Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film

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Bill Bowers

Effective screenplay writing is a distinctly different skill than the craft required to compose novels and stories. No one understood this better than the late William (Bill) Bowers, who was among the elite screenwriters and script polishers in Hollywood for many years. According to Bill, in a 1980 interview with Jean W. Ross, heralded novelists including F. Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner, never could write good screenplays on their own because of an inability to, "....to visualize things, to imagine how it was going to play". He added, "They never had to confront that in writing novels."

Bowers' work has been on display at the 8th Annual Festival of Film Noir with the epochal Pitfall (1948), last evening with The Mob (1951) and closing the festival next Wednesday with Abandoned (1949). Bill's best work was characterized by witty, biting and often dyspeptic dialogue. His prose proved to be a perfect match for the obsessive motif of film noir with a distinguished and lengthy resume of dark films: The Web (1946), Larceny (1948), Criss Cross (1949), Convicted (1950), the wonderful Cry Danger (1951), Split Second (1953), Five Against the House (1955), Tight Spot (1955). Watching The Mob last night, I was struck that the most entertaining segments of the picture were several smart-assed exchanges between the tough-as-mails Brod Crawford playing an undercover copper and a basset-eyed Jay Adler as a lowly waterfront hotel clerk. These choice bits were always a Bowers specialty.

Born in Las Cruces, New Mexico, in 1916, Bill attended the University of Missouri journalism school and got a day job with UPI. He wrote and produced a play based on his fraternity house, "Where Do We Go From Here" in California. When Oscar Hammerstein took the play to New York for pennies - some of the cast hitchhiked to New York - Bill became the only screenwriter signed by RKO who had a play running on Broadway.

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The Coleen Gray Doubleheader

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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.

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

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Shack Out on 101 with Terry Moor

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“The apes have taken over — while we were busy watching television and filling our freezers, they’ve come out of the jungle and moved in!”

That line is definitely not the stereotypical 1950's movie denouement particularly when it is uttered by the stolidly full-upright Frank Lovejoy about Communism in Shack Out on 101 (1955) that screened last night at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica.

As Sterling Hayden unsuccessfully tried to quantify for Timothy Carey what type of crime shooting a racehorse is in The Killing (1956); "...as a matter of fact, I don't know what it is...", I have the same dilemma attempting to describe just what type of movie Shack Out on 101 (1955) actually is: film noir, melodrama, high camp, comedy, none of the above, all of the above??? By whatever genre, the picture is a unique, well acted, uproarious hoot.

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