Tag Archives: Noir

Shadow On The Wall (1950)

22 Jun

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Shadow on the Wall is an early psychological thriller noir starring Ann Sothern as a femme fatale and Nancy Reagan as a child psychologist out to expose her by psycho-analyzing a young child. Think 1950s melodrama with scary moments.

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Ann is coming off a star turn in A Letter to Three Wives  (1949) which tells the story of a woman who mails a letter to three women, telling them she has left town with the husband of one of them. She co-starred with Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Kirk Douglas, and an uncredited Celeste Holm, who provided the voice of Addie Ross, the unseen woman who wrote the letter. ‘Letter’ was well-received but Ann’s film career was already on the wane – hence trying to re-invent herself as a noir villain seemed worth a shot.

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What I like most about Shadow On The Wall is Nancy Reagan’s first major film role as the child-psychologist. She is virtually unrecognizable from the FLOTUS she would become decades later when Ronald Reagan became POTUS. I must admit Nancy had acting chops and was better in her role than Ann – who was cast-against-type and has trouble tapping into her inner-evilness.

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It’s funny how the noir genre was so popular in the late 1940s/early 1950s that mainstream actresses such as Ann Sothern would take on such a risky role far beyond her comfort zone in order to rekindle her film career. I compare it to today’s A-List actors doing horror when their stars begin to fade. Sometimes it works, as in the case of Sandra Bullock with Bird Box, Emily Blunt in A Quiet Place, or Vera Farmiga in the hugely-successful franchise based on the first The Conjuring movie.

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But alas, Ann Sothern’s star turn in Shadow On The Wall did nothing for her career. The movie flopped by 1950 standards and lost $300,000 at the box-office. Anne would go on to have a second-successful career in television, and be a recognizable face to millions of people on TV (especially when she appeared opposite Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy). Still, this noir-lite is an interesting distraction and well worth the effort. Ann even contemplates killing a child in this melodrama – how often do you see that?!

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Child actor Gigi Perreau plays Susan Starrling, the little girl who witnesses a murder and can only remember the killer’s shadow. She’s the best of the lot in this slow pot-boiler, and the scenes with her and Nancy in play therapy trying to coax her memory of the murderer are more convincing than the rest of the movie. Get a bucket of popcorn and enjoy this black and white noir-lite tonight.

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Looking For Garbo: My Debut Novel Finally Has Its Release Day!

7 May

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I’m happy to share that my debut novel, LOOKING FOR GARBO is being released today by Amphorae Publishing Group. It’s been a long time in coming and I have to thank my agent, Jill Marr at Sandra Dijkstra Literary for sticking by me the last 8+ years.

The idea for a story based on Garbo’s famous quote first came to me back in 1995. I saw something in her earnest desire to save the world by sacrificing her own life – something that could have been a typical Garbo vehicle that MGM Studios might have put out at the height of her power and fame, circa 1939:

“If the war didn’t start when it did,” Garbo said, “I would have gone and I would have taken a gun out of my purse and shot him, because I would not have been searched.”

Garbo was talking about her biggest fan at the time – Adolf Hitler. Hitler was obsessed with Garbo, and watched his own private print of her CAMILLE every night. Hitler sent Garbo numerous fan letters, inviting her to come to Nazi Germany. The novel takes Garbo’s quote at face value, and follows her on her journey via ocean liner to assassinate Hitler, and preempt WWII. Of course, war erupts while she is en route – and like any thriller the real action begins with her stuck on the open seas surrounded by Nazis.

My agent Jill found several buyers over the years for the novel. One went out of business, another was a bad fit to say the least: I actually bought the rights back to my work in 2014 and had to wait another 5 years for my novel to see bookshelves. But all said and done it was totally worth the wait. I just hope everyone enjoys the final product as much as I did writing it.

Looking For Garbo is available May 7th at all major bookstores, and online at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Bokus and IndieBound,

Veronica Lake: Peek-a-Boo

20 Sep

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Veronica Lake is one of the most iconic movie goddesses of the 1940’s. And leave it to several men to try and take credit for her trademark Peek-a-Boo hairstyle that made her instantly recognizable the world over. Veronica’s first appearance on screen was for RKO, playing a small role among several coeds in the film SORORITY HOUSE (1939). Similar roles followed, including All Women Have Secrets and Dancing Co-Ed. During the making of Sorority House, director John Farrow said he first noticed how her hair always covered her right eye, creating an air of mystery about her and enhancing her natural beauty. But this wouldn’t be the first or last time someone took credit for discovering Lake’s unique look.

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While still a teenager, Lake was introduced to the Paramount producer Arthur Hornblow, Jr. He changed her name to Veronica Lake because he said her surname suited her blue eyes. But it wasn’t enough to make Lake a household name, not yet at least, and RKO subsequently dropped her contract. But a small role in the comedy Forty Little Mothers (1940) brought unexpected attention. And in 1941, Veronica was signed to a long-term contract with Paramount Pictures. Her star was ascending but it would take another supposed man to rocket her to superstardom.

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Lake next starred opposite Joel McCrea in Sullivan’s Travels (1941). But Lake’s breakthrough role was in the 1941 war drama I Wanted Wings. The film was a major hit in which Lake played the second female lead. Hollywood lore (or more likely studio PR men) wrote that it was during the filming of I Wanted Wings that Lake developed her signature look. Lake’s long blonde hair accidentally fell over her right eye during a take and created a “peek-a-boo” effect. The hairstyle became Lake’s trademark and was widely copied by women.  Lake then followed up with starring roles in more popular movies, including This Gun for Hire (opposite Alan Ladd), I Married a Witch, and So Proudly We Hail!.  Lake was considered one of the most reliable box office draws in Hollywood. At the peak of her popularity, she earned $4,500 a week.

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Lake became known for playing opposite actor Alan Ladd, which began with This Gun for Hire. Initially, the couple was teamed together because Ladd was just 5 feet 5 inches tall and the only actress then on the Paramount lot short enough to pair with him was Lake, who stood just 4 feet 11 1⁄2 inches. They would make four more films together including the film noirs The Glass Key (1942), The Blue Dahlia (1946) and Saigon. Amazing how things happen in Tinseltown, right? But they did have a fiery on-screen chemistry, even though Ladd called Lake a bitch to work with. No doubt Lake was one of the original divas – but there’s always two sides to every Hollywood story.

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During World War II, Lake changed her trademark peek-a-boo hairstyle at the urging of the government to encourage women working in war industry factories to adopt more practical, safer hairstyles. Although the change helped to decrease accidents involving women getting their hair caught in machinery, doing so may have damaged Lake’s career. She also became a popular pin-up girl for soldiers during World War II and traveled throughout the United States to raise money for war bonds. Unfortunately, Lake’s true story does not have a happy ending. She fell out of favor in Hollywood because of her alcoholism and other mental health issues. But alas, I will always remember Lake in her signature film noir roles. She was a screen siren of the tallest order and, at the end of the day, we’re to buy the myth and not the reality of Hollywood sex goddesses. In my opinion, Lake was a talented actress who fell victim to the fame of her own hairstyle. It’s a cautionary tale for any talented actress trying to break through today. Stay true to yourself, and even when you do break through – don’t buy the hype!

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Veronica Lake will be remembered as a beautiful woman who influenced an entire generation of women and how they wore their hair. She just happened to be a talented actress, too. And for this, we’ll always love her place in cinematic history!

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One more crazy Hollywood pin-up photo for the road!