Showcasing the femmes fatales of film noir
The moody film noir thrillers that flourished after World War II gave actresses a chance to play complex femme fatales -- women who often wrapped the anti-hero protagonists around their fingers.
The Turner Classic Movies Film Festival is saluting three of these icons -- Marsha Hunt from Anthony Mann’s 1948 classic “Raw Deal,” Rhonda Fleming from 1951’s “Cry Danger” and Peggy Cummins from the 1950 cult hit “Gun Crazy” -- Friday and Saturday. Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation will be chatting with the legendary actresses after their films are screened.
“Raw Deal,” which screens Friday at 12:15 p.m. at the Chinese Multiplex 3, finds Hunt playing the “good girl”-- a legal aide who has been assigned to a prisoner (Dennis O’Keefe). When he escapes from prison in search of the man who framed him, Hunt discovers she actually loves O’Keefe, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend (Claire Trevor).
Hunt, 94, said she still doesn’t really know why audiences have enjoyed “Raw Deal” all of these years because there is no one to root for. In fact, her character ends up committing murder in order to save O’Keefe’s life and Trevor ends up giving up O’Keefe when she realizes he actually loves Hunt. “We do an absolute turnabout in the course of the movie which makes it interesting,” she said.
The film was shot by the legendary John Alton, who excelled in capturing the dark, seedy nature of the noir universe. “The camera work has had much attention,” Hunt said.
“Cry Danger,” which will be shown Friday at 6:15 p.m. at the Egyptian Theatre, is just one of a handful of film noirs that Fleming, now 88, starred in during her long career. Dick Powell plays a gangster who has been framed for a robbery. Cleared of the charges when a witness comes forward five years into his sentence, he seeks vengeance while attempting to free his best friend who is still in jail for committing the robbery. Fleming plays his friend’s sexy wife, now living in a rundown trailer park in Los Angeles. She had been lovers with Powell before her marriage.
“When I looked at the film lately, it shows the old Los Angeles I grew up in,” Fleming said. It’s incredible to see what’s gone. It’s an interesting noir.”
Of course, she said, “we didn’t know it was a film noir when we were filming it. I was happy with black-and-white movies. The lines were good, the directors were good. I liked being a bit on the naughty side.”
“Gun Crazy,” which screens Saturday at 6:45 p.m. at the Egyptian Theatre, was Irish-born Cummins' last film in Hollywood. She left Tinseltown the same year the film came out to move to England to marry. Though Cummins, now 86, continued to act in England, she never returned to the United States. Her appearance Saturday will be her first time back in the country since 1950.
“I am not sure I want to come back,” she said, laughing. “They will say ‘Who is this person?’ ”
Directed by Joseph H. Lewis, “Gun Crazy” stars Cummins as an angelic-looking carnival sharpshooter/sociopath who meets up with a gun-obsessed young man (John Dall). The two set out to commit a string of crimes. One of the greatest moments in the film is a bank robbery sequence that was shot on city streets inside a getaway car. Only the employees inside the bank knew about the movie; bystanders on the street thought it was a real robbery.
Cummins recalled the sequence: "It was just one take," she said. “You know we had the camera and the sound in the back of the car. I was driving. I think I scared them with my driving. It was such a brilliant idea. To a certain extent John Dall and I had to make up dialogue as we went along.”
She does find it “extraordinary after so many years” that the film is considered one of the greats of the noir era, because it wasn’t a hit when it was released.
“All the agents and a lot of people who had seen it thought it would be one of the best films ever,” she said. “I don’t know if it was just the wrong time. Of course, they didn’t like it in England very much. They didn’t understand it.”
For more information on the festival go to http://www.tcm.com/festival.
-- Susan King
Photo: Peggy Cummins and John Dall in 1950's "Gun Crazy."