Friday, November 17, 2017

Noirsville Iconic Gif Of The Week

Veda Pierce (Ann Blyth) in Mildred Pierce (1945)

Fallen Angel (1945)

I rewatched Fallen Angel today.

It's a Noir with all of the right ingredients. An out of money drifter named Eric who gets thrown off a Pacific Coast Highway bus in a California seaside flyspeck called Walton. He has one dollar to his name, the fare to San Francisco is $2.25. Out a luck buddy.

He walks to a beanery called Pop's. Pop is an old fart infatuated with his sultry waitress. a doll named  Stella. Another patron under steamy Stella's spell is an ex NYPD cop named Mark Judd.

Stella's character is embodied with a ton of subtext. To have that many guys hanging and sticking around her, is not simply because she's just a very desireable woman. The way it's depicted is as if she's a cat in heat. They way I read it, as a man, is, that, this  dish Stella is, to put in the terminology of the day "a broad who's good for a blast, a cookie who likes to make it with the whoopie, basically  "putting out.," To what extent exactly she is doing so or letting get done to her is never spelt out, but she seems to be a tough cookie, juggling various horney tomcats.

A free spirit up to a certain point. She'll let any dreamboat eager beaver have a shot at it. A "hotsy totsy, hot  diggity dog!, a  share-crop, Wow!" You can, in the best noir tradition, let your imaginations run wild.

Getting back to Eric. After a cup of joe, he then heads over to a local dive hotel and cons his way into the room booked by a traveling "Spook Show," by claiming he knows Professor Madley the spiritualist. And this in turn leads to Eric worming his way into the good graces of two rich spinsters June and Clara Mills. The chiaroscuro cinematography throughout the film is breathtaking.

A Noirista friend of mine who goes by the nome de plume of Jessica Rabbit has just recently written a great review below, enjoy!

(pub SLWB March 30, 2017)

 “We were born to tread the earth as angels, to seek out heaven this side of the sky. But they who race above shall stumble in the dark, and fall from grace. Then love alone can make the fallen angel rise. For only two together can enter Paradise.”

Fallen Angel, directed by Otto Preminger, was his follow-up movie to Laura. After the immensely successful Laura, Darryl Zanuck demanded that Preminger do it again. So Preminger assembled the same director, lensman, leading man, composer and costume designer again, but replaced Gene Tierney with Linda Darnell, in this case a smart decision. Tierney’s personality was too high-toned and refined, Darnell’s appeal is much more down-to-earth and no-nonsense, and when it comes to playing slutty she’s just right. It is what’s needed here.

Fallen Angel is a very good though not brilliant entry into the genre, it doesn’t have Laura’s gloss and dazzle, focusing instead on desperation and hopelessness.

The cinematography throughout is impressive, thanks to Joseph LaShelle, with wonderful shadows, clandestine meetings in dark alleys and a great opening sequence, a bus speeding through the dark night with credits zipping by as super-imposed street signs.

The movie sees Dana Andrews as aimless drifter Eric Stanton. After he can’t pay his fare all the way to San Francisco, he’s unceremoniously tossed off a Greyhound literally in the middle of nowhere, halfway between LA and SF. No man’s land, the nothing town of Walton. He’s down to his last buck and needs money fast. In Pop’s diner he meets Stella (Linda Darnell), and all it takes is one look and he’s hooked. He wants her, she wants money. 


Stella is missing 

Eric (Andrews) Pop (Kilbride) Stella (Darnell)

Trading on his charm, he devises several schemes to strike it rich. He’s not only a drifter, but soon-to-be con artist. After meeting smarmy spiritualist Madley (John Carradine in a great little supporting role), he sees his chance to sucker gullible local yokels out of their money by raising phony ghosts from the dead. Stanton seems to be a natural at these scams, he isn’t hampered by an abundance of conscience. He’s so good in fact that Madley offers him a steady job. But he’s stuck on Stella.

To win his lady love, Stanton concocts quite a cruel plan. Marry one girl, local heiress June (Alice Faye) for her money, then ditch her, run and marry the other. His plan works out, but to great his surprise he finds himself falling for his bride. When Stella gets herself murdered because she’s been pushing somebody too far, the heat is on him, as he was seen arguing with her. He goes on the run with June, because he doesn’t want the murder pinned on him…

Spook Show

Eric with Joe Ellis (Olin Howland) and Professor Madley (John Carradine)

Spook Act

Noir is predominantly an urban based style of filmmaking where crowds of people can nevertheless barely hide the isolation and loneliness of its dwellers. From the faceless anonymity of the bleak concrete jungle Noir derives many of its themes. However, Noir can survive perfectly fine outside this particular environment. The very often confined and narrow-minded atmosphere of small towns too can be a fertile ground for alienation. Walton seems to be more or less a one-horse town with what looks like just one place for entertainment. Nothing ever happens there and nothing is ever crowded which gives the movie a very intimate feel. The town seems to exist mainly in shadows, hinting at dark secrets of thwarted passions that lurk underneath.

Andrews is very convincing as the down-on-his-luck huckster who’s always looking for a quick buck. He’s been running to and from something his whole life. Fights, honest work, responsibility. He’s tormented about his past. He’s a failure, nothing he touched ever turned to gold, one financial endeavor after another tanked, he has a million jobs behind him. He confesses to June: “It all adds up to only one thing, a complete wash-out…at 30”. He’s not really a bad guy, but he isn’t good either, and as such he’s the perfect ambiguous Noir protagonist. He’s quite complex, he doesn’t give you answers easily because he probably doesn’t know them himself. 

It’s the counter at Pop’s Diner that serves as the altar the men of Walton come to worship at daily, drinking bad coffee just to get a glimpse of its resident voluptuous and provocative hash slinger slash goddess with her come-hither but don’t touch me looks.Her entrance is pure Noir and grabs the audiences’ attention right away. She comes back after a three-day absence from just one more lousy fling that went nowhere, world-weary and tired. The camera lovingly caresses her legs, and so do all the men - with their eyes. We know right away the dame’s no good. Stella’s been around the block a few too many times.

Stella's Entrance

She’s juggling many suitors at the same time, trying to milk them for as much money as possible. The girl wants to live easy. Diner owner Pop is acting like a love-sick puppy, retired cop Judd and salesman Atkins hungrily watch her all the time, so Stanton has to get in line. But what she wants is a ring on her finger. The guy who gets her must have money to pay her way out of this backwater, that’s the way to her mercenary little heart. She wants a meal-ticket to respectability, then maybe she’ll consent to a little canoodling. It’s not marriage per se she wants, it’s marriage WITH money, emphasis on money. Then she can prove to the world that she’s not just a cheap hash slinger. In an odd way, Stella wants to be June.

The problem is, Stella isn’t just greedy, she’s bone idle and downright lazy. She’s belligerent, selfish, coarse and goes out of her way to insult customers and the men who desire her. Her demeanor is a stark contrast to her looks. Sure, she’s honest about what she wants - she makes it quite clear it isn’t love she’s after, it’s money - but only because she’s so self-centered, the feelings of others mean nothing to her. Frankly, she’s simply not the sharpest knife in the drawer. She doesn’t have the brains to make it work, otherwise with her looks she should have been on easy street a long time ago.

But it’s interesting to note that it isn’t Stella who brings Andrews down, his doom is entirely of his own making. He has the chance to leave town numerous times, Stella certainly doesn’t try to hold him back, but he doesn’t. She isn’t quite a femme fatale, at least not a completely evil one. In contrast to other deadly dames, she isn’t a murderous sociopath who sets some poor sap up to take the fall for her crimes, she’s just a floozy who wants money and gets herself killed in the bargain.

Pop’s Diner is the spiritual center of the town. It’s a crummy little joint out in the boonies, it’s nothing but a shoddy clapboard structure with the word BEER written in huge letters on it. But the joint is just as crummy as the people who frequent it. Losers, drifters, down-and-outers…Stanton fits right in.

June (Alice Faye)

Alice Faye got top billing, but has the most thankless role in the movie, the good girl, the local spinster. Guileless, bookish, virginal and repressed, she falls for Andrews in no time. 
Originally, Faye’s role was supposed to be much bigger. She had been a very successful musical actress, Fox’s No. 1 star for a while, who now wanted to make the transition to dramatic roles. Fallen Angel was supposed to launch her career on a new path. In something of a cruel twist, this didn’t happen as she was up against Darnell whose smoldering sultriness was hard to beat, and who became a huge star after the film. A lot of Faye’s scenes were left on the cutting room floor, including one in which she was supposed to sing the song “Slowly” to Andrews on the beach. This decision upset Faye, and is partly given as a reason she retired from film after Fallen Angel. In Faye’s view Preminger decidedly favored Darnell and made her role too prominent. This should act as a warning to all actresses. If anyone ever offers you the role of good girl in a Noir, just say no. Noir belongs to the femme fatale and the good girl is simply the other woman.

Nevertheless, Faye is good as June, the redemptive woman though without a doubt too much on the saintly side. Stella and June are contrasted dramatically throughout the picture, night-time Stella and sunny-day June, sincerity vs. the gold-digger. June wants companionship, her love for Stanton is unconditional which in the end turns out to be a strength rather than a weakness. When things go bad she rises to the challenge. She’s the one who convinces her man that he’s not as bad as he thinks himself to be. All he needs is the love of a good woman. We’ve all heard that before, but as it’s Dana Andrews we’re talking about it’s a safe bet to take a chance on him. We believe it because she believes it. There is always the possibility of redemption, the quote about the fallen angel who can rise again makes that clear. As it turns out, the fallen angel is Stanton, not Stella as we are made to believe in the beginning.


We've been heavily influenced by film critics to see happy endings in Noir as a fault and the redemptive aspects of the genre are often overlooked. Many Noir protagonists do find salvation, though oftentimes only in death. But Noir doesn’t have to fit a particular template.

Despite the happy ending, Fallen Angel has its Noir credentials straight. Lust, unfulfilled longing, sexual obsession, broken promises, dashed dreams, greed, desperation and the overwhelming desire to break free from stifling unhappy lives are the main themes. Everybody here wants something they can’t have. For most of characters their aspirations end in a nightmare.

Fallen Angel is a frequently overlooked Noir, but it shouldn’t be.

Screencaps from the Fox DVD.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Jackie Brown (1997) Soul Noir

A great amalgamation of Blaxploitation, Neo Noir, and Elmore Leonard, by Quentin Tarantino.

This film is a lot of fun to watch, Tarantino weaves his magic in his Tarantinian way. Snappy dialog, check, pop references, check, soul music, check, low life losers, check, bringing back blasts from the past in the forms of Pam Grier and Robert Forster, check. The film is probably one of his more restrained efforts, but it fits perfectly for Film Noir.

Noirs were almost always about small time losers. Low key stories of life on the cusp. Tales that drift to the wrong side of the tracks. It's about poor schmucks who are trying to get by any way they can. And if in the process they have to step over on the dark side occasionally, and make deals with the boogie man, well, in this case, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.

Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) is a stewardess who makes the Cabo run from L.A. to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. It's a bottom of the barrel gig. But Jackie makes do. One of her angles is that Jackie is a conduit for money. Money generated from illegal arm sales by one Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson). Ordell has been building a nest egg. Current total is a cool half million that Ordell has tucked away in Mexico. Ordell is a cool operator who keeps on the move. He makes a circuit between his various hangouts. He's got a house in Compton, a surfer chick, Melanie Ralston (Bridget Fonda) in Hermosa Beach and a girlfriend somewheres else. Ordell is breaking into his business, Louis Gara (Robert De Niro), a sort of befuddled excon buddy of his who just did four years in stir for bank robbery.

Jackie Brown (Grier)

Louis (De Niro) and Ordell (Jackson)

Max (Forster)
Melanie (Fonda)
Ordell's world starts going Noirsville when one of his dim bulb employees, Beaumont Livingston (Chris Tucker) gets pulled over for a traffic violation and is busted for carrying an unlicensed gun. When he's booked, he's found to have prior charges and is looking at ten years. Ordell has got to move fast. He heads to Max Cherry (Robert Forster) a bail bondsman to get Beaumonts ass out of the slammer. Max has been in the bonds buiz for twenty years and he deals straight up with Ordell, not putting up with any of his jive-ass talking BS.

With Beaumont out on bond, Ordell makes his move. He goes to Beaumont's flop. A converted residence motel. He tells him he needs him to come along right now tonight, on a deal he's got to close. It's a hilarious sequence.

Ordell Robbie: Look, I hate to be the kinda nigga does a nigga a favor, then, BAM!, hits a nigga up for a favor in return. But I'm afraid I gots to be that kinda nigga.
Beaumont: Whatchu mean?
Ordell Robbie: I need a favor, nigga!
Beaumont: I'm ready, man. What's the problem?
Ordell Robbie: There ain't no problem, it's more like a situation. You remember them three M-60 machine guns I sold last year outta the five I got?
Beaumont: Yeah.
Ordell Robbie: Well, I'm gonna sell the other two tonight. There's this group of Koreans over in Koreatown, starting' this neighborhood watch thing. They need some weapons so they can show the neighborhood niggers they mean business. Now, I'm gonna sell them the other two machine guns, all right? The problem is, I ain't never done business with these Koreans before. Now I ain't worried, 'cause by and large Asians are very dependable, they don't want no trouble. You might argue with them about price and shit, but you ain't gotta worry about them shooting you in the back, you know what I'm saying? But I got me a rule: Never do business with people you ain't never done business with before without backup. And that's why I need you: backup.

Odell and Beaumont (Tucker)
Beaumont reluctantly agrees and follows Ordell down to his car. Ordell opens his trunk and hands Beaumont a sawed off pump action scattergun. Ordell tells him all he's got to do is get in the trunk with the gum and when he pops it jump up and point it at the guys he's dealing with. Beaumont wants to know why he can't just ride shotgun. Ordell tells him it's about the surprize factor.

Beaumont: Man, you must be out of your fuckin' mind if you think I'm gonna get in this dirty-ass trunk.
Ordell Robbie: We ain't going nowhere but to Koreatown, man. You ain't gonna be locked in here no more than ten minutes.

Beaumont: I ain't ridin' in no trunk for no minute, man. I just ain't gettin in no goddamn, dirty-ass trunk man. I got a problem with small places.
Ordell Robbie: Well I got a problem with spending ten thousand dollars on ungrateful, peanut-head niggas to get 'em out of jail, but I did it!
Beaumont: I ain't gettin' in no trunk. You catch a nigga off guard with this shit.
Ordell Robbie: Look here, look here, I tell you what, when we get done fuckin' with these Koreans... me and you go to Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles on me... Think about it now... That ‘Scoe’s Special, smothered in gravy and onions...  side of red beans and rice, some greens... Thats some good eatin’...

This film is full of these amusing vignettes, and it's a fun ride. Everyone is jockeying for position. Odell wants his cash, the ATF and LAPD want Odell, Max wants Jackie, and Jackie wants her freedom and a payback from Odell. How all this plays out is part of the magic of the movie and it's the getting there with wonderful fleshed out characters that's a hoot.


Ray Nicolette (Keaton) 

Sheronda (Hamilton)

The film stars Pam Grier as Jackie Brown, Samuel L. Jackson as Ordell Robbie, Robert Forster as Max Cherry, Bridget Fonda as Melanie Ralston, Michael Keaton as Ray Nicolette, Robert De Niro as Louis Gara, Chris Tucker as Beaumont Livingston, Michael Bowen as Mark Dargus, Lisa Gay Hamilton as Sheronda, Tommy "Tiny" Lister Jr. as Winston, Hattie Winston as Simone and Sid Haig as the Judge.

Cinematography was by Guillermo Navarro and the soundtrack has cuts by Bobby Womack, Smokey Robinson, Brothers Johnson, The Supremes, Pam Grier, Bloodstone, Roy Ayers, Johnny Cash, Jermaine Jackson, The Delfonics, Minnie Riperton, Foxy Brown, Isaac Hayes, Bill Withers, The Meters, Elliot Easton's Tiki Gods, Elvin Bishop, The Guess Who, The Grassroots, Randy Crawford, The Vampire Sound Incorporation, Orchestra Harlow, Umberto Smaila, Snakepit
Brad Hatfield and Dick Walter.

Screencaps are from the Collectors Edition DVD 9/10.