Ran across a movie the other night. It was not a particularly good movie, but it was a type of movie that I especially like: “The Big Heat,” with Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame. They call that type, Film Noir. Ford was one of Columbia Picture’s main, trademark stars, so I knew it was Columbia as soon as I saw Ford.
That’s the way it was in the golden era of movies.
You saw one of the Taylors, Robert or Elizabeth, and you knew it was MGM.
You saw Alan Ladd or Bob Hope and Bing Crosby and you knew it was Paramount.
You saw Tyrone Power or one of those colorful Betty Grable affairs and you knew it was 20th Century Fox.
You saw Bogart or Robinson and it had to be Warner Brothers.
Mitchum or Fred Astaire? RKO.
Universal had a lock on horror movies. Oh, Universal, if you only knew how scared you made it for me to walk that two miles after the midnight show (actually it started about nine o’clock), you’d be plumb ashamed of yourself. After seeing Frankenstein or Dracula or the Wolf Man or the Mummy, I’ll tell you, after walking through the Valley of the Shadow, as we called it, nothing on earth was as beautiful as the sight of Mr. Dink Reeves’ house. Made it through again.
I was 10 when the Lamar Theater came to our town, just up the hill from the mule barn. I was a veteran movie goer, not a novice like some of those kids. I had already seen two picture shows.
I soon became an addict, recognizing the trademarks and styles of the studios. The main influence, of course, was from the little studio out in the Valley, Republic, the company that ground out those Saturday shoot-em-ups by the gross.
A movie, a cartoon, a chapter of the current serial, a newsreel, perhaps another feature, and Previews of Coming Attractions. All that for a dime and a nickle for popcorn. Wow!
Blessed be thy name, Republic.
This was back in the days of the studio system. If a young prospect signed a much desired contract with a studio, he/she belonged to the studio, which would then teach them how to walk and how to talk and dress; and would see that they got their pictures in the movie magazines.
Like Gloria Grahame mentioned earlier. She was a hot property for a short while. I never cared much for her, but she did a good job of dying, with Glenn Ford trying to comfort her.
Film noir. Dark movies. Examples? OK. “Murder, My Sweet, with Dick Powell, is one. “The Big Sleep,” with Humphrey Bogart, is one. Both of those, by the way, are from Raymond Chandler novels.
And the very best example — not to mention just one of the great movies, is “Out of the Past.” I’m still amazed at how many people are not familiar with this classic.
Its star is Robert Mitchum. In fact, you could say it set his persona forever.
Also in the movie are Kirk Douglas and a beautiful newcomer, Jane Greer. She (as did Grahame) made the cover of Life Magazine..and she plays about the meanest woman you’ll ever see. But purty! When it ran at the Lamar Theater, there’s this one scene, where she’s walking down the beach, that so excited my bachelor uncle Kelley that he jumped up and gave a Rebel yell.
I’m still amazed at how many people don’t remember it. “Out of the…what?” It was from RKO, and the folks there knew about black and white photography. If you’ve never seen it, do.
Each studio also had a large stable of character actors, those familiar faces you saw in picture after picture in back-up roles…but you hardly ever learned their names. They weren’t huge stars, but they worked regularly.
Leo the Lion roaring, the snow-capped mountain, the Columbia lady, the little plane flying round and round the globe, the radio waves beaming out of the tower on the top of the world, the flood lights on the big 20, the big WB belt buckle…those are sacred icons to me.
We’ll talk later about some particular movies and types of movies I like and dislike.
Oops. The lights are coming on. Time to go home.
Bob Sanders is a veteran local radio personality, columnist, author and raconteur of note.