Vixens, Vamps, and Tramps: Claire Trevor in “Murder, My Sweet” (1944)


Dick Powell and femme fatale Claire Trevor in “Murder, My Sweet”

Claire Trevor was one of Hollywood’s finest character actresses.  And you won’t find many who were more under rated.


Trevor began her acting career onstage in 1929 and starred on Broadway in 1932.  Like so many other stage performers, she went Hollywood  in the early 1930’s.

Trevor’s most memorable 1930’s role was the prostitute “Dallas” in John Ford’s great western, Stagecoach (1939).  Although this film is remembered for John Wayne’s breakthrough performance, it was Trevor who anchored the story with her realistic, heartfelt portrayal of a fallen woman who desperately wanted to remake her life.

Wayne went on to bigger and better things, but Trevor soon found that the role of “Dallas” proved to be something of a career liability, as producers and directors cast her over and over again as the “bad girl with a heart of gold” in B westerns.  In addition, Trevor was often typecast as the “gun moll” and “crook” in B level crime stories.  Ironically, Trevor’s superior acting skills probably contributed to her being placed in these second-tier films.  Trevor was well-known by directors as a dependable, versatile performer who added class and depth to any project, regardless of its quality.  If there was any question as to how to solve a casting problem, the answer would often be:  “Get Trevor!”

In 1948, Trevor won an Oscar for her unforgettable portrayal of Gaye Dawn, the washed-up singer in John Huston’s Key Largo.

On the way to her Oscar, Trevor scored a choice role in director Edward Dmytryk’s classic 1944 film noir, Murder, My Sweet (based on Raymond Chandler’s 1940 novel Farewell, My Lovely).  The film is probably most memorable for actor Dick Powell’s great performance as hard-boiled detective Philip Marlowe.  However, Trevor is also quite good playing the second wife of an elderly wealthy man.


The first time that we see Trevor is a memorable one.  As Powell enters the rich man’s study, we note that the aging tycoon is standing in front of an easy chair, blocking the person sitting there….but not entirely.  Peeking from behind is a shapely leg sheathed in silk.  The man moves, revealing Trevor leaning back into the cushions.  She turns her head towards the camera, and we see a lovely but weary face that silently conveys all the troubles of the world.  The music stops.  Powell stares.  And we know that he’s in for a mess of trouble.

Claire Trevor leg

If you’ve never seen Murder, My Sweet, please do so.  It’s as fresh and gritty as the day it was released.  The dialog still crackles.  The chiaroscuro photography is great.  And…for God’s sake, it’s Raymond Chandler!

Murder, My Sweet is a staple of Turner Classic Movies.  However, you can also purchase a Blu-ray copy on by clicking onto the following link:

You can download a digital copy by clicking onto the following link:

Finally, I would like to recommend a very good bio of Ms. Trevor by Carolyn McGivern.  Among other things, the book explains how an actress as good as Trevor never made it into the top echelon of stardom.  You can purchase it through Kindle by clicking onto the following link:



Pluses:   Great adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel Farewell My Lovely ; excellent performances by all; classic example of the film noir genre, especially re: cinematography.

Minus:  Can’t think of any.  If you are a student of film and have not seen this movie, please…..see……it!

Cast:  Dick Powell, Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley, Mike Mazurki, Otto Kruger, Miles Mander, Douglas Walton, Ralf Harolde

Director:  Edward Dmytryk.


Black and White

Length:  1 hour 35 minutes



McGivern, Carolyn.   Claire Trevor:  Queen of the Bs and Hollywood Film Noir.  Reel Publishing (2013).  Kindle edition.

“Claire Trevor.”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.   9 March 2017.  Web.  10 March 2017.

Movies for March: Vixens, Vamps, and Tramps


March is National Women’s History Month.  With this in mind, I will be discussing films that feature prominent female characters.  But wait….there’s a twist.  The ladies we see here will never win Woman of the Month.  In other words, nothing that even smacks of Greer Garson.

Instead, we will be looking at some delectable performances by actresses who played vixens, vamps, tramps, and other less-than-saintly female archetypes.   Some of the films I discuss this month may be familiar to you; others, not.  Hopefully, you will be encouraged to see all of them.

Oh, and for St. Patrick’s Day…I’ve got a movie with one mean dame in it.  You’ll see in a week or two…..

Films that go bump in the night: What scared us as kids



I recently shared a meme on Facebook titled, “What Movie Traumatized You as a Child?”

I received a tidal wave of responses from filmgoers who had been frightened (hopefully with some sense of fun) by the things they’d seen onscreen as tykes.  I’ve included examples from 1930’s, 40’s, 50’s, and onward.  Apparently, we’ve been scared for a very long time.

Take a look at the movie memories that I’ve listed below.  By the way, I learned about some films I’ve never heard of before–neat!


This is what scared the bejesus out of us kids, in chronological order:

King Kong (1933).

“When King Kong battles the giant dinosaur.  That was scary.”

Elephant Boy (1937).  A British adventure/fantasy film featuring Indian actor Sabu as an elephant handler.

“I saw a movie about a boy in the jungle that entered a cave and was attacked by a giant hairy spider that had an even bigger web.  I had nightmares for a long time.  My mother told me that as a baby a spider bit me on my lip and it was poisonous and caused a red streak to appear on my face.  I have a scar on my lip where I was bitten.  No wonder spiders and their webs haunted me for many years.”

The Wizard of Oz (1939).

“I hate to admit it but the wicked witch and her flying monkeys really scared me when the Wizard of Oz was televised.  Miss Gulch’s character scared me as well – she reminded me of a not so favorite great aunt.”

Bambi (1942).  The respondent did not elaborate here, but I think most of us remember the scene where Bambi’s mother is shot.

Hitler’s Children (1943).  A young U.S. citizen studies at the American Colony School in Germany prior to WWII.  Years later, one of her friends, now a Nazi officer, sends her to a labor camp.

My horror movie featured [child actor] Bonita Granville….HITLER’S CHILDREN.  Had nightmares for weeks!” 

House of Wax (1953).  A disfigured sculptor finds a novel way to repopulate his destroyed wax museum.

“The moment you find out that the statues in the Museum are people that had been dipped in wax.”

The Night of the Hunter (1955).  An evil, serial-killer preacher chases two children down the Ohio River.

“Robert Michum’s character [the preacher] was scary.”

The Trollenburg Terror (1958).  This film concerns extraterrestrials which live in a radiation cloud in the Alps above a Swiss resort town.  They kill anyone who comes near them and threaten to descend upon the town:

        “I must have seen it 15 times.  Scared the s***! out of me.  We loved scary movies as kids.”

The Fly (1958).  A scientist develops a machine that can break down matter and instantly teleport it to another location.  He tries the machine on himself.  Unfortunately, a fly has accidently flown into the machine at the moment of teleportation.  Their atoms get mixed up.  Just imagine what that looks like……

“Helllllp meeeee!!!!” [screamed by fly-man at the moment he is eaten by a spider at end of film.]

Psycho (1960).  An Alfred Hitchcock film infamous for a brutal murder that occurs in a hotel shower.

“….That’s why I take baths to this day.”

Mr. Sardonicus (1961).  A man who robbed his father’s grave is left disfigured with a horrifying, frozen grin on his face.

“I just remember the guy with the huge, sardonic smile.”

The Birds (1963).  Another Hitchcock film where a small town on the California coast is inexplicably attacked by thousands of birds.

“….I couldn’t go out in the backyard without getting terrified of the birds sitting on the telephone line…..

 Hotel (1967).  A drama which takes place at the fictional St. Gregory Hotel in New Orleans:

        “All I remember is that there was an elevator crash.  To this day, I don’t like elevators.”

The Omega Man (1971).  Subsequent to a horrible plague, there’s only one man on earth….but he’s not alone, as mutant zombies (created by the plague) are on the rampage.

“I was so scared of Mathias and his zombies that I had to sleep in my parents’ [bed] for two nights in a row.”

The Shining (1980).  An alcoholic and his wife become the caretakers of a haunted resort hotel:

“When he [Actor Jack Nicholson] was breaking into the bathroom with an axe and he had this  very crazed look on his face.”

And a few memories strictly from TV shows:

“That stupid TV documentary about the Bermuda Triangle.”

“Pig people….as a little kid, I had nightmares for weeks!”  [referring to the denouement of a “Twilight Zone” episode called “The Eye of the Beholder.]


Oh, I almost forgot:  My scary movie memory dates from the time I was five or six.  I witnessed a film segment on TV with writhing shadows projected onto the wall of a cave….moans and screams of agony….hellish scenes….and that vision was with me for decades before I found out that it was a fantasy scene from a 1935 Spencer Tracy movie called Dante’s Inferno.  Tracy plays the owner of a carnival that features a ride called “Dante’s Inferno.”


In Theatres Now: “Fences ” (2016)


Troy (Denzel Washington) and his long-suffering wife, Rose (Viola Davis)

“Some people build fences to keep people out…and other people build fences to keep people in.”–from Fences


Fences, a film adaptation of the celebrated 1985 drama by playwright August Wilson (1945-2005), is about a man whose anger and bitterness results in tragic consequences for himself and those around him.

It is 1957, and 53-year old Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) works as a garbage collector in Pittsburgh.  Troy is African-American, and he once tried unsuccessfully to get into major league baseball, well before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.  Troy is still bitter that circumstance and discrimination caused him to fail at making a name in sports.

Now his son Cory wishes to enter college through a football scholarship.  But Troy, mired in his own past, discourages the young man from aspiring to a future that he himself could not achieve.

What I’ve given you is the bare-bones of the plot.  There’s so much more that you can only experience by watching, listening, and immersing yourself in the wonderful language of August Wilson.  That’s the true delight of Fences; language rules this story and is most beautifully exemplified through the exchanges between Washington and character actor Stephen Henderson, who plays Troy’s friend Bono.  Henderson, better than anyone else in the film, puts across the rhythm and music of Wilson’s dialog.  His interplay with Washington feels like jazz improv between two seasoned musicians.

In addition to the aforementioned players, Viola Davis delivers a powerful supporting performance as Troy’s wife, Rose.

The title of this film, Fences, aptly describes Troy’s relationship with others.  Throughout the course of the story, he is engaged in repairing a fence that surrounds his home.  Meanwhile, we see him building a barrier around his heart which serves as protection from family, love….and ultimately, from life itself.


Fences is one of ten plays by Wilson known as the “Pittsburgh Cycle.”  The playwright set each one of his dramas within a specific decade of the 1900’s.  The entire group is meant to convey the African-American experience of the 20th century.  I have listed all ten plays as follows, with synopses (provided through

  • Gem of the Ocean (2003) – 1900s:  “Citizen Barlow enters the home of the 285-year-old Aunt Ester who guides him on a spiritual journey to the City of Bones.”
  • Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (1988) – 1910s:  “The themes of racism and discrimination come to the fore in this play about a few freed African American slaves.”  Won New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award.
  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1984) – 1920s:  “Ma Rainey’s ambitions of recording an album of songs are jeopardized by the ambitions and decisions of her band.”  (Please note that Ma Rainey was a historical figure who was a precursor to blues artists like Bessie Smith).  Won New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award.
  • The Piano Lesson (1990) – 1930s:  “Brother and sister Boy Willie and Berniece clash over whether or not they should sell an ancient piano that was exchanged for their great grandfather’s wife and son in the days of slavery.” (Note:  TV/movie actor Charles S. Dutton played Boy Willie on Broadway in this play, and also was in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.)  Won Pulitzer Prize and New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award.
  • Seven Guitars (1995) – 1940s:  “Starting with the funeral of one of the seven characters, the play tracks the events that lead to the death.”  Won New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award.
  • Fences (1987) – 1950s:  “Race relations are explored again in this tale which starts with a couple of garbage men who wonder why they can’t become garbage truck drivers.”  (Note:  To date, the only play of this series that has been adapted for film)  Won Pulitzer Prize and Tony.
  • Two Trains Running (1991) – 1960s:  “Looking at the Civil Rights movement of the sixties, this play details the uncertain future promised to African Americans at the time.”
  • Jitney (1982) – 1970s:  “Jitneys are unlicensed cab drivers operating in Pittsburgh’s Hill District when legal cabs won’t cover that area.  The play follows the hustle and bustle of their lives.”
  • King Hedley II (1999) – 1980s:  “One of Wilson’s darkest plays, an ex-con tries to start afresh by selling refrigerators with the intent of buying a video store.  Characters from Seven Guitars reappear throughout.”
  • Radio Golf (2005) – 1990s:  “Aunt Ester returns [from Gem of the Ocean] in this modern story of city politics and the quest from two moneyed Pittsburgh men to try and redevelop an area of Pittsburgh.”  Won New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award.

Note:  Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, and Stephen Henderson starred in a 2010 stage revival of Fences before Washington brought it to the screen as director and producer (with producers Todd Black and Scott Rudin).  It is the only play from the “Pittsburgh Cycle” that has been adapted as a feature film.


Pluses:  Excellent performances from supporting players Henderson and Davis.  Although not a perfect adaptation, this film encouraged me to scope out Internet stage productions of the drama.

Minus:  Unfortunately, this adaptation does not fully deliver the intensity of the staged play, and some sections are a bit tedious.  I have not seen any of Wilson’s plays live, but I took the time to watch a filmed staging of Fences on the Internet (not the stage production with Denzel Washington) prior to writing this review.  Even with the online filter, the staged version was more powerful than what I saw at the movie theatre.  Example:  There’s a speech in the movie where the main character tells his son why he has no responsibility to “like” him as his progeny.  Onscreen, the interaction is painful to watch.  Onstage, it’s absolutely devastating.

Cast:  Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Mykelti Williamson

Director:  Denzel Washington

Rating:  PG-13 (thematic elements, language and some sexually suggestive references).  Despite the rating, I would think hard about taking your older children to this picture.  Be ready to have a conversation with them afterwards.  The film adaptation is worthwhile in a literary way, but it is very intense and tough even for adults to take.

In color.

Length:  139 minutes.



“August Wilson.”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.   21 February 2017.  Web.  21 February 2017.  Web.

In Theatres Now: “La La Land” (2016)



Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, dancing away over the City of Angels

Today’s blog concerns the musical comedy mish-mash that is La La Land.  No, I didn’t hate it.  But it sure frustrated the hell out of me.

As a film student, I learned a cinematic term called mise-en-scene.  Mise-en-scene refers to the holistic approach regarding a specific film genre (camera, actors, sets, costumes, lighting, dialog, etc.)  According to Wikipedia,  “The mise-en-scène, along with the cinematography and editing of a film, influences the verisimilitude or believability of a film in the eyes of its viewers.”

Here are some conventions pertaining to musical comedy that any director should address concerning mise-en-scene.

  •  Music.  First and foremost, music and dance sustains everything.  If the music is lousy and/or insufficient, all else fails.
  • Suspension of disbelief.  The director of a musical must make the audience believe that at any point in time, actors and actresses will spontaneously break out in song and dance.
  • Stylization.  In order to sustain suspension of disbelief, the director needs to stylize cinematography, lighting, dialog, sets, etc. so that the audience from the outset is conditioned to a surreal landscape where anything can happen.
  • The principal characters in a musical should be empathetic.
  • The actors portraying the principal characters should at least be competent at singing and dancing.

So here’s where I had a problem with this show:

  • Music.  Not nearly enough of it.  There are long stretches without music where we are forced to tolerate interminable conversations between the two principal characters, played by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.  The best musical performance in this film comes from John Legend, a wonderful singer who plays a character meant to exemplify what went wrong with jazz.  He gets five minutes onscreen, and during the short period of time that he sings, the film comes alive.  If this is life without jazz, give me more!
  • Stylization.  Much of this film was shot using a naturalistic approach in terms of lighting, cinematography, acting and dialog.  In other words, we see a lot of dreary bachelor pads and crummy L.A. exteriors.  We hear Gosling and Stone engaged in what appears to be improvised, Method-acting dialog that would be more appropriate for a romantic dramedy.  Certainly not appropriate for a musical.  The result is a dramedy impersonating a musical, with a few stylized dance/fantasy segments here and there.
  • The principal characters in a musical should be empathetic.  The plot of La La Land concerns a frustrated L.A.-based jazz musician who wants to remain true to his craft, and an aspiring actress who can’t get anywhere in the Hollywood industry.  The jazz musician (Gosling) is taciturn and sullen.  The actress (Stone) is whiny, badly coifed, and without charm.  No wonder she can’t land a gig!
  • The actors portraying the principal characters should at least be competent at singing and dancing.  Gosling and Stone are barely competent and no more than that.  Meanwhile, Legend blows everyone else away.

So why am I frustrated and not merely offended by this film?  Because there are some inspired moments.  For example, when Stone’s character meets Gosling’s jazz musician in a nightclub, he is spotlighted and showcased in a way that makes us root for him.  And there’s an impressionistic montage at the end of the picture that addresses the bittersweet relationship between Gosling and Stone.   It is touching, and it includes a lovely reference to the ballet sequence from 1951’s An American In Paris.

I sure wish there had been more of the good stuff, and less of what I described at length in this blog.


Pluses:  John Legend, final musical sequence.

Minus:  Too much talking, not enough good music.  Principal players not empathetic.  Awkward melding of musical and dramedy genres.

Cast:  Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend.

Director:  Damien Chazelle.

Rating:  PG-13 (for some language)

In color.

Length:  128 minutes



“Mise-en-scene.”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.   12 October 2016.  Web.  18 February 2017.

Elegy for the Midlands: “Hell or High Water” (2016)

hell or high water.png

Brothers Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine), and the farm they are desperately trying to save from foreclosure.

One does not typically describe heist movies as “thoughtful” or “poignant.”  However, both adjectives apply to Hell or High Water, a story about two brothers who will use any means necessary to keep their family farm out of foreclosure.

This film features the usual components of the heist:  Quick-witted, resourceful crooks (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) pitted against a wise, experienced lawman (Jeff Bridges); speeding cars; and guns a-blazing.  All of this occurs against the expansive plains of West Texas.

But look carefully:  Instead of cattle and horses dotting the landscape, you will see graffiti that reads, “3 tours in Iraq/but no bailout/for people like us.”  You will view dirt roads lined with rusted-out buildings and road signs with advertisements like, “Home refinancing:  Debt Relief” and “In Debt?  Easy Credit at Statewide.”

In fact, the real backdrop of this film is the economic downturn that has plagued middle America for so many years.  And brothers Toby and Tanner are just two more victims of these difficult times:  They have been reduced to robbing banks in order to pay off the mortgage on their family farm.  Lately, the mortgage company has given an ultimatum regarding payment of the last installment….”Come hell or high water, get the money to the bank on Thursday.”  Just one more holdup, and the brothers will be home free.  Or will they?

Hell or High Water features good performances from Ben Foster and Chris Pine, and an excellent one from Jeff Bridges, who by now has perfected his characterization of the grizzled old coot (Think 2009’s Crazy Heart and 2010’s True Grit).  The plot is compact, with riveting action scenes.  And the plains of West Texas are majestic–if somewhat destitute.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to find Hell or High Water in theatres near my home.  I ended up downloading it through  You can do so, too, by clicking onto the following link:

The DVD is now available for purchase at  You can access that link as follows:


Pluses:  Jeff Bridges, gorgeous shots of Texas plains, compact plot, bit players throughout the film add to the mood and atmosphere.

Minus:  My gold standard for this type of heist film has always been 1973’s Charlie Varrick, about a small-time bank robber (Walter Matthau) who unknowingly picks up some mob money during a bank job.  Compared with that picture, Hell or High Water gets a B+.  It’s very good.

Cast:  Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gil Birmingham, Katy Mixon.

Director:  David MacKenzie

Rating:  R (some strong violence, language and brief sexuality)

In Color

Length:  102 minutes

“Best in Show” (2000)


The battling Swans (Michael Hitchcock, Parker Posey) and their neurotic show dog, “Beatrice.”

Folks, this country is going to the dogs.

Hold on….before you accuse me of getting political, let me clarify that the annual Westminster Dog Show at Madison Square Garden kicks off tonight.  For the next two days, America will celebrate the finest in dogdom as canine show champs strut their stuff in the ring.

In preparing yourselves for the event, please watch a clever mockumentary from 2000 by director Christopher Guest, the man who wrote the screenplay for This is Spinal Tap (1984), a mockumentary about rock bands; and A Mighty Wind (2003), another mockumentary which makes fun of the American folk movement.

Best in Show follows five entrants in a prestigious dog show.  Well….marginally follows them, because the movie is really about the more than slightly insane owners of the five pooches in question:

  • Winky, the Norwich Terrier:  Owned by Gerry and Cookie Fleck (Second City comedians Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara).  The running joke with this couple is that wife Cookie keeps running into men with whom she’s had affairs.  It soon appears that she may have slept with just about every male in town!
  • Beatrice, the Weimaraner:  Beatrice’s owners, Meg and Hamilton Swan (Parker Posey, Michael Hitchcock), are two “helicopter parents” who are smothering their dog into a nervous breakdown.
  • Hubert, the Bloodhound:  Owner Harlan Pepper (Christopher Guest), owns a fishing store and has a Plan B in case Hubert doesn’t win….he’ll become a cowboy ventriloquist.
  • Butch, the Poodle:  Butch’s owner, an Anna Nicole Smith lookalike (Jennifer Coolidge) refuses to let her dog into the ring until its lesbian handler (Jane Lynch) has a makeover.  By the way, Butch is a bitch (female dog).  Get the joke?
  • Miss Agnes, the Shih Tzu:  Owned by Scott and Stefan (John Michael Higgins, Michael McKean), a campy gay couple who are crazy about old movies.  You will laugh out loud when you see how that works out with their dogs.

Given that director Guest works with comic actors well versed in improv, the movie essentially proceeds as a series of improv sketches.  Some of the gags are a little dated (the Anna Nicole Smith references may be lost on some millennials), and the antics we’ve seen on YouTube and other media outlets for the last 15 years may make some of the characterizations seem milder and less zany than they were in 2000.  Nevertheless, the film is a lot of fun.

A high point is actor Fred Willard, who is cast as one of the commentators at the dog show.  Willard has specialized in playing clueless commentators since his days on the 1970’s satirical sitcom Fernwood 2 Night.  He is hilarious here, making inane, straight-faced statements about how the show would be improved if they put a deerstalker hat on the bloodhound, or that a picture book with women in wet T-shirts bathing their dogs would be a best-seller.

You can download Best in Show by clicking onto the following link:

You can purchase a DVD of this film by clicking onto the following link:


Plus:  Fred Willard is the single funniest person in this movie.  He does a great job of parodying some of the less-than-knowledgeable cohosts one sees in real dog shows.

Minus:  Some of the gags (for example, the Anna Nicole Smith reference) are a little dated.

Cast:  Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Fred Willard, Parker Posey, Michael McKean, Jennifer Coolidge, Jane Lynch, Ed Begley Jr.

Director:  Christopher Guest

Rating:  PG-13 (language, sex-related)

In Color

Length:  91 minutes