Monday, April 27, 2009

Create Your Own Noir


Just for fun, my friend ChiO proposed that we take a crack at developing some film noirs that never were by creating a dream cast and crew about imaginary noirs we wish we could have seen. Since creative woolgathering might be one of the few things I do best, here are a few proposals, shining a spotlight on an "if only" film noir that ought to have been made. If you read this and you liked to play I hope that you'll write your own "nightmare noir" outline.My apologies to my friends in the Film Noir Foundation for toying with such an important subject, but I could not resist!

I've always had a weakness for those noirs that played fast and loose with psychiatry on screen:

Title -- The Dark Night of the Soul (1948)
Studio -- RKO
Producer -- John Houseman
Director – Robert Siodmak
Cinematographer -- Nicholas Musuraca
Screenplay – Ben Hecht, A.I. Bezzerides & Crane Wilbur
Source -- a previously unknown story by closet pulp writer Eric Knight
Music -- Bernard Herrmann (experimenting with both a theremin & viola d'amor solo by Virginia Majewski)

Cast

Tom Conway – the oily head of a psychiatric hospital, with far too many graduate degrees papering the wall of his office--but not enough to cover the truth!
Richard Conte – hotshot Freudian analyst turned Jungian, a former POW, just back from Vienna after completing his postwar studies.
Isobel Elsom – older, moneyed blue blood society dame, and soon dead, wife of Tom Conway
Ella Raines – tough, but tender gal Friday to head shrink, rumored to have recently ended a love affair with Conway.
Colleen Gray – malleable patient, in love with Conway (or is it just transference?)
William Bendix – Conte's "wing man" in the Air Force, shot down over Germany with him, now rediscovered as an amnesiac patient in hospital.
Walter Slezak – fabulously wealthy mentor of Conte's at local university, a bit of an intellectual dilettante who is currently occupying the Larry Ballentine Chair for the Study of Human Duality
Richard Erdman – snarky male nurse, who knows more than he will say and drinks on duty.
Elisha Cook, Jr. – orderly who may have been working in the nuthouse a little too long.
Fred Clark – slightly incompetent but likable chief of detectives
Mike Mazurki – Slezak chauffeur

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Here's another attempt--this time, The Mob vs. Cops vs. Feds Noir in the 1950s

Title: The Canary Sings Twice (1951)
Studio -- Columbia
Producer -- Samuel Bischoff
Director – Phil Karlson
Cinematographer – Bert Glennon
Screenplay – Jay Dratler & Crane Wilbur
Source – "Confessions of a Stoolie" by Jack Lait and Lee Mortimer
Music -- Gerald Fried

Cast

John Payne – mob accountant who, caught in a raid on a betting parlor, is now a contact for the FBI inside "The Organization"
Brian Donlevy – philosophical but still deadly head of the syndicate, wondering if his henchman have noticed he's growing a bit soft, (now needs hearing aid in addition to lifts, toupee and male girdle)
Ted de Corsia – the restless right hand man of Donlevy, tired of being described by the boss as "like a brother"
Ricardo Montalban – newly appointed lieutenant to the city's crime task force with a chip on his manly shoulder
Regis Toomey -- Montalban's partner on the task force, counting the days until his pension, when he can retire with the wife and 5 kids so they can operate a laundromat and rake in the "big money"
E.G. Marshall – a by the book F.B.I. man, used to bumping heads with local cops, and not impressed with young Lt. Montalban.
Phyllis Kirk – daughter of Donlevy, just back from college, seemingly unaware of her father's real business, doesn't enjoy being eyed by Ted de Corsia & Jack Elam like a tender steak on a sizzle platter (see below)
Gloria Grahame – desperate, nympho girlfriend of Ted de Corsia, who makes a play for Montalban
Neville Brand -- "muscle" for the Syndicate, a human doberman on a leash held by Donlevy (or is it de Corsia now?)
Jack Elam -- wall-eyed simpleton, half of the muscle team led by Brand...and Neville's roommate (Jack does the ironing and cooking)
Richard Erdman – eager beaver photographer from the local newspaper, willing to do anything for a good shot.
Ian Wolfe – Minister with a past
Will Wright – Pops, the pool hall attendant (uncredited)
Percy Helton – Mailman (uncredited)
Nita Talbot –Jailbait Barfly (uncredited)

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How about we take a look at a hypothetical attempt by glossy MGM to hop on the gritty Noir Bandwagon before the cycle plays out for good? Well, maybe the gloss won out here...

Title: Johnny Came Lately (1949)
Studio -- MGM
Producer -- Harry Rapf
Director – Curtis Bernhardt
Cinematographer – Paul C. Vogel
Screenplay – John Lee Mahin & James Edward Grant
Source – Saturday Evening Post article "Whither Youth?" by Westbrook Pegler
Music -- André Previn

Cast

Van Johnson – ambitious, rising young attorney and war hero, engaged to be married, with alot to learn about the way things really work in Middletown, USA.
Gloria de Haven -- profession: fiancée, goal: security, prospects: excellent, except when Van refuses to heel when whistled for.
Audrey Totter -- the loyal legal secretary to Van, whose big, sleepy blue eyes see more than intended.
Keefe Braselle-- handsome kid brother of Van Johnson, just back from service in Occupied Japan with too much money in his pockets and no apparent determination to buckle down to a career--until he's had what he calls "fun".
John Hodiak -- Danny Rossetti, who grew up with Van, but now has taken the reigns of local underworld activity.
Walter Pidgeon -- Gloria's Dad and Dutch uncle partner to Van at Johnson's law firm. As a longtime friend of the family, he warns that it may be surprising how many careers will be thrown into jeopardy if Van keeps digging around in "the Rossetti case."
J. Carroll Naish -- Van Johnson's client, a grocery store owner who killed a Rossetti minion in self-defense after the hoodlum hurled a fire-bomb through Naish's store window.
Esther Minciotti -- Naish's long suffering wife, with few lines but an eloquently expressive face and a strong belief in the power of novenas to solve most problems.
Leon Ames -- a used car salesman who used to date Totter and is desperate to get close again.
Marshall Thompson -- childhood best friend of Keefe, newly married to Pier Angeli who's expecting their first baby.
Pier Angeli -- vulnerable young Italian war bride whose peasant wisdom is no match for all-American naiveté of her hubby.
Jay C. Flippen -- Seamus Thorkelson, a waterfront contact with lots of street cred and a mean left hook.
Richard Erdman -- Bartender at the Country Club who knows more than he will say.
Richard Anderson -- Golf Pro at the Country Club, giving Gloria private lessons.
Marc Lawrence -- gunsel for Hodiak (uncredited)
Tom Helmore -- snobby partner at law firm (uncredited)
Jeff Corey -- Man with Switchblade (uncredited)

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How about creating one of those proto-feminist noirs that seemed so edgy once, and gave employment to some great actresses? Here's a dream cast...or is it nightmare?

Title -- Beyond the Pale (1953)
Studio -- RKO
Producer -- Bert E. Friedlob
Director – John Cromwell and Ida Lupino(uncredited)
Cinematographer -- Carl E. Guthrie
Screenplay – Virginia Kellogg and Crane Wilbur
Source -- "Sin of Omission" a short story written for "True Adventure" magazine by Douglas Heyes
Music -- What music? Tin cups on bars?

Cast

Ida Lupino – Ida plays a compassionate social worker trying to help young girls behind bars, even if she must suppress her womanhood! Sure, Lupino's the co-director of this flick too, but she's a name first. Now if only someone would remind her that she's a woman too!
Barbara Stanwyck – sent away for life back in the '30s for causing a series of men to commit suicide over her babyface. Now she's queen of the cell block and not interested in being "helped" by anyone, not even Ida.
Dan Duryea – weaselly head guard at the prison, got his job through connections, has his eye on Lizabeth, since he likes 'em heartless (and expressionless?).
Lizabeth Scott – there wasn't enough money in the world for this girl, who vows never to change, even if it leads to the gas chamber.
Robert Ryan – progressive instructor in the prison, proposes to institute a training program for the inmates designed to help them become stenographers when they "graduate" to the real world. Teaches boxing on the side.
John Emery – sleazy head of the parole board, with an eye for the inmates
Marsha Hunt – doing time for offing her brutal hubby by pouring acid on his car's brake lining. No regrets from this gal, even if she keeps trying to break out of her typecas--er, make that cell.
Ann Francis – pouty-lipped lass who stole a car with John Drew Barrymore, only to rack it up on the lawn of Hope Emerson.
Whit Bissell – has rocketed his way up from "apprentice guard" to "associate guard" in only 18 years. Plays Lenny to Duryea's George.
Richard Erdman – "Cookie" who prefers the title of head chef of facilities, but who nips the cooking sherry too often and may have seen more than he should have during a smoke break on the loading dock.
Irene Dunne – Special Guest Star Dunne reprises her role as "Ann Vickers", prison reform pioneer of the 1930s. Miss Dunne appears in a prologue explaining that the conditions depicted in this film predate modern reformatory techniques, which have revolutionized the penal system by 1953, making a term in the state pen seem like a day trip to the hairdresser.
Louis Jean Heydt -- dead prison guard, falls off tower (uncredited)
Charles Buchinsky -- Marsha Hunt's husband, seen in flashback as he goes over cliff (uncredited)
John Fiedler -- Ann Francis' boyfriend, seen on visiting day (uncredited)

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