Category Archives: Lizabeth Scott

Dark City (1950)

“Guys like you ought to be put away.”

dark cityWWII still echoes in the 1950 noir film Dark City starring Lizabeth Scott and Charlton Heston. Dark City was Heston’s first major role and here he is cast against his later mould, and instead of playing General Gordon, Michelangelo, Julius Caesar, Ben Hur, John the Baptist, El Cid and Moses, here Heston plays the damaged and slightly nasty bookie, Danny Haley. Danny owns a piece of a bookie joint and looks forward to the day he’ll have enough cash to leave the city and go… somewhere else.  

The film begins with a raid on the bookie joint, and as luck would have it Danny isn’t caught up in the raid but he watches it happen. While he escapes arrest, he watches as his pals Barney (Ed Begley) and Augie (Jack Webb) are carted off to jail. The group’s slightly slow sidekick, Soldier (Harry Morgan) cleans up after the raid and then Danny appears and makes phone calls. The raid wasn’t supposed to happen and Danny and his pals paid big bribes to ensure they were safe. This is the second raid in three months and it’s left Danny and his pals in a bad spot.

Although Danny owns just a piece of the bookie joint, he has a leadership role with Barney, Augie, and Soldier. Augie is a cheap thug who gets his kicks out of tormenting easy targets while Danny is the brains of the operation. But there’s something wrong with Danny, and just what that is begins to become evident when he goes to see his girl, Fran Garland (gorgeous Lizabeth Scott), a singer at local nightclub Sammy’s. Fran sings sweet love melodies to a room full of mesmerised men, she’s really just singing her heart out to Danny as he sits at the bar and listens. But while Fran gazes at Danny like a love-sick Cocker Spaniel looking for a new home, Danny continually warns Fran to give him space, not to question him, and not to expect too much. It’s clear that where women are concerned, he has a giant chip on his shoulder.

At Sammy’s, Danny runs into a pleasant, friendly and guileless stranger, Arthur Winant (Dan DeFore), an athletic director from Los Angeles who’s there to buy gym equipment, and they strike up a casual conversation about their mutual WWII  experiences stationed in England. Danny spots a $5,000 cashier’s in Arthur’s wallet and invites him to a friendly little card game with Barney and Augie.

After the card game goes sour, the players are picked off one at a time in this tense noir tale of revenge. At one point, Captain Garvey (Dean Jagger), the vice cop responsible for raiding Danny’s bookie joint begins hauling Danny in to the cop shop in an effort to make him see the error of his ways. Danny, it turns out, is the son of one of those American blue blood families, a Cornell grad to boot. Garvey’s dressing down of Danny is one of the best played scenes in the film.

Heston plays a great jerk. He’s sarcastic and his superior air is underscored by a disdainful sneer. Lizabeth Scott acts her heart out as she tries to get Danny to love her, but Danny has a lot of lessons to learn along the way, and some of these come from the sweet and complex Mrs. Winant (Viveca Lindfors). The film’s moral centre is found in the characters of Mrs Winant and Soldier–with both characters tweaking Danny’s conscience. Soldier, damaged by one too many punches considers Danny to be worse than his pals Barney and Augie because he ‘knows better.’ Somewhere buried in Danny’s brain, there are the remnants of a conscience but he’d rather leave it hidden–along with his painful past.

One of the film’s severest faults is its underutilisation of Scott. Scott’s singing scenes (that’s someone else’s voice) are delivered with stiff moves. With sappy lines and a lovesick gaze, Fran isn’t given much scope beyond becoming Danny’s doormat. Although the plot hands Fran the ability and the insider knowledge to affect what happens, her fairly cardboard cutout figure role is limited to convincing Danny to go back on the straight and narrow, and she doesn’t act beyond cajoling and pleading. If Fran’s role were written differently, Dark City would have been a much better film.  The plum roles here are reserved for Heston as Danny–a man who had the best start in life and proceeds to flush his advantages down the toilet, and Viveca Lindfors as Mrs. Winant, a kind, patient and understanding woman. Dark City is directed by William Dieterle.

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Paid in Full (1950)

“You can build a career on being beautiful but not a marriage.”

If I watch a tearjerker, then I want a film that gives enough unabashed, glorious lurid melodrama that we can wallow in it. Douglas Sirk was the master at this sort of thing. Take Written on the Wind for example–an alcoholic playboy marries the woman who’s secretly loved by his best friend, and the best friend is the quarry of the playboy’s nympho sister. See what I mean? Tacky, tawdry, lurid and proud of it.

paid in fullGet out your hankies for the 1950 melodrama Paid in Full which stars the marvellous Lizabeth Scott. Paid in Full is, strangely enough, based on the true story of two sisters: Jane Langley (Lizabeth Scott) and her younger sister, Nancy (Diana Lynn). The original story appeared in the May 1946 edition of The Reader’s Digest and was written by the doctor who attended both women. When the film begins, Jane is a career girl who works closely with Bill Prentice (Bob Cummins), and Nancy is a floor model, modelling expensive gowns she can’t afford. Nancy is despised by her co-workers who nickname her “the Duchess” for her airs and graces and the fact that she thinks she’s better than everyone else.

While Jane is obviously in love with Bill, he’s in love with spoiled nasty Nancy. The two sisters are contrasts in personalities. Jane is saintly, sweet, loyal and self-sacrificing and Nancy is selfish, materialistic, bitchy and immature. Since Jane raised Nancy after the death of their parents, Jane is more of a mother figure to Nancy than a sister, and unfortunately, when it comes to Nancy, Jane overcompensates for the lack of parents. The result is total indulgence. The two sisters have an unwritten creed: What Nancy wants, Jane gets for her.

Bill is so oblivious to Jane’s feelings for him that he discusses his relationship with Nancy, and even shows her the ring he plans to present to Nancy. Meanwhile, Nancy, who finds Bill dull and boring, has her eyes on a relationship with a millionaire. After being dumped by her wealthy beau, Nancy turns to Bill’s proposal with relief. While Jane (who according to Nancy has read too many “marriage manuals’) waxes on ecstatically about the glories and sacrifices of marriage, it’s clear that to Nancy marriage is a relationship in which she can be spoiled, ‘made happy by her husband’, and when she can finally buy all those dresses she’s modelled for other people. Already things don’t look good for the Prentice marriage.

Jane stays in the wings as bitchy Nancy uses and abuses Bill, but he takes whatever she dishes out, until she demands a divorce. The best scene in the film occurs with Nancy sitting in front of her dressing table while Bill finally tells her what an abominable excuse for a woman she is.

But these are the melodramatic moments of Paid in Full. There are also the tearjerker points with the theme of motherhood as a redemptive state.

Lizabeth Scott glows in the role of Jane. When she looks at Bill, her entire face illuminates with love, but he’s such an idiot, he doesn’t recognise her feelings. Actually I think he does sense Jane’s adoration, but he chooses to ignore Jane’s feelings because part of him wants to be a doormat. Bill wants a woman he can put on a pedestal and worship–or at least he thinks he does. Several excellent scenes show just how Nancy plays Bill, and these scenes show their relationship at its best and at its bitter worst.

Bitchy nasty Nancy is played well, and I particularly loved the scenes of her modelling job and then her former employer’s revenge.

The film’s biggest problem is the insertion of male authority figures: Dr Winston (Stanley Ridges), a lawyer friend of Bill’s and a psychiatrist who appears towards the end of the film. While the two male doctors deliver sanctimonious lectures to the females in the film, the lawyer friend of Bill’s tells Bill that Nancy is seeking a divorce. What happened to confidentiality? These male authority figures dampen the melodrama and move the film away from its tawdry lurid depths. I prefer more drama and less lectures. Plus then there’s poor Bill–a man who’s used as a sperm donor by these two women while they play ping-pong with his heart. If Bill were in his right mind, he’s wish he’d never set eyes on these sisters in the first place.

For fans of Lizabeth Scott, Paid in Full is a must-see. While Scott’s best role (for me) is Too Late For Tears, she does an excellent job as Jane and the role as it is written. Personally, I would have loved to see the film with both sisters as evil, scheming bitches.

From director William Dieterle

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The Company She Keeps (1951)

 “Save it for the jail, sister. Better acoustics and more time.”

In The Company She Keeps from director John Cromwell, gravelly-voiced Lizabeth Scott plays sunny, sweet parole officer, Joan Wilburn opposite Jane Greer as ex-con Mildred Lynch. In the film’s first scene, a parole board gathers to determine whether or not to grant parole to Mildred. From a 21st century perspective, the board members appear to be a fairly sanctimonious lot, poker faced, middle aged, middle class women who sit around a table passing judgment on Mildred.

company-she-keepsBefore Mildred enters the room, the women on the board–and a sole male–discuss her behavior and her past. Abandoned at age 11, Mildred has had a tough life, and she landed in jail for a bad check, shoplifting and receiving stolen goods. It seems that hoping for parole, Mildred is given to obsequious behavior that hasn’t really fooled anyone, and so the board members are about to try and ascertain just how sincere Mildred is in her declarations of rehabilitation. But the parole board decides to show some mercy and Mildred is granted her parole–along with a new name, Diane Stuart. Traveling to LA, Mildred–now Diane–meets her dedicated new parole officer, Joan Wilburn.

It’s when Diane meets Joan for the first time, that the veneer of obsequiousness slides off, and underneath Diane is revealed as a hard-edged and tough talking dame. To her, Joan is an enemy, a snoop, and while Diane realizes she has to play the game, she’s not going to make it easy for Joan. Diane complains about her room in a boarding house, her job as a nurse’s aide in a hospital working the night shift, and also about her clothes. The efforts that Joan has made to find Diane a nice clean, safe room are ignored.

Joan takes Diane out for dinner one night, and here Joan runs into her long-time beau, newspaper reporter, Larry Collins (Dennis O’Keefe). Joan has made it clear that her career preempts her love life, and Larry has to wait in the wings for Joan to make time for their relationship. And then Diane runs into Larry one night at the hospital….

The Company She Keeps raises some complex issues but then never deals with them, instead veering into a fairly straightforward love triangle. The tastier issues–Diane’s motives in setting out to seduce Larry, and Joan’s flare of jealousy and power are raised–but dropped. The film hints that Larry is the sort of man that Diane isn’t ‘allowed’ to have–that he’s considered too good for the likes of an ex-con, but there’s also an element of rivalry here. Diane and Joan are similar age and build, and Joan has all the things in life that Diane would like and to some degree feels entitled to. One scene shows Diane contemplating shoplifting a coat for a night out on the town. While she hesitates and overcomes the urge to steal the coat, Diane really does shoplift–or steal–Larry from Joan, and her motives remain questionable.

Diane’s giant chip on her shoulder is evident in the scenes with Joan, but Diane manages to hide her bitterness whenever she feels it’s to her advantage to do so–with Larry for example, and with the parole board (particularly the sole male on the board), Diane only shows the sweet side of her nature. For Lizabeth Scott fans, The Company She Keeps is worth catching (even if Scott’s role is too saintly for my tastes). Unfortunately the plot veers away from the more interesting, calculating aspects of Diane’s dual nature, and instead keeps the story fairly simple. Some of the best scenes occur when Diane is forced to take part in the humiliation of line up. Here, treated like cattle, the women are subjected to cracks by the detectives who round up suspects and ex-cons alike, and this scene underscores the idea that these women, in spite of ‘serving their time’ never completely leave their pasts behind.

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The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers (1946)

 “Don’t look back, baby. Don’t ever look back.”

Young Martha Ivers shares a terrible secret with her two childhood friends, Sam Masterson and Walter O’Neil concerning the death of her Aunt. Years pass, and Martha (Barbara Stanwyck) is now married to District Attorney O’Neil (Kirk Douglas). They still live in Iverstown (named for Martha’s wealthy family). Their marriage is not a happy one, but it’s sealed by shared guilt. Martha is now the wealthiest woman in Iverstown, and she and her husband either own or control everything in this corrupt small town.

strange-love-of-martha-iversOne night, a car accident strands Sam (Van Heflin) in Iverstown. It’s mere coincidence that he’s back after an absence of almost twenty years, but Walter and Martha assume he’s there to blackmail them. Their guilt alerts Masterson to the possibilities of the situation, and so he sets out to exploit it.

From director Lewis Milestone, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is a classic entry in the genre of film noir. Kirk Douglas, in his first screen role, stars as Walter O’Neil. Obviously the studios did not yet have Douglas type-cast in the strong hero roles he later assumed. In this film, he plays mealy-mouthed O’Neil–a spineless man who’s pushed around by his wife. O’Neil’s love for his wife is sick and corrupted. He knows she despises him, but he’s going to hang onto her no matter what it takes. Lizabeth Scott stars as Toni–the girl Sam meets on his first night in town. Scott enjoyed an all-too brief career but chose to stay out of the limelight shortly after an expose in Confidential magazine. Scott reminds me very much of Lauren Bacall, and this may sound like heresy, but I prefer Scott. She’s rough around the edges and seems to be the genuine article. If Bacall hangs out with low-lifes, she is just slumming, but Lizabeth Scott seems to belong with the dregs of society–just waiting for some man to rescue her and take her home. It’s not a stretch of the imagination to envision her as Toni–the hard luck girl who’s just released from jail.

Barbara Stanwyck is, of course, one of film noirs great leading ladies. She’s ice cold and cruel in this role. But there’s more to Martha than meets the eye. In Martha’s first hysterical scene with her aunt, we get a glimpse of the hard, heartless woman she’ll become. And yet Martha claims to love Sam–but her love is twisted and sick too. She’s not capable of loving anyone in any normal sense of the word. Van Heflin as Sam–is a cipher. He’s a WWII veteran with a checkered past. As a child, he dominated Walter, and when Sam blows back into town, he picks up where he left off. Yet ultimately, Walter and Sam seem to recognize each other’s position. The relationship between Martha, Sam, and Walter dominates this fascinating film. The DVD is excellent quality. For film noir fans, I wholeheartedly recommend The Strange Love of Martha Ivers. It’s a fantastic film

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Too Late for Tears (1949)

 “So you’ve already started spending it.”

Jane Palmer (Lizabeth Scott) and her husband, Alan (Arthur Kennedy) are out one evening, when a bag of money literally lands in the back seat of their car. Alan wants to turn the money over to the police, but Jane sees it as the answer to all their problems. Jane persuades Alan to at least hide the money until they decide what to do with it. He gives in to her pleading, but then after she goes on a spending spree, he decides to hand the money over to the police. Jane is determined to keep it, and that means she’ll get rid of anyone who stands in her way.

too-late-for-tearsJane is an incredible character. She’s cold, calculating and manipulative. From the start, when the money falls into her lap, she takes charge of the situation by grabbing the steering wheel and engaging in a high-speed chase. As a film noir femme fatale, she’s on a level with those other two great wicked women, Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity) and Cora Smith (Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice). Jane is bad, bad, bad.

Dan Duryea plays Danny Fuller, a hard-boiled, sleazy crook. He begins his relationship with Jane by pushing her around, but by the time she’s done with him, he’s in a perpetual drunken stupor, quivering, whining and obeying her orders. He feels guilty in spite of the fact that he tries to make light of their crimes by suggesting, “I say, let’s kill these people in style.” Danny might appear to be the brutal, muscle element of this criminal pair, but in reality, Jane dominates and controls their crimes. Both Lizabeth Scott and Dan Duryea are great favourites of mine. Scott really makes a great deal of this role. Too often, she gets stuck as the supporting actress, but here she’s in full force, and she shows exactly how well she can handle the starring role. She’s almost kittenish when she wants to be, but always that cold emotional detachment lurks underneath the surface–even when she’s turning on the charm. Too Late for Tears is one of my all-time film noir favourites. Dirceted by Byron Haskin.

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Pitfall (1948)

 “People were born to have certain things.”

pitfallIn Pitfall middle-aged married insurance agent John Forbes (Dick Powell) is bored. He has a pretty, slightly nagging wife named Sue (Jane Wyatt), a precocious son Tommy, and a tidy little home in suburbia, but he feels as though he’s on a timed treadmill. Forbes’s tedious domestic life is shaken up when he meets the beautiful clothes model Mona Stevens (Lizabeth Scott).

Forbes is trying to recover $10,000 embezzled from a company by Bill Smiley (Byron Barr). Smiley is now in jail, but his girlfriend, Mona Stevens, is waiting for him. Forbes sends private detective MacDonald (Raymond Burr) to trace the missing money, and MacDonald returns with his report along with a glowing review of the beautiful, uncooperative Miss Stevens. Forbes goes to interview Mona and see if he can recover any money or goods bought with the stolen money.

Soon Forbes is lying to his wife about Mona, and MacDonald is jealously stalking both Mona and Forbes. Then tangled passions explode into violence ….

One of the best scenes in the film occurs when MacDonald arrives in Forbes’s office for the first time. There’s a sullen obsequiousness about MacDonald–like an untrained dog, he waits for a sign of approval from Forbes, and when none comes, he becomes resentful and misbehaves. It’s a tribute to Powell’s acting ability that his dislike for MacDonald is conveyed in such subtle, slightly dismissive ways.

With the insurance company theme, it’s impossible not to begin comparing Pitfall to Double Indemnity–one of the great noir films of all time. The characters in Pitfall are not quite as deeply explored as those in Double Indemnity–the emotionally detached Forbes doesn’t plunge into the deep end of evil–he sticks his big toe into the hot water of infidelity and then immediately tries to scramble back to shore. Mona Stevens possesses a vulnerability and fatalism that causes her to become a natural victim to the men in her life. The husky voiced Lizabeth Scott is one of my all-time favourite film noir actresses–how sad her career was ruined by rumors that she was a lesbian. Raymond Burr as the Machiavellian villain of the piece is well cast–one tends to forget how sinister he could be before assuming the Ironside persona.

Pitfall is a nice tidy little noir drama–definitely enjoyable and a must-see for connoisseurs, but Forbes and Stevens are too timidly rooted in socially accepted behaviour to make this film one of the all-time greats. (I’m thinking:  The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Narrow Margin, Double Indemnity…) From director Andre de Toth.

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Easy Living (1949)

“You’re riding the gravy train too.”

Easy Living is a drama with soap tinges set in the world of professional football. The film explores the options facing aging professional football player, Pete Wilson (Victor Mature) who plays for the Chiefs. All the players know that professional football players come with a limited shelf life. Most of the players leave after an eight-year career–some of the players have sensibly set money aside, and other players go onto coaching jobs. When the film begins, Pete and another Chiefs’ player–Tim “Pappy” McCarr (Sonny Tufts) are both under consideration for a lucrative coaching position at a top school. Pete’s avaricious wife Liza (Lizabeth Scott) hampers his career and runs her own unsuccessful interior decorating business. But with “no talent, no taste” self-focused Liza isn’t making a profit, and Pete pours money into this losing concern while Liza drags him off to parties to meet potential customers. Of course, these parties with the wealthy set require Liza to constantly replenish her wardrobe, and Pete just keeps handing over money to indulge Liza’s whims.

Team players and Chiefs’ management are well aware of Liza’s influence on one of their top players. Most people just shake their heads and thinks it’s sad that Pete’s wife bleeds him dry. But team secretary Anne (Lucille Ball) is in love with Pete and frequently tries to give unwelcome advice.

The shake-up in Pete’s life begins when he starts to experience health problems. The sensible thing to do would be to drop from the team, but his commitment to Liza keeps him playing the game. Pete acknowledges that high-maintenance Liza sticks to him for the glamour, the clout, and the money of being a pro player’s wife. She tells him, “I don’t like has-beens. They’re not men any more.”

Lizabeth Scott, probably best known for her film noir roles, gets the lead female part here, and her apartment decorated with baroque touches shows how out-of-touch she is with the world of lucrative interior design. Directed by Jacques Tourneur, Easy Living has a strong script based on an Irwin Shaw novel. With a solid supporting cast (including Lloyd Nolan in the role of Chief’s manager Lenahan) this a decent film that seems to have undeservedly faded into obscurity.

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