Sunday, December 28, 2014

Ann Harding in "It Happened on Fifth Avenue" & "Christmas Eve" (1947)

"It Happened on Fifth Avenue" (1947) directed by Roy Del Ruth, starring Don DeFore, Ann Harding, Charles Ruggles, Gale Storm, etc. This Academy Award-nominated story is about a homeless man setting up in a vacant 5th Avenue mansion whose owner, millionaire (Charlie Ruggles), lives in another VA mansion until Spring.

Before putting her Hollywood career on hold for a second time, Ann Harding made two minor films back-to- back: It Happened on Fifth Avenue and Christmas Eve, both filmed in 1946 and released in 1947. It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947) became a sleeper and was the first film produced under Monogram’s high-budgeted unit, Allied Artists. Although the original story was nominated for an Academy Award, the likeable film has a tendency to crawl from one scene to the next. Some have ventured to compare it to Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life [The picture was originally optioned for Capra], but It Happened on Fifth Avenue doesn’t come close to carrying the dramatic weight of Capra’s masterpiece.

With a budget of more than a million dollars, director Roy Del Ruth created a mostly charming and sentimental film about a hobo philosopher named McKeever (Victor Moore) who spends his annual winter retreats in a boarded-up mansion on New York’s Fifth Avenue. Moore’s character, a capitalist imposter, waddles across the screen smoking expensive cigars while sharing “his haven” with homeless veterans. The plot begins to boil when Trudy (Gale Storm), the headstrong daughter of the wealthy owner, unexpectedly shows up and keeps her identity a secret. She and one of the jobless veterans (Don DeFore) provide the film’s romantic interest.

Trudy’s estranged parents (Ann and Charlie Ruggles), disguised as transients, join the mix, and by the finish are rejuvenated by McKeever’s “generosity.” The film is half over before Ann arrives, and then retreats to the kitchen. She isn’t given much to do other than remind her ex-husband, “You left me and married your money!” Nevertheless, her scenes with Ruggles carry a poignancy and impact that is lacking in the romantic interludes of the younger set. The New Republic commented, “Ann Harding’s acting gets more real and… she gets better looking with the years.” The New York Times complimented It Happened on Fifth Avenue for the “amusing social comment in the temporary reversal of [Moore’s and Ruggles’] roles.” Following the film’s premier at Hollywood’s Grauman’s Chinese Theater, Los Angeles Times critic Edwin Schallert commented that Ann’s work was “sincere, pleasing and efficient.”

To save her fortune from a designing nephew, Matilda Reid (Ann Harding) must locate her three long-lost adopted sons in time for a Christmas Eve reunion.

As if to underscore her desire for character parts, Ann took on the assignment of playing an elderly woman. “Having played Holiday with Ann Harding,” Hedda Hopper reported, “I couldn’t resist going on the set of Christmas Eve to see her do the role of a 70-year-old mother. She mothers—by adoption only—George Raft, who plays a night club operator in Rio; George Brent—a confidence man, and Randy Scott—a rodeo star. There also was Reggie Denny playing a forger. We just don’t care what we do with our nice stars in this business, do we?” Producer Benedict Bogeaus had a penchant for casting his films with aging stars the studio system ignored.

Ann played an aged recluse, Aunt Matilda, a curious creature living alone in her Manhattan mansion. She’s about to lose her fortune to greedy nephew Phillip (Denny), who wants her committed. Phillip invites a doctor and lawyer to witness Matilda’seccentricities. After she tosses birdseed around her elegant living room, and opens windows to allow a flock of pigeons inside for a feast—they get the idea. Matilda is convinced her three adopted sons, whom she hasn’t seen in years, will miraculously rescue her on Christmas Eve from Phillip’s nefarious plan. As it turns out, they need rescuing from themselves. George Brent’s character survives by cashing fraudulent checks; cowboy Randolph Scott, who has a fondness for firewater, is suspected of stealing babies for a living; and tough guy Raft is a shady gambler who has escaped from the clutches of the FBI.

The three male leads parody their screen personas — a fact that would be completely lost on audiences nowadays. Critic John L. Scott for the Los Angeles Times commented, “The bright spot is Aunt Matilda, finely acted by Ann Harding.” The New York Times agreed, saying she came “closest to the mark” of being convincing. -"Ann Harding: Cinema's Gallant Lady" (2010) by Scott O'Brien

Saturday, December 27, 2014

"Jigsaw" Digitally Remastered, Franchot Tone reading F. Scott Fitzgerald

"Jigsaw" (1949) – Digitally Remastered: Actors: Franchot Tone, Jean Wallace, Doe Avedon, Henry Fonda, Marlene Dietrich, Burgess Meredith, John Garfield. Directors: Fletcher Markle. Studio: FilmRise. DVD Release Date: November 18, 2014 on Amazon

Trapped in the maze of a murderous racket, Academy Award-nominee Franchot Tone (Mutiny on the Bounty) stars in this film noir thriller as Howard Malloy, an assistant district attorney in New York City tasked with investigating a series of violent murders. He begins to suspect an extremist political group known as the Crusaders and as he digs deeper into the case with the help of a judge’s widow, he encounters a variety of peculiar characters – including a femme fatale nightclub singer and a powerful political boss – in his search for answers.

"Joan Crawford is doubtless the best example of the flapper, the girl you see at smart night clubs, gowned to the apex of sophistication, toying iced glasses with a remote, faintly bitter expression, dancing deliciously, laughing a great deal, with wide, hurtful eyes." -F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby Part 1 - Introduction, Chapter 1. F. Scott Fitzgerald's words read by the talented and intelligent Franchot Tone. Read their histories to see the tremendous parallels, which add a perceptible truth to the reading. Franchot Tone reads all these works beautifully and somehow, inexplicably improves upon them.

The Great Gatsby Part 2 - The Party, Chapter 3.

F. Scott Fitzgerald (Letter to his daughter Scottie, 1937): News about the picture [Three Comrades, 1938] - The cast is tentatively settled. Joan Crawford had her teeth in the lead for a while but was convinced it was a man's picture; and Loretta Young not being available, the decision rests at present on Margaret Sullavan.

Certainly she will be much better than Joan Crawford in the role. Spencer Tracy [replaced by Robert Young] and Robert Taylor will be reinforced by Franchot Tone at present writing.

Robert Taylor, Franchot Tone and Robert Young in "Three Comrades" (1938) directed by Frank Borzage and produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz for MGM, with screenplay by F. Scott Fitzgerald

An old friend, Ted Paramore, has joined me on the picture in fixing up much of the movie construction, at which I am still a semi-amateur. Plans about Christmas depend on whether I will be held here for changes through shooting. I have a small apartment at Garden of Allah, but I have done nothing about the house situation, as there seems no chance of your mother coming out here at the present. -FSF

Thursday, December 25, 2014

"Christmas in July", "Johnny O'Clock": Dick Powell & Ellen Drew

Christmas in July (1940): Based on Sturges’s unproduced play A Cup of Coffee (written in 1931), the screenplay is primarily focused on the miserable social-economic context of the Great Depression, where lowerclass characters struggle with financial difficulties and unemployment, while they are constantly reminded by their superiors that every single working individual should believe they are a success. Once again, Sturges shows how values such as money, success, and self-esteem are mere pretexts that capitalism waves in front of the workers’ eyes. If, in The Sin of Harold Diddlebock, Harold’s boss makes clear that capitalism does not “start people at the top” as “That would be too easy. We do it the American way… from the bottom,” in Christmas in July, Jimmy’s supervisor theorizes: “No system could be right where only half of one percent were successes and all the rest were failures. That wouldn’t be right.” As a consequence: “I’m not a failure—I’m a success.” Sturges shows how individuals belonging to opposite social classes end up sharing the same illusory beliefs.

When Betty and Jimmy discuss their future, the girl tries to convince her fiancé that they could live happily together in a hyper-functional oneroom apartment where the corner turns around and transforms into a bathroom, a kitchenette or a living room. The young man first opposes these foolish ideas with grounded skepticism, pointing out that the requirements for any successful marriage are work and money. His alternative solution, however, is not less improbable than the one devised by the girl: to invent a good advertising slogan and win the first prize in a coffee contest. When Jimmy receives a phony telegram forged by his colleagues, notifying him that he has won the contest, the news quickly spreads and it gains him a promotion, a raise, and the admiration of colleagues and neighbors.

The orgy of shopping, consumerism and gift-giving that follows will be as brief as Harold’s triumphal day, and it will soon bring everyone back to their miserable reality, and to a quick re-evaluation of Jimmy’s skills as an advertiser. As soon as the truth comes out, Jimmy, his boss, his girlfriend, his family, and the whole neighborhood will have to recognize not only the uncommonness of success and its illusory aspect, but also their own lack of good judgment in having conferred special talents on someone who did not actually possess any. Sturges does not provide the characters (and the viewer) with any form of consolation. Instead, he leaves them to face their own naivetĂ© and superficiality, and to reflect on the vacuity and relativity of those values that society creates and believes in. In this way, the misunderstanding does not become the pretext for a moral lecture on money and real values, but is used as an occasion for a complex reflection of the effects of capitalism.

It is in this ambivalent representation of a world not based on any binary opposition of values and social classes, and in a general relativism that subscribes to no particular moral position, that we can trace an attitude extremely different from that of other movies of the same period. Gianni Vattimo labeled this kind of cynicism, that does not provide alternative solutions, with the term “weak thought,” a concept that invokes an end to all categorical pronouncements about the nature of the real and new respect for the finite foundations of human projects, where judgments of value are outcrops of care, and the differences among them are most sensibly to be negotiated by discursive, democratic interaction. James Agee or Manny Farber interpreted it as a contradiction, a dangerous ambiguity which made of Sturges a “humanist who resisted fleshing out his characters, an artist whose view of the world as well as his style was fragmented, who couldn’t or wouldn’t express a cohesive vision.” Rather than lacking a cohesive vision, Sturges did not adopt the simplistic black-and-white approach to which Classical cinema had made its audience accustomed.

That is why, in contrast to other classical fables of poverty rewarded by a benign fate, Christmas in July does not provide us with any sort of illusory relief. In the end, Jimmy is still granted the chance of a lifetime (Dr. Maxford, after all, decides not to pull back his promotion—only the raise), but he is deprived of that enthusiasm and confidence in the system and his own self that his boss wanted to instill in him. Jimmy not only learns that chance and opportunities seldom turn dreams into reality, but he also faces the contradictions of a system based on the power of self-deception.

(Ellen Drew) Betty’s final plead to Mr. Baxter clearly reflects this disillusionment: Jimmy (Dick Powell) belongs in here because he thinks he has ideas. He belongs in here until he proves himself or fails… because it’s one thing to muff a chance when you get it … but it’s another thing never to have had a chance. —"The Cinema of Preston Sturges" (2010) by Alessandro Pirolini

Ellen Drew read through the script to Johnny O'Clock (1947), a major project at Columbia, and saw possibilities. The film would be screenwriter Robert Rossen's first directorial assignment. Rossen's script told the story of Johnny O'Clock (Dick Powell), partner of gangster Guido Marchettis (Thomas Gomez) in the operation of a gambling casino. Ellen zeroed in on the character of Nelle and went directly to Robert Rossen, asking him to test her for the role. Rossen acquiesced, but was skeptical; he thought Drew a little too genteel to portray the femme fatale.

All doubts were erased by the test and Ellen went on to deliver an electrifying performance ("a sleek and slinky vixen", The New York Times). Clad in sexy Jean Louis creations, with her hair cascading well past her shoulders, she talked tough as she toyed with the men in her life, managing to be seductive even when plastered. Along the way Johnny has made it clear to Nelle that he is on to her and not interested in her advances.

The murdered girl's sister (Evelyn Keyes) has become his romantic focus. The melodrama draws to a close with O'Clock and Marchettis involved in a deadly shoot-out, with Nelle having played one man off the other. Johnny O'Clock remains a noteworthy example of film noir. Despite a somewhat untidy storyline, its dialogue, direction and performances are first-rate. It's quite remarkable watching Drew and Dick Powell together in their sexually-charged, hard-edged scenes, remembering that seven years before they were the wide-eyed kids of Christmas in July! Ellen's work in Johnny O'Clock greatly impressed the Columbia front office.

"Harriet Hobson (Nina Foch), a hat-check girl at an illegal gambling casino, apparently commits suicide using gas. Her sister Nancy (Evelyn Keyes) shows up and becomes attracted to Johnny O’Clock (Dick Powell), a junior partner in the gambling den. Harriet was dating Chuck Blayden (Jim Bannon), a crooked cop who is trying to persuade Johnny’s longtime partner, Guido Marchettis (Thomas Gomez), to let him take Johnny’s place.

Though Johnny tries to resist, little by little, he falls for Nancy. Meanwhile, Marchettis’s wife Nelle (Ellen Drew) is still in love with her former boyfriend, Johnny. When Marchettis finds out, he tries to have his rival killed, but Johnny survives. Johnny decides to leave town with Nancy, but not before cashing in his share of the casino. When Marchettis objects, they shoot it out; Marchettis is killed and Johnny wounded. Afterward, Nelle offers to testify it was self-defense, but only if he will come back to her. He refuses, so she lies to Koch, telling him it was murder. Johnny’s first instinct is to run away, but Nancy and Koch convince him to give himself up.

Johnny O'Clock (Dick Powell) and his partner Pete Marchettis (Thomas Gomez) operate a gambling casino that has seen better days. Chuck Blayden (Jim Bannon), a cop on the take, wants in on the casino, and he makes friends with Pete while trying to convince him that Johnny, the smarter of the two, should go. When Chuck's girlfriend Harriet (Nina Foch) is found dead, a supposed suicide, his sister Nancy (Evelyn Keyes) smells a rat, especially after Chuck skips town. Screenwriter Robert Rossen made his directorial debut with this film, 14 years later, he would return to this film's tough, gritty style for his best picture, The Hustler. Source:

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Merry Christmas! The Making of "It's A Wonderful Life" by Frank Capra

"It's a Wonderful Life" (1946) directed by Frank Capra, starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Henry Travers, Gloria Grahame, etc.

"The Making of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE" - (Part 1 of 2)

"The Making of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE" - (Part 2 of 2)

Friday, December 19, 2014

Happy 34th birthday, Jake Gyllenhaal!


Jake Gyllenhaal attending the New York premiere of "Nightcrawler"

Nightcrawler (2014) Interview. Description: A young man stumbles upon the underground world of L.A. freelance crime journalism.

Gyllenhaal is a revelation once again, and the control of his instrument is a wonderful thing to witness. The character is unhinged, but precisely pitched. Unblinking and haunted, one imagines a rich back story for this character. While it's never explicitly stated, much is suggested by Gyllenhaal's fractured, on-the-edge performance and the environment around him; a lifetime of loneliness and isolation from an indifferent world that's about to crack and manifest itself in all kinds of ugly fissures. The harsh fluorescent brilliance of “Nightcrawler” is just how in tune Gyllenhaal, Gilroy and the movie are. Bloom and the movie slowly uncoil in tandem lock and step to unveil much more than an unsocialized loner who’s listened to too many of Tony Robbins' motivational speeches. But Gyllenhaal isn’t scene-chewing, and the humanity glimpsed early on is perhaps what makes his sinister transformation so creepy. "A friend is a gift that you give yourself," Bloom says with a cracked smile at a critical moment to Russo. It's both a veiled threat and a deeper reveal of a personality far more sociopathic than initially exposed.

When he finally gets a taste of success, Bloom becomes a tyrannical psycho unleashed through sheer force of will. And what's rather brilliant about Gyllenhaal's (and the movie's) characterization of Bloom's personal revolution is that it is both frightening and darkly hilarious. The repetition of this theme and Bloom's insistent self-motivational orations can be off-putting at first, but once Gyllenhaal's go-for-broke turn connects, these speeches click into gear, and they can be delightfully mordant. You just need to speak Gilroy-ese and go with the flow of this hectic patois that's perhaps indebted to Paddy Chayefsky's "Network."

Marginalized and having gone hungry for what feels like a lifetime, a ravaged economic disparity pulses through the crisp air of “Nightcrawler.” Luminescent with coyote-like eyes, Gyllenhaal’s like a hollowed out animal that spends nights hunting for marginal scraps to keep himself alive. But what separates the feral Bloom from all the night-time loners and losers in this particular wilderness is unremitting drive and unhealthy obsessiveness, It’s as if going hungry for so long has created an intensely sharp mind that just won’t quiet. And the inability to switch off is toxic. Source:

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Cornell Woolrich, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Raymond Chandler in Hollywood

Film-noir retrospectives are a specialty of the house at Film Forum. The venue marks the holidays by reviving two dozen classic films, most from the 1930s and ’40s, adapted from the fatalistic prose of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Cornell Woolrich and James M. Cain. The series goes beyond staples like “Mildred Pierce” and “Strangers on a Train” to present less-exposed films, such as a 1931 version of “The Maltese Falcon,” with Ricardo Cortez instead of Humphrey Bogart, and the racier tilt of pre-code Hollywood. Source:

Cornell Woolrich From Pulp Fiction to Film Noir (2006) by Thomas C. Renzi: "Cornell Woolrich began writing for movies during the period between 1928 and 1930 —The Haunted House, Seven Footprints to Satan, Children of the Ritz, and House of Horror, and he penned short stories for the pulp magazines Argosy, Dime Detective Magazine, Black Mask, etc., where detective, suspense and crime became his specialty. Although his stint as a screenwriter in the early ‘30s proved unfruitful, Hollywood discovered in the 1940s that Woolrich’s stories and novels were fertile ground for film, especially for film noir, and many of his works were adapted for the screen. “Woolrich isn’t in the league of Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler as a weaver of mood through the precise or voluptuous phrase,” wrote Time magazine in 2003. But, they concluded, “You don’t read Woolrich for the writing, exactly. You read it for the atmosphere, the smoky, urban settings that enshroud his helpless or conscienceless characters… Woolrich deals in moral ambiguity on its way to becoming moral invisibility. In Woolrich, love and death — the act of love and the act of death — can be the same thing. The author’s triumph is to make the subjects and stories so varied while the tone is constantly dark, menacing, inescapable. This world-view is so consistent, it must be personal. In his fiction, the mystery man wrote his own autobiography, one page at a time.”

At the time of his death, he was working on a novel called The Loser; fragments have been collected in Tonight, Somewhere in New York (2005). To get a more detailed look into his personal life, read Cornell Woolrich: First You Dream, Then You Die by Francis M. Nevins, Jr. In Cornell Woolrich From Pulp Fiction to Film Noir by Thomas C. Renzi, twenty-two stories and thirty films are discussed: “The Corpse Next Door” (January 23, 1937; film, Union City [1979]); “Face Work” (October 1937; film, Convicted [1938]); “I’m Dangerous Tonight” (November 1937; film, I’m Dangerous Tonight [1990]); “I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes” (March 12, 1938; film, I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes [1948]); “All at Once, No Alice” (March 20, 1940; film, The Return of the Whistler [1948]); “C-Jag” (October 1940; film, Fall Guy [1947]); The Bride Wore Black (1940; film, The Bride Wore Black [1967]); “He Looked Like Murder” (February 8, 1941; film, The Guilty [1947]); “Nightmare” (March 1941; films, Fear in the Night [1947], Nightmare [1956]); The Black Curtain (1941; film, Street of Chance [1942]); “Rear Window” (February 1942; films, Rear Window [1954], Rear Window [television, 1998]); Black Alibi (1942; film, The Leopard Man [1943]; “Dormant Account” (May 1942; film, The Mark of the Whistler [1944]); Phantom Lady (1942; film, Phantom Lady [1944]); The Black Angel (1943; film, Black Angel [1946]); Deadline at Dawn (1944; film, Deadline at Dawn [1946]); The Black Path of Fear (1944; film, The Chase [1946]); Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1945; film, Night Has a Thousand Eyes [1948]); Waltz into Darkness (1947; films, Mississippi Mermaid [1969], Original Sin [2001]); “The Boy Cried Murder” (March 1947; films, The Window [1949], Cloak & Dagger [1984]); I Married a Dead Man (1948; films, No Man of Her Own [1950], J’ai epouse une ombre [1982], Mrs. Winterbourne [1996], etc.

Renzi is adept at scrutinizing the works, comparing them with other films, and investigating thematic elements and stylistic techniques. . Just one standout is his interpretation of Fear in the Night’s homosexual subtext; his attention to detail is fascinating; his persuasive breakdown makes perfect sense. Also handled well is his explanation of the perverse added elements put into the film Original Sin (2001), taken from Woolrich’s 1947 novel Waltz into Darkness. He argues that one of the reasons “extremely outrageous things” creepily creep into some movies — and, believe me, that is a gross understatement concerning the vile Original Sin — is to “satisfy the private perversions of the director.”

For a complex movie like The Chase (1946), Renzi gives us different ways of approaching the storyline; food for thought. There are some very minor blips here and there, none of which should deter you. The Shadow didn’t say, “Who knows what evil lurks in the minds of men?” Throughout the book he deftly references other, non-Woolrich, films if he found parallels in their stories; so I was surprised that he didn’t see the similarities in Woolrich’s novel I Married a Dead Man to While You Were Sleeping (1995), which starred Sandra Bullock.

Speaking of I Married a Dead Man, for the first film adaptation, No Man of Her Own (1950), he makes this interesting comment about star Barbara Stanwyck: “As a gifted actress, Stanwyck has the incredible ability to produce a blank stare that paradoxically conveys an impressive exterior while telegraphing a dark, turbulent malevolence roiling behind the mask.” Renzi’s approach here is authoritative, with several neat surprises in store for noir fans. This is a meticulous evaluation of the films and the author proves that he really knows his noir and Woolrich. Highly recommended. —"Let Me Tell You How I Really Feel...Again: More of the Best of Laura Wagner's Book Reviews from Classic Images" (2014) by Laura Wagner

The idea of a 1929 crash which was personal as well as national had already been worked out, although not in such detail, as early as 1931 when Fitzgerald wrote “Babylon Revisited.” But then he had not dreamed how bad the crash would be or how long the Depression would last. In fact, Scott’s short story had really been about Zelda’s crash, not his own. It was she who had gone into a mental institution in 1930, just as many of America’s corporations were going into receivership. Scott felt a great loss, but in some ways it was the kind of loss a man feels when a stock hits bottom: his treasure had been smashed to bits but he himself was still intact. Four years after “Babylon Revisited” was published, however, the incredible happened: Scott’s own head cracked. Arthur Mizener writes that Fitzgerald began by writing stories about “the sadness of the lost past,” but that in later stories, like “Babylon Revisited,” “the past is used only for exposition; they are about the grim present.”

For love, life, and drama to become confused past all untangling, the only thing that remained was for Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald to act out their real-life love in play form, and that is exactly the job one movie producer offered them. He wanted Scott and Zelda to play their fictional alter egos, Amory Blaine and Rosalind Connage, in the movie version of This Side of Paradise. Fitzgerald’s editor Maxwell Perkins, with ancestors buried in Puritan New England, was horrified by the idea. The author tried to win him over by promising that this would be his “first and last appearance positively.” But before Fitzgerald could give the producer a definite yes or no, the project was shelved. Scott and Zelda did not star in This Side of Paradise because the picture was never made.

Carmel Myers, the star, opened the door and welcomed the Fitzgeralds to a party and to Hollywood. Graciously, she guided the newcomers from celebrity to celebrity the way Jay Gatsby guided Tom and Daisy when they came to his party. The Fitzgeralds had earned their invitation several years before in Rome where they met Carmel Myers on the set of Ben Hur and watched as cameras recorded her diminutive beauty against a backdrop of “bigger and grander papier-mache arenas than the real ones.” On Miss Myers’ bookshelf stood a copy of The Great Gatsby, a souvenir of those days in Rome; it was inscribed, “For Carmel Myers from her Corrupter F. Scott Fitzgerald. ’Don’t cry, little girl, maybe some day someone will come along who’ll make you a dishonest woman.’” The Fitzgeralds had shown the star a good time in Europe and now she wanted them to have a good time in California. As Fitzgerald wrote his daughter Scottie, “Hollywood made a big fuss over us and the ladies all looked very beautiful to a man of thirty. This is a tragic city of beautiful girls— the girls who mop the floor are beautiful, the waitresses, the shop ladies.”

One of the ladies who looked the most beautiful was a young actress named Lois Moran. Miss Moran wanted Fitzgerald to be her leading man in a film and he seems to have wanted the same thing, so she arranged a screen test for him just as Rosemary Hoyt would later arrange one for Dick Diver in Tender Is the Night. Dick, profiting from his creator’s hindsight, is allowed to take a superior attitude, but Fitzgerald himself went before the cameras. The studio, however, decided not to make him a star. Unlike William Faulkner and other novelists who went to Hollywood only for the money, Fitzgerald wanted much more: he had come to believe that he could no longer write novels and short stories, but he thought that he could write pictures.

To reach the MGM commissary, known as the Lion’s Den, Fitzgerald had to leave the Thalberg Building and walk along a fenced-in corridor which led to the main lot, a sprawling, crowded place that looked like a blind city: almost none of its buildings had windows. There were rows of huge structures which from the outside were as shapeless and uninteresting as four-story cardboard boxes but were actually the sound stages where movies were being made. There were also a few office buildings, which in his unfinished Hollywood novel, The Last Tycoon, Fitzgerald described as “old building[s] with… long balconies and iron rails with their suggestion of [a] perpetual tightrope.” In Tycoon Fitzgerald remembered this huge dining hall as being “gay with gypsies and with citizens and soldiers, with the sideburns and braided coats of the First Empire.”

After Three Comrades (1938), Fitzgerald wrote Infidelity (1939), his best script yet; it was an original screenplay which looked back to the luxurious New York apartments and fashionable Long Island estates where Gatsby had loved a woman and lost his life. But the industry censor stopped the film because infidelity simply was not allowed in the movie houses in the thirties. Inexplicably, his chance to conquer Hollywood was already behind him, lost somewhere back in the vast obscurity of the Hollywood machine. —"Crazy Sundays: F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood" (1972) by Aaron Latham

Raymond Chandler was a romantic, more like F. Scott Fitzgerald than the worldly Hammett, and through the character of Marlowe he became a haunting poet of place, this place, Los Angeles, whose split personality of light and dark mirrored Chandler's own. He caught the glaring sun, the glittering swimming pools, the cigar-stinking lobbies of seedy hotels, the improbable mansions, the dismal apartment buildings, the sound of tires on asphalt and gravel, the sparkling air of the city after rain and how the fog smells at the beach at night. "To take care of Cissy. That was his driving life force," Judith Freeman writes. Chandler worked in the oil business for Cissy, and he turned himself into a crime writer for his wife, while feeling he never "wrote a book worthy of dedicating to her." Source:

After the success of John Huston’s 1941 adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, starring Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, other studios started looking for hardboiled crime novels to put on the screen. Raymond Chandler never courted Hollywood but, in 1943, Hollywood came to him. Movie studios had been curious about his fiction from the start. RKO picked up the rights to Ray’s Farewell, My Lovely but, in what now seems a strange and rather ridiculous move, ditched both Philip Marlowe and the title.

The Falcon Takes Over (1942) uses Chandler’s plot, retains Moose Malloy and Anne Riordan, but relocates the action to New York City. Marlowe’s place is taken by the eponymous Falcon, a low-rent imitation of the Saint, played in this film by George Sanders. At roughly the same time, the plot of The High Window was being casually bent out of shape by an undistinguished screenwriter called Clarence Upson Young and reformed as Time To Kill (1942). In that film, Marlowe’s place was taken by detective Michael Shayne. Any reputation these all-but forgotten B-movies have today is because of their connection to Raymond Chandler. In the early 1940s, his carefully wrought novels were stripped of their plot and characters by film makers desperate for ideas and short on time. At any rate, to have adapted his fiction with any sort of care – to project the flickering, silvered image of Philip Marlowe on to a big screen and to show the seedy world of sex and corruption he inhabited – would have been impossible in 1943. At that time, Hollywood was in the grip of the Motion Picture Production Code (MPPC). This debilitating convention had come about in the early 1920s when fears that the lewd behaviour on screen would result in lewd behaviour off it. —"A Mysterious Something in the Light: The Life of Raymond Chandler" (2013) by Tom Williams

5 Healthy Oils to Keep in Your Kitchen

The phrase "healthy oils" may sound like a contradiction, but these nutrient-rich foods are indispensable when it comes to good living. Just a few teaspoons can boost your immune system, decrease your stress levels and reduce your risk of a heart attack. Just remember to use them in moderation; at 120 calories per serving, cooking oils can quickly pack on the pounds. Here are five healthy oils you should always keep in your kitchen.

1. Olive Oil

Is this Mediterranean superfood already a staple in your kitchen? For years, experts have hailed extra virgin olive oil for its heart-healthy benefits. Research has shown that supplementing your diet with quality olive oil can increase your good cholesterol and reduce the bad. When you exchange your regular butter or lard for olive oil and other monounsaturated fats, you can reduce your risk of heart disease. Whether you are baking, stir-frying or cooking in the oven, make sure that you choose a pure olive oil with a high level of antioxidants.

2. Sesame Seed Oil

You should not use sesame seed oil everyday, but once a week you can splurge on its unmatched nutty aroma and taste. This oil is best known for flavoring Asian stir-frys, but you can also add it to meat sauces and salad dressings for a unique experience. Toasted sesame oil contains important vitamins and minerals that may slow bacterial growth, prevent cellular damage and reduce your cancer risk. The high magnesium content has been shown to lower blood pressure and decrease glucose in diabetic patients.

3. Cottonseed Oil

Cottonseed oil had been a staple of the American kitchen for more than 40 years before World War II caused widespread shortages. Now, this versatile oil is making a comeback. New technologies and genetic enhancements have made it possible to produce a healthier oil with fewer pesticides. Cottonseed oil's high level of vitamin E fights free radicals and cancer development, while the fatty acid structure provides heart benefits. Because cottonseed has a muted, nutty flavor, it can be used virtually anywhere you might add canola or vegetable oil. The high smoke point makes it ideal for searing, browning and deep-frying.

4. Coconut Oil

Like cottonseed, coconut oil has undergone a leave-it-then-love-it comeback. The nutrients help the body process blood sugars, increase metabolism and endurance and fight off dangerous bacteria, viruses and fungi. It can also aid digestion. The light, mildly addictive flavor is a bonus. Try cold-pressed, virgin coconut oil with your popcorn, hash browns and baked goods.

5. Walnut Oil

If you worry about getting enough omega-3 fats and vitamins in your diet, walnut oil can help. This rich food delivers all of the nutritional benefits of whole walnuts without the mild bitterness. It can help to regulate brain functions, decrease artery inflammation and blood pressure and boost the immune system. Research from Penn State has even demonstrated a connection between consuming walnut oil and dealing with stress better. Pure walnut oil is loaded with vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin E, magnesium, selenium, zinc, potassium, copper and phosphorus. Since it does not stand up well to heat, use this product as a finishing touch instead of as a cooking aid. Add roasted walnut oil to winter vegetables, apple cakes, cheese pastas, grilled fish and beef bourguignon. Mix with balsamic vinegar for a more complex salad topping.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"The Lady in The Lake" on TCM for Christmas

In 1947, MGM tried a new narrative trick. The studio wanted a way to mimic the first-person narration of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe novels, so it hit upon the idea of shooting an entire film from the detective's perspective. The result was Robert Montgomery's The Lady in the Lake, and it's an odd watch. We're seeing the mystery from Marlowe's eyes, but we're not really Marlowe; our eyes don't see in black-and-white, for one, and they don't see in the Academy ratio. Watching it, you get the sense that there's always something you're missing, lurking just outside the frame. Source:

This splendidly gimmicky 1947 film noir classic, directed by its star Robert Montgomery, and based on the renowned hardboiled Raymond Chandler novel, was shot so that the whole story seems to be seen literally through the eyes of its private eye hero, Philip Marlowe.

When star Audrey Totter plants her lips on the subjective camera, the audience itself is kissed as the surrogate for Montgomery’s Marlowe. Montgomery directs himself in this unusual experiment whereby we never see him unless it’s in a mirror. Like the found-footage movies of the 90s era, the gimmicky idea soon becomes monotonous and contrived. But it still works reasonably well on this brilliant, highly complicated and involved Chandler yarn in which magazine editor Adrienne Fromsett (Audrey Totter) hires Marlowe (Montgomery) to search for her publisher boss Derris Kingsby (Leon Ames)’s missing wife, Chrystal.

The experiment is kind of at odds with the material and slightly works against it, ending up as a movie that’s less effective than it would be filmed straight. And yet the experiment intrigues, as you get involved in its intricacies and Chandler’s world-weary story easily and effortlessly carries the movie. And complaints that the plot’s too convoluted or too hard to follow are, as with the 1946 film of The Big Sleep, wrong-headed. You have to pay attention, but if you do, it’s all very clearly exposed.Immaculate players Totter, Ames, Lloyd Nolan (a cop, Lieutenant DeGarmot) and Tom Tully (as Captain Kane) look like they have been born to play Chandler. Jayne Meadows, Dick Simmons, Morris Ankrum, Lila Leeds, William Roberts, Kathleen Lockhart, Eddie Acuff, Wheaton Chambers, Jack Davis and Ralph Dunn also co-star. Source:

December, 28 2014 (SUNDAY) AT 10:00 PM: "THE LADY IN THE LAKE" (1947) ON TCM

"The day before Christmas, detective Philip Marlowe (Robert Montgomery) visits Kingsby Publications in the hopes of getting one of his crime stories published. Editor-in-chief Adrienne Fromsett (Audrey Totter) has an ulterior motive for interviewing Marlowe. She wants him to locate the missing wife of her boss, Derace Kingsby, so the publisher can begin divorce proceedings. You can tell by the title that Ms. Kingsby is probably going to be very wet and very dead when they find her. Happy holidays!

Lady in the Lake is a unique achievement in many ways. Not only is it actor Robert Montgomery's first solo directorial effort (he had previously helped John Ford complete They Were Expendable (1945) when the director fractured his leg on location), but it is one of the first films to tell the entire story through the eyes of the main character - Philip Marlowe. The subjective camera was a novel idea for a mainstream Hollywood picture, but the MGM executives who green-lighted the project were puzzled by the results. They thought they were getting the actor Robert Montgomery as part of the bargain too but only glimpsed him in a few scenes, including one in a mirror reflection.

Nevertheless, the publicity department had a field day promoting this unusual film noir entry with hook lines like "YOU accept an invitation to a blonde's apartment. YOU get socked in the jaw by a murder suspect!" And Montgomery does appear on camera at the beginning to set the whole gimmick up saying, "You'll see it just as I saw it. You'll meet the people. You'll find the clues. And maybe you'll solve it quick and maybe you won't." A good deal of the budget went toward elaborate camera set-ups and breakaway sets. "The real challenge was the filming itself, "Montgomery told writer John Tuska in his book, The Detective in Hollywood. "We had to do a lot of rehearsing. Actors are trained not to look at the camera. I had to overcome all that training. I had a basket installed under the camera and sat there so that, at least, the actors could respond to me, even if they couldn't look directly at me."

When MGM purchased the rights to Raymond Chandler's fourth Philip Marlowe mystery in 1945, they asked the novelist to adapt it for the screen. It would be the only time Chandler would write a screenplay based on his own work. The result, a rambling 175-page script, was deemed unfilmable and Steve Fisher was brought in for a rewrite. Chandler insisted on a screen credit until he read Fisher's revised screenplay and then wanted his name removed from the credits. While Chandler had issues with the subjective camera gimmick and the deletion of the Little Fawn Lake sequence (a key scene in the original novel), critics were impressed with the film. Newsweek called it "a brilliant tour de force," and The New York Times reported that "The picture is definitely different and affords one a fresh and interesting perspective on a murder mystery."

Lady in the Lake is also notable as Audrey Totter's first major starring role and for Jayne Meadows' tricky impersonation of three different characters while hiding her true identity. Director: Robert Montgomery, Producer: George Haight, Screenplay: Steve Fisher, based on the novel by Raymond Chandler Source:

To really enjoy the 1947 MGM film noir Lady in the Lake, it's crucial to accept the subjective camera angle Robert Montgomery uses, and fully give yourself to seeing things via this artificial first person lens. Allow some room for deviation, too, from the expected portrayal of Raymond Chandler's Phillip Marlowe character. It's worth leaving such preconceptions behind as the film pulls off the rare trick of being nasty and cynical while still maintaining its studio gloss as first rate entertainment wrapped in a decidedly noir package, Christmas bow and all. For all of the causticity shown by Marlowe, his scenes with Fromsett gradually reveal the desire to be vulnerable and start anew, with her, in a loving relationship. Again, maybe this isn't the Marlowe we're accustomed to elsewhere but Montgomery plays him as weary and stubborn and not terribly bright yet always, almost painfully, guarded.

His actions indicate that he wants to believe Fromsett's not involved with any of the unsavory parts of this case but he can't give himself to her until everything's been settled. Their many encounters really strengthen the film as we see the gears of romance turn much slower and more deliberately than is the norm in Hollywood. The sequence where Marlowe seems to come around involves a very domestic situation, at Fromsett's apartment. She's given him an uncharacteristically flashy robe as a Christmas gift, but Marlowe finds a card in the pocket addressed to Kingsby, indicating the robe was bought for her boss. But before Marlowe even has a chance to mention the card, Fromsett casually admits the whole thing and tells him she left it there on purpose, that she wants a fresh start where they're honest with each other. Source: