Gloria Grahame in Noir Films

Gloria Grahame in In A Lonely Place 
One of film noir’s most defining actors, Gloria Grahame brought her femme fatale characters a raw, vulnerable sensuality. She was not simply pretty. Her glamour and sexuality hid surprising, unexpected emotional registers. Her bad girls were human. Her characters were smart, daring, warm. I can never quite figure out Gloria Grahame on screen. Isn’t this one of those qualities that make you want to watch a film over and over again?

I have gathered here six of Gloria Grahame’s best performances, all in noir films, benefitting from François Truffaut’s assistance – he wrote often about her and it is easy to see that he had an affinity for her. “The beautiful eyes of Gloria Grahame make you die of love, then wait a little longer, until another movie is released.” That kind of screen magnetism is lost today.
Gloria Grahame in In A Lonely Place 
In A Lonely Place (1950), directed by Nicholas Ray

Nicholas Ray pursued a strong narrative and visually overwhelming obsession in his film-making, which was very much against the Hollywood studio system, and this was most obvious with the films Knock on Any Door (1949) and In A Lonely Place (1950). François Truffaut named them Ray’s masterful films. And it was with these two films that Ray definitely made Humphrey Bogart the appealing hero, much more than an actor, a personality. Bogart wanted Lauren Bacall for the female lead in In A Lonely Place, but Warner refused to release her from her contract. Gloria Grahame was given the part and she excelled in the role, probably her best acting performance.

Grahame plays no femme fatale in A Lonely Place. She’s not the one who brings to Dix his doomed fate, as it often happens in noir films. She is the right kind of woman, the only one capable of taking him out his darkness. The fact that she fails, the profound breaking-apart at the end is what gives the film its long life and one of most haunting outcomes in the history of cinema. Nicolas Ray did not want to make Dix the murderer, as it turns out in Dorothy B. Hughes’ novel, where the character strangles Laurel to death in the climax scene. Ray’s vision paid off: the ending is actually bleaker in that it doesn’t matter that Dix is innocent, but that he could easily not be. “I can’t do it. I just can’t do it. Romances don’t have to end that way. Marriages don’t have to end that way. They don’t have to end in violence.” A broken heart can be the worst kind of ending though. “Whether you’ve had your heart broken, or broken somebody else’s heart, Ray has here made room for every heart to relate to this film’s haunting outcome,” F.X. Feeney concludes in the book Film Noir: 100 All-Time Favorites.

Laurel Gray is Dix’s beautiful new neighbour, a failed actress, who seems to have a great influence on him. “She’s not coy or cute or corny. She’s a good guy, I’m glad she’s on my side,” says Dix of her. Now that’s a compliment I would take any day. She is his match. Cool and composed, she strides down the courtyard in a straight-lined skirt and turtleneck – simple, stylish, yet revealing a buttoned-up, controlled character. I have always admired the subtle, yet optimum effect of Gloria’s costumes in this film. In fact, every piece of clothing she wears (designed by Jean Louis) is buttoned up, from rollernecks, to even an evening gown and her fur-cuffed robe. Because she isn’t in control after all, and whatever hopes and dreams Steele and Laurel might have had, they are crushed too soon and too radically.
Gloria Grahame in Crossfire 
Crossfire (1947), directed by Edward Dmytryk

The film addressed racial discrimination and anti-semitism, one of the first Hollywood movies to do so. Most of Dmytryk’s noirs are psychological noirs. Gloria Grahame earned her first Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Ginny, a drinking dance hall hostess who holds the answer to a key alibi. Her presence on screen was succint, but it was the first time she portrayed a shadowy woman of questionable morality in an atmospheric noir. “It is permissible to have forgotten Crossfire,” Truffaut would write, “but not a young blond woman who was better than an intelligent extra. As a prostitute, she danced in a courtyard. Even professional critics noticed the dancer.” Truffaut might have dismissed Crossfire, but it was a film that showed that film noir is defined not just by design, cinematography and presentation, but especially by themes, issues and characterization, and was the first so-called B-movie to be nominated for best picture at the Oscars.
Gloria Grahame in The Big Heat 
The Big Heat (1953), directed by Fritz Lang

“I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Believe me, rich is better.” Debbie Marsch

It is one of my favourite and one of the best all-time noir films, and it gets better as it unreels. On her first collaboration with Fritz Lang (and the first time she teamed-up with Glenn Ford in a Lang film), Gloria Grahame plays Debby Marsh, whose goal in life is to get a fur coat. Her Jean Louis costumes show that she has reached her aim. But not without consequences. She finds herself the victim of her gangster boyfriend (Lee Marvin), who sadistically throws a pot of boiling coffee in her face, believing her to be an informant to the police. “One of the definitive figures in the Lang universe, and she stands sanctified as the most hieratic of Lang’s American heroines,” Richard T. Jameson remarks in the book Film Noir: The Directors. One thing that set Grahame apart from other actresses was her willingness to go there — to show the ugly parts of life, physical or otherwise. In The Big Heat, she goes all the way.

In an interview with Silver Screen, Grahame once said, “I dote on death scenes, or any kind of Spillane-type manhandling, because it is those scenes which linger in an audience’s memory. I don’t want to be typed as a woman with a face nice enough to look at, but I am interested in roles that sometimes turn a cinema-goer away in horror. So I didn’t mind having my face horribly scarred because my gangster boyfriend threw a pot of boiling coffee over me. Being glamorous in movie roles all the time is not only artificial but horribly monotonous… So far, no one has offered me the role of the Hunchback of the Notre Dame. Believe me, I’m the girl who would play it.”
Gloria Grahame in Human Desire 
Human Desire (1954), directed by Fritz Lang

“It seems that Jean Renoir and Fritz Lang had in common a taste for the same theme: an old husband, a young wife, a lover (La chienne, La Bête humaine, The Woman on the Beach for Renoir; Scarlet Street, The Woman in the Window, Human Desire for Lang). They also have in common a predilection for catlike actresses, feline heroines. Gloria Grahame is the perfect American replica of Simone Simon,” writes François Truffaut in his book, The Films in My Life.

Human Desire is the second screen adaptation of Émile Zola’s novel, after Renoir’s great La bête humaine. I am not considering it a remake, because I believe this is one of those films which should be considered on its own, not in relation to previous adaptations. Because it is a good noir – actually I loved it more now, the second time I watched it, than the first time around. Lang’s noir has a spare, uncompromising visual style and direction reminiscent of his German expressionism period. Grahame plays Vicki Buckley, the persecuted wife of brutal and insanely jealous railroad courtyard boss Carl Buckley (Broderick Crawford). She is classic scheming femme fatale, one of the closest to classic femme fatale that she played in noirs. But even here, her character touches other sides, too, as she is not only seductive pretty blonde and conniving temptress, but also lady in distress, disturbed and abused wife. Trailing on Truffaut’s comparison between Simone Simon and Gloria Grahame, Grahame is more devious, more rotten and more desirable, but also more human than Simon. That’s because we like Vicki in the beginning. Whatever her past, she’s left that behind when she married, and it is her husband who forces it on her again and pushes her towards the dark side of the tracks. And when she meets Jeff Warren (Glenn Ford), she seethes with desire and lust and she is prepared to do something about it – “You’ve killed before, haven’t you?”. She is more than good at being bad.
Gloria Grahame in Sudden Fear 
Sudden Fear (1952), directed by David Miller

In his early film criticism, Truffaut said that outside of two short sequences in Sudden Fear, “there is not a shot in this film that isn’t necessary to its dramatic progression. Not a shot, either, that isn’t fascinating and doesn’t make us think it’s a masterpiece of cinema.”

“Gloria Grahame’s acting is all in correspondences between cheeks and looks. You can’t analyze it, but you can observe it,” the same Truffaut would write about the American actress in Sudden Fear. Grahame is Irene Neves, the ruthless old flame of Lester Blaine (Jack Palance), the gold-digging husband of playwright Myra Hudson (Joan Crawford). But unlike in Human Desire, Grahame brings no edge of wounded vulnerability to her part here. She is unquestably cruel, greedy, venal, unremorseful in plotting against her lover’s wife. First seen in veiled virginal white and then in vampish black (costumes by Sheila O’Brien), Grahame reeks of malevolence, even while scheming murder on a dictaphone disc. This noir is largely remembered because of Joan Crawford, but I disagree. Hitchcock-style suspense, “an ingenious screenplay with a fine strictness, a set more than respectable, the face of Gloria Grahame and that street of Frisco whose slope is so steep,” Truffaut argued. Indeed, San Francisco was made for film noir.
Gloria Grahame in Naked Alibi 
Naked Alibi (1954), directed by Jerry Hopper

Naked Alibi “perfectly corresponds to the need for a drug that any lover of American films irresistibly experiences,” wrote Truffaut. Much of the narcotic allure of this hard-hitting B-noir about two relentless and ruthless characters, on each side of the law – a virtuous police officer (Sterling Hayden as Joe Conroy) who conducts an investigation of his own to catch a vicious thug and cop killer (Gene Barry as Al Willis) – is due to Grahame’s magnetic performance as Willis’ bar-singer mistress, Marianna.

In the hands of another actress, this part could easily have been a fill-in role, but with Gloria, the film seems to rearrange itself around her. Dressed in a revealing lingerie dress (gowns by Rosemary Odell), Marianna performs a sexy number that rivals that of Rita Hayworth in Gilda. When she realises Willis has been two-timing her, she throws in her lot with Conroy on Willis’ tail.

photos: 1,2- Gloria Grahame and Humphrey Bogart in A Lonely Place, 1950 (Columbia Pictures, Santana Pictures) / 3-Gloria Grahame and … in Crossfire, 1947 (RKO) / 4-Gloria Grahame in The Big Heat, 1953 (Columbia Pictures) / 5-Gloria Grahame and Glenn Ford in Human Desire, 1954 (Columbia Pictures) / 6-Gloria Grahame and Jack Palance in Sudden Fear, 1952 (Joseph Kaufmann Productions) / 7-Gloria Grahame and Sterling Hayden in Naked Alibi, 1954 (Universal Pictures)

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One Day That Summer: Sassi di Matera

Can you think of a better time than summer to go off the beaten road, on mountain trails, or to visit old towns and villages? There is nothing quite like the long, sun-drenched summer days that ignites one’s adventurous spirit and induces travel vibes. This is to say that it’s time for a new photographer story from behind the lens: Sassi di Matera, Italy. Kate Holstein splits her time between Aspen, Colorado, and the island of St. Barth, and travels the world to tell stories of moments and places through her filled with light and wanderlust inspiring photographs. Often times, a photograph speaks for itself. But the truly special photographs are those that awaken in you a desire to discover the entire experience behind them, which will undoubtedly open up new meanings, feelings and perspectives. Kate’s story from Matera certainly does that.
One Day That Summer-Sassi di Matera 
“That’s from Matera, Italy. Matera is a challenging place to put into words, but it’s certainly one of the most unique places I’ve ever visited. It’s surprising that this ancient city is located in the relaxed southern countryside of Italy. When you come upon it, it almost feels like a mirage, or as though you took a wrong turn and ended up in an entirely different country.

From the moment you drive into the historical center, called the Sassi Di Matera (cars of non residents not allowed so there is very little traffic on its ancient streets), you feel as though you’ve left Italy all together and time-traveled to some exotic place from the past. The Sassi Districts (there are 2) feel like a country all its own, untouched by time, with a history going back to the very, very beginnings of human kind.

The historic city is located on hillside overlooking a deep, lush ravine. Across the valley you can see ancient caves which are thought to be some of the first ever human settlements of Italy. The ancient city started with these caves and, over time, more and more caves were carved out of the natural rock making for an organically shaped city that is a feast for the eyes. The marriage between man and nature is displayed in a way that touches the soul on a deep level. We spent hours gazing out on the city in a meditative state, noticing new details, interesting shapes, and visible layers of time.” | Instagram: @kateholsteinphoto

One Day That Summer - Classiq Journal

More One Day That Summer stories: Classic Americana / Linh, Northern Vietnam / Torres Del Paine, Chile

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Music from Jim Jarmusch Films: A Playlist

Music from Jim Jarmusch films - A Playlist 
I remember when I was watching Only Lovers Left Alive, a film that would ultimately capture my whole being, and the sequence with Yasmine Hamdan performing Hal occurred, towards the end of the movie. I’m not sure I can even describe that feeling in words, but it was like hitting that point when you sensed you were finally completely drawn into the world of the two characters, dark and timeless and otherworldly and overwhelming. I sometimes listen to that song, but the effect is not even closely the same. For me, that song lives in that film. The two forms of art form a common language. The song was not composed for Jarmusch’s film, and that makes its effect all the more striking. When Tilda Swinton’s character, Eve, suggests that Hamdan should be better known, Tom Hiddleston’s character, Adam, says she shouldn’t, because “she’s too good”. Maybe the song is only meant to come alive in the film, in that story, because I am not sure an appropriate moment exists in real life. Maybe only in Tangier, “a place where, unlike Marrakech, the old world and new world are not separated by a gulf as though looking at each other. It’s all mixed,” as the director described the atmosphere and location for his film.

Music is so much part of Jarmusch’s films, it is woven into the celluloid. It is, reportedly, what kickstarts his ideas and imagination when he is writing a script. His soundtracks give voice to his drifters and dreamers, and, in turn, the characters come alive through the music and enter our own imagination. Let’s try to tap into that world by listening to this compilation of some of my favourite Jim Jarmusch movie soundtracks.


Jockey Full of Bourbon – Tom Waits (Down by Law, 1984) / Only Lovers Left Alive – SQÜRL (Only Lovers Left Alive, 2013) /
Dead Man – Neil Young (Dead Man, 1995, main title) / There Is An End – The Greenhornes, Holy Golightly (Broken Flowers) / Marvin Gaye (Broken Flowers, 2005) / Funnel of Love – SQÜRL (Only Lovers Left Alive) / El que se tenga por grande – Carmen Linares (The Limits of Control, 2009) / Hal – Yasmine Hamdan (Only Lovers Left Alive) / Pain in My Heart – Otis Redding / I Put A Spell on You – Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (Stranger Than Paradise, 1984) / The Memphis Train – Rufus Thomas (Mystery Train, 1989) / Chaucer Street – John Lurie (Mystery Train) / Ealking through the Darkness – Tekitha (The Way of the Samurai, 1999) / Crimson and Clover – Tommy James & The Shondells (Coffee and Cigarettes, 2003) / Not If You Were The Last Dandy On Earth – Brian Jonestown Massacre (Broken Flowers) / Mystery Train – Elvis Presley (Mystery Train) / Louie Louie – Richard Berry (Coffee and Cigarettes)

photo: Classiq
Related content: Listen to All This Jazz / Sounds of Summer / Defining Moments in Rock ‘n’ Roll Style

Classiq Journal - The Playlists

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Summer Storyboard by Helmut Newton

Summer Storyboard by Helmut Newton 
This month, Taschen will publish an extensive Helmut Newton portfolio including some of the photographer’s most striking shots from the ’60s through to his golden heyday, a collection of his fashion, editorial and personal pictures.

“I am very attracted by bad taste – it is a lot more exciting than that supposed good taste, which is nothing more than a standardised way of looking at things.”

The images most closely associated with his name are provocative and sexually charged (never lacking humour though), of highly made-up, statuesque, often nude women – he created alternate realities with his photos. But his interest lay in a different kind of photography: nights, cities and portraits of interesting people. In this regard, I hope Helmut Newton. Work is a complete, comprehensive album. In its anticipation, here is a guide through summer, through the lens of Helmut Newton – needless to say, the portraits of Isabella Rossellini, Françoise Sagan and Angelica Huston are my main point of interest.

collage: Classiq | photos: Helmut Newton // clockwise from top left: 1-British Vogue, July, 1965 / 2-Isabella Rossellini, Los Angeles, 1988 / 3-François Sagan, Vogue Paris, 1963 / 4-Angelica Huston, Los Angeles, 1986 / 5-Jerry Hall and Lisa Taylor, Vogue US, Miami, 1975 / 6-US Vogue, 1975

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Editorial: Under the Sicilian Sky

Stories of Sicily.
Editorial - License to Shoot - The Godfather 

The Editorial: thoughts, short stories
or essays about the world of cinema

While in Berlin several summers ago, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant and I realised, by the accent, that the waiter was Italian. Eager to exercise my Italian after I had found out, to my despair, that my German had become rustier than I had expected, I asked him if he was indeed Italian. “No, Sicilian,” his answer came promptly and proudly. I ended up by apologising to him for calling him an Italian and struck up a nice conversation. Here is the simple truth: there is nothing higher to Sicilians than the ties of blood, heritage and honour.

“You see, Sicily was always invaded, and over the centuries, the Sicilians discovered the only way to survive the invasions was to trust only their own families and never break that trust,” said Al Pacino, as noted in the book The Godfather Family Album, which chronicles the making of the trilogy. The roots of The Godfather originate in Sicily (where some notable scenes from the Coppola’s saga were also filmed) and organised crime, but the unmentionable words, the Mafia, are never heard, because this film is first and foremost a mythic exploration of family. “I want to show how two men, father and son, were born into the world innocent, and how they were corrupted by this Sicilian waltz of vengeance,” said Francis Ford Coppola.

“In Sicily, it was like a merger of families – everyone had family there,” recounts still photographer Steve Shapiro in the afore-mentioned book about the cast and crew’s filming days on the Italian island. And it was in fact Francis Ford Coppola’s Italian origins that sold him to the producers (at the time, Coppola was known as an artsy, film-schooled young director). “The reason Mafia films had never worked was they were made by Jews, acted by Jews, and written by Jews. We want to smell the spaghetti, and only an Italian can do it,” was how producer Robert Evans managed to bring the director on board. “Francis was the only second-generation Italian in the entire industry.”

“Though I have never been here before, I have been here before,” wrote journalist Barbara Grizzuti Harrison for Life magazine in 1990 about Castillo degli Schiavi in Taormina, Sicily, when she went on the location of Godfather III. It is the place where, in Godfather I, the young wife of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) was killed in a car bomb that was meant for the exiled son of Vito Corleone. “I feel as if Godfather I and II are part of my history, my unconscious, vehicles for primary themes of good and evil (and family), and sin and redemption (and family) and communion and alienation (and family), of power and honour (and family).” Could this also be a universal truth?

photo: film still from The Godfather, Sicily | Paramount Pictures

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