Charlie Allnut: How’d you like it?
Rose Sayer: Like it?
Charlie Allnut: White water rapids!
Rose Sayer: I never dreamed. . .
Charlie Allnut: I don’t blame you for being scared – not one bit. Nobody with good sense ain’t scared of white water. . .
Rose Sayer: I never dreamed that any mere physical experience could be so stimulating!
Continuing with Noirvember, I decided to write about a proto-noir, William Wyler’s Dead End. This is a fabulous example of crime cinema, coming at the end of the thirties and a wave of films like Scarface and The Petrified Forest. Dead End takes a look at the life of several residents who live in tenements located below luxury apartments built for the view of the picturesque East River. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards, though it didn’t win any: Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Supporting Actress Claire Trevor and Best Picture. The other films nominated for Best Picture that year were The Awful Truth, Captains Courageous, The Good Earth, In Old Chicago, Lost Horizon, One Hundred Men and a Girl, Stage Door, A Star Is Born and winner The Life of Emile Zola.
I thought it would be fitting to start Noirvember with a discussion of John Huston’s iconic adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. Although film noir, a term coined in 1946 by French film critic Nino Frank, is often thought of as an post-war era in American cinema (many neo-noir and foreign films would later emulate these original films), this film has been cited as the first true American Film Noir. There’s a great debate about when the era starts and whether it counts as a genre (I don’t believe in genres period, so you can probably guess where I stand on that issue). A lot of the early crime films in the thirties and the silents made during German Expressionism all led to the style and topics seen in the noir films, but for me I think the films made during this era were distinctly full of post-war angst. That said, I’ll admit if The Maltese Falcon isn’t the first true noir, it’s definitely the premiere proto-noir. The film essentially launched Humphrey Bogart as a leading man, following his explosive earlier that year in Raoul Walsh’s High Sierra, in a performance that set the tone for all of noir’s anti-hero heroes to come. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards, though it didn’t win any: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor Sydney Greenstreet and Best Picture. The other films nominated that year were: Blossoms in the Dust, Citizen Kane, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Hold Back the Dawn, The Little Foxes, One Foot in Heaven, Sergeant York (co-written by John Huston), Suspicion and winner How Green Was My Valley.
This newly remastered release of Battle Circus, an early film from director Richard Brooks, is a must for fans of Bogart and as well as those who love Robert Altman’s 1970 Best Picture nominee M*A*S*H. The Korean War still had another few months before it was officially over when this film was first released and actual footage from the war is featured in it. The title comes from a MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) unit’s ability to pick up and move itself and its surgical tents as swiftly as a traditional circus. Much like Altman’s later film, it also features the interconnectivity of the personal lives of the nurses, doctors and soldiers alike.
Tomorrow is the grand opening of the new Warner Bros. Theater at the Smithsonian Institute. In celebration of the opening the theater will be screening four films featuring Humphrey Bogart, arguably the studio’s must notable star: Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, Treasure of Sierra Madre and The Big Sleep. Stephen Bogart, son of film legends Bogart and Lauren Bacall, will be on hand for the inaugural presentation of Casablanca. I was lucky enough to speak with him briefly this morning about the new theater, his father’s legacy and some of his thoughts on Hollywood today.