Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Eat, drink movies

With Thanksgiving looming on the horizon,  my head has been filled with visions of food...and film.

When the weather turned cooler a couple of weeks ago and Now, Voyager happened to be scheduled on TCM, I started thinking about my favorite recipe for gingerbread...and how a steaming cup of hot cocoa would go so well with a thick slice of gingerbread and that magnificent Bette Davis melodrama.

Last weekend, M.F.K. Fisher’s  “strengthening prescription” from her book, Alphabet for Gourmets, found its way into my thoughts. Fisher, considered the doyenne of American culinary writers during her lifetime, was also a screenwriter for Paramount Pictures in 1942, and this seemed to me to add to the rightness of pairing her simple menu (from the chapter "M is for Monastic") with a movie.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Max Ophuls' Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948)

It is turn-of-the-century Vienna, the wee hours of a wet night. A man alights from a horse-drawn carriage and jokes with companions about the duel at dawn to which he has been challenged. Entering his flat alone he tells his manservant he will leave before morning, "Honor is a luxury only gentlemen can afford." But the mute servant indicates a letter awaiting him and, as he prepares for his departure, the man opens it and begins to read...
"By the time you read this letter, I may be dead," it says, and the voice of a woman, the letter writer, begins to narrate her story.  Her tale unfolds in flashback as the man immerses himself in the letter.

Monday, November 15, 2010


Although Vincente Minnelli's 1945 musical Yolanda and the Thief is not one of his or Fred Astaire's most popular films, it contains a jewel of a musical number that has earned raves from day one...Coffee Time...

When the film was released, none other than stuffy Bosley Crowther, critic for The New York Times, was impressed: "...a rhythm dance, done to the melody of Mr. Freed's Coffee-Time, puts movement and color to such uses as you seldom behold on screen."

More recently, Stuart Klawans of The Nation was even more enthusiastic: "Minnelli puts Astaire and Lucille Bremer into the midst of a mad pulsation of dancers in mocha and cafe au lait costumes...the chorus swirls; the camera swirls; the gringo-Latin rhythms shift giddily...Coffee Time  is heaven itself, and a warm-up for the 18-minute ballet that Minnelli and Gene Kelly would create in An American in Paris."

Coffee Time is the reworking of an earlier tune by composer Harry Warren called Java Junction. His collaborator, producer/songwriter Arthur Freed, created new lyrics for the updated melody. In the film, the routine begins as a captivating contrast in rhythms, with the orchestra playing in 4/4 time while the dancers dance in 5/4 time. The number goes through a series of variations and ends up a full-blown swing number showcasing Astaire and Bremer.

The Coffee Time sequence is a fiesta for the eyes. Costumer Irene Sharaff developed the stylized combo of costumes and decor. She created coffee-colored outfits for the extras and, to set off the costumes, devised a pattern of rolling black and white lines on the dance floor that form an optical illusion. With Fred Astaire, choreographer Eugene Loring came up with a dance based on slow jazz rhythms. Minnelli's lighting and camera work added the finishing touches.

Watch Coffee Time here -

Thursday, November 11, 2010

1st Film Noir Xmas coming to San Francisco…9th Noir Festival set for January

The San Francisco Film Noir Foundation has set its first-ever Noir City Xmas for Wed., December 15, at the Castro Theatre, and extends an invitation to “enjoy a Cruel Yule...”

The double feature pairs Remember the Night (1940) and Mr. Soft Touch (1949).

TCM has been airing Remember the Night regularly in recent years, and that's where I first saw it. The film stars Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck as an assistant DA and a thief who share a memorable and affecting holiday before she is set to serve her  jail sentence. Directed by Mitchell Leisen, written by Preston Sturges.  A classic.

Mr. Soft Touch stars Glenn Ford and Evelyn Keyes. A combination of “tight-lipped noir and broad comedy," it was shot on location in San Francisco. The film tells the story of a WW II veteran (Ford) out for revenge when he falls in with a kindly social worker (Keyes).  My first viewing of Mr. Soft Touch will be this “freshly struck 35mm print.”

San Francisco’s 9th annual Noir City Film Festival will run from January 21 – 30, 2011, also at the Castro Theatre; I'll post the screening schedule and ticket information as soon as it's available. Film noir fans should try hard to attend this festival, it's a chance to see both classics and rare "B" gems on the big screen in an old-style movie palace. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Van Nest Polglase ~ Architect Of Cinematic Dreams, Part II

by guest contributor Whistlingypsy

The emergence of those stylistic elements in American films later termed noir by critics is often debated and open to interpretation.

Five years before the films that captivated French critics for their “dark” plots and visual style, John Ford directed an equally dark film for RKO Studios. The Informer (1935) was based on the novel by Liam O’Flaherty and tells the story of an increasingly desperate man. Whether John Ford had the stylistic treatment of German expressionism in mind when making the film seems unlikely, but Gypo Nolan’s (Victor McLaglen) flight through Dublin’s fog wreathed streets suggests these atmospheric elements as an archetype of noir essentials. Through the effective use of black velvet drapery and fog, to disguise the minimal budget for art direction, Polglase and assistant art director Charles Kirk created an atmosphere that is alternately brooding and menacing, dark, claustrophobic and bleak. Setting the story over the course of one night gives immediacy to Nolan’s frantic race to outrun his conscience and his pursuers. This small film would proved an artistic triumph, surprising studio executives, and won four Academy Awards, one for John Ford’s direction and Victor McLaglen’s portrayal of the lead character.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Van Nest Polglase ~ Architect Of Cinematic Dreams, Part I

by guest contributor Whistlingypsy

The artistry of classic films reveals a cinematic alchemy in melding talent both before and behind the camera. The actor/actress and director are the two most visibly recognizable artists who created the image on screen. A careful viewer can also learn to recognize the names of the creative individuals who labored behind the scenes. Van Nest Polglase was one of these individuals who created the world in which our favorite characters move and have their lives.