20 March – 3 April
Perhaps as well-known for her turbulent private life as for her silver-screen stardom, Gloria Grahame (1923–1981) was a unique talent who made her mark in Hollywood from the mid-1940s to the late 1950s. With skill and poise developed through years of hard work with her acting coach mother – although her versatility was sometimes overlooked for her beauty – she was one of the most striking actors of the period. After working on Broadway, Grahame was spotted by an MGM talent agent and offered a contract. After a few very minor roles, her first notable appearance was in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) at RKO, where she also quickly received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Crossfire (1947). Grahame later won the award for her standout performance as a Southern belle in Vincente Minnelli’s The Bad and the Beautiful (1952). With a world-famous pout and one of the most expressive left eyebrows in Hollywood, she became “film noir’s leading female masochist” (Imogen Sara Smith), perhaps thanks to the emotional and physical scarring her characters underwent in Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place (1951) and Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat (1953). She also had a soft expressiveness that allowed her to lean into melodrama, comedy and musical performance. Grahame worked with Hollywood’s biggest stars and directors in leading and supporting roles, and this season highlights her most impressive film work. Ultimately, her success plummeted almost as quickly as her meteoric rise to fame, and she died too young at the age of 57. Nevertheless, the relative compactness of her career makes her lasting image and legacy even more legendary.
7:00pm IN A LONELY PLACE
Nicholas Ray (1950) 93 mins – PG
Ray’s extraordinarily vivid and bitterly romantic Hollywood “valentine” features Humphrey Bogart as a cynical, dangerously violent and failed screenwriter, wrongfully accused of murder, who escapes to the brief idyll of a relationship with neighbour Grahame (who was separating from Ray at the time). Exquisitely shot by Burnett Guffey and based on Dorothy B. Hughes’ brilliantly disturbing novel, this is one Ray’s defining works, a brutally honest and painfully tender portrait of vulnerable, damaged lives and the illusory dreams of old Hollywood. A key film of the 1960s Bogart cult, and for many Grahame’s greatest, most soulful performance.
8:50pm THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL
Vincente Minnelli (1952) 118 mins – PG
This rise-and-fall tale of an anti-heroic but charismatic producer (Kirk Douglas) is one of the great films about Hollywood, whose tawdriness is revealed and subsumed by Minnelli’s lush but intense visual style. Playfully reworking the form of Citizen Kane, the life of a “great man” is viewed in flashback and from different perspectives. This self-consciously ironic MGM opus alludes to the legends of Hitchcock, Lewton, Welles, Stroheim and, most potently, David O. Selznick. Featuring an appropriately all-star cast including Lana Turner, Walter Pidgeon, Gilbert Roland and Dick Powell, its emotional centre lies in Grahame’s wonderful Oscar-winning performance.
35mm print courtesy of the BFI National Archive.
7:00pm THE BIG HEAT
Fritz Lang (1953) 90 mins – PG
A searing story of an obsessively self-righteous cop’s (Glenn Ford) determination to smash a crime syndicate responsible for his wife’s death. Of Lang’s American films, this brutish noir most successfully combines a “realist” narrative with the more abstract concerns and design of his German films. The relationships between fate, justice, morality, individual guilt and society are traced across the paranoid and dense web-like connections between law enforcement and organised crime. Featuring a memorable young Lee Marvin as a sadistic henchman, it also includes one of Grahame’s most celebrated and sympathetic supporting performances.
8:45pm THE COBWEB
Vincente Minnelli (1955) 134 mins – PG
In a psychiatric clinic in Nebraska, professionals and patients clash over the choice of new drapes for the inhouse library. As with many melodramas, a seemingly insubstantial everyday veneer disguises a deeply sympathetic and troubled portrait of human frailty, conflict, trauma and psychosis. Minnelli’s keen eye for sweeping visuals, lush sets, expressive mise en scène and the suggestive tones of Eastmancolor compliment Grahame’s terrific performance as the flawed, frustrated wife of the clinic’s chief doctor (Richard Widmark). Also starring Lauren Bacall, Lillian Gish, Charles Boyer and Oscar Levant.
7:00pm SUDDEN FEAR
David Miller (1952) 110 mins – PG
Lauded as a “masterpiece” of dramatic construction by François Truffaut in his first-ever review for Cahiers du cinéma, this woman-in-distress noir stars Joan Crawford as a successful middle-aged Broadway playwright whose inheritance becomes the target of her new husband (Jack Palance) and his lover (Grahame, in one of several memorable noir roles from the late 1940s to the mid-1950s). Based on the novel by Edna Sherry and featuring stylish, moody visuals by acclaimed cinematographer Charles Lang, Miller’s film demonstrates Grahame’s brilliant capacity to play off a dominant star performer.
35mm print courtesy of the Chicago Film Society.
Edward Dmytryk (1947) 85 mins – Unclassified 15+
Grahame was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her breakout role as the brazen bar girl, Ginny Tremaine, in this early Hollywood treatment of antisemitism. Loosely based on Richard Brooks’ 1945 novel The Brick Foxhole, the film also explores the plight of soldiers, as trained killers, transitioning to civilian life and the dangers of demobilisation. Featuring a stellar cast of male actors including Robert Mitchum, Robert Young, Richard Benedict and Robert Ryan, it earned Dmytryk an Oscar nomination for Best Director and won the Best Social Film award at the 1947 Cannes Film Festival.
35mm print courtesy of the BFI National Archive.