Classic Hollywood: Film noirs, 1939 revisited and a Columbo trivia question

This is entertainment writer Susan King. Though I’ve written about all genres of films for 25 years at the Los Angeles Times, I’m best known as the official  gatekeeper here of all things Classic Hollywood. And I’ve been so blessed that I get to write about my passion for vintage movies, TV, books, radio and theater.

Every Friday, I’ll share my love of Classic Hollywood in this newsletter. It’s for all of you who love to read about  trivia, milestones in movie and TV history, the latest in vintage DVDs, movie-related books, notable births and deaths and not-to-be-missed screenings and events in Los Angeles.

It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of TCM -- if you love classic films, you have to love the cable channel. I’m excited that TCM is showing its dark side all summer with its exhaustive "Summer of Darkness” film noir festival. Every Friday and Saturday through July, TCM will air classic, underrated and even obscure noir genre flicks for 24 hours straight. So prepare your DVRs now because it’s going to be a long, dark summer of rumpled raincoats, fedoras, femmes fatales, crisp dialogue and dark, forbidden streets.

This evening’s prime-time lineup includes 1947’s “Nora Prentiss”; the newly restored 1950 rarity “Woman on the Run”; the 1947 Bogart-Bacall vehicle “Dark Passage,” and 1947’s “Born to Kill,” which was directed by Robert Wise.

TCM and Fathom are also teaming up to bring Billy Wilder’s seminal 1944 film noir  “Double Indemnity,” starring Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson, back to the big screen in selected theaters on July 19 for two screenings.

Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray in 'Double Indemnity.' (UCLA Film & Television Archive)

DVD vault

Let’s talk about the films Hollywood produced in 1939. There were so many great movies produced by the Dream Factories that year that some of the best, including one of my faves,  Howard Hawks’ “Only Angels Have Wings,” weren't even nominated for best film. But so many great ones were nominated for or won Academy Awards including “Gone With the Wind,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Stagecoach,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and” “Love Affair.”

Rita Hayworth teams with Cary Grant in 'Only Angels Have Wings,' directed by Howard Hawks. (LACMA)

And this Tuesday, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment is celebrating the watershed year in cinematic history with its new “The Golden Year Collection.” Four of the five films are new to Blu-ray, with “Gone With the Wind” the only one previously released. Included in the collection are the melodrama “Dark Victory,” starring Bette DavisGeorge Brent and Humphrey Bogart with a bad Irish accent; the Michael Curtiz-directed Technicolor Western “Dodge City,” starring Errol Flynn and his frequent leading lady Olivia de Havilland; and Ernst Lubitsch’s sophisticated comedy delight “Ninotchka,” starring the Oscar-nominated Greta Garbo in her first comedy and Melvyn Douglas.

Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas in 'Ninotchka' (1939), directed by Ernst Lubitsch. (Los Angeles Times)

The “Golden Year Collection” also marks the debut of the newly restored “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” starring Charles Laughton, a teenage Maureen O’Hara and Edmund O’Brien in his movie debut. This new digital restoration premiered in March at the TCM Classic Film Festival.

Around town

There are a few remaining seats for L.A. Conservancy’s 2015 Last Remaining Seats series, which screens classic films in the celebrated downtown movie palaces and other locales around town. Tickets are available for the opening-night presentation June 10 of Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal 1960 thriller “Psycho” at the Million Dollar Theatre; the 1953 romantic comedy “How to Marry a Millionaire” with Marilyn MonroeBetty Grable and Lauren Bacall at the Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on June 20; and the 1971 popular musical “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” starring Gene Wilder at the Orpheum Theatre on June 24.

Sneak peek

In this Sunday’s Classic Hollywood, I interview veteran director and all-around nice guy Joe Dante. Over the past years, he has deftly managed to blend comedy and horror in such films as his werewolf thriller 1981’s “The Howling” and the 1984 blockbuster “Gremlins.” The American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre is celebrating his career with a retrospective June 10-14, and his latest film, the zombie rom-com “Burying the Ex,” arrives in theaters and VOD on June 19.

Joe Dante's 'Gremlins' (Warner Bros. / Getty Images)

Trivia Quiz

Which Oscar-winning actor played Lt. Columbo in the 1962 stage version of “Prescription: Murder”? Check back next Friday for the answer.

From the Hollywood Star Walk

Notable births this week include William Boyd (June 5);  Tom Jones (June 7); Dean Martin (June 7); Jessica Tandy (June 7); Joan Rivers (June 8); Nancy Sinatra (June 8); Cole Porter (June 9); Judy Garland (June 10); June Haver (June 10); and Hattie McDaniel (June 10).

Million-dollar mermaid

Swimming champ Esther Williams was one of the biggest stars at MGM, starring in a series of Technicolor musicals in which she would perform elaborate swimming routines. Those films included 1944’s “Bathing Beauty” and 1949’s “Neptune’s Daughter.” She died in her sleep on June 6, 2013, at 91. Here is the L.A. Times obituary, as it appeared the next day.

For more vintage Hollywood, go to the Classic Hollywood Los Angeles Times Facebook page and follow me on Twitter at @mymackie

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