THE TEN BEST FILM FOX FILM NOIRS
TCF is not as high on the totem pole as Warner Bros., Paramount, and RKO when it comes to Film Noir – a term coined by French film critic Nino Frank in 1946. However, it does have ten very good examples of the genre and three classics, namely Otto Preminger’s “Laura” with Dana Andrews, Edmund Goulding’s “Nightmare Alley” with Tyrone Power and Henry Hathaway’s “Niagara with Marilyn Monroe and Joseph Cotton.
LAURA: OTTO PREMINGER
I Shall Never Forget the Weekend Laura Died.
“Laura,” of course, also gave us Clifton Webb’s immortal Waldo Lydecker and his immortal line: “It’s lavish, but I call it home.” In addition, there is David Raksin’s haunting score and Joseph LaShelle’s Oscar-winning cinematography, which won over John Seitz’s landmark work on Billy Wilder’s “Double Indemnity.” The film made a star of Gene Tierney, one of Hollywood’s most beautiful actresses, immortalized in that famous portrait.
Fade-In Narration by Clifton Webb
“I shall never forget the weekend Laura died. A silver sun burned through the sky like a huge magnifying glass. It was the hottest Sunday in my recollection. I felt like the only human being left in New York. For with Laura’s horrible death, I was alone. I, Waldo Lydecker, was the only one who knew her. And I had just begun to write Laura’s story when – another of those detectives came to see me. I had him wait. I could watch him through the half-open door. I noted that his attention was fixed on my clock. There was only one other in existence, and that was in Laura’s apartment in the very room where she was murdered.”
NIGHTMARE ALLEY: EDMUND GOULDING
Joining “Laura” at the alter is Edmund Goulding’s superb “Nightmare Alley” (please see my piece on EG and skip the dreadful remake) with an excellent Tyrone Power and remarkable cinematography by Lee Garmes.
NIAGARA: HENRY HATHAWAY – THE ONLY COLOR NOIR IN THE BUNCH
Next is Henry Hathaway’s marvelous “Niagara” with Marilyn Monroe, perfect as Joseph Cotten’s unfaithful wife. After four years in the wilderness, this marked her first significant role at Fox. The buildup to superstardom started here. Kudos to Fox’s second-in-command cinematographer, Joe MacDonald, who is responsible for the magnificent widescreen technicolor. It was not often that he got out from under Leon Shamroy’s shadow,
I WAKE UP SCREAMING: H. BRUCE HUMBERSTONE
One of the great underrated noirs is “I Wake Up Screaming,” with Betty Grable. This was one of her few non-singing, non-dancing roles – taking over from Alice Faye. It’s the best film directed by H. Bruce Humberstone, who churned out many second-tier but highly profitable movies during his Fox tenure. Carole Landis, who sadly committed suicide in 1948 after Rex Harrison refused to leave his wife for her, is also excellent. With Laird Cregar and Victor Mature.
FOUR WITH RICHARD WIDMARK
NIGHT AND THE CITY: JULES DASSIN
Of note is Jules Dassin’s “Night and the City,” his first movie after leaving the US having been blacklisted by the HUAC. Richard Widmark has one of his best roles as Harry Fabian, an American hustler on the make in London, which sticks out like a sore thumb in this highly expressionistic noir.
PANIC IN THE STREETS
Next on the list is Elia Kazan’s excellent “Panic in the Streets” again with Widmark – he has four movies in the lineup to Tierney’s three. Stepping out of his usual psychopath role, here he plays a health official who only has one to two days to prevent the spread of the pneumonic plague to a large American city (please see my post on Kazan).
NO WAY OUT: JOE MANKIEWCZ
Widmark is back, first as a gangster who is shot in Joseph Mankiewicz’s “No Way Out,”. He is taken to the local hospital where Sidney Poitier, excellent in the role that made him a star, is the only Black doctor (please see my post on JLM).
PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET: SAMUEL FULLER
Second, in Samuel Fuller’s “Pick-Up on South Street,” where Thelma Ritter gives an unforgettable performance as a homeless woman who stumbles on a missing wallet and lives to regret it. Widmark plays a sadistic hoodlum who tracks her down and then shows no mercy. Jean Peters, in one of her few good roles, also stars.
WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS: OTTO PREMINGER
Director Otto Preminger is back with his two stars from “Laura” Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews. Adapted for the screen by Ben Hech, it stars Andrews as a police detective who has just been demoted because of his too-frequent use of violence. At a floating crap game in NYC, he meets a beautiful woman (Tierney) who is about the leave the game without the man who brought her there. Although not in the same league as “Laura,” it is well worth seeing.
HANOVER SQUARE: JOHN BRAHM
An Edwardian noir/thriller directed by John Brahm and starring Laird Cregar and Linda Darnell, the film was released two months after Cregar died from a heart attack after losing a large amount of weight (amphetamine-induced) in a very short time.
So welcome to the world of the femme fatale, multiple flashbacks (sometimes flashbacks-within-flashbacks), chiaroscuro cinematography, voiceover narration, and, of course, the cynical private detective. Enjoy!
|I Wake Up Screaming
|H. Bruce Humberstone
|No Way Out
|Panic in the Streets
|Night and the City
|Where the Sidewalk Ends
|Pickup on South Street