Friday, April 1, 2011

R.I.P.: Farley Granger

Farley Granger
1 July 1925 – 27 March 2011

Although we here at a wasted life are sure he will be missed by those close to him, it is perhaps not quite true to say that Farley Granger will be missed by the general masses — indeed, since he has been thoroughly absent from the big and tiny screen for the past ten years (but for an occasional appearance as a talking head in documentaries on gay cinema or Alfred Hitchcock), the few who even still recognize his name probably thought him long gone already. But he wasn't, he was simply in retirement, and his abrupt departure has suddenly brought a mostly forgotten name back into the spotlight.
Though far from being a bobby-sox idol as claimed in many a eulogy (he only truly enjoyed teen popularity for a brief period after Our Very Own [1950]), Farley Granger was the epitome of the overnight Hollywood success story: a handsome young man who virtually goes from a nobody to a household name
in days (actually more like three years). But like so many, he also quickly went from a household name to a "who's that?"... By choice, in a way.
Born in San Jose, CA, on 1 July 1925 to a well-to-do family, the stock market crash of 1929 took away the family fortunes (as it did for so many) and eventually resulted in a sudden move – shall we say a desperate departure and relocation? – to Hollywood, Los Angeles, where his parents had to start anew at the bottom of the ladder.

Later, when Farley was a handsome young lad of 6'1", an unemployed and mostly forgotten Harry Langon advised his dad to have Farley audition for a local play entitled The Wookie (no, it was not a prequel to Star Wars). Farley got the part, and after it opened he was soon in a seven-year contract with Samuel Goldwyn.

A part in the Lillian Hellman-penned war film The North Star (1943 / full film) led to another war film, The Purple Heart (1944 / trailer), after which Granger enlisted in the Navy and ended up in Hawaii, where he lost both his heterosexual and homosexual virginity – all in one night, he later claimed. (Later in his life, when asked in an interview by the New York Times reporter Neil Genzlinger whether he preferred "men or women," Granger replied, "That really depends on the person." With this in mind, it must be said that Granger had very good taste in women, and was known to have been romantically involved with Shelley Winters [when she was still young, thin and stacked], Patricia Neal and Ava Gardner.)

Out of the military, he was given the lead in the classic (and low-budget) directorial debut of Nicholas Ray, They Live by Night (1947), the release of which was delayed two years by Howard Hughes's takeover of RKO. In the meantime, he was once again put under contract by Samuel Goldwyn and put in one of Alfred Hitchcock's biggest flops and most under-appreciated films, Rope (1949). Based on a stage play that was based on the Leopold and Loeb murder (also the inspiration for the highly intriguing film Compulsion [1959 / trailer]), Granger was one half of a murderous gay couple (the other half played by the real-life gay actor John Dall) – though the gay aspect was implied rather than stated. Farley followed Rope with a slew of film noir and studio products of varying quality – and continual arguments with and suspensions by Goldwyn due to the inferior quality of the projects offered – until Granger, two years after doing his other seminal film, Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train (1951), finally bought out his contract in 1953. The action almost ruined him financially and, along with his decision to concentrate "acting" in NYC, caused his career to flounder. Granger found financial safety in television and satisfaction doing stage work.
And that is where Granger remained until 1968, when he participated in a Leonard Horn's forgotten Rogue's Gallery which, according to Leonard Maltin, is a "forgettable mystery drama [...] never released theatrically [... in which a] private eye comes to the aid of beautiful woman attempting suicide [and is] eventually seduced into frame-up scheme."

Two years later, Granger was living in Rome where he did a variety of memorable Eurotrash before returning to US television in 1974. His last appearance on Broadway was in 1982 (in Deathtrap), and his final tiny feature-film appearance was in 2001 in The Next Big Thing (trailer). His husband of 43 years, Robert Calhoun, died of lung cancer on 24 May 2008, in NYC, where Farley Granger continued to live until his own death of natural causes on 27 March 2011, at the age of 85.

A memorable actor and handsome man, and everything that Ramin Setoodeh probably hates more than himself, Farley Granger leaves behind a number of noteworthy films besides the three famous classics of which he most proud.
Below, a look at some of his more and less memorable projects.

North Star
(1943, dir. Lewis Milestone)
Included here only because it is his film debut, North Star (aka Armored Attack) is a wartime pro-Russia propaganda film featuring Anne Baxter, Dana Andrews, Walter Huston, Walter Brennan and Erich von Stroheim (!). In the 1950s it was reedited to be less reverential of the Russians. Here is an embarrassing clip of a propaganda song (composed by Aaron Copland, with lyrics by Ira Gershwin) featuring a singing Dana Andrews. Doesn't it make you wish you were Russian, too?
(1948, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)
Costarring James Stewart & John Dall (of Gun Crazy [1950 / fan-made trailer]), Rope is an under-appreciated and highly interesting film very loosely based on the real-life murder committed by University of Chicago students Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb. Not one of Hitchcock's best films, but definitely one of his most interesting... and famous for how it is filmed to look at if made with one long continuous take.
Trailer to
They Live by Night
(1949, dir. Nicolas Ray)
Three escapees from a state prison farm in Mississippi on the lam in the 1930s; one of them, the 23-year-old Bowie (Granger), after seven years of prison, hopes to prove his innocence and consents to help in a robbery to get the money for a lawyer. Injured, he takes refuge and falls in love with Keechie (Cathy O'Donnell), with whom he hopes to have a peaceful life in the mountains. But then his fellow escapees show up again and demand he help on one more job... a beautiful and influential classic.
Review at Noir of the Week.

The opening credit sequence:
Roseanna McCoy
(1949, dir. Irving Reis)
A classy production but guilty pleasure at best: Romeo & Juliet set amidst the Hatfields & McCoys.
Let's square dance!
Side Street
(1950, dir. Anthony Mann)
Joe Norson (Granger) is a poor letter carrier with a pregnant wife. Yielding to a moment of temptation, he steals $30,000 from a pair of ruthless blackmailers more than willing to kill. After some soul-searching, Joe wants to return the money but finds that the "friend" with whom he left it is gone with the wind...
Filmed on location in NYC, it reteams Farley Granger with Cathy O'Donnell (from They Live by Night).
Review at Noir of the Week.
Trailer to
Side Street:
Edge of Doom
(1950, dir. Mark Robson)
Panned unmercifully when released, Granger plays a mixed-up young man who kills a priest when he can't afford to give his mom an expensive funeral. The poster is rather bland, but the shadows and darks and compositions of the film are not...
Review at Noir of the Week.

While it lasts,
the full film:
Strangers on a Train
(1951, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)
A classic that needs no introduction.
Trailer to
Strangers on a Train:
Behave Yourself!
(1951, dir. George Beck)
An inconsequential film, the only feature film directorial credit of George Beck, this unmemorable criminal comedy co-starring Farley Granger's (at the time) main squeeze Shelley Winters was obviously inspired by the Thin Man franchise (1936-47).
While it lasts,
the full film:
The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing
(1955, dir. Richard Fleischer)
Marilyn Monroe was originally planned for this film, but chose to go on suspension instead. Thus a young Joan Collins got to play the infamous Evelyn Nesbit, the girl in the red velvet swing. The film is about the great Nesbit/Thaw/White murder case, with Ray Milland as Stanford White, the wealthy and famous NYC architect and Granger as Harry K. Thaw, the psycho young millionaire who married Evelyn and revenges her honor.
A scene from the film –
a spoiler if you don't know history:
Rogues' Gallery / Gioco d'azzardo
(1968, dir. Leonard Horn)
Granger's return to feature films – which never got released in the US and is now an unknown and forgotten film. This poster is to the Italian release. Anyone ever see it?
My Name Is Trinity / Lo chiamavano Trinità...
(1970, dir. Enzo Barboni)
A Bud Spencer & Terence Hill film – but we forgive you, Farley; everyone has to pay their rent, you too. The second film of B&T, it is also huge hit and made them what they became. Farley plays the Major, a bad guy...
Trailer to
My Name Is Trinity:
Something Is Crawling in the Dark / Qualcosa striscia nel buio / Something Creeping in the Dark
(1971, dir Mario Colucci)
Italian trailer to
 Qualcosa striscia nel buio:
The second and last film of Italian director Mario Colucci (aka Ray Colloway). Farley Granger as a psychopath named Spike. An entertaining if uneven Italo supernatural giallo featuring the typical mismatched group of strangers stranded in a large house that slowly begins to dwindle in numbers.
Here's a review at Cinema Somnambulist.
While it lasts –
the full film:
Amuck / Alla ricerca del piacere / In Search of Pleasure / Leather and Whips
(1971, dir. Silvio Amadio)
Trailer to
Lots of great nude scenes in this one! The babe-a-licious Greta Franklin (Barbara Bouchet) comes from the USA and gets herself hired as the secretary of Richard Stuart (Farley), a famous novelist living with his wife Elonora (Rosalba Neri) in a beautiful house close to Venice. The previous secretary, Sally (Patrizia Viotti), simply disappeared. What Richard and Elonora don't know is that Greta is Sally's lover, and she's out to find out what has happened to her sushi...
Reviewed at mondo digital.

Some of the great soundtrack:
The Red Headed Corpse / La rossa dalla pelle che scotta / Sweet Spirits / The Sensuous Doll
(1972, dir. Renzo Russo)
Poster above from
A Turkish-Italian coproduction co-starring the exotic Erika Blanc, who has a couple of mandatory nude scenes. Granger plays an alcoholic painter whose beaten-up shop-window mannequin comes to life and makes his life miserable.
According to Trash Palace, it's a "sexy ghost story with a [...] dreamy and serious approach [...] Blanc's nude scenes make this a must [...]."

Review at Giallo Fever.

Italian-lanuage scene to
 La rossa dalla pelle che scotta:
So Sweet, So Dead / Rivelazioni di un maniaco sessuale al capo della squadra mobile / Bad Girls / Penetration / The Slasher is the Sex Maniac
(1972, dir. Roberto Bianchi Montero)
An exploitive and misogynistic giallo slasher with a lot of naked babes – do we want them any other way?
Inspector Capuana (Granger), who is investigated a series of killings in which unfaithful wives are murdered and mutilated by an unknown man wearing (surprise!) a black fedora, gloves, and trench coat. The film gained some infamy when it was re-edited with inserted hardcore footage featuring Harry Reems and Tina Russell and released as a porno flick entitled Penetration "featuring" Farley Granger. Granger got the film pulled from the US, but supposedly the version is still available in Europe – if so, it ain't on the shelves at the local DVD store.
Review at Cult Movie Forum.
A trailer:
Kill Me, My Love! / Amore mio, uccidimi!
(1973, dir. Franco E. Prosperi)
A thriller by the Italian director Franco E. Prosperi, who is not the same Franco E. Prosperi who had has fingers in the pie for Mondo Cane I (1962 / trailer) and II (1963 / trailer).
Kill Me, My Love! is an unknown and seemingly hard to find film, so who knows if it's any good. Plot (supposedly): Granger is Manny Baxter, a rich man in Manila whose wife his wife Laureen (Pamela Tiffin) has run away with her lover Guido (Giancarlo Prete). The jealous, revenge-driven Manny uses his money to prevent his wife and Guido from leaving Manila for Bangkok as they are planning...

(1973, dir. Georg Fenady)
One of a wasted life's favorite films! What a cast! Farley Granger, Patric Knowles, Stella Stevens, Jamie Farr, Roddy McDowell, Elsa Lanchester, Victor Bruno and Bernard Fox. We caught this at the movies when we were 11 and loved it – we laughed my head off and the sight of Stella Stevens in frillies and garters made something in our pants move.
Filmed back to back with Fenady's rehash of Terror in the Wax Museum (1973 / trailer), Arnold is a black comedy bodycounter (without teenagers!). Karen Llewelyn (Stella Stevens) is the new gold-digging wife of the dead Arnold. She marries Arnold at his funeral because now that he is dead, his wife is a widow so he's free to remarry. As long as she stays by his side, she has the good life. The various relatives and hanger-ons after Arnold's wealth all die one by one a variety of creative ways. It's a film that deserves rediscovery – and perfect for the kiddies.
Trailer to
Savage City / La moglie giovane / Death Will Have Your Eyes / Infamia / Triangel
(1974, dir. Giovanni d'Eramo)
Another obscure and seldom seen giallo starring the great and tragic Marisa Mell as a woman who comes to Rome and ends up earning money on her back. She meets and marries a doctor played by Granger and stuff happens...
A trailer:
La polizia chiede aiuto / What Have They Done to Your Daughters / The Coed Murders
(1974, dir.: Massimo Dallamano)
More teens and prostitution and dead bodies in a film by the man who made What Have You Done to Solange? (1972 / trailer). A giallo polizitteschi with a killer motorcyclist and underage boobs...
A review at Celluloid Highway.
The Prowler / Rosemary's Killer
(1981, dir. Joseph Zito)
A golden-age slasher from Joseph Zito with a plot featuring remarkably similarities to the original My Bloody Valentine (1981 / trailer), which came out the same year. A critical and commercial flop when it was released, its hardcore special effects by the great Tom Savini hold up exceptionally well, but until Eli Roth drew attention to it as an influence to his films, The Prowler had pretty much drifted into obscurity. The genre-typical first murder scene takes place in 1945, where a war vet kills the writer of his "Dear John" letter and her new squeeze at a graduation dance. Thirty-five years later, at the first graduation dance since, a killer decked out in battledress begins picking off the fodder. Granger is the local Sheriff, who conveniently leaves on a fishing trip just before the shit hits the fan.
Trailer to
The Prowler:
The Imagemaker
(1986, dir. Hal Weiner)
Needless to say, the picking must have really been getting slim for Farley Granger (aged 61 at the time) if he had to accept a part in a film starring Michael Nouri. Granger's second-to-last feature-length film credit...
An interesting eulogy for Farely Granger can be found here at Sound Insights.


Mr. Xploit, Esquire said...

I always meant to see the Prowler. Tom Savini is a master, anything he is involved with is usually worth-seeing! Nice!

Abraham said...

I saw it many a year ago, but my memory is hazy from too much excess in-between to remember whether I liked it or not. Just got it from a friend, so I hope to find time for it soon... Savini does usually manage too save even the most crappy film, or?