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Lindsey Burns

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About Lindsey Burns

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  1. "Cats don't know anything about electricity..." Maybe not, but while old Tabby was shorting out the Twin Oaks Cafe, I wish he/she had been able to send a little voltage into the two co-stars. I've never been able to understand the star status that John Garfield and Lana Turner enjoyed. Both are awkwardly mannered and wooden, and have facial expressions as limited as those two Greek masks. True, Turner did tolerably well in The Bad and The Beautiful, but Kirk Douglas has enough charisma to make any fellow actor seem animated. Even with a vehicle (pardon the pun) like "Postman...", the only suspense I felt was which white outfit the costume designer Irene would dream up next for the over-dressed Turner. I don't think there was any legitimate symbolism in Turner's white outfits...virtue, etc. It appeared to be a visual ploy to showcase Turner's glow-in-the-dark platinum hair. In fact, Lana's hair probably deserved its own credit, first covered in a turban to build anticipation, fluffed to express playfulness, in a sedate bun to portray innocence...and so on. I couldn't help thinking of and missing the original platinum blonde--Harlow--the lovable bombshell who didn't mind mussing her hair. Or the last great platinum blonde--Monroe--who took the "dumb" out of "dumb blonde" and turned the look into her eternal crowning glory. As for the costume thing, it was pretty heavy-handed to show Cora (Turner) suddenly in a black robe, holding a wicked-big knife. (Lady Macbeth in her burger-flipping days?) Anyway, Nick (Cecil Kellaway), the cuckolded husband, came across as not nearly as clueless as he was assumed to be. He was also a refreshingly skilled actor. In sharp contrast, recall Frank's (Garfield) "beat down" of the much larger blackmailer. The slap-fest looked as silly as a Three Stooges skit. Compounding all this were Postman's plot loopholes and lapses of logic, plus goofy dialogue like "You can't sing and drive at the same time!". The film also felt much too long, with multiple endings tacked on. However, the production values can't be faulted, particularly the set design and Sidney Wagner's lushly gorgeous cinematography. As Chris Dashiell's excellent article states, MGM was clearly all in when it came to making a big, glamorous film. Even the cat got its close-up, a decent action scene, and a sizzling exit.
  2. Beautiful. You've nailed it. Out of The Past is "not a road map for Noir; it's a destination." This film that I've loved for so long is lightning in a bottle, capturing in one dark and thrilling film the cream of Hollywood magic. Right time, right talent, right script, and a pairing of actors, in Mitchum and Greer, who inhabit their characters so completely and with such intense chemistry that the viewer is seduced as well. We know it's all too hot not to cool down, and of course, it does. With a vengence. This is, after all, a story of obsession. And yet, as you so rightly intuit, there is a heart to this story that sets the film well apart from imitators (which includes almost all of them). Thanks to the subtleties of Mitchum's and Greer's nuanced performances, we can never quite believe what Jeff and Kathie say to each other or do to each other, no matter how brutal. Their eyes and their body language say otherwise. This is bad love, alright--complete with lies, betrayals, self-serving treachery, and lots of tough self-delusion--but it still love, albeit destructive and doomed. Somehow, the way they finally end up together is the only way they could have. And only the appropriately mute young man, who opens and closes the film, gets what is really going on, and he ain't telling.
  3. The High School Production of Lady In The Lake Miscasting: Robert Montgomery is a decent actor when he's not completely out of his element, which he is in this film. True, he is filling some big shoes as yet another Philip Marlowe, but in trying to be convincing as a hard-boiled detective, his efforts are pitiable. The phony, deeper-than-normal voice he uses and its harsh, monotone bark at everyone is both distracting and laughable. Also, Audrey Totter (of the Evil Eyebrow) is equally unconvincing. Her emotional range appeared to be 1)Annoyed 2)Angry to 3) Annoyed and Angry. The only cast member who was at all convincing was Lloyd Nolan, the veteran character actor. Everyone else was too busy chewing up the scenery. Directing: Since Montgomery also directed this film, I assume he cast himself in the lead, just compounding the problems. In order to do both--always a tricky endeavor--he seemed to be off-screen more than he was onscreen. Sure, we say plenty of his (or someone's) hands and arms, but a little of that goes a long way.And when the sound of his squeaky shoes were added, I just laughed. POVs: Well, they were all over the map. In addition to far too many of Marlowe as the camera mentioned above, we had one that switched abruptly from Marlowe's point of view to one with Marlowe and Totter's character, side-by-side, facing the camera, then zip! back to Marlowe's POV. Finally, there was that surreal POV "kiss" between Totter and the camera. That one deserves to be enshrined in the Awkward Movie Moments Hall of Fame. (There must be one of those...) Camera Angles: Back and forth, up and down....I was expecting a 360-degree spin so we could see the crew too. Script: I didn't see a writer credit for this film; maybe I was searching for my Dramamine (sp?). No surprise, though. The dialogue was clunky, unrealistic, and often downright ridiculous: the phone conversations, the thin pretense of love between Marlowe and whatever-her-name was. And the Audrey Meadows line, "You're cute!" Really? You're going to cop a line delivered by Martha Vickers in "The Big Sleep"? Bold choice. Musical Score: The odd humming thing provided by what appeared to be a surviving Greek chorus gave the film its only genuinely scary touch. At any moment I expected them to burst forth in full operatic Carmina Burana. Sorry if this assessment seems harsh, but not even Ed Wood succeeded in a completely terrible film. Well...maybe Ed. But at least his were entertaining!
  4. I've also been through that also with movie goers too young or too clueless to understand the importance of having that "willing suspension of disbelief" when confronted with anything foreign to their experience. I was once part of a film group, and we were thrilled to have Dennis Hopper come and introduce a showing of "Easy Rider" and take questions after. A few grotesquely immature people in the audience snickered at some of the dialogue and situations, not realizing (or caring) that they were in the presence of a living legend and watching a watershed moment in American cinema. True to his nature, Hopper laughed it off and was incredibly generous with his time--even sharing some James Dean memories when he and Dean were in Rebel together. Maybe the fools who marred the experience eventually wised up and realized it was their loss.
  5. Re: the "low-level push-in on Greenstreet." Is that the shot when the camera is nearly floor-level and shooting upward toward Greenstreet's...er...largish "bay window"? I laughed when I saw it. Imagine the cinematographer discussing that idea with Greenstreet. The fact that it's in the film shows he was a real trooper.
  6. They are great fun to watch as they interact, aren't they? "Slithery" certainly, when Peter Lorre appears. For me, he also brings to mind "reptilian." I wonder how the poor man felt about the effect he had on fans. I'd like to think he would laugh, but I can't imagine a Lorre laugh without that sneer. And yet...there lurks a kind of vulnerability about him. Nah! What am I saying? He's an actor!!!!
  7. Hoping For The Best: Noir's Great Unknowns The more I binge-watch TCM’s Summer of Darkness films, the more I feel the need to acknowledge film noir’s great character actors. This was brought home last weekend when I watched The People vs. O’Hara. There was such an abundance of familiar faces that I wondered what had drawn them to the project—Spencer Tracy’s star power, John Alton’s artistry, or simply a paycheck. For whatever reason, a partial list of go-to character actors in this film included: Veterans J. C. Flippen (doing a horrible Swedish accent): 108 film & TV credits; Ann Doran: 368 credits; Frank Sulley: 304 credits; **** Whiteford: 355 credits; Regis Toomey: 268 credits; Ned Glass: 221 credits; Jack Kruschen: 217 credits; and Louise Lorimer: 120 credits. The entire cast of credited and uncredited actors in this film numbered 87, including a split-second yet memorable appearance by Charles Bronson. The fact that good character actors rarely break through to the A-list even inspired its own film: the 2012 “That Guy…Who Was in That Thing.” It features a series of contemporary character actors who good naturedly talk about their odd fame-without-the-name. Of course, some character actors are so singular, so memorable, that their names do travel with them. The clip of The Mask of Dimitrios spotlights two all-time best: Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet. This diabolical duo made nine films together, and as they approach each other from opposite sides of the room in Dimitrios, I can imagine them thinking, “You again?” We’ve seen Lorre’s evolution from monstrous (M, The Man on The Third Floor), to creepily obsequious (The Maltese Falcon), to oddly assertive in Dimitrios. Sporting a distinguished touch of gray, Lorre spoke lines that could easily capture the spirit of film noir itself: “…completely immoral, but fascinating,” and “Are you drunk, sir? Maybe you are mad, sir? In that case, I can only humor you and hope for the best.” Lorre’s bio includes some fascinating facts: He played Raskolnikov in Josef von Sternberg’s 1935 production of Crime and Punishment and was Le Chiffe in a 1954 TV adaptation of Casino Royale. As to that last credit, Lorre’s brand of eerie/scary would be severely at odds with Mads Mikkelsen’s sexy/scary turn as the merciless Le Chiffe in the 2006 reprise of Casino Royale. As for Greenstreet--according to IMDb--he didn’t appear in films until he was 62, but his first role made up for lost time: Casablanca. Prior to acting, he had been a failed tea planter in Ceylon, and a bored brew master who took acting lessons on the side. When he proved to have acting chops, he landed—appropriately enough—the role of a murderer in a 1904 stage production of Sherlock Holmes. Greenstreet also appeared in musical comedies and Shakespeare plays until Hollywood turned him into a film noir legend. Lorre and Greenstreet did break out of the pack, but most character actors don’t. So let’s give some love to the B- and C-listers—uncelebrated, unpampered, and largely anonymous. We may not know their names, but you can bet the A-listers did. Without them, films noir and other cinematic genres would be far less interesting worlds.
  8. THANK YOU for devoting some "ink" to chiaroscuro's favorite son, Caravaggio, whose influence Rembrandt utilizes to such magnificent advantage. To expand on your insights: Post-Impressionist and Expressionist painters also contributed greatly to the evolution of film noir sensibilities, particularly in the film maker's compositions and camera angles. Paul Cezanne and Vincent Van Gogh seriously messed with the conventional understanding of perspective, horizon lines, vanishing points, etc., essentially doing what iconoclasts do.In Van Gogh's case, his mature work was also imbued with an emotional intensity unequaled by any contemporary. Of course, the work of these artists and their confederates was cultural anathema to the establishment, but the status quo has always been red meat for rebels. Consequently, film noir's role in the re-imagining of cinema resulted from a deep pedigree in rebellion.
  9. Please don't cheat yourself out of watching this film. There's nothing second-rate about it, and it is derivative only to the extent that it masterfully employs the juiciest aspects of film noir. Out of The Past stands alone as a classic, and it stands apart from anything run-of-the-mill. Give it a try.
  10. Excellent cross reference! I never really knew the words to that contagious Al Stewart song--just "la, la,la,la" along with it after the first few words, but the lyrics are very apt. "Jeff's Theme"! I love it.
  11. Out of the Past and Its Wayward Cousin, Body Heat It’s one of classic noir’s most intriguing entrances, and I’ve seen it countless times, but thanks to this excellent course, when I viewed the clip of Out of the Past, I didn’t focus on Kathie (Jane Greer). Instead, as she steps from blazing sunlight into the darkened cantina, I noticed how cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca skillfully made the transition, backlighting Kathie and turning her to a deeply shadowed silhouette—and portent of things to come from this enigmatic femme fatale. Our POV is that of the as-yet-unseen Jeff (Robert Mitchum), seated and waiting—waiting and watching. As Kathie languidly approaches, it becomes all about body language. And her language says plenty. Even before he sees her face, Jeff knows he’s in over his head. We can feel it too. And unlike many films noir, the transitions of light and shadow that occur around them are seamless and augment rather than upstage the actors. Neither do the other cinematic elements—camera angles, staging, props, etc. Everything feels fully integrated, allowing for heightened dramatic effect and freedom from distraction. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but I couldn't help noticing the resemblance of Kathie’s entrance to director Lawrence Kasdan’s treatment of another screen siren's riveting entrance: Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner) in Body Heat, the steamy 1981 neo-noir film. While Body Heat owes its bones to the noir classic, Double Indemnity, Matty’s entrance almost certainly is Kasdan’s homage to Out of the Past. Instead of opting for a silhouette, Body Heat cinematographer Richard H. Kline showcases Matty at night, in soft ambient light to allow our hapless ambulance-chaser Ned Racine (William Hurt) the opportunity to appreciate the power of a "simple skirt and blouse." As with Jeff, Ned's POV is ours. And Matty, like Kathie, is also backlit—this time by a brightly illuminated band shell in the background that seems to arch around her, but this is assuredly no halo. The obsessive atmosphere of these two films and their high-octane chemistry take them, in my view, several notches beyond anything seen in Double indemnity. Finally, there is that immediate, dangerous affinity between Jeff and Kathie, Ned and Matty. There's no small talk, just flirty verbal jousting as they circle each other warily like wolves. Jeff buys Kathie earrings; Ned buys Matty a cherry snow cone. Mexico or Florida, what does it matter? That heat is going to drive all of them ten kinds of crazy.
  12. There's also a difference between having book smarts and street smarts. Not slamming higher education; it's a beautiful thing, but Marlowe's back story would probably include a "satori" moment when he realized that upward mobility was not for him. He's a free-range guy, not a team player. As for psychoanalysis, that whole crew should be "put on the couch"--and I don't mean the casting couch.
  13. Great observation about Bogie's signature quirks, which comics incorporate in their impersonations of him. One other Bogie-ism: that clinched-teeth grimace he does after a tough turn of events or when he's ended up on the wrong end of a "knuckle sandwich."
  14. Regarding the tall thing, it didn't appear to bother Bogart or anyone else. He had, as they say, a tall personality and lots of confidence. Yet I've read that Alan Ladd was about 5' 7" and extremely self-conscious about it--to the point of having to stand on a higher step, etc. so he wouldn't be dwarfed by other actors. Height was one reason Ladd made so many movies with Veronica Lake--she was only about 4'11". Luckily, they had chemistry, if a rather chilly sort. Apparently, Ladd had a very deprived childhood and even had malnutrition, which likely affected his growth. I doubt either Bogart or Ladd was ever cast alongside Sterling Hayden, who was about 6'4"!
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