Monday, April 1, 2024

CMBA Profile: The Film Noir Report

Each month, the CMBA profiles a classic movie blog written by one of our members. This month, we are featuring Johnny Gumshoe, who writes at THE FILM NOIR REPORT.  

1. Why do you blog?

A small part of me gets sad whenever I talk to a movie lover who's never seen a Robert Mitchum film, never heard of Lizabeth Scott, only knows Humphrey Bogart from Casablanca, or only recognizes Kirk Douglas as Michael Douglas' father.  So my number one reason for blogging is to call attention to the rich treasure trove of classic films, actors, and directors who fade further and further out of the public's consciousness with each passing year and each new generation.


I focus on film noir because I find that in the classic period of strict censorship, studio-controlled messaging, and tendency towards stagey and escapist cinematic production values, classic noir films came the closest to reflecting the true, down-to-earth, unvarnished aspects of human nature, and therefore, may be more accessible and relatable to younger audiences. That's not to say other classic films aren't equally accessible and relevant, but film noir simply resonates most with the movie enthusiast and historian in me, and is what I'm most interested in writing about.


2. Besides classic movie blogging, what are some of your other passions?

I compose music for film and TV, often collaborating with my wife, who is also a composer and jazz singer.  Music has been a part of my life since childhood, when I started taking piano lessons.  In my teen years, I taught myself guitar and played in rock bands for several years. Later, I focused on songwriting, which eventually led me to the composing work I do now.  I actually spent most of my professional life working in the corporate tech world, and music was just something I did on the side, but for the last three years, it's become my full time vocation.


3. If you could program a perfect day of classic movies for TCM, what would be the seven films on your schedule?

I'm going to break out of my film noir box and harken back to my college days to pay homage to a local TV station that ran a pair of classic movies every night after midnight (this was before the days of cable TV and hundreds of channels). Even though I had classes the next morning, I made a point of staying up to watch the first movie, and often stuck around for the second one, too. It was these late night viewings that really put me on the path of classic film appreciation. So here are seven films I first saw in the wee hours of the morning, that had a lasting impression on me:



Discovering Nick and Nora Charles was like finding buried cinematic gold. All of the Thin Man films are great, but my favorite is this, their second outing, in which we have the rare opportunity to see a young Jimmy Stewart play a villain.



This film had a big impact on me because I didn't realize it was a Hitchcock film when I first watched it (I tuned in after the opening titles), so I was completely unprepared for the ominously dark turn this seemingly light romantic comedy gradually took. It's a perfect example of how not knowing anything about a film ahead of time results in a significantly enhanced viewing experience.



I always heard about Fred and Ginger in the abstract, but it wasn't until my late night TV viewings that I got a chance to see what all the fuss was about. I instantly fell in love with the music, dancing, and comedic banter. Truly some of the greatest escapist movies of the 1930s. Most folks point to Swing Time or Top Hat as the best Fred and Ginger films, but this is my personal favorite for the great music, wacky plot, thoroughly entertaining supporting cast, and over the top deco set designs.



Not only do we get to see Lugosi and Karloff together in their prime, but the film itself is a hauntingly beautiful and atmospherically moody work of cinematic art.


DETOUR (1945)

One of my all-time favorite noirs. A simple low-budget effort, with a highly effective plot that's elevated to legendary status by an incendiary femme fatale performance from Anne Savage.


THEM! (1954)

I absolutely love 1950s science fiction films, the good ones, the bad ones, the cheesy ones, all of them. This is definitely one of the better entries, and probably the best of the giant bug films that permeated the era, featuring a respectable cast, competent production values, and a serviceable attempt at plausibility given its outlandish premise.



It was a toss up between this and The Philadelphia Story. Both are superb, but I went with His Girl Friday for the witty rapid-fire dialog and impressive performances by the entire cast. I never tire of this truly entertaining film.


4. What is a classic movie that you love, but most people don't know about -- and what do you love about it?

The Gangster (1947) with Barry Sullivan, Belita, Akim Tamiroff, and Joan Lorring. I love this film because it's so unexpectedly different from typical crime noirs of the era. Instead of a guns-and-mayhem gangster film, we get an intimate character study of a brooding and lonely mob boss. It's not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but it's a fascinating curiosity that was in many ways, ahead of its time.


5. What is something that most people don't know about you?

In addition to classic films, I have a soft spot for old classic radio shows. Just like classic film, it's something I discovered in my youth, thanks to a local radio DJ who played curated episodes one night a week. And now, thanks to the internet, these wonderful radio dramas, mysteries, and comedies can be enjoyed 24/7!


Classic film and radio are of course, inextricably linked, since nearly all major movie stars of the era also performed on radio. In addition to making various guest appearances, quite a few film stars had their own radio series, such as Joel McCrea in Tales of the Texas Rangers, Jimmy Stewart in The Six Shooter, Frank Sinatra in Rocky Fortune, Dick Powell in Richard Diamond Private Detective, Brian Donlevy in Dangerous Assignment, Irene Dunne and Fred MacMurray in Bright Star, and Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in Bold Venture. And many stars reprised their film roles in radio adaptations of their latest movies on shows like Academy Award Theater, Lux Radio Theater, Old Gold Comedy Theater, and Screen Director's Playhouse.

In addition to their nostalgic entertainment value, classic radio shows provide an added dimension of insight that can enhance our appreciation of classic film.


We thank Johnny for participating in our Q&A profile and encourage you to visit The Film Noir Report! 

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed getting to know you better, Johnny! Really enjoyed reading your picks for the day of TCM, and your interest in classic radio shows. There was a time, several years ago, that I was positively obsessed with radio shows -- it was then that I discovered shows like My Favorite Husband and radio adaptations of big screen productions like Christmas in July. I have a whole collection of cassette!