Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film

Photo of Michael Curtiz

MICHAEL CURTIZ—A LIFE IN FILM has a November 6, 2017 publish date!





Commentary on the movie industry, actors, and producers

The Politics of Yankee Doodle Dandy

The notion for a biographical film about legendary show business powerhouse George M. Cohan had been kicking around Hollywood since the late 1930s. The father of American musical comedy claimed to be born on July 4, 1878 and began treading the boards at age eight in the family vaudeville act. During his career, he wrote more than 150 original songs, including the standards “You’re a Grand Old Flag” and the country’s most popular song during World War I, “Over There.” Cohan produced more than fifty musicals and plays.  At one point, five of his shows, co-produced with Sam Harris, ran simultaneously on Broadway. Cohan did it all: he was a playwright, composer, lyricist, actor, singer, dancer, and producer.

By 1941 he was ill and realized that his days were numbered. His ego was piqued by the notion of a movie biography to enshrine his legacy (he had already published his autobiography at the age of forty-seven), but he had serious misgivings about films. He had appeared in several silent movies that failed to capture his feisty style. After his popularity began to fade, Cohan starred in two early talkies.  His second picture, The Phantom President (1932), was a fiasco. Cohan compared the experience to a stretch at Leavenworth Penitentiary and vowed never to return to Hollywood.

yankee doodle dandy movie poster featuring James Cagney
In his much publicized Anglo-Hungarian diction, Michael Curtiz described Yankee Doodle Dandy as “ the pinochle of my career.

Continue reading

75th Anniversary of Casablanca


Poster of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman Casablanca 75th anniversary tcm screening It is a life-enriching event to watch Casablanca on the big screen. In commemoration of the film’s 75th anniversary, I urge everyone to take in the nationwide TCM/Fathom theatrical screening on November 12-15. For more info: https://www.fathomevents.com/events/casablanca

To whet your appetite, here’s a condensed synopsis about the making of the film from my recently published biography Michael Curtiz A Life in Film:

Continue reading

NOIR TALK Podcast with Alan K. Rode

I had the privilege of being a guest on the FNF’s NOIR TALK podcast with host Haggai Elitzur.

The discussion includes the recently concluded NOIR CITY, HOLLYWOOD festival and the upcoming ARTHUR LYONS FILM NOIR FESTIVAL in Palm Springs next month.

Enjoy the chat!

Continue reading

Dinner with Alfonse: A Family Remembrance

 Alfonse at work
Alfonse at work

Grandfather lit up a Salem and recalled the young Joan Crawford as we sat around the dining table.  “She would do anything with anybody,” he said with a knowing wink.  Grandmother shushed him with  “Alfonse!” as she and Mom cleared the table.

Mom stamped her foot on the kitchen floor, interrupting the cat licking the butter stick on top of the table. Grandmother Levy laughed and recalled a story involving a cat and her Mother who had been a six-gun toting Texas constable.

Continue reading

Thar She Blows!

Twilight Time releases a restored Blu-Ray of
John Huston’s essential Moby Dick (1956)




Continue reading

A Few Thoughts on NAPOLEON

Napoleon Program Cover Blog

The presentation of Abel Gance’s NAPOLEON this Saturday at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, California, dwarfs any previous experience that I’ve ever had in a movie theatre.  I have never seen a film of such epic scale with the most amazing attention to authentic historical detail within a beautifully characterized story of a man destined to change the world.  NAPOLEON is truly a masterpiece in every sense of the word.

Words are inadequate to describe my pure joy of taking in five and half hours of a restored classic that the great Kevin Brownlow spent much of his professional life restoring.  Kevin is an incredibly gifted, humble man whose lifework is to share his appreciation of silent films with the rest of the world.

Continue reading

A Golden Boot for Bobby Hoy


2/8/2010: Sad news. Bobby Hoy passed away early this morning. He leaves a loving family and a legion of friends and colleagues who will miss him greatly. R.I.P. Here us a link to his obit in the L.A. Times.

It was my distinct privilege to attend the Golden Boot Award ceremony last week that honored Bobby Hoy.

Continue reading

Wanted: More Film Preservationists

Although One Way Street has been on an extended hiatus because of my on-going Michael Curtiz biography and a medley of other unapproved excuses, I have returned - a cyber-Lazarus - to proselytize for the cause of film preservation, specifically film noir preservation.

It’s been almost a decade since the Film Noir Foundation was formulated around Eddie Muller’s kitchen table. The Foundation came into existence partly due to the collective frustration of not being able to locate desired films to screen at the annual film noir festival in Los Angeles and the recently constituted Noir City fest in San Francisco.

The deeper motivation was the fear that these wonderful, darkly etched movies might simply disappear. Forever. 35mm movies are potential kin to the dinosaurs. Bluntly put, there is no universal system or program towards preserving our cinematic heritage. When a film is “lost” or beyond technical redemption; a portion of our collective culture leaves us all.  A society that loses its history will inevitably lose itself.

Continue reading

The Count of Canoga Park... and my mental CD player

Shortly after relocating to the far reaches of the western San Fernando Valley, I came across this sign while driving home one day.  Was this street named after Francis Lederer, actor?  Of course, it was.  It must have been fate and a collective touch of native soil that brought us together.

lederer st

My awareness of Lederer began at a young age. After viewing Return of Dracula (1958) on local N.Y. television, I firmly believed that the Czech-born thespian was the real Count Dracula and Bela Lugosi was well... Bela Lugosi. Sorry about that all you devoted Lugosiphiles.

Continue reading

Soldier in the Rain... and a favorite femme fatale

I watched Soldier in the Rain (1963) for the second time in my life this week. The initial viewing was on a local New York television station some four decades ago. I was many things different back then starting with “impressionable” followed by “young”. Soldier in the Rain resonated with me as a soulful vibe back in the long ago… and I discovered that it still does.


Continue reading

A Worthy Charity Prize: Dinner with Eva Marie Saint!


Eva Marie Saint and her husband, documentary filmmaker Jeffrey Hayden, have made a donation to have dinner with a lucky contributor to the Children's Neurobiological Solutions research foundation.


Continue reading

Philip Yordan -- The Rest of the Story


In addition to my article about Phil Yordan, (here's a link to it on the Film Noir Foundation website), here are some other interesting details gleaned from my research about Yordan:

  • Claimed to have watched every movie with Jean Gabin who served as a model for his Western characters in Anthony Mann’s movies.
  • Believed that The Bravados wasn’t successful because director, Henry King, was too old.
  • Wanted to use the standing sets from Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) for something called, Luke the Magnificent for $1million from Paramount but Samuel Bronston turned him down.
  • His approach toward Joan Crawford to convince her about the script revisions on Johnny Guitar: “I’ll do anything you want. Anything you want, I gotta do”
  • During his glory days with Samuel Bronston, Yordan lived in a Paris apartment that had 28 foot ceilings in a 2 story complex at the foot of Avenue Victor Hugo.
  • Originally tried to cast Richard Burton as Jesus in King of Kings (1961), but after having trouble with his agent, used the $200,000 ticketed for Burton to cast all eight principal actors except the title role that ended up going to Jeffrey Hunter.

Yordan on Method Acting:

Continue reading

The hottest Streak

I was chatting with an actor friend recently and as we discussed a couple of his choicest roles in successful pictures, he remarked, “I was a pretty hot actor at that time!” His statement resonated with me. Actors, are like baseball players, gamblers and any number of other professions. They are all prone to hot streaks. Some performers begin like supernovas and remain overheated for their entire careers; Burt Lancaster’s jump start in The Killers (1946) comes to mind.These fortunate few are usually called “stars”. The vast majority of working actors, then and now, try to better their craft while making a living. I wondered though who had the hottest streak of any screen actor in terms of appearing in the best films over the shortest period of time. What was the cinematic equivalent of Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game consecutive hitting streak?

Back in the days when Hollywood manufactured movies like General Motors used to roll out new cars, “hot” meant a lot more than just working steady. It meant you were a relatively fresh commodity in a town constantly looking for original faces. You were also a damn good actor and, if you were lucky enough not to be shackled by the ubiquitous seven year contract to a studio overseer, work was available all over town. You were in demand, you landed the choice parts and the movies themselves turned out to be good… if not sometimes great.

1939 is universally accepted as Hollywood’s finest year for movies. This singular epoch has been getting a lot of visibility lately. The Motion Picture Academy is screening all of their Best Picture nominees for 1939 this summer and Turner Classic Movies will be showing “39 from 39” next month, a retrospective that coincides with (surprise!) the release of a Warner Home Video DVD about this historic year of film. Bouquets to 1939 notwithstanding, this piece is about the incredible twelve month run of film roles by the great character actor, Thomas Mitchell.

Continue reading

A Film Noir Valentine

Some idle thoughts on how some of the star-crossed couples of film noir would celebrate Valentine Day. You’ll have to fill in the blanks with the actors and the movies.

Walter and Phyllis might ignore the 45 mile an hour speed limit and decide to kick it down at the beach in Santa Monica.

Would Holiday Carleton be inspired to find a way to keep Ralph Cotter from the arms of heiress Margaret Dobson?

Continue reading

And you thought the Oscars were something special!

I am extremely pleased that Richard Harland Smith selected yours truly at ONE WAY STREET as a Premio Dardo Award winner on his always-fascinating TCM Movie Morlocks blog. This award (which is presented sans any obligatory bric-a-brac like a gold statuette, a stuffed marlin for that odd wall of mine that lacks a film noir one sheet or a Fifth Skull of Jonathan Drake candle holder) is predicated on:

“...the intention of promoting fraternization between bloggers (and) gratitude for work that adds value to the Web.”

As someone who has a consistent record of winning bupkiss, the Dardos award personally means a lot… well... as Mel put it:

Continue reading

Pelham Redux

I recently discovered that a remake of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) is in post-production.

My gut reaction: “What are they doing that for?”

taking of pelham one two three

Continue reading

The Chicago Way

Lenny Bruce once remarked, “Chicago is so corrupt it’s thrilling...”

After this week's events, there is a perverse sense of certitude that for the Windy City and the Illinois statehouse, the thrill is never gone.

In perusing the latest scandal to emanate from the Land of Lincoln – a moronic sociopath of a Democratic Governor was recently overheard on federal wiretaps chatting about selling President elect Obama’s soon-to-be vacant Senate seat for a million large - it occurred to me that the more things change, the more they stay the same ...particularly in Chicago.blagojevich

Continue reading

Ruminations on Episodic Television

Doris Roberts, of Everybody Loves Raymond fame was extolling veteran actor Warren Stevens for a long overdue award at this year’s Cinecon banquet and dropped in this one-liner concerning the Paleolithic era of early television in which Stevens and other pioneers toiled:

“Back in those days (late 1940’s-early 50’s) there were three channels, and not much to look at. Now there are over 2000 channels…and not much to look at.”

Doris’ quip got a gargantuan guffaw because it was so true. As far as I am concerned there isn’t really too much to look at on contemporary network television that is worth a damn. The Law and Order brand is finally starting to play out, Seinfeld and Everybody Loves Raymond have run their course. So there is Grey’s Anatomy and Boston Legal and how many more episodes can be written about who is sleeping with whom?

Continue reading

Best of the Worst

The classic era of film noir boasts a unparalleled hit parade of felonious backstabbers, ice cold torpedoes and all-around sociopathic S.O.B’s.It was as if the casting call for heavies in film noir focused on the hardest of hard cases, the yeggs that were just totally out of line.Even though these misanthropes had nothing coming, clearly a list of the best of the worst film noir heavies is overdue:

1. William Talman as “Dave Purvis” in Armored Car Robbery (1950)

Talman Armored Car Robbery

Continue reading

Facts about the Universal Studios Fire

In the wake of the fire that swept through Universal Studios last Sunday, there are a lot of rumors, emails and the like concerning the damage to vintage film prints. Instead of playing Chicken Little, here is some information from my partner-in-noir, Eddie Muller that I would like to put up for some balance and clarification.

Thanks, Alan


Continue reading

A Bum Rap

Conventional critical wisdom long ago pegged Victor Mature as 100% Hollywood beefcake; a rare Tyrolean-Swiss steak from Knoxville, Kentucky who was a graduate of the Cigar Store Indian Drama School. Replete with a toothy, Tyrannosaurus-like smile and sporting a wavy pompadour with a Crisco sheen, Mature was dismissed by those who recall him as De Mille’s bare-chested exponent of Philistine urban renewal in Samson and Delilah (1949) or being able to, as he put it, “…make with the holy look” in films like The Robe (1953) and Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954). However, before Mature got biblically pigeonholed by Hollywood, his work on screen, particularly in darkened 20th Century Fox productions, proved to be diverse and distinguished.

After making his acting bones at the Pasadena Playhouse, Mature was inked by Hal Roach to alternately battle iguanas and emote at Carole Landis in One Million B.C. (1940).

one million.bc

Continue reading

Beefing about Blood

Wildly praised, Oscar nominated film is a major disappointment


I don’t know why I partially bought into the press release journalism that passes muster as legit movie criticism nowadays. There Will Be Blood has been lauded to the critical heavens as an all-time classic with one notable scrivener comparing Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic to Citizen Kane. High praise indeed. I knew better, but I still should have known better.

Continue reading

A Trip Down a Darkened Memory Lane

Watching Horror and Science Fiction movies from the 1950’s is a serendipitous journey back to my boyhood.

Yes, Virginia, before film noir, I was a Monster Kid.

Growing up in the greater New York metro area during the pre-cable and video era, I feasted on scary fare shown during weekend evenings on WPIX-11’s Chiller Theatre, WOR-TV-9, Supernatural Theatre and Million Dollar Movie and WNEW, Channel 5’s Creature Features.

Continue reading

Forgotten Hollywood: The Masquers Club

Behind these curtains, tightly drawn
Are Brother Masquers, tried and true,
Who have labored diligently, to bring to you
A Night of Mirth - and mirth ‘twill be,
But, mark you well, although no text we preach
A little lesson, well defined, respectfully, we’d teach
The lesson is this: Throughout this Life,
No matter what befall-
The best thing in this troubled world
Is LAUGHTER, after all-
And that’s the slogan of our club -
From cradle days to shroud
It brings the sunshine back again
And drives away the cloud
So - now, tonight, let joy be yours
Let LAUGHTER ring out clear!
I pray - be not too critical, in judgment, too severe!
These are all our pals we’re here to see,
There shafts of wit have zest! But should they
Touch a tender spot, remember - ‘Tis a Jest!...
And, as you leave our house tonight,
Midst Music, LAUGHTER, Din,
Remember, friends our slogan -
We laugh- WE LAUGH TO WIN!

The Masquers Creed - Harry Stubbs


Continue reading

The Seventh Annual Palm Springs Film Noir Festival

The temperature in Palm Springs, California during the first weekend of June was as warm as the ambience at Arthur Lyons seventh annual Film Noir Festival in this desert oasis. In returning for my fifth year at this festival, I always think of this event as film noir’s version of Same Time, Next Year. I have an opportunity to become reacquainted with old friends, make new ones and hobnob with the celebs in a relaxed atmosphere that is just not present in other locales. There is nothing quite like Palm Springs to relax the body and soul for four days of non-stop film noir.

Art Lyons, a cherished comrade in noir and author of Death on the Cheap: The Lost “B” Movies of Film Noir invariably produces a fest renowned for movie star guests and obscure dark oddities (typically in 16mm or DVD) that frequently expand the foggy boundary lines of the film noir style.

The opening night screening of Cry Tough (1959) at the Camelot Theatres was an emblematic launch. This seldom-seen foray by writer-producer Harry Kleiner about a Puerto Rican ex-con struggling for redemption in Spanish Harlem enthralled the packed house. John Saxon and a gorgeous Linda Cristal were a compelling duo of fatally mismatched lovers. A stellar supporting cast headed by vet Joseph Callieia was just as effective though Don Gordon and Harry Townes initially struck me as incongruous choices to play Hispanic gangsters. Although this El Barrio saga has a few stereotypical creaks, the picture is laden with an oppressive sense of fatalism amid a hard-edged visual style that proved wholly authentic. Cry Tough is definite film noir.

Continue reading

The Hustler: Creating a Legend

There is an extraordinary amount of writing out there about "seminal" films. These are movies which are rightly adjudged as works of art like Citizen Kane, films that initiated a style as Double Indemnity did for film noir or a picture that captured a national shift in culture or mood such as Easy Rider.

But what about a film that was more than just a classic? A picture that fundamentally changed the actual subject matter it was based on. A picture that created a mythical character mantle that was assumed by a real person who subsequently became that character in the public's eye.

By the end of the 1950's, pool was dying out as a venerable pastime for the American male. The pool room, one of the last bastions of the American bachelor (including millions in uniform that were dislocated during World War II) were going the way of the dinosaurs. The Eisenhower postwar prosperity headed by suburbia, the G.I. Bill and the nuclear family had dried up all of the moneyed joints in towns like Norfolk, Chicago, San Francisco and Philadelphia. The legendary Willie Mosconi eked out a living working for Brunswick and scuffling in tournaments. Stone pool hustlers from the old school like Wimpy Lassister and a fast-talking cherub named Rudolf Wanderone (aka "New York Fats" and a half dozen similar nicknames) either went the tourney route or stayed home. Only in New York, did the few die-hards hang on in places like the 7-11 and Ames.

Continue reading

Coverage of the Madman

The L.A. Film Noir Festival really gained traction this week with some superb screenings and great attendance for the hypercompetitive Tinseltown movie market.

Thursday's double bill at the Egyptian was Cry of the City (1948) and City of Fear (1959). The former picture is one of the classic Fox noirs that has yet to be issued in DVD format - an omission that noir aficionados find baffling.

Cry of the City

Continue reading