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Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn in WWII Reveals Entirely New Facets of Her Life, Including Her Work as a Resistance Fighter

Ah, there’s the Audrey we love—light and breezy, cycling around the set of Sabrina in capri pants and a ponytail.

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But a scant eight years earlier, an Audrey we’ll grow to love even more was cycling through the darkened streets of her Nazi-occupied city, entrusted with urgent missives of the Dutch Resistance printed on sheets no bigger than paper napkins: “I stuffed them in my woolen socks in my wooden shoes, got on my bike and delivered them.”

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This is the girl we meet in Robert Matzen’s extraordinary and deeply moving new book, Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn in WWII (GoodKnight Books, 2019), gleaned from exhaustive research that includes family diaries, Dutch archival records, Audrey’s own recollections, and interviews with villagers who knew her during the war. It also features photographs from her personal collection, published for the first time.

Audrey didn’t come by her anti-Nazi fervor naturally: both her parents were fiercely pro-fascist. Her father, Joseph Ruston, peddled Nazi propaganda so hard that he wound up on the radar of British intelligence. And her mother, the Baroness Ella Van Heemstra, penned articles praising the Führer (“Well may Adolf Hitler be proud of the rebirth of this great country and of the rejuvenation of the German spirit!”)—and treasured the moment he kissed her hand during a personal audience in Munich. 

Ruston abandoned his family when Adriaanjte (“little Audrey”) was only six—opening a wound that would never fully heal. (“I think it is hard sometimes for children who are dumped,” she recalled decades later, the pain still palpable. “I don’t care who they are. It tortures a child beyond measure. They don’t know what the problem was.”) Also undone by the sudden shock, Ella shuttled her two sons off to a boarding school in The Hague and Audrey to another near Dover, England, where she found refuge in music and dance. (“I fell in love with dancing,” she said later. “There was a young dancer who would come up from London once a week and give ballet lessons. I loved it, just loved it.”)

But in 1939, as the Nazis blighted ever more of Europe, the baroness, who had moved from Belgium to the Netherlands to be closer to family, reclaimed her children to a land she thought was safe. Astonishingly, she still trusted Hitler, and believed he wouldn’t invade a country that Germany had deemed off-limits during the Great War.

Ten-year-old Audrey made it safely out of England not a moment too soon.  “There were still a few Dutch planes allowed to fly,” she later recalled. “They put me on this bright orange plane. You know, orange is the national color and it flew very low. It was really one of the last planes out.”

Ella’s peculiar trust in the Führer proved short-lived, as the Nazis invaded the Netherlands the following spring. “We saw the grey uniforms of the German soldiers on foot,” Audrey would remember. “They all held machine guns and marched in looking spick and span and disciplined… then came the rumble of trucks… and the next thing we knew they had taken complete charge of the town.” 

In Holland, she continued to find solace in the rigors of ballet, enrolling in a music school run by a celebrated local instructor. And she found warmth and comfort with her Uncle Otto and his wife Wilhelmina, who gave her the affection her mother brusquely withheld.

Even in the early years of the occupation, Ella remained on friendly terms with influential local Nazis, which helped her maintain a prominent—and to her, still important—role in the town’s cultural affairs. But she finally relented when the war took a monstrously personal toll.

In May 1942, Otto was one of hundreds rounded up, arrested and imprisoned for the acts of resistance across the Netherlands. Four months later, when critical a rail line was sabotaged, he was one of five hostages dragged from their beds and driven to the middle of a remote forest. There, they were forced to dig their own graves through the night, and executed by firing squad at dawn the next morning. Grief-stricken and terrified, Audrey’s family fled to Velp, where her grandfather lived. 

After years of study which helped keep her sane, Audrey had become Arnhem’s most prominent young ballerina, grudgingly giving her first public performance in July 1941 for an audience of Nazi soldiers. But the heartbreak of losing her beloved uncle hardened her even further against the brutal occupiers—and soon, she would turn her talents to aiding the Resistance movement that Otto had given his life for. She started performing at secret, invitation-only fundraisers called zwarte avonden (black evenings), so named because the windows were blacked out to avoid Nazi detection. “Guards were posted outside to let us know when Germans approached,” Hepburn later recalled. “The best audiences I ever had made not a single sound at the end of my performance.”

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In the summer of 1944, a family friend introduced Audrey to Dr. Hendrik Visser ’t Hooft, whose hospital was the center of the local Resistance, where doctors and staff forged identity papers and set up communications with the Allies. Audrey helped treat the wounded during the bloody, protracted Battle of Arnhem, and, because she spoke fluent English, carried messages to downed American and British fliers, telling them where they might find food and safe haven.

One English pilot who was shot down found shelter with the Hepburns, who hid him until he could make his escape. “My mother told me it was thrilling for her—it was risky, he was a stranger in uniform, a savior, and therefore a knight and hero,” her son, Luca Dotti, recalls in Dutch Girl. “Then I learned about the German law that if you were caught hiding an enemy, the whole family would be taken away.”

Partly as a form of cruel vengeance against a people who clearly despised and resisted them, the Nazis began withholding food, fuel, coal, and other vital supplies; even water was in short supply. During the “Hunger Winter” of 1944-45, thousands succumbed to intense cold and starvation, while many who survived, including Audrey, suffered extreme malnutrition. She went for days at a time without eating, and meals, when they could be cobbled together, usually consisted of a potato or a slice of bread—often made from ground tulip bulbs—and a thin broth.

Finally in April 1945, Canadian forces, bearing gifts of cigarettes and candy bars, forced the last Nazis out of Velp. And Audrey celebrated by gorging on chocolate until she was too sick to eat any more.

Dutch Girl is Matzen’s third volume covering the war years of classic Hollywood stars, following Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3 and Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe. I love all three, not only for the meticulous research he devotes to them—by now he’s practically a grizzled war veteran himself—but because he pushes past the ordinary celebrity portraits to reveal aspects of their lives and characters we’d never known before.

In the case of Audrey Hepburn, this is especially welcome. It always bothers me when she’s portrayed merely as a meringue confection or style icon, when there was so much underneath, so much more going on behind her eyes. Now, thanks to Matzen’s book, we know what some of that was.

The horrors she witnessed, and those that shattered her family first-hand, would have hardened a lot people, or perhaps instilled a sense of entitlement. Audrey had literally looked pure evil in the face, and God knows she’d earned a safe, secure haven to hide away in. Instead, she reached out to a world still in pain, still battling hunger and disease, war and injustice. She could have looked away. With all her heart, she didn’t. 

From almost the moment she gained a public platform, Audrey used it for good, urging the world to Look. See. Help. The phrase “worked tirelessly” is tossed around a lot, but she did—for the Red Cross and as an ambassador for UNICEF. All over the world, wherever a light needed to be shown. At fundraisers, she sometimes gave readings from the diary of Anne Frank, who was born the same year and whose family had also fled to Holland in a frantic search for safety, to find it only briefly. She knew many passages by heart.

“The war was very, very important to her,” says Dotti in Dutch Girl. “It made her who she was.” Or, just maybe, it revealed who Adriaantje was all along, from the very beginning.

 

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Auntie Joan (Crawford) Explains It All for You!

Don’t say nothin’ bad about my Joanie.

Not long ago, in need of a tonic on a stifling summer day, I reread the closest thing we have to her autobiography, the wildly entertaining Joan Crawford: My Way of Life. On the cover, firmly gripping her pair of poodles, she looks like a terrified hostage trying to blink out a message to the cops. But the book itself is much more chipper, opening in her East Side penthouse:

“My home and my office are combined on a high floor of a Manhattan apartment house that has a cheerful California feeling about it, even in the winter. I get the first rays of the morning sun rising over the East River and, smog permitting, the last lovely colors of the sunset somewhere behind the Hudson. There are two small terraces where I try to keep some shrubbery going, and which my toy poodles adore, and I keep the rooms filled with plants and flowers. Even my dresses swarm with flowers. I have a bird’s eye view of the world here, and a bird’s sense of freedom. I have the same sense of excitement about the next adventure that I had when I was sixteen. And I’m sure I’ll never lose it.”

“All my nostalgia is for tomorrow—not for any yesterdays,” she tells us—and maybe she protests a little too much. But she’s trying, dammit—and Joan is all about the striving: “With a little organization, a woman can excel as a wife, a homemaker, mother, career woman and gracious hostess, be lovely to look at and be with—and still have time left over to be a good friend to a lot of people!”

For the love of God, ladies, don’t try this at home. Joan was pretty much the most organized woman on the face of the earth—a deeply unsettling childhood can send you hurtling in that direction—and even she bombed at some of these things.

Joan herself once admitted the book was a bit much. “I’m a God-damned image, not a person, and the poor girl who worked on it had to write about the image,” she confessed. “It must have been terrible for her. She would have been better off with Lassie.” (Am I the only one who just pictured Joan rescuing little Timmy from a well? And she would have done it in pearls and pumps, I tell ya!)

But not everything in the book is over the top, and, like your doting, slightly dotty aunt from Scarsdale who gives you aspic forks as a wedding gift, Joan always means well. Here’s a sampling of her advice: the good, the bad, and the—let’s face it—just plain odd.

The Good:

“I’ve persuaded myself that I hate things that are bad for me—fattening foods, late nights and loud, aggressive people head the list.” This is kinda genius. I’m off to shoot daggers at the brownies in the kitchen. (Though I bought them at a church bake sale, so I may have to go to confession later.)

“I never got over the idea that being on time was important.” Oh yeah, baby! “I am always on the set early,” she says. “When they ask me why I say, ‘I’m afraid you’ll start without me! Or replace me!'” She’s quick to say she’s joking, but I’ll bet she never entirely got over that feeling.

“Conquering fears, whatever they may be, opens life up.” Joan, for instance, was terrified of public speaking, flying, and horses, but made peace with them by learning more about them and facing down her anxieties. Granted, not all of us could vanquish our fear of horses by buying a fleet of polo ponies, but you get the idea.

“Before I go to bed at night, I make a little schedule for the next day.” She says her secretaries had to keep retyping her three-month calendar as she packed more and more into it. (Remember “retyping”?) Her New York assistant, Betty Barker, joined her staff in 1938, after working for Howard Hughes, and had plenty of options if she wanted to bolt. So much for Joan being impossible to work with.

“In marriage, be a giver, not a taker.” Some may scoff at taking marriage advice from someone who made four trips down the aisle. But they’re just the people you should listen to: “People talk about what they want out of marriage. They should think about what you have to put into it. It’s worth every bit of love and protection and unselfishness you can muster up. And believe me, you can muster up much more than you thought you could before you were married.”

“No experience has ever made me bitter—or ever will.” That’s a bit hard to believe—she’s Joan Crawford, not Joan of Arc—but I think she means she didn’t stay bitter. After all, she kept up lifelong friendships with two of her ex-husbands, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Franchot Tone, even caring for Tone in her own home during the last months of his life. “When one lives with bitterness, it shows in the face, and it’s pathetic,” she says. “The softness goes out of the eyes. The body is stooped. Bitterness and self-pity are deadly poisons that can’t be hidden. They seem to exude from the pores.”

I think we can all relate to this, though perhaps on a humbler scale than La Crawford. In my case, there’s a clique of movie bloggers I call The Mean Girls (though one’s a guy) who are downright nasty to me; sadly, a few live nearby and I run into them once in a while. They’re all very chatty face to face, but what they say behind my back could curdle your custard. (Does that stuff ever not get back to people?) But since starting this site, I’ve met, in person and online, so many kindred spirits, they offset the mean ones a hundredfold. I’ll give Joan the last word: “You can’t be a giver if you’re bitter.”

Even in her infamous feud with Bette Davis, it always felt like most of the real rancor was coming from the other side of the fence. Joan seemed like the underdog, outgunned by Bette’s acid-laced attacks, which must have brought back horrid memories of childhood bullies:

“I worked my way through two private schools washing dishes, cooking for the entire establishment, making beds, waiting on tables—and trying to get some studying done in between. In the second school I was the only helper in a fourteen-room house accommodating thirty students and, in true Dickensian fashion, I was thrown down the stairs and beaten with a broom handle… that school didn’t teach me much out of books, but it certainly taught me to be self-sufficient, and I’ve never regretted it.” How many of us could glean a positive life lesson—or even pretend to—from being beaten and thrown down stairs? (And yes, those nightmarish years fueled an obsession with cleanliness and order, but that’s been dissected to bits all over the place.)

“I abhor dropper-inners.” Yes. Do not be one of these creatures! (Though nowadays it’s rare enough to get a real phone call, let alone a visitor.) Poor Joan recounts the time when not one but three dropper-inners descended on her New York flat, when she was wearing just “a simple cotton shift and very little makeup.” But our girl sprung into action: “I had to abandon everything, quickly run into my dressing room, get into a lovely dress I had bought in Canada, put on lipstick and tidy my hair.” (I know just how she feels: a while back, I was reading in bed in a teeshirt and skivvies when suddenly—horrors!—there was a knock at the door. I had to put on pants. I still shudder at the memory.)

Always pack in daylight. “In artificial light when I’m in a hurry it’s too easy to grab the wrong accessories and find myself in Kansas City or San Juan with a hot pink dress and a shocking pink hat—and that’s a catastrophe. Catastrophe. Oh my God.

For Joan, though, just getting her headgear out the door sounded like a job for the Navy SEALs: “My hats are stuffed with tissue, encased in plastic bags, and packed into large black drums that hold perhaps a dozen—drums about three feet high and almost too wide to get through the door of my apartment or into a car. But we always manage. And there is just no other way to transport lovely hats.” She once traveled to London with 37 suitcases. To film Trog.

And here’s a tip from Sister Celluloid: it’s also best to put on your makeup in natural light. In our house and maybe yours, there’s lots of “soft” lighting, which can make you look a helluva lot better than you really do—leading to something of a shock when you’re out from under its glow. (“But damn, I looked so good in the bathroom!”)

Joan’s five rules of thumb for choosing clothes. 1) Find your own style and have the courage to stick to it. 2) Choose your clothes for your way of life. 3) Make your wardrobe as versatile as an actress. It should be able to play many roles. 4) Find your happiest colors—the ones that make you feel good. 5) Care for your clothes like the good friends they are.

“A dress of the wrong shade will bring out sallowness, highlight blemishes, and add years to a woman’s face. It will make her look hard.” Preach it, Aunt Joan! I once fell in love with a gorgeous dress in a kind of mustardy yellow, and wore it to lunch with a friend—who said, before I even sat down, “Are you okay? You look ill.” And he kept at it all through the meal. (“Really? You’re sure you’re fine?”) When I got home, I took a better look in the mirror than I had before I left the house. It was the dress. I’m pale as milk—so much so that the muddy yellow in the dress reflected on my face. I looked like I’d been on a bender since 1962. Luckily, an olive-toned friend looked great in it.

The Bad:

“Once girls get themselves married, they forget romance—and that’s when the flirting should really begin. If you want to keep your husband, that is. A lot of other women are flirting with him and flattering him—you can depend on that.” Okay whoa. This reminds me of that noxious little ditty from the ’60s, Wives and Lovers. When Jack Jones starts crooning, “Hey, little girl, comb your hair, fix your makeup…” I want to scream, “Hey, little man, feck off!”

Of course everyone should keep kindling the romantic fires and making that extra effort after marriage. But Joan’s advice is a bit one-sided…  and the idea that the minute you let your lipstick fade, your husband is going to hop into bed with some cutie from the office is downright creepy. And it’s disappointingly dated, coming from a woman who always seemed so far ahead of the curve.

“Don’t buy a dress until you can afford all the right accessories and have a hat made to match.”  Okay so most of us will go around wearing barrels for the rest of our lives.

“Pants are probably here to stay. But they shouldn’t stay long on anyone but the most lithe and slim-hipped.” The next sound you’d hear would be most of my clothes hitting the charity bins.

“A busy woman can’t spend whole days in front of mirrors, but she ought to have them all over the house (which improves the décor too) and make a point of glancing at herself every time she passes one.” Oh dear God no. Including to the décor part. It would be like living in a giant ladies’ room.

The Odd:        

Her “dangerous” foods. “Here are a few items no dieter should ever have in the house: peas, lima beans, avocados, olives, dried beans, corn, butter, most cheese, fatty meats, sugar, chocolate, potatoes, rice, bread, pasta, and creamed soups. The list could go on for another page or two, but any intelligent woman knows the dangerous foods.”

Butter, cheese, meats, sugar—check. But this is the first time I’ve ever heard anyone demonize the sainted avocado. And peas, beans and olives? What did they ever do to hurt anyone?

Meanwhile, her chapter on entertaining contains enough bacon, meatballs, fried chicken, sausage, salami, steak, butter and mayo to choke a horse. I guess the best way to stay slim is to fob off all that stuff on your unsuspecting guests.

“Bedrooms should be very feminine.” Joan says “men feel much more masculine walking from a brown or green dressing room into a lovely feminine bedroom.” I polled my husband and a few male friends on this one. The consensus? Five said no, with any number of ribald expletives thrown in for good measure, and one spewed coffee out of his nose. And none could recall having a dressing room—brown, green or otherwise.

“A turquoise necklace with amethyst earrings is a crime.” Not a fashion misstep, mind you. A crime. I love this woman. (And let me confess that I have a necklace with both amethyst and turquoise stones in it. But please don’t turn me in—my dear old Ma depends on me!)

“Sit on hard chairs—soft ones spread the hips.” I’m pretty sure this is an old wives’ tale. Old wives who were really cranky and crying out for cushions.

Use every free second to exercise. Joan was always in wicked-good shape, so it’s hard to quibble with her on this one. But she goes on for pages and pages about working exercise into pretty much every minute of your life. Clench your buttocks in the grocery line! Firm your calves while you brush your teeth! Do odd, scary facial exercises that creep out your taxi driver! If your muscles are relaxed for a single second, you’re living your life all wrong.

I mean, please. Not all of us can slink into leotards at lunchtime and work out with our poodles, as she did during the stinker Torch Song.

But then, not all of us can be Joan Crawford. Rereading this somewhat frantic book, I can’t say I’d want to be. But I’d love to have been her friend—and I’ll bet she’d have been a damn good one back.

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TINTYPE TUESDAY: HOLLYWOOD CELEBRATES THE HOLIDAYS Hits the Bookshelves!

Welcome to another edition of TINTYPE TUESDAY!

Still searching for that last-minute gift for a classic movie fan? Or maybe you’ve run your tootsies ragged and you deserve a little something yourself? Look no further than the gorgeous new book, Hollywood Celebrates the Holidays: 1920-1970!

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Lovingly written and researched by film historians Karie Bible and Mary Mallory, this hardcover passport to classic movie heaven takes you through every holiday from New Year’s Day through Christmas, as only Old Hollywood could. These fabulous photos span the spectrum from naughty to nice, from high glamour to wholesome, and from holy to hilarious.

Take, for instance, the Christmas chapter. Tucked among the more heartwarming pix are W.C. Fields as Old Saint Nick, surrounded by much leggier elves than any I remember, and Peter Lorre sneaking up on a Santa-clad Sidney Greenstreet with a baseball bat. Oh and don’t look now, but Joan Crawford is perched on the chimney with a shotgun—and she doesn’t look happy. But Carole Lombard does, in one of many lovely shots beautifully reproduced in this volume. Suddenly your holiday won’t seem complete until you have a glow just like that…

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Mallory and Bible, both lifelong old-movie addicts, happily plundered their own photo treasures, and then scoured auction sites, paper shows, and film archives such as the famed Margaret Herrick Library in Los Angeles, where you just want to hide out until closing time and wander the stacks all night long. “We were also very fortunate to have the support of some really great collectors who generously opened their vaults to us,” said Bible, who was born on Halloween, which is lavishly represented in the glossy pages of the book.

Amidst all the major holidays (and some minor ones) is a chapter on Hollywood’s all-out effort to rally the nation and sell bonds during World War II, featuring some of the same imagery you’ll find in the section devoted to Independence Day. And yes, that’s Mae West as Lady Liberty (Libertine?).

Then there are the “What were they thinking?” photos, like the one of Charlie McCarthy’s head superimposed on an actual toddler’s body, with butterfly wings attached because, hey, why not? “When I first saw it, I said ‘Wow! This is so wrong, we must include it!'” Bible laughed. If Cupid actually looked like this, we’d all be begging for the sweet mercy of solitude. Much like Dorothy Hart, who’d really like to shake the pervy bunny peering over her shoulder. “I wondered why in the world the studio would employ a life-size man in an Easter photo, especially one that objectifies her on so many levels,” mused Mallory. “How did the Production Code even approve it?”

Many of the photo captions feature the original verso text that was typed on the back by the studio publicists. (Because—duh!—these pix were, of course, promotional tools!) Ironically, the leering Easter bunny was touting one of the most innocent films ever made: “The rabbit’s visit to Hollywood served a dual purpose, as he was doing a bit of technical advising on Harvey, which will star Jimmy Stewart with an invisible rabbit.”

As of today, this fabulous book was available at some online booksellers, including Barnes & Noble, but out of stock at others, such Amazon. If you have trouble tracking it down, you can order it directly from the publisher. And really, if you’re buying it as a gift, pick one up for yourself too. Because once you peruse its pages, it’ll be awfully hard to part with!

Full disclosure: While Mary and I know each other only online, I’m lucky enough to call Karie a friend. But I bought my own book; friends don’t let friends give them free review copies! This was a labor of love for these two, who poured in tons of research hours and their own money, buying up photos and paying for publishing rights. I know there are lots of classic film writers and bloggers who scarf down every freebie in sight, but after all the time and expense the authors put into this, I would’ve felt like a heel mooching a free copy. So when I suggest you buy this book, rest assured that I bought it too!

TINTYPE TUESDAY is a weekly feature on Sister Celluloid, with fabulous classic movie pix (and usually some backstory!) to help you make it to Hump Day! For previous editions, just click hereand why not bookmark the page, to make sure you never miss a week?

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NOIR CITY ANNUAL 2013: Grab One Now Before They’re Gone!

I’m a noir girl, so when I fall, I fall hard. Luckily, the objects of my affection never end up crumpled in a heap on the bedroom floor.

Well, almost never.

By the time I got through with Noir City Annual 2013, its pages were pawed, its corners were dog-eared (sometimes in both directions), and its spine was bent this way and that, utterly broken beyond repair. I loved this book to pieces.

The sixth in a series, Noir City Annual 2013 pulls together the best stories produced last year for the Film Noir Foundation’s (FNF) online magazine. And if you’ve ever dropped by their website, at www.filmnoirfoundation.org, you know that must have been a tough choice for FNF founder Eddie Muller, who published the book, and Donald Malcolm, who edited it. The group puts out some of the best noir writing—no, movie writing—no, just plain writing—that you’re likely to find anywhere. Crazy-smart but not pretentious, elegant but not fussy, passionate but not gooey, insanely well informed but not stuck up about it.

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The latest limited-edition volume features gorgeously illustrated stories on a huge array of noir films, actors, directors, writers and even singers, including Richard Fleischer, Dan Duryea, Peter Lorre, Julie London, Peggie Castle and Jean Gabin. For some, their lives were even darker and sadder than their films. Here’s just a sampling of the articles (noirticles?) you’ll find inside:

  • In “The Girl They Loved to Kill,” Jake Hinkson comes to the rescue of Peggie Castle, which few people ever did in her films or her life. After taking us through her scant and mostly miserable 45 years, he closes with her pleading, desperate speech from Finger Man, a B-movie she made with Frank Lovejoy: “All my life, I’ve had dreams. Not big ones, just my share of the little things—that someone would like me, really like me, maybe even respect me… I know I’m no bargain. I’ve been around, plenty. I don’t feel sorry for myself. Only, sometimes, I get the feeling there isn’t any more time, like there isn’t going to be any tomorrow. Be nice to me. Please.”
  • Steve Kronenberg’s “Wandering Star” delves into the story behind the only film Peter Lorre both directed and co-wrote, Der Verlorene (The Lost One), in which he plays “a cynical Nazi physician on the run from the authorities, his former identity, and his own guilt-ridden conscience” who finally becomes his own executioner. “Lorre specialized in playing men who had lost their way in life, forced to hide behind masks, unable to control their compulsions,” notes Kronenberg.  “By 1951, Lorre, too, was lost—facing bankuptcy, irrelevance in Hollywood, and an unfulfilled dream of directing his own film.” Perhaps because Germany was not yet ready to face up to the enormity of its wartime sins, Der Verlorene was a devastating failure when it opened there, and Lorre never even attempted to release it in the United States. He “returned to Hollywood disenchanted and relegated to typecasting.” But he also retained a 35mm nitrate print of his film, which cries out for restoration and recognition.
  • In “Her Name Was Julie,” Carl Steward celebrates the sultry stylings of Julie London and even offers a discography of her 50 best noir songs. He also reflects on the noir film career that could have been, had she not been lured away from the soundstage by her seductive set of pipes, returning years later for a handful of westerns and some wholesome family television. (I mean come on, was I the only one who slogged through reruns of “Emergency!” just hoping she’d burst into a chorus or two of “Cry Me a River”? I think not!)
  • Jason Ney’s “The Forgotten Man” makes a compelling case that Richard Fleischer, underrated and overlooked in his own time, should finally take his place on anyone’s list of top-tier noir directors. Covering Fleischer’s brilliant but frustrating stint at RKO, Ney points out that his breakthrough film, The Narrow Margin, was almost scrapped entirely (okay I fainted a little when I typed that). Howard Hughes loved the movie so much that he wanted to start from scratch with a bigger budget and A-list stars, possibly Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell (who are fabulous, but oh my God no). While the capricious producer dithered over his decision, the film lingered in limbo for two years until it was finally released in 1952.
  • “Dark Mirrors” compares original noirs with their remakes, with the genuine goods usually winning out.  Of the 1993 remake of Night and the City, with Robert DeNiro tackling the role Richard Widmark nailed perfectly in 1950, Vince Keenan notes the “insurmountable gap between the thirty-something Widmark hustling alone far from home and the pushing-fifty DeNiro soaking his friends in Manhattan. The former is plausibly desperate, the latter utterly delusional.” (Then there’s my own fervently held belief that the Richard Widmark version of anything is better.) I’d mercifully forgotten that they remade D.O.A. with Dennis Quaid in 1988: “It would seem impossible not to have fun with one of the greatest set-ups in movie history… but the latest version finds a way, in Bonneville Salt Flats record time.” I would love to forget the remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice, especially the kitchen-table sex scene, which Keenan cheekily describes as “passionless and deeply unpleasant, not to mention unhygienic. (Do not have the bread at the Twin Oaks Tavern.)” But the author is no knee-jerk traditionalist and gives the newer films their due, singling out The Deep End—a 2001 retelling of The Reckless Moment, with Tilda Swinton in the Joan Bennett role—for special praise.

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But perhaps the star of Noir City Annual 2013 is Dan Duryea, the subject of a dozen fabulous articles covering pretty much every facet of his career as well as his offscreen life as a faithful, devoted husband and doting Dad to his two boys. (When he wasn’t leading dames to wrack and ruin, he was leading a Boy Scout troop.)

The Duryea stories were were an especially guilty pleasure for me—I read them all straight through in bed one night while my husband was a hundred miles away. I really do adore this man. But finding a dozen articles devoted to Duryea in Noir City Annual 2013 made me feel like slightly less of a misfit…

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Four of the six Noir City Annuals, for the years 2008, 2009,  2010 and 2011, are already sold out, but if you act fast, you can get your hands on the volumes covering 2012 and 2013. Here’s the link for purchase: www.noircity.com/noircityware.html. They’re also available on Amazon.com; just do a search for Noir City Annual.

Meanwhile, you can access the Film Noir Foundation’s fabulous online magazine for a donation of just $20—the price of a few cups of coffee, with a much better buzz for the buck. Just click the link at http://www.filmnoirfoundation.org/contribute.html. Reading the e-mag will give you a jump on some of the stories that may show up in the 2014 Annual. Which I would pre-order now, sight unseen, if I could. (Hint, hint…)

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