A year ago, a global pandemic forced me into quarantine. I don’t know what these last twelve months would’ve looked like without my subscription to the Criterion Channel. It wouldn’t be a catastrophe, of course — no worse than the actual catastrophe occurring outside my apartment walls. But the grind of dullness would’ve been far worse. I wouldn’t have the cinematic delights of dog revolutionaries, noir Westerns, a spiritual debate resolved in a gory barroom brawl, or a quality Christmas stalker film.…
I know I’m a broken record about how Alien is, IMO, the greatest ensemble of character actors in the history of SF in movies. Today seems like a good day to say it again.
One of the many things I learned from the huge “Making of Alien” book is that the actors made their characters. They were thinly sketched in the screenplay. You knew that Kane volunteered to go out exploring and wanted to be lowered on the line to see where the hole led, but it was up to the actors to figure out who these people were. Sigourney Weaver wanted Ripley to be prickly, officious, and disliked by pretty much everyone (except the cat), as she poked around in areas outside her official responsibilities. Harry Dean Stanton had Brett follow Parker around and say “right” all the time (in the original screenplay he just backed Parker up at key moments, saying “yeah” in agreement). Ian Holm decided Ash would do every line and make every move like he was on a job interview. Skerritt was driving Ridley Scott nuts by talking so quietly, but then on screen in the rushes Scott saw that it was working and he was clearly in charge.
Yaphet Kotto walked through the sets and knew how he had to play Parker: “Parker was going to be bigger than life. I thought Parker had to be, because one look at Ridley’s sets–I said this character is going to get lost in this and so he’s got to be big. Bombastic and big.”
Ridley also ordered Kotto to ignore Sigourney Weaver as much as possible, make her feel the nervous, inexperienced outsider to the team, or needle her a little. He wouldn’t eat lunch with her, he’d take the makeup chair as far as her from possible. . . even though he liked her from when they first met and felt a little sorry for her as the newbie with a bunch of people who’d been in big roles for years.
Ridley Scott was a collaborator with his actors. He told them the goals of the scene and let the actors work out who would be standing nervously, who would be slumped with their feet up, stuff like that, then Ridley worked out the lighting. They altered their lines, added busyness with their hands. I think that’s the reason Yaphet Kotto is more Parker in everyone’s memory than his other roles, he had the room to make full use of his gifts.
I started writing a regular column for Black Gate in March of 2014. I’ve covered a lot of ground, but today we’re going to try something new. Earlier this year, I was watching Casablanca (yet AGAIN) on TCM, and I decided to do do a running commentary about it on my FB page. I know a LOT about that movie. TCM showed it again a little over a month later, so I did it again. It was fun.
I decided to do the same thing with a Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movie. But I watched it on Youtube, which let me pause it while I typed comments, and took screenshots. That worked satisfactorily. During Casablanca, I was so busy (mis)typing comments, I missed half of the movie.
So, this is a mix of my running commentary, with more information and fun stuff added in during composition of the essay. It’s a hybrid, but not as detailed as I normally write. We’ll see how it goes as we look at two films: Terror By Night, and The Scarlet Claw. I already wrote a full post on the second movie. I just felt like watching it again.
Of course, all fourteen Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce were black and white. But colorized versions, both official and not, have been around for a while. I watched colorized versions of both films, via Youtube. Terror By Night was done by TCC (Timeless Classics now in Color). They’ve got a bunch of movies on their website. And the quality of this one was excellent. The best colorized Holmes I’ve seen. The Scarlet Claw was by ATC, and it was muddy.
TERROR BY NIGHT
We start with number eleven of twelve in the Universal Pictures series. Only one more Holmes movie remained, as Rathbone, tired of being typecast, walked away from the franchise (and the associated radio show).
(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)
Humphrey Bogart worked his way up the ladder at Warner Brothers, frequently playing a bad guy who went up against James Cagney or Edward G. Robinson, who were big stars and a part of Warner’s ‘Murderer’s Row.’ I count seven times Bogie was pitted against one or the other, in a supporting actor role. Bogart was the star the eighth time, in Key Largo. It comes as no surprise that Bogart inevitably lost, up to that last time.
Bogart had failed twice in Hollywood before The Petrified Forest gave him the traction to stick on the west coast. He was so grateful to star Leslie Howard, who insisted that Bogart reprise his stage role as Duke Mantee, that Bogie named his daughter after Leslie. Bogart’s first film after that one is my favorite of his gangster flicks, Bullets or Ballots. It’s a typical thirties gangster film from Warners, which is a good thing.
Picking Lead (trivia) – The Petrified Forest was a smash on Broadway, and Warners bought the rights. Howard was the star and signed on to do the film. Warners wanted to use Robinson for the role of Mantee. Howard was determined the part be played by Bogart, saying he wouldn’t do the movie otherwise. Warners blinked and Bogart returned to the west coast, receiving strong reviews.
Picking Lead – Howard was killed in 1942 when the Luftwaffe shot down the Dutch commercial airliner he was flying on. His son, Ronald, also became an actor and starred in a British Sherlock Holmes television series. He played a younger Holmes and it’s an under-appreciated performance: in part because of poor scripts and low production values.
Edward G. Robinson plays Johnny Blake, a pipe-smoking cop finishing his career out-of-favor with the current leadership. He’s from the two-fisted school, and makes bad guys tip their hat to him. When one refuses to do so, Blake punches him out. When the thug takes a swing at him, he throws him through a glass door and has him arrested for destruction of property.
(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)
Coming off of Edward G. Robinson as the May Star of the Month on TCM, June is Ann Sheridan Month. The ‘Oomph Girl’ appeared in several hardboiled/noir/crime movies, so we’ll tell you some movies to look for.
Every Tuesday, there is a batch of Sheridan movies, and things kicked off June 1st, with eight flicks, including two Bogart movies: Black Legion, and The Great O’Malley. But the past is prologue.
Now, all of these films can be streamed live on Watch TCM if you get Turner Classic via your cable company. But even if you don’t, most of them can be viewed for at least one week after airing on WatchTCM. Some, like Casablanca, don’t get put up. I assume it’s to help sell mover DVDs. But most do. So, if you miss a movie, you can watch it via the app, or the website.
Having laid all of that out, let’s take a look at some of the June films, all EST:
June 2 (look for on Watch TCM)
8:00 PM – Black Legion
A 1937 ‘social cause’ movie. It’s based on the real-life Black Legion, which was a splinter group of the Ku Klux Klan. Humphrey Bogart is a factory worker with seniority who gets passed over by a smarter, harder-working foreigner. And ends up joining the hate group. It was a strong performance by Bogart, who was just being forced by Warners to crank out B-movies (this was four years before High Sierra). Sheridan is fourth-billed and is really only the third main female. The speech from the judge at the end is as heavy-handed propaganda as you’ll run across in a Bogart film. Worth a watch.
9:30 PM – Dodge City
This is a big budget western, starring the swashbuckling Errol Flynn. Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) directed, with a great musical score by Max Steiner. One of my favorite comic supporting actors, Frank McHugh, is here, as Sheridan plays female second banana to Olivia de Haviland. This movie features a heck of a bar room brawl, and the cast is solid. There was an unrelated follow-up with Flynn, Virginia City. Which included Bogart as a Mexican raider with a cheesy mustache.
(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)
And for the third year in a row, A (Black) Gat in the Hand makes a hardboiled reservation for Monday mornings. It’s a limited run, but for the month of June, I’ll look at some hardboiled/noir on screen efforts: Ones that you might not be quite as familiar with. Not totally off the beaten path, but not the big names, either. And we kick things off with Dick Powell’s follow up to Murder My Sweet, Johnny, O’Clock.
When you think of the hardboiled movie, or book, it’s usually a private eye that comes to mind. There’s Sam Spade, and Philip Marlowe, and Mike Hammer. Of course, there were also cops in movies, like Glenn Ford’s Dave Bannion in The Big Heat; and Frederick Nebel’s MacBride in print. Those stories were changed into seven Torchy Blaine movies, and quite different from Nebel’s hardboiled stories about MacBride, unfortunately.
Other occupations were covered, including reporters, and lawyers. Ex-soldiers of various stripes, like Alan Ladd in The Blue Dahlia, were popular. A movie that I really like in this genre starred a gambler. Like Humphrey Bogart’s Dead Reckoning, this film doesn’t appear on any top ten lists, but it doesn’t feature a private eye, and it’s a ‘could have been really good’ film.
Like James Cagney and George Raft, Dick Powell was a successful song and dance man in Hollywood. Then, he was surprisingly cast as Raymond Chandler’s world-weary Phililp Marlowe in Murder My Sweet, and he nailed the part. That 1944 effort was the first of four hardboiled films he made in a five-movie span, of which Johnny O’Clock was the third.
Picking Iron (trivia) – This new side of Powell made him perfect for the singing, funny, tough radio PI, Richard Diamond (I love that series).
Powell plays the title character, and he’s manager of a fancy (and legal) gambling joint in NYC. He dresses well, knows lots of people, and lives in a fancy apartment with an ex-con named Charlie, who is his jack of all trades assistant.
So, Edward G. Robinson is the May Star of the Month on TCM. Every Thursday there is a batch of Robinson movies, as well as some other movies featuring hardboiled stars, like Humphrey Bogart. Things kicked off May 7th with eight Robinson flicks, including two excellent Bogie movies, Key Largo, and Bullets or Ballots. But the past is prologue.
Let’s take a look at some of the films coming up this month, all EST. A note: any movie shown on TCM, which they don’t sell the DVD for, can be viewed on WatchTCM for a week after it airs. So, for example, Bullets or Ballots can be seen right now, but Key Largo can’t.
8:15 AM – All Through the Night
This is one of my Top Ten Bogart films – might even be Top Five. Bogart is Gloves Donahue, a NYC gangster. It opened up in January of 1942, in the early stages of the war. Hollywood was shifting from making gangster movies to war films, and this is both! Conrad Veidt (Major Strasser in Casablanca) leads a Nazi spy ring that runs afoul of Bogart’s gang. It’s a comedy-gangster-spy movie, and I think it’s a great watch. There’s a superb supporting cast, including Peter Lorre, William Demarest, Frank McHugh, Jackie Gleason, Phil Silvers, and Barton MacLane! I highly recommend this one.
In Casablanca, when Rick is advising Major Strasser about invading certain parts of New York, that’s an in-joke back to this movie.
4:15 PM – The Return of Doctor X
This is a bad, science fiction/horror movie. It’s a little campy; but mostly just bad. I’ll let Bogie tell you himself how bad it was:
“This is one of those pictures that made me march in to (Warner Brothers boss Jack L. Warner) and ask for more money again. You can’t believe what this one was like. I had a part that somebody like Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff should have played. I was this doctor, brought back to life, and the only thing that nourished this poor bastard was blood. If it’d been Jack Warner’s or Harry (Warner’s) blood, I wouldn’t have minded as much. The trouble was, they were drinking mine and I was making this stinking movie.”
That’s from an essay I wrote about it here at Black Gate. Watch the movie, read my essay. You’ll thank me later.
9:45 PM – A Slight Case of Murder
I’m not crazy about Robinson’s gangster comedies, of which this is one. A gangster goes straight. Much hilarity ensues. Sort of. It does have the always reliable Alan Jenkins, who appeared in lots of Warners crime films.
Now, I think that Casablanca is the greatest movie ever. I’ve seen it far more times than any other movie, and I rarely pass up a chance to sit down and watch it again when TCM runs it. I had never seen a Humphrey Bogart movie until my early twenties. Then, I went to the Ohio Theater, an amazing place on the National Register of Historic Places, to see Casablanca on a HUGE screen. There was even organ music during the intermission. I was hooked for life and I now own almost every movie Bogart appeared in. I’m a virtual Cliff Claven of Casablanca trivia, and I’ve even written two short stories centered around the movie.
Frederick Stephani was a screenwriter who had penned the first Flash Gordon movie that Buster Crabbe starred in. He also did the screenplay for Johnny Holiday, a hardboiled movie starring William Bendix. After the success of Casablanca, Warners had him write a treatment for a sequel, working title Brazzaville – after the Free French garrison that Renault suggests he and Rick visit as they walk away from the airport at the close of the film.
BRAZZAVILLE – CASABLANCA SEQUEL
Rick and Renault drive to Rick’s Cafe to find some unhappy Germans waiting for them. The Germans demand that Renault either arrest Rick, or turn him over to them. Rick says he’d rather be arrested. I can see Bogart wryly saying that. Renault smiles and looks at his watch; it’s 6:00.
He asks his aide, presumably Lt. Casselle, how long it takes to get a cable to, and a response from, Vichy. He is told, ‘six hours.’ He asks the Germans what charge is to be made against Rick. That’s reminiscent of him telling Strasser he has no reason to shut down the cafe in Casablanca. The Germans tell him some trumped up charges. Unlike the incident with Strasser, he stands up to them. He explains that Casablanca is still a free territory and they need to substantiate their charges. He adds that anyone can prefer charges, but if they can’t be proven, it will cause trouble for Renault.
The Germans, knowing that Renault is with Vichy, are confident, but don’t see the wink that he gives Rick. Rick then levels some made up charges against them! Rains decides he likes Rick’s charges better and arrests the Germans. They are furious and threaten vengeance. Renault offers to let them use the cables to contact Vichy to complain (Nobody plays cool and urbane like Claude Rains). Bogart is bemused.
Later, in Rains’ office, Bogart tries to find out what Louis is up to, but Renault puts him off and tells him to concentrate on their chess games. Renault is unconcerned by his very unhappy German prisoners.
Okay. I had never seen a Humphrey Bogart movie until my early twenties. Then, I went to the Ohio Theater, an amazing place on the National Register of Historic Places, to see Casablanca on a HUGE screen. There was even organ music during the intermission. I was hooked for life and I now own almost every movie Bogart appeared in. And from that very day, Casablanca has remained my all time favorite movie, through at least two dozen viewings. I’ve got two stories set around the events of the movie, and I’m running them here in my spot today, and next Monday. This one is my favorite of the pair, and if you picture the great Claude Rains, along with the other actors from the film, I think it works pretty well. Enjoy!
It was early and the heat of the desert city had not yet enveloped the occupants like a suffocating blanket. Some sellers were taking their wares to the market, but it was generally quiet in the dusty streets of Casablanca as Rick Blaine sat at a table in front of his café, drinking a cup of strong Moroccan coffee. He wasn’t thinking about much of anything as a dapper little Frenchman joined him. The man sat down with a weary sigh, looking slightly rumpled.
“Good morning, Louie. Coffee?”
Captain Louis Renault, Prefect of Police in Casablanca, declined with a wave of his hand. “No thank you, Rickie. I have already had my share this morning.”
Rick grinned at him. “So, what is the final word on the late Major Strasser, of the Third Reich?” Rick asked with an easy nonchalance, but there were a few new worry lines etched in his forehead. Two nights ago he had shot and killed the German at the airport when the major had tried to stop the Lisbon plane from taking off. But Ilsa Lund had been on the plane with Victor Laslo, and Rick would do anything to see her safely out of Casablanca. So he gunned down the German as the man had tried to radio the control tower. When two cars full of local police showed up, Louie had covered for him by telling them to “Round up the usual suspects.”
Rick hadn’t seen Louie since then. He had expected the authorities to take him away for some very unpleasant questioning at any moment during the past few days, but no one had come. Now, Louie was sitting here, looking not much worse for wear.
I reached out to some friends to help me with A (Black) Gat in the Hand, as I certainly can’t cover everything and do it all justice. Our latest guest is author and fellow Black Gater, Joe Bonadonna. And Joe delivered an in-depth look at hardboiled adaptations on the silver screen. In fact, he covered so much ground, it’s gonna be a two-parter! So, let’s dig in!
Hardboiled Film Noir: From Printed Page to Moving Pictures (Part One)
“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” — Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep
Crime does not discriminate. From city streets and slums to quiet suburbia, from the mansions of the rich to the boardrooms of the powerful, crime is alive and well. It can be found in dance halls, beer halls and gambling halls . . . speakeasies, seedy gin joints, smoke-filled pool halls, dive hotels, and wharf-side saloons. Crime exists everywhere, and writers and filmmakers have been telling stories about crime since Gutenberg invented the printing press.
This article deals mainly with American pulp fiction, novels and films, and a few theatrical plays, too. I’m going to give a little background history on the source material for these films and on some of the writers who penned the original stories upon which they were based.
Long ago, long before television came along, the film industry turned to books, magazine stories, theatrical plays, and radio shows for their source material, as well as original screenplays. Movie moguls bought the rights to numerous best-selling novels, mined the pages of pulp magazines, comic books, and even newspaper comic strips.
Many films made during this period were Saturday matinee serials such as Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel, and The Shadow. Dick Tracy was actually given a series of stand-alone films, and of course we had Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan.
Most of these serials were the “comic book” films about pulp fiction superheroes, caped crusaders, masked avengers, and magical crime fighters. Many others films, however, were turned into “programmers,” as they were sometimes called: B-pictures with low budgets, made by up-and-coming directors, and featuring actors who had not yet attained A-list status.