Face the Darkness: Bogie & Bacall in DARK PASSAGE (Warner Brothers 1947)


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“Tuesdays in Noirvember” concludes with the genre’s biggest icon, Humphrey Bogart (and he’s bringing Lauren Bacall along for the ride!):

The year 1947 belonged to filmnoir, as some of the dark genre’s true classics saw the light of day: Robert Mitchum donned that iconic trenchcoat in OUT OF THE PAST , Richard Widmark snarled his way through KISS OF DEATH, Burt Lancaster battled sadistic Hume Cronyn with BRUTE FORCE , Tyrone Power got trapped in NIGHTMARE ALLEY , Rita Hayworth bedeviled Orson Welles as THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI , Ronald Colman won an Oscar as a cracked actor leading A DOUBLE LIFE, and Lawrence Tierney terrorized the hell out of everyone in his path in BORN TO KILL . Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, noir’s power couple thanks to the previous year’s THE BIG SLEEP , teamed again for DARK PASSAGE, an slam-bang crime drama that may not…

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Moanin’ Low: On Claire Trevor and KEY LARGO (Warner Brothers 1948)


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John Huston’s filmnoir KEY LARGO is a personal favorite, and a bona fide classic in its own right that works on many different levels. Much of its success can be credited to the brilliant, Oscar-winning performance of Claire Trevor as Gaye Dawn, the alcoholic ex-nightclub singer and moll of gangster Johnny Rocco (played with equal brilliance by Edward G. Robinson ). The woman dubbed by many “Queen of Noir” gives the part a heartbreaking quality that makes her stand out among the likes of scene stealers Robinson, Humphrey Bogart , Lauren Bacall , and Lionel Barrymore .

Claire Trevor (1910-2000) arrived in Hollywood in 1933, and almost immediately became a star. Her early credits include playing Shirley Temple’s mom in BABY TAKE A BOW (1934), the title role in the Pre-Code drama ELINOR NORTON (also ’34), Spencer Tracy’s wife in the bizarre DANTE’S INFERNO (1935), and the reporter out…

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Marlowe at the Movies Returns!: Bogie & Bacall in THE BIG SLEEP (Warner Brothers 1946)


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It’s been a long time since we last visited with Raymond Chandler’s fictional “knight-errant”, PI Philip Marlowe. Way too long, so let’s take a look at THE BIG SLEEP, starring Humphrey Bogart as the definitive screen Marlowe. This 1946 Howard Hawks film was a follow-up to 1944’s hit TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, which introduced audiences (and Bogie) to luscious Lauren Bacall . The pair was dynamite together onscreen, and off as well, marrying a year later. Their May/December romance was one of Hollywood’s greatest love stories, lasting until Bogart’s death from cancer in 1957.

For me to try and explain the plot here would be futile, as it takes more twists and turns than a “Balinese belly dancer”. Marlowe is hired by elderly General Sternwood, whose sexy young daughter Carmen is being blackmailed. The General’s other daughter Vivien, a sexy divorcee, is also in trouble. This takes Our Man Marlowe…

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A Dying Man, Scared of the Dark: John Wayne in THE SHOOTIST (Paramount 1976)


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THE SHOOTIST is John Wayne’s valedictory statement, a final love letter to his many fans. The Duke was now 69 years old and not in the best of health. He’d had a cancerous lung removed back in 1964, and though the cancer was in remission, Wayne must’ve knew his days were numbered when he made this film. Three years later, he died from cancer of the stomach, intestines, and spine. There were worries about his ability to make this movie, but Wayne loved the script and was determined to do it. The result is an elegy to not only the aging actor, but to the Western genre as a whole.

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The movie begins with footage of older Wayne westerns (EL DORADO, HONDO, RED RIVER, RIO BRAVO) narrated by Ron Howard (Gillom). “His name was J.B. Books…he wasn’t an outlaw. Fact is, for a while he was a lawman…He had a credo that…

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What Lisa Watched Last Night: The Fan (dir. by Edward Bianchi)


Last night, I watched the 1981 slasher-musical hybrid, The Fan.

Why Was I Watching it?

I had read about The Fan on a few slasher-related film sites and, despite the fact that the reviews were always universally negative, the former aspiring prima ballerina was intrigued by the idea of a slasher movie where the mayhem was occasionally put on hold for a dance number.  When I saw it listed as being on AMC last night, I set the DVR to record it.  Later, around 4 in the morning, I was battling insomnia and I didn’t really feel like watching infomercials or hurricane coverage.  So, I watched The Fan.

What Was It About?

Lauren Bacall is Sally Ross, an aging actress who smokes and smokes and smokes.  A very young and handsome Michael Biehn is Douglas, The Fan.  He’s obsessed with Sally and writes her hundreds of adoring letters.  “Believe me, I have the equipment to make you very, very happy,” the 20ish Douglas tells the 60ish Sally.  Sally’s secretary (Maureen Stapleton) writes back to Douglas and tells him that it’s illegal to “send pornography through the mail.”  Douglas responds by doing the whole slashing-up-the-world-with-a-straight-razor thing.  Meanwhile, Sally is in rehearsals for her Broadway musical debut and wow, it’s the worst musical since Nine.  Will Douglas be stopped?  Will Sally getting a standing ovation?  And how many cigarettes will be left by the end of the movie?

What Worked?

Michael Biehn is actually fairly good as the killer and the opening credits — where the musical score is nicely integrated with the sound of Biehn typing and reading his obsessive prose — are nicely done.  And technically, the film looks good.  The cinematography is credited to someone named Dick Bush and that’s all I’ll say about that.

But, let’s be honest, I wasn’t watching this film for quality.  I was watching for the Broadway dance sequences.  Films are always at their campiest when they try to portray a “Broadway” hit and that’s especially true if the film was made in 1981 (like this one).  And, on this, The Fan did not disappoint.  Seriously, the “show-within-the-show” here appears to be one of the greatest debacles in the history of imaginary Broadway.  Lauren Bacall rasps out her songs while chain-smoking while the chorus line spins across the stage in a blur of sequins and glitter.  On top of that, the show is named Never Say Never which has to be one of the most boring titles ever, as far as imaginary Broadway is concerned.  Yet, when it’s all over, the audience gives Never Say Never a standing ovation.  It’s a hit!  There’s no accounting for taste as far as fake Broadway is concerned.

Here’s a show-stopper from Never Say Never, starring Sally Ross:

Plus, about 40 minutes into the film, Bacall and Stapleton have themselves a good, old-fashioned bitch-off which just has to be seen.  There’s nothing like watching two divas compete to see who can devour the most scenery.

What Does Not Work:

Well, to be honest, the entire film doesn’t work.  The pacing is terrible, the scenes with Biehn kills his victims somehow manage to be both bloodless and overly sadistic at the same time, and Bacall seems to be not only ticked off at having to appear in the film but angry with you for watching it as well.  Add to that, there’s a bizarre homophobic subtext to this film that, while typical of a film released in the 80s, still seems odd for a movie that’s so obsessed with Broadway show tunes.

“OMG! JUST LIKE ME!” Moments:

I related to the dancers who show up on-screen whenever Sally is in rehearsals for her show.  Being trapped on the chorus line of a terrible show?  Been there, done that.  It’s actually a lot of fun because you’re freed from having to worry about how terrible the show is.  Instead of rehearsals being a death march, they’re an exuberant, doom-themed Mardi Gras.

Lessons Learned:

Don’t allow anyone else to answer your fan mail.