Bogart & Stanwyck Together: “The Two Mrs. Carrolls” (1947)

Sally Morton (Barbara Stanwyck) and Geoffrey Carroll (Humphrey Bogart)- a struggling artist- get married following the passing of Geoffrey’s first wife. Despite quickly falling in love w/ him while on vacation in Scotland, Sally never thought she’d marry him when she discovered that he was already married (regardless of his vow to get a divorce). Then the first Mrs. Carroll’s (called an invalid) passing changed the situation. The time of the first Mrs. Carroll’s illness resulted in Geoffrey’s greatest works, incl. a portrait of her as “The Angel of Death.” While Sally brings a house in the England countryside and a rough-around-the-edges housekeeper (Christine), Geoffrey brings a pre-teen daughter (Bea) into the marriage. Their happiness begins to change when glamourous/flirtatious Cecily Latham (Alexis Smith- who also co-starred w/ Bogart in Conflict) commissions Geoffrey to paint her portrait. Cecily and her mother were introduced to the Carrolls by a London lawyer, Charles Pennington (Sally’s former fiancé). The affable Penny (his nickname) is still in love w/ Sally, which doesn’t amuse Geoffrey.

Bogart says “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful hatred”, which is a nod to the famous line from Casablanca (1942). The movie was completed in June 1945, but released in March 1947, when Bogart’s box-office appeal was at a high (though most critics thought he was miscast). The role of an artist, a profession that viewers, critics, and even the actor himself felt deviated from his typical tough guy persona, there were limits to what he’d agree to. When the director (Peter Godfrey) asked Bogart to wear an artist’s smock and beret, he refused- LOL! I liked the chemistry between Bogart and Stanwyck; they got along well during the filming. I wasn’t a fan of the pacing, the child actress (calm and precocious), or the music (a bit overdone).

[1] Stanwyck has never been better as a panic-stricken wife, trying to survive her husband’s evil doings. Bogart gives a highly underrated performance as a psychopath, who gets brutal when his murder plot doesn’t go according to plan. His presence on screen is often frightening.

[2] Humphrey Bogart, for all of the heroic roles during this stage of his career, is cast against type, and Barbara Stanwyck, always the femme fatale, is now a damsel in distress as matters spiral beyond her control as grave danger closes in on her. The role-reversals of the stars works well and the byplay between them is good.

[3] One problem is that there is an enormous amount of subtlety employed in its unravelling. In fact I would say there is a little too much subtlety, to the point where the details that are supposed to be underplayed to maximise the mystery and suspense do not seem to be underplayed at all, but rather they appear to have simply been ommitted.

The second little problem is with Bogart’s character. He’s the centre of this story, a mentally disturbed and jealous painter who, it would appear, murdered his first wife… But we’re not really given any insight into his character until very late in the film. At first he appears to be just like your stereotypical artist; insular, unpleasant, cynical. But we know, or at least assume, that he has actual psychotic tendencies underneath that eccentric, but nonetheless ordinary exterior.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Suburban Life Can Be Murder: “Crime of Passion” (1956) starring Barbara Stanwyck, Sterling Hayden, & Raymond Burr

A successful advice columnist at The San Francisco Post, Kathy Ferguson (Barbara Stanwyck- 50 and looking fab), is an independent woman w/ no intention of ever getting married. She meets LAPD detective, Lt. Bill Doyle (Sterling Hayden- age 40), during the investigation of a prominent case (which is resolved w/ her help). Sparks fly, they fall in love, and decide to get married (too fast). Kathy quits her job and moves to LA to be a housewife.

Bill is close to his colleagues and their wives; they have regular dinner parties at his home. The banal conversations of these women are almost unbearable for Kathy, who has worked mainly around men and (perhaps) prefers their company. The cops’ wives seem frivolous; she’d feel more comfortable playing cards w/ the men rather than trading recipes with the women. The lack of ambition on Bill’s part push Kathy to a scheme to improve his prospects in the police dept. Kathy “accidentally” has a fender bender on the street where Inspector Anthony Pope (Raymond Burr- also 40 and slimmed down) and his wife Alice (Fay Wray of King Kong fame) live. Social climbing, scheming, and more ensue!

Some women should just not get married; nowadays, there are other routes to follow. This unique movie combines elements of film noir and domestic melodrama. Some viewers have called it “proto-feminist” and “ahead of its time.” I thought that writing was intelligent and also witty at times; the screenplay was by a woman- Jo Eisinger. This is the last film noir for both Stanwyck and Burr; they’d transition to working primarily in TV and appearing only occasionally in movies. Burr moved from the “heavy” (shady/villainous) types he played in films to heroic defense attorney in Perry Mason.

[1] …turns out to be a fairly interesting, sexually frank, compact little noir, featuring a once-in-a-lifetime cast. Stanwyck… is as intense as ever (she always gave her all in every picture); Hayden is his typically macho, upright self; Raymond Burr, playing Hayden’s boss, is a tad less sleazy than usual but still not to be trusted…

[2] Sharper socially than even Fritz Lang’s late noirs, “Crime of Passion” reminds us of the “nostalgia” for the “happy family values” of the 1950’s for the wishful (?) thinking that it is. Stanwyck’s slow descent into middle-class torpor and madness (she’s a sharp, witty, intelligent woman who saddles herself with a maddeningly boring and conventional cop husband, played nicely against type by Sterling Hayden) lays bare the social nightmare presented to women desiring anything but the conventional patriarchal lifestyle…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Film Noir’s “Romeo & Juliet”: “They Live By Night” (1948)

Opening Title Cards: This boy… and this girl… were never properly introduced to the world we live in… To tell their story… They Live by Night.

Chickamaw (Jay C. Flippen), T-Dub (Howard Da Silva) and Bowie (a young Farley Granger in his 3rd role) have just escaped from prison somewhere in the Midwest. Though Chickamaw and T-Dub are hardened criminals (bank robbers), Bowie is just 23 y.o. and has been locked up since age16 (wrongly convicted of murder). Instead of rotting behind bars, Bowie, when given this chance by these older men, believed his best path forward was to help in their upcoming heists. He wanted to make enough money to hire a lawyer to clear his name of the murder conviction. The plan is to hide out with Chickamaw’s alcoholic/older brother, Mobley, until they have enough money to make other arrangements. Also w/ them is Mobley’s daughter, Keechie (Cathy O’Donnell- a waifish girl-next-door), who doesn’t much like her life. She and her father have small/run-down farm.

This unique film (now loved by critics and noiristas) is based on Thieves Like Us (1937), a novel by struggling journo Edward Anderson. It was identified by critic Thom Andersen as an example of film gris, a sub-category of film noir w/ a left-wing narrative. This was the debut of director Nicholas Ray and filmed in 1947; its release was delayed by 2 yrs. b/c Howard Hughes was in the process of buying RKO. Though well-liked by many Hollywood insiders, the film lost money at the box office. It was appreciated more in Europe, particularly France. Robert Mitchum lobbied to play Chickamaw and Jane Greer auditioned for Keechie; they’d soon be working on Out of the Past.

They Live by Night combines youthful innocence, first love, and the gritty world of crime. It’s not glam like many film noirs; this is a world of Greyhound buses, roadside diners, motor inns, etc. Granger asked to audition w/ O’Donnell (a close friend of his from MGM Studios); their onscreen chemistry is obvious. We see a romantic prologue showing Granger and O’Donnell (both newbies in the movie biz) w/ subtitles before the opening credits. The film’s opening action sequence was shot by a helicopter camera placed on a mount. Aerial helicopter photography was rare at that time; this is one of the first times an action scene was filmed from the sky. Bowie is the gang’s driver; he dreams of someday running his own garage/gas station. After he’s injured during a getaway, Keechie nurses him back to health. She doesn’t think much of him or his lifestyle; Bowie feels little shame in his role. There is something about Keechie that appeals to Bowie; both were abandoned by their mothers and inexperienced in romance. They form a strong emotional bond and begin to dream of a life together (where he won’t have to be on the run).

[1] Farley Granger is best remembered for his Hitchcock roles, and he gives a good, multifaceted performance. It’s clear from the get-go that despite the company he keeps and despite his time in prison, he’s really a scared, uncertain kid. Cathy O’Donnell is all but forgotten… extremely convincing and appealing

[2] Bowie, the innocent, sympathetic outlaw hero of “They Live By Night” is a wonderfully drawn. By no means is he the cliched nice-guy-in-a-bad-situation; though essentially good-hearted, he can be frighteningly callous at times. Farley Granger, working with excellent direction, he gives us glimpses of a violent yet passionate nature, struggling against the condemnation of society. Cathy O’Donnell is also entrancingly tender…

[3] In a sense this cuts right to the chase with the theme of doomed youth, years before Rebel Without a Cause yet with the given desperation of the noir films.

…a powerful mix of the bittersweet tale of a criminal and his love that would decades later meld with other crime-film elements into a work like True Romance.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Two Early Noir Films starring Alan Ladd & Veronica Lake

This Gun for Hire (1942)

Gates: Raven… how do you feel when you’re doing…

[indicates murder headlines]

Gates: this?

Raven: I feel fine.

Hit man Philip Raven (Alan Ladd), who’s kind to kids and stray cats, kills a blackmailer and is paid off by Willard Gates (Laird Cregar) in “hot” $10 bills. A magician and girlfriend of a cop, Ellen Graham (Veronica Lake), is enlisted by a Senator to help investigate Gates, who is an exec at the Nitro Chemical Company. Raven, following Gates to get revenge, meets Ellen on a train from San Fran to LA. They eventually go from killer and potential victim to working together against a common enemy.

Ruby: What’s the matter? You look like you’ve been on a hayride with Dracula.

This tightly edited (81 mins.) early noir is loosely based on This Gun For Hire by Graham Greene. This was one of the earliest American films released in the years of WWII which specifically takes place in wartime; it opened 5 mos. after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The petite/delicate-featured Lake was paired up w/ boyish newcomer Ladd (who was a good match at only 5’6″). The movie bills Lake and Robert Preston above the title, Cregar just below the title, and Ladd last in big type as “Introducing Alan Ladd.” However, Ladd had appeared in 40+ films in unbilled and minor parts.

[1] This is a straight-forward, linear, quick-moving story… …it’s still an entertaining movie, and probably close to required viewing if you enjoy noir and/or Forties movies.

[2] While many period pieces are “appreciated”, this one still provides a jolt of adrenaline right from the opening scene… He’s a bad man, no doubt about it, and his portrayal throughout most of the movie is surprisingly dark, even by today’s standards.

[3] This was Ladd’s breakthrough movie and he’s very good in it. I don’t think he was much of an actor, but he had a lot of star presence, especially in the movies he made in the Forties. There was always something passive but potentially dangerous about him. His looks could have kept him in the pretty boy category, but for whatever reason didn’t.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

The Blue Dahlia (1946)

Johnny: [after being picked up] You gotta have more sense than to take chances with strangers like this.

Joyce: It’s funny but practically all the people were strangers when I met them.

When naval officer Johnny Morrison (Ladd) comes home to LA, he finds his wife, Helen (Doris Dowling), partying and kissing another man, Eddie Harwood (Howard Da Silva), the owner of The Blue Dahlia nightclub. Helen admits her drunkenness caused a car accident which resulted in the death of their young son. Johnny pushes her around some, then pulls a gun on her, but then runs out. Johnny is picked up by a young woman (Lake) in the rain. Later, Helen is found dead and Johnny becomes the prime suspect. Meanwhile, Johnny’s two war buddies get an apt in town, and then are questioned by the cops.

Elizabeth Short (a young aspiring actress) got the nickname “The Black Dahlia” from a bartender at a Long Beach bar she frequented. This film was playing at a theater down the street, and the bartender got the name wrong. Elizabeth kept the nickname, adding a flower to her hair to complete the transformation. She was murdered the next year (1947). The local newspapers dubbed the case the “Black Dahlia” (the murder case is still unsolved).

Johnny: Every guy’s seen you before somewhere. The trick is to find you.

The screenplay was written by Raymond Chandler; he claimed that producer John Houseman was in “the doghouse” and director George Marshall “was a stale old hack”, so Chandler went on to the Paramount set to direct some of the scenes himself. Chandler was unhappy with Lake’s performance; he called her “Miss Moronica Lake” and complained in a letter: “The only times she’s good is when she keeps her mouth shut and looks mysterious. The moment she tries to behave as if she had a brain she falls flat on her face.” A few scenes were cut b/c he claimed Lake messed up too badly. The ending was changed b/c the Naval War Office objected.

[1]… Bendix steals the show as a G.I. who suffered brain damage in World War II. He is something to see and his wise-cracking lines are some of the best ever delivered in a film noir.

[2] … strikes all the right ultra-tough chords, and although Veronica Lake is a rather wooden actress she is remarkably beautiful and as a team the pair has considerable chemistry [w/ Ladd].

The film cracks along at a rapid pace with plenty of action and a surprise twist or two that will keep you guessing to the very end.

[3] It’s a very bleak tale of returning war veterans’ findings when they reach “home.” Unfaithful wife, hoodlums, and just general corruption and bleakness. The scenes with Veronica Lake are the shafts of light in this one’s blackness.. all in all it conjours up dark images in one’s mind.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” (1956) starring Dana Andrews & Joan Fontaine

Tom Garrett (Dana Andrews) is a reporter on leave from his newspaper to write his second book. Since he has writer’s block, his publisher/friend, Austin Spencer (Sidney Blackmer), suggests an idea for a non-fiction book on capital punishment. Austin thinks the local DA, Roy Thompson (Philip Bourneuf), is using the death penalty in the hopes of getting into the governor’s mansion. Tom and Austin decide to frame Tom for a murder he didn’t commit, in the hopes of showing how easily a man could be found guilty (w/ only circumstantial evidence). They decide to keep Tom’s fiancee/Austin’s daughter, Susan (Joan Fontaine), out of the loop.

Austin: You get engaged to my daughter, and all you can think about is capital punishment?

This was the last American film made by Fritz Lang (an iconic noir director) before returning to his native Germany; he fled in 1934 b/c of the rise of the Nazis (being Jewish). Lang chafed against the Hollywood studio system when producers wanted to impose their ideas on his vision. This film (shot in only 20 days- wow) is a legal drama and noir rolled into one. Instead of a cop, we follow a journalist (which was common for the noir genre). Though it’s not in Lang’s usual style, I thought it was riveting from the start. Some viewers said the movie looked more like a TV show; TV was on the verge of becoming big in the mid-1950s. The dialogue is smart, pacing well-done, and the acting is good (down to the small roles).

Dolly: This guy’s got a lot of class.

Terry: Yeah? If he’s got so much class, what’s he doin’ with you?

Andrews and Fontaine make an elegant couple; they’re also fine actors who understand subtlety. Fontaine gets some classy outfits to wear, too. I think she looked more interesting in her 30s and somewhat baby-faced in her 20s. I wish she had more to do. One of the burlesque dancers, Dolly Moore (Barbara Nichols), brings some humor to the story. Moore looks/acts like a taller a and more streetwise version of Marilyn Monroe; she was in Sweet Smell of Success (1957) opposite Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster.


[1] The main strengths of this movie… its lively pace, its wonderfully bizarre plot and the unexpected twists which make it so intriguing and enjoyable to watch.

[2] Andrews and Fontaine are not a bad pair—both are matched in calm and sophistication, and beauty, even, though Fontaine seems like an accessory until the very end. Andrews rules the plot, which makes him out to be a writer desperate for a new story.

[3] This is perhaps Lang’s best assault on the American justice system; he has created a story that is interesting and very plausible and it works a treat in that it gets you thinking about the fact that with this kind of law; someone really could be killed for something they didn’t do.

It is efficient story telling at it’s best and this is one of the highlights of the film noir era.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews