Jimmy Stewart Blogathon: The Naked Spur (Mann, 1953)

MV5BMTQzNTI3MzY0NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDg0MDgyMTE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_This post is part of the James Stewart Blogathon hosted by the Classic Film & TV Cafe. You can view the complete blogathon schedule here. Thanks so much for hosting!

My home state of Colorado has played host to many major film productions, mostly in the western genre. While California may have been the idea place for the studios to set up shop with the easy access to the ocean, mountains and everything in-between, there’s something about the true American West that adds a rugged edge to the struggle of the individual that is so often played out in the western.

Director Anthony Mann was known for both his crime pictures and his westerns, especially the five he made with Jimmy Stewart. While it is very hard to judge all of them against each other, I have often cited The Naked Spur as not only my favorite Stewart/Mann western, but one of my favorite Stewart performances.

Jimmy Stewart had made his mark in the late 1930s playing the boy-next-door, earnest American everyman in movies like Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and You Can’t Take It With You and Lubitsch’s The Shop Around the Corner to name just a few. But after Stewart returned from WWII, where he served as a decorated bomber pilot, the movie-going public’s tastes had changed and Stewart, who wasn’t sure he wanted to continue acting, had to adapt.

What emerged was a darker personality. Starting with Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life and moving into his work with Alfred Hitchcock and Anthony Mann in the 1950s, Stewart began to display a more paranoid and morally ambiguous side to his characters. This would come full-circle with the Mann westerns, where Mann’s noir influences would show through in the actions of Stewart’s anti-hero protagonists.

The Naked Spur was the third western Mann and Stewart made together, following Winchester ’73 and Bend of the River. The plot is actually relatively simple. Stewart plays Howard Kemp, a man whose background we don’t know until later in the movie. The film opens with Kemp chasing after Ben Vandergroat (Robert Ryan), who is wanted for murder in Kansas. As he is riding on Vandergroat’s trail, Kemp happens upon failed prospector Jesse Tate (Millard Mitchell), who thinks Kemp is a lawman. Tate agrees to help Kemp in return for some small compensation.Annex - Leigh, Janet (Naked Spur, The)_NRFPT_01

The two track down Vandergroat to a hill on the trail, and they attempt to scale the rocky sides to get to him. Seeing this capture attempt is recently discharged Lieutenant Roy Anderson (Ralph Meeker) who also offers his help. The three are able to corner and capture Vandergroat, who is accompanied by a woman, Lina Patch (Janet Leigh). After talking to Anderson, Kemp learns that his discharge papers read “morally unstable” and that Anderson is wanted by the local Indian tribes.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 11.48.20 PM


Vandergroat sets the record straight that Kemp is no lawman, and that he had hidden the fact that there was a $5,000 reward for capturing Vandergroat. Tate and Anderson demand their share of the reward money, and decide to stick with Kemp until Vandergroat is delivered back in Kansas. Vandergroat realizes the brewing distrust between the three men, as well as their individual pressure points, and sets about working them against each other so that he can ultimately escape.

Early in the journey, the small group have a run-in with the Blackfoot Indians who are after Anderson. After sending Anderson away to fend for himself, the group is attacked when he brings the battle back towards Kemp and the others. They fight the Indians off, but Kemp is wounded in the leg.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 11.50.15 PMAs Lina tends to Kemp, it’s revealed that he lost his ranch back home after leaving it with the woman he loved when he went to fight in the Civil War. When he returned, the woman had left with another man and sold the ranch out from under him. Kemp hoped that Vandergroat’s reward money would buy back his ranch, but splitting it three ways won’t be enough.

Vandergroat tries to convince the group to leave Kemp behind to catch up with them, but Kemp smartly insists that they stick together. Vandergroat tries sabotaging Kemp’s saddle by unbuckling the cinch and trying to knock him down a cliff as his saddle comes loose. After this fails, Vandergroat tells Lina, who is slowly falling for Kemp, to seduce him as a distraction when they camp at a cave for the night. She does, but Vandergroat is caught trying to escape.Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 11.51.12 PM

The final showdown takes place near a raging river after Vandergroat and Lina manage to get away from camp. Having promised Tate to show him where a prosperous gold vein is, Vandergroat and Lina are able to ride away with Tate’s help. Vandergroat then kills the man in cold blood with a shotgun, and he and Lina take to high ground. Having heard the shots, Kemp and Anderson come in pursuit. Lina, having finally realized that Vandergroat is despicable, saves Kemp when she grabs Vandergroat’s barrel and causes him to miss his shot. Kemp throws his spur into Vandergroat’s face, which allows Anderson to get a shot off. Vandergroat falls into the river below. Knowing that the reward was dead or alive, Anderson tries to wade into the rushing water to retrieve Vandergroat’s body, which is hung up on a tree. Anderson is rushed away by more river debris as Vandergroat’s body is hauled in by Kemp.

Lina begs Kemp to leave Vandergroat and start fresh with her in California, but Kemp is dead-set on taking the body back for the reward money. He finally breaks down and decides to put the past behind him and begin anew, and the film ends with the burial of Vandergroat and Kemp and Lina riding off to their new beginning.

Stewart is at his paranoid best here. From the start, his morals are questionable, and he’s ruthless. The interesting thing about Jimmy Stewart to me is how this lanky and unassuming man could all of sudden portray a man on the edge. Eyes wide and teeth gritted, there was no doubt that these Stewart characters were not to be messed with. Yet at the core of these characters were troubled men with checkered pasts. Things had been done to them and it was almost natural that they wanted to avenge those wrongs. In the end, even after blood had been shed, there still was a redeeming quality to Stewart’s anti-heros in that the payoff wasn’t easy, nor was it necessarily right or totally satisfying. I think this can be seen in the final scene of The Naked Spur when Kemp pretty much has a breakdown over bringing back Vandergroat’s body for the reward, what he’s been chasing after for so long, and what the “right” thing to do in the present is.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 11.51.39 PMThe Naked Spur was mostly filmed around the area of Durango, Colorado, which historically started as a railway town for the Rio Grande Railroad. According to writer and historian Frederic B. Wildfang, it was during the filming of The Naked Spur that Jimmy Stewart dedicated a monument in town, marking the area as the “Hollywood of the Rockies.”¹ While there is a ruggedness to the San Juan Mountains, it’s an interesting setting for a tale of individual and interpersonal struggle as there is a lush beauty to the mountain landscape that seems almost in opposition to the band of weary characters that traverse its vistas.

Apart from its one action scene with the Blackfoot, this western focuses mostly on the psychological interplay between its five characters. While there is some gunfighting and fisticuffs between them, most of the fighting is verbal. As good as Stewart is in this role, Robert Ryan matches him blow for blow as the crafty Vandergroat. While Meeker’s Anderson is wonderfully slimy the entire time (morally unstable is correct), it is Mitchell’s Tate that elicits the most sympathy as the gullible, down-on-his-luck prospector who is just trying to get a break. Leigh is also good here, although honestly her role doesn’t give her much to work with, and at times her character is treated with quite a bit of misogyny, which is difficult to watch.

The Naked Spur remains one of my favorite westerns because it’s a smart film that seeks to push the genre out from its action movie, good vs. bad stereotypes. It’s in many ways a noir in color, a revenge tale with a questionable hero. The Naked Spur demonstrates that wide open spaces and cowboy hats can be just as claustrophobic and tense as cityscapes and trench coats.

¹Frederick B. Wildfang, Images of America: Durango (Charlston: Arcadia, 2009), 89.


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TCMFF: Days 1 and 2 Recap

shareWow, another TCM Classic Film Festival is in the books. I realized pretty early on that writing decent posts wasn’t going to happen for me after long days of movie watching, so now after having a little bit of time to digest all that was this year’s TCMFF, here’s some daily recaps!

After leaving the press event on Thursday morning (covered here), a group of us young people went over to Mel’s Diner for lunch. It was great to hang out with many who I met up with last year and now happily call good friends, like Jessica from Comet Over Hollywood, Trevor from TCM Party, Marya (Oldfilmsflicker) and Kristen (SalesOnFilm). All I met through various social media outlets and then later in person, so there really is a great presence not just of classic movie fans online, but the under-30 crowd on sites like twitter and tumblr. We were joined by Angela of The Hollywood Revue, Daniel (dsl89 on twitter) and Thomas Price, who was covering the festival for the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs’ The Scribe.

Although there were a few events during the afternoon, including the sold-out Sons of Gods and Monsters discussion with Rick Baker and Joe Dante at the Hollywood Museum, I decided to hang out until the films started that night. The TCMFF always starts on Thursday evening with the opening night screening, in this case the new restoration of Oklahoma! That screening is a red carpet event, with access only for the Essential and Spotlight passholders. But TCM always offers several other choices during the opening night screening for other passholders. Having seen most of the things in this block, and wanting to take a nostalgia trip of my own, I cheated and went to the Throwback Thursday screening of The Lion King over at the El Capitan Theater, which was not a TCMFF event (although in the following days the El Capitan hosted several films for the festival).

So my first official screening of the TCMFF was Bachelor Mother. I had never seen this gingerdavidwitty comedy about a shop girl, Polly Parrish (Ginger Rogers), who after stopping to look at a baby just delivered on the step of an orphanage, is assumed to be its mother. David Niven plays the son of the owner of the department store where Rogers works. Niven is perfect as the kind yet totally oblivious David Merlin, who ends up falling for Polly. In a story that could be potentially dragged down with serious plot points, the leading pair manage to keep it a lighter comedy of errors.

onapproval-singFriday was the first full day of screenings, with the first being at 9am. While 9am doesn’t sound super early, you realize that you need time to stagger to the closest coffee shop for caffeine and then be in line usually 45 minutes to an hour ahead of the start time. I picked Clive Brook’s 1944 comedy, On Approval as my first film, and it ended up being a sell-out in the 177 seat Chinese Multiplex Theater 4, the smallest venue at the festival. Film historian Jeffrey Vance introduced the film, saying that it’s a divisive comedy: either you’ll love it or you’ll hate it. Very much a British comedy, the film is based on a contemporary 1920s stage play by Frederick Lonsdale. Brooks, who stars in the film, set the film adaptation back in the late 1800s, making it a Victorian period piece. The plot follows two couples as they vacation for a month on a Scottish island in a trial period for a potential marriage. However it soon becomes apparent that perhaps the couples should be swapped around, or they’re not compatible at all. It was Clive Brook’s only directorial effort, and one of the few films to capture stage star Beatrice Lillie in her element. While I didn’t love this film, I did laugh quite a bit, and didn’t find myself on the opposite end of the spectrum hating it.

make_way_4Running back into line for the Chinese 4 theater right after On Approval, I got into a 35mm screening of Make Way for Tomorrow. Leo McCarey’s film about an older couple forced to leave their home due to unemployment and foreclosure has a reputation for being an absolute tear-jearker. Orson Welles was quoted as saying, “It would make a stone cry.” Bark and Lucy, played by Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi, are forced to separate and live with two different children when they lose their home. Throughout the course of the film we can see how each generation responds to the older member in their household, whether it be a sense of burden or embarrassment. The tears come when Bark, battling health issues, is about to move to California and reunites with his wife for possibly the last time. The couple visit the landmarks of their New York City honeymoon before Bark must depart on the train. The film truly is heartwrenching, grounded by the performances of Moore and Bondi, whose characters never seem to lose their nobility in the face of how life has treated them. Make Way for Tomorrow’s title seems ominous, marking the passing of time for an aging couple while criticizing the younger generation that seemingly pushes them away. In many ways it echos Ozu’s magnificent Tokyo Story, which screened later in the festival. McCarey, who won the Best Director Oscar for The Awful Truth the same year as this film, said that he should’ve won it for Make Way for Tomorrow, and while I enjoy the former very much, this film really does rock you to the core.

From there I went to see my first Powell and Pressburger film ever, and what an experience that was! Michael Powell’s wife Thelma Schoonmaker, a great editor in her own right who has a longstanding partnership with Martin Scorsese, introduced A Matter of Life and Death. The film follows RAF pilot Peter Carter (David Niven) who connects with American radio control operator June (Kim Hunter) as he is about to abandon his damaged plane…without a parachute. He somehow survives the jump, but is soon thereafter caught in a struggle between life and death after missing his appointment withmatter_tit heaven. The film was presented in a new DCP restoration, and the Technicolor couldn’t have looked any more glorious. Perhaps a bit thin on character development, A Matter of Life and Death had enough in its interesting portrayal of the afterlife and its fearless attitude about death that I was entranced. The use of black and white photography in this film, which was actually monochrome Technicolor which allowed the effect of color draining out of the picture without having to cut, was also a neat aesthetic thing to witness.

indexAfter getting enough of a break for dinner, I headed to the Egyptian for Harold Lloyd’s Why Worry?, which was accompanied by a new Carl Davis score conducted by the maestro himself. Lloyd’s granddaughter, Suzanne, who has worked hard to preserve her grandfather’s legacy, spoke with Leonard Maltin about the film and its place within Harold Lloyd’s own career. Maltin mentioned that we owe having many of Lloyd’s films today to Lloyd himself, who meticulously took care of his own films. Why Worry? marked a transition for the actor. It was his last film with producer Hal Roach, and starred his new leading lady, Jobyna Ralston, who replaced Mildred Davis, who had retired when she married Lloyd. Though Lloyd often plays the American boy-next-door, this film’s character was slightly different for him. Lloyd stars as a wealthy hypochondriac vacationing in a South American town that just happens to be in the middle of a revolution. This was my first experience watching a Harold Lloyd film, and I’ll definitely be adding more to my list. It was smart and funny the entire way through, and Davis’ score was really top-notch, with little flares of Latin horn licks throughout. This was probably one of my favorite experiences of the festival. It’s hard to top watching a silent comedy to a full audience and live accompaniment.

I had planned to see the pre-Code Employees’ Entrance next, but didn’t check to see that it was in tiny Chinese 4 so I didn’t get there fast enough after Why Worry? let out and was sold out of the screening. I considered calling it a night, but one of the ushers mentioned that back at the Egyptian, they hadn’t even started seating The Italian Job. I ran back up Hollywood Blvd. and got a seat with Jessica, Carley of the Kitty Packard Pictorial and Nicole (Ch_eekyGirl). Legendary producer, composer and musician Quincy Jones was there to talk to Ben Mankiewicz about scoring films and his work on The Italian Job. Then as the movie began, Carley squeezed my arm and said, “He’s sitting right behind us.” That’s right. Quincy Jones sat right behind us during the film. He was tapping his toes to the music and saying reactions to the screen as if it were his first time seeing the movie. During the scene where the police catch up to the transport van only to open the doors and find the gold stolen, Jones said, “Too late!” I was so happy I missed out on the other film because I got to have an experience that I’ll remember forever. I had never seen the film either, and I loved every minute of it. From Michael Caine to the cars and the great color photography, the film is just very British and a lot of fun.


Quincy Jones talks about The Italian Job and his work scoring films

That was a wrap for Days 1 and 2!


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TCMFF: Day 1!

IMG_0670I started my morning bright and early for the TCM Classic Film Festival press conference with on-air hosts Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz, TCM Programming Director Charles Tabesh and TCMFF Managing Director Genevieve McGillicuddy. It was a fairly loose format, with Osborne and Mankiewicz taking the first two rounds individually, and then Tabesh and McGillicuddy both answering questions in the third slot. Anyone in attendance could ask a question, and it was again obvious that TCM has really done a wonderful job reaching out to both traditional media outlets as well as online ones like websites and blogs. TCM is celebrating their 20th anniversary on air, and this is also the 5th annual TCM Classic Film Festival, so many of the questions asked were about how they network has grown to become what it is today, and how the festival has become an integral branch of that.

I enjoyed hearing all four speakers. Robert Osborne was his usual charming self, and told some wonderful stories about his time working under the mentorship of Lucille Ball. Interestingly, he mentioned that in person, Lucy wasn’t naturally a funny personality, but it was Lela Rogers who first noticed her possibilities as a comedienne when Lucy was a starlet at RKO. He also mentioned how Lucy would take the young contract players working for her out to theater shows in Hollywood and to Vegas to see the Rat Pack, and getting to see acting personalities like Bette Davis on the stage was their own education. I love hearing him tell these kinds of stories because it’s so special to hear tales of Old Hollywood from someone who lived it, and who is such a wonderful historian and storyteller.

Someone asked about what guests TCM has wanted to bring to the festival, and Osborne brought up Olivia de Havilland, who he said they tried to get to the festival this year, but the reality is that traveling from Paris for the 97-year-old actress is just too difficult for her now. He also mentioned the attempts to interview her for Private Screenings, both in Paris and in the US, but unfortunately she fell sick both times.

When asked what his favorite film was, Osborne said it changes, but offered these titles: The Razor’s Edge, A Place in the Sun, Sunset Blvd. and This is Spinal Tap (which is screening at the festival this weekend).


Robert Osborne

Ben Mankiewicz was asked about interviewing celebrities at the festival, and whether or not he gets starstruck by anyone. He mentioned that Max von Sydow and Peter Bogdanovich were the names that he was intimidated to interview, but turned out to be really nice people. He also mentioned Jerry Lewis in that group, who Mankiewicz will interview on Saturday before The Nutty Professor. He mentioned that preparation for the on-camera interviews and intros is important, but especially so during the live interviews at the festival. The challenge is preparing to interview several personalities, so the timeframe to do research for a bunch of people and put things together is a lot shorter than on TV. Mankiewicz said his interviewing mindset as wanting to “make them a little uncomfortable in their seat, but not knock them off their chair.” This was offered when asked about interviewing Mickey Rooney at the TCMFF, which Mankiewicz said was his best and worst interview moment all in one session.

Mankiewicz also talked about Rooney’s appearance on the TCM Classic Cruise, where the then 91-year-old actor had to miss his last speaking session due to a small fall on the boat. Mankiewicz said the actor was apologetic and disappointed that he couldn’t finish his last scheduled talk, and that Rooney had loved being a part of the experience and interacting with the fans in this way. When asked about the actor’s legacy, Mankiewicz pointed out not only Rooney’s talent, but his magnetism and charisma that drew you to him both onscreen and off.


Ben Mankiewicz

Charlie Tabesh and Genevieve McGillicuddy were asked questions about what goes into the programming of both the festival and the network. Both said in this age of social media, they do listen to the fans’ feedback and evaluate what may or may not need to be changed and other suggestions. When asked about world cinema and TCM branching out from Classical Hollywood cinema, Tabesh and McGillicuddy said it’s more difficult for the festival because of space in the schedule and the difficulties of finding good prints, but the 400 films a month that need to be programmed for the channel do leave a little more room for new films to appear. TCMFF did have Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal last year when Sydow was here, and will screen Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story this weekend. Although the festival is a huge production to put on, Tabesh says it’s very rewarding when he gets a hardcore movie fan telling him they saw something they hadn’t seen, or hadn’t even heard of before and loved it.

All four mentioned the role that TCM has taken on in its fans’ lives. Robert Osborne mentioned that when the network started, he couldn’t have imagined this “nursing” aspect of the channel, but they’ve heard many stories of TCM helping people get through hard times. The TCM Classic Film Festival is something that Mankiewicz said isn’t a super profitable endeavor, but it’s a way for the network to give back to the fans. He said the fans of other networks or television shows are not invested in the brand the way TCM fans are. They care about TCM, what they show, who they hire, etc. So the festival is a way to join this big family together and mingle face-to-face.


Charles Tabesh and Genevieve McGillicuddy

The conference lasted about three hours and then a group of us swung by the Roosevelt Hotel to pick up our press credentials. Tonight, the movies begin, with the Opening Night screening of Oklahoma! kicking everything off. I’ll be headed to the El Capitan for The Lion King (not a TCM event but a childhood favorite of mine) and then over to the Chinese complex for Bachelor Mother.

I plan on hopefully getting updates here during the weekend, but some nights with midnight movies it may be a little insane. Please follow me on Twitter @angelnumber25 where I’ll be posting tweets and photos throughout the festival!

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TCM Classic Film Festival 2014: The Schedule

shareAs I had briefly mentioned before, I’m very excited to be able to cover this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival as part of the press. The festival runs April 10-13 in Hollywood. After getting to peruse and stew over the schedule for a little while, here are my picks (full schedule here). I should preface this with my philosophy for picking this year, which is simply to try and see stuff I haven’t seen before!



The festival kicks off Thursday night with the Opening Night screening of Oklahoma! With that screening being reserved for certain levels of passholders, I’m looking at the other options in that time slot. There are some events in the afternoon at Club TCM as well.

Slot 1: I honestly might be at the El Capitan’s Throwback Thursday screening of The Lion King (big childhood favorite), but if not, I’ll probably be at Cheaper By the Dozen. 5th Avenue Girl is a fun film that’s also in this slot, but I just saw it recently at a retrospective.

Slot 2: Bachelor Mother – A new-to-me film that is a favorite for many others, and I love Ginger Rogers.


Slot 1: On Approval– It’s tough to pass up The Thin Man or Stagecoach on the big screen here, but this comedy sounded interesting.

Slot 2: Make Way for Tomorrow – One that’s been on my list for a long time, even though I hear it’s a tearjerker.

Slot 3: A Matter of Life and Death – I don’t think I’ve seen a Powell and Pressburger film yet, and this one comes highly recommended. Plus, acclaimed editor Thelma Schoonmaker will be in attendance to talk about her husband’s film. It was a little tough to pass up Meet Me In St. Louis with Margaret O’Brien in attendance.

Slot 4: A Conversation with Quincy Jones at Club TCM – My own interests have to do heavily with music and film, so this is a really wonderful opportunity to hear one of the greats speak about his work. I may have to duck out early to get into line for Harold Lloyd’s Why Worry.

Slot 5: Employees’ Entrance – Pre-Code. ‘Nuff said.

Slot 6 (Midnight Movie): Eraserhead- I have never seen this either, and apparently I may not be able to sleep afterwards, but I’m game.


Slot 1: Stella Dallas– So looking forward to finally seeing this. Barbara Stanwyck is another one of my favorites.

Slot 2: This is still a toss up for me. I may break my rule and see the new restoration of Mr. Deeds Goes to Town because I’m a Capra fanatic, or try I Remember Mama. But it’s probably going to be the former.

Slot 3: Everyone has a slot, or several, where the choices are insanely hard to make. I have How Green Was My Valley here because I haven’t seen it, plus Maureen O’Hara will be in attendance and that’s probably a once-in-my-lifetime kind of a thing. I’m sorely tempted by the Alan Ladd 1949 version of The Great Gatsby, which is definitely a hard-to-see film.

Slot 4: Kind of an awkward one schedule-wise. I want to see Hat Check Girl at 8pm, so that means either ducking out of something early, or seeing something and running over to try and get into the next screening. I’m tempted by both A Hard Day’s Night and Bell Book and Candle with Kim Novak in attendance, but will probably do either King Vidor’s The Stranger’s Return or Sirk’s Written on the Wind and then Hat Check Girl.

Slot 5: Noir time with The Naked City.

Slot 6: (Midnight Movie): Freaks. At this point I’ll probably be exhausted, but will go to this screening. Whether or not I stay awake is another question.


Slot 1: The Adventures of Robin Hood– This is one of my “it’s embarrassing you haven’t seen this” movies. What a fun way to start off the morning!

Slot 2: This slot is open right now. I might see Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, or wait and see what the TBA ends up being.

Slot 4: The Quiet Man– after skipping Stagecoach I’ve got to get in a John Wayne film, and this is a favorite.

Slot 5: This is a toss-up as well. I just recently saw The Lodger on the big screen, but here it will have live accompaniment, which is always a treat. Or I might do The Lady from Shanghai, which I haven’t seen.

Closing Night Party!

Some Tips:

I’m not a veteran compared to some of my fellow bloggers, who have been able to go each year, but I was able to go last year on a Matinee pass, and did standby screenings at night. For anyone who might be doing that, or is interested in trying to get in to individual screenings on standby, last year I had no issues getting into everything I wanted to, so it’s definitely worth a try. You do need to have cash with you, and students get half off standby tickets.

The venues are spread out within about a two block stretch of Hollywood Blvd., so walking from the Chinese to the Egyptian, Roosevelt Hotel, etc. is easy, and probably no more than a 10 minute walk depending on how fast you travel. For any events taking place at the Ricardo Montalban Theater on Vine, it’s probably about a 20 minute walk. The Metro Red Line train is an option to get down there as well. There’s a station right at Hollywood and Highland, and it’s only one stop over to Hollywood and Vine. A single ride is $1.50, so cheaper than a cab.

Weather-wise, it should be pretty pleasant. Some of the venues, like the Egyptian, will line up outside before screenings, so you could be standing in the sun for a while. On the flip side, the great part about standing in line is you finally get to meet your classic film family, people you’ve met through social media who you finally get to see in person for the first time. That’s probably the best part about the TCMFF, the chance to interact with people who all share the same interest and passion. So I look forward to hanging out with those who are coming out for the festival and seeing a lot of great films!

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Noir City: Alias Nick Beal (Farrow, 1949)

alias nick beal[This post comes with the disclaimer that I’m slightly obsessed with Ray Milland.]

I had the pleasure of seeing Alias Nick Beal at the Noir City LA festival this evening over at the Egyptian Theater. The film screened as the second half of a double bill honoring actress Audrey Totter, who passed away this past December at age 95. I convinced my sister, who is visiting from out of town, to come, and met up with my friends Jen and Laura from Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings.

Totter, who played many a memorable femme fatale, was wonderful in the first film, Tension, which also starred Richard Basehart and a young Cyd Charisse. That film was a lot more of a “traditional” noir, a murder story with Totter’s bad woman at the center. But I want to speak a little more about Alias Nick Beal, which is a film I’d seen before, but felt fortunate to see on a pristine 35mm print on the big screen.

Alias Nick Beal follows District Attorney Joseph Foster (Thomas Mitchell), a straight-down-the-line operator. Foster has built up a great reputation for himself in his law career, and affiliates himself with the local boys clubs run by Reverand Thomas Garfield (George Macready) that help keep troubled youth off the streets. The thorn in Foster’s side is a man named Hansen, who runs some sort of organized crime scheme in town and has managed to continue to evade the law. Foster knows if he can get to Hansen’s accounting books he’d be able to convict him, even going as far to say he’d “sell his soul” for the opportunity.

Almost immediately, Foster is told to meet a Nick Beal (Ray Milland) at the China Coast Cafe near the docks. Beal is able to provide the accounting books to Foster, even though they were thought to be burned by Hansen’s bookkeeper. Although taken without a proper search warrant, Foster grabs the opportunity to take Hansen down.

With Hansen convicted, Foster is nominated for the governors’ race by the reverend and other members of the independent party. Beal appears again with an offer to fund Foster’s campaign, a move which alienates Foster’s wife, who acts as the voice of Foster’s integrity. But Foster accepts Beal’s direction in his campaign with the ideal that sacrificing on his principles now will allow him a chance to make his grand reforms later as governor.

Beal also recruits a washed-up actress named Donna Allen (Audrey Totter) to work for Foster’s campaign. He gifts her a lavish apartment, fancy clothes and a rich lifestyle in exchange for seducing Foster. As the campaign wears on, Foster sacrifices his integrity, aligning himself with the crooked Frankie Faulkner on Beal’s recommendation in order to win votes, and allowing himself to fall for Allen. As both Foster and Allen start to realize that Beal is controlling both of them, they try to break free. The film ends with a showdown between the cunning Nick Beal and Foster, who now understands that perhaps deals with the Devil are not just medieval lore.

Audrey Totter and Ray Milland

Audrey Totter and Ray Milland

A modern variation on the Faust tale, Alias Nick Beal was directed by John Farrow at Paramount. It was one of several films in which Farrow would direct Ray Milland, and features some really wonderful photography marked by the trademark chiaroscuro lighting of noir, and the eerie foggy docks on which Beal and Foster meet to discuss their dealings.

The cast is really great and on top of their game. Michell is his usual dependable self as the conflicted Foster, someone who realizes too late that he’s backed himself into quite the hole. Totter isn’t really a femme fatale in the sense that she was in Tension as she’s a woman who has had bad breaks, but has a soft side. As in Tension, she could easily command any room with her presence and sultry looks, but her character realizes what Nick Beal is up to, and tries to warn Foster instead of using him to her advantage.

Milland is top-billed here, and there’s no question why. This is one of the post-Lost Weekend films that he was given a role with some substance, and he makes the most of it. His Nick Beal appears and disappears on a whim, and really isn’t a man of many words. Instead, Milland gives him power through his eyes and facial expressions: a sly half smile, or a look that could skewer someone against the wall from across the room. Middle-aged here but still handsome, Milland uses his charm and presence as a leading man to create a mysterious, cold and cunning character. Though often just standing in the background as the characters he puppets do his bidding, it’s hard to take your eyes off him as his presence demands attention.

Thomas Mitchell sells out to Ray Milland's devil.

Thomas Mitchell sells out to Ray Milland’s devil.

Ray Milland was mostly known for his light romantic comedy roles before getting the lead in The Lost Weekend. It’s such a delight to see him play bad, which he was allowed to do several times later on in his career. I think he’s an actor you can really see an evolution from his early work to his later. I very much enjoy his earlier roles, but I somewhat doubt at that point in his career he would’ve pulled off the against-type roles he was given later on. Although many times in early romantic comedy films he was kind of a cad, there’s something about his physicality as he moved into his 40s that lent itself to there being this element of danger under the surface of that polished facade. There’s a real subtlety and nuance to his work in The Lost Weekend and beyond that really isn’t fully realized in his work until then. Whatever the reason, Milland is able to pull off being the villain just as convincingly as any of his other roles. It’s a devilishly good turn.

Unfortunately Alias Nick Beal isn’t available on home video, so seeing it on the film print is pretty much the only way of getting a hold of it. There are versions floating around, which I think must be off of collector’s prints, but if you have the chance to see the film off the 35mm print, definitely take the opportunity. It, like another rare film, So Evil My Love, is a chance to see Milland play against type, and it’s a treat definitely worth the price of admission.

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TCM Bus Tour!

Today I was lucky to be Laura’s plus one on the TCM Movie Locations Tour. Today is actually the first day of the tour, which runs through April 14, so we were in the very first public group to go. We met up at the Chinese Theater around 9am this morning to check in, and were off in our Starline bus with tour guide Michael an hour later.

The tour started in Hollywood, swinging south down La Brea past the Chaplin studios  (now the Jim Henson studios) and Formosa Cafe before cutting east towards downtown. We passed several former office buildings and studio lots throughout the Hollywood area, each being illustrated by clips from films, newsreels and travelogues. Michael also read out little bits of trivia and called our attention to the different locations as we passed by. On our way out of Hollywood, we passed the famous Bronson Paramount gate. Paramount is the last major studio, and the only one of the “Big 5” (Paramount, RKO, MGM, Warner Brothers and 20th Century Fox) that stayed in the Hollywood area. After Paramount, we headed towards downtown Los Angeles.

In addition to all of the clips that showed the city and locations as they were during the studio-era years and more recent films, TCM host Ben Mankiewicz would also appear in recorded segments to talk about the film history in each of the major areas across the city that we visited.

The downtown area still has many of the old movie palaces, most within a few blocks of each other. Some are used for live performances, some have been converted into stores or churches, while others remain shuttered. Most still have the old marquees, so they are easy to pick out among the shops and restaurants. We made our first stop downtown at the Bradbury Building, where we had enough time to get off the bus and go inside for photos. The Bradbury was somewhere I had wanted to go for a while, having been featured in films like Blade Runner and more recently, The Artist. The staircases and the vaulted glass ceiling are spectacular.

Downtown was also home to Bunker Hill, which was featured prominently in many film noirs. It was interesting to see the film clips from movies like Cry Danger because they show a mostly residential area. Today, the city highrises dot the area, with the Walt Disney Music Hall being the modern landmark. It’s very hard to imagine single family homes there anymore. We passed by City Hall, where all I could hear was the opening to Dragnet: “This is the city: Los Angeles, California…”

From there we drove to Union Station, where we also were able to get off the bus and go inside. We were right next to Chinatown, so we passed through there and headed towards Echo Park and Silver Lake. This was the area where the first movie companies that came to Los Angeles from the East Coast set up shop, filmmakers like Mack Sennett. Silver Lake connects into Los Feliz and Hollywood going west, so we ended up back on Hollywood Blvd completing the tour.

The TCM Movie Locations tour was about three hours long in total, and I really had a blast. Even now being a “local,” it was so nice to be able to relax and just ride along to all of these locations. Having Michael’s commentary and the clips was great as well, just to be able to match up locations or structures I’d seen in films over the years to what the places look like today. It was really an awesome gesture for TCM to offer this tour to fans free of cost in celebration of their 20th anniversary.

Speaking of opportunities, I’m excited to announce that I’ll be attending my second TCM Classic Film Festival this year as a member of the press. I’m really looking forward to covering the festival, which is one of the most fun movie-watching and social events of the year. Hope to see some of you next month!

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Ten for 2014

I was inspired by Laura at Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings‘  idea of choosing ten films to see for the first time over the course of the year. Raquel at Out of The Past is trying it out too, and I think it’s a good way to set a goal and actually get around to watching those movies that you know you want to, but keep getting pushed back for one reason or another. So to kick off my 2014 in blogging, here’s my list:

Safety Last!

I’m slowly getting around to the silent film canon, and have arrived at Harold Lloyd finally.

8 1/2

This is one of those “You haven’t seen that yet?!?” movies for me. Having only seen La Dolce Vita, I think I need some more Fellini in my life.

Anatomy of a Murder

It has been forever since I’ve seen a new-to-me Jimmy Stewart film, and I think this is the last “big” one on his filmography that I haven’t seen yet.

Easy Rider

I’m rediculously lacking in the New Hollywood department, so I’ve been trying to amend that. This one helps mark the beginning of that era.

The Magnificent Ambersons

I feel like as much as I talk and read about Orson Welles, I haven’t really seen many of his films. I’ve seen about the first ten minutes of this one.

The Third Man

A movie everyone tells me is brilliant and that I keep forgetting to watch.

Modern Times

After The Kid and City Lights, I’ve become really interested in Chaplin. This was suggested as a good next film.

Un femme est un femme

My yearly quest to love Godard as much as Truffaut (it’s never going to happen…) brings me to this New Wave homage to the musical.


I’m also terrible with Asian film (even though I’m Asian, go figure). I need to watch more Ozu, but am naturally pulled more towards Kurosawa, and this one has plenty of influences on other films like Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars. Speaking of which, I should finally watch Once Upon a Time in the West too…

Mildred Pierce

This is the one that I feel embarrassed about when in the company of other classic film fans, so I’m watching it this year.

Here’s to a great, movie-filled 2014!

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