Don't Bother to Knock (1952) I'm pretty sure there was knocking.
Don't Bother to Knock Oh, to have been at this photo shoot.
is the story of Nell Forbes (Marilyn Monroe
), a shy and dreamy-eyed young woman who is hired as a hotel babysitter for a night on the recommendation of her uncle (Elisha Cook, Jr.
), the hotel elevator operator. The couple needing her services (Jim Backus and Lurene Tuttle) are guests who want someone to look after their 8-ish-year-old daughter, Bunny (Donna Corcoran, whose face you'll recognize, because it is practically the same face as her several siblings, also child actors of the '50s) while they attend a banquet in the lobby. We quickly learn that Nell has (a) never watched a kid before and (b) needs to be asked if she's "OK now" every 10 seconds by her nervous little uncle. In spite of the heavy foreshadowing, Nell manages to put Bunny to bed pretty efficiently, even with Bunny doing the usual "I'm not tired" and "read me another story" stuff.
What could go wrong?While this is going on, airline pilot Richard Widmark is being given the heave-ho by lounge singer/lip-syncher, Anne Bancroft, a very mature-looking 21 in her first movie. She's dumping Widmark because he's too cynical and she just can't see a future with a guy who doesn't have an understanding heart. He says he was just in it for the laughs anyway and why do dames always want to get married and stuff, but you know he really loves her deep down. After retiring to his room to sulk in a glass of rye, he sees Nell in the room across the courtyard through the open window. By this time, she has tried on Lurene Tuttle's negligee and earrings and is moving about the room, trying on perfume and stockings and generally veering away from the original babysitting idea. He calls the room, they sort of chat, and he sort of gets invited over. At first he thinks she's a guest, but the appearance of Bunny starts the thriller ball rolling.
I won't say exactly what happens, but there is some useful meddling by resident busybody (and oft-used Disney voice actress), Verna Felton
, and one of the main characters develops an understanding heart after all.
When I first saw this movie I hadn't had a kid yet, so all I focused on was the toolishness of Richard Widmark's character and the unlikelihood that someone who looked like Elisha Cook, Jr. could be Marilyn Monroe's uncle. I originally thought Widmark's character was so
tooly, in fact, that I actually remembered the part as being played by Sterling Hayden
, but on seeing the film again, my opinion has mellowed. I mean, he did knock. I was also surprised that Monroe's performance was both not as good as and even better than I remembered. What I didn't realize was that none of the characters were particularly well-drawn and that the director (Roy Ward Baker
) didn't really treat it like a thriller...or even a film...the end result being something far less memorable than it could have been.
But the thing that stood out the most this time around was the way the little girl's mother responded after finding her terrified daughter in the room with (spoiler alert) completely wacko Nell — and walloping the babysitter good — she comforts Bunny and says, "I know, dear. I guess we've never seen anybody like her."
That just struck me as the most sensitive, most maternal thing ever.
If there's a chance to see it in on a big screen, you should, but not if you're trying out a new sitter.
: Gloria Blondell
makes a weird appearance as an annoying bar photographer warning Anne Bancroft about Widmark: "Beware of a high forehead, my mother said."
The Other Woman (1954)
Beware of thuggy blondes
I suspected as much last year, when I saw Pickup
for the first time and felt like I'd been let in on this great secret. Sure he made the same picture over and over, but he did it so well and with such humor! The Other Woman
is no exception. Hugo Haas
plays a film director who has a reputation for being too "arty" for his audiences, a fault his producer father-in-law reminds him of at every opportunity. Enter Cleo Moore
, playing a vicious blonde with an unspecified DSM personality disorder and an unusually strong jaw, lounging among the extras on his movie set. Haas's character gives her a chance to say a few lines, which she blows convincingly along with the only opportunity we have to feel sorry for her. Moore decides to take revenge on the director (for "deliberately ruining her big chance") by contriving to get him Rufied and compromised in her apartment. Which she does to spectacular effect.It's a great de-escalation of morals all around. Terrific performances, interesting plot, lots of humor, and great fun.
I don't want to ruin it for you, so please do see it if you get a chance.
The Come On (1956)
Oh come *on*
There's a reason no modern audience has seen this picture: it's a real stinkeroo. I mean. Sterling Hayden
in old man bathing trunks trying to exude animal magnetism? Not much. He was only forty, for Pete's sake but he was in the worst possible shape you can imagine; everything about him screamed cirrhosis. Now Robert Ryan
is the kind of gruff he-man with marginal musculature who could pull off the confident swagger required for this common, idiotic, noir meme: man sees beautiful woman he wants and to whom he has not been properly introduced, tells her she's the girl for him, kisses her against her will until she melts in his arms. Sterling Hayden is NOT that guy.
And what the hell is wrong with Anne Baxter
? She does a fairly sexy thing with her eyes and mouth, but it's not really the same as acting, is it? She's so over-the-top at all times that you keep hoping her comeuppance will come up already. In this lemon, she plays a con artist trapped in a relationship with older, meaner conman John Hoyt
, who is a major control freak. Baxter meets Hayden on the beach one day while she's taking a break from the elaborate con in progress. Now, to me
he just seemed like a threatening, gin-soaked tool lumbering toward her, devouring her with his rheumy eyes, and plunking himself down on her beach towel, but it seemed to work on her. The rest of the movie is about Baxter trying to escape Hoyt
to be with Flabby McBigtrunks. She thinks the best way to do this is to blow up Hoyt's yacht with dynamite — you know, to make it look like an accident — but Hayden (to his credit) is aghast at the idea and nixes it.Meanwhile, Hoyt has hired Jesse White (of all people) as a private detective
to follow Baxter, which he does, and uncovers the pre-nixed dynamite plot by snapping pictures of Obviously Anne Baxter disguised in a headscarf and sunglasses carrying a package out of a warehouse with a 40 foot sign on it that says EXPLOSIVES, then another of her creeping out of a building blazing JOE'S ELECTRONICS or some such thing in neon. I kept waiting for the picture of her in front of ACME FUSE & DETONATOR, but no luck. These photos cause many problems.Anyway, even though Baxter and Hayden have decided not to blow up Hoyt, he decides to blow up his own boat, fake his own death, and pin the blame on
the two (you should pardon the expression) lovers. It doesn't work out and everybody but Sterling Hayden dies.
Like I said: p.u.
I loved it.
Wait a second, cantcha, I got sumpin in my shoe.
Wait while I look up who did the singing* for Gloria Grahame
on the excellent and terrifying number, "Ace in the Hole," in Naked Alibi
, because it was so not her. She certainly did her own her "dancing."
It was a packed house at the Castro Theatre
last night for the "Bad Girls" Noir City X
double feature, Naked Alibi
(1954) and Pickup
(1951) and worth every yawn and creaking joint this morning. What a wacky picture Naked Alibi
is. Everyone was slapping somebody or shootin' 'em or stabbin' 'em or kissin' 'em...hard. Sterling Hayden
plays a seemingly-psycho cop who is convinced that the seemingly-innocent Gene Barry
, local baker and family man, has murdered a few cops (one of whom was the ubiquitous Max Showalter
) and becomes obsessed with proving it even after he is dismissed from the police force for brutality. Then for some reason they all go to Mexico.
Once over the border, we learn that Gene Barry has a hot cookie on the side in the form of Gloria Grahame and that Sterling Hayden has virtually no police instincts, as he is lured into a dark alley, stabbed and robbed within an hour of arriving. Billy Chapin
, shoeshine boy, becomes the catalyst for Hayden meeting Grahame so they can begin their doomed romance. Eventually everyone (except Billy Chapin
) goes back
over the border and Gene Barry is revealed to be the murderous heel Sterling Hayden always knew he was. Gloria Grahame doesn't make it, sad to say, and I'm sorry, but Sterling Hayden is still psycho.
Gloria Grahame to Sterling Hayden: "I don't understand you, you don't understand me. We have a lot in common."
* The singing was done by Jo Ann Greer
, says the excellent site "Movie Dubbers
" and the angel who posted the song on YouTube (it starts about a minute in).
Whadder YOU lookin' at?
is my new best inappropriate girlfriend who my parents think is a bad influence and forbid me to hang arround with. I can't express how much I enjoyed her performance in Pickup
, a surprisingly funny, moderately suspenseful glimpse into the life of bored bad girl in a small town.Hugo Haas
starred in, wrote, and directed this picture. Apparently, this was the first in a series of films Haas made throughout the 1950s on exactly the same topic — hot, mean girl takes shlubby middle-aged man for all he's worth (this from Eddie Muller
, the Czar of Noir, who gives a short lecture before each movie. Muller, bless him, is kind of a toolbag, but he really knows a lot
, so it's worth sitting through the smarm). I'll be trolling for more of Haas's pictures, so stay tuned.
Contrary to what the posters would have you think, Pickup
, isn't especially hardboiled. Each character is believeable and flawed; their choices stupid and human. Yes, it's a B noir, but the story is ultimately about loneliness, companionship, and forgiveness — even "Betty" (Beverly Michaels) isn't completely rotten. I'm not going to elaborate, because you really should see it if you can.
Not the Best Line, but a Good One
Betty stepping out of Hunky's jalopy once she sees the railroad "shack" he lives in: "When's the floor show start?"