Fresh on our Shelves (fresh, like spring rain… pfff):

So it’s spring – that time of year known for its hail storms; when the sky parts and the clouds vomit a years worth of icy grit; London is awash with the traditional monsoons – one raindrop away from washing down the Thames and landing us all in Calais or back on the beaches of Dunkirk; and where everyone shivers at home, trying to warm themselves by a roaring candle. Ah, May! Some say summer’s coming. But what’s that?

Once we’re done jumping in the puddles and gloating that we probably need never wash our cars again, let us huddle around the glow of our TVs, for whilst the wind has been battering our coiffeurs, spring has sprung to our shelves (yes, they have been dusted recently) and brought us a fresh brood:

MPW-29785BIGGER THAN LIFE (1956)

Nicholas Ray takes on attitudes towards mental illness and addiction and brings out a powerhouse performance from lead actor, James Mason.  A seriously ill man (Mason) is persuaded by doctors to take a new miracle pill which he soon finds, not only eliviates the symptoms of his illness, but leaves him feeling really remarkably well indeed. So well, in fact, that he inevitably begins to abuse this wonder drug by significantly upping his dosage, causing wild side effects and a psychotic break that threatens the welfare of himself and his family. Co-starring Barbara Rush as the suffering wife. Watch out for the son with his mini-James Dean red windbreaker,  à la Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause:

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Rebel-Without-a-Cause_James-Dean-jeans-cake.bmpI wonder what the cake signifies… Definitely daddy issues – possibly of the oedipal variety. Oh, for a peak into the mind of Nicholas Ray. Actually, if that sounds appetising – check out Lightening Over Water (1980), the bizarre, spellbinding, and deeply affecting experimental docu-film Wim Wenders made on his friend whilst Ray, who was dying of cancer, was attempting to complete his final film.

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lindsay-i-know-who-killed-me-25147503-800-600I Know Who Killed Me (2007)

Is it amazing? Is it atrocious? Most people (including the good folk at IMDb) believe the latter. Well. If you’ve watched a lot of cult/B-movies you might well see the genius in it. If you haven’t, then its atrocious. And, yes, it does have Lindsay Lohan girating on a pole, which was probably info enough to send most critics into the cinema with bazookas. Just watch it as though it were a cult classic (which it should be, if it hasn’t reached that status yet). Squint and imagine it was made in 1971. Basically, don’t throw rotten eggs til you’ve seen it. Then, knock yourselves out.

medium_20071230-iknowwhokilledme

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escape_from_alcatrazESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ (1979) – dir. Don Siegel

Based on a true story. Self-explanatory.

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MPW-33975WHO’S THAT GIRL (1987) – dir. James Foley, who also directed At Close Range (1986) (starring Madonna’s then-husband, Sean Penn) and the infinitely superior, Glengarry Glen Ross (1992). I have nothing to say about this. And I actually quite like Madonna.

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masked_and_anonymousMASKED AND ANONYMOUS (2003) – dir. Larry Charles (who also direct Sacha Baron Cohen’s Bruno AND The Dictator). Starring every famous person who has ever lived (which immediately makes me suspicious) – including Bob Dylan.

posted by Dixie Turner

Screen tests for Rebel Without a Cause

Way before anyone had even heard of James Dean, Warner were toying around with the idea of making a film with the title Rebel Without a Cause. However, despite taking numerous shots at writing it out – and despite this 1947 Marlon Brando screen test – they never managed to come up with a satisfactory script – until Nicholas Ray took on the project in the mid 50s.

Here is a screen test from the Ray production in 1955 showing the chemistry between the principal actors (Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo) as they fool around in one of the scenes:

Meanwhile, Corey Allen who played Jim Stark’s rival, Buzz, seems reluctant to get out of his surly character in what is presumably a wardrobe test. Whilst Dean goofs about which each of the actors, Corey looks about as amused as the Queen at Christmas:

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posted by Dixie Turner

Sterling Hayden: The Man Who Saw It Coming

By Rob Munday

When Hayden was first signed to Paramount they dubbed him: “The Beautiful Blond Viking God” yet to his admirers those fair locks were grey – captured on black and white film stock. This seems right for a man old before his time.
Like other Noir heroes (Robert Ryan, Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum) Hayden had led a life before he broke through on the big screen. He’d sailed around the world, been a marine and then a Special Agent (using the name John Hamilton). He’d seen too much, and in his eyes you could tell.

Like Mitchum, he also had a healthy disdain for his profession, once saying,
“If I had the dough I’d buy up the negative of every film I ever made . . . and start one hell of a fire”
Did he mean it, or was he just getting the punch in first before anyone else did? One thing’s for sure, there is always the sense with Hayden that he knew he was in for it. And he was proved right in the films. When it got to the final reel there was only heartbreak in store or (if he was lucky) perhaps he’d get to watch his money blow away or get a bullet in the throat from some upstart Mafioso.

In Asphalt Jungle and The Killing he was the perfect Noir lead: tough, unknowable, quietly desperate for another life. In reality he always preferred sailing to acting, often taking roles just to buy boats or to cover the mounting costs of his divorce settlements. And these stacked up, as Hayden was married five times. The first time was to his first leading lady Madeline Carol and then he was three times married and three times divorced from Betty Ann de Noon (surely a character name from one of his Westerns).

It seems inevitable that he should team up with director Nicholas Ray, the master of doomed romance and ambition ruined by self-destruction. He played the title part for Ray in Johnny Guitar, his character in love with Joan Crawford’s domineering Vienna. Falling for Crawford is never gonna turn out well.

So here’s to Sterling Hayden, who once spoke these lines:

Johnny: How many men have you forgotten?
Vienna: As many women as you’ve remembered.
Johnny: Don’t go away.
Vienna: I haven’t moved.
Johnny: Tell me something nice.
Vienna: Sure, what do you want to hear?
Johnny: Lie to me. Tell me all these years you’ve waited. Tell me.
Vienna: [without feeling] All those years I’ve waited.
Johnny: Tell me you’d a-died if I hadn’t come back.
Vienna: [without feeling] I woulda died if you hadn’t come back.
Johnny: Tell me you still love me like I love you.
Vienna: [without feeling] I still love you like you love me.
Johnny: [bitterly] Thanks. Thanks a lot.

Dialogue from Johnny Guitar (written by Philip Yordan).

Check out the best of Hayden in: The Asphalt Jungle, The Killing, (and as supporting cast in) Johnny Guitar, Dr Strangelove, The Godfather, The Long Goodbye.

The Madman; The Murderer; The Mistress… In a Lonely Place

In a Lonely Place (1950)

“I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me.”

Humphrey Bogart is brilliantly cast in the pretty unheroic role of a scriptwriter with a mighty violent temper. When a young woman he is seen with is discovered murdered only hours afterwards, Dixon Steele (Bogart) becomes the chief suspect in a murder case. His alibi, however, comes in the form of a beautiful blonde (played by Gloria Grahame) who, once they start playing house together and she gets to know him a little better, begins having doubts about his innocence… (There’s nothing quite like seeing your lover nearly beat someone to death to make you wonder if he’s quite the man of your dreams.)

 An unusual film, Nicholas Ray’s noir masterpiece plays beautifully with the joys of new love whilst simultaneously undermining it with suspicion and doubt (it may be interesting to note that Ray’s marriage to his lead actress, Gloria Grahame, was unraveling and the couple split whilst shooting was in progress. Also, more intriguingly – and worryingly, Louise Brooks in her book Lulu in Hollywood, describes Bogart’s role in this film to be the closest to his true character…)

The film is laden with clues and suggestions that lead you astray as well as an unexpected – and initially unscripted – ending. With its character driven storyline that strips the players’ emotions bare, it isn’t hard to see why In a Lonely Place is considered by many to be one of the finest noirs ever made.

Trailer: http://youtu.be/CcMPHyOWjG4

Gloria Grahame – a very bad girl…

posted by Dixie Turner