Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Robert Taylor & Lana Turner: Electric Chemistry in Johnny Eager

“If this were serious drama one might complain that what makes Johnny Eager tick remains a mystery, that lovely students of sociology aren’t apt to embark on discussion with a parolee on Cyrano de Bergerac’s apostrophe to a kiss. But as pure melodrama Johnny Eager moves at a turbulent tempo. Mr. Taylor and Miss Turner strike sparks in their distraught love affair. Van Heflin provides a sardonic portrait of Johnny’s Boswell, full of long words and fancy quotations.” -Theodore Strauss, New York Times (1942)

Johnny Eager (1941) directed by Mervyn LeRoy - Full Movie -

Lisbeth, tortured by guilt over her "murderous" act, is on the edge of a nervous breakdown when Johnny finally comes to see her, and when he realizes what she's prepared to sacrifice because she loves him, something finally clicks inside of him. He confesses to her that the murder was a fake -- the gun was loaded with blanks, she didn't kill anyone, the man she shot is fine and walking around as if nothing happened. But she thinks he's just trying to ease her conscience, so he sets out to prove it to her.

Despite the hurried feeling of the last ten minutes or so, this is a well-crafted story with some very nice plot touches along the way. There is a recurring motif with an honest cop, Badge No. 711, who is troublesome to Johnny's gambling rackets. Lisbeth's reference to Cyrano early on in the film serves as a kind of thematic backdrop -- just as Cyrano denied his love to spare Roxanne, Johnny pushes Lisbeth away because he knows he's no good for her. Performances are all top-notch, from the leads on down to Connie Gilchrist and Robin Raymond in one brief scene as Johnny's aunt and young cousin. The only weak link might be Robert Sterling as the hapless cuckolded fiancé, but his role doesn't give him much to do but stand around and look like a martyr.

Lana Turner is breathtaking to look at, and her acting ability never fails to catch me off-guard. Robert Taylor is a commanding presence as Johnny and Edward Arnold does his typical rich-white-conservative guy -- if you've seen him in any other movie, you've probably seen him play the same role. But it's Van Heflin who marches off with the acting honors (and the Academy statuette) as the tortured, philosophical lush.

Director Mervyn LeRoy draws on his experience with gritty crime dramas such as Little Caesar and I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang, and infuses it with typical MGM gloss. It's a cleaner, less dangerous-looking underworld, but what it loses in violent realism, it makes up for in an intellectual bent that Warner Bros. couldn't match. Source:

Robert Taylor: Lana Turner and Robert Taylor starred together in “Johnny Eager” (1941) and Cheryl Crane (Lana's daughter) said their chemistry was electric: “these two beautiful people got carried away during the filming.” This was one of the few times Lana ever got involved with a co-star, Crane said. However, Taylor was married to Barbara Stanwyck at this time so Lana tried to resist, but they “fell into a heavy flirtation.” Stanwyck heard about it and headed down to the set to tell Lana hands off. Taylor told Lana he was going to leave Stanwyck for her and Lana backed off completely after that, Crane said. Source:

Saturday, December 14, 2013

R.I.P. Audrey Totter

Audrey Totter, the blond starlet who made her mark in such 1940s film noir classics as Lady in the Lake, The Set-Up and High Wall, has died. She was 95.

Totter, who had a stroke and suffered from congestive heart failure, died Thursday at West Hills Hospital and Medical Center, her daughter Mea told the Los Angeles Times. A former radio actress in Chicago and New York who signed a contract with MGM for $300 a week in 1944, Totter had a career in films that was short-lived but memorable.

Her breakthrough came in Lady in the Lake (1947), where she starred as a publishing executive who hires private detective Philip Marlowe (Robert Montgomery) to find the wife of her boss. (The film, also directed by Montgomery, is notable in that it is shot almost entirely from the viewpoint of the main character, Marlowe.)

In The Unsuspected (1947), Totter was the gold-digging niece of murderous radio-mystery host Claude Rains;

starred as Robert Taylor's psychiatrist helping him prove he didn't murder his wife in High Wall (1947); and played the wife of over-the-hill boxer Robert Ryan in Robert Wise's The Set-Up (1949).

"I remember the first time you told me that you were one punch away from the title shot," her character says in The Set-Up. "Don't you see, Bill, you'll always be just one punch away!" She also reteamed with Montgomery for the Broadway-based drama The Saxon Charm (1948),

two-timed milquetoast drugstore manager Richard Baseheart in Tension (1949), and played Ray Milland's loose accomplice in the Faustian tale Alias Nick Beal (1949). A native of Joliet, Ill., Totter had voice roles in Bewitched (1945), starring Phyllis Thaxter, and Ziegfeld Follies (1945) before she lured John Garfield away from Lana Turner (but only briefly) in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946). Source:

Monday, December 09, 2013

Scenes from "Personal Property" (1937) starring Jean Harlow & Robert Taylor

Some scenes from "Personal Property" (1937), starring Jean Harlow and Robert Taylor, directed by W.S. Van Dyke

Based on H.M. Harwood's 1930 Broadway play 'Man in Possession' and already filmed by MGM in 1931 as 'The Man in Possession', 'Personal Property' stands as Jean Harlow's last completed film effort and unfortunately one of her less popular starring vehicles with modern audiences.

Harlow had already played all the parts that made the legend, she's firmly entrenched at the top of the heap of the star pantheon by the time of 'Personal Property', while Taylor held the title of being the hottest male sex symbol under MGM's employ. Fresh off leads opposite Crawford in 'The Gorgeous Hussy' and Garbo in 'Camille' he was naturally teamed with Harlow for what would have likely been the first of many such pairings had not Harlow tragically died just a couple of months after the release of 'Personal Property'.

Both Harlow and Taylor have had their talents overshadowed by their sex appeal and basically either of their names on the bill would have had many customers panting on the way to their seats.

Harlow doesn't help Taylor's case when she calls William Powell to mind by flashing the famed star sapphire ring that he gave her throughout the picture. And this is all just too bad for Taylor, forever damned as the pretty boy whose work remains solid through the decades despite his handsome features. As Crystal climbs the stairs in a huff Jenkins notes, "She's a bit stuffy, you know," to which Raymond mutters back "She's glorious." "What?" declares Jenkins. "Eh, she's furious," replies Raymond catching himself. Source:

-Crystal Wetherby (Jean Harlow): And while we're asking so many questions, why were you sent to jail?

-Raymond Dabney (Robert Taylor): Murder.

-Crystal Wetherby (Jean Harlow): I wish it had been suicide!

Prior to beginning production on this film in January of 1937, Bob and Harlow worked together on a Lux Radio Theatre production of “Madame Sans-Gene” (a comedy which takes place in postrevolution France).

Bob enjoyed working with Jean who he described as “full of laughs, yet her fun never seemed to interfere with her work.”

Assigned to direct once again was speed demon Woody Van Dyke. This time he really did do a rush job in getting the picture completed in approximately two weeks.

Like most of his co-stars, Bob liked and was protective of Harlow, who was known to most people on the MGM lot by her nickname “Baby.” Taylor later recalled Harlow as “warm, outgoing, [and] deeply kind.”

In October of 1940 the first peacetime draft was enacted in response to the war in Europe. Bob was given his draft number. “Robert Taylor may be a heart throb to millions of American girls,” wrote United Press, “but to the draft board he is simply No. 363.” The article added, “However, the board has to take into consideration the fact that he’s a married man.” Among the other actors given their conscription numbers were: Henry Fonda (#132), Tony Martin (#374), Cesar Romero (#1811), Ray Milland (#2658) and John Payne (#3511). -"Robert Taylor: A Biography" (2010) by Charles Tranberg

In a Jan. 27, 1937, article, the Los Angeles Times reported: Jealously guarding ten gallons of California water and an atomizer, Jean Harlow and Robert Taylor left Pasadena yesterday on the Santa Fe’s Chief, bound for Washington D.C., and President Roosevelt’s birthday ball Saturday. The water is for the purpose of shampooing Miss Harlow’s honey-blond hair, which she will not trust to hard eastern waters. The atomizer is for the use of Taylor, just recovering from a cold. Five months later, Harlow, during the filming of “Saratoga,” died at only 26. The Times obituary reported that Harlow had been ill during the February stop in Chicago.

As Senator Robert Rice Reynolds posed on the steps of the Capitol with Jean Harlow and Robert Taylor on January 29, 1937, photographers asked him to kiss the platinum blonde beauty. At first, Reynolds was shy and hesitant, prompting Harlow to remark: "The trouble with this gentleman is that he doesn't seem to want to go through with it." With that, the manly Reynolds, undisturbed by the presence of the great screen lover Robert Taylor, planted a resounding kiss on Harlow's lips, using what he later referred to as "Hollywood technique". It was a kiss seen around the country, and Life magazine featured a full-page photo of the embrace. -"Buncombe Bob: The Life and Times of Robert Rice Reynolds" (2009) by Julian M. Pleasants

Friday, December 06, 2013

Scenes from Miracle on 34th Street, John Payne's favorite role

Some scenes from "Miracle on 34th Street" (1947) directed by George Seaton, starring Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood.

Fred Gailey (John Payne): "Look Doris, someday you're going to find that your way of facing this realistic world just doesn't work. And when you do, don't overlook those lovely intangibles. You'll discover those are the only things that are worthwhile. Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to."

Kris's patience and kindness eventually begin to win Susan over. At Macy's Susan is surprised to see Kris talking and singing with another little girl, a war orphan, in her native Dutch. Just as Susan is beginning to think maybe Kris really is Santa Claus after all, Macy's curmudgeonly human resources director - and amateur psychologist (Porter Hall) - threatens to have Kris committed as a dangerous lunatic.

Just about everything in Miracle on 34th Street plays to perfection. The ensemble cast of character actors such as Porter Hall, Jerome Cowan (as the unenviable district attorney), Philip Tonge (as Shellhammer, Doris's co-conspirator), Gene Lockhart and William Frawley (as the pragmatic judge and his no-nonsense advisor) are all marvelous. Alvin Greenman, later a respected casting director, is especially sincere and authentic as the pudgy, overtly New York-Jewish janitor Alfred, while Thelma Ritter adds similar verisimilitude as a harried shopper. O'Hara is fine as Doris, and Payne impressive as Fred Gailey.

Payne typically starred in Fox musicals before this, and Westerns for film and television thereafter, but this undoubtedly is his legacy; odd that Fox didn't cast him in more roles like this. Natalie Wood, who reportedly believed Gwenn really was Santa during filming, gives one of the best-ever child performances in an American film, though the character's jaded sophistication helps somewhat, i.e., Susan is herself "acting," grown-up that is. I'm always impressed by the film's ambiguity; Seaton and Davies are extraordinarily clever here. There's not a shred of hard evidence that Kris is anything other than an eccentric old man. Unlike most Christmas-themed movies, there are no reindeer in sight, no elves in the wings, no acts of magic. Even the famous, often misinterpreted ending leaves it up to the viewers to decide whether or not Kris Kringle and Santa Claus are one and the same. Source:

Today is the 24th Anniversary of John Payne's passing. Born John Howard Payne on 28 May 1912 in Roanoke (Virginia, USA), he died on 6 December 1989 in Malibu, California, USA.

John Payne was a man of seemingly insatiable interests, athleticism, dramatic talent, as well as being shy and humble, and possessed of a highly impressive work ethic. Payne was born in 1912, to a wealthy Virginia family; dad George was in real estate and construction and mom Ida, a former opera singer. They had 3 boys, George (“Billy”), the oldest, who had a troubled life, our subject John Howard, named after his great uncle, who wrote the song “Home Sweet Home”, and the youngest, Ralph, who became a minister. In October 1929, when John was 17, the family lost almost everything in the stock market crash, and father George Payne died of a stroke only three months later. Nearly everything of value in the mansion was sold or taken away to pay off debts, but Ida Payne made the best of it by renting out the rooms for parties, banquets and weddings. Although there was enough money left to pay the boys’ tuition, John not only pitched in, but was amazingly resourceful, working constantly at a wide variety of jobs to help out at home and also support himself while studying at Columbia and Juilliard. At Christmas John sold wreaths he made out of greenery that grew on the property, as well as selling fresh eggs and veggies through the year (they kept the chickens). He worked as a nanny for the neighbor children, a switchboard operator, boxed and wrestled for $25 a night, and delivered newspapers. He caddied at the golf club where the family had once been members, and for two summers he worked on cruise ships which gave him the opportunity to see Europe, the Caribbean and South America. He was into athletics at every level of school, whether it was wrestling, football, track, shooting, horse riding or other pursuits. He was well read and loved to write, and in fact writing was his primary goal—he sold pulp stories, later in life co-wrote some of his own films, and suggested good stories to the studio heads for possible adaptation (Sentimental Journey was just one). Source:

Payne was given a screen test that resulted in his being cast in a supporting role in Samuel Goldwyn's prestige picture Dodsworth (1936) with Walter Huston, in which he was billed as "John Howard Payne". The film attracted attention and after a few minor roles without attaining star status, he was signed to a contract at 20th Century-Fox, where he would make his best known films. The news of Payne's signing astonished gossip columnist Jimmie Fidler, who wrote,

"The news intrigues me. John, who is a very charming young man (and lucky enough to be married to Anne Shirley), has already been under contract to Paramount and Warner Brothers, in that order. He was released by both companies. What can be in the back of Fox officials' mind in signing Payne? Do they think they are more clever than Paramount and Warners - able to do things with John where others failed? Don't get me wrong - I don't say Payne lacks possibilities. He may be another Robert Taylor in disguise. If he does a turn-about and clicks big for Fox, won't that make suckers out of Paramount and Warners? Only time will tell who that someone is." If there was a goat, it wasn't Fox. He may not have become what is now termed an "A" list star, but John Payne was kept very busy at the studio in his seven years there.

John Payne was married to Anne Shirley (22 August 1937 - 1 March 1943)

With second wife Gloria DeHaven (28 December 1944 - 21 September 1951)

With Alexandra Crowell Curtis (27 September 1953 - until his death, on 6 December 1989)

John Payne died from a heart condition on December 6, 1989, surrounded by his children (he had previously been married to actresses Anne Shirley and Gloria de Haven) and his third wife, Alexandra. As his longtime friend and former publicity man Robert Palmer told a journalist, Miracle on 34th Street was on television as the family kept vigil. "In fact, the night before he died - he was unconscious in bed - a television in the corner was playing that film. It was strange looking at him in bed like that."

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Detour '45 documentary, Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins

DETOUR is a widely acknowledged 1945 Film Noir classic starring Ann Savage, Tom Neal and directed by Edgar G. Ulmer. Produced by Independent Distributor PRC (owned by international giant PATHE), DETOUR was shot in Hollywood and long considered a low budget "Poverty Row" quickie. It was decades ahead of its time. The raw naturalism of DETOUR influenced generations of actors, including Marlon Brando, and filmmakers from Francois Truffaut to Wim Wenders and Martin Scorsese who said it was "an inspiration over the years to low-budget filmmakers." Tom Neal had started at MGM in the 1930s. He directly offended Joan Crawford, queen bee at Metro, and was personally escorted off the lot by tough guy executive Eddie Mannix. Ann Savage made three b- movies at Columbia Pictures with Tom Neal before they shot Detour. She was creative and headstrong, qualities studios did not value in their contract actors during the 1940s. Her option was not renewed.

Director Edgar Ulmer was blacklisted by all the major studios when he ran off with the wife of the favorite nephew of Universal Studios owner, Carl Laemmle. All three found work and a thriving community in b movies at Hollywood studios like PRC, REPUBLIC and MONOGRAM. They were the original homes of the first "independent" filmmakers. This is the nearly forgotten underground world that we are documenting in DETOUR: '45. Source:

"Noah Isenberg has combined dogged detective work and an acute critical sense to create the first portrait of Edgar G. Ulmer that casts light into the dark corners of this gifted filmmaker’s labyrinthine career. Ulmer’s own life seems as spectacularly accursed as that of the protagonist of his most famous work, the 1945 film noir Detour, yet Isenberg uncovers something noble and ultimately quite moving in Ulmer’s unflagging pursuit of high art under the most unlikely circumstances."—Dave Kehr, author of When Movies Mattered.

From the moment that the opening credits appear on the screen, we find ourselves tearing along the open road -a road that 'lies behind us', as John Belton argues. The reverse tracking shot of a desert highway, captured from the back window of a moving car, combined with the dramatical orchestral score by Erdody, immediately sets the feverish pace and the tenor of the film. Unlike the novel's Alexander Roth, Al Roberts is not marked as specifically Jew. And yet he bears traits of a luftmensh or Wandering Jew. In Grissemann's apt summation: "Ulmer hands over his characters to a labyrinth of bars, motel rooms and highway rest stops -to anonymous spaces that could be anywhere or to a nowhere, a world for nothing and nobody. The locales of Detour are way stations, places of passage. Everything else Ulmer boldly eliminates. In contrast to Goldsmith's novel, his film noir gets by without any proper home, without living or private quarters." -"Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins" (Weimar and Now: German Cultural Criticism) by Noah Isenberg (2014)

“Whichever way you turn,” mutters Al Roberts (Tom Neal) in the closing moments of Detour (1945), “fate sticks out its foot to trip you up.” The remark has come to sum up the cynical tone of the films grouped under what has become—inscholarly circles, at least—the contentious label of film noir. Shot in just six days and running at a taut sixty-eight minutes, Edgar G. Ulmer’s low-budget classic has become one of classical Hollywood’s most unlikely canonical works. As such, Noah Isenberg’s monograph is preoccupied with how Detour has managed to outrun its fate “as the bastard child of one of Hollywood’s lowliest Poverty Row studios”. As typies the BFI’s Film Classics series, Isenberg’s slim volume is carefully argued, impeccably researched, and arrives packing a critical punch which belies its lightweight appearance.

In contrast with the uncompromising fatalism of Ulmer’s film, Isenberg outlines how Detour was happily rescued on a number of fronts. On the one hand, 1960s auteurist critics like Andrew Sarris rehabilitated Ulmer as a cinéaste maudit, “a romantic, tragic figure, whose style and sensibility spurn the dominant norms”. Elsewhere, the enduring critical fascination with film noir among both hard-bitten cinephiles and the academic community ensured that the mad poetry of Ulmer’s bleak “asphalt film” remained on the critical radar. But, as Isenberg demonstrates, it was not until the early 1980s that Detour became more than “a private treasure among the interested few.”

Al Roberts’s disequilibrium is presented in the film by two different representations of the femme fatale. Sue is a blond woman who, after a short episode at the beginning of the film, appears only in short sequences when Al tries to reach her by phone. Sue functions for Al as a part of the patriarchally institutionalized relationship: marriage. To the viewer, the scenes offer a chilling chimera that is miles away from the Sue that Roberts projects.

Vera is Sue’s other Self. She is dark-haired, passionate, energetic, and tangible. Al is more and more infatuated by her charm and manipulation. If Roberts speaks about some mysterious force, then Vera is the physical representation of this unpresentable concept. Although Ann Savage, who stars as Vera, appears only in the second half of the film, her appearance is unforgettable. The camera accentuates her physical beauty, and, with her mesmerizing looks and harsh, sharp words, she dominates each scene. Her accidental death corresponds with the feminist interpretation of the masculine desire to conquer fate. While Vera is existentially present, Sue is only an illusion. The frame shot in which Sue reappears in Al’s imagination Ulmer and the Noir Femme Fatale in the reflection of the rear mirror shortly before he encounters “fate” is among the most fascinating in the film. The camera shows Al’s face in the rear mirror of Haskell’s car, which in the center of the frame is conspicuous in the darkness. Sue, singing in a close-fitting, glittering dress, appears in a fade-in/fade-out, with the shadows of musicians in the background. The shot’s diagonal outlines and the low Dutch angle of the camera disrupt the compositional unity. The visual means of expression are the iconographic representation of Roberts’s disturbed mind, and they foreshadow Al’s submissiveness toward “fate.”

Faultlessly described as having “the handsome looks of an ex-boxer and a preternatural capacity for sulking”, Neal’s maudlin schmuck is at the luckless epicenter of Detour, a man with a face as rough-hewn as the production values of the movie itself. Ulmer uses only two sets, which he rearranges and alters depending on the setting. The shots filmed in the car are accomplished with a static camera and a movable background. In spite of this, the forced perspective, the expressionist motifs, and the nightmarish world grounded in fatalism produce the atmosphere of one of the blackest film noirs ever made in the classic period between 1935 and 1955.

The early 1940s found Ann Savage working just unbilled walk-on parts. Her primary line of business at that time was as a pinup girl, quite popular with the troops—a gig that rewarded her most rudimentary physical assets but said nothing about her talent. Detour represented a major break for the struggling actress. “I had never had a good part like that,” she would later say. In stark contrast to what had gone before, Ulmer sought to conceal her glamour, hiding her beauty behind dirty makeup and greasy hair. He encouraged her to scream and sneer, to disregard what was ladylike. “I often tell young actresses—if you can play Vera, you can play anything.” The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences agreed, and in 2005 praised her as an “icon and legend.” Following Detour, her career took off, with Savage often cast in femme-fatale roles, costarring five times with Tom Neal.

Like Savage, Neal was given a role that connected to his own personality and life. He was educated as a lawyer and a boxer—two professions in opposite spheres, perhaps, but also just different ways in which to fight. There was a simmering, seething anger in Neal. In Detour he played a man driven to self-destruction, and afterward he followed that maleficent detour to his own doom. Forged in the fire of a writer’s frustration, it started off as a way for Martin Goldsmith to vent. Goldsmith’s most personal novel would come to be seen as Edgar Ulmer’s most personal film, starring actors whose lives flitted through a similar orbit. The magic of Detour is in the curious circumstance by which Goldsmith’s angry screed turned out to be fully transferable —what was “personal” was also universal. Wade Williams III’s mistake was in thinking that this unique alignment of artists and opportunities could be reduced to a simple formula, to be repeated decades later, to anything resembling the same result. “I really am looking for absolution for all the things I had to do for money’s sake,” Ulmer told Peter Bogdanovich. It is a statement that could just as easily have been uttered by anyone else involved in this classic film. In Detour, they found it. -"The Films of Edgar G. Ulmer" (2009) by Bernd Herzogenrath

Edgar G. Ulmer considerably shortened Goldsmith's script. Detour runs only 65 minutes, and Goldsmith's script would have called for a movie more than two hours long. Ulmer was also adept at shooting quickly and interestingly, hence the ragged feel of the movie. Ulmer also invented the idea during the climax of moving the camera in and out of focus over the objects in the hotel room after the murder. It's one of the darkest movies ever made, which perhaps comes from Ulmer's association with Lang. It's a desperate movie, as grim as it is charming. It easily belongs on a list of the 100 greatest movies ever made. Source:

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Robert Taylor's Best Love Scenes

Robert Taylor's Best Love Scenes from Kendra on Vimeo.

Robert Taylor's Best Love Scenes (video): A video featuring love & flirting scenes starring Robert Taylor and his co-stars: Irene Dunne ("Magnificent Obsession"), Barbara Stanwyck ("This Is My Affair"), Greta Garbo ("Camille"), Maureen O'Sullivan ("The Crowd Roars", "A Yank at Oxford"), Vivien Leigh ("Waterloo Bridge"), Norma Shearer ("Escape"), Patricia Dane & Lana Turner ("Johnny Eager"), Katharine Hepburn ("Undercurrent"), Audrey Totter ("High Wall"), Ava Gardner ("The Bribe"), Denise Darcel ("Westward the Women"), Eleanor Parker ("Above & Beyond"), Janet Leigh ("Rogue Cop"), Dorothy Malone ("Tip on a Dead Jockey"), Cyd Charisse ("Party Girl"). Soundtrack: "Paradise" by Helen Forrest, "I love you" by Glenn Miller, "You're the reason" by Hank Snow, "It's Too Late" and "Little Baby" by Buddy Holly, "Love is Here" by Artie Shaw, "Our Love can still be saved" by Jeff Barry, and "Goodnight, Sweetheart" by The Platters.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Double Indemnity on Top 10 Films Noirs

Cameron Crowe called Double Indemnity "flawless film-making". Woody Allen declared it "the greatest movie ever made". Even if you can't go along with that, there can be no disputing that it is the finest film noir of all time, though it was made in 1944, before the term film noir was even coined.

Adapting James M Cain's 1935 novella about a straight-arrow insurance salesman tempted into murder by a duplicitous housewife, genre-hopping director Billy Wilder recruited Raymond Chandler as co-writer. Chandler, said Wilder, "was a mess, but he could write a beautiful sentence". Noir's visual style, which had its roots in German expressionism, was forged here, though Wilder insisted that he was going for a "newsreel" effect. "We had to be realistic," he said. "You had to believe the situation and the characters, or all was lost."

But the ace in the hole is Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis Dietrichson, a vision of amorality in a "honey of an anklet" and a platinum wig. She can lower her sunglasses and make it look like the last word in predatory desire. And she's not just a vamp: she's a psychopath. There are few shots in cinema as bone-chilling as the closeup on Stanwyck's face as Neff dispatches Phyllis's husband in the back seat of a car. Miklós Rózsa's fretful strings tell us throughout the picture: beware. Stanwyck had been reluctant to take the role, confessing: "I was a little frightened of it." Wilder asked whether she was an actress or a mouse. When she plumped for the former, he shot back: "Then take the part." Source:

Stanwyck made three of her very best films opposite Fred MacMurray: Remember the Night, Double Indemnity, and There’s Always Tomorrow. Her fourth film with MacMurray, a 3-D western called The Moonlighter (1953), has a poor reputation, but it boasts a smart script by Niven Busch, who provided the source material for The Furies, and an effectively dramatic opening.

She stops the car and honks the horn, which is Walter’s cue to strangle the husband. As he does this, Wilder gives Stanwyck a justly famous close-up to show how Phyllis reacts. At first her mouth is open, excitedly, but then it closes again, tightly. In her eyes, there’s a nearly unreadable look. It is at once childlike and sad, and there’s a bit of self-recognition and a bit of satisfaction—and a bit of disappointment that the whole job is over, for she had so enjoyed the planning. “What comes next?” she seems to think, with the melancholy of a serial killer who knows that they can only really get off every once in a great while. There’s even some joy in her face. So many things are blended together in this close-up that it has the visual effect of a full orchestra playing at full blast—probably something by Mahler. Stanwyck takes you through every gradation of what a sociopath like Phyllis feels. -"Barbara Stanwyck: The Miracle Woman" (2012) by Dan Callahan