Oscar Noir: 1940s Writing Nominees from Hollywood’s Dark Side

The Blue Dahlia

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Perhaps it’s our own dark, cynical and disillusioned times, but it certainly seems that the film noir genre has withstood the test of time in its own uniquely delicious way. A close look at the films from the 1940s sharing noir attributes reveals that the Academy noticed them far more often for their writing than in any other nomination category, suggesting that their firm “foundation” is responsible for their lasting impact.

Fifteen film noir classics from the 1940s, all of which were nominated in the writing categories, were celebrated in a summer-long screening series, introduced by contemporary screenwriters whose own work reflects the film noir style.

All features were preceded by a specially selected “noir” cartoon short and a chapter of the 1941 serial “Adventures of Captain Marvel” starring Tom Tyler, Frank Coghlan Jr., William Benedict and Louise Currie. Considered by many to be one of the best serials of all time, “Captain Marvel” was presented in new 35mm prints.

May 10 – The Maltese Falcon (100 mins.)

The third film version of Dashiell Hammett’s novel became iconic in the hands of writer-director John Huston with Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre creating indelible portraits of film noir characters. Huston’s screenplay received an Oscar nomination. Introduced by Lawrence Kasdan (“Body Heat,” “The Bodyguard”). Preceded by “How to Be a Detective” (1936) starring Robert Benchley and “How to Be a Detective” (1952) starring Goofy.

May 17 – Shadow of a Doubt (108 mins.)

Alfred Hitchcock’s favorite among his dozens of films, concerning an uncle of suspicious means visiting a small town family, was written by Thornton Wilder, Sally Benson and Alma Reville (Mrs. Hitchcock) and based on a nominated story by Gordon McDonell. Introduced by Dick Clement (“Across the Universe,” “The Bank Job”). Preceded by Chapter One of “Adventures of Captain Marvel: Curse of the Scorpion” (1941) and “Showdown” (1942), a Superman cartoon.

May 24 – Laura (88 mins.)

Based on a novel by Vera Caspary, the screenplay by Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein and Betty Reinhardt was nominated for an Oscar. Otto Preminger directed Gene Tierney, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price and Dana Andrews in this story of a detective who falls in love with the woman whose murder he’s investigating. Introduced by Scott Frank (“Dead Again,” “Out of Sight”). Preceded by Chapter Two of “Adventures of Captain Marvel: The Guillotine” and “Flora” (1948).

June 7 – Double Indemnity (106 mins.)

Director Billy Wilder and co-screenwriter Raymond Chandler turned James M. Cain’s novel into one of the all-time classic romantic noirs, teaming Fred MacMurray with unforgettable femme fatale Barbara Stanwyck. Introduced by Nicholas Meyer (“Time After Time,” “The Human Stain”). Special guest: Laurie MacMurray Gerber, Fred MacMurray’s daughter. Preceded by Chapter Three of “Adventures of Captain Marvel: Time Bomb” and “Trouble Indemnity” (1950), a UPA Mr. Magoo cartoon.

Read Nicholas Meyer’s introduction to “Double Indemnity”

June 14 – Mildred Pierce (109 mins.)

Joan Crawford earned her only Academy Award for her memorable portrayal of a businesswoman coping with a conniving daughter and an unfaithful lover in this film version of the James M. Cain novel with a screenplay by Ranald MacDougall, directed by Michael Curtiz. Introduced by Callie Khouri (“Thelma & Louise,” “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood”). Special guest: Ann Blyth, who received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her performance in the film. Preceded by Chapter Four of “Adventures of Captain Marvel: Death takes the Wheel” and “The Super Snooper” (1952), a Warner Bros. Daffy Duck cartoon.

Read Callie Khouri’s introduction to “Mildred Pierce”

June 21 – The Killers (103 mins.)

Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner gave breakthrough performances in this gripping drama from a screenplay by Anthony Veiller that expanded Ernest Hemingway’s classic short story about a man who makes no effort to escape from the men hired to kill him. Introduced by Billy Ray (“Shattered Glass,” “State of Play”).  Preceded by Chapter Five of “Adventures of Captain Marvel: The Scorpion Strikes” and “Who Killed Who?” (1943), an MGM Tex Avery cartoon.

Read Billy Ray’s introduction to “The Killers”

June 28 – The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (117 mins.)

Kirk Douglas made his film debut as an ambitious D.A. and Robert Rossen wrote the screenplay for this romantic thriller starring Barbara Stanwyck in the title role of a woman made wealthy by a murder she committed in her youth. Introduced by Robin Swicord (“Memoirs of a Geisha,” “The Jane Austen Book Club”). Preceded by Chapter Six of “Adventures of Captain Marvel: Lens of Death” and “Rooty Toot Toot” (1951), a UPA cartoon.

Read Robin Swicord’s introduction to “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers”

July 12 – The Dark Mirror (85 mins.)

Olivia de Havilland plays twin sisters suspected of murder in this 1946 romantic thriller with a screenplay by Nunnally Johnson and directed by Robert Siodmak, who was Oscar-nominated the same year for directing “The Killers.” Introduced by John August (“Go,” “Big Fish”).  Preceded by Chapter Seven of “Adventures of Captain Marvel: Human Targets” and “The Tell Tale Heart” (1953), an Oscar-nominated UPA animated short.

July 19 – The Blue Dahlia (96 mins.)

Novelist Raymond Chandler penned this original screenplay which reteamed Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, as a veteran accused of murder and the woman who comes to his aid. Introduced by Wesley Strick (“True Believer,” “Cape Fear”). Preceded by Chapter Eight of “Adventures of Captain Marvel: Boomerang” and “Donald’s Crime” (1945), a Walt Disney Donald Duck cartoon.

July 26 – The Stranger (95 mins.)

Orson Welles directed and played the villain in this topical thriller about the hunt for a Nazi war criminal in suburban America, from a screenplay by Anthony Veiller.  Introduced by Ted Griffin (“Ocean’s Eleven,” “Matchstick Men”). Preceded by Chapter Nine of “Adventures of Captain Marvel: Dead Man’s Trap” and “The Cuckoo Clock” (1950), an MGM Tex Avery cartoon.

August 2 – Body and Soul (104 mins.)

John Garfield was nominated for his powerful performance as a boxer embroiled in the underworld in this drama from writer Abraham Polonsky (“Force of Evil”) and director Robert Rossen (“The Hustler”). Preceded by Chapter Ten of “Adventures of Captain Marvel: Doom Ship” and “The Great Piggy Bank Robbery (1946), a Warner Bros. Daffy Duck cartoon.

August 9 – Crossfire (86 mins.)

Richard Brooks’s novel The Brick Foxhole became a powerful thriller about murder among World War II veterans, directed by Edward Dmytryk from a screenplay by John Paxton. Introduced by Brian Helgeland (“L.A. Confidential,” “Mystic River”). Special guest: Jacqueline White, who played Mary Mitchell in the film. Preceded by Chapter Eleven of “Adventures of Captain Marvel: Valley of Death” and “Mother Hubba Hubba Hubbard” (1947), a Columbia cartoon.

August 16 – A Double Life (104 mins.)

Ronald Colman won the Best Actor Oscar for his change-of-pace role as an actor whose performance as Othello starts to affect his personal life in this psychological drama from director George Cukor and writers Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin. Introduced by Oscar-winning screenwriter Marc Norman (“Shakespeare in Love”). Preceded by the final Chapter of “Adventures of Captain Marvel: Captain Marvel’s Secret” and “Bad Luck Blackie” (1949), an MGM Tex Avery cartoon.

August 23 – Kiss of Death (98 mins.)

Richard Widmark made a memorable screen debut as Tommy Udo, one of the all-time great villains of film noir, in this tense drama starring Victor Mature and Brian Donlevy, directed by Henry Hathaway from a screenplay by Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer and an original jazz score. Introduced by Eric Roth (“The Insider,” “Munich”). Special guest: Coleen Gray, who plays Nettie in the film. Preceded by Helen K. Garber’s “Urban Noir/LA–NY” (2009), which combines night urban landscapes, pulp fiction text and an original jazz score by John Beasley; footage of Walter Mirisch and Charlton Heston during the 1975 dedication of the Academy headquarters building; and the 1945 Donald Duck cartoon “Duck Pimples.”

August 30 – White Heat (114 mins.)

James Cagney returned to the gangster genre that made him a star with his indelible performance as Cody Jarrett, a mother-obsessed escaped convict, directed by Raoul Walsh from a screenplay by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts. Introduced by Paul Thomas Anderson (“Boogie Nights,” “There Will Be Blood”). Special guest: Pauline Wagner, who appeared with James Cagney in “Lady Killer.” Preceded by footage of Ginger Rogers, Sidney Poitier, Laurence Olivier and other Academy members posing on the Grand Lobby stairs during the 1975 dedication of the Academy headquarters building; and the 1950 Daffy Duck cartoon “Golden Yeggs.”

Event Information

Monday evenings, May 10 to August 30
Cartoons, shorts and serial, 7 p.m.; Feature presentation, 7:30 p.m.
Samuel Goldwyn Theater
8949 Wilshire Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Shadow of a Doubt

Shadow of a Doubt

Mildred Pierce

Mildred Pierce

Shadow of a Doubt

The Killers

The Blue Dahlia

The Blue Dahlia

Body and Soul

Body and Soul

Kiss of Death

Kiss of Death

White Heat

White Heat

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