by John Farr
John Farr pays tribute to the sad life of one of noir’s forgotten stars.
Heaven Can Wait (1943)
On the day of his death, assured that he’ll be rebuffed in Paradise, aristocratic New Yorker Henry Van Cleve (Don Ameche) pays a visit to His Excellency (Laird Cregar), a highly courteous Lucifer who agrees to listen to Van Cleve’s life story and determine whether he’s right for Hell-a place people had often “told him to go.” Thus begins this playboy’s tale of life-long philandering, and the effect it had on his lovely wife Martha (Gene Tierney), a woman he truly adored at first sight.
WHY I LOVE IT:
A deft, subtly brilliant romantic comedy by the great Lubitsch, “Heaven” examines a privileged man whose boyish love of courtship colors his devotion to his wife, making his life “one continuous misdemeanor.” Penned by the gifted Samson Raphaelson and shot in lavish Technicolor, “Heaven” marries urbane wit and bittersweet themes about youth and aging, folly and regret. Ameche and Tierney make a handsome, appealing pair from their first meeting in a bookshop, while Charles Coburn (as scampish Grandpa Hugo) and Allyn Joslyn (as Henry’s strait-laced cousin Albert) round out a fabulous supporting cast. Delicate, charming, and almost effortlessly moving.
Assigned to investigate the gruesome murder of lovely Laura (Gene Tierney), hard-boiled homicide detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) cross-examines those who may have had a motive: besotted columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), wealthy playboy Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price), and his lover, Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson)-Laura’s aunt. Strangely drawn to Laura himself, now present only in the form of an oil portrait, Mark can’t help falling in love with the dead girl. Then, late one night, in walks the beauty herself!
WHY I LOVE IT:
Preminger’s impeccable murder-mystery is in many ways the standard against which all other noirs tend to be judged. Eerie and smart, with lots of deliciously twisted feints and counter-feints around the central questions of murder, blackmail, and poisonous passion, “Laura” is a marvel of confounding revelations. Add to that a superb cast: Tierney, enchanting as always, as the lust object; Andrews as a cop with a weakness for beauty; Price as an effeminate rogue; Webb as a prissy critic with a viper’s tongue; and Anderson as Laura’s scheming, jealous aunt. Preminger’s stylish touch and confident direction earned this clever, mesmerizing whodunit five Oscar nods-and movie lovers’ eternal admiration.
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)
Wanting to flee the oppressive orbit of her in-laws, headstrong young widow Lucy Muir (Tierney) decides to move to the English seaside with her young daughter Anna (Natalie Wood) and faithful maid Martha (Edna Best). Despite the warnings of real-estate agent Mr. Combe (Robert Coote), Lucy rents a house haunted by its deceased former owner, crusty Captain Daniel Gregg (Harrison). The seaman is hardly welcoming, but over time, Lucy and the handsome, bearded spirit develop an unusually close friendship.
WHY I LOVE IT:
The ever-talented Mankiewicz’s deeply romantic “Mrs. Muir” is pure Hollywood fantasy, driven by the entrancing presence of its two fabulous co-stars. While a love story between a gruff dead seaman given to salty turns of phrase and a gorgeous grieving mother might sound a bit hokey, the chemistry between Tierney (radiant as ever) and Harrison (quite dashing as an unapologetic man’s man) is not only credible but winning. Worlds better than its “70s TV spinoff and heartier than latter-day imitations like 1990’s “Ghost,” this is one cinematic haunted house you should be sure to visit.