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ONE WAY STREET

Alan's sporadic takes on Film Noir and other aspects of pop culture

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The Coleen Gray Doubleheader

Posted by on in Actors and Actresses
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coleen gray

One of filmdom's most lovely and gracious stars, Coleen Gray, was on hand at the Egyptian Theatre Wednesday night for a double bill screening of The Killing (1956) and The Sleeping City (1950). Since being featured in Eddie Muller's book, Dark City Dames six years ago as one of the authentic film noir femme fatales, Coleen has jointly appeared with Eddie for Q&A sessions at numerous screenings of her pictures at venues in San Francisco, Palm Springs and here in L.A. I was tickled to death to interview Coleen between the films yesterday evening and become a supporting player in what has become an enduring, dark tradition.

The Killing (1956) is my definition of a classic film; I 've seen it at least 15 or 20 times and never tire of it, feeling exhilarated and renewed with each viewing.

the killing

There is nothing to criticize. The Killing marked Stanley Kubrick’s emergence as a top film director. Give Kubrick credit. Although Coleen indicated that he didn't personally direct her sequences, the young director, quiet, determined (and wearing combat boots according to Gray) knew exactly what he wanted, remaining faithful to the Lionel White novel with the non-sequential, leavened flashbacks which make the picture so unique

Also, forget about the "Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick" card on the opening titles. That assumptive credit grab was not one of the director's finest moments during the early part of his career. Later in life, Kubrick would appropriately acknowledge Thompson's singularity in penning this classic with the script reflecting his distinctive Oklahoma and Texas proletarian colloquialisms (Ted de Corsia: "There ain't no use kicking about it, Leo...")

There is also the seamless camera work by the great Lucien Ballard (whom Kubrick reportedly bent to his will) and a resounding musical score by the underrated composer Gerald Fried. But, what a cast! Sterling Hayden, Coleen, Vince Edwards, Jay C. Flippen, Joe Sawyer, the teeth gnashing Timothy Carey, Ted De Corsia, Joe Turkel, Jay Adler, and film noir’s most delightfully dysfunctional couple, Marvelous Marie Windsor and Elisha Cook Jr. As Coleen mentioned when she took to the microphone, both Marie and Cookie merited Oscar nods for their performances. The responding applause from the audience indicated enthusiastic concurrence.

The Sleeping City movie poster

The Sleeping City (1950) is a seldom seen picture that was shot on location in New York City's Bellevue Hospital. The beautiful print accentuated the grim, fogbound skyline of Manhattan and the dark catacombs of the Bastille-like Bellevue. There is some nifty camera work (one shot looking down a stairway maze is particularly stunning) and clipped, terse dialogue courtesy of Jo Eisinger who penned Gilda and Night and the City.

There is also a most unusual prologue to this picture delivered by star Richard Conte garbed in internist mufti, stating emphatically that something like this really couldn't actually happen at Bellevue. This phoney-baloney was apparently orchestrated by the then Mayor William O'Dwyer of New York City (later revealed to be an abject tool of organized crime) who didn't want the reputation of Bellevue and the Big Apple besmirched by a mere motion picture! Things were certainly different in those days, even down to doctors puffing tar bars while ruminating about patient health

Conte goes undercover as an internist to investigate the killing of a doctor and becomes involved with suicide, gambling, dope and, naturally, Coleen Gray. While the movie evolves into a formulaic tale, Coleen was terrific; jaw-dropping gorgeous in the closeups with Nick Conte while playing a character that was distinctly at odds with her usually fulsome "good-girl" image.

richardconte coleengray

Coleen's discussion between the films was a delight. After discussing The Killing - her scenes entailed a couple of days on the set - she reminisced about her starring roles in Red River, Kiss of Death and Nightmare Alley. Although Coleen labeled herself a "greenhorn" as a Fox contract player in the late 40's, she had more than enough moxie to take on fellow Cornhusker Darrell F. Zanuck in order to nail down her Red River part with Howard Hawks and then entreating the mogul that she be cast in as "Molly Carlisle" opposite Tyrone Power in Nightmare Alley; a role she was truly "..born to play."

Coleen was accompanied by her husband Fritz, son, and a vocal group of friends ("The Greasy Turkey Club") at the screening. She is truly a woman of substance who enjoys recalling the past, but resides assuredly in the present with her involvement with the Prison Fellowship and other charitable works. Coleen has also supped from the Fountain of Youth, apparently arresting the aging process; she looked absolutely stunning last night.

Speaking about a woman of substance, we were accompanied to last night's screening by Marsha Hunt who wanted to see her good friend Coleen while enjoying a dinner and a night out at the movies. Marsha, who has been around Tinseltown since 1934, is one of the most remarkable people I know and a dear friend. A brief snippet doesn't do her justice; I will devote more words to her in the near future.

©Alan K. Rode
  • Michael Friday, 24 February 2012

    Thanks for the interesting article on one of my favorite noir actresses! I must admit to having a bit of a crush on Ms. Gray as a lad and I suspect quite a bit of her beauty and talent ended up in my mental image of the perfect woman :D . Any chance of another article about her current activities?

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