Saturday, June 25, 2011

Jane Greer Night On TCM

It's Jane Greer night on Turner Classic Movies, starting with Out of the Past at 8 p.m., the quintessential film noir also starring Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas. If you've never seen it, well good god, man, why not? When I say Jane Greer is the only femme fatale in movie history I'd let shoot me, this is the film I'm referring to.

At 10 p.m. is the second of Greer's two movies with Robert Mitchum, The Big Steal, a romantic-comedy noir directed by Don Siegel who went on to direct the original version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the Clint Eastwood classic Dirty Harry. The Big Steal was Mitchum's first movie after the infamous marijuana bust and the actress orginially cast, Lizabeth Scott, backed out at the last minute, fearing the publicity might damage her career. Greer, on the other hand, jumped at the chance and the result is one of the most underrated films of its era.

The complete line-up, from TCM's website:

8:00 PM Out of the Past (1947) A private eye becomes the dupe of a homicidal moll. Dir: Jacques Tourneur Cast: Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas. BW-97 mins

10:00 PM The Big Steal (1949) Seduction and murder follow the theft of an Army payroll. Dir: Don Siegel Cast: Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, William Bendix. BW-71 mins

11:30 PM The Company She Keeps (1951) A lady con artist sets out to steal her parole officer's fiance. Dir: John Cromwell Cast: Lizabeth Scott, Jane Greer, Dennis O'Keefe. BW-83 mins

1:00 AM Station West (1948) A federal agent takes on a gang of gold thieves. Dir: Sidney Lanfield Cast: Dick Powell, Jane Greer, Agnes Moorehead. BW-80 mins

2:30 AM Run for the Sun (1956) A British traitor hunts humans in the jungles of Mexico. Dir: Roy Boulting Cast: Richard Widmark, Trevor Howard, Jane Greer. BW-99 mins

4:15 AM Desperate Search (1953) A man fights to find his children after their plane crashes in the Canadian wilderness. Dir: Joseph Lewis Cast: Howard Keel, Jane Greer, Patricia Medina. BW-71 mins

Remember, all times are Eastern Daylight Savings Time.

No rest for the weary tonight, huh.


theduckthief said...

The only femme fatale you'd let shoot you hmm?

Mythical Monkey said...

Kathie Moffat: I didn't know what I was doing. I, I didn't know anything except how much I hated him. But I didn't take anything. I didn't, Jeff. Don't you believe me?

Jeff Bailey: Baby, I don't care.

Beveridge D. Spenser said...

The Big Steal is a total romp, with everybody chasing everybody across Mexico. I was in love as soon as the parrot showed up.

I figure it was produced on location in Mexico where the stars liked to hang out for R&R. In my imagination at least, everyone was having a ball.

monty said...

Aw man I missed Jane Greer night? Dang it. She's awesome. Loved her in Out of the Past and The Big Steal. A great actress and quite the beauty. Excellent post.

Mythical Monkey said...

In my imagination at least, everyone was having a ball.

I think Mitchum and Greer were for sure -- they remained lifelong friends.

As for Mitchum and Bendix, because of the marijuana conviction and Bendix's commitment to another movie, they were actually only together for two scenes -- the fight in the cabin at the beginning and the fight at the end. All the other scenes were carefully constructed so it appeared they were together at, say, the hotel or wading through a flock of sheep, but they were actually filmed about two months apart.

One of my favorite performers in the movie is Ramon Novarro, the silent movie star. He was so much fun in this movie, it's a pity he wasn't in more stuff during the sound era.

Mythical Monkey said...

Aw man I missed Jane Greer night? Dang it.

I had meant to post earlier in the week about Jane Greer night -- she is one of my all-time favorites -- but my blogging routine has been thoroughly disrupted. Hopefully, I'm going to be back on track starting tomorrow.

Mythical Monkey said...

A couple more points about The Big Steal, things I like in addition to the easy, bantering relationship between Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer.

(1) There are plenty of jokes in Spanish that are not translated for the English-speaking audience, particularly when Jane Greer is trying to talk the foreman of the road repair crew into letting them pass. She tells him that her father wants her to marry a short, ugly man but she prefers the big, pretty one -- "¿Verdad que es grande y hermoso, no?"

And the foreman looks at Mitchum, shrugs and says with a laugh, "Grande, sí, pero hermoso...", "Big, yes, but pretty?"

The Mexicans are never played for cheap laughs here -- it's the Americans, always in a hurry, never bothering to learn the language or the culture, who are the butt of the joke.

(2) The ending, which underscores for me the degree to which we watch movies rather than listen to them. If you watch it, letting it flow over you, and with the expectations of the genre firmly established in your mind, you assume that Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer are going to pair off permanently at the end, get married, have ten kids. Nice.

On the other hand, if you listen to the words they are speaking, it's clear he's leaving town in the morning and she's staying put. And that makes sense. He's a lieutenant in the army, she has an important job in Mexico. If you read the scene on the printed page, you'd see it as a lament for the life they aren't going to have together.

But if you put the images together with the words they are speaking, it becomes clear that they are negotiating a one-night stand. Which is exactly as it should be -- they are attractive, single people who have just finished a life-and-death adventure together, but let's face it, they have very little in common. Neither's a virgin, we've established, neither seems particularly religious or much intimidated by the social mores of the day. Why not?

That Don Siegel contrived to say this in a way that passed muster with the censors during the era of the Production Code is a tribute to his abilities as a director. He let your eyes tell you one thing, you ears another, and if you're really paying attention, you can decode his intentions. It's subtle, something the censors never were. It's one of those times when the lament "they don't make 'em like they used to" is fully justified.

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

It's times like this I wish I had a TV ... but I've got the trusty Netflix, sonny, and I love that noir stuff, so Jane Greer is in my future nonetheless; thanks to your terrific post!

Mythical Monkey said...

TV is overrated, Who, especially when everything worth watching winds up on Netflix anyway.

If you've never seen Jane Greer before, I'd recommend a double feature of Out of the Past and The Big Steal. She's the ultimate femme fatale in the first, a smart, wise-cracking, adventurous companion in the second.

After that, Howard Hughes set out to ruin her career at RKO. He asked her to sleep with him, she said she was married, he said if she didn't sleep with him he'd ruin her career, and she said fine, I'll go home and have babies instead.

Which she did (one of whom, Lawrence Lasker, went on to write War Games and produce Sneakers).

The only reason she was in The Big Steal is because she was the only actress willing to work with Mitchum after the marijuana bust, it was Saturday and shooting started on Monday in Mexico. She wound up wearing the clothes made for Lizabeth Scott.

By the way, when you watch The Big Steal, take a good look at the trees, especially early in the film. Mitchum started serving his prison sentence in the middle of shooting, and because Bendix was only available for a short time due to a prior engagement, they had to shoot around Mitchum's absence. Thus, when Mitchum crosses the street with Jane Greer, the trees in the park are fully leafed out, but when Bendix crosses the street after him, those same trees are bare.

Happens several times.

Also, Mitchum is visibly thinner in some scenes than others, and Greer -- who was pregnant -- is heavier.

But since the film is (as Beveridge D. Spencer says) a "romp," these inconsistencies only add to the feel that Mexico is a magical place where idiot Americans run around making fools of themselves. Very fun movie.

Some more Jane Greer trivia: she finally got out of her contract at RKO in the early 1950s, and slowly began to rebuild her career, made Run For The Sun with Richard Widmark in South America, got a bacterial infection when she cut herself on a plant, and wound up so sick she nearly died. After that, it was mostly just bit parts and cameos, most notably in Against All Odds, a loose remake of Out of the Past, where she plays the treacherous mother of the character she played in Out of the Past.

Against All Odds, by the way, was a reunion of Greer and Jeff Bridges -- he was the baby she held in her arms in The Company She Keeps ...