Tag Archives: Film Noir

Lana Turner: Queen of the Noir

8 Sep


I just recently watched the original “The Postman Always Rings Twice” (1946) and was taken by Lana’s commanding performance as Cora Smith. She said that it was the role she liked best out of a long career in front of the camera. Her chemistry with John Garfield is unmistakable and almost as explosive as the love affair with the camera. She’s one of the best femme fatales ever, in my humble opinion at a time when film noir dominated the cinematic landscape.

Lana Turner

Lana started in films when she was 17 and, contrary to Hollywood legend, was not discovered in a soda fountain. She was, however, the “sweater girl” of every man’s dream and came into her own as an actress (especially in Postman) when her private life threatened to derail her career. Lana had 7 husbands and numerous boyfriends – the most famous of which was Johnny Stompanato. Johnny was a gangster and was in the process of beating the crap out of Lana when Lana’s only daughter, Cheryl Crane, stabbed Johnny to death in 1958. The resulting firestorm of publicity and trial made the famous “sweater girl” infamous overnight. Cheryl, tried for murder, was acquitted (justified homicide) and wrote a tell-all about her mother in 1988.


Lana would recover her career in “Imitation of Life” (1959) and once again be at the top of her game. But her appetite for men and alcohol would eventually take it’s toll. But none of that diminishes her performance in “Postman”, if anything it enhances it. I recommend watching her eat the scenery in the original noir. It’s her film the second she shows up and you end up being riveted to her every mannerism, her suggestive outfits – her cooler than cool exterior that hides the molten lava just behind her eyes. She is an amazing actress who’s life off-screen was just as dramatic as any of her film roles.


My favorite quote of Lana’s was about happiness: “The thing about happiness is that it doesn’t help you to grow; only unhappiness does that. So I’m grateful that my bed of roses was made up equally of blossoms and thorns. I’ve had a privileged, creative, exciting life, and I think that the parts that were less joyous were preparing me, testing me, strengthening me.” What an astoundingly insightful, thoughtful and intelligent woman! She didn’t suffer fools lightly – maybe that’s why she had so many husbands!


I’ll always remember Lana not as the “sweater girl” but as the self-assured, confident yet fatalistic Cora in “The Postman Always Rings Twice.” It’s no wonder the role was her personal favorite out of a long, long film career. In some way, Lana channeled her own personal turmoil into the film noir thriller and made her role all the more magnetic. She went through hell and came out the other side several times. She knew Hollywood was no bed of roses – and grew stronger for the thorns. So many actresses have followed in her footsteps but I think she was an absolute original in a town that is full of copycats – both then and now.


Kathleen Turner: Scorching Body Heat

20 May

Kathleen Turner was one of the hottest leading ladies to ever grace the silver screen. Her debut movie role in Body Heat (1981) is right up there with some of the greatest femme fatales from the 40’s and 50’s. But what Lauren Bacall, Barbara Stanwyck and Mary Astor left up to the audiences imaginations, Kathleen literally exposed in glamorous, steamy and saturated color. Her portrayal of a calculating wife ensnaring a lawyer into murdering her husband is incendiary. The sex scenes between Kathleen and co-star Bill Hurt are some of the hottest of any era. Kathleen left nothing to the imagination and we are forever in her debt.

I’m a huge fan of Body Heat. Lawrence Kasdan’s directorial debut is a master class in building suspense. The neo-noir storyline owes much to Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944) starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray. Both films draw inspiration from the pot-boiler detective genre of a wife and lover who plot her husband’s murder. Both have crackling dialogue and explosive chemistry between their two beautiful leads. And by virtue of the fact that Kasdan’s Heat came after Wilder’s Indemnity, he could pull out all the stops on the lurid tale. However, Kasdan’s real ace was the casting of a then virtually unknown Kathleen Turner.

You can tell Turner gave everything she had to the role and more. Trained in the theater, her performance is incredibly-timed. She skillfully seduces the audience along with Hurt, sucking you in with the kind of sensuality and screen-siren skill-set reminiscent of Greta Garbo in Mata Hari (1931), or Jane Greer in Out of the Past (1944). Her unabashed sexuality dominates whenever she is on-screen. And thank god, she’s in almost every scene for the first hour of the movie.

The difference with Turner’s femme fatale is the complete lack of a conscience. So convincing, so complete is her deception that you can’t help but admire her ambition and drive, even while she’s eating you alive. That’s the true test of an actress playing a vamp: deep down on some primal level, you want to be vanquished by her. That’s what makes the outcome so delightfully inevitable in film noir. Kasdan’s Body Heat plays like many pre-code Hollywood movies, where the woman gets away with murder. Kathleen was born with a body and mind to play such a role – and her giving herself completely to the role made her a star overnight.

Kathleen Turner went on to do largely comedic roles (Steve Martin’s Man With Two Brains would be her very next role), Romancing the Stone being the best of them. Her fresh and natural good looks made her a wonderful, photogenic screen presence, but I think it was her intelligence that made her smoking hot. The fire in her eyes in every role she took on radiated a fierceness only the greatest screen siren’s possessed. It was this quality that put her in the pantheon next to Garbo, Stanwyck and Crawford.

So, some hot and sweaty summer night rent or buy Body Heat, turn off the light and turn on the fan for the glowing, wicked warmth of Kathleen Turner’s first and hands-down best performance. You won’t be able to take your eyes off Kathleen for one burning hot second. And you’ll want to smoke a cigarette after, because both Kathleen’s character and nicotine are equally addictive, hot and dangerous to your health.

CINEMUSES: Mary Astor, The Ultimate Femme Fatale

9 Jan

There is something so deliciously bad-ass about Mary Astor. She was the ultimate femme fatale, Brigette O’Shaunessy, from The Maltese Falcon starring Humphrey Bogart and directed by John Huston. The first and arguably best Film Noir, Falcon is as perfect in its structure and form as Casablanca. And as perfectly beautiful and virtuous as Ingrid Bergman was as Ilsa, Mary Astor is as the beautiful, deadly and duplicitous Brigette.
Now, the very definition of a femme fatale is a woman so beautiful and beguiling that a man would willing walk into his own open grave to please her. She must be so intoxicating that a man would off-himself if only to have her one-time. Mary Astor was smoking-hot in Falcon, but she was also smart, brassy, quick-talking and utterly shameless in manipulating men. Sparks flew between her and Sam Spade. They only grew more intense when she killed his partner, Archer. And by the end, she’s so messed up Bogart’s insides that he almost considers doing time for her. Almost.

To be honest, I haven’t seen many Astor movies. They’re hard to find and many of them were lackluster, never talking full advantage of Astor’s formidable talents. She was a force to be reckoned with, on and off the screen. One of her earliest appearances was opposite Clark Gable in Red Dust, with Jean Harlow. I’ve got to tell you that Jean, though I love her, couldn’t hold a candle to Astor’s sexual attraction with hair slicked back and an animal stare than threatened to vanquish everyone in her sights.

Off-screen, Astor was a free-spirit and got into trouble with the powers that be and press for her sexual escapades. She wrote a sordid autobiography and was open about her sex life when such things were considered tawdry and unbecoming a lady. Mary was quick to call bullshit when she saw it and stood her ground. She had to. She made several movies opposite Bogart, Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre – a tough crowd by any measure. But that’s what I love about Mary – she gave as good as she got.

Mary Astor should have been a much bigger star in my estimation. She had the beauty, brains and balls to take on any comers, and I only wish that I had met her – only to be vanquished immediately. of course!