Classic Film Noir At Twentieth Century Fox

Gene Tierney
This post was written to coincide with a series of TCF classic film noirs from the forties and fifties shown on the Criterion Collection.

I Shall Never Forget the Weekend Laura Died.

Fox 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 one classic; Otto Preminger’s “Laura” with 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”. And the arrival of Gene Tierney, one of Hollywood’s greatest stars.

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 as if I were 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 really 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”

Fox Noir. Niagara.

Marilyn’s Buildup to Superstardom.

Joining “Laura” at the alter is Edmund Goulding‘s superb “Nightmare Alley” (please skip the dreadful remake) with an excellent Tyrone Power and remarkable cinematography by Lee Garmes. Next, there is Henry Hathaway’s marvelous “Niagara” with Marilyn Monroe, perfect as Joseph Cotten’s unfaithful wife. This marked her first significant role at Fox after four years in the wilderness. The buildup to superstardom started here. Kudos also 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,

Fox Noir. I Wake Up Screaming.

Betty Grable and Carole Landis.

Opening the series is one of the great noirs, “I Wake Up Screaming”, with Betty Grable. This is 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 committed suicide in 1948 after Rex Harrison refused to leave his wife for her.

Fox Noir: Night in the City

Noir in London

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.

Widmark and Tierney: Four Each

The other must-sees are Elia Kazan’s excellent “Panic in the Streets” again with Widmark. Like Tierney, he has four movies in the lineup. Stepping out of his usual psychopath role, Widmark plays a health official who only has one to two days to prevent the spread of the pneumonic plague (please see my post on Kazan). Samuel Fuller’sPickup on South Street” and Mankiewicz’s “No Way Out” (please see my post on J.L.M.) are also well worth seeing.

And Four Are Just Meh!

The other four movies (“Hangover Square”, “Somewhere in the Night”, “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” and “Black Widow”) are of lesser caliber and do not deserve to be on this list.

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!
1941B+I Wake Up Screamingb&wH. Bruce HumberstoneEdward CronjagerCyril J.Mockridge
1944A+Laurab&wOtto PremingerJoseph LaShelleDavid Raksin
1945CHangover Squareb&wJohn BrahmJoseph LaShelleBernard Herrmann
1946D+Somewhere in the Nightb&wJoseph MankiewiczNorbert BrodineDavid Buttolph
1947ANightmare Alleyb&wEdmund GouldingLee GarmesCyril J.Mockridge
1950BNight and the Cityb&wJules DassinMax Greene*Franz Waxman
1950B+No Way Outb&wJoseph MankiewiczMilton KrasnerAlfred Newman
1950B+Panic in the Streetsb&wElia KazanJoseph MacDonaldAlfred Newman
1951C+Where the Sidewalk Endsb&wOtto PremingerJoseph LaShelleCyril J.Mockridge
1953ANiagaraColorHenry HathawayJoseph MacDonaldSol Kaplan
1953B-Pickup on South Streetb&wSamuel FullerJoseph MacDonaldLeigh Harline
1954DBlack WidowColorNunnally JohnsonCharles G. ClarkeLeigh Harline
*né Mutz Greenbaum

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