For the love of movies, wherever your theater is:
The definition of film noir for me is both stylistic and formulaic. Stylistically, the film should have a fluid movement to the filmmaking, cinematography, fashion. Story-wise, the thing that sets a noir apart from a regular mystery is the everyman who is put into an unusual situation. From the small boy in The Window who accidentally sees a murder, to the hapless hitchhiker in a film like Detour–suddenly an ordinary life is swept up into extraordinary circumstances by one moment, a moment that could be something like picking the wrong lover to something as mundane as having a flat tire.
My noir recommendation list is vast, but here are ten of my top picks:
Scarlet Street (1945) Like Detour, this is Noir 101. It’s a must-see film. And probably my favorite film of the genre. Edward G. Robinson plays a hen-pecked husband who picks the wrong woman to try to save one rainy night. Joan Bennett plays the woman who, with her grifter boyfriend (played by Dan Dureya), thinks that Robinson is a famous painter. From there, noir hilarity ensues. Lots of twists and turns and one of the darkest endings of any American film.
The Lineup (1958) I just recently saw a screening of this, and I was blown away by the violence of the film. The film follows the ruthless killer played brilliantly by Eli Wallach who is trying to track down heroin smuggled in an unsuspecting traveler’s suitcase. Some incredible location shots of San Francisco in the late ’50s. This is one of those movies they would call edge-of-your-seat suspense.
Fury (1936) Spencer Tracy plays a man traveling across country who stops in a small town and is mistaken for a killer. Based on a true story of vigilantism, the town takes the matter of justice in their own hands and burns down the jail where he is being held. Tracy’s character turns from an average Joe to a man of hard, bitter hatred. Sylvia Sidney plays his girlfriend who tries to show him that his hate is destroying him.
I Wake Up Screaming (1941) An unlikely noir with glamour girl Betty Grable and Victor Mature (who I usually hate) in a murder mystery told in flashbacks. The killer thing about this movie, which recurs in many noirs, is the use of a popular song that is played over and over throughout the movie. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is used in this movie, and it will wipe out of your mind all memories of Dorothy and the Tin Man. It was the breakthrough movie for Laird Cregar as the obsessive detective. He died young and it’s a tragedy. He was one of the best actors who ever was in movies.
Detour (1945) Much has been written about this low-budget film directed by Edgar G. Ulmer. It’s the fastest 65 minutes of movie you’ll ever sit through. Not a minute of wasted film. Proof that you don’t need a big budget just a great story. Ann Savage is the spice that makes this movie pop!
The Scarf (1951) This movie is a cousin to Detour. This story, about an escaped inmate from an insane asylum who is trying to figure out if he really committed a murder, takes its time getting started, but once Mercedes McCambridge picks up the inmate (John Ireland) on the side of the road, the journey begins. Like Detour’s Ann Savage, McCambridge tears into every line of dialogue like a vicious cat. It also has a great nightclub scene.
Hangover Square (1945) Again with Laird Cregar. A musician suffers from a condition that has him go temporarily mad when he hears high-pitched sounds. Another ongoing theme of noir is “rooting for the criminal.” Cregar creates sympathy with his character so that the audience knows he is just a man who cannot help what he is doing.
Furies (1950) One of the queens of the genre, Barbara Stanwyck, gives a tour de force performance in this noir western. Stanwyck’s hate and revenge for her father drive the story of this Greek tragedy-like film. It’s got the look of a western, but the heart of pure darkness.
Fourteen Hours (1951) Richard Basehart plays a gay man whose life is no longer worth living, and he spends 14 hours on the ledge of a building. Not a typical noir, but the characters who are drawn into this unusual situation are the people on the street watching the drama unfold. Amazing moments with Agnes Moorehead as the dominating mother and Barbara Bel Geddes as the girlfriend who ‘understands’.
Female on the Beach (1955). Joan Crawford, Queen of the Noirs, stars in this camp classic. A great story about deception, but the thing that makes this film is the unforgettable lines per minute:
“I have a nasty imagination, and I’d like to be left alone with it.”
“You must go with the house–like plumbing.”
“You’re about as friendly as a suction pump…”
Keep up with my noir recommendations on the Home Projectionist “What Are You Watching?” Facebook page.
- Nine Noirs for November Nights (homeprojectionist.com)
Meet LINDSAY EDMUNDS of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Author, MST3K and noir fan, who liked NORTHFORK and “came to movies sideways.”
We coined the term “Home Projectionist” as a way to identify film fans (like us!) with a broad range of tastes and sensibilities who are always on the lookout for the next interesting movie to watch.
Our goal is to create a community of like-minded Home Projectionists because we like recommendations and feedback from real live people. It’s more fun than algorithms.
HP: Was there a defining moment — or moments — that made you a film fan?
Lindsay: I came to movies sideways, not quite realizing until Stage 3 that I was hooked.
Stage 1. I used to read Pauline Kael’s movie reviews not because of the movies, but because she was such a terrific writer. As a result, I can do a pretty good imitation of her style. See my blog post I Channel Pauline Kael.
Stage 2. In the mid 1990s, I found Mystery Science Theater 3000, which was about riffing bad movies. Because of MST3K, I associate movies with laughter and good times.
Stage 3. I discovered Turner Classic Movies. TCM was a revelation: nonstop movies with intelligent commentary and no commercials. Last April I attended my first TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood and liked it a lot. That shows how far I have come, or fallen, if you prefer.
HP: What have you been seen lately?
Lindsay: I saw Charlie Chaplin’s CITY LIGHTS at a little movie house in Chautauqua, New York. It was on the same bill with CLOUD ATLAS for some reason.
Thanks to TCM, I just saw my first-ever Francois Truffaut movie: STOLEN KISSES. Liked it.
HP: Are there any films (current or older) that you recently rediscovered and would recommend?
Lindsay: I haven’t rediscovered any movies lately, but I do wonder about some I remember liking. Would I like NASHVILLE if I met it again? ROBIN AND MARIAN? THE ROSE? MY BROTHER TALKS TO HORSES?
Actually, I am pretty sure I would like MY BROTHER TALKS TO HORSES. But that one is hard to find.
HP: What are the top movies that you’re happy to watch again and again?
Lindsay: LOCAL HERO, I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING, THE HAUNTING, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, LOVE ACTUALLY, CASABLANCA, DOUBLE INDEMNITY, CAT PEOPLE, THE MALTESE FALCON, SHE DONE HIM WRONG, IT’S A GIFT, SOME LIKE IT HOT.
GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING, THE DEAD, HARD DAY’S NIGHT, MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY, HARVEY, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS.
The first half of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. The first half of THE COLOR OF MONEY. The first half of THE BIG SLEEP (before plot goes off rails).
All these movies tell stories that stick with me, but why they stick with me is a question I can’t answer. This list shows a modest taste for film noir and a more marked one for comedy, and a definite vulnerability to romance.
I am a sucker for dream movies. I give them all kinds of slack as they drift around.
NORTHFORK is an example. It has washy color, a plot that gets stuck in the mud midway through, a soundtrack that muffles key passages of dialogue, and four angels named Cod, Cup of Tea, Flower Hercules, and Happy. I like it anyway.
HP: Anything about the film industry that particularly intrigues you?
Lindsay: I love it that movies with no hope of being hits still get made. CLOUD ATLAS, the most expensive indie movie in history, never had a prayer in theaters.
Maybe the film makers dream of a freak hit like BLAIR WITCH STORY or NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. But this does not seem to happen outside of the horror genre.
HP: Any favorite directors and actors?
Lindsay: Directors are Bill Forsyth, Richard Lester, Val Lewton, Woody Allen, Michael Powell, John Huston.
Actors include Sean Connery, William Powell, James Mason, Myrna Loy, Lillian Gish, Paul Newman, Diane Keaton, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Cary Grant, Barbara Stanwyck.
Also W.C. Fields. Women don’t usually like Fields, but I love way he spun the English language for laughs.
HP: Do you have a favorite film era or genre?
Lindsay: I like post-Code movies from the 1940s, because those movies get around the censors in sophisticated ways. These are true movies for grownups, because only grownups can understand the meanings under the meanings.
Also, I have a thing for black and white movies that I do not completely understand.
HP: Do you have any favorite go-to movie sites or blogs to recommend?
Lindsay: The blog movieLuv.
The Facebook group Going to TCM Festival
My own blog is Writer’s Rest. It is only sometimes about movies/TV though. The last entertainment-related posts I wrote are about the late and lamented TV series SMASH.
HP: Any other comments about being a Home Projectionist and choosing what you watch?
Lindsay: I like chick flicks. I refuse to call this a guilty pleasure.
Go to our Home Projectionist “What Are You Watching?” group on Facebook to join in on the conversation and meet the other Home Projectionists who love movies as much as you do.
- A Home Projectionist You Should Know: Harold Gaugler (homeprojectionist.com)
At this blog, we coined the term “Home Projectionist” as a way to identify film fans (like us!) with a broad range of tastes and sensibilities who are always on the lookout for the next interesting movie to watch.
Our goal is to create a community of like-minded Home Projectionists because we like recommendations and feedback from real live people. It’s more fun than algorithms alone. Over the last few months, we’ve found that the liveliest conversations are taking place on with our Home Projectionist “What Are You Watching?” group on Facebook.
So, in the name of making HP-to-HP (Home Projectionist-to-Home Projectionist) connections, I’m introducing a new HP blog feature: Home Projectionist of the Month.
Meet HAROLD J. GAUGLER of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania (which, by the way, is northwest of Philadelphia).
I recently posed a few questions to Harold about his love for the movies, his top recommendations, favorite directors, and assorted other topics in Harold’s Movie Brain.
Was there a defining moment, a movie or a memory (or both) that made you a true film fan?
GAUGLER: As a child of the 1960s, I was part of the generation of kids who ran home from school every day to watch DARK SHADOWS (1966-1971), the popular afternoon soap opera about vampires, witches, ghosts, and werewolves. The star was Joan Bennett, who’d had a 30-year film career before moving into television.
Watching DARK SHADOWS with my mom all those years ago, I remember my mom saying, “That’s Joan Bennett. She used to be a movie star.” Immediately, I wanted to see her old movies.
Back in those days, there was a total of maybe eight TV stations, and on weekends the UHF channels would fill their schedules by showing old B&W movies from the 1930s through the 1950s. I spent many Sunday afternoons watching old movies with my mom. Her favorite star was Joan Crawford. I learned to love her too, and loved seeing old Joan Bennett movies, and seeing Barbara Stanwyck from THE BIG VALLEY (1965-1969) and Joan Blondell from HERE COME THE BRIDES (1968-1970) in their old films. I’ve been a fan of the movies and stars of Hollywood’s Classic Era, and in general all movies, ever since.
Are there any films (current or older) that you recently discovered and would recommend?
GAUGLER: I’m always discovering new movies, both current and older. One classic I recently watched for the first time was GUN CRAZY (1950), a highly regarded, low-budget film noir drama. John Dall plays a decent, honest man who has had a gun fixation since childhood (though not for killing), who falls in love with psychopathic carnival performer Peggy Cummins, who leads him into a life of crime. A fascinating look at violence in America and the link between sex and violence, with beautiful B&W cinematography, camera angles, plot twists, and superb performances by two underrated stars.
What are the top movies are you happy to watch again and again and again — and why?
GAUGLER: I have many stars who I count among my favorites, including Cary Grant, James Stewart, and Humphrey Bogart. But going back to my childhood, I’ve ALWAYS loved actresses! Starting with Joan Bennett, I’ve always loved watching movies with a strong female lead. Bette Davis in almost anything. Joan Crawford in her 1940’s Warner Brothers period. The heroines of screwball comedies. The femme fatales of film noir.
One I happily watch again and again in John Cromwell’s CAGED (1950), with Eleanor Parker, as an innocent accomplice to her husband’s crime, who is corrupted by the heartless penal system and the career criminals she is incarcerated with. A superb star performance by Eleanor Parker and a great cast of supporting actresses highlight this grim but entertaining film.
Another, much more recent is THE HOURS (2002). Every moment of this film fascinates me. And in her sequences, Julianne Moore gives one of the all-time great performances of any actress.
THE BIG CHILL (1983) may be my favorite movie of the last 30 years. I’m slightly younger than the amazing ensemble cast, but I identify with their struggles between the free spiritedness of the hippie era and the conformity of moving into middle age. It’s a landmark film in my life, one I never tire of watching again and again.
Who are your favorite directors and actors?
GAUGLER: Jean Arthur, Joan Bennett, Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, Charles Boyer, James Cagney, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Irene Dunne, John Garfield, Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Katharine Hepburn, Burt Lancaster, Charles Laughton, Ida Lupino, Joel McCrea, Dorothy McGuire, Robert Mitchum, Marilyn Monroe, Eleanor Parker, William Powell, Edward G. Robinson, Barbara Stannwyck, James Stewart, Margaret Sullavan.
Do you have a favorite era or genre?
GAUGLER: I love film noir, like DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944), SCARLET STREET (1945), MILDERD PIERCE (1945), OUT OF THE PAST (1947) and screwball comedies like MY MAN GODFREY (1936), THE AWFUL TRUTH (1937), THE LADY EVE (1941), and THE MORE THE MERRIER (1943) — among many others.
What kind of equipment or setup do you have — a home theater? big screen tv? pc? other? What do you prefer?
GAUGLER: I have a DVD player and a small 28” flat screen TV. I’m not interested in interactive menu’s, alternate endings, and whatever else Blu-ray has to offer. I enjoy the commentaries on some films, especially the classics. But when I watch a movie, I want to watch a movie. I don’t need the extras. I do plan to get a much bigger flat screen TV when it’s in my budget. But having grown up on watching TV on a small screen, it’s really not that big a deal for me….
What are your go-to movie sites or blogs, including any blogs you contribute to?
Any final thoughts on movies or being a “Home Projectionist”?
GAUGLER: Most of my answers have been about films from Hollywood’s classic era. But I also watch films of today. I think Sean Penn is an amazing actor. There’s not a better actor among his generation today. I love Diane Keaton with all my heart! Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon, Kevin Costner, Viggo Mortenson, and so many others….
If you want to find out more about what Harold is watching next — or tell us about what you’re watching as well — visit the Home Projectionist “What Are You Watching?” Facebook page.
‘Til next time…
Like Brigadoon, the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival arose as a dreamlike haven for movie lovers, and now, this morning, begins to fade away, not to appear again for another year.
During the four days it lived, fest goers were thrilled, enchanted, and happy. They (including yours truly) were also sleep-deprived, hungry, and sometimes frustrated. But I feel safe in saying that almost every one of us is sad that it’s over, and would be ready to do it again next week, after a brief food and rest break.
Sunday was just as much fun as the previous four days, but also presented even more tough choices. I would like to have caught Debra Winger at GILDA, or Norman Lloyd at THE LADY VANISHES, Tippi Hedrin/Melanie Daniels at THE BIRDS, or a film I’ve never seen, SCARECROW–Gene Hackman’s favorite of the ones he’s worked on.
However, the double, wide screen features of CINERAMA HOLIDAY and IT’S A MAD (etc.) WORLD were just too compelling. The former, a very corny but fascinating 1955 travelogue, had the two female co-stars discussing the production. IAMMMMW was preceded by a discussion with Mickey Rooney, Barrie Chase, and demolished gas station co-owner Marvin Kaplan. On stage was an empty chair, in tribute to the late Jonathan Winters, who’d been a scheduled guest.
Dashing out of the fabulous Cinerama Dome on Sunset Blvd., I made it safely to SAFE IN HELL, a little pre-code gem from 1931. Dorothy MacKahill plays a vamp and accused murderer on the lamb, fleeing to a Carribean isle crawling with degenerates—and centipedes. The son of director William Wellman spoke afterwards.
Then it was on to the final screening, Buster Keaton’s amazing Civil War picture, THE GENERAL. It was a new, beautifully restored print. What made it extra special was The Alloy Orchestra’s live accompaniment as well as our surroundings, the lovely, historic Graumann’s Chinese Theater.
TCM’s Robert Osborne—a rock star to Festival attendees—thanked us all for coming, and received a standing ovation. He had some sad news for us though. Graumann’s new owners plan to close the palace for some time, while they convert it into an IMAX theater with stadium seating. This announcement was followed by a loud chorus of boos from us classic film fans, but Robert was diplomatic, saying that change can be good, but also asking us to take a good, long last look at the place where movies like CASABLANCA and so many other classics had their premieres. And so we did.
And thus ends TCM’s fourth annual Classic Film Festival. Disneyland is said to be “the happiest place on Earth”. But for four days in April, we movie lovers borrowed the phrase. See you next year!
For its recommendation algorithms, Netflix uses something called “pragmatic chaos.”
“I kid you not,” John wrote. “I had rented a Godzilla movie and I got, ‘Since you liked GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA, you might also like YENTL.'”
David countered: “Since you liked I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, you might also like GIGI.”
Algorithms may be emerging as a powerful force in our world, but they sure aren’t as clever or as funny as Home Projectionists…and they can’t expand your movie horizons like our community of Home Projectionists on Facebook.
(We define Home Projectionists, by the way, as film fans always on the search for great things to watch … and who love the opportunity to be program directors in their own homes.)
We started the What Are You Watching? group on Facebook during last year’s winter holidays while we took a sabbatical from the Home Projectionist blog. The group now has more than 100 participants, all savvy and smart cinephiles who share, discuss, joke, and connect — and most importantly, make compelling recommendations for movies to add to your list.
Hundreds of films have already been talked about — from current popular releases like THE SESSIONS (2012) to the obscure, like the early Technicolor THE TRAIL OF LONESOME PINE (1936). As a result of the Home Projectionist group, my must-see list is on super-growth hormones, like some crazy beanstalk I will never be able to conquer. It’s a better kind of “pragmatic chaos” than the algorithms provide.
In addition to the direct recommendations and reviews, What Are You Watching? conversations go into all kinds of movie territory.
John didn’t recommend THE YESTERDAY MACHINE (1963) but at least we all know the movie includes “the world’s longest monologue by a mad Nazi scientist about how time travel works.”
While her family was sleeping, Gwen seemed to tell us quietly that she “was watching NOTORIOUS (1946) for the bizillionth time…I think it’s the most romantic movie ever created.” Jay agreed with her, “Not even a bizillion viewings can weary the charms and virtues of his artful masterpiece.”
Kelli, Andy, and Steve recently had a discussion about THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT (1967) and the power of watching big movies on the big screen, and when you can’t, they agreed, sharing them with a group of friends is the next best thing.
Eric reported that he had watched DINAH EAST (1970) and spotted Tara from GONE WITH THE WIND in a backlot scene.
Aaron told us about the fabulous terribles he picked up in a $5 bin.
There was a multi-day dialogue about everyone’s favorite Susan Hayward movies. And we discovered that Dark Shadows super fan Harold put together a tribute to Joan Bennett.
Joseph cited one of his favorite lines from CROSSFIRE (1947): “Tonight was a long time ago.”
To make me laugh when I’m feeling a bit down in the dumps, I recall the day Daniel deadpanned, “Electricity is kind of a big deal,” when commenting on the famous dance from DeMille’s MADAM SATAN (1930).
I don’t think there could be a better crew of film fans. The Home Projectionist What Are You Watching? Facebook group is open for your viewing pleasure and participation. Go to http://www.facebook.com/groups/homeprojectionist and join in today.