Jul 24, 2014

The Long Winter 10s List

Top Ten Inspirational Films for "The Long Winter"

So, I'm going to preface this by saying I'm an uber black-and-white film nerd. When I lived in Valrico, Florida, we had a TV running Turner Classic Movies 24/7 in our little back yard hut. That is not an exaggeration; we burnt through three of those old school box TVs from keeping them on so long in the muggy conditions of the tin roofed shack where I smoked my cigarettes and wrote all night. I feel in love with "the golden age" of cinema, back when all the films were shot on dollies and actors worked for one studio for years upon years. The system was flawed, obviously, but I'll be damned if they didn't make great films. So when I began writing "The Long Winter," I wanted to make sure I did these incredible noirs proud. I didn't want to emulate them, of course, but I wanted them to be distant cousins. Here's my top ten of the most inspirational films for my book.

10. "Notorious" (Alred Hitchcock, 1946) 
Starting off the list with some good ol' Hitchcock, this film never gets the love it probably should. First off, three reasons to watch the film: Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains. The plot is intriguing, as well, as we follow a German-American socialite and an American agent down to South America, where they are to infiltrate a group of fugitive Nazis who are cooking up something devious. Pretty awesome film that keeps you on the edge of your seat until the final minute.

9. "Laura" (Otto Preminger, 1944)  
A young Vincent Price, in a role where he's not playing some creepy haunted house owner = AWESOME. A film about a police detective who falls in love with the dead socialite whose murder he's investigating, only to find out she's still alive and someone else died in her place. Price is the slimey fiance of the socialite, played by Gene Tierney, who may or may not have played a part in the murder. Strong cast, twist-ridden story. So good if you want a noir that isn't too violent.

8. "North By Northwest" (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959) 
The only film in color on the list, Cary Grant again pairs up with Hitchcock to do a classic 'mistaken identity' film that leads our protagonist on a cross-country adventure to clear his name. Eva Marie Saint is the femme fatale of this little yarn, and James Mason is the main villain. If for some reason your eye balls haven't had the delightful experience of seeing this movie, you should remedy that immediately. Arguably Hitchcock's greatest film in his illustrious career.

7. "The Maltese Falcon" (John Huston, 1941) 
The first Bogart sighting on the list. Bogie is a private detective whose partner gets killed after they get hired by Mary Astor, who plays a dame who is all kinds of trouble. He finds himself getting hassled by the cops, who think he knocked off his partner, and two eccentric criminals, played by Sydney Greenstreet and the amazing Peter Lorre, who want the same thing the troublesome dame wants: a rare, expensive statue called the Maltese Falcon. If you've seen a Huston film, you know what you can expect, and this is one of his best films. Bogart is King, as usual.

6. "The Big Sleep" (Howard Hawks, 1946) 
Another Bogart movie, but this time it's him and Lauren Bacall, one of the best pairings ever to grace the silver screen. These two just had a chemistry that is difficult to match, despite the significant age difference between them. Bogart again plays a private detective hired to sort out a bit of blackmail that his client, an elderly gentleman with two wild daughters, has to deal with. Before too long, there's murder and intrigue, and Bogart is trying not to fall in love with one of the daughters, played by Bacall. Another sharp, dialogue-driven story that keeps you guessing until the final scene as to how it all will play out.

5. "In A Lonely Place" (Nicholas Ray, 1950)  
One of my all-time favorite Bogart films. A screenwriter, the brilliantly named Dixon Steele who is known for his violent outbursts, is a prime suspect in the murder of a young woman, but his beautiful neighbor, a young woman with her own baggage, helps clear him of the charges and they fall in love. But the police captain doesn't buy it, and soon Bogie's going a little nutty, and his new lover isn't so sure he's innocent anymore. Classic film to watch if you're big on sharp, quick-witted dialogue (especially for those who love the behind-the-scenes of the film industry). Bogart fans will not be disappointed.

4. "The Killers" (Robert Siodmak, 1946) 
1946 was a banner year for the noir, apparently. The film starts off with two hitmen gunning down Burt Lancaster (in his debut role), and an insurance agent (yes, a freaking insurance agent) starts to investigate why the man got murdered. The story gets told through flashbacks by the people who came across Lancaster over the years, and all roads point lead the agent to Ava Gardner, the definition of the femme fatale, if I've ever seen one. It's based off a Hemingway story, and I think it was the only film based off a Hemingway novel that he actually liked. Seriously, the guy hated pretty much everything except alcohol, but he enjoyed this. Take that to the bank, and check this bad boy out.

3. "Casablanca" (Michael Curtiz, 1942) 
I know, I know; this isn't a noir. But I can't leave it off the list because it is my favorite film of all time, and it did have an influence on my fascination with the time period. I shouldn't have to recap this film; if you've never seen this, I don't know what to tell you. It is one of the best films ever made, period. I will share a little story about it: nobody knew the ending while they shot it. Nobody knew who Ilsa ended up with, not even the director, until they shot the final scene. They almost re-cut the ending before its release due to how the War was swinging in the Allies' favor, but the director drove down to the studio and talked them off the ledge. Good job, Curtiz, good job.

2. "The Third Man" (Carol Reed, 1949) 
I came across this gem on another one of those late-night evenings when Orson Welles popped up on the screen and blew my mind grapes with one of the best monologues I've ever heard in my life. A broke novelist comes to postwar Vienna to see an old friend, who ends up dead before he arrives. It turns out his buddy is a black-market hustler in the town, at least according to the Western nations' police forces, but his old buddy isn't buying it. He starts investigating his friend's murder, and ends up uncovering a whole mess of a situation. The camera work in this film is extraordinary, Welles is at the top of his game, and the theme song to this movie will remain firmly planted in your mind forever afterwards. It's a unique story with a great pace, and it is one of my favorite films of all time. Watch it, and appreciate the talent that Orson Welles really was.

1. "Out of the Past" (Jacques Tourneur, 1947) 
This film changed my life. That's a big statement, but I was absolutely floored the first time I watched it. It came on at like 2am one night, and I had only meant to smoke a cigarette. I smoked half a pack while I watched this. I don't smoke anymore, but anytime I watch this film, I always reach for that phantom pack. Robert Mitchum plays a private eye on the run because he let a troublesome dame (played by the brilliant and gorgeous Jane Greer) lead him down the path of wrong decisions. A young Kirk Douglas plays the villain of the flick, but the focus is on the complex relationship between Mitchum and Greer. It's one of those films that sticks with you for a day or two after you first watch it, and it epitomizes what a noir is supposed to be.