Showing posts with label audrey totter. Show all posts
Showing posts with label audrey totter. Show all posts

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Noir Watch (sorta): High Wall (1947)

So, like a month ago I started watching this movie on a DVD I'd picked up, and got an hour into it and the DVD fritzed out on me.  So I got a replacement copy from Amazon (seriously, their return policy is the bees knees), and finally got around to finishing the movie this evening.

I am not sure I'd recommend High Wall.  By far the best feature of the movie is that it stars Audrey Totter as a psychiatrist who is not afraid to monkey around with experimental brain surgery and the liberal application of medication.  It's only marginally noir, in my book.  More of a suspense thriller with noirish undertones.



Basically, the movie is about a guy who probably really is, at the very least, unstable following his return from WWII, who comes home to a wife he married in the fog of war, only to find out that she wants someone pulling in more bucks than he's worth now that he's not drawing a military salary.  He leaves for Burma to fly cargo and send home paychecks.  When he comes home, he may or may not have killed his wife, who he figures is schtupping her boss - a kind of sleazy dude who happens to be overseeing a Christian Book publisher.

It's all very sordid.

Monday, January 7, 2013

My very nice signed pic from Audrey Totter


On Saturday, an envelope arrived with a signed photo from Audrey Totter.  It also came with a signed note.  To put a point on it, while I knew it was coming, I'm still a bit stunned and I know these are items I'll have with me for the rest of my life.  I need to show them off here as so few of you will ever be in my living room.

I can't thank Eden and her family enough.  A truly unique and terrific experience and a very bright spot during a difficult week.

Coincidentally, Jason got me a Film Noir set that included Lady in the Lake for me for Christmas, so it's going to be Totter-Rama around my house this week.  We may need to re-watch Tension, too.

Tomorrow I return to work for the first time since before Christmas.  There's a lot to unpack in all that, so I'm trying not to think about it too much, and just get back to my desk and try to remember what it is I'm supposed to be doing at that desk.

But, that's it for the start of the week.  

You guys take care, and we will consider what regular programming looks like at the Signal Watch this week sometime.




Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Happy Birthday, Audrey Totter!


December 20th is the 95th Birthday of actress Audrey Totter!  I suppose that makes the timing of this post Audrey Totter-Day Eve.

Ms. Totter starred in a terrific run of films, and had one of her breakout appearances as a source of temptation for the always terrific John Garfield in The Postman Always Rings Twice.  Ms. Totter's character caused a bit of jealousy in Lana Turner.  People, if you can give Lana Turner a moment of pause, clearly you're a force to be reckoned with.

The first movie I saw in which Ms. Totter got top billing was The Set-Up, and it's an absolutely terrific bit of acting under the direction of Robert Wise, but I'd also point you toward Tension, which is a terrific example of noir (and also has Cyd Charisse and Richard Basehart!).  In this one, Totter blows everyone else on screen right out of the frame.   I'd also recommend The Unsuspected to see her alongside Claude Rains and playing a wide range in a single film.

That's sort of what I think of now when I consider Ms. Totter's films.  She wasn't a character actor, and in all of her movies, she manages to do what better actors pull off - and that's too completely fill the character in a unique way and disappear into the role, but still retain the ability to make you notice them.  Her roles in Man or Gun and Tension couldn't be more different, but she's terrific in both movies.

In the 50's, Ms. Totter began working in both film and television, she starred in series like Cimarron City and Medical Center, and retired from the screen with her final televised appearance in 1984 on Murder, She Wrote.

Today, Ms. Totter is still living in Southern California, and through a terrific series of internet blips by way of Jenifer, on Sunday morning I received a video in my email that made my year.   The video is of Audrey Totter sending Jenifer and me best wishes.  The video absolutely blew my mind.  It's like someone you watch at the movies turning to the screen and saying, "Oh, hello, Ryan."

Special thanks to Ms. Totter's granddaughter, voice artist, Eden Totter.  (Eden is super-great, by the way.)


Happy Birthday, Ms. Totter!  We wish you the best on your birthday and will be spending the holiday break catching up on some of your movies we haven't yet seen.



PS.  If you ever want to know what it would be like to be a detective in the presence of Audrey Totter, I highly recommend the experimental first-person movie, Lady in the Lake, based on the Raymond Chandler novel.



Signal Watch Watches: A Bullet for Joey (1955)

I considered listing this one as a noir, but it's more or less really a 1950's G-Man thiller mixing gangsters, fifth columnists, monkeys and Audrey Totter.

The movie opens on Montreal (?) where an organ grinder and monkey wait outside a building at McGill University where they snap picks of an unsuspecting French-Canadian scientist from a camera hidden in the hurdy-gurdy.  A cop spots the iffy organ grinder, and gets straight-up murdered by the oddly dated stereotype.

Turns out our organ grinder is a Fifth Columnist gathering info on a physicist, and then it gets complicated.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Audrey Totter is delivering Christmas Joy


I stole this pic from Jenifer's twitter account.  I figured that in the spirit of the season, she'd want to share.

Here we see Audrey Totter atop some sort of motorcycle/ moped be-decked for the season and lugging around a sack full of toys she is, I assume, redistributing rather than showing off or hoarding.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Noir Watch: The Unsuspected (1947)

A few points:

1.  Everyone is familiar with Claude Rains from some of his bigger pictures like Casablanca, but he was truly the Michael Caine/ Gene Hackman of his time.  He was a terrifically talented performer who fit neatly into film after film, and despite the fact he is obviously and indelibly Claude Rains, he just works in every role, no matter how good or bad the film.  

2.  A special thanks to Jenifer out in San Fran for making sure I paid attention to Audrey Totter.  I still haven't seen that many of Totter's film, but she's a terrific talent.  



The Unsuspected (1947) played a few nights ago on TCM and I managed to record it.  It's an interesting film, and I don't think host Robert Osbourne was wrong to make comparisons to Laura prior to the film starting.  It may borrow an idea or three from the film, but director Michael Curtiz (of Mildred Pierce, Casablanca and many, many other films) instills the film with his own vision and more than enough suspects and twists to keep you going for the duration.  It may not be one of his better known efforts, but it is extremely well directed, even as it hinges on "new technology" to tell its stories - something that often doesn't age well with movies.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Noir Watch: The Set-Up (1949)

This is the third time I'd watched this movie, but every time it's been years apart.  

The Set-Up (1949) is the story of an aging fighter, well past his prime, but still taking to the ring on a low-class circuit, fighting at the bottom of crummy bills in shoddy venues.  Robert Ryan played a lot of heavies, but here he plays the fighter who truly only knows how to do one thing - and that's get up and get back in the ring again and again, not yet shaken off the promise of the one-in-a-million shot, now with much smaller dreams of respectability.  

Audrey Totter plays Julie, the woman in his life who has seen his string of losses and watched every fight, seeing the man she loves beaten and bloodied.  As the movie begins, they've hit a cross-roads - though it's possible Ryan's "Stoker" doesn't yet fully realize the gravity of the situation.



Meanwhile his manager, who can count on Stoker to lose in every bout, takes a pay-off promising Stoker will take a fall, but cuts his own fighter out of the deal, considering it a no-brainer that his guy can't make it and wont' get lucky.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Signal Watch Watches: Man or Gun (1958)

It's hard to describe what this movie is about without making it sound like a movie full of crazy people, but maybe that's the remarkable thing about this flick...  the movie actually makes the idea work.

Man or Gun (1958) finds a drifter coming to a rowdy frontier town - one who won't say who he is - who seems to have a seemingly supernatural power with a gun, leaving the townsfolk to ask "is it the man or the gun?"  And, of course, a whole lot of people get shot in that bloodless manner of a 1950's western.



The drifter no sooner arrives than stumbles upon (of course) a powerful family that rules and harasses the townfolk, making the tiny berg unsafe for women and children.  Powerful enough that one of them is wanted for $2000 and is still living publicly in the town - until he crosses paths with the drifter, that is.  The drifter won't give up his name, and comes to first be called "'Maybe' Smith", and falls under the watchful eye of Audrey Totter as Fran Dare (that, people, is a hell of a name).  Fran sees a chance to use the man or gun to push back against the dastardly Corleys.

I actually quite liked the movie for a small western that I'd not heard much about.  It's a story about superstition versus reality versus what you see with your own eyes.  And, in no small way, its about whether guns are any way to answer a dispute in a civilized world, even when you're trying to make a better world against others waving guns in your face.

Macdonald Smith does a good, straighfaced hero - even is he feels a bit long in the tooth for the role, and Audrey Totter is in top form as the woman running the local saloon who has a lot invested in the stranger.  Unlike FBI Girl, it felt like the director knew what he had in Totter and let her show her range a great bit more.

Anyway, not groundbreaking, but one of those movies you're a bit surprised how enjoyable it was when you really haven't heard anything about it before.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Noir Watch: FBI Girl (1951)

I'm going to spoil the ending, but there are two great things in this movie.
  • Lots of Audrey Totter
  • Raymond Burr in a moving speedboat shooting at Cesar Romero who is shooting back from a helicopter.  Heck.  Yes.
Oddly, the movie doesn't really live up to either (a) containing Audrey Totter nor (b) the exciting Burr/Romero sequence I've described.

In the post WWII-era FBI director J. Edgar Hoover did a fine job of getting Hollywood in line and making sure movies about the FBI almost invariably celebrated the DOJ as a machine so powerful that even when infiltrated or somehow compromised, the power of righteousness would prevail.  And, if you were a red-blooded movie exec looking to stay away from HUAC, you could do worse than promoting J. Edgar's little club.
nothing like what you see of Audrey Totter here ever happens in the movie

FBI Girl (1951) spends no small amount of energy establishing the flawless nature of the FBI's fingerprint department - something criminals and lawmen alike in mid-century crime fiction seemed to worry about.  I've never understood how the whole fingerprint mechanism worked before computers, and this movie does nothing to shed light on why it was even an issue for criminals (I mean, with a million prints on record, and requests coming in all the time, how do you even know where to start with a comparison?).

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Noir Watch: Women's Prison (1955)

I think we're all friends here, and so it's in that spirit that I confess to a great love of the film Reform School Girls (1986).  It's high 80's cheese, completely self-aware, and has one of the most satisfying conclusions in cinema history.  If you haven't seen it, you likely believe it's some sort of pay cable late night hoo-hah, but it's a pretty straight up prison movie played for camp and some (intentionally) cheap thrills.

Man, someone was trying to sell a much racier movie than the one delivered.

Neither prison movies nor women's prison movies are something I seek out, and I was surprised that Eddie Muller had included a whole section on prison flicks in his book, Dark City.  I'm not going to argue with Muller over how or why prison films are considered part of the genre, so there you are.  And as this film was included in a set of "Bad Girls of Film Noir", I'm just going to deal.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Phyllis Thaxter (Superman: The Movie's Martha Kent) Merges with The Infinite

Actress Phyllis Thaxter, the actress who so wonderfully portrayed Martha Kent in Superman: The Movie, has passed at the age of 92.



She is preceded in death by actor Glen Ford who played Jonathan Kent, and Christopher Reeve, who played Superman.  However, Jeff East, who played a young Clark Kent is alive and well.

I have not seen much of Thaxter's work, but, oddly, last night I began watching Women's Prison with Ida Lupino and Audrey Totter, and the film's major character is played by none other than Phyllis Thaxter.  And she's really very good in what I'd seen so far.

Thaxter's portrayal of Martha Kent contained a stunning and instantly motherly quality that surpassed surprise at the strange manner in which she finds the boy, and his odd abilities, and cut straight to the need to love a little lost child when reason may have told her to do otherwise.  In the few lines and scenes she had in the movie, she and Richard Donner presented Martha Kent as a very real mother experiencing both the blessing and pain that comes with bringing a child into your life and then realizing you have to let him go.

Honestly, the wheat-field scene between East and Thaxter in the film was when I realized (way, way back in high school) what an extraordinary film Superman truly is.

Here, however, is that scene of discovery in a Kansas field.



Monday, August 13, 2012

Signal Watch Watches: Lady In The Lake (1947)


Released about 3 months after 1947's Dark Passage*, this movie also employs the first-person-perspective camera-work that somebody must have been wanting to play with at the time.  Where Dark Passage abandons the conceit fairly early in the movie, Lady in the Lake (1947) uses the trick more or less for the duration of the film except during a few, brief framing sequences during which Robert Montgomery, as Philip Marlowe, addresses the audience before merging with them in a spot of cinematic magic during which the audience is given a sort of thrill-ride like experience of seeing the film from Marlowe's perspective.

It's an oddball stunt, one easier to pull that the matinee jazz of 3D pictures or smell-o-vision, but Montgomery's direction definitely gives the effort a sort of "check this out!" quality, drawing attention to itself with awkward use of mirror shots that don't accomplish much but remind the audience that we're all watching a movie here - and, boy, isn't THAT cool...?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Friday Afternoon with Audrey Totter

Last January when I visited Jenifer in San Francisco for the Film Noir Fest, we took an afternoon and watched Tension (1949).  The film stars Richard Basehart (who the ladies cannot help but find dreamy), but it also features Audrey Totter in one of those roles that leaves an impression and makes you want to go back to the movie again and again.

I've now watched Tension a few times,  and I knew Ms. Totter from The Set-Up and a brief but excellent appearance in the classic The Postman Always Rings Twice.  Jenifer is a huge fan of Audrey Totter, and she's seen far more of her work than I have, so credit where it's due.

For a few reasons we've had Ms. Totter on the brain the past few days, especially as I had recently pushed The Lady in the Lake to the top of my Netflix queue, and I hope to discuss it next week.  Then the internet did what it does every once in a while and completely surprises you, and, anyway, we feel like celebrating with a couple more pictures of Ms. Totter.





Have a good Friday.  We'll check in later this weekend.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Noir Watch Extra: Tension

Between movies, we had a bit of downtime, and so Doug and I joined Jenifer at her swanky apartment where we watched a B-Noir, Tension (1949).

Before we get any further, I had never been less sympathetic to any noir character than I was to Richard Basehart as Warren Quimby, a man who has a dilemma at one point in the movie of picking between Audrey Totter and Cyd Charisse.  Go to hell, Basehart.



Tension probably has its roots in someone reading or seeing The Postman Always Rings Twice and the pot boiler melodramas of the era.  Postman had been adapted in 1946, and while there are limited similarities, you can see that the characters are sort of pushing around what the characters did when and why.  The movie also lifts from Superman comics and Charles Atlas ads, and so one must tip their hat to the writers and director for borrowing from the best.