critics alike. Once in Hollywood, he started working at MGM and he received his first Oscar nomination for the adapted screenplay of Arrowsmith (1931, dir. John Ford), and again in 1937 for his adaptation – of his own stage adaptation – of Dodsworth (1936, dir. William Wyler), both based on Sinclair Lewis novels.

In between his Oscar nods, he also served at the president of the Dramatics Guild of America in 1935, having been a fierce advocate for writers’ rights. In 1940, he won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for Gone with the Wind, six months after his tragic death – crushed by his tractor in his garage. After this, the Playwrights’ Company created the Sidney Howard Memorial Award, with the goal of finding and encouraging emerging playwrights. A prominent figure on Broadway and in Hollywood throughout the early 20th century, Sidney Howard was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1981.