October: The Month of Noir, The Month of Yost

October was quite a month: For film noir and for me.

Bogart momFirst off, I had my Stay Thirsty interview with Stephen Bogart, son of the famous actor, ahead of the 3rd annual Humphrey Bogart Film Festival in Key Largo. Here’s a snippet:

MARK YOST: I imagine there have been many times in your life when you wish you could have asked him for his advice.

STEPHEN BOGART: Not really. What I wonder most is what it would have been like to have a father around. Because father’s are different than mothers.

It’s not so much what I would have asked, what we would have talked about, but what it would have been like.

MARK YOST: Sadly, you lost your mother earlier this year. She was a heavyweight actor and persona in her own right. Talk about her.

STEPHEN BOGART: She did not suffer fools gladly. She was my mother and she brought us up to be certain types of people and live a certain life. She never told me what to do. I got married when I was 20, had a kid when I was 21. I wanted to get away from that [Hollywood] as quickly as possible. I wanted to find out who I was, over and above being the son of Humphrey Bogart.

I ended up in a small town in Northwestern Connecticut, made my own friends, and found out who I really was. They didn’t really care who I was.

doubleNext up, was my Wall Street Journal review of the outstanding new exhibit, “Light & Noir,” which tells the story of the European emigres who fled the Nazis and made some of Hollywood’s most memorable film noirs.

“Every ship that left Europe in those months of the year 1942 was an ark,” wrote German novelist Erich Maria Remarque. “Mount Ararat was America, and the flood waters were rising higher by the day.” Remarque also noted that Portugal was the great embarkation point. And if you didn’t make it there, “you were lost, condemned to bleed away in a jungle of consulates, police stations and government offices, where visas were refused and work and residence permits unobtainable.” This, of course, is a nice plot summary of “Casablanca,” the best refugee film of the war years and a noir yarn in its own right.

The film is given its own gallery, complete with set pieces, costumes and the letters of transit that would guarantee anyone who had them passage to Lisbon, and a clipper to America. But the broader point of the gallery and the exhibit is that the creative geniuses behind “Casablanca”—director Michael Curtiz (born Manó Kertész Kaminer in Budapest), actor Conrad Veidt and composer Max Steiner—were the lucky immigrants, telling the stories of the less fortunate.

The second half of the exhibit explains how, after the war, these artists made the transition to the golden age of film noir. It wasn’t difficult, as many came from the German Expressionist movement of the 1920s that pioneered the shadows and uneven camera angles that gave American noir its signature feel. Among the films featured here are such noir classics as “The Maltese Falcon,” “Double Indemnity,” “Sunset Boulevard” and “The Killers,” all helmed in some way by prominent Jewish émigrés like Billy Wilder and Robert Siodmak.

All of this, of course, comes on the heels of my summer interview in Stay Thirsty magazine with Film Noir Czar Eddie Muller:

MARK YOST: Who do you think are the greatest male and female film noir stars and why?

Eddie MullerEDDIE MULLER: Bogart is the essential male star. Whatever your personal preference may be, you have to accept Bogart as the pre-eminent icon of noir. His rise as an actor, moving from a second-string heavy to the leading man antihero, directly parallels the prevalence and popularity of film noir. Directors and cinematographers gave noir its look, but Bogart provided the attitude. His performance as Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon is seminal. It’s the cultural touchstone for the wisecracking, cynical, and steadfastly existential philosophy that would become the underlying attraction of noir for so many people. There are other contenders—Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, John Garfield, Richard Widmark—but it was Bogart who lit the fuse.

It’s tougher to cite a single actress. I’m tempted to say Barbara Stanwyck, but that might somehow diminish the fact that she’s the greatest actress in the history of movies. Her range exceeded the boundaries of noir; she was great in everything. I also have great respect for Joan Crawford, who resurrected her career via film noir, starting with Mildred Pierce and going right through a series of exceptional dark melodramas of which she was the actual auteur. But there were so many wonderful actresses who did their most vivid work in this genre—Claire Trevor, Gloria Grahame, Ella Raines, Marie Windsor, Audrey Totter—it’s impossible to single out one.

In short, I’m lucky I get to do what I do and write about what I love.

 

 

 

 

About Mark Yost
Mark Yost is the author of the Rick Crane Noir series, published by Stay Thirsty Press. Rick Crane is the classic, anti-hero private eye in the spirit of Sam Spade and Jim Rockford. He works in the unmistakably noirish underworld of Upstate New York, running errands and fixing problems for Jimmy Ricchiati Sr., one of Upstate New York's most notorious crime bosses. But readers quickly learn that deep down, Rick Crane is one of the good guys. "Cooper's Daughter," the first book in the widely acclaimed series, is a fast-moving tale in which a heartbroken father comes to Rick and asks him to find out what really happened to his daughter, who was murdered and the details buried in the Unsolved Crimes File of the local police department. The second book in the series is "Jimmy's Nephew," which begins with the death of Joey "Boom Boom" Bonadeo, an up-and-coming boxer and the nephew of Rick's underworld boss. What starts out as a routine investigation turns into a case that will test Rick's faith -- in the Catholic Church and his fellow man. Book No. 3 in the series, "Mary's Fate" is due out in August 2015. Mark Yost also writes for The Wall Street Journal Arts in Review page, as well as the Book Review section. He is a member of the Mystery Writers of America -- Midwest Chapter, International Thriller Writers, and a number of other author groups. He is also a member of the Amazon Author's Program. Mark lives in the Loyola neighborhood of Chicago, but he and his son, George, call the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn "home."

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