Yes, yes, another set of Internet film reviews. But mine are short, snappy and to the point, like the brisk patter in the best noirs. These assume you know something about the film.
A note about content...
What constitutes a film noir, exactly? It seems every film critic has his own opinion, but many seem to agree that the book Film Noir : An Encyclopedia Reference to the American Style by Silver and Ward has about as representative a listing as any book. But I don't accept it as canon. It does not include what to me are two obvious noirs, "Hoodlum Empire" or Bogie's "The Two Mrs. Carrolls," or the boldly noirish nightmare "Dementia," or the Ida Lupino-directed women's interest films which are mildly noir or newer foreign films such as "Insomnia" or "Following." The Lucille Ball film "Lured" certainly seems to fit - and yet appears nowhere that I could find. I, personally, reject "Notorious." Some films, like "When Gangland Strikes," can be difficult calls. That title alone would seem to put in the canon, but it seems way too good-natured to be noir. Yet... it contains two murders, the first of which shows a lot of blood from a gunshot wound for a 1956 film, and a storyline that is commendably clever. So I include it, and will happily review and include the films I see without regard to anyone's accepted listing. Defining noir is half the fun. And maybe, in the end, defining noir is like that famous description of obscenity: "I can't describe it fully, but I know it when I see it!"
Additional note: I have read the Film Noir Reader, edited by Silver and Ursini - which complicates things. One critic wants to include "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "King Kong" as being film noir! This being the case, I'll stick to my guns. If I think it's noir I'll review it. If you disagree, fine, you can join the limitless list of film critics who all seem to disagree on a comprehensive list.
By the way, Silver and Ursini's book is slow going. Reading it, I have primarily learned that watching film noir is much more fun than reading about it, especially having to slog through something like, "Cinema spectatorship also becomes less of a predominantly masculine activity with its emphasis upon the sadistic male gaze. In Studlar's view, the spectator (mail or female) regressed to the infantile pre-Oedipal phase, submitting to (and identifying with) the overpowering presence of the screen and the woman on it." (Tony Williams, "Phantom Lady, Cornell Woolrich, and the Masochistic Aesthetic.") Whew. This stuff may get lauded in the Women's Studies programs of great universities, but it sure looks like academic flapdoodle to me.
One last comment: "The Golden Age of Hollywood" is normally considered to be around 1939, when Gone with the Wind and the Wizard of Oz were made, but to me the true Golden Age was about ten years later, in the postwar era. I have seen very few films from the period 1945-1950 that I haven't liked. The films of that era had, by then, lost the "Gee, you're swell!" artificiality of the previous decades, and a more mature narrative style had fully emerged. These films usually hold up well on viewings fifty years later.
Alias Nick Beal: An excellent horror-film noir hybrid starring Thomas Mitchell as a corrupted politician and Ray Milland as a satanic tempter. (Nick Beal = Nick = "Old Nick" = Satan. Beal = Bealzebub.) Film noir stalwart Audrey Totter provides interest as a tart used to lure Mitchell down. I normally don't care for Ray Milland, but he was absolutely wonderful in this - along with Walter Huston's "Mister Scratch" in the Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), he's one of the classic screen's great devils. I couldn't tell from the VHS copy I had, but it appeared there was something interesting going on with Milland's eyes - perhaps the lighting, perhaps make up. But they seemed to glow somewhat. Very effective. He was genuinely creepy. Subtle, but creepy. In one scene Totter gets the slap of all slaps from Milland. You see women getting slapped all the time in film noir (especially in any films starring Dan Duryea), but this one stood out in the genre. Geez, it sounded like a thunder clap! Good foley, I guess. One more thing: this well-crafted film maintained interest and told the story it needed to tell with no wasted scenes and no slow sections in 90 minutes. Why can't modern filmmakers do that anymore? I agree with Aki Kaurismaki, the Finnish filmmaker, who believes that when it comes to running time, less is more.
The Pretender: We noirheads love our John Alton mystery lighting - and this tight little noir is a fine example of it. It also features a solo oboe and a Theramin in the score to provide a nightmarish, repressive atmosphere. Alan Carney portrays a film noir grotesque. Lots of fun!
The Silent Partner: Who knew the Canadians could make a gripping noir thiller? Set in 1978, this may be Elliott Gould's best role - a clever bank teller who plays cat and mouse with a murderous bank robber (Christopher Plummer). A clever script and an intricate plot.
A Prophet: It's Corsicans vs. Muslims in this fascinating French prison epic about a young Arab who rises to become a crime kingpin.
Ladies in Retirement: Simply put, one of the best gothic murder mysteries I have ever seen and one of Ida Lupino's best roles. Starts out slow, but really grows with a very strong cast, including the ever unpredictable Elsa Lanchester and Louis Hayward.
Ruthless: Detour is Edgar Ulmer's most celebrated film noir, but this - with an a-list cast - is his best. A little bit Citizen Kane, a little bit The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, this is one of those movies that follow the protagonists from childhood up to their demise. An excellent production with Sydney Greenstreet in a great role. Loved it.
Quai des Orfevres: An absolutely wonderful 1947 French film noir by director Henri-Georges Clouzot, who, in 1955, directed the magnificent Diabolique. The title refers to the Parisian version of Scotland Yard, and tips us off that, yes, this is a police procedural. The story of French filmmakers and film noir - the American genre they gave name to - is mixed. To me, their productions often seem too heavily derivative of the Yank originals. I can almost imagine the crew enthusiastically saying things like, "Ah, oui! Le Bogie avec le trenchcoat et fedora! C'est magnifique!" But when the French make a good film noir, it is very, very good - this is one of these. It's eye candy... post-war Paris is shown in evocative black and white: the wet side alleys, the crowded, smoky bars and theatres, depressing police stations, the interesting cars, the crowded apartments. The look of this film is so strong, in fact, it almost overwhelms the plot and action. One doesn't care what's happening - one just likes looking at it. But, fortunately, the plot is also strong, with the characteristic Clouzot twist ending. (Long before M. Night Shyamalan, there was Henri-George Clouzot.) A curiosity: a lesbian, who oddly wears her name "DORA" stitched to her blouse, is a feature of this plot. In 1947! The amusing and sympathetic police inspector - who bears an uncanny resemblance to Russian composer Igor Stravinsky - has a wry line at the end: "You and I are two of a kind—we'll never get lucky with women."
Black Tuesday: A 1954 Edward G. Robinson prison break film... it's as good as Robinson gets and as good as film noir gets. Unrelenting and hardcore - really, really excellent.
For Men Only: This one was a total surprise as it was quite good, despite the somewhat homoerotic title and hazing opening sequence. It's Paul Henreid's indictment of fraternity hazing among college "boys" (meaning twentysomethings). The chief baddie in this was a very young Russell Johnson, the Professor in Gilligan's Island! The femme fatale was a young Kathleen Hughes, one of those forgotten 1950's actresses whom the camera absolutely loved. She looked sensational in this. There she is at top - eeeekkk! It was also the film debut of Vera Miles. A unique movie. Wait - was this film noir? Not really. It also wasn't a juvenile delinquency film. I guess I'd call it a social issue film. Note: A puppy gets shot and killed in this as an initiation task. Whew. You don't see that very often in movies.
Ruthless: Director Edgar G. Ulmer is primarily known for Detour, a quick, dirty and cheap 1945 noir starring harridan Ann Savage in the part of her life, but Ruthless is, I think, his better film. It's one part Citizen Kane and one part The Strange Love of Martha Ivers. I was hooked from the moment it started until the rather surprising conclusion. An indictment of greed, Zachary Scott stars as a selfish, obsessed tycoon who runs through many business associates, friends and women by the film's end. Wonderful.
The Midnight Story: A superior Tony Curtis movie with an honest-to-goodness plot twist at the end that I didn't see coming. (That doesn't happen very often.) In this one, Curtis is a cop who quits the force to investigate the murder of a priest and becomes emotionally close to the family of the suspect. One of Tony Curtis' better early efforts.
The Blue Lamp: A truly wonderful Brit Noir; a great British cast, a compelling story and utterly gorgeous black and white cinematography. The plot is sort of a British version of the American A Detective Story which came out the following year; in a nutshell, a day in the life of a Bobby. My favorite line: "We're going after the bastard who killed P.C. Dixon." This is the earliest British film, I think, to use the word "bastard"; when that line is uttered it has real impact - a real lesson to modern day filmmakers who feel compelled to scatter blood, explosions and swearing about. Less is more. This flick has appeal for Londoners and those who love the city (I'm numbered in that group): the darkest, key-lit London streets at night, and great old 1940's cars careening around corners showing the city as it was in 1949... excellent. It took real guts to be a Bobby back then. Apparently, the tactic to take in an armed baddie was not to pull a gun on him, but to stare him in the eyes, walk at him and say, "Put the gun down." (This happens twice in the film.) Wow.
Le Trou: The best prison film I have ever seen, and that's saying a lot because the prison flick is a sub-genre of film noir, and so I've seen a bunch of them. This film is a lot like The Asphalt Jungle (1950) in that you become emotionally attached with the prisoners staging the jailbreak - the protagonists are not just criminals, they are human beings who have done criminal things (exactly what criminal things isn't described). So you're pulling for them: in Asphalt Jungle it's a heist, here, it's a prison break. It runs over two hours... normally, I prefer shorter films, but there was a method to the director's madness. At one point you see the prisoners bang and chip away on the concrete floor of their prison with a steel bar for what seems like an extended length of time, the message being, of course, that this is hard, hard work.
No Orchids for Miss Blandish: An unusual and oddly named film noir. Why unusual? It created a scandal when it was released in the U.K. For one thing, it is set in New York City with a British cast, which means that everyone save the American lead actor affects rather bizarre dialects. (One psychopathic tough sounds like Spit in the Bowery Boys.) A reviewer noted that an unusually high number of statements in the film end with the word, "See?" It's also notable for being unusually violent for a British film; lots of gun deaths. And it's also sexually suggestive - not in any way that would cause surprise nowadays, but definitely over the top in 1948. A British reviewer once said the film had the morals of an alley cat and the sweetness of a sewer. I loved it! I always look for the DAME-HUNGRY KILLER COP RUNS BERSERK element in an old noir, and this film had it in spades - which is unusual because Britnoirs tends to be mannered and rather mild. This was most bizarre and thoroughly over the top Brit noir, ever. Lots of fun.
The Lineup: A top notch late period film noir. A Don Siegel directed film, this one moves right along, always sustaining interest. It has great San Francisco locations, including the police building that television's Chief Ironside worked out of (those large semi-circular windows upper story are instantly recognizable). Eli Wallach plays a psychopathic hit man assisted by his coach, played by character actor Robert Keith, a middle aged man who looks like a grinning skull with a pencil thin mustache and a dry demeanor. His funny little habit is to collect the final words of the people Wallach kills in a little notebook! Isn't noir great? The best ones have those little freaky details.
The Last Lullaby: Lean and economical, there are no distractions in this film. It's just the plot and characters, sparingly told. It reminded me a lot of cult favorite Blast of Silence (1961). The title makes no real sense with the story, by the way. I imagine it was selected because it sounds noirish. Well done; a good, viable neo-noir.
Red Light: I normally don't care for George Raft films because I think the man can't act, but this one was intriguing and he was well cast in it. It was perhaps his best performance ever. It was an oddball film in that it mixed a film noir plot and style (revenge for the murder of a beloved brother) with a strong religious message - I've never seen that before! Also, Raymond Burr (shown above) was the baddie, and this may have been one of his best films as well. A real surprise which I quite enjoyed.
Nobody Lives Forever: A great film featuring noir street guy John Garfield in full John Garfield style, which is to say that he's brash, energetic, street wise, tough and charming. Like Bogie, but younger and somewhat more vulnerable. During World War II my father reported that he could usually get somebody to buy him a drink simply by stating that he was from Brooklyn (as he actually was). New Yorkers and Brooklyners back then were considered all-American types, and Garfield made a film career out of this kind of presence. As if Garfield wasn't enough, this film also featured the beloved and ever cool Walter Brennan, who even in 1946 looked old enough to be called "Pops." (His wikipedia article makes note of the fact that he could often play parts for men older than he was with great success.) He has a great street scam in this film: a hustler, like Garfield, he invites people to look through his telescope for a dime. He then relieves them of their wallets while they're doing so!
The 7th Commandment: The neat thing about having a taste for old black and white crime films is that sometimes you're very agreeably surprised. For instance, the other night I put in this DVD a noirhead friend Mike Keaney gave me. I'll save you from having to look it up... the seventh commandment is the one about adultery. It was a cheapie production from a studio I never heard of, which starred nobody I knew, written and directed by a name totally unfamiliar to me. It had a rather clunky start but featured a blond femme fatale who was... interesting. As the film progressed I noticed that while it was obviously made on the cheap, it had a quality. By the time I got to the end of the film I was a bit astonished - this film had transcended its low budget. In fact, the low budget qualities enhanced the film! The actress (Lyn Statten) played her part well - in fact, she was really something to behold. A tough cookie in thrall to her sometimes vicious boyfriend, by the end of the production I was convinced that I had just seen one of the really notable femme fatale performances in film noir.
One of the unique things about the 7th Commandment, however, was the religious element. Without describing the plot too much, it's about a man who get amnesia, becomes an honest-to-goodness faith healing evangelical minister who is blackmailed and then tempted by his former girlfriend. He falls to her wiles and multiple murders ensue. What was striking is that the religious element was handled with respect; it was clear that the director intended that it was the important theme in the production. One reviewer wrote, "I don't want to give away much of the plot, as the element of surprise is important. However, if the combination of a gritty b&w low-budget blackmail melodrama mixed with serious religious issues of faith and salvation sounds intriguing, track this film down. I've never really seen anything like it!" Actually, neither have I.
Afterwards I wondered, did I just see a cult film? After some Internet research I realized I had. From the IMDB bio for Lyn Statten: "...her only noteworthy film to date was Crown International's "The 7th Commandment" released in December, 1961; a feature only distributed to drive-in vendors. Statten's portrayal of the femme-fatal Terry James, who takes the fall for an auto accident when her boyfriend, suffering amnesia, deserts the scene, is one of the most lost pieces of cinematic history ever to grace the screen.Statten proved only to be a one-hit-wonder, but her icy and bad-girl image continues to live on in the palms of avid cult film devotees."
Remember, only an audience can make a cult film.
Crime Wave: This one stars noir stalwarts Sterling Hayden (a snarling, jaded detective), Ted de Corsia (always the heavy), Gene Nelson (All-American type who had a past run-in with the law that haunts him despite his efforts to go straight) and last but certainly not least, the ever lovable Timothy Carey, Hollywood's creepiest creep. In one scene Carey is assigned the duty of guarding Nelson's wife, a job he eagerly accepts with a leering smile and garbled dialogue. One feels her husband's pain at this. It was also filmed in Los Angeles and Glendale - the community next to hometown of Burbank - and I recognized many of the scenes. That's always fun.
Elevator to the Gallows: An early Louis Malle work and the absolute coolest film noir I have ever seen. Given that I've seen 400+ of these, that's saying something. It features elegant black and white cinematography, lingering shots of Paris streets in the late Fifties, a Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing, a young Jeanne Moreau and an improvised score by Miles Davis. You just don't get more chic than that. But wait! There's more! One of the characters has an Ever Ready Plato clock on his desk. I want one. The twisty, turny plot and the conclusion are also very satisfying.
Decoy: A very characteristic film noir - all fedoras, attitudes, cigarettes, betrayals and the meanest femme fatale (Jean Gillie) ever. It's now available on a DVD, but for years this film wasn't distributed in any other form than a videotape dub from Croatian television - this is the version I saw. (By the way, "doctor" in Croatian is "doktore.") It was excellent. Jean Gillie would have had a more notable career except that she died just three years after Decoy was released, at age 33. But she certainly earned her place amongst the Dark City Divas with her portrayal in Decoy, her last lines a scornful laugh. Noirheads love this film...
Two Dollar Bettor: A cool little film. It's not a major film by any means, and people think it's camp. What I liked about it was the horse race betting angle. My father was a handicapper and enjoyed driving to Del Mar racetrack to play the horses. Given that I haven't ever seen a noir with a horse racing plot, I liked this one. Do I sound defensive? Well, yes, I am - it wasn't an especially good film, truth to tell. But I liked it and it's a guilty pleasure. Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer of the Little Rascals comedy series was in it. He played a teenage football star (!). Thank goodness he didn't croon.
New York Confidential: An absolute first rate film noir starring some of my favorite noir stalwarts: Richard Conte, Broderick Crawford and Mike Mazurki. I suppose there was probably a prototypical syndicate film before this one, but this is an early one where all of the formulas and elements used in later and more celebrated works like Goodfellas, The Godfather and the Sopranos are present. If you like Mafia films this is an early one you'd need to see. You know the brief scene in the first Godfather film, where somebody snaps a photo of Don Barzini (Richard Conte) attending the Corleone wedding - where he makes a displeased face and has a henchman destroy the roll of film? To fully appreciate that little bit of business you had to have seen the 1950's Conte films like this one. Richard Conte was the smoothest of the film noir gangsters, always elegant, always poised, always fun to watch. And there is simply nobody in Hollywood today who is anything like Broderick Crawford; I wonder if his type - hulking, determined, loud, solid and old school - is even to be found in society anymore. In the Godfather films Talia Shire plays the gangster's daughter; that's a character present in New York Confidential as well, here played by Anne Bancroft in high style: her Daddy can get her anything, except respectability, and she resents it. All that, plus... Celia Lovsky (Star Trek's T'Pau) as the Cappo's mother. Great film...
The Night Has a Thousand Eyes: I've been looking for it for more than a decade; it's rarely shown and isn't on DVD. Stars Edward G. Robinson. It's based on a story by the always interesting pulp writer Cornell Woolrich. This one is perhaps his most fatalistic tale, and involves Robinson as a psychic who sees an odd series of life-threatening occurrences for a young woman. I quite enjoyed it - an entertaining film.
The Friends of Eddie Coyle: The plot was unsophisticated, nothing new there. The cast supporting Robert Mitchum as the title character was okay, too - but there was nothing special there, either. And the music was vintage Dave Grusin 1973 jazz funk. What elevated it was Mitchum's notable performance as the put upon, cornered loser. During one important scene he invites a fellow gunrunner to count the number of knuckles on his hand - he has twice as many as he should. Why? Because he was once punished by the mob by having his fingers slammed into a drawer, all of them broken. It hurt, it hurt bad. Nothing personal, you understand, they had to do it. And the remembrance of that pain - he rubs his hands - is evident in every scene where he considers selling out the mob to keep himself out of prison. You really feel for the guy. In the pantheon of film noir losers, Eddie Coyle is right up there with Richard Widmark's more youthful and flamboyant Harry Fabian in Night and the City. Unforgettable.
Framed: A crackerjack film noir starring Glenn Ford and the luminous Janis Carter. Film noir guru Eddie Mueller says it's "...the kind of film that we talk about when we try to describe what film noir is all about." Indeed - all the elements are there and well-played. A great little film. I quite enjoyed it.
Woman on the Run: A terrific film noir starring a wise-cracking Ann Sheridan. It's one of those location noirs, where a city - in this case, San Francisco - is used prominently enough to almost become one of the characters in the film. This one had a great plot (a man who witnessed a murder flees the cops who want him as a witness - in the process of looking for him his estranged wife discovered that he really loves her after all), neat actors (Robert Keith is wonderful in this, as is Sheridan and stalwart noir leading man Dennis O'Keefe), a great location (mid century San Francisco) and a novel plot twist. The conclusion, which takes place at a boardwalk amusement area, is bizarre and nightmarish. Films like this remind me of what attracted me to film noir in the first place! I mention Robert Keith... his is a name that is really only known to old film buffs nowadays, but he's in a group of favorite film noir character actors. Whenever I see his name or that of Timothy Carey, Percy Helton, Emile Meyer, Paul Stewart, Jack Lambert, Barry Kelley, Jack Elam or Frank Cady appearing in the credits I have to smile. They're almost like old friends. 1950 was a great year for films noir... in addition to the one I cite above, it also marks the release of The Asphalt Jungle, Sunset Blvd., Where the Sidewalk Ends, In a Lonely Place, Gun Crazy, Night and the City, D.O.A., Panic in the Street, No Way Out, Caged, Dark City... so many top quality productions... Film historians usually cite 1939 as being a high water mark for quality output from Hollywood. I think it's more like 1947-1951. And 1950 was, arguably, the high water mark year for film noir.
99 River St.: A noir that should be much better known than it is. The casting is perfect and the direction is spot on. It was so good I didn't even mind the happy ending so much.
The Breaking Point: A top notch noir with John Garfield. Garfield made a number of excellent noirs, but I think this one was his best. As usual, he plays a headstrong and acerbic but basically likable guy. He plays a fishing boat captain who seems to continually run afoul of bad luck and bad contacts. What struck me about this film was the refreshingly non-stereotypical treatment of a black man; the final scene of the man's son awaiting his return from a dodgy boat cruise was poignant. The noir protagonist may have escaped death, but it's clear the story is still tragic.
Convicted: Did Broderick Crawford ever make any bad films? I don't think so. He and Glenn Ford really shine in this great old prison film. I liked the scenes of the convicts gathering to shout ("yammer") at the warden's office. Lots of tough looking old dudes in this one.
Blast of Silence: Spare and elegant, it describes a hit man's contracted job, the murder of a gangster. Naturally, that's not all there is to it. Most of the action is told in narrative and it has many wonderful shots of New York City in evocative black and white. This is considered a rediscovered classic; I think people viewing it in 1961 probably figured, "good little film" and that's it. Nowadays we see it as it fits in the tail end of a long film noir cycle (1940-1961). In fact, this may just be the very last true noir of the classic period. The Criterion DVD has a neat little features section showing the locations as they looked in 1961 and now; it's surprising just how much the look of the places has changed. NYC in the 1950's and 1960's has a very different look than the city of today...
Night and the City: I didn't think I would like this one at first. I mean, London is the city referred to, here. Isn't noir an American product? Nevertheless, Richard Widmark pulls off the loser character of Harry Fabian so convincingly that the way the film ends is never in question, and I watch just to see a sort of cosmic justice be done. Mike Mazurki, an early pro wrestler, is in this, and one wouldn't think he would be a convincing ingredient of a tough, gritty film - but he is. Googie Withers is in it, too! I have only seen four films with this oddly-named British actress, but they are favorites: this one, Dead of Night, Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes and the Powell and Pressburger film One of Our Aircraft is Missing..
Pickup on South Street: Wonderful cast and great noir ambiance. I especially like Richard Widmark's home: a shack over the water, approached by walking along a (metaphorical) narrow plank. It's hard to believe he was 39 when he did this one, he seems like such a youthful wiseguy. Jean Peters is an engaging "b-girl" (these days we call them "ho's"). Thelma Ritter is great in this, too, and has a especially memorable line in keeping with noir fatalism: "Go ahead and blow my head off, mister. You'd be doing me a favor." (He - Richard Kiley - does.)
Kiss Me, Deadly: In many ways the film noir. I didn't care much for it when I first viewed it, but upon subsequent viewings its quirky characters (the guy at the morgue is especially freakish), nihilism and freak-out ending worked its magic on me. It is now a favorite. The great Nat King Cole song "I'd Rather Have the Blues (Than What I Got)" woven throughout helps, too, as do the classical allusions. The only problem I have with this is that Velda looks like a grown-up female Jerry Mathers ("Leave it to Beaver").
The Asphalt Jungle: One of those films where you root for the criminals because, as is explained by one of the characters in this film, "crime is merely a left-handed form of human endeavor." Unexpectedly gripping and tense., and a great collection of types. Throw Marilyn Monroe into the mix and you've got one terrific film - possibly the best crime film, ever. I like the smoky heist planning scenes set in harsh light and velvet shadows.
Detective Story: A day in the life of a cop, presented by William Wyler. The majority of this film is (claustrophobically) confined to a precinct headquarters. It's entertaining in that four or five storylines are going on at once, with much visual interest. Also, it has an excellent cast of character actors - there are no weak roles in this. It must have been considered ahead of its time in subject matter as well, as it deals - in fairly frank terms - with an abortionist. Horace McMahon, a favorite of mine who also played a gruff New York police lieutenant on the TV series The Naked City, is in this and adds credibility to the production. The last scene is a bit over-the-top, but nevertheless adds the necessary noirish kick. Up to that point this film is too frequently cheery and comical to really be a noir, but the tragic last part puts it into noir territory. An excellent film.
The Killing: A heist film similar to Asphalt Jungle, in that you get wrapped up with the details of the crime and begin to consider the criminals as mere working stiffs. What puts this one over the top for me is the unlikely pairing of nebbish little guy Elisha Cook, Jr. and the so-very-female Marie Windsor as an (unhappily) married couple - they have some incredible dialog. The narrative style is unique, too, and copied (with no requirement to do so) in Pulp Fiction.
Riot in Cell Block 11: One of the better prison films, but then, director Don Siegel knows what he's doing. This one has a favorite character actor and noir stalwart, Emile Meyer, as a compassionate prison guard. He's much more interesting as a menacing slob, frankly. This film also stars one of Hollywood's scariest heavies, Leo Gordon - but young, buff (wearing wife-beaters) and psychotic. A fine film! By the way... it co-stars a young Alvy Moore, aka Hank the County Agent from Green Acres, which jeopardizes this film's noir status. That's my rule. Any film he's in can't be taken seriously. (See "5 Against the House.") Fortunately, however, he has only a bit role with infrequent speaking parts, so I'll waive my rule.
(NOTE: In real life, Alvy was a Marine who fought at Iwo Jima. So he gets major respect from me for that!)
Killer's Kiss: Another early Stanley Kubrick effort. New York looks bleaker here than in any other film, and the laconic, emotionless blonde male and female leads seem washed of life or vitality. Sort of like Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake but with no sense of personal style - reduced to that because of their surroundings. It has an upbeat ending, but you sense that life together will suck for them nevertheless. In my opinion this film should be better received critically than it is.
The Driver: Ryan O'Neal plays against type in this great neo-noir; a man of few words who does some fancy driving (which is a lot more interesting to watch the chase sequences in the far better-known Bullitt). Bruce Dern plays a semi-psychotic detective and Isabelle Adjani is, well, just great to look at!
Scarlet Street: Starring my favorite thinking man's actor, Edward G. Robinson. I love the fact that his crime is shown as unpunished by the law. See? You can still shock well within the bounds of 1940's filmmaking conventions. Made by one of my favorite directors, Fritz Lang, and starring a notably young Joan Bennett - whom I got to know as a kid watching Dark Shadows. She was a matriarch, by then, but this film shows she could portray a convincing prostitute! Those paintings Robinson's character does are great - I especially like the Grandma Moses-style portrait of Bennett at the end.
The Sweet Smell of Success: The most thoroughly bitter film I have ever seen - you almost want to take a shower after seeing it. Tony Curtis has his best role in this one as the pathetic, desperate publicity agent Sidney Falco. At one point in the film somebody makes a cutting comment to Tony Curtis, and he uses this a few moments later to his advantage - as he uses everything he can lay his hands on: cash, relationships, information. Noir, above all, is an exposition device for human desperation, and this film depicts that better than anything else.
Mildred Pierce: I'm no Joan Crawford fan - she's a screen Medusa as well as an offscreen one - but I certainly liked this film. All about a mother's poisonous love. She has a sympathetic role in it, perhaps that's why I like it. Eve Arden, as a wise-cracking waitress, has all the best lines and steals every scene she's in.
Side Street: A favorite just for the great evocative shots of mid-century Manhattan, but Anthony Mann adds all sorts of interesting little features to this one as well. For instance, at one point a bad guy chokes the life out of poor Jean Hagan - who is especially convincing as a b-girl - while kissing her! Whew... never saw that before. I also liked the duality of the bad guy taxi cab driver being a family man like Farley Granger, the protagonist. And the automobile chase scene at the end was great, too (those bulbous old sedans didn't corner well). The only thing I didn't care for about this film was Cathy O'Donnell, who, when paired with Farley Granger, acts somewhat retarded to me. She was lacklustre in They Only Live at Night, too. The scene when Granger calls her and she shouts "Run! Get away!" was especially annoying. But it doesn't take much away from a film that grabs you at the beginning (with great overhead shots of Manhattan) and never lets go.
Try and Get Me!: One of the bleakest films noir I have ever seen (which is really saying something). You might think it's about a cornered hoodlum, gun in hand, screeching the movie title at the police, but it's not. It's actually a left-wing denunciation of mob violence. The scene where the mob grabs the men has real impact. What surprised me was when the film changed direction from the crime to the mob's reaction to it, which was intended to be the focus all along. An excellent b-film.
The Big Combo: No doubt about it, Richard Conte was smmooooth, an ideal noir gangster. And the opening scenes grabbed me, too: a blonde in a white dress running in and out of light in a darkened alleyway, two (homosexual) goons in chase. The torture scene was especially memorable, Earl Holliman grinning sadistically, face half in and half out of the light. It's not often that so much is done with so little budget. Finally, this movie has my all-time favorite film noir opening title sequence: big white block letters superimposed over an moving aerial shot of New York City at night, accompanied by David Raksin's perfect jazzy score, the saxophone suggesting gangsters, strippers or both. The whole attitude of the movie and the hard-boiled urban 50's is summed up in a perfect minute and a half.
Detour: The case study of doing so much with so little budget. As Roger Ebert points out, the flaws and evident budgetary shortcuts don't detract from the film, they are the film. This one plays like a noir nightmare, having a logical sense all its own. When viewing it, my wife pointed out how improbable it was, based on mistaken and foolish decisions - but she admitted that the following day she was thinking about the film nonetheless. It is a cheapie that is not easily cast away mentally or forgotten. The appropriately-named Anne Savage is remarkable, the hands-down meanest shrew in all of noir.
Kiss of Death: Include me in with the Tommy Udo fans from the late forties. Richard Widmark gives an unforgettable performance in this, his first film. I read somewhere that Victor Mature - an actor I don't care for at all - gave his best performance in this film, but it was unfortunate since he was so thoroughly out-classed by Widmark. My favorite scene is at the end, when Mature confronts Widmark, and we see Udo's eyes peering at him from behind a door. Very suspenseful.
Sudden Fear: From all accounts Joan Crawford was a pretty horrible woman, but she's ideal for this part, a woman-in-distress noir. Nobody in Hollywood had eyes that could stare out in this fashion, and Jack Palance is suitably creepy. There is one part in this film, just after Crawford's character learns of the plot against her life, that has some terrific facial expressions on Crawford and Palance suggesting that the balance of power has shifted, thanks to hidden knowledge.
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers: Strong performances from all concerned, and Liz Scott never looked or sounded better. My favorite aspect of this one is that it starts with the characters' childhoods - indicating that the rot set in at a very early age. (And the pre-story is interesting in itself, such are the strong performances from the young cast.) However, I've never found Barbara Stanwyck especially attractive. This is probably because I first became familiar with her as an older woman in the 1960's TV series The Big Valley, where she was anything but a femme fatale.
Chinatown: Yes, in color, and yes, made in 1974. But Roger Ebert described this one best when he wrote that it isn't so much neo-noir, but, rather that this film takes its place alongside the best noirs. I love the downbeat ending: director Roman Polanski was right to insist upon it, writer Robert Towne, who wanted something more upbeat, was wrong. I'm no Jack Nicholson fan - I think he plays Jack Nicholson far too often and is irretrievably typecast - but I like his understated performance in this film. The music is great, the various characters are a delight to watch, and the evil John Huston portrays in this film is unforgettable. I still get chills at the end, when he escorts his granddaughter away. And the revelatory scene where Nicholson slaps Faye Dunaway into revealing the core secret of the film was shocking in a way I rarely see in films. Maybe, like a fine wine, noir was something that had to be bottled in the 40's and only fully matured in the 70's. One of my very favorite films in any genre.
The Two Jakes: I had to watch this one twice to fully appreciate it. On the second viewing, I rewound and fast-forwarded the tape around to make sure I caught the subtle stuff: 1.) "Whipstocking" as a sexual pursuit and oil drilling technique. 2.) Trembler/temblor (I made the same mistake when I was a kid). 3.) The clever and subtle metaphorical way Gittes finally recognizes Catherine Mulray based on a previous scene. 4.) Constant references to the previous film - Catherine Mulray: "We haven't been introduced" (true, but they have met). I also like the way this echoes the first time Gittes meets Evelyn Mulwray ("Mr. Gittes, have we ever met?"). 5.) The Richard Farnsworth character mispronounces Gittes' name the way Noah Cross did. 6.) Memorable supporting characters: That hilariously self-important Notary Public (who was a clerk in the prior film) and the scientist who tries to warn about the accumulating gas pressures. What's with the cop with the green parrot on his shoulder? 7.) According to a voiceover, Gittes got a medal in WWII, which, framed, hides his wall safe. Actually, I bet this film will bear an attentive third viewing. I'm sure there's stuff I missed. I now think that this film is far better than the critics apparently did when it was released. For instance, for me it does a better job of establishing that the past can't be avoided than the more celebrated "Out of the Past." The last line in this film is great. Even Jack Nicholson, an actor I tire of because he always seems to play the same character (Jack Nicholson), gives a restrained and sympathetic performance. I strongly recommend this one.
I understand Towne, Evans and Nicholson were going to do a trilogy about what made Southern California great (water in "Chinatown," oil in this film and Hollywood in a third installment). Until the third film is actually made - if ever - I will mentally substitute "Sunset Boulevard."
Body Heat: An update of Double Indemnity, really, but a very good one. It's also a guilty pleasure of mine since I do not like explicit sex in films (and this one is pretty explicit). What puts this one over the top for me plotwise is how well the betrayal is revealed, bit by bit, and the identity switcheroo at the end. But what makes this film really special is the blusey/jazzy/depressive score by John Barry, which suckered me in immediately during the opening credits. I have purchased a CD of the music and have been driving my poor family crazy with it in the same way my mother did to me with the score to Gypsy, when I was a child. Barry wrote many a good piece of music for the Bond films, but he really outdoes himself in this one. My only complaint is that Kathleen Turner is not at all a woman I would kill for, so there's some willing suspension of disbelief required from me.
The Set-Up: Gripping; the best fight film I have ever seen. Interestingly, at only 72 minutes, filmed in real-time. (That is, a clock shown on a street at the end is advanced 72 minutes from the same clock shown at the beginning.) Being something of a senior athlete myself, I like that angle of this film.
The Red House: A largely unknown film, but when I first stumbled across it on TV I was hooked enough to stay up until 2 AM watching it. (And this was before I discovered film noir.) Not a film noir in the conventional, urban, sense, but more like a rural-noir. In fact, this film is just plain different, period. It has Julie London in it, which is recommendation enough for me. The climax is genuinely creepy and haunted.
Brigham City: Mormon film noir! The tag line explains it as well as anything else: "Nothing attracts a Serpent like a paradise." Other films have also had this idea as a subtext ("The Red House," "Blue Velvet"); what I like about this one is that as I am a Mormon myself, the Utah culture depicted therein seems so recognizable.
Tension: One of the better police procedurals I have seen. It differs from the usual fare in that the lead cop (Barry Sullivan) seems to be sadistic and manipulative in his pursuit of the bad guy (who, in this case, is a gal). Audrey Totter is great in this, as the tough as nails femme fatale. Richard Basehart is excellent as well. I also liked the "tension" metaphor of the rubber band, used in crucial scenes. A great little noir!
The Big Heat: What noir is all about, and perhaps the best angry cop drama out there. Fritz Lang did some fine work; perhaps his very best. Gloria Grahame has the primo role in this one ("We're both sisters under the mink"), and Lee Marvin's flinging about of hot liquid is certainly memorable. The gunplay was effective: after I watched this one I was awakened from sleep by some kid's lit firecracker in front of our house, and, half-awake, briefly wondered if life was in the process of becoming art.
Pitfall: Perhaps because I am a sometimes bored but happily-married man this one really speaks to me. Dick Powell is great; I'm so glad he got out of light musicals to do noir, he's much better suited to it. And Liz Scott was never more appealing. I like the fact that at the end of this one he gets off, but not really scot-free. A satisfactory ending.
Moonrise: Like the Red House, another rural-noir; this one seems to take place in Virginia. Dane Clark effectively conveys frustrations and emotions under the surface, and one sympathizes with his occasional rage, fear and desperation. A fatalistic, depressive ending seems more appropriate instead of the upbeat one it has, but on the whole this is a unique and engrossing film. It's a good example of how noir conventions and themes works well in genres outside of urban crime. It has been pointed out that noir is not so much a genre (night/city/streets/crime) so much as an artistic style, or a sensibility. My favorite aspect of this film is that the whole thing looks like the action - even a carnival! - takes place in the middle of thick (metaphorical) woods, crisscrossed with dark, brackish (metaphorical) creeks. At the end, hope is indicated by the surroundings and cinematography opening up.
Pursued: Another good example of off-genre noir - this one is a Western! I saw it as a kid late one night with my father, and was interested in the nightmarish flashbacks Bob Mitchum had as a kid, which are fully explained at the end of the film.
Blade Runner: A celebrated science-fiction cult film with unexpected and interesting philosophical themes about life. It also happens to be yet another off-genre noir, and since it was made in 1982, a neo-noir at that. Ridley Scott's vision of the Los Angeles of tomorrow is so convincing, I have no problem believing that someday L.A. will really look like this. Perhaps my favorite aspect of this film is that it appeals to my son, and we have enjoyed viewing it together. Odd how the simple things in life are so fulfilling, isn't it?
Odd Man Out: Directed by Carol Reed, who made the excellent "The Third Man." Not known as a film noir because it's British, but it's pretty noirish nonetheless. This one takes place in the alleys and streets of Belfast; the photography is a stunning and expressionistic black and white. It has a doom-laden "heist gone wrong" storyline about a dying IRA gunman and the way people respond to him, and the inevitable (but nonetheless rather shocking) tragic ending in front of an iron fence that symbolizes jail cell bars. Add a femme fatale and that's as noir as a movie gets. Of all the films James Mason made, this is his favorite. He has good taste.
They Made Me a Fugitive: A Brit-noir; British films are always well-cast, and this one is certainly no exception. The interesting thing about watching a Brit-noir is seeing how the hard-boiled attitudes translate when spoken in a British dialect. There's a fight that takes place on a slippery slate tile roof of a funeral parlor (the letters "R.I.P." are mounted on the top as a sign) that is especially well-shot and memorable - I also liked the ambiguous ending.
Brute Force: A great prison breakout movie, and perhaps one of the most socially liberal of all the noirs, which gives the film an added political edge. (In order for this film to work, you have to agree that the inmates are more unfortunate than evil, and that the same thing could happen to any one of us at any time - which is a flawed bit of left-wing thinking.) Anyway, this film is described as being especially violent, which it is in some cases, but it's a far cry from what we see nowadays. (However, I wish someone would have popped the Calypso inmate - sort of a noir Jar-Jar Binks - who is given to singing annoyingly.) Still, this is a great film. Hume Cronyn is especially hateful as Captain Munsey, a sadistic little tyrant. The best line is given to the left-wing expositor, the drunken prison doctor: "No one escapes. No one ever escapes."
Mulholland Drive: A David Lynch production, and an especially "Lynchian" one at that. Certainly not a conventional noir - this is more like a dream or nightmare. Has a difficult narrative flow that takes some thinking about to make sense of, but certainly gets the atmosphere right. At first, when I left the theater, I figured this one was just another exercise in Lynchian doppelgangers and didn't consider the film as anything special. Then, as I thought about it more, I realized how good the film really was. I am now convinced that it is the best example of film noir for the new millennium. Great incidental music by Angelo Badalamenti. (I wrote up a little article, "Mulholland Drive Explained.")
Raw Deal: Great title, great film. Packs nearly every noir visual aspect and style into a taut 79 minutes. It's hard to imagine a film being emotionally tougher than this one. I especially like the overwrought poster text: "Women! Bullets! Can't stop a man like this!" The big, blocky letters in the title sequence convey a good idea of what's coming, too. They don't make 'em anymore like this because they can't.
Blood Simple: About as good as modern-day noir gets. The themes are all there, the characters are updated with the more natural acting style that is common now, but with all of the interesting kinks and turns of a noir plot. Much less irony and black humor than Fargo, and therefore, in my opinion, a better film. The next time I view this one, I think I'm going to turn the color off to see it it works better in black and white...
The Window: You can introduce your kids to film noir with this one! An entertaining film; 12 year old Bobby Driscoll makes this film work and does a credible acting job. One of the themes of this work - the boy who cried wolf - is a little forced, but overall this film works quite well, makes sense, and sustains interest. The urban cinematography is quite good, too.
The House of Games: An interesting look at the world of people who choose to live by their wits and the con. Also, oddly enough, a film about a woman who comes to understand herself better. This one is made vibrant by David Mamet's quirky dialog ("Oh, you're a bad pony. And I'm not gonna bet on you." "You can't bluff someone who's not paying attention.")
The Grifters: A successful neo-noir featuring John "Noah Cross" Huston's daughter Anjelica Huston. An interesting three-way look at who's better at the grift: Huston, her son (I think) John Cusack or Annette Bening. Who's conning whom? This film reminds me of "The House of Games," another excellent neo-noir. My favorite image out of this movie is described in the review below.
Insomnia: An interesting cinematic proposition: What does film noir look like north of the Artic circle, where there is no night? On assignment in northern Norway, a corrupt Swedish cop causes the accidental death of his partner while investigating a murder case, and attempts a cover up. But he can't sleep, and the daylight pours in on him like the Eye of God. This is a brilliant Norwegian neo-noir, and suggests that Nordic melancholy and Ingmar Bergmanesque ghostly visitations are well-suited to noir (even when, cinematically, there is no "noir.") The end of the film is especially interesting: the cop driving into a tunnel looks like a metaphor for a descent into hell. (In much the same way Anjelica Huston takes a dark elevator ride downwards after accidentally killing her son in "the Grifters.")
Following: Brit neo-noir. A tightly scripted little production of only 69 minutes - in black and white, yet. If RKO was still making low budget noirs in the U.K., maybe they'd look like this! The only flaw it has is the same flaw that "Pulp Fiction" has - a time-jumbled, non linear narrative that seems to be that way simply to be different. I see nothing about the story to require it. (Kubrick's "the Killing" came by it naturally, as a result of telling different stories - set-up for a heist - that coincide at some point in time.)
T-Men A procedural film (this time the Treasury Department and not some police force), it has all the noir goodies but with a rather heavy-handed narrative. Still, a great film. It's interesting to see how the two treasury agents only really become alive and interesting to us when they go undercover.
Border Incident: Sort of a South of the Border version of T-Men, really, but a great film in its own right. Anthony Mann really knew how to direct in this genre, and who can argue with John Alton lighting? Ricardo Montalban is excellent in this - makes me wonder why he became so hammy later on.
Memento: One of those films with a non-linear narrative, but the reason for it in this one makes sense: since the main character can't create short-term memories, the flow of this story makes the viewer attempt to work out the puzzles within his own fractured and interrupted mind. I'm not entirely sure I've worked out all the relationships and betrayals in this one, but it's an interesting mental exercise. One scene is fascinating: a woman insults the main character and tells him she's going to betray him. She is slugged, and, bleeding from the nose and mouth, exits the room, knowing that he will forget the incident. She goes into her car to wait while he frantically tries to find a pen or pencil to write himself a reminder. He cannot. The camera shows her sitting in her car looking at the front door with a wicked, knowing look on her face - then she goes back into the house and lies to him. Since he forget the previous situation he believes her, and she manipulates him into a murder. If there is a scene that better visually describes the heart of the film noir femme fatale, I'm unaware of it. (A good analysis of this movie's complexities is here.)
Point Blank: When I started to watch this movie, I asked myself, "How much of a film noir could this be, being that it was made in 1967?" The answer is that it is a convincing update on the style while still being a obvious product of the mid-60's in look. (Lemon yellow seems to be a prominent color in this film's palette.) I'm pretty sure Point Blank belongs in a category I call, "He's dead but he doesn't know it"; there is convincing evidence that all of the action takes place in the mind of the protagonist, who is shown being shot in the very opening moments. Lee Marvin's character's name is simply "Walker," which seems suggestive. There are comments like, "You're alive?" and "You should have died at Alcatraz!" etc. This film depicts an altered view of reality, as well. At times it's quite dreamlike - which is a feature of many noir films. (The professional critics have a name for it: "oneric.") Lee Marvin's final scene shows him receding into some dark shadows, which seems to suggest the finality of death. There is one very effective scene that features the sound of a vengeful Lee Marvin loudly walking down an airport corridor that is used as the audio track for a scene involving his wife, who betrayed him. This film has many such moments, and suggests that noir was, indeed, live and well in the psychedelic era. An excellent contribution to the style.
Madigan: One year after Point Blank came another, but more conventional, Sixties film noir, "Madigan," starring the eternally interesting and viable Richard Widmark. I think this one may have introduced the look, feel and colors of the Seventies television cop dramas - it looks like an especially good episode of "Ironside" or "The Streets of San Francisco" to me. (Or even an episode of "Madigan" - go figure.) Anyway, I like the fact that the lead character gets killed at the end - that, and the cynicism of the character, is where the noir edge comes in. I am now convinced that anything Widmark stars in is worth watching - but this film is better than that.
Key Witness: It isn't very often that I come across a cute film noir, but this is one of them. An affable inventor is twice (yes, twice!) accused of murders he didn't commit. Why cute? He invents talking clocks (a door opens and a little figure pops out which says "It's ten o'clock!/Time to turn in!/Mama and Papa shouldn't argue!/To fight is a sin!") and kissing couple light switches (you move the boy into a position where he's kissing a girl to turn on the room lights). And, at the end, Smiley the Hobo, whom you finally discover is why the film is named as it is (SPOILER), thrusts his face through a paper clock face and recites a charming little poem to wrap things up. Wow. The noir pal from whom I got this rare gem thinks this film was a stinker and gives it only one star. I think it was brilliantly unique! Five stars!
Underworld U.S.A.: A fine example of noir filmmaking. It's hard not to like a film with: 1) A moll named "Cuddles," 2) A gunman who ritualistically puts on dark glasses before executing his victims (one, shockingly, being a little girl on a bicycle), 3) A hard-boiled old mother figure who compensates for not being able to have kids by surrounding herself with baby pictures, 4) First rate noir cinematography, much of the action taking place in a dank alley, 5) A great revenge motif, 6) A downbeat fatalistic ending, and, last but certainly not least, 7) Cliff Robertson's puckish, expressive face, almost a cross between a sardonic Burgess Meredith and the Joker! It's hard to understand why critics cite "Touch of Evil" (1958) as being the last great noir. I would argue that this film, produced in 1961, merits that distinction.
Le Samourai: The French named film noir - in this film, they prove they also love it. French minimalism works well with the style; there is very little dialog and a stark look. What struck me as being characteristically French about this film was Alain Delon's habit of smoothing the brim of his fedora before setting out (to kill someone).
Night Moves: Released in 1975, and it really shows. However, at heart this is still a great noir. I have to admit, like most viewers my age I favor (or am used) to naturalistic acting styles that came into vogue after the classic years of film noir. (People don't run around saying things like, "That's swell!" anymore.) This film incorporates modern acting style with a script and plot that is directly related to the older films. So I was satisfied with it as a skillful blend of two filmmaking eras. Like the critics, I also enjoyed the final image: that of a boat turning metaphorical circles. On a personal level, I was pleased to notice that in this noir, Dark City is Burbank, California - my home town!
The Man I Love: This is Exhibit A in my case that Ida Lupino was a film noir goddess like no other. It's not really a film noir as it seems to be too light-hearted, but it's certainly noirish. First of all there's that sensational opening Gershwin song which Ida sings while conducting all sorts of business: lighting a cigarette, lighting someone else's, taking a drink... whew. What the woman lacked in tonal qualities she certainly made up for in noir allure. (I kept thinking that a mature Judy Garland would have knocked this song out of the ballpark, the way she did with "The Man That Got Away.") Her form-fitting dress - according to Eddie Muller it had to be cut off her when she suffered breathing problems - was sensational. Ida had what one would nowadays call merely a "nice" figure, but this dress makes the best out of every millimeter. And what a cast of characters! 1. The virtuous sister 2. Her crazy G.I. husband, in residence in the laughing house 3. Their battlin' boy 4. The debutante younger sister 5. The blonde floozie across the hall with the twins 6. Her indulgent, cuckolded husband 7. The twins 8. The brother who's a wanna-be gangster 9. The leering nightclub owner/thug 10. A brilliant but troubled jazz pianist 11. Until the advent of rock, the world's goofiest-looking guitarist 12. Alan Hale, Sr. (Haw! Guffaw! Hawhawhaw!) ...all strung together by a tough, wisecracking Ida Lupino, who models a series of stunning gowns. This is a wonderful film, not to be missed. Possibly Ida's best.
Autumn Leaves: One of the occupations I find myself involved in after watching 1940's and 1950's films is mentally debating, "Was it film noir?" The IMDB shows this one merely as "drama," but what do THEY know? And it doesn't appear in Silver's noir encyclopedia... but I think it's film noir. I won't strenuously argue the case, however. The usual gritty urban cinematography is missing, but frankly, I have only rarely seen such a thorough and convincing exploration of big city loneliness, desperation and madness as this. It's like "In a Lonely Place" in that way. What propels it into noir is what substitutes for the central film noir crime: the deeply psychological power of the father having sex with the son's wife. A moral crime, almost Oedipal. Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. While I'm inclined to not like Joan Crawford because she was such a real-life beast, I have to admit that she always draws me into a movie. Maybe she simply benefited by being involved with good scripts and great directors, I don't know. And, I have to admit, she was a great actress. At one point in this film a whole series of facial features pass by on her face, reflecting inner conflict. And, yelling at Vera Miles, she spits out "You, his loving, doting fraud of a father! And you, you SLUT! You're both so consumed with evil, so ROTTEN! Your filthy souls are too evil for Hell itself!" Like, wow. There's a May-December aspect to this production that is a little suspect: when this film was made Crawford was 52 (referred to as a "girl!") and Robertson was 31. But such is movie magic that they seem somewhat younger. The soft focus on Crawford's face doesn't hurt, either. Finally, I must mention Maxine Cooper - Hammer's gal Velda in "Kiss Me, Deadly" - and, I think, a very promising but underrated actress. She should have had a better career than she had. Not just a sexy brunette, in "Kiss Me, Deadly" she read her lines in such a way that you could detect there was a real intelligence at work. Playful and yet knowing in an almost occult way. (After all, she names "the Great Whatszit.") She only has a small part in this as a nurse but gives the simple line "How does your garden grow?" real meaning. When she sees that Robertson sees his wife, she asks, "*Now* how does your garden grow?" My guess is that Aldrich liked directing her - and I wish she had made more films. So, I think "Autumn Leaves" is film noir and I certainly recommend it.
A Face in the Crowd: This isn't just film noir - this is *brilliant* film noir! A mix of "Nightmare Alley," "God's Little Acre," "The Sweet Smell of Success" (there's a Sidney Falco-style character) and the Clinton Administration all thrown together. That rapidly-edited advertising sequence for the pep pill Vitagex must have seemed exceptionally over-the-top in 1957; it sure looked unusual to me in 2003. And this storyline had me guessing. I kept supposing that Lonesome Rhodes would meet his inevitable fall in his marriage to the underage Lee Remick - a sort of Jerry Lee Lewis storyline. (Except that this film would have been prophetic. The story about Lewis' 13 year old wife broke the following year, in 1958.) Instead, there's a wonderful and shadowy sequence where Patricia Neal ends Lonesome's career with some crucial audio board work in a television control booth. That made me think of the end of "The Manchurian Candidate" - a desperate attempt to do the right thing and to stop a dangerously powerful man. Speaking of film noir cinematography, it appeared to me that this film got darker and more shadowy as the plot progressed, being a sort of visual parallel for the dark forces at work. I also liked the elevator ride Griffith takes down from the penthouse to the garage; it reminded me of the end of "the Grifters." A great visual metaphor. That ending is sublime, Griffith yelling "Marsha, don't leave me!" from the top of a Manhattan skyscraper to an uncaring city. But what impressed me the most about this film was Andy Griffith (his first movie!), who gave a loud, virile, leering, calculating, at times menacing and half crazy performance - a far cry from anything else he did since. I had no idea he could grab center stage that well. (I grew up watching him play Don Knott's straight man.) His Lonesome Rhodes is a memorable and worthy character to add to the cast of doomed figures in the Dark City. I loved this film, and I'm surprised to find that it isn't in the noir canon as a late period noir. I guess the hillbilly and comical aspects of it get in the way.
Los Olvidados: A Luis Bunuel film about juvenile delinquents living in the Mexican slums, this might also be considered a "social issues" film or simply a foreign film, but it is as bleak and tragic as the most noirish noirs I have seen. Made in 1950, during the classic era. A fascinating film in that it is so direct and honest. Actually, it seems to be way ahead of its time... I caught it as it started on television one night and was fascinated.
High School Big Shot: A neat thing about digging around b-films for noir content is occasionally finding a treasure. I found this one marketed as a teen-exploitation, or juvenile deliquent film (which the title strongly suggests), but, like "The T-Bird Gang," it is less that than it is a late (1958) film noir with teen exploitation themes. At only 61 minutes it moves along quickly with an unusually bleak story line and credible acting and plotting throughout. The male lead, played by Tom Pittman, is especially good. He seems a little mature for high school, but that's a general fault of the teen genre (I have yet to see a production about high school starring identifiably high school age teens). Apparently life followed art somewhat - this was Pittman's last flick. An unhappy and troubled young star with feelings of inadequacy, shortly after this film he left a party drunk and crashed his custom Porsche in Benedict Canyon in L.A. - he wasn't found until twenty days or so later. This film was given the Mystery Science Fiction 3000 treatment, but I think it's too good for that. The final scenes, shot at the Port of Los Angeles, is quite fatalistic and noirish.
Without Warning!: A "lost noir" in that it has never been released on video before. The actors are all unknowns, and the running time is only 75 minutes. It was shot using the plain old black and white film stock that was commonly used in the industry back then - but it looked great. Shot in L.A., it featured cops in fedoras in the film noir sub-class known as a "police procedural." Nothing remarkable, really. But the quality of the script, editing, music, character development and pacing was such that when it was over I thought, "What a great little film!" It features a remarkable pick-up scene with the murderer on the prowl and an awfully forward blonde. Hollywood needs to produce fewer blockbusters and more 75 minute gems like this one.
Mystery Street: Perhaps the first police procedural featuring forensic science, it features Ricardo Montalban as a police detective and Elsa Lanchester as a conniving busybody. Both are well cast and fascinating to watch. This one isn't featured in film noir literature, but it should be. A great, little-known noir gem!
The Big Night: A damned peculiar film noir starring John Barrymore Jr. (aka John Drew Barrymore). It's one of those "rite of passage" works, but this rite is in accordance with the Gospel of Noir. The plot: a shy and easily embarrassed young man turns seventeen, so his father presents him with a birthday cake at the bar in which he works. However, the young man's father is humiliated and savagely beaten in front of his son by a malevolent sports writer with a cane. Distraught and in search of revenge, the teen grabs his father's gun and goes after the sports writer. During the course of a long night he attends a boxing match, gets conned out of ten bucks by a hustler (Emile Meyer!) whom he later beats up in the men's room, insults a black woman, becomes drunk and wakes up in the apartment of a couple of sisters - one of who gives him his first kiss. He finds out that his father is a cad and shoots the sports writer and, thinking he murdered him, flees through some great-looking industrial sections of Los Angeles. At the end of the film he and his father are escorted away by the cops. Wow, all in the course of only 75 minutes!
This movie was directed by Joseph Losey, who produced another odd film, 1948's " The Boy with the Green Hair." I mentioned a great-looking industrial area of Los Angeles... this would be near where some large natural gas towers are located. I know this area because, when I was about thirteen, my Mom had some business down there and took me with her. I recall sitting in the car looking at the bleak surroundings and fantasizing about running off with Kelly Beal - the thirteen year-old redhead who lived up the street near the railroad tracks - and finding a place somewhere in Los Angeles. Talk about hormonal. Finally, along with The Human Jungle this is the second noir I've seen with a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer sighting. As the protagonist is getting his birthday swats from his friends, guys are unloading boxes of PBR from a truck. How cool is that? Perhaps I should introduce a new sub-genre of film noir to the UCLA Film School: Pabst Noir.
Hollywoodland: I was struck by how alike it is to Chinatown. Both involve private detectives who specialize in seedy divorce/breakup cases, both feature an unfolding case seen from the private detective's perspective, both have people warning, "You don't know what you're getting into," (but in the case of Hollywoodland there is no core secret of the type found in Chinatown), both feature a scene where the PI is using a camera, recovering consciousness from being slugged, etc. There are enough similarities that cause me to wonder if it's intentional on the part of the director. I recall reading once that there is no such thing as a coincidence in a movie (because they have to be assembled so painstakingly), so it must be intentional. Robert Towne, who wrote the much-praised screenplay for Chinatown, intended the film to be one part of a Southern California Trilogy, examining three elements that made the region what is it. For the record, they are water and farming (Chinatown), real estate (the sequel, The Two Jakes) and the film industry. The third film was never made. But, with Hollywoodland, there's an acceptable entry by a different screenwriter. One of the themes in Hollywoodland, that I wouldn't have expected to be present in a treatise about a celebrity suicide, is heroism. What, exactly constitutes being a hero? The film is about the death of George Reeves, the stereotypical 1950s Man who portrayed my generation's Superman for television. His reluctant and disparaging embrace of the role of hero is part of what drives the plot. A secondary plot - the private detective's failed relationship with his son - provides additional examination. This is an excellent film...
Angel Face: An undervalued noir by Otto Preminger. Seeing it, I began to understand that while it is an utterly typical noir, it has an odd appeal of its own. So much so, in fact, that I think it's easily as good as Out of the Past - better even, as I've never liked that film as much as other noirheads. Robert Mitchum and Jean Simmons are both excellent: he's a sleepy sap, she's a conniving femme fatale... without being obvious about it. This is one of the best in that it's a lot like Detour, a film you find yourself thinking about after you've seen it.
Caged: Perhaps the penultimate women-in-prison film and a sort of female version of Brute Force. I liked watching the frightened Eleanor Parker turn into the tough-as-nails con at the end. A film that begged for a sequel - except they weren't doing sequels back then...
The Well: A film ahead of its time insofar as race relation films are concerned. The first half or so is noir, the latter half is a thriller. I found myself thinking, "What a great little film!" all though it.
Hickey and Boggs: With Robert Culp and Bill Cosby you're expecting a light-hearted "I, Spy" kind of thing. What you get instead is a bleak 1972 neo-noir set in the Los Angeles I remember well. Not a whole lot of fuss with this one, just a story well-told. I liked that Culp's character owns two classic Ford Thunderbirds in this...
Appointment With Crime: As I've written before, one of the joys of watching old forgotten crime films is unexpectedly coming across something well-made, rare and unusual. Something completely unlike the indulgent, formulaic and creatively bankrupt big budget Hollywood fare in theaters currently. This is a Brit noir like that - good film, bad title. It starred as a criminal protagonist William Hartnell, who is far better known internationally as the original British television Doctor Who. Hartnell's Doctor was a jovial but sometimes petulant old man - always a humanitarian. On the whole, a positive if somewhat mysterious role model. As the criminal thug Leo Martin in this film he was ferret-like, vengeful, manipulative and utterly contemptible; he carried this film very well indeed. Also notable was Herbert Lom as a homosexual upper class kingpin and his flamboyantly limp-wristed companion (Hartnell calls him a "Christmas Carol"); I've never seen the like in a film this early. Suggestions of homosexuality are usually MUCH more subdued in film noir. There's also (bleeped out) swearing in this grim and desperate film... apparently there were also four overly-violent scenes cut as well. Appointment With Crime badly needs a quality restoration. What put it over the top for me, however, were some truly wonderful but brief character actor scenes - this film is so well cast it's a joy to watch. A film I thought would be completely unpromising became instead one of my favorite Brit noirs. I love when that happens!
The Story of Molly X: A chicks in prison film from the classic film noir era starring June Havoc - NOW we're talkin'! I love these. Havoc is as hardboiled as they get, and the mandatory cat fight scene is pretty good, too. What fun! Gravelly voiced noir guy Charles McGraw is thrown in for good measure as a relentless cop. Excellent.
Gideon of Scotland Yard: A Britnoir and therefore potentially overly polite, mannered and dull - but, ah, it's directed by John Ford, and this makes all the difference. It's a fun look at the day of an overworked London cop... amusing, fun and it moves right along. A minor gem starring a pre-Ben Hur Jack Hawkins.
No Questions Asked: A fine, classic period noir with all the usual trimmings (dark alleys, wet pavement, shadows, a femme fatale, a virtuous girl as counterpoint, a betrayal, thugs, fedoras, cigarette smoking) and a few surprises. Surprise #1: a pair of guys dressed as women pulling off a robbery in a ladies' waiting room - never saw that before! Surprise #2: A mobster boss who can hold his breath underwater for a long period of time. This comes into play at the end where he attempts to drown the protagonist, a clever plot point. This film stars Jean Hagen, an under-regarded actress. All in all, a very worthwhile entry into the genre.
NOT FAVORITES, BUT GOOD
Stereo: A German neo-noir with metaphysical/supernatural overtones. (It reminded me of the British neo-noir Dead Man's Shoes in that respect.) I liked it. The title "Stereo" is a bit puzzling.
Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For: Perhaps I'm getting used to what I might call "comic book noir"; I liked this installment better than the first one. Oh, it still has some absolutely ridiculous neo-feminist fanboyz scenes - the Asian gal with the swords who effortlessly kills guards left and right - but at least I wasn't looking at my watch during this one. The acting is somewhat better than I recall in the first movie, too.
The Right Hand of the Devil: I have been waiting 42 years (!) to see this again! It's a seedy, tawdry, nasty, low budget film noir (with a couple of horror elements) I saw with my father one night on broadcast television in 1974. Somebody uploaded it to youtube. It was just as sleazy as I recall... but it was worth watching. The plot: a balding criminal kingpin arrives in Los Angeles to pull a heist. To do this he needs to seduce the woman who holds the key to the safe in the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Later, he attempts to kill her by drugging her and sending her in a car off a cliff. The highlight of the film takes place at the end: he finds her in a bar (but doesn't recognize her), and takes her to his apartment. She throws off her clothes and cries, "You always liked my legs - here, HAVE ONE!" and pitches her prosthetic leg at him and then shoots him in the head. Hahahahaha! Dad and I got a big laugh out of that part. It's no Double Indemnity, but it's fun.
Gangster Squad: This one was suggested to me by a friend because it contains some amusing Burbank (my hometown) references. The historical crooked Burbank police chief Elmer Adams (called here Elmer Jefferson) was depicted as dining with Mickey Cohen in a swank restaurant, which probably happened. The corruption certainly did. But, by and large, this movie was not historically accurate. It was mainly an exercise in style, containing a lot of automatic Tommy Gun fire a la a 1930's film. By 1949 this was not how the mob was doing things. The plot was an inferior version of The Untouchables (1987). (Which, in turn, was an inferior version of the 1950's television series.)
Outside the Wall: A not bad Richard Basehart flick about a man getting out of prison after spending half his life within. Needless to say, he is tempted to pursue crime in The Big City, or even the little town. Is he headed back to prison or will he find love with a virtuous woman and stay out of prison?
Larceny: With John Payne, Shelley Winters (in full mouthy blonde bombshell mode) and slappin' Dan Duryea, who, as it turns out, doesn't slap any women in this one. But there's a great little scene where John Payne slaps Shelley Winters and she whacks him back. Larceny is a good, if fairly standard, example of the film noir genre, and a nice little exposition of the art of the grift - the way of the con man. It stands with House of Games (1987) and The Grifters (1990) in that respect. It hasn't yet been released in DVD. Why ever not?
Mr. Soft Touch: This one was very odd. The first twenty minutes or so started out as fairly standard, but good, film noir. Then there's a big middle section that suddenly and weirdly changed into something like a Frank Capra Christmas comedy, and the final ten minutes or shifted back into film noir. It's as if the directors (there were two) intended to make very different films! Watchable... but strange.
Cry of the Hunted: Directed by Joseph H. Lewis - who had an unfailing ability to take rote material and elevate it into something worthwhile. (Terror in a Texas Town (1958), involving Sterling Hayden as a Swedish whaler out for revenge in the Old West, is Exhibit A. Hayden brings a harpoon to a gunfight!) Cry of the Hunted is a bit odd in that it contains some rather subtle homosexual overtones between the dogged police pursuer and his prey. (The plot involves a cop going after a man on the run in the Louisiana swamp country.) I'm guessing that period audiences either didn't get it or shrugged it off. These days, however, it seems odd and out of place.
23 Paces to Baker St.: This one was okay. It's a Hitchcockish tale about a blind man (Van Johnson) who overhears a kidnapping plot.
The Flesh is Weak: A British production starring John Derek, an American. (Those types of productions are always suspect.) It's about the London prostitution racket - and it was considerably more blunt about it than an American production from the period would have been. No nudity and nothing explicit, but it was out of the storytelling norms for 1957. It wasn't bad.
Repeat Performance: The plot: a woman (Joan Leslie) murders her husband, regrets it, and gets the year to live over again to change the events leading to the murder. It was horribly melodramatic and featured hoity-toity upper-class characters talking endlessly in rooms, but the more I think about it the more I liked it. My final assessment is that it was... okay. Good. Worth watching.
Impulse: I regard this as a minimally acceptable film noir (in this case a Britnoir), the story of a man bored with his domestic situation who gets involved with a beautiful woman (Constance Smith), thugs, gunfire and stolen diamonds. Not boring, the femme fatale is interesting and the story moves along in a 80 minute run time.
Snatch: An entertaining and original British gangster film/comedy about jewel thieves. The British output with crime films is somewhat spotty - most of the time Britnoirs are too mannered and polite to really be good. But when they do a good one, it's really good: Appointment with Crime (1946), Brighton Rock (1947), They Made me a Fugitive (1947), No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1948), Get Carter (1971) and The Long Good Friday (1980) come to mind. Snatch joins them.
Take My Life: The first film directed by Ronald Neame, who would later become a major player. The plot is not far removed from an earlier film noir, Phantom Lady (1944). In Take My Life, a wife must investigate and prove that her husband isn't a murderer. (In Phantom Lady it's a boss-secretary relationship.) The movie is told in a subtle flashback by a favorite British character actor, Francis L. Sullivan; he played Nossross in Night and the City (1950), a favorite film noir, and Mr. Bumble in David Lean's Oliver Twist (1948), arguably the greatest movie, ever. When I see Sullivan in a production my interest perks up. Good film!
Both Sides of the Law: An entertaining flick showing policewomen work in postwar London/ Peggy "Gun Crazy" Cummins plays an annoying twit.
Gang Busters: A cheap, nasty, thrown-together b-film about prison breaks in Oregon cobbled together from three television episodes. Yet it works! Fun to watch.
The House of the Arrow: Oscar Homolka - a fascinating character - totally dominates this British whodunnit as a French detective. A charming film, but, sadly, some of the dialogue is very difficult to make out because of dialects.
The Crooked Circle: An okay boxing film. The same plot as the much superior The Set-Up, but watchable.
Exposed: A very brief (45 minutes!) Republic noir starring the pretty and well-tailored Adele Mara as a snappy blonde private eye - sort of a prototype Honey West, actually. There's a funny fight scene in this one where a little guy prevails - somehow - over a much bigger guy. Worth watching for the patter from Mara.
Roses are Red: A silly title and an likely premise: a District Attorney and a crook (both played by Don Castle) are identical twins and plans are made by thugs to switch one with the other - but through the miracle of effective direction and a good cast, it works.
The Guilty: Based on a Cornell Woolrich story, a murder mystery dealing with, this time, identical sisters. Starring Don Castle who played identical men in Roses are Red! Also stars Bonita Granville, who is always fun. There are some nicely noir streets and interiors in this one, Regis Toomey as a cop and a switcheroo trick ending. Not bad at all.
Once a Thief: Not bad. Caesar Romero and June Havoc make this one worth watching.
Missing Women: A Republic quickie. A woman and her husband are married all of an hour when he's shot dead by thugs. The Mrs. goes after them! Not bad. But Missing Women? There was only one!
Johnny Stool Pigeon: A competent police procedural with Howard Duff, Dan Duryea and Shelley Winters - who was a far more appealing and winsome character when she was young than later on.
Pickpocket: A Robert Bresson minimalist noir; one of those 1950's French films with tons of interesting shots and style.
Experiment Alcatraz: An odd, budget film about inmates subjected to a new radioactive therapy; one goes crazy and murders his friend. Or is he really crazy and there's more to it than that? A film just oddball enough in plot (irradiated inmates) to maintain interest and short enough in running time not to lose it/
Philo Vance's Gamble: After an unpromising beginning, it moves along satisfactorily. Actually, I think I like Alan Curis' take on the character better than William Powell's! The sidekick is funny.
One Way Out: On the very edge of British yawndom, what redeems this one is the tragic ending.
Unmasked: Raymond Burr is a wonderful villain in this one, and that's what makes it worthwhile.
Woman in Hiding: Ida Lupino! Married to a creep! That's what makes this one good. You always root for Ida Lupino!
Violated: A cheesy, amateur film about a psychopath who scalps women. This one looks a lot like Killer's Kiss, and has some great location shots of New York City in the early 1950's.
The Obsessed: David Farrar stars in this Victorian whodunnit with a Scotland Yard detective and a good twist at the end. Otherwise, kind of Meh.
The Spider: Richard Conte plays a snappy private eye in this 1945 one hour whodunnit. Rote, but not bad.
No Man's Woman: A great vehicle for Marie Windsor as a thorough rotter everyone else in the cast wants to see dead.
Three Crooked Men: A mildly exciting British heist film. Interest is sustained via the characters, not the plot.
Pink String and Sealing Wax: The plot is noir, the setting is Victorian. It stars Googie Withers as a femme fatale murderess - which is all I need to maintain interest because there are no bad Googie Withers films!
The Embezzeler: A Britmovie that is much more like a segment from one of those W. Somerset Maugham anthologies than it is a Britnoir of its own, but it is watchable and rather fun.
The Impersonator: A 1961 Britmovie with just enough atmosphere, creepiness and interest to make it worthwhile. The child protagonist in this is quite good.
Steel Jungle: The "steel jungle" of the title being a prison... this is a pretty decent jail flick starring reliable heavy Ted DeCorsia as the baddie behind bars. Things start off slow with this one, but pick up. All in all, an enjoyable and somewhat different prison flick.
Inside Detroit: A rare film starring Pat O'Brian as a gangster; another Irishman, Dennis O'Keefe, is his adversary. The United Auto Workers are portrayed as an entity avoiding mob rule at all cost, which I found odd and even condescending. Nevertheless, this was an enjoyable film.
City of Shadows: Stars that lovable mug Victor McLaglen in a sympathetic role. Anthony Caruso also stars as a crim.
Homicide: A not bad Warner Bros. flick with Alan Alda's dad.
Angela: A sort of wannabe Double Indemnity, Italian Style. Film noir stalwart Dennis O'Keefe plays a man who becomes a sap for beauteous (and I do mean beauteous) Mara Lane, who steals every scene she's in. The primary reason to watch this one is, 1.) Lane, and 2.) The incredible 1950's Italian cars. I wish I knew what they were... Why can't we make cars with style and individuality like the Italians did in the 1950's? Have we forgotten how to bend sheet metal into curves? Cars all look alike now.
Jennifer: A thriller starring Ida Lupino, one of my favorite B-film queens! She can play innocent and frightened as easily as she can portray tough and hardboiled. She and her husband Collier Young later went on to produce "women's interest" films of their own (bigamy and unwed motherhood are two subjects that spring to mind), which she produced. Anyway, I saw this one a decade or so ago but forgot to note it in my guide. An effective little thriller.
Valerie: A film noir in the guise of a Western, this one was rather hard to watch as it was nearly ninety minutes of Sterling Hayden abusing his wife, played by Anita Ekberg (the "Valerie" of the title). Insults, slapping, cigar burns... Hayden made a first class heel, however. By the end of the film you were hoping that somebody would shoot him full of holes.
Nightmare: A superior remake of Cornell Woolrich's Fear in the Night; this one stars Kevin McCarthy in the DeForest Kelley role and Edward G. Robinson. I like this one better than the original; Robinson lifts it.
The Truth About Murder: Let's pretend that teen sleuth Nancy Drew (Bonita Granville), inspired by her lawyer father Carson Drew, graduates from law school and becomes a lawyer herself and gets involved in a murder mystery. That's pretty much what we have here. A spunky blonde sleuth on a case with her boyfriend the D.A. A nice, watchable RKO quickie in their dependable house style.
Murder Without Tears : That's right, quit yer bawlin'. It's the 1950's, and we're all tough and hardcore now. It starred Craig Stevens (born Gail Shikles, Jr.), who later went on to fame as Peter Gunn, the 1958 detective show with the uber-cool Henry Mancini theme song. This has as an interesting plot device in that a man arranges to have himself tried and acquitted for a murder that he actually committed. He cannot therefore be tried for the same case twice. Does he therefore go scot-free? Of course not, not in 1953, he doesn't. It's not a bad noir - I liked it. One of the gimmicks in this one is that the murderer owns a little white dog named "Mister Snuffy." When the killer is lying on the apartment floor, his life blood bleeding out of him, Mister Snuffy approaches him and mourns. Poor bereft Mister Snuffy.
Terror at Midnight: A Republic cheapie with a fairly complicated plot and Dragnet regular Virginia Gregg as a wino and Percy Helton being a creepy little sleeze (a role for which he held a monopoly). It all hangs together, though, and in seventy minutes it's economical and satisfying.
Apology for Murder: Ann Savage and Hugh Beaumont star in this cheap PRC knock-off of Double Indemnity that the critics called "Single Indemnity." Ha! In some ways it's closer to Body Heat than the source film. Thing is... it isn't bad at all!
Floods of Fear: The wettest film noir ever! Murder, survival and flood waters all meet in this 1958 Howard Keel thriller. Cyril Cusack steals every scene he's in as Peebles, the sniveling but murderous little escaped convict. Unexpectedly good.
Good-Time Girl: A watchable Brit noir - told in flashback - about a working class girl who descends into deliquency, drunkenness, robbery and murder after being dealt a bad hand. There are lots of plot elements in this to sustain interest, and her descent is told with a certain toughness that is much more in the style of an American noir than a British production.
The Long Good Friday: A pretty good Brit neo-noir starring an explosive Bob Hoskins with a bad haircut. He's occasionally hard to understand, but always worth watching. At the very end of this movie the camera remains on his face for a few minutes - with no dialogue - showing an interesting range of emotions. Not many actors could pull that off successfully.
Hideout: One of those amusing, one hour exercises in murder, noirish shadows and light humor from a Poverty Row house. Very watchable.
The Steel Trap: One of the most tense films noir I have ever seen. Why tense? Joseph Cotten, who is bored out of his mind by his day to day domestic grind, decides to rip off a million dollars from the bank where he works. His plan is to flee to Brazil, where he has determined that the United States has no extradition treaty. (I bet it's not that way now, if it ever was.) But his plan requires that things run correctly all the way until he gets on the plane to Brazil - and this includes a connecting flight. (How dependable are flight logistics? I worry every time.) All through this he lugs a 110 pound suitcase containing the money. 110 pounds! Then there's his wife, who has a bit of a problem with the idea of her husband being a thief when she finds out about it. A real nail-biter... it seems that the Fates conspire against him at every turn.
Under the Gun: A fairly decent noir with Richard Conte. I'm happy to have seen this one because a still photo from it was used in Eddie Muller's influential book "Dark City," and so I now feel like a can check a box. I think I have now seen all the films used photographically in that book. It's obsessive, I know, but I'm like that sometimes. This film was a sort of Southern tale, as it mostly takes place while Conte is in a sweaty prison work gang - a different setting from his usual New York nightclub, streets, car interior and office settings. At one point he's trying to evade a cagey good old boy sheriff in a boat in what looks like a bayou; he doesn't stand a chance. There are no bloodhounds baying at his heels, but there might as well have been. Conte is one of my noir favorites - he plays an exceptionally smooth gangster - so I'll watch just about any movie with him in it.
The Last Mile: Mickey Rooney in a jailbreak movie from 1959, a grim depiction of life on Death Row. I've always enjoyed watching the Mick act: in this, he straddles a very thin line between intense, effective acting and chewing up the scenery left and right. One foot in each style, I guess. Anyway, he (and others) go out in the proverbial Hail-O-Gunfire and so it had plenty of the DAME HUNGRY KILLER COP RUNS BERSERK element I always enjoy in film noir. This one had a slow first half but quickly picked up once Mick got a revolver in his hand.
Do You Know This Voice?: I always cringe when I pop a noir tape into my player and see that it's British, especially when I see the name "Walter Lippert" associated with it. That almost always means a mannered, polite snoozefest. For some reason Brits only infrequently delve into the hyperbolic territory of the best American noirs: driven, desperate, violent, over the top. I have a phrase for it I like to use: DAME HUNGRY KILLER COP RUNS BERSERK! This isn't one of those... but it's not bad. Dan Duryea, the dame slappinest actor in Hollywood (I'm convinced he was paid by the slap), plays a killer in this. The story sort of futzes around for most of the movie's running length but has an enjoyable resolution with a nasty little plot kink. Not bad for a Brit noir.
Noise: A quirky Australian neo-noir. It was a pretty good production, and maintained suspense during most of its running time. The only problem for me was the dialect, which was hard to follow.
Get Carter: After I watched this I thought it was pointless. Then I read a review which called it soulless - I agreed. But the more I thought about the film, the more I came to like it. Pointless and soulless are okay features in a neo-noir... there are plenty of nihilist examples in the genre. So... good film. I liked the incidental music.
The Man With My Face: One of the most absurd films noir I've ever seen. The plot was preposterous: a man comes home one night to discover that his wife (one Netflix reviewer accurately wrote that she had a face like curdled milk with a voice to match), best friend/business partner and dog do not know him - and that his place has been taken by a man who looks precisely like him. It, of course, is an elaborate ruse which took years of planning to... what? It's not exactly spelled out. Provide a plot for a film noir. Let's just say it's an elaborate, way over the top case of identity theft that results in a number of murders and almost murders. But here's where this film achieves greatness: there isn't a hit man or gunsel in this, there's a Doberman. A hit dog. That's right, whenever the baddies want somebody killed, the dog's trainer (an army dog specialist) primes him with the special word and then, when ready, gives the command of execution and the Doberman zips off and attacks, cheerfully ripping out the victim's throat! Ghastly! Can you guess the end? There are two guys who look precisely alike. The Doberman is sent to kill one of them, who runs away. The other guy who looks exactly like him follows in pursuit. And... and... Dobermans aren't infallible. Woof!
The Cat Burglar: The plot isn't anything I haven't seen done better elsewhere, but what made this one worth watching were the 1961 street shots of L.A., the great old cars and the shadowy warehouse interiors - plus the whole Daddy-O ambiance.
Highway Dragnet: It starred Richard Conte (reason enough to watch) and Joan Bennett. It's notable for being the first time exploitation director Roger Corman got on screen credit (for writing). Lots of good old Las Vegas and California desert shots.
London Blackout Murders: Okay. Interest was primarily sustained by the cast and the setting - the plot was nothing different.
Danger Signal: Once you get past the 1940's psychological hokum, this is a pretty good film. Zachary Scott plays a nicely hateful scoundrel.
Johnny Rocco: A film obviously named after a hood, right? Wrong! Tony Rocco is the hood, Johnny is his 5th grader son! (Oddly enough, Johnny Rocco is also the name of Edward G. Robinson's character in another noir, Key Largo (1948). As Frank Sinatra once observed, the name ends in a vowel so he must be a hood.) The cop killing and the subsequent police investigation is related in terms of the boy, not the father. Interesting angle. Not a bad film, not an especially good one. It's something of a rarity... there doesn't seem to be much on the Internet about it.
A Lady Without Passport: The topic is of current interest as it's about illegal immigration! The chief attraction of this flick, however, was Hedy Lamarr, one of the most beautiful women of her generation (or, for that matter, anyone else's). She first appears in the film by way of one of those dramatic Hollywood tricks: the camera comes up to her back as she's looking out a window. Her name is called and she turns around. Bam! It's Hedy Lamarr! The plot and the action of the film were okay, no big deal.
My Name is Julia Ross: This one had a rather novel movie plot: a older woman and her son and two other accomplices hire a young woman, whom they redesignate in an identify switch as the son's insane wife. He murdered his real wife, and so the plan is to trot this woman around as the sick wife, have her die by "suicide" and thereby cover up the initial murder. Nice little film at 67 minutes.
Nora Prentiss: Excellent. I like Ann Sheridan's sassy, world-wise demeanor...
The Split: Starring Jim Brown, so a black man has a shot at being a noir protagonist. Any film with Jack Klugman and Ernest Borgnine is going to have comic aspects, and this is no different. It's a heist film with noirish touches, and it was great to see scenes shot in Los Angeles c. 1968 which is, after all, my era.
So Dark the Night: An interesting murder mystery set in a French village. It had a trick solution that I didn't see coming right away, which is rare. An entertaining little 70 minute addition to the noir canon.
Please Murder Me!: A film as daringly different as its title! Oh wait, that was D.O.A. No matter, this one was good, too. Raymond Burr and Angela Lansbury turned in great performances. A nice 78 minute thriller.
The People Against O'Hara: An MGM bigger budget noir starring Spencer Tracey as an ex-alcoholic lawyer. I quite enjoyed it. Even better, it has John Alton's signature long shadows and pools of light - the urban street scenes look quite nice. ("Nice" being the noirhead's term for "mysterious and dangerous.")
The Reckless Moment: A fun Joan Bennett film. Years before she played an icy, upper-class matron on Dark Shadows she was hot stuff in film noir. In this she's an upper middle class dame and mother of a troublesome teenage girl, from whence the noir plot develops, and a boy with an incredibly adenoidal voice. (I kept hoping his voice would drop during the course of the movie, but it didn't.) The love angle between Bennett and her blackmailer was a bit hard to accept, but, on the whole, good film.
Drive a Crooked Road: Mickey Rooney as a conflicted loner race car driver who gets involved in a bank heist. Mickey Rooney in a film noir? Why, sure. He made a number of them, at least four I've seen. Such is The Mick's talent that he's worth watching in almost anything he's in, and this film was no exception. Mickey Rooney is still alive! And he's still making films! He was born in 1920, making him 91 this year; his first stage appearance was when he was only fifteen months, which means that he's been acting for nine decades, an amazing, unsurpassable feat.
Ride the Pink Horse: A curious film noir because it contains the word "pink" in the title (not noirish at all!), and because of the protagonist, who was an unlikable lout of rather low intelligence. The film wasn't really about much - a sort of half-baked revenge story. But it had a quality which caused you to stay tuned in. A decided oddity. (The pink horse of the title, by the way, referred to a carousel which formed some sort of spiritual setting to the tale.) I'm having a difficult time figuring out what film noir sub-genre it fits into. Revenge? Damaged veteran? It seems to be somewhat unique unto itself.
Loophole: A bank teller is unjustly accused of grand larceny and is hounded by an insurance investigator, played by the gruff-voiced Charles McGraw, who doesn't know when to quit, apparently. It was pretty good and I enjoyed it. But what was the loophole? I have no idea. Sometimes I think they name these films totally at random...
The Sleeping City: Richard Conte plays an undercover cop at a hospital in New York City. I enjoyed this one, but then Conte is one of my favorite noir actors.
The Brasher Doubloon: A good old school conventional noir of the shamus (private eye) sub-genre penned by Raymond Chandler. George Montgomery played Philip Marlowe. I've been waiting about a decade to see it. I quite liked it.
Suspense: An ice-skating/film noir hybrid which could have been called Fedoras on Ice. The extended skating sequences were entertaining, if a bit goofy. It starred Belita, an ice-skating film star who had the 1940s look down pat. Was she the model for countless comic book sirens of the era? Possibly. It also starred perky little Bonita Granville, whom I liked from the late 1930's Nancy Drew series. She was almost unrecognizable as a tough little chippy - a departure from her virginal, girl next door roles. (And I think we need to bring back the term "chippy." It's so much classier than "ho.")
Dark City: An indifferent noir with a great cast: Charlton Heston, Liz Scott, Jack Webb, Henry Morgan, Ed Begley... too bad all that 1950's talent didn't result in a better film. I've been waiting for a decade to see this one, but I'm not disappointed because I'm aware that reviews were mixed. It was merely okay. I liked it, but it needed a touch of DAME HUNGRY KILLER COP RUNS BERSERK!, you know what I mean?
I Walk Alone: Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Liz Scott and personal favorite Mike Mazurki, all in their prime. It would be hard to screw up a movie with that talent. I especially liked the part where Lancaster demands half of the nightclub business, only to be dismayed when Douglas has his accountant describe how the business is broken up into complicated corporations and financial arrangements.
Underworld: The first entry in the chronological listing in my Silver and Ursini film noir encyclopedia. While it's not a film noir, it's an important precursor because it looks not at the phenomena of gangsterism, but at the psychology of gangsters - which would become a frequent noir subject. It was different from other films of the era in that respect, and was influential in helping to create a vogue for gangster films in the 1930's, which, of course, morphed into the films noir of the 1940's and 1950's.
Guilty Bystander: A curious film noir; a low budget film with an overly complicated plot. The print I saw was very poor. It wasn't a very good film, and yet... and yet... it had a quality. The protagonist was a bottom of the barrel alcoholic ex-cop living in the most squalid of hotels, run by a hardened old broad named Smitty. The guy couldn't resist the bottle - a real loser in a milieu of losers amid tawdry surroundings. I have never seen a film that achieved the same miserable level as this one. The lone IMDb reviewer has it exactly right: "...with better acting than you have any right to expect (plus an unrelentingly depressing milieu), Guilty Bystander is more than a curio; it's as if the cast knew what a lousy movie they signed up for and decided to go for broke anyway." I wound up liking it.
The Burglar: An ambitiously artsy late period noir which featured a psychologically tortured Dan Duryea, 1950's sex bomb (I love that phrase) Jayne Mansfield as a waif and an appropriately fatal conclusion. One chase scene took place in a fun house - I love when they do that - where a voice intoned, "We.... the dead... greet you." I had that stuck in my head.
Between Midnight and Dawn: Cool title. An early example of a buddy film, this one starred Edmond O'Brien and Mark Stevens as two former Marines turned cop. They both pursue Gale Storm and a racketeer. It was acceptable, but nothing really special.
Abandoned: An only okay film about a baby adoption racket. I think they should have given the title more zing and named it something like, "Slave Babies of Film Noir," but what do I know? It had the hulking presence of noir thug Mike Mazurki in it, so it couldn't be all bad. Mazurki always put the "goon" in "goon squad." One time, on a film noir discussion board, the question came up, "What film noir star do you most resemble?" My answer was William Bendix and/or Mike Mazurki. Some people shot back, "Really?" Ha.
Dear Murderer: A Britnoir starring Eric Portman with a delicious plot twist at the end. An engaging movie with a solid cast and a femme fatale with unbelievably high hair.
Le Cercle Rouge: A highly-regarded Jean-Pierre Melville heist film. It's not a bad film, but the main problem with it is that it's 140 minutes long, and does no more than a classic period RKO film noir did in just over an hour. Watching this made me appreciate how terse and efficient the old school film makers were! A remake is in the works; it'll star Orlando Bloom, who is learning martial arts in Hong Kong for his part in the film. And that's all I need to know to avoid it entirely.
Inner Sanctum: A Twilight Zonesque production with mystical, otherworldly overtones. It starts with a sort of wraparound story involving an strange and philosophical older man on a train with a young woman, then proceeds to a story. Then you come to find out that the wraparound story melds into the main tale. Very odd - certainly ahead of its time in this respect. It also featured what I believe is the homliest teenage boy I have ever seen in the movies, Dale Belding. Finally, it has a rather creepy scene where he and an older man are sleeping together in the same room - the older man strips down to his boxers. Kind of pervy.
The Amazing Mr. X: A minor but amusing noirish film - dumb title for a decent film about a confidence man who poses as a psychic medium. (It's like the 1947 film noir "Nightmare Alley" in that respect.) I think "The Spirit World" would have been a better title... The primary reason to see it is that the lighting was done by John Alton (born Johann Altmann), the master of mood lighting and a favorite among noirheads. That man manipulated blacks, whites and grays the way Beethoven wrote symphonies - amazing. This film is a particularly good display of his prowess, even on the somewhat crappy medium of a lesser print digitized as a file and delivered via computer. There are scenes that look simply luminous in a way that is only achieved by the best black and white cinematography... just wonderful. I'm always willing to watch an Alton film; I've seen thirteen. A good Alton quote: "It's not what you light. It's what you don't light."
The St. Louis Bank Robbery: This late period noir was quite good; a very early Steve McQueen flick. I like it when they use actual street locations for these films.
The Cruel Tower: An interesting film with noir stalwarts Charles McGraw and Steve Brodie; this time they're atop high towers as steeplejacks. This one has a great 1950's industrial blue collar guy look - and the thrusting dagmars of Mari Blanchard. Some good photography from atop a water tower, too.
Behind Green Lights: A good police procedural... in fact, it had all sorts of lively little sequences and points of interest. I quite liked this one. Just a bit more humor and it would have been out of film noir territory. Perhaps it can stand as a representation of the maximum allowable amount of light-heartedness and still be film noir.
Chicago Syndicate: The plot is hardly original, but Dennis O'Keefe is solid and it's always great to see Paul Stewart play a gangster. And how many noirs feature Xavier Cugat and his dishy singer Abbe Lane?
I Was a Communist for the FBI: What a great title! A real cultural curiosity of the times. I now feel like a better American for having seen it. :) The lead actor was the harder-than-nails film noir guy Frank Lovejoy, who felt angst as his teen aged son was forced to defend himself in school with his fists because his father was a... Commie! (There was a great courtroom scene at the end as he testifies before a House sub-committee that all the while he was an FBI plant, bringing tears of relief to his son, now in the U.S. Navy and wearing a set of Crackerjacks.) This film extolled the efforts of the House Un-American Affairs Committee (HUAC), and so I shall express enthusiasm for the production, just to annoy liberals.
The Whistler series: There were eight of these adaptations of a popular radio series; all except the last feature Richard Dix. My favorites were the fifth installment, Mysterious Intruder (1946) and the second, The Mark of the Whistler, which was written by Cornell Woolrich. Both had plot devices that I didn't see coming. On the whole, this is an enjoyable and fun series; I quite liked the concept of a quasi-supernatural character walking the film noir streets, relating stories.
The Sleeping Tiger: An enjoyable Britnoir, the moral of which is: If you are a shrink and you have a bored wife, don't invite an insolently handsome young thug to move into your home to be psycho-analyzed. Bad call.
Storm Warning: An interesting semi-film noir. The plot: Ginger Rodgers, Doris Day and Ronald Reagan have a run-in with the Ku Klux Klan. However, oddly, this Klan is noticeably light on the racist rhetoric (in fact, there was none) and seem instead like an organized mob. Steve Cochran, a noir stalwart, plays a moron quite successfully. This film draws heavily upon a more well-known work, "A Streetcar Named Desire." It's not a world-beater of a film, but instead an enjoyable way to spend 93 minutes. I so miss Ronald Reagan...
The Devil Thumbs a Ride: An enjoyable RKO quickie (62 minutes) starring film noir's reigning murderous psychopath Lawrence Tierney. I am not entirely sure this is a true film noir; it is way too cheery. True, it has multiple deaths in it, but the whole thing moves along so breezily that it's difficult to capture any sense of desperation or fatalism, which are essential (I would think) to any real noir. It's really a film noir romp - if there is such a thing. This film is described as having one of Tierney's better performances, but, frankly, he's not very scary here. He seems way too chummy.
The Weapon: It starts with a rather shocking introduction - a kid accidentally shoots another kid while playing in the London ruins (in 1957!). A kidhunt ensues. Lots of atmospheric shots of London, a not bad plot and Liz Scott and Steve Cochran. Entertaining late noir.
The Phenix City Story: A hard-hitting, gritty film noir about a local good old boy mob in a small Southern town. From wikipedia: "The drama depicts the real-life 1954 assassination of Alabama attorney general Albert Patterson in Phenix City, Alabama, a city controlled by organized crime, and the subsequent imposition of martial law." Martial law! Imagine that. Anyway, good film.
The Crooked Way: A minor entry in the cycle plotwise (yet another amnesia storyline) but a major entry for the presence of cinematographer John Alton with his celebrated "mystery lighting" which gave film noir its distinctive look. I've read lots of film noir books, but only one by a cinematographer: Alton's "Painting with Light." Planet Alton is a shadowy place where conventional right and wrong is subverted by odd planes and angles of light. As one reviewer wrote, "How can a character be judged as all good or all bad by a viewer if he's constantly intersected by light and dark? What is the cinematography telling us about him?"
The Woman on Pier 13: Those dirty Commies! They're just like a mob... once joined, you can never unjoin. That's what this film is about... and it's a good one. The shootout at the end - characters dodging around in a dimly lit warehouse - is especially good.
The Brothers Rico: A proto-Goombah Flick starring the smoothest gangster in classic period noir, Richard Conte. I always enjoy a good Conte flick - he's just fun to watch. In this one the Mob executes two of his brothers - it's just business - and he gets even.
The Sellout: A decent film. Thomas Gomez plays a lard-butted corrupt sheriff in fine, loud style. His Kangaroo Court is quite good, too.
High Wall: I never care much for Robert Taylor, but he's good in this. It veers dangerously towards the excessive obsession with psychoanalysis that Hollywood suffered from in the 1940's, but it doesn't ruin the film.
Stakeout on Dope Street: Great title, huh? Right up there with "Kiss the Blood Off my Hands." Given the low budget and unknown cast, it's a pleasantly surprising and well-made little noir. It involves three high school teens - who, as always with films of this era, look like they're well into their twenties - getting involved with a heroin deal. Most of the film focused on their internal warring about whether or not they should become involved in drug distribution, which was a good artistic decision on the part of the director. I quite enjoyed it.
Two of a Kind: It's always nice to see Edmond O'Brian and Liz Scott in a film, but this film is just too jokey to be really noir. It does take a turn towards the dark about 2/3rds of the way into it; but concludes with a ridiculous Hollywood ending. Still, it was fun to watch.
The Hunted: An okay noir. The necessarly elements are in place, but I got the impression that this wasn't so much a real film noir as it was a vehicle to show Belita ice skating. It had a noir structure applied to demonstrate her versality as a tough girl, I guess. So not totally convincing. Good but no fave.
Hell Bound: A cheap and cheesy film noir. Film noir is the only art form I can think of that sometimes benefits by a cast of unknowns and a restricted budget! It suits the subject matter. This one, being a late period entry, was somewhat more suggestive than previous noirs, depicting a junkie suffering from a withdrawal, a stripper in action and the beating of an abortionist (with some of the loudest slapping action foley I have ever heard). I suspect that back in 1957 this would not have been considered a suitable film for all audiences and possibly had a limited play in theaters. The chase scene at the end with the baddie and the cops benefited from some good location scouting; it took place in what looked like a wall of stacked and rusting trolley cars located somewhere near Wilmington, CA - the Port of Los Angeles. At the end the crim takes refuge in an empty rail car, only to have a few tons of scrap steel dropped onto him by a guy in a crane - cool!
Flaxy Martin: "Flaxy" is the name of the femme fatale, so called - I guess - because she's a blond, as are most femme fatales in noir. As we know, the brunettes tend to be the good girls - and this film did indeed have a brunette good girl. Flaxy is the kind of gal who has ice in her bloodstream and no compunction whatsoever about betraying men. She can also sit at her parlor grand piano and play the title music to the movie - I always think that's weird when that sort of thing happens (as in "Laura"). It's a musical way of hammering home the fact that this is a movie, and perhaps the characters really know it. The film's memorable set piece was an evocative and well-staged pursuit sequence in and out of the shadows and alleys of Warner Brothers' "New York" street. The beginning of the sequence had its own frisson. It started with the protagonist arriving at the apartment of a thug, located in a squalid, deserted street at, say, 3 AM. In the room, an untended record player endlessly plays the playout groove of an Lp. (Perhaps the Flaxy Martin theme song?) The thug is dead on his mattress, shot in the chest. The phone rings, the protagonist answers it. It's the murderer (in this case, the always fun Elisha Cook, Jr.), who spookily taunts the protagonist. He leaves the apartment and the chase is on - great stuff. In fact, I normally pitch the VHS tape after I've seen the movie; this one's a saver. Good film.
Riffraff: I didn't care for this film at first viewing. I wrote: "A boring film. Pat O'Brien is sleepy and careless, and nothing happens in this to arouse interest." I guess I developed more patience with 1940's pacing since then. On a second viewing I found this amusing and fairly charming; in general, I liked the comedy elements.
Escape in the Fog: Those pesky Nazis are foiled by the usual film noir conventions and good old American resourcefulness. Actually, a good way to spend 65 minutes.
Shield for Murder: A bad cop flick starring a sweaty and violent Edmond O'Brien. DAME HUNGRY COP KILLER RUNS BERSERK! That pretty much says it all. It also has a great little scene with Carolyn Jones as a barfly. Good stuff.
Transsiberian: A convincing neo-noir that has bleak scenery, a well-written script and suspense going for it. It effectively captures the nervousness of being a stranger in a strange land.
The Human Jungle: Good: Nasty cop Emile Meyer is in it. Better: It's well-written. Best: The final shootout takes place in a Pabst Blue Ribbon factory!
Undertow: A better sort of noir starring Scott Brady, an all-around decent sort of All-American chum who gets framed and betrayed. All turns out well at the end thanks to an enormous vengeful black man who, despite multiple gunshots wounds, corners the baddie in a dark room and... does something nasty to him and kills him. A memorable scene.
Canon City: An enjoyable prison break-out film, done in semi-documentary style. I enjoyed the presence of the real settings, locations and shots of real inmates. A nice little film if occasionally it's clear that the (real-life) Warden isn't going to win any acting awards.
Date With Death:In this one, a hobo is seen riding the rails; he gets thrown off by a railroad bull and hoofs it toward town where he finds an abandoned car with a dead body within. He changes clothes and identity with the corpse - why not? this is film noir, after all - and makes his way into town, where he discovers he's accepted as the police chief, expected to clean up the rampant corruption caused by a dirty cop and the local gangster. So it has an oddball plot going for it. But what really puts this one over the top is the subliminal information inserted into the movie! Yes, they did that in 1959. The producers called it "psychorama." In one fight scene, the words, "kill," "blood" and a skull is shown subliminally - that is, faster than the eye can see. This is supposed to make you more apprehensive. Well, that's the theory, anyway. It did absolutely nothing for me. Perhaps the frames were removed for television, or perhaps it simply doesn't work. I think the latter is true... Anyway, this is a cheesy but entertaining flick. It barely makes it into my "good" category, however.
Hit and Run: Another film that just barely cracks into my "good" category is this one. Sort of a low budget "The Postman Always Rings Twice," Vince Edwards runs over his lover's husband, only to discover that he may have only run over her husband's identical twin. Or did he? Written and directed by Hugo Haas, an affable German who didn't get that standard film noirs were old hat by 1959.
Le Deuxieme Souffle: A 1966 (!) film noir by French director Jean-Pierre Melville. No, this isn't a movie about food (those French are always talking about food); the title means "Second Wind." It had a very common noir plot: A gangster escapes from prison, takes up with his former associates and moll, becomes involved in a heist. A celebrated detective is put on the case. Double-crosses take place (or are thought to have taken place), and a bloody, fatal end ensues. Fin. The surprise is that anyone was still making films like this as late as 1966. In America ten years prior this sort of thing was considered old hat and was trending out. But French noirs are different, mainly because, to some extent, there's always a degree of America-envy in them. French actors act like Anglo-Saxons, drive American cars ("L'Oldsmobile wagon... cette un belle voiture pour le get away") and try to emulate the cool, cigarette-smoking stylishness of Bogie in a trench coat. But the streets are in Paris and the cigarettes are Caporals. Actually, one great thing about French noirs is seeing the wonderfully evocative cinematography of 1950's/1960's Paris on black and white film stock.
There are good French noirs and bad ones - Melville seems to direct the good ones. His "Le Samourai" from 1967 was a great treatise of the cool, stylish assassin (played by an impossibly handsome Alain Delon), and his "Bob Le Flambeur" (Bob the Gambler) from 1956 is about as good as a French noir gets. Le Deuxieme Souffle was a nice way to while away a couple of hours.
Brighton Rock: Brit noir, based on a story by Graham Greene and starring a very young Richard Attenborough as a total rotter. A class production from start to finish.
I Wouldn't Be in Your Shoes: You've got to love the 1940's. Only then could a studio release a film with this title that had shoes as a major plot point! An enjoyable little work based on a Cornell Woolrich story. Think twice before hurling your shoes at an annoying cat!
Behind the High Wall: A great little prison flick featuring a crooked warden and a middle-aged Sylvia Sidney, still hoping the best for her man as she always does. It sustains interest and moves right along.
The Killer is Loose: A not too bad late period noir. Much of the visual effects that make film noir film noir (weird angle photography, low key lighting, etc.) is missing from this production, but it's noir because of the setting and plot. The antagonist did a convincing job of seeming to be crazy and vengeful, but other than that, the only really interesting thing about this one was seeing the Skipper on Gilligan's Island play a big cop. Routing but entertaining. It had the good sense to end at the 73 minute mark.
Shockproof: It started out well, moved into some promising noirish plot turns, and morphed into an interesting "couple on the lam" film. I was wondering/hoping if the couple would both go down in a hail of police gunfire - and was disgusted to see a totally unlikely redemptive and upbeat ending tacked on. I HATE THAT. But, that's characteristic of Sam Fuller, who co-wrote the screenplay. You can never tell where he's going with a script. (I think specifically of the scene in The Naked Kiss where the prostitute sings to the crippled children.) So I put this film into the "good" category because it held my interest, but that ending had me knocking my head into a wall.
The Garment Jungle: From 1957, which makes it a late period noir. It describes the Union/non-Union (and consequent crime) issues in the NYC garment trade. At one point, an older actress appeared in this; I knew her face right away but it took me a while to figure out where I've seen her elsewhere. It was Celia Lovsky, a.k.a. T'Pau, High Priestess of the Vulcans! An interesting personality... I didn't know she was Peter Lorre's wife. The Garment Jungle was interesting, too, in that it actually showed a woman (Gia Scala - a major babe) about to breast feed a baby. There was no exposure of the character's breast, of course (1957), but it did show it. Never saw that in an older film before! The film was also cool because it had great shots of 1950's New York City - I always like that. Oh, and Richard Boone is always great to watch. He's a polished thug in this.
711 Ocean Drive: Stars Edmond O'Brien as a telephone technician who becomes a racketeer. Nice film. The climax takes place at Hoover Dam near Las Vegas, where O'Brien is gunned down by the police. But my authoritative film noir reference, "Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style" by Silver and Ward, says that he falls to his death spectacularly at the foot of the dam. Huh? Did we both see the same film?
Black Widow: A glossy, cinemascope full color whodunit. Unusual among noirs in that I thought I had it figured out but hadn't; the end was a surprise. One of the rare good George Raft films (but he's not the male lead). Ginger Rogers was great!
The Crimson Kimono: A funky, late-period film noir directed by Sam Fuller. As it doesn't seem to be released on VHS or DVD, I've waited years to see it; it's one of those noirs I've known about but haven't seen. It's fairly typical of Fuller's sensational style: abrupt edits, odd characters, over the top situations. For instance, in the first five minutes or so we see a stripper (Gloria "Voluptua" Pall) doing her show, taking a drag off a cigarette backstage and suddenly getting shot, falling dead in the center of Main Street in Los Angeles. The title of the movie, by the way, is from the name of her proposed new strip routine featuring a karate artist breaking a piece of wood in two. The most fun about it was the setting: downtown L.A. in 1959. Pall's character worked her burlesque act at the Burbank Theater. My father-in-law told me about this place after I had seen it in another old film. Turns out there was a famous stripper working there named "Velda," which is also his wife's (my mother-in-law's) name, which inspired much humor. Doing a hunt for something or another on the Internet, I also learned that back in the late forties, Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan, worked at the Burbank Theater as the organist on the house Wurlitzer. Anyway, good, watchable film if the occidental-oriental bigotry angle is a little forced.
Act of Violence: Another Robert Ryan film where he's doing what he does best: menacing people. I liked the sequence where Van Heflin runs into the seedy Bunker Hill section of L.A. to get away from Ryan, and meets a prostitute and a thug in a run-down bar. Very 1948, very atmospheric, very noir. The ending is suitably noir, too, and something of a surprise.
The File on Thelma Jordon: A noir that fits more or less into the standard noir plot; well-directed and acted. Not different or gripping enough to be a favorite, though.
Teenage Doll: One of Roger Corman's exploitation classics from 1957. The IMDb has this one listed as a film noir, and I can't argue. The plot, a teenage girl involved in a death is pursued by a Deb gang, is noirish. It fits into a J.D. noir sub-category along with High School Big Shot (1959), a personal favorite. The first five minutes or so have undeniable impact: an expressionist title sequence leads into a basin of dirty dishwater thrown on the body of a young woman laying dead in an alley. Whew! I guess it goes without saying this is a black and white film. The most accurate summary I can give is that it's 71 minutes of bleak sleeze, shaky acting, attitude and outrage thrown up on the screen in the finest Roger Corman tradition. I loved it. While there are male gangs in this film, Teenage Doll is essentially the story of a Deb gang. (Debs, debutantes: Females attached to a male gang. In this one, the male gang, the Tarantulas, have the Black Widows as the associated Deb gang.) It's grimy. Even the hapless pretty blonde runs around with blood on her clothing (which a blind beggar can smell). The rumble sequence at the end is effectively staged in a junkyard. And a notable sequence shows the semi-feral and hungry kid sister of the head Deb living alone in a squalid, darkened kitchen, eating cardboard and crackers. When Roger Corman goes for outrage, he lays it on thick! And it has Bruno VeSota! He appears in all the best worst films: Daddy-O, Dementia, Female Jungle. For me, VeSota's most impressive scene is a nightmarish sequence in Dementia where he eats a chicken, the camera coming in close to show the chicken fat on his lips and chin.
The Threat : I really liked it. It's fun to watch Charles McGraw bully people around - what a rotter! A crackerjack little 66 minute noir in the RKO house style.
The Tattooed Stranger : Another crackerjack little noir in the RKO house style. This one, a police procedural, involves a woman found shotgunned in a car. The only clue for the police is a Marine Corps tattoo on her arm (!) and some rare grass found on the brake pedal. This leads to an interesting manhunt in New York City's seediest districts; the 1950 photography is interesting.
He Ran All the Way : In fact, he didn't, as this almost entirely takes place in an apartment. A good vehicle for John Garfield as a rather stupid thug. His character is complemented by a very young Shelly Winters - who is rather dumb herself. This film is one of thse family-held-captive-in-their-home works, which always pushes my buttons. The end is very noir: Garfield dies in a gutter, the street lit by James Wong Howe's usual excellent noir lighting.
The Killer That Stalked New York : A bio-noir (or bio-procedural, perhaps), like Panic in the Streets and City of Fear, except this one is more noirish. Evelyn Keyes looks worse and worse as the film progresses. As always, it's nice to see shots of NYC, c. 1950.
Big House U.S.A. : A "prison bust out" sub-genre noir. What a cast! Ralph Meeker (an actor renowned for his sneer and overall oily demeanor) is a kidnapper who goes to prison and is thrown into the cell known as the "Lion's Den." The Den contains Broderick Crawford, who is the brains behind the bust-out. A definite play against type because a moviegoer would never assume he'd be the brains behind anything. But he does have one of the best lines in the movie: "I'm gonna kidnap a kidnapper for the money he kidnapped for." Lon Chaney, Jr., who was at the time an alcoholic and looks like one in this, is a cellmate. An extremely buff Charles Bronson is a volatile murderer. The last is William Talman, an actor renowned for having unsettling, lizard-like features. An interesting scene involves Talman using a blowtorch to burn off Bronson's facial features and fingerprints after bludgeoning him with a hammer! We don't see it, of course, but, like, wow. Great stuff! I had no idea that Crawford did so many great noirs...
Down Three Dark Streets : An excellent example of a right wing noir, or police procedural. Complete with serious intonation, stately march and the cops (in this case, FBI) exchanging meaningful glances. In fact, it's an early example of the Dragnet house style. But I liked it; Broderick Crawford gives the whole thing heft and believability - he looks and acts like The Man. The ending, the bad guy is captured at the base of the Hollywood sign! - is great!
Scandal Sheet : An excellent noir written by Sam Fuller and starring a tough as leather Broderick Crawford. Great script, good casting, the men are wearing fedoras and the streets are dark. Like "Come and Get Me!" a great little film about the sensationalist press.
The Mob : Another Brod Crawford noir, in this one he goes undercover. Good, but not as good as the others. Still, it's fun watching him in these!
The Night Holds Terror : One of those family hostage films, like The Desperate Hours. These always make me tense as I'm continually thinking of ways to subdue the bad guys. I liked this one because it actually showed the central office procedures (in a charmingly vintage CO) to trace a telephone call. A taut, fast-paced thriller.
Fortune is a Woman: Nice dream sequence, nice acting by Jack Hawkins, nice turns of plot. It kept me interested!
My True Story: Directed by Mickey Rooney (!), Helen Walker plays a jewel thief. She's good in this, being at times repentant, tough, sentimental and various shades in between. Given that she's at the center of a heist, this is a novelty. Not a full blown noir, but a much better film than the title would indicate!
The Sniper: Reading about it in film noir books, I waited for seven years to see this one. I liked it, but not enough to make it one of my favorites. A scene showing the shooting of a worker, who is suspended from a long rope on a tower, is memorable. And I found myself hoping that the sniper's nasty female boss would be one of his victims... which tells me that I was getting emotionally involved in the screenplay. The San Francisco locations were fun to watch, too.
Pushover: Fred MacMurray, a police detective, becomes enamored of a blonde (Kim Novak), falls into a pit of corruption of his own making and is caught. Based on that, it's easy to dismiss this one as Double Indemnity II - but it's a somewhat better film than that. For one thing, Kim Novak is a far more credible seductress than was Barbara Stanwyck. For another, MacMurray is ten years older in this one, and, credibly ten years more disenchanted with his career choice and life. My personal favorite feature of this were the groovy 1954 images of Burbank, CA - my hometown.
His Kind of Woman!: One of those Mitchum/Russell pair-ups. This one is overlong by about a half-hour (it's a two hour film). It's an odd combination of rather conventional, straight-ahead noir and downright tomfoolery. Vincent Price steals this film playing a hammy actor (!) leading an expedition of unwilling Mexican police on a raid on a yacht, to capture the (always) sadistic Raymond Burr.
Man of the West: I suppose Gary Cooper's tongue-tied character was considered a draw in his heyday; I think it works against him now. But this is a good example of an off-genre noir, a Western. Julie London's character gets raped... wow. This is certainly an atypical Western from Anthony Mann, who gave us some terrific noirs: Side Street, Border Incident, Reign of Terror, Follow Me Quietly, He Walked by Night, Raw Deal, T-Men, Railroaded! and Desperate.
Loan Shark: One of the few George Raft films I like; oddly enough, interesting because it shows the manufacture of tires! (Raft works in a tire plant.)
Roadblock: Got off to a slow start, but built interest as it went along. The final scenes, a car chase along the L.A. River, was interesting. It's great to see Charles McGraw play somewhat against type.
Cage of Evil: An undistinguished very late period (1960) noir about a corrupt cop and a femme fatale. Patricia Blair (later, Daniel Boone's TV wife) was very attractive as a blonde FF - but that's about it for interest in this one.
Where Danger Lives: I waited for years to see this one (it doesn't seem to be available on VHS or DVD), and it was worth the wait. Faith Domergue plays an alluring but mentally unstable femme fatale and Robert Mitchum is a concussed sap. Together they're a couple fleeing the law. The ending was a bit too upbeat for my taste in a noir, but I enjoyed this one. I wonder that Domergue didn't have more of a career in films; she really does display some impressive acting.
Brick: The angle behind this one is Southern California high schoolers, involved with murders and drug dealing, talking and acting like Bogie and Bacall in a 1940's film noir. As Roger Ebert states in his review of the film, they play it straight and you don't see them winking, so it works. It certainly is an off-beat neo-noir, and I'm happy to see the high-schoolers played by actors who look like teens rather than the obvious twentysomethings seen on TV. The high school - which is weirdly empty - substitutes for The Dark City. I can't say as I was surprised by any of the plot developments or surprises. In fact, I predicted them. But that's what happens when you've seen a ton of these kind of films - you rarely become surprised. It doesn't take away from the film, however, which was well-scripted and enjoyable.
Portland Expose: Other than an attempted rape scene by the always dependably-crazed Frank Gorshin, this film doesn't have a whole lot going for it. Kind of a yawner; by 1957 police procedurals were getting really tired. But, a tough guy portrayal by Ed Binns - even the prospect of having acid flung in his eyes doesn't phase him - wow.
Dial 1119: A whacked out WWII vet goes on a shooting rampage (except he's not really a vet). What's interesting about this one is the shots of post war bar life; there's a bar-fly, and a fellow who's trying to convince a young women into a weekend trip to a lodge, and a jaded newsman about to phone his boss to tell him off, etc. And this bar has William Conrad as the grumpy bartender who tunes one of those new-fangled large screen televisions ($1,400!) for patrons to view. The TV also serves as a device to turn this movie into a look at the media and how it covers (and influences) crime. It reminded me of "Try and Get Me!" in that way.
Cornered: An interesting little post WWII revenge drama starring a suitably grim Dick Powell. At one point he beats a man to death with his fists - a far cry form his crooning parts in those early 1930's Busby Berkeley musicals!
Scene of the Crime: A police procedural starring Van Johnson, who doesn't quite fit the noir cop part; he seems to have humor or good nature as an underlying characteristic, rather than, say, world-weariness or job-related obsession. But... I liked this film, despite the fact that I could only partially follow the plot. I was really surprised at what he was able to get away with - dates with Gloria DeHaven - and still be considered a happily married man.
Railroaded!: An enjoyable Anthony Mann cheapie from PRC that pretty much defines the noir style insofar as photography goes. Also a great plot and fast-moving direction. I got a kick out of the good cop/bad cop routine in this one.
The Sun Sets at Dawn: The first part is unbelievably mopey and bleak, almost too much so, even for a noir, but it perked up with a plot as the film progresses. Not a bad film, overall, if you can get past the first half.
Destination Murder: At only 72 minutes, this is a fast-moving RKO cheapie that you really have to pay attention to, as the storyline is complex. I believe there's a betrayal or shift in plot every ten minutes or so! An enjoyable film - it's movies like this that maintain my interest in noir.
They Live by Night: Perhaps the most overtly romantic noir I've seen - or the most romantic fatalistic noir, anyway. Farley Granger is such a good looking young man, and Cathy O'Donnell is so sweet... Hollywoodian expectations are that one would think they have a great life ahead of them, but not in this noir! Which is what makes it satisfying to watch (in a noir sense), I guess. A lot of pathos in this one.
Fallen Angel: An entertaining noir from the classic period, but with just too many implausibilities (a too quick wedding to Alice Faye, a ridiculous spiritual presentation by John Carradine, the entire ending) for me to consider as a favorite. Also, Dana Andrews is just plain unconvincing as a bad guy. Fun to watch, but just too unlikely.
The Conversation: I liked it. Not as much as Roger Ebert did, apparently. A simple neo-noir/thriller about a troubled loser - I guess I'm expecting more noirish complexity in order to put it into the "favorties" category. But it's good.
Therese Raquin: A French version of Double Indemnity, sort of. Not the best French noir I have ever seen, but certainly not the worst. Sylvie, as the grumpy and suspicious mother-in-law, has a great role.
House By the River: Fritz Lang made very few bad or boring films - this is one of his great little noirs in the style of the French film Diabolique. Louis Hayward is excellent as the loathsome male lead.
Somewhere in the Night: A great little noir from the classic period, with all the usual character actors, odd turns of plot and dark urban settings. The leading man's amnesia was a new plot device for the time, but has since become commonplace. It doesn't detract from the value of this film, though, which uses the device well.
The Damned Don't Cry: A Joan Crawford film, which usually means (and it is the case with this one) that she is a determined but sympathetic character in a rise and fall type plot. Not as good as Mildred Pierce, but certainly watchable.
Thieves' Highway: Dassin and Bezzerides - two familiar noir names - and Richard Conte at the height of his career. Good stuff! Also, great San Francisco night exteriors and Jack Oakie for comic relief. (Perhaps a little too much comic relief in this one.) The only reason why this doesn't appear in my favorites category is the horrible happy ending tacked on at the insistence of Darryl Zanuck, which takes away considerably from the noir impact it might have had.
High and Low: A Kurosawa noir made in 1963. Much better, I thought, than the one about the Japanese cop misplacing his weapon (which I thought was a pretty lame plot device). Starts off rather slowly, however, but concludes interestingly.
Touchez pas au grisbi: A French noir from 1954. Unlike Rififi, this one has little in the way of the usual French self-awareness or imitation of American noir. Perhaps this is due to Jean Gabin's assured performance - one gets the impression that he's really just as world-weary as he seems. This is a film more about personal loyalty than a heist (or getting a heist fenced) - with noir trappings. Lots of interesting and/or odd little "bits" in this one... one thug kind of expects to get a pro forma working-over at one point, we see Gabin and his cohort walking about in pajamas and brushing their teeth (an odd bit of homelife for a noir), a woman is shared between a man and his nephew, etc. Fun to watch.
Time Without Pity: A Brit-noir from 1957. This one has rather over-the-top performances from Michael Redgrave and Leo McKern that give the whole production a rather shaky and uneven feel. (Redgrave is trembling and skittish, McKern loud and often unhinged.) Still... I did like the basic storyline - an alcoholic ne'er do well attempts to solve a case to save his son - and it does have a suitably tragic ending. Not bad for a late period noir.
Finger Man: The humorless Frank Lovejoy checks all the boxes in this more or less routine noir. Some of the street photography is this police procedural is good, but that's about it.
T-Bird Gang: I found this one in the teen exploitation section of Video Vault. Certainly, the name suggests a teen race car gang movie of some kind. There is only one T-Bird, however, owned by an adult gang boss, and the only male teen in this film looks like he could be in his early twenties. So actually, this isn't an exploitation film at all, but a late period film noir - and not a bad one. It's an undercover police procedural of a type reminiscent of White Heat and Street Without a Name. It has its moments. The boss is refined and likes his classical music (the artsy nuance found in many noirs), but is vicious enough to have a finger of one of his gang members removed for trying to steal some of the loot. The Shelly Mann jazz soundtrack gives it color; there's one notable extended heist sequence with no dialog at all, just minimal jazz. Not bad at all.
Night of Evil: Another film found in Video Vault's exploitation section, but perhaps more noir than exploitation. This one features the rise and fall of Dixie Ann Dikes: cheerleader, rape victim, Miss America, crook's wife, armed robber, ex-con. It's Miss America Goes to Hell! I'm surprised that the actress - Lisa Gaye - didn't get more roles. She is stunning. And while this production was low-budget in most of the worst senses of the term, it was still interesting to watch.
Dark Odyssey: An intriguing late entry to the genre featuring a young Greek immigrant seeking revenge in New York City; it has a suitably tragic ending. The beatnik era shots of New York City are cool!
El Bruto: A Luis Bunuel companion piece to Los Olvidados, but more of a conventional film noir in that it deals with adults. Like Los Olvidados, it takes place in Mexican slums. Watching this, I kept having the feeling that I had seen another treatment of this story somewhere else, but perhaps it has elements in common with many other films. This film leads me to wonder if other Mexican film noirs would be interesting to watch and study - I do not have access to any - but I suspect that Luis Bunuel's direction is what puts this one above the crowd.
Flamingo Road: The ever-capable Joan Crawford in another rags-to-riches noir, this one not quite as good as Mildred Pierce but interesting nonetheless. One of Sidney Greenstreet's better roles. It's interesting that she always seemed to play such likable victims in her films but in real life was such a controlling harridan.
The Scavengers: A moderately entertaining late noir filmed in Hong Kong. No surprises here and nothing new, but the back alleys are filmed interestingly. Vince Edwards makes a passable protagonist.
The Limping Man: A Brit noir with some American actors (Lloyd Bridges, for one). Starts slow, but builds up interestingly, and takes a complete left turn at the end, when it's revealed the whole story was only a dream! Fairly impressive camerawork; it makes the case that visually interesting things happen behind stages, in old storage rooms and warehouses at night.
Croupier: A Brit noir in modern vernacular. This one is kind of puzzling for me to assess. It isn't really thrilling and it isn't really engrossing - and the plot's pay-off at the end is only mildly entertaining. You might call it an understated noir. I felt like I wanted more surprising plot twists, or the motives of the protagonist more understood. And I'm not sure the device of the Croupier being a novelist really advanced the plot or created interest, either. But, all that being said, I generally liked this film. I suppose I need to ponder it for some time in my head, or perhaps give it a second viewing to sort out my opinions. But my initial take is that it is a good film that is unsatisfying.
Reign of Terror: Somewhere I read that John Alton gave this movie "the full noir treatment," and sure enough, he did. The shadows are very deep in this one - think "The Big Combo" but with people wearing French Revolution era clothing. Reign of Terror - an Anthony Mann film - is a good exhibit in the case that noir was a sensibility rather than a genre, and the inky cinematography suited the subject matter well. Instead of a full color exposition of large drawing rooms, powdered wigs and satin coats, we get key lit figures moving in and out of the dark, plotting intrigues. The street scenes looked impressively dank, too. The only lame part came at the end, with a brief, corny conversation between a spy and Napoleon Bonaparte, then an unknown. Actually, the cinematography is more interesting than the plot, which is a light swashbuckler with emphasis on intrigue rather than swashbuckling. It's worth seeing just to watch a master photographer at work.
Targets: The Peter Bogdanavich film with Boris Karloff (his last and one of his best). Creepy on a number of levels: 1) A sniper is shooting people in cold blood and 2.) Lingering camera shots of San Fernando Valley interiors c. 1968. (I actually saw resin grapes on a coffee table. I just know I'm gonna see those again when I go to bed, close my eyes and drift off to sleep.) I grew up in the San Fernando Valley in the 60's, my parents house was full of kitschy suburban crap decor, and you don't see me sniping at people. The burning question here is, is this neo-noir? I say yes. If "the Sniper" is film noir, so is this. It has a homme fatale and a strong suggestion that the suburban California environment houses all sorts of hidden, subliminated terrors and is, in fact, a corrupt society. Classic noir theme. I also liked the aging actor theme involving Boris Karloff. Too bad he didn't do more straight roles...
The Red Menace: Perhaps the wackiest noir of them all. Restored for historical purposes (and humorous purposes) by the UCLA Film Archive, this one is an extremely heavy-handed anti-Communist noir. Yes, it is noir. The funny thing about it is that while my head was thinking all along, "This story is so over the top it's absurd!" the familiar shadows and fedoras gave such a great visual reinforcement to the theme of paranoia running though the script that I was hooked. Such is the power of alleys and the big city rendered in contrasty black and whites. (Well, for those of us who take noir seriously, anyway.) The opening titles are great: the Great Octopus of Communism lays its tentacles across the world while a martial theme (the International?) plays in march beat. The end is great, too - a couple on the lam from the commies (a disgruntled ex-G.I and pretty Euro-Red Nina Petrovka) finally stop in a small Texas town and confess all to the sheriff, who is sort of a cross between Andy of Mayberry and Lyndon Johnson. "Say, we didn't get his name," and a little boy in a cowboy suit is asked. "Why, we jus' call him Uncle Sam!" The lovers kiss and "America the Beautiful" swells into a closing theme. Anyway, a great slice of 1950's anti-commie paranoia - not to be missed.
FBI Girl: With a title like that you'd expect a police procedural with the usual march theme music, and that's exactly what you get in this one. A watchable little flick; Audrey Totter is good as the informant, Cesar Romero is excellent as the detective, and Raymond Burr always makes a good heavy. Plus Joi Lansing!
Naked Alibi: Perhaps one of Gloria Grahame's better performances matched with the always dependable Sterling Hayden. A somewhat formulaic noir, but an entertaining one just to watch Gene Barry as a violent crook. The cast is better than the material given them.
Hollow Triumph (aka The Scar): Another good Joan Bennett noir. This one is directed in the style of a Fritz Lang production, with an occasional funny touch from character actors, and an ironic twist at the end. What really makes it special, however, is the John Alton signature photography, which is almost like a recognizable character in itself. The scene of the gambling room - with each table lit by a single light source overhead - is memorable. No doubt about it in my mind, he did wonderful things with light!
Wanted for Murder: Mildly Brit-noir. As the packaging on the DVD indicates, this is a cross between Edgar Ulmer's "Bluebeard" and a Hitchcock film. It also seems like Douglas Sirk's "Lured." A polished, elegant little film with an annoying grandiose piano concerto theme running intrusively through it. Stanley Holloway provides amusing comic relief. A pleasure to watch - but not fatalistic, gritty or hard-boiled like the best American noirs.
Hell is a City: Hell is a City! (In case you thought it was a golf course or a theme park.) In this 1960 Brit-noir, the city is Manchester, England. I always enjoy Brit noirs because they take our formula and recast them in British, with necessary differences becoming apparent pretty quickly. For instance, in the final shoot out with the police, the inspector has to order that the police be armed! (Until recently, British Bobbies didn't carry guns.) Also, a young woman's body is dumped on the side of the road in a typical English countryside, with the wind whistling along. Some pretty good noir photography, a bombastic jazz score and a plot that is not really different or unusual - the attraction here is the cast and setting. One novelty is an endangered deaf and dumb girl. There is some discreet nudity in this one which surprised me. You have to catch it with DVD slow mo and zoom. (My wife was real impressed with my technical abilities in this regard.) Recommended.
Nightmare Alley: Back in 1969, when I was a 13 year old interested in Tarot cards, I read somewhere that they were featured in the movie and book "Nightmare Alley." So I wrote this title down on a slip of paper and put it in my wallet. It stayed there for a decade or so, long after I forgot why I wrote it in the first place. Then, 30 years later, I become interested in noir and constantly read about this movie. Anyway, I really liked this film; it's as good as everyone says it is. A great against-type role for Tyrone Power - I see why he wanted it. I was also intrigued by the three women in his life. My one complaint is that redemptive ending. If I were the director I would have done it this way: Circus Owner: "You know what a geek is, don't you? You can play that?" Stanton Carlisle: "I was born for it." Music up. "The End." Fade to black. Too many good noirs have an upbeat ending that seems forced and entirely contrary to what preceded it. Gilda was another. There was a Mickey Rooney noir, "Quicksand," that was quite good until the end.
Rope: Oh, clever Alfred Hitchcock. Clever, clever Alfred Hitchcock! What a clever production, from the clever dialog to the clever edits to the clever shots! We know who the homo superior really is - it's not John Dall or James Stewart. It's the fat guy with the big lower lip. Eddie Muller is right - Hitchcock toys with noir conventions without really accepting them or using them as other directors do. Actually, while it appeared to me that this film was trying way too hard to seem innovative, I liked it. In this film, John Dall is a homme noir - maybe there's two of them, counting Farley Granger. When I was listening to Dall's curious dialog about the intellectually and culturally superior having the right to bump off people as they wished, I thought of some other home superior types in noir: "Mr. Brown" in The Big Combo (he's a winner, Number One), Orson Wells' dinnertime patter in "the Stranger," Lydecker in the bathtub in "Laura." This seems to be another film noir archetype: the smooth, cultured, homo superior killer. The first ten minutes or so were really bizarre - I mean the post-coital acting of Dall and Granger after choking their victim. Whew. I suppose that kind of a scene is played out a lot these days, but in 1948 audiences must have been fidgeting. John Dall is an under-rated actor - he seemed like entirely a different person from his role in "Gun Crazy." And I really liked that Dark City view amenity in the penthouse windows.
Julie: 1956, with Doris Day and Louis Jourdan. I was attracted to it because I have a daughter named Julie. (Were we undecided between that and Christina; one evening I went to a record store and saw the Julie London LP "Julie is My Name," which I took as a sign.) Doris Day sings the title song; it has a choir going "Juuuullliiieeeeeeeee..." It's a film noir that turns into a thriller towards the end. (Can Doris Day land the plane now that the pilot is dead and the navigator is passing out? Well, duh.) Actually, like the later "Midnight Lace" it sort of falls into the film genre "Let's Scare the Hell Out of Doris Day." Anyway, I liked it. It got off to kind of a slow start, but there was some nice ocean cinematography to look at. Later, there was some good shadowy noir night-for-night shots, and finally a great airplane sequence. Also, good-looking convertibles.
Affair in Havana: When Raymond Burr first appeared in the wheelchair I thought, "Chief Ironside!" This is a spare, subtle and understated late-period noir. I couldn't see an unneeded minute in it, which is something I like about many noirs (oftentimes the low budget ones) - they aren't self-indulgent. This one seemed especially direct. I also liked the fact that there wasn't a ton of incidental music in it; the music seemed to be used for effect at just the right times. I especially liked the title theme, played by Cassavetes on the piano and then taken up by an orchestra. It sounded Raymond Chandleresque - except accompanied by a Cuban rhythm. Another good musical moment was when Cassavetes was baited to play the piano at Burr's house. When he finally does, he plays wild, defiant, atonal chords. The dye job on Raymond Burr's hair made his eyes more effective. It was an odd choice of makeup, but reinforces a general use of white as a visual theme. I enjoyed the scene when Sara Shane realized Valdez would kill for her; you didn't need to be a mind reader to interpret that look of astonishment, then triumph. It reminded me of the expression on Peggy Cummins' face in the celebrated getaway scene of "Gun Crazy." Wishful thinking on his part, I guess. Did Sara Shane ever see "Body Heat," and, if so, when Kathleen Turner first appeared as Mattie, did she think "Hey - I did a film as a cool blonde dressed in white in a hot environment!" (Lana Turner in "The Postman Always Rings Twice" was the first one, I suppose.) There isn't much low key, high contrast noir photography in this film. The dominant image seems to be a landscape drenched with hot white sun. (Which I thought was effectively metaphorical. I had figured out that Cassavetes and Shane were having an affair before their first clench - the impression I had from the photography was that in a place like Cuba things were pretty much out in the open. It reminded me of the Norwegian neo-noir "Insomnia.") Was one Cuban cop holding a Thompson machine gun?!? The end was the same as the beginning - except that Cassavetes is wiser, and more world-weary. I read somewhere that even a noir with a "happy" ending comes at some price. This film follows that rule of thumb.
Rififi: A French noir. Generally speaking I enjoyed this, despite the fact that I watched an older video version of it with white subtitles on a sometimes white background, and had some problems figuring out what was going on. (I'm sure the DVD is much improved, but I don't own a player yet, okay?) The cast was interesting, the production was very noir, the plot was enjoyable. Yes, I got a kick out of the famous quiet heist scene. I can see why critics call this a great film noir. BUT... There is something about the attitude that the French take with film noir that seems to rob it of some of its authenticity with me. (I noticed this with "Le Samourai.")The care taken with the costuming, the "types" of characters with their nicknames, the attitudes, the frequent use of slang... all of it seems a little too enthusiastic. "Ooooh, le film noir! Avec les gangsters! Vive les rues noir!" American film noir is fatalistic, dark and desperate; there's nothing to celebrate. French film noir is stylish, arty and sort of looking at itself.
Bob le Flambeur: Another noir Francais. I liked it better than "Rififi," and about as much as "Le Samourai." As a heist film I suppose its likeness to "Asphalt Jungle" has been commented upon. I liked the character of Bob (not "Robert" or "Robaire?"); his personality is pretty well defined by the time the plotting begins, and I think that helped me enjoy this film more than I did Rififi. Also, this film seems to be trying to look less than a French copy of a Yank film noir - I don't know why that is to me, but it seems less affected than Rififi. The photography is beautiful in a way only black and white can be. I guess the subtext of this film is Dame Fortune, and her whims and caprices. I once took my youngest daughter to see a performance of Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana," and when she asked what the Latin lyrics at the famous and overused beginning music ("O Fortuna") meant, I quickly came up with the following English translation: "Sometimes you're lucky/Sometimes you're not/Sometimes you get kicked in the bot." I reckon Bob gets kicked in the bot at the end of this one.
Blonde Ice: About as complete an exposition of the femme fatale as I've seen - yet this film isn't listed as a noir in the encyclopedia. Why ever not? (Perhaps it's too obscure - it was hard for me to find.) Anyway, Leslie Brooks seems to carry off effortlessly lying all though this film with conviction; at times I found myself yelling, "Don't be a sap!" At 73 minutes it moves right along - there are no parts of this film that I didn't find interesting. It's interesting that the screenplay is as hyperbolic as it is: this women thinks nothing of marrying, carrying on with another guy at the wedding, lying and murdering. The odd Jack Frost graphics on the opening credits suggested a noir winter wonderland!
Slightly Scarlet: Photographed by John Alton in lurid Technicolor, his trademark shadows are present everywhere. Maybe this was an early inspiration for the color style of Miami Vice. The movie's title could refer to a number of things, including Rhonda Fleming and her sister's hair - not to mention the blood that flows at the end. A theme of corruption runs through the film, and the younger sister, portrayed by Arlene Dahl, is as fruity a nymphomaniac/kleptomaniac as can be. Entertaining, but not as stylish as productions shot in black and white. It's funny, but after watching so many of these old movies I begin to prefer black and white cinematography!
The Outfit: The redneckiest noir I have ever seen. It's that way mostly because of the presence of Joe Don Baker, but the white trash marrieds living in trailers, dogs, dust and dirt rising up from cars on the lam and the rural locations all contribute. The same basic premise as "Point Blank" - a guy out to destroy the syndicate - but I liked the stylishness and metaphysical aspect of the Lee Marvin film more. Has interesting 1973 cameos from some noir stalwarts of the classic era: Timothy Carey, Marie Windsor, Jane Greer, Elisha Cook and Robert Ryan. That ending was awful: Joe Don Baker seems to be fatally wounded, but he and Robert Duvall are laughing as they make their way to freedom in an ambulance. Still... an entertaining film. Karen Black had real possibilities as a noir dame - too bad she lived in the wrong era.
Marlowe: Given that this was made in the color-saturated style of 1969, and stars James Garner in something that looks like a more intense episode of the Rockford Files than any Raymond Chandler films, you really couldn't call it film noir. True, he plays Phillip Marlowe, and true, there are plot twists and a downbeat ending in the noir fashion, but this film is merely a 60's mystery. It's interesting - but it isn't noir.
Quicksand: Andy Hardy Goes to Hell. Mickey Rooney is the star of this one, and such is his on-screen presence and talent he's always interesting to watch. In this film he interestingly goes from crime to steadily escalating crime, aided and abetted by a grasping blonde (James Cagney's sister Jeanne) who lusts after mink in the best noir tradition. He even gets blackmailed by Peter Lorre, so it's a nifty little film. The only thing that keeps it from being a favorite of mine is a hopeful, redemptive ending which contradicts the structure and mood of the preceding events. ("Glida" also suffered from this.) Also, this film would have benefited from a bigger dose of desperation. Mickey Rooney may have been a sympathetic character in this film, but I would rather have seen him dead than have the film close with a shot of him buoyantly facing a sentence of 1 to 10 years ("closer to one") in prison, as he is driven off to the hospital, accompanied by his youthful girlfriend and a kindly older lawyer. Blecccch. (Trivia notes: Jimmie Dodd, later a Mouseketeer who composed the Mickey Mouse March, appears in this as Mickey's pal Buzz. "Why? Because we like you!" Also, a young but ugly Jack Elam appears.)
Blue Velvet: Rather difficult to watch, but contains all the usual David Lynchian tricks and weirdness. Inspired "Twin Peaks," which brought noir back to television. My wife and I sometimes comically quote Isabella Rossellini, using her Italian accent: "Hit me."
Hoodlum Empire : This one has a great title, early fifties noir look and the right faces (Brian Donlevy, Clair Trevor) and was generally entertaining and interesting. However, it could have been a much better film with fewer diversionary flashback sequences which impeded the dramatic flow of the story. Maybe a more linear storyline or a bit more sensationalism was required... Anyway, a good film that could have been far better with a more driven script.
The Chase: A very dreamlike movie, with some unexpected turns. A film that is less interested than making sense in a conventional cinematic way than simply presenting moods and obsessions. It begins more or less like "Out of the Past," then that motif (the hired man in love with the bosses' girl) becomes diffused - then returns. In one scene, a gangster has an odd, somewhat erotic conversation with his female barber - then slaps the nearby manicurist. Peter Lorre walks through this one acting bemused and threatening, and in other scenes the gangster gets his kicks out of piloting his chauffeur-driven car by means of a special set-up in the back seat. Halfway through the film the main character dies - and then we find that it was simply a dream. Entertaining, and very odd. I wonder if Cornell Woolrich was smoking something funny when he wrote the book from whence the screenplay came.
Phantom Lady: The true stars of this one as far as I'm concerned is Elisha Cook, Jr. and a woman's hat (listed in the credits as "the Phantom Lady Hat"). The scenes where Cook is drumming and making eyes at the Phantom Lady during the "Chicka-Boom Review" (another one of those 1940's South America references) and especially the scene where's he's hopped-up and frantically drumming in a jazz club are truly amazing. And Ella Raines (apparently) portrays a hooker to investigate leads that might clear her boss from a murder rap... this woman needs a hefty pay raise, not a proposal.
Private Hell 36: Great title! And, it has Ida Lupino, one of my favorite b-film actresses. She plays what she does well, a hardened woman, and Howard Duff and Steve Cochran play what they do well, hardened cops. Dean Jagger has a fitting role in this, as well. Great cast, good story, and neat old shots of the Hollywood Park racetrack. An above-average Fifties noir.
The Letter: It was released in 1940 and so is pre-noir. But there's light coming through Venetian blinds, a corrupted lawyer and two, count 'em, two femmes fatale - so it belongs here, as the critics insist. Based on a neat little tale by W. Somerset Maugham, it features a story that starts with a murder in the moonlight and ends with one. I enjoyed it better than the average noir. Some of the scenes were nicely creepy.
Cry Vengeance: As tightly crafted a revenge noir as I've seen. Takes place in Alaska, which serves as a metaphor for a place where one might think one is safe from the past - but is not. Also, the protagonist's face is half-scarred - another metaphor. Redemption takes place at the end, unfortunately. (I like tragic endings.) This film isn't listed in my Film Noir Encyclopedia (Third Edition) - I wonder why not?
Journey Into Fear: A pleasant sort of noir, with an abundance of dark corridors and mysterious foreigners. The main problem I have with it is that at times it seems decidedly like a comedy, as if it really wasn't meant to be taken seriously. Perhaps that's because of the way Joseph Cotten (an actor I have never cared for) acts, under the threat of being murdered. Has the all-time funniest tag-line of any noir I have come across: "Welles and Del Rio together! as Terror Man vs. Leopard Woman--for possession of a mysterious stranger in the powder-keg Middle East...a man with a military secret worth more than his love and his life!...It's menace melodrama thrilled with mighty mystery and suspense...SEE IT!" Orson Welles as the "terror man?" Oh, come on.
The Shanghai Gesture: Possibly the most thoroughly odd film I have ever seen! Ona Munson looks Chinese in her portrayal as Mother Gin Sling, but sounds like Mae West. Is Victor Mature supposed to be bisexual in this? What's that blonde from Brooklyn doing in this? What on earth is driving Poppy to be so perverse? What's with all the other odd characters? In addition to all this, wrestler Mike Mazurki in coolie makeup. He gets off the final line, "You likee Chinese New Year?" A puzzling film, but I have to admit I enjoyed this mixture of races, dialects and motives, all obsessed with gambling.
Party Girl: The funny thing about this misnamed film is that, while it's in Technicolor, it seems to concentrate on the color red. Which is okay - if there's any color that would be an appropriate addition to the usual blacks, whites and grays of noir films, it would be a blood red. This film looks much more like 1958, when it was filmed, than the early 1930's, when it supposedly takes place. ("Chinatown" was a better example of getting the makeup and clothing right.) On the whole, an entertaining film with a couple of rather gratuitous dance sequences for Cyd Charisse. Not b-movie enough to be entirely noir, but sort of trans-noir. The title song was pretty horrible. Lee J. Cobb is a dependable thug.
Leave Her to Heaven: Another Technicolor noir - gorgeous non-urban settings along the beach, near a wood-lined lake and in the New Mexico desert. And Gene Tierney, playing the same kind of petulant, whacked-out broad she did in "the Shanghai Gesture." So is this noir? Not for a purist, it isn't. Still... there is a flashback narrative and a femme fatale - and a couple of murders and a suicide. It's a noir in the sense that "Niagara" was. Starts off slowly but builds interest.
Follow Me Quietly: The fun thing about film noir is coming across the occasional film like this one - only 59 minutes, but compact, stylish and entertaining. It even has one of those memorable movie bits, something so preposterous it could only be in an movie: the police construct a mannequin of the faceless serial killer ("the Judge") to help them visualize him. The detectives ponder his motives and next moves, then leave the room. Then, the mannequin comes alive! It's "the Judge," sitting there, listening in. Ridiculous and yet, memorable and satisfying in a boyish sort of way.
The Thief: Another minimalist noir, but in a different way - this one has no spoken dialog, just sound effects and incidental music. At first I expected that this would get in the way of advancing the plot, but it didn't. Instead, I discovered the gimmick removed some of the suspense, in that nothing could happen that could cause dialog. For instance, when the phone rang, you knew he wouldn't answer it. When the attractive woman across the hall of the shabby apartment cast come-hither glances, you knew nothing would come of it. And when he was in a colleague's office, photographing secret documents, you knew he wouldn't get caught. The black, white and, especially, gray cinematography invoked the nervous years of the 1950's. At one point, when the physicist is pursued by an FBI agent and makes his way up the interior of the antenna mast atop the Empire State Building, you wonder how crowded, windy and all-around scary it must have been to get that footage. We take transportable camera equipment for granted these days - no telling what the film crew had to go through.
Farewell, My Lovely: A 1975 color remake of the 1944 "Murder, My Sweet" starring a 58 year-old Robert Mitchum. Normally, I would object, but as the film begins with Philip Marlowe's narrative of how he feels old and tired, it only adds to the mood of the piece. Stuff that was soft-pedaled and merely suggested in the earlier work is shown more graphically here. Not a bad 70's noir. Not quite up to the level of 1974's Chinatown, but not bad at all. Surprisingly good, in fact. I suspect only Mitchum could have pulled it off.
House of Strangers: A sort of forerunner of the Godfather movies, starring two of my favorite noir actors: Edward G. Robinson and Richard Conte - both of whom give strong performances. Italian family arguments always seems to make for good crime films...
Born to Kill: I have read of this film being called "sick" and "mean-spirited," and so it is. It is also engrossing, with a wonderful performance from a nutty old woman who seems to be a drunken lesbian. Noir stalwart Elisha Cook, Jr. gets killed off in this one, too. In fact, I can't think of a film that he lives through.
Too Late for Tears: One of my favorite noir vixens, Liz Scott, plays a conniving murderess in this one to good effect. Something of a vehicle for her, but with a good performance and end-of-movie twist by Don DeFore. This one started interestingly - with a satchel full of money tossed into a car - and had some interesting plot twists. This film should be better known than it is. Dan Duryea is shown slapping Liz once or twice - something of a cliché for him. What a wuss.
Manhandled: The movie has Dan Duryea who, predictably enough, does the manhandling. He always plays a sleezebag, but he outdoes himself in this one, being especially oily. This one had a number of entertaining noir-style plot twists, and Sterling Hayden is great in this one. A nice noir entry.
One Way Street: It has Dan Duryea in it as the baddie, but he doesn't slap any women - something of an achievement, I think. James Mason is a conflicted crook who finds happiness for a time in a little Mexican village with an exotic woman, needy peasants and a noble clergyman. But this being noir, the happiness isn't long-lived. A unexpectedly tragic end makes this one a somewhat different film noir.
The Woman in the Window: In this one Dan Duryea slaps Joan Bennett. Again. It's like Scarlet Street in that it's a Fritz Lang film with Bennett, Duryea and Edward G. Robinson, but it's kind of like the Marlene Dietrich film Blue Angel, too (a respected professor gets in trouble with a younger woman). I didn't care for the "it was all a dream" ending, but if you have to have one of these endings, this is probably the best way of doing it. Fritz Lang seemed to have fun with this film, and it's fun to watch.
Odds Against Tomorrow: Made in 1959, this could be the last true film noir. I liked the jazzy score and the gray, bleak winter landscapes; I especially liked the sound of a howling wind in the elevator scenes and in Ed Begley's apartment. And this one made its message about race in a less heavy-handed way than did Crossfire (another film where Robert Ryan plays a loathsome bigot.) One wouldn't necessarily pick Harry Belafonte as a noir character, but there he is - a desperate, driven man led to his destiny. And poor Robert Ryan - he just couldn't get free of playing unhinged bigots, tense cops or madmen.
Crashout: A neat prison break film, sort of a cross between "Brute Force" and "Plunder Road." (The pattern is that each escaped convict meets his individual fate as the film progresses.) Not quite as good as Brute Force, but still, a gritty film of the type that just isn't made anymore.
Murder, My Sweet: I prefer Dick Powell to Humphrey Bogart when it comes to playing characters like Sam Spade or, in this case, Phillip Marlowe. Powell has a thin-lipped toughness I think works better for the part. Bogart, on the other hand, does world-weariness better. Anyway, this film is a stylish early noir; Mike Mazurki as "Moose" is a lot of fun to watch.
The Naked City: An entertaining film but overly lightened by the comic presence of Barry Fitzgerald. I'm also not a fan of that sometimes goofy narration. My tastes run to especially nihilistic noirs, and this one is rather upbeat. Still, it's hard to quibble with that famous concluding line: "There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them."
Behind Locked Doors: Perhaps the most thoroughly minor noir I have ever seen. It's only 63 minutes long, and seems like a teleplay. A shamus enters himself into a sanitarium to flush out a fugitive from justice and encounters Tor Johnson. One problem is that the guy playing the private eye, Richard Carlson, looks and acts too much like Saturday Night Live's Phil Hartman, so the thing sometimes looks like a skit. Not a bad little film... just minor.
Niagara: This one is called a film noir, but the Technicolor is just too vibrant (all those rainbows interfere with a noir classification), and the setting too festive to pull it off, in my opinion. Still, it's a good thriller - my interest was kept active throughout - and any film with Marilyn Monroe is worth seeing. The most memorable scene is where a sappy husband is taking a shot of his wife, played by Jean Peters. She's in a two piece swimsuit. "Give me a profile." (She turns her head.) "C'mon, honey, a profile!" (Indicating that he wants her to turn so her breasts are better displayed.) "Now inhale!" It isn't every actress who gets to upstage Marilyn Monroe...
On Dangerous Ground: A nice suspense film with a good cast and some added layers of meaning. Bernard Herrmann's incidental music is a highlight, as are the scenes where Robert Ryan (always infernally taut) gives beat-downs to thugs. The end seems unsuitably redemptive, but I suppose a happy ending every now and then is okay in noir. Ida Lupino, is, as always, excellent - in this one she plays a blind woman.
Criss Cross: My interest was starting to wander a little until we got to the heist and the subsequent criss crosses - then it became satisfying. Suitably tragic ending.
Plunder Road: A tightly-scripted thriller. The railroad heist (filmed mostly without dialog) at the beginning draws you in, and the remainder of the film, where the thieves meet their fates, is interesting and told in a dispassionate way. A good example of a satisfying film made on a low budget. Has the ever-popular Elisha Cook, Jr.
Secret Beyond the Door: The third and last of the Joan Bennett/Fritz Lang noirs. My favorite part is a scene out of Twin Peaks, where Joan walks into a room only to find that it is a duplicate of the room she just left; to highlight the act, the background music is plays softly in reverse, mirroring her confusion. Also stars Michael Redgrave, who is suitably distracted and mentally unbalanced. (Although not quite up to the heights he reached as a crazy ventriloquist in "Dead of Night.")
The Dark Corner: Watching a young Lucille Ball - the 1950's Queen of Comedy - in a noir is a treat. She makes a convincing and likable detective's gal Friday. One of those movies with a line of dialog which captures noir perfectly: "It's like I'm in a dark corner getting hit - except I can't see who's hitting me!"
Double Indemnity: One of the greats - as I keep reading - but not one of my greats. It's that Barbara Stanwyck thing with me - I just don't see her as anywhere near alluring enough for a man to kill for - especially when she's wearing a blonde wig. Another obstacle for me is that I grew up with Fred MacMurray as the genial Dad in "My Three Sons" - that's hard to shake. But... Edward G. Robinson is one of my favorite actors and he has a good role in this one.
The Blue Dahlia: My personal opinion is that noir didn't get fully developed until the late 40's or mid-50's - what some noir reviewers call "psychotic late period noir." This isn't one of these. While it has plenty of hard-boiled style, it has a disappointing, cop-out ending that varies from the Raymond Chandler novel. It's worth viewing, however. My favorite Alan Ladd noir is... This Gun For Hire, where he plays an unrepentant murderer named, appropriately enough, "Raven." A curious film in the context of the 1940's. He's clearly a gunman, yet the film makes him out to be a sympathetic character.
The Brighton StranglerNot very gripping and fairly predictable, but a nice way to spend a little over an hour - the usual quickie RKO fare.
Dark TideAn interesting Brit production about swimming the English Channel, and a murder pertaining thereunto. It kind of grew on me...
The Glass WallA bit overwrought (about immigration to the U.S.), but the night scenes of 1952 NYC looked great and it had Gloria Grahame, so it was at least worth watching. Not entirely sure this qualifies as a film noir, however.
City That Never Sleeps The weird thing about this one is the city - in this case, Chicago - is humanized and turned into one of the characters. A little too metaphorical and artsy-fartsy for noir, in my opinion. Yet, there's a great scene where a man playing a mechanical dummy in a store window witnesses a gunfight outside. And it has the creepy-looking William Talman and Marie Windsor, so it's well worth watching.
The Hitch-Hiker Speaking of William Talman, he's great in this one! One lizard-like eye watching his captives while he sleeps... creepy! Directed by Ida Lupino, one multi-talented woman.
Gun Crazy: I'm not certain how to classify this one, yet. It gets a lot of critical respect - which makes me suspicious. Perhaps with additional viewings I will come to agree with them that this is one of the greats. I will admit that I enjoyed the celebrated rear-seat photography in the bank heist sequence; it was exciting and different. And I also liked the end scenes, where Bart and Annie are hunted down like animals. The cowboy and cowgirl costumes give this one a different look, too.
Panic in the City: I understand this is Richard Widmark's personal favorite, but I like him better as a heavy. Still, any Widmark film is worth seeing, and this one is rather good. Perhaps over-rated.
Champion: Not a bad film, but out-classed, in my opinion, by The Set-Up.
The Mugger: A late period film noir (or noirish film) from 1958. A police procedural, it was neither bad nor good, it just was. It did have one saving grace, however: brevity. That's what I like about old, low budget films and RKO quickies... you don't sit for over two hours bored with the explosions, unnecessary dialogue and unneeded plot padding that forms a part of many modern films. The Mugger was over in 74 minutes, so just as it was wearing out its welcome and you're waiting for the plot surprise you've already guessed at, it ends. The Mugger was a bit more daring than virtually all of the noirs from the classic period, however, in that it used the words "rape" and "sex" a few times. And it had a somewhat daring plot (for the times): a young husband with a pregnant wife gets her sister pregnant as well, then murders her. (He telegraphed the plot surprise when he describes his sister-in-law to a cop as pretty with a real good figure a bit too enthusiastically.) I suppose back in 1958 this film might have been regarded as trash in some circles, and roundly denounced. Or it may have slipped in as a new style crime thriller - I don't know. There doesn't seem to be any commentary on the web about it.
Deadline at Dawn: A really fun film noir, with interesting characters saying oddly interesting things. ("Just between you, me and the lamppost, happiness is no laughing matter.") The dialog in this one - story by Cornell Woolrich, screenplay by Clifford Odets - is really quirky; the cinematography is appropriately dark and urban, and Susan Hayward is great. Some characters have unaccountable foreign accents. All this and a twist ending. This film should be better known and more appreciated than it is.
Two O'Clock Courage: Another fun film noir, this time with Ann Rutherford providing the sparkle. While technically it might not be a true noir due to its cheerful and light-hearted tone, it is, after all, an Anthony Mann directed film, so I'm counting it.
The Maltese Falcon: According to most film critics, the grand-daddy of all films noir. I think it's overrated. Sidney Greenstreet is supposed to be dangerous in this, but I find him fawning and harmless, what with all the admiration he continually professes for Bogie - it gets on my nerves. And there are scenes in this, the elaborate play-acting in the scene with Peter Lorre to get rid of the cops, that I find merely dopey and lame. To me, this film's best moments are in the final ten minutes or so, where Bogie has his lines with Mary Astor - "I won't play the sap for ya!" The final shot of Astor in the elevator with the bird's talon shadow across her face nearly redeems this film for me, but not quite.
High Sierra: A good old Bogie film, with one of my noir favorites, Ida Lupino. The only flaw I can see is "the dog of death": a mutt that follows Bogie around and is supposed to be a harbinger of his doom in some goofy way. Remade in saturated color 1955 as "I Died a Thousand Times" with Jack Palance and Shelly Winters, but stick with this version - it's better.
Johnny Eager: Not an especially bad film, not an especially good one. Things get cinematically interesting at the very end, with the gunplay in a dimly-lit street scene. I'm not a big fan of Robert Taylor, whom I consider too good-looking to pass himself off as tough or hard-boiled.
The Harder They Fall: Bogie's last feature film; in this he plays an out of work journalist who, as you might guess, comes through in the end. A fight film and a good one, with gritty cinematography and an over-the-top Rod Steiger.
I Wake Up Screaming: A bit of fluff in a noir idiom, starring Betty Grable and Victor Mature. "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" is annoyingly used over and over again in the incidental music, and my favorite gunsel, Elisha Cook, Jr., for once doesn't meet a violent end. What's interesting about this film is noting how early (this was made in 1941, the same year as the Maltese Falcon) the noir "look" was set in place. Actors stand in shadows, against interior brick walls, are key-lit, etc. That bombastic title; the title sequence is set against an image of the New York skyline at night in the venerable noir tradition, etc.
Vicki: An almost exact remake of "I Wake Up Screaming." I've wanted to see this one a long time because of Richard Boone's presence playing an overworked and obsessed police detective. He's a favorite actor of mine. He was quite good in this - when he barked, he barked loud - the rest of the cast was okay. Judging between this one and the original, I vote this one.
Dark Waters: Not in my film noir encyclopedia, but I don't know why not. It has much in common with Roadhouse, Moonrise and Gaslight, all of which have been described as noirs. Anyway, this is a frequently moody piece somewhat different from the usual "they're trying to drive me crazy" fare - which I have never accepted as being a reasonable premise. I'm sure it's much more difficult to drive somebody nuts than Hollywood claims it is. (My children have tried for 18+ years now and they haven't done it yet.)
House of Bamboo: How noir could it be in stunning color and CinemaScope? This one struck me as far more of a "travel" film showcasing Japan (there are a number of postcard views of Mount Fuji) than a real noir. Perhaps what was needed here was more of the over-the-top stuff Sam Fuller normally lends to his projects. A so-so film.
City of Fear: It's always fun to go through these old films shot in L.A. in slo-mo to check out the various signs and sights I recall as a child. Gas stations were big, and had little flags flapping in the breeze, signs were neon, etc. I vividly recall this film as a child as a TV rerun. The film was okay, but had a plot hole big enough to drive a tank through: an escaped convict steals what he thinks is a million dollars worth of heroin stored in a canister, but is in actuality deadly radioactive cobalt 60. This canister of radioactive material is is dangerous enough, if opened, to threaten a city of three million people. So... what's it doing stored in the medical facility of a prison? Anyway, the last scene is great - Vince collapses and dies of radioactive poisoning, and the environmental health guy (I didn't even know they had 'em in 1959) drapes a blanket over him and places a card with the radioactivity danger sign on the blanket! Fade to Lucien Ballard's shot of the city at night and the end...
The Long Goodbye: A movie at least partially about the differences between the classic film noir generation and that of the 1970's. Or, film noir characters and situations brought forward in to time. (At least, that's what the old-time Hollywood music at the beginning and end suggest to me.) Philip Marlowe - a rather dopey Elliott Gould - drives an old 40's convertible, but has the mannerisms of a 70's pothead. One of the last scenes, where he kills a former friend who has used him, would be surprising in a 40's film, but not in a 70's film. (It is also not in the Raymond Chandler book.) An entertaining film, but it really doesn't help much with the themes of the films from the classic period. I guess it's for film noir completists like me.
The Blonde Bandit: An engaging little film with Gerald Mohr, a cut rate Sinatra. Nothing unique or objectionable in it; At 60 minutes it didn't wear out its welcome.
Cloudburst: A Britnoir wherein the wife of a cryptanalyst is run over and killed by a hit and run driver. Her husband devilishly metes out the same fate to the driver and his passenger. A funny sort of revenge story in the characteristically subdued and understated British production style. But in this case I didn't find myself wanting any DAME HUNGRY KILLER COP RUNS BERSERK American noir sensationalism. Oh, the beginning was way too talky, but it soon developed interest. Nice little film.
Bunco Squad: The post-war RKO could turn out great little quickie crime films, and this is another entry. Nothing very special, but it was fast and efficient. The scenes with the various fake mediums were all interesting.
Club Paradise: (aka Sensation Hunters). A Poverty Row quickie, it was cheesy and poorly paced and directed, but with 1940's style to spare. One reviewer called it "pungent," which is as good a description as any. It alternated between hard-boiled tough dame talk (the world-weary blonde has a cigarette between her fingers in every scene) and that "Gee, you're swell!" enthusiasm that Hollywood injected into wartime films to keep every one's spirits up. The plot: a good girl from an unbelievably dysfunctional family takes up with a cad and falls into nightclub dancing, disgrace and murder. The scene where a line of tough women adopt fake smiles and take their places in a can-can line is memorable. All in all, it was fun.
Murder is my Beat: An Edgar Ulmer quickie with Barbara Peyton, primarily of worth so you you can put a film to the name when you read about the Franchot Tone/Tom Neal fracas. A so-so film.
San Quentin: Lawrence Tierney plays against type (not entirely successfully) as a reformed convict out to do good. Another so-so film.
Blueprint for Robbery: A very late period noir of the heist film sub-genre starring J.Pat O'Malley as an old Irish crook who wants to pull off one last job in order to finance his return to the Old Country. It wasn't especially bad and it wasn't especially good. The shadowy warehouse scenes shot in the industrial section of Los Angeles were cool, however. The scenes where the robbers show up at the armored car facility wearing grotesque rubber masks seems like an early inspiration for the recent Batman film with the Joker, although the producers probably got that from Stanley Kubrick's The Killing, a better known film.
Storm Fear: Something of a companion piece to The Big Combo since it stars Cornel Wilde and Jean Wallace. Dan Duryea is in it, but he's not slapping anyone. Worth watching once.
The Scarf: A curious film noir, starring Mercedes McCambridge, a skilled character actress from the 1950's who, it appears, has developed a cult following. No surprise - in all of film there is nobody quite like her. She is singular in that somehow she seems to have managed to almost entirely avoid the studio glamorization process - she seems real. She won an Academy Award as a supporting actress and was nominated for another; this was back in the day when the award was given for acting and not political reasons. This film had compelling dialogue and an odd relationship between a young man on the run and the much older man who shelters him. Seemed a bit gay. Whether or not that was the intent of the filmmaker, it's hard to say. There is much sexual subtlety in those old films. You have to be able to read the codes in the context of their times. Anyway, good film.
Five Steps to Danger: No great shakes but a likable film with Sterling Hayden, playing himself. Big honest Joe. Werner Klemperer is a Soviet Spy, which is pretty cool.
Great Van Robbery: Denis Shaw, a rather plump fellow, plays Caesar Smith, Interpol Detective - who knows Ju Jitsu and Karate. This elevates the film from dull to amusing.
Highway 301: A pretty good police procedural Steve Cochran at his most murderous. I liked that it took place mainly in Richmond, Virginia. The opening, where the governors of Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina intone a "crime doesn't pay" message, was pretty heavy going. Fortunately the film zips right along after that.
Violence: About a proto-fascist hate-mongering organization led by... Sheldon Leonard! A standard RKO Radio quickie of the usual type - economical, fast moving, satisfying.
The Whispering City: ...the city in this case being Quebec! Can film noir take place in the frozen great white French north? Why, yes... and this wasn't a bad film, either. More or less a standard noir plot, no real surprises. It's one of those artsy noirs where classical concert music is featured, this time a "Quebec Concerto" for piano and orchestra. Everybody becomes rapt when it plays... but it sounded like undistinguished, generic, late Romantic period music to me. Like a bad copy of Grieg's piano concerto.
Special Agent: A decent if unsurprising 1949 noir, this time with a railroad theme. George Reeves, the 1950's Superman, is one of the baddies. One of the railroad engineers takes part in some dramatic forecasting: "Say, Johnnie, if anything happens to me take care of my daughter, will you?" Guess what happens to him? In film noir, it's almost like wearing a red shirt in a Star Trek episode.
Strange Bargain: One of those domestic noirs, that is, where a family man gets ensnared in murder, or in this case a suicide (or is it a murder?) made up to look like murder. Yes, there are plot complications. Henry Morgan takes time out from his usual roles as a mental deficient to play the dogged police investigator.
Faces in the Dark: It starts out slowly and unpromisingly - "Oh, no - another British yawner, I thought" - but it builds in curious ways. By the end of the film I was quite pleased with it. A fine ending to a little known suspense film. As good as Les Diaboliques!
Baby Face Nelson: Mickey Rooney: One of the great unheralded film noir guys! The Mick is nicely vicious and psychopathic in this. Carolyn Jones is cool, too. Well worth watching.
Illegal: A 1955 Edward G. Robinson flick. I don't think I've ever seen him in one that wasn't worth watching, simply because he's in it! Such was his on-screen charisma. Fortunately this courtroom drama - Robinson plays a canny and theatrical lawyer - had a solid plot and direction and moves right along.
The Big Punch: A clunky attempt by Warner Brothers to integrate the world of faith and religion (a football player becomes a minister) with the world of film noir. It's watchable, but it doesn't totally work. But I watched it because I want to be able to say I'm seen the gamut of "The Big (Fill in the blank)" films.
Never Trust a Gambler: Stars Dane Clark. Steve Garry is a reformed gambler and on the run from the law. Can his ex-wife trust him? No, she can't - the title gives it away. Not a bad noir, but not an especially good one, either. "Workmanlike" is the word that applies, I think.
DIDN'T LIKE (Not every crime drama from the noir period is a classic! Some are unmemorable, drag on, and some are unendurably melodramatic in a characteristic 1940's fashion. It has been pointed out that the biggest drawback to 40's noir, for instance, is the lush string music used as nearly uninterrupted background music, and I agree. Urban crime is much better fitted out with the jazz-inspired stuff that started making an appearance in the 1950's.)
The Naked Kiss: My film encyclopedia claims it's film noir. In reality, it is film merde. It's not the worst film I have ever seen - "Gummo" has that distinction - but this isn't far from it. When I finally got around to seeing "Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" I found myself wondering when it was going to end. I felt that way about this one. One bizarre scene and notion follows another: In the opening credits a prostitute, portrayed by Constance Towers, is shown viciously beating her pimp with her high heels. Then her wig is pulled off and you find that she's bald. She arrives in a small town and immediately sleeps with the police captain. Without references or credentials, a constantly mugging head nurse (Patsy Kelly, a comedienne from the 30's) nevertheless gives her a job in a hospital ward for limbless children, where she makes them all wear pirate's hats and teaches them to sing a sappy, minor key tune about the Bluebird of Happiness. She falls in love with the town aristocrat and becomes engaged to him, but discovers he's a child molester. She then kills him with a telephone handset. (Back in 1964 a telephone handset was a formidable weapon. They don't make 'em now the way they used to.) She gets off on some dubious legal technicality, and leaves town scot-free - the citizens of the town dutifully lining up outside the jail to tearfully send her off. Other weirdness: A cop who looks like a stiff breeze could blow him over, constant references to Beethoven and his music, a scene where the vengeful prostitute crams five and ten dollar bills into a madam's mouth, and dialog that sounds like it was written by Ed Wood. The truly amazing thing about this is that it was directly by Samuel Fuller, who did two excellent noirs: "Pickup on South Street" and "Underworld U.S.A." I don't know what controlled substance he was on when he did this one.
Worst noir, ever.
No Man of Her Own: It's basically a soap opera with some noirish overtones. I lost interest half way through. There is a thin line that separates film noir from the far more common melodrama, and this one mainly stayed on the melodrama side.
The Long Haul: Victor Mature films are always kind of hard for me to get through, and this was no exception. It's a lesser version of 1940's "They Drive By Night" or 1949's "Thieves' Highway." Trucker noir, in other words. But boring... I fell asleep watching it.
Young Dillenger: An inept, late period gangster film starring Nick "Johnny Yuma" Adams. Horrible. Not only was it boring, but the film, supposedly set in the 1930's, featured Mary Ann Mobley wearing 1965 makeup and hair. What the heck?
Uneasy Terms: A dull Britnoir starring Michael Rennie as a private eye. It's one room-bound conversation after another. Yawn.
Ransom!: It started out promisingly - Glenn Ford's son is kidnapped - but became overly talky. I mentally tuned out after about fifteen minutes. This could have and should have been better directed. Donna Reed is the frantic mother.
The Turning Point: Stars William Holden and Edmond O'Brien. It was talky and boring; lots of conversations in rooms. Those are usually disappointing.
The Way Out: One of those boring British productions starring a couple of minor American stars. The way out was to pop the VHS tape out of the machine.
Verboten!: Just too nutty, in the usual Sam Fuller style. It was a tale about how die-hard Nazi fanatics attempted to thwart the American occupation government after the German surrender. Did such a thing even remotely happen? I don't think so - at least, not that I ever read. But this is one of those hyperbolic Sam Fuller productions... Especially funny and weird was his use of the opening passages of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony as music accompanying battle sequences. Da-Da-Da-DUHHHHH (gunfire) Da-Da-Da-DUHHHHHH (machine gun fire, explosions). Bizarre.
Playgirl: There are films I can watch the normally annoying Shelley Winters in - this wasn't one of them. Dull.
Christ in Concrete: This is one ridiculous film. First of all, it's a British production involving Italian construction workers. But they seem so broadly painted and unauthentic that it's hard to take them seriously. Yes, there's a guy named Luigi. And he has a big handlebar mustache. Lots of spaghetti and Chianti are consumed. The scenes with the wife cooking while the children run all around remind me of the old SCTV parody of a Fellini film "Rome, Italian Style." ("Nunzio, stop feeling your sister!") Inadvertent comedy is not good in a film noir. The screenplay doesn't help, either. Nobody speaks naturally. Everyone, no matter how lowly, uses an odd declamatory style. At one point the protagonist and his friends are standing around in front of the Union shop during the Depression discussing who should get a job being offered to them, and they use grammar that suggest they're out of work Shakespearian actors rather than out of work bricklayers. I suppose the scriptwriter wanted to add some heft to the already clobbering message. This film is full of cliches. In one scene the protagonist has to make a moral choice between feeding his family by taking a dangerous, low bid job and endangering his fellow workers or stick to his principles and refuse. On cue, his son appears at the door and states it's okay if there's no meat in the spaghetti sauce. Obviously, the choice becomes crystal clear. And finally, the title: "Christ in Concrete," which puzzled me during almost the entire film. I'm giving the end away with this, but it refers to the protagonist being buried alive in concrete as a result of an accident. But his (Christlike) sacrifice and a settlement enables his wife and children to avoid starving. Groan. Directed with a heavy leftist hand by Edward Dmytryk, this production makes me wonder if perhaps the House Un-American Activities Committee weren't on the right track after all. I can enjoy a left wing noir as much as anyone else. In fact, I prefer them to the right wing police procedurals. But this one was as unsubtle as... well, a ton of concrete burying a guy alive. There were only two good things about this film: 1.) Excellent noir cinematography, and 2.) Kathleen Ryan, who was wonderful in Odd Man Out. Otherwise, El Stinko. The DVD makes mention that this film has been more or less "lost" until now. No loss.
5 Against the House: A preposterously lame film, called film noir by the Columbia Home Video marketing folks. However, I maintain that any film that includes Gilligan's Island's Professor and Hank the County Agent from Green Acres in its Rat Pack CANNOT be considered film noir. Besides it's way too jokey. And the huge fake beards used in the heist invoke hilarity - not to mention the supposedly small hoodlum in the cart (in reality, a tape recorder) who threatens to blast William Conrad... and... and... I cannot continue. Hilariously bad.
The Girl in the Black Stockings: So incredibly dull I fast forwarded through it. It supposedly took place in Utah, but I didn't recognize any locations. (It took part in the Southern part of the state.)
The Assassin: Yes, the Vienna scenes were nice to look at, so was Eva Bartok. But otherwise, this film was fatally BORING.
Time Table: I tried... but... boring. Gave up.
Lady in Distress: It had British Yawner written all over it - so I quit.
The Crooked Web: Frank Lovejoy is the bad guy in this yawner with an over-complicated plot, part of which takes place in "Germany."
The Girl on the Bridge: A Hugo Haas film. Too little noir elements, too much Hugo Haas. No Cleo Moore to make things interesting.
Lady of Vengeance: Dennis O'Keefe is completely wasted in this dud of a British film with a disappointing and lame ending.
The Invisible Wall: Unless you're interested in gambling or shots of the early Flamingo resort, boring. I gave up about twenty minutes into it.
Blind Spot: The most thoroughly talky and tedious film noir I have ever seen! It goes from murderer conclusion to murderer conclusion to murderer conclusion. By the time the real murder finally stepped forward, I was very ready for it to end. Really bad imitation Cornell Woolrich plot - I could have killed him because I was druink and I don't remember anything, etc.
Jealousy: Not only does Hugo Haas direct lousy films; the films where he's merely an actor are jinxed pretty badly, too. He's not quite Bruno VeSota - your guarantee of a trashy flick - but he's not far from him. The only redeeming thing about this one are shots of Los Angeles c. 1945 - but they don't save the film. Also, this is another one of those films noir where the script trips over itself via highfalutin' classical music aspirations. A cab driver says, "It's Brahms' Second" and a mustashioed upper crusty type argues that it's "Brahms' First." First and Second what? Not symphonies. They never say. Clunky.
The Big Bluff: A yawner with a mildly surprising trick ending. Still... it doesn't redeem this film.
The Glass Alibi: Plot: Dull. Acting: Rote. Direction: Uninspired.
The Man Who Dared: A remake of an 1935 film with a lame premise called "Circumstantial Evidence." This one was lame, too.
Sudden Danger: One of those Wild Bill Elliott detective movies. Too rote to be of much interest.
Circumstantial Evidence: A stinker with a silly and improbable plot. It might also help if the film makers knew what circumstantal evidence actually was. The plot depicts direct evidence.
Wetbacks: Exactly as bad as you'd expect a Lloyd Bridges film made in 1956 entitled "Wetbacks" would be. It's like "Sea Hunt," without the scuba diving. Sequels might be... (insert other racial epithets here).
Destiny: A fantasy film segment from a longer fantasy anthology that was clumsily made into a noir by a contrived first half. Just clunky. And Gloria Jean is so sweet and virginal she's sickening.
The Man Who Died Twice: Reputedly, the last film by Republic before they closed shop. They needn't have bothered. Very dull, very rote. Even Mike Mazurki couldn't save it.
The Opportunists: An underwhelming neo-noir heist film with Christopher Walken. Walken plays a total loser, Cindy Lauper - the best thing about this flick - plays his long-suffering girlfriend. It was somewhat of an ordeal to watch, actually.
Dangerous Intruder: A dull film from the "new" PRC Studios.
Sealed Lips: Dull, rote noir about mistaken identity in a prison.
Pulp: I got about twenty minutes into it and abandoned ship. It was going nowhere. With Michael Caine, too - what a pity!
Danger Zone: A dreadful Hugh Beaumont flick with the worst possible Raymond Chandler wannabe metaphors and similes. Awful.
The Argyle Secrets: A wannabe Maltese Falcon with a lot of oddball characters and an impossibly hard to follow plot.
13 West Street: Possibly Alan Ladd's worst film - a noirish but ultimately lame JD flick from 1962. Also - Ladd looks awful. By this point in his career it was booze and barbituates for him, and it shows. But it's not all a waste... there are some great shots of a 1961 or 1962 Ford Thunderbird!
Whispering Footsteps: Gossiping small-towners. The plot had some promise, but, no - a silly, pat conclusion. This film is distinguished by a frequently screaming teenaged girl. Bail: Another Hugo Haas-Cleo Moore noir. Distinctly meh. Still - it is distinguished by a bizarre prologue involving Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Satan! And Cleo Moore is always fun to watch. But... it just wasn't enough to redeem this one.
Two Smart People: Lucille Ball almost manages to save this one, but not quite. It's hard to get past the ridiculous plot! A Jules Dassin film; I expected better. And, geez, was there a less threatening bad guy in Hollywood than Elisha Cook, Jr.? I think not.
High Tide: A "rediscovered gem" of film noir. Well - that's what reviewers are saying. A Blast of Silence - yes, that was a good rediscovered noir. This? No. I lost interest early on. Not a very engaging film. I think film noir buffs are too eagerly licking the bottom of the barrel. There are only so many classic period noirs... I suspect we know of all the really good ones now.
Unholy Partners: A film so bad that even Edward G. Robinson couldn't save it. Wow. I didn't know there was such a thing!
A Prize of Gold: I can repeat: "A film so bad that even Richard Widmark couldn't save it. Wow. I didn't know there was such a thing!" Well, okay... this one has a funny looking German car going for it. But still... I quit watching.
Accomplice: A really dull PRC quickie.
Forbidden: A British yawner. Even Hazel Court couldn't save it.
Strange Intruder: How is it Ida Lupino signed on for this? The plot is unbelievably lame: A dying soldier in a prison camp forces his pal to agree to go home and murder his children. What? Yes. Worst Ida Lupino film, ever.
Big Town: Awful old movies like this cause to me rethink my interest in film noir and the time I spend watching them! Stars Robert "Batman" Lowery and some terrible dialogue.
The Man is Armed: He might be armed but he isn't doing anything especially interesting. I'm beginning to suspect the only good Dane Clark crime film is Moonrise.
The Vicious Circle: Would that it were! I got about halfway through this one and gave up. Nothing especially interesting or compelling was happening. John Mills' worst film?
Chain of Evidence: "Wild Bill" Elliott as the calmest and most low key and soft spoken lieutenant on the force. Yawn.
Tower of Terror: Germans vs. British in a lighthouse. Yawner.
Strange Fascination: Another one of those underwhelming Hugo Haas-Cleo Moore noirs. In this one, Haas is a concert pianist and Cleo is his (inevitable) downfall. Dull.
Miller's Crossing: I do believe that this is the talkiest gangster film, ever. In fact, I fell asleep in the first twenty minutes. Every now and then the Coen Brothers do a good film, but this isn't one of them.
Road to the Big House: Road to a nap, more like.
Pit of Darkness: British yawner.
Calling Homicide: A rote police procedural from the Fifties. Not much to recommend it save that it was only an hour long.
Footsteps in the Sand: A British yawner; I quit after about fifteen minutes.
Dark Delusion: Boring.
Blackmail: Comicially bad. One reviewer called it the Plan 9 from Outer Space of film noir, and so it is. Ridiculous dialogue, a silly protagonist as provate eye and awkward fight scenes.
Blackout: A total yawner of a Britnoir. (You can tell it was film noir because some scenes were shot in the light of venetian blinds.) It was so dull about half way through I started playing with the dog. The only real attraction of the movie was the bizarre, over-coiffed hairstyle on the tarty moll and the occasional shot of postwar London neighborhoods. Even the IMDb trivia for this one is dull: "First feature of Ronald Leigh-Hunt." Okaaaayyyy.
Ivy: A melodramatic Victorian costunme drama starring Joan Fontaine, who simpers her way through every film she's in. Eeecccch.
The Other Woman: It had some promise, starring as it did the blonde sex bomb Cleo Moore as a vicious and angry femme fatale, but what killed it for me was the presence of Hugo Haas. He can't act, and as an auteur effort this film was a flop. Too much ego, too little talent - oddly enough, not unlike the character Moore plays.
Night Without Sleep: A total yawner; a poor re-working of Cornell Woolrich's Fear in the Night, wherein DeForest Kelley tortures himself with the suspicion that he killed someone but can't remember it. It stars Gary Merrill, an actor who always looks angry or disgusted. I bailed out after twenty minutes.
Night Was Our Friend: A British woman is acquitted of murder but she's actually guilty. Much talking ensues. Boring.
The Price of Fear: About 2/3rds soap opera and 1/3rd film noir. As a result, it's talky and mostly uninteresting. It seems to be a vehicle for Merle Oberon to model gowns and make a ridiculous exit at the end.
Footsteps in the Night: Zzzzzzzz.
Cry Terror!: It starts out promising with a plot about airplane bomb terrorism, then Rod Steiger shows up and slows down the action to a halt. Boring... and not really noir.
Step Down to Terror: A serial killer comes home to live, but, alas!, he can't change his ways. It would have been a better film had it been edited more tightly; the first twenty minutes were too domestic and tiresome, and the psychotic aspect of the killer took too long to develop. A better director would have made all the difference.
Terror Street: One of those Walter Lippert/House of Hammer noirs that are almost always devoid of interest or intensity. Stars Dan Duryea... which is another strike against it.
The Case of the Frightened Lady: Wow - I didn't know the British made films this crusty and antique as late as 1940. A tedious and unwatchable old dark house whodunit, I bailed out at the twenty minute mark.
Shadow of Fear: An unbeatable Britnoir cure for insomnia.
The Devil's Sleep: An only sometimes interesting yawner about a teenage barbituate ring. Ed Wood film star Timothy Farrell plays the baddie. Not quite campy enough to be entertaining.
The Devil's Mask: Part of the "I Love a Mystery" franchise - a really boring part. I fell asleep through it.
Hell on Frisco Bay: Alan Ladd phones it in, Edward G. Robinson and Paul Stewart provide the only reasons for watching this clunker.
Desert Fury: I do believe I've found Liz Scott's worst film with this one, a work that contains what critics insist is a lot of hidden homosexuality. Is Liz a lesbian like her Mom, Mary Astor? Are John Hodiak and Wendell Corey gay lovers? Eh - who cares? There simply isn't enough plot to make this one worthwhile.
Murder on Approval: One of those Tom Conway aristocratic detective flicks. Here he's the "Duke." This one involves stamp collecting - how thrilling! Mildly entertaining, but... no.
Murder at 3am: A routine Britnoir that doesn't have much in the way of novelty going for it, save a mildly twisty ending.
Revanche: An overlong German flick which moved at a glacial pace. There are extended sequences of the bank robber, hiding from the police at his father's country home, sinking an ax into wood. Truly, this was the Citizen Kane of wood chopping films. As a neo-noir - not so successful. I watched most of it in fast forward. Like many artsy European flicks, it stopped rather than ended. Not much of a payoff at the end, either. Very missable.
The Lady Gambles: So what? A rather dull film noir starring Barbara Stanwyck as a compulsive gambler. You can't trust her with a wad of cash and a craps table nearby. "Meh," as they now say.
The Capture: A rather ho-hum film; a Western that's not a Western. It's a Roy Rogersish production where you see people wandering about riding horses and wearing cowboy hats. Then a car pulls into view, giving you visual confirmation that the film is not, in fact, set in the 1800's, but, rather, in modern times. Were there really places in the West like that in the 1940's and 1950's, where horses and cars were considered more or less interchangeable modes of transport? Or was this a Republic Studios thing?
Johnny Nobody: A thoroughly oddball Irish film noir. The plot is preposterous: a murder is concocted whereby a man who claims to have no knowledge of who he is - the title character - shoots and kills an atheist. He says God told him to do it. He goes to court. A murder plot emerges, investigated by a parish priest. Really, did Irish people get so worked up about atheists that they could condone them getting shot and murdered in the light of day? I don't believe it!
Female on the Beach: The female in this case being a fifty year old Joan Crawford, who has a love affair with 37 year old Jeff Chandler. When people claim that old films are over-wrought, too melodramatic and corny, this is exactly the kind of film they're thinking of. I tuned out after about twenty minutes but my wife kept watching. Not so much a film noir as a Joan Crawford film.
The Fake: Dennis O'Keefe in a crime drama about a painting. Overall, a yawn. Curiously, it uses Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" as incidental music.
Blonde Sinner (1956) - As my friend Mike Keaney accurately reports in his book of British films noir, the opening five minutes or so, a stalking and murder, are spectacular. And it's all down hill from there as Diana Dors - the British Marilyn Monroe - awaits execution in prison for murder. We see her drink cocoa. She has narrative flashbacks. We see her smoke her ten cigarettes a day ration. Another flashback. Time for a walk outside. We see her lie in bed and chat with her guards. Etc. Boring! Except, of course, for some of the narrative scenes where we see Dors sport a brassiere so sharp you could open envelopes with her.
Spin a Dark Web: A boring Brit noir. I quit watching after about a half hour.
Double Jeopardy: A film that was okay if a bit on the boring side. Nancy Drew's father, the agreeable John Litle, gets blackmailed. No, Alex Trebek doesn't make an appearance, but it might have enlivened things if he had.
The Fallen Sparrow: The plot is kind of vague and unengrossing. Its chief attraction is its star, John Garfield, who, as always, projects a sort of energetic half-mug/half-gentleman personality - a New York City guy's guy. Otherwise, forgettable.
The Fatal Witness: A truly lame film noir/murder mystery/British parlour drama. It started out well enough, but took a decided kink towards the end. A Scotland Yard detective wants to frighten a suspect into admitting that he murdered his aunt, so he hires an actress to portray her and confront the man during a dinner party on a windy, atmospheric night. (All the guests are in on the stratagem and pretend not to see the actress.) The aunt shows up and the man is duly freaked out, and confesses. He is apprehended and taken away. Just then a telegram arrives: the actress couldn't make it. So who was the woman who accused the suspect? Was it the murdered aunt... returned from the grave? As final confirmation the front door opens by itself, and then closes. The End. Sheesh.
Southside 1-1000: Ho-hum, average. The only good parts are the scenes of getting on the Los Angeles Angel's Flight and crawling around under a bridge. Otherwise, pretty dull.
Flight to Hong Kong: Nothing I haven't seen done better elsewhere. In this, Rory Calhoun thwarts the Syndicate. It was more fun to watch Richard Conte thwart the Syndicate in "New York Confidential."
The Big Caper: The Big Yawn, more like.
Inside Job: Dull. The same story line was done better and far more memorably by Fritz Lang as "You and Me."
Hustle: A 1975 neo-noir listed in my Silver and Ursini film noir encyclopedia starring Burt Reynolds. It sucked. I agree with the authors that it's a modern noir with an appropriately fatalistic conclusion, but there were passages of dialogue that were just plain embarrassing to listen to. The problem was that the film was something of a vehicle for Reynolds... the Smokey and the Bandit films are about the highest level his persona and acting rises to, I think. He simply doesn't carry the film well. But then, I never liked Burt Reynolds. Nowadays he's in the category of celebs who have undertaken too much plastic surgery and no longer look like they did when younger - or even an aged version of what they used to look like. Reynolds just looks freaky.
The Strange Mr. Gregory: A hybrid horror-noir production sort of in the style of the Val Lewton horror flicks I love. What seriously got in the way of my enjoyment of it, however, was the prestige dialect used by the leading lady. "I cahn't understand what you mean" - that sort of thing. That old-fashioned, stagey Joan Bennett diction. I hate that. Also, a problem... the leading lady's friend was far sexier than she was. If the Strange Mr. Gregory was going to murder in order to clear the way for a play with the woman, it strains belief to think it would be little Miss Mid Atlantic Dialect and not her friend. (In much the same way male Dark Shadows viewers wonder why Barnabas had the hots for Josette when the far sexier Angelique was throwing herself at him.) In fact, my wife groaned at the conclusion of the film. I was making snide comments all through it. A not totally successful production.
The Beat Generation: One of the most ludicrous films noir I have ever seen, with noir stalwart Steve Cochran, Mamie Van Doren and an over-the-top beatnik played by "Grabowski" (I used to do reenactments with a friend of that name). Also on hand to add to the total cheeseball factor was Dick Contino, the "world's greatest accordion player" who had the loathsome "Lady of Spain" as his signature piece. Weirdly, Louis Armstrong was also in it. But wait! That's not all. Maila "Vampira" Nurmi, she of the incredibly wasp-waisted figure, was in it as a beatnik extra and did a poetry reading. Whew, what a cast. And I wonder if real beatniks were as ridiculous as they're portrayed here... The plot of the film was shocking for its time: a cop's wife is raped and becomes pregnant. Is the baby the cop's or the rapist's? There's no Maury Povich with DNA testing, so it's not clear. My wife and I were just waiting breathlessly - for this one to end.
Parole, Inc.: Well intentioned and promising, but, in the end, dull and overly formulaic. I've seen the same plot done elsewhere better.
The Night Runner: A yawner. It was sort of like Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, but without the suspense, mysterious plot, trick ending, Bernard Herrmann string score, good screen writing, spot-on direction, exquisite cinematography, budget or fine casting.
The Young Captives: This one started out promisingly, with a hep cat daddy-o young guy with a switch blade murdering a co-worker at an oil rig and then terrorizing a young couple, but it quickly lost interest. It was only 65 minutes, but even at that I was watching the clock.
Short Cut to Hell: A remake of the classic Alan Ladd/Veronica Lake film noir This Gun for Hire (1942), it shows no points of superiority over the original. It doesn't even match it. This was the only film ever directed by James Cagney. Still, I have to give credit to Cagney for coming up with an interesting title...
Chicago Deadline: Boring and talky. Too many flashbacks.
They Made Me a Killer: Oh, they did not. If they truly had it would have resulted in a better film than this bore-fest starring the 1949 Batman, Robert Lowery.
Man-Trap: A disappointing very late (1961) film noir. I would have never thought that seeing shapely Stella Stevens cavorting about drunkenly in her skivvies would get old, but it did. As did the drunken swinger couples friends who frequently dropped in on her and her hapless spouse Jeffrey Hunter. Yeesh. Move out of THAT neighborhood!
City After Midnight: A dull British whodunnit.
Lady on a Train: I tried to watch this film, which is listed in Silver and Ursini's Film Noir encyclopedia. It stars one of America's sweethearts, Deanna Durbin. I gave up 35 minutes into it. It is described as being a "film noir comedy." No, no, no - there is no such thing! Film noirs cannot be comedies. At the minimum there has to be a element of fatalism or a dreamlike atmosphere in order for a film to be called a film noir. Silver and Ursini, you are wrong on this one...
Door-to-Door Maniac: Stars Johnny Cash as a crazy killer. Also stars Ronnie Howard and Vic Tayback, but it's still not a very engaging film.
I Love Trouble: A distinctive film noir in that it has the most complicated plot in any noir I've ever seen, bar none. Very hard to follow. Just when I thought I was following the plot some gal in a mink would step in holding a gun or some thugs would arrive and beat the crap out of the protagonist, putting me back on square one. Those late 1940's audiences must have been able to muster considerable powers of concentration upon movie watching that we don't. (They had no cell phones or BlackBerries as distractions.)
Whistle Stop: Dull. You watch this one to look at Ava Gardner - that's it. It also stars George Raft who, as almost always, is ordinary. For the life of me I don't know how he acquired such popularity back then!
Fall Guy: A Monogram Pictures cheapie; it is said that Monogram put the "poverty" in Poverty Row. It was based on a Cornel Woolrich novel, so of course somebody has a lapse of memory. The acting was frequently bad, or perhaps it was the fault of the script. Some lines were read so woodenly I wanted to spray Lemon Pledge on them.
Heat Wave: Boring; a thrid rate Double Indemnity. I have yet to see a Robert Lippert film I thought well of.
The Green Glove: A somewhat tedious noir/romance hybrid with Glen Ford. James Lileks reviewed it. He points out that the female lead, Geraldine Brooks, was cute and could act. He's correct on both points. Otherwise, yawn.
Trapped: One of Lloyd Bridges early tough guy roles before he donned the scuba mask and became a good guy on television. The middle part dragged a bit, but the last twenty minutes or so were pretty good. Lots of shadowy urban and industrial scenes. Somehow a modern city just doesn't look as gritty as a mid-century city seen in black and white. But, on the whole, it was somewhat dreary.
Brainstorm: Despite the fact that this film is in Silver and Ursini's encyclopedia, I disagree that this is a film noir. The only thing it has in common with noir is a major betrayal and the usual "let's plot to kill him" story line. (It was done better without the gimmicky insanity element elsewhere - Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice come to mind.) It struck me as much more of a run of the mill 1960's Universal style teleplay than a true film noir (or neo noir). It looked and felt too much like, say, a William Castle movie or an episode of Burke's Law than something that could sit beside real noirs. I found it disappointing. I encounter lots of unjustly neglected and overlooked films - but this one, in my opinion, is justly neglected. Overlong and overwrought. The only good points: Anne Francis is in it and it has a nice black and white look.
The Lady Confesses: A perfectly boring film. The lady confesses... what? The title made no sense with the plot that I could see. It was a 67 minute quickie by one of the crappiest film facilities in Hollywood, PRC (Producers Releasing Company). Hugh Beaumont, later the Beaver's father, was in it. Yawn.
Jail Bait: An Ed Wood film. With all the celebrated Ed Wood touches: weirdly-phrased dialogue, ill-advised casting, poor acting, strangely out of context sequences (there's a black face minstrel show inserted for no good reason) and unfortunate incidental music. For some reason Wood thought a strummed flamenco guitar with dissonant piano chords suited a film noir plot. (One reviewer wrote, "It's a pleasant feeling when you reach the end and the flamenco guitar stops." I don't believe anyone will be able to top that review, actually.) I should mention that the title has nothing at all to do with underage girls or boys - of course! It was a title chosen purely for titillation purposes and then casually mentioned in the film in reference to a handgun to give it credence. Ed Wood - a class act.
Hidden Fear: A dull late period (1957) noir. Stars John Payne, who was possibly the most sullen and driven noir protagonist in the genre. The scene stealers in this movie are, in order, 1.) A Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing, 2.) A pretty blonde and, 3.) the Copenhagen setting.
The Fearmakers: A red-baiting film noir from 1958 about crooked polls and surveys which seek to influence opinion rather than capture it. Novel idea. As is usually the case with film noir, the poster art is deceptive and over the top - but amusing. I like the animalesque hand reaching down to grab the Capitol building at the top, and the leggy gal at the bottom (who appears nowhere in the film dressed like this or in this pose). Masters of Fear! Monsters of Intrigue! Merchants of Murder! This film was shot in and around D.C., and has a neat ending sequence where Dana Andrews punches the Commie Fellow Traveler in the jaw on the steps to the Lincoln Monument: "...and this is for all the guys in Korea!" A seated Lincoln looks on approvingly as Dana Andrews intones Lincoln's quote about fooling some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time - then kisses the rather weird looking girl. It was fun but, as my son says, "Meh." I checked that box in watching it.
The Boss: Boring and lame; script by Dalton Trumbo (which might explain it). I tried to watch this film twice but kept falling asleep during it. I finally gave up.
Lady in the Death House: A poorly-directly PRC cheapie. Tedious. I had a difficult time following the action, and wondered why certain scenes were necessary and what the motivations of the characters were. At 56 minutes, too long!
Revolt in the Big House: A lame film noir - a prison break story, as is obvious from the title. Even the eccentric presence of film noir's mumbling, leering chief resident nutcase - Timothy Carey - doesn't elevate this film past the poor direction and slow pace. Emile Meyer, another favorite, has a minor role as the warden. But it was nothing I haven't seen done better elsewhere.
The Case Against Brooklyn: A kind of remake of The Big Heat, except with Darren McGavin as the cop. Entertaining some of the time.
Hell's Island: Boring. And in Technicolor, which is always a strike against any film noir. ("Chinatown" overcame it.) It would have been far better were the island more hellish. I fell asleep while watching it, in fact. There - that one was easily dispensed with.
The Judge: A mighty odd film noir. Why odd? Characters are introduced and partially developed only to be cast aside, there's an unnecessary and puzzling dream sequence, plot points are not explained and the whole thing ends on a bizarre, quirky note. It starred Milburn Stone (shown above), an actor who is primarily known for playing Dodge City's medical doctor in television's Gunsmoke. A real head-scratcher of a movie.).
Bewitched: An annoying treatment of multiple personality disorder. People back in the 1940's seemed to have loved films about psychoanalysis... these make terribly dated and inferior noirs. Ech - but at least it was short (just over an hour).
My Gun is Quick: Nothing special. Better than "I, the Jury" but nowhere as good as "Kiss Me, Deadly."
I, the Jury: A hyperbolic Mickey Spillane Mike Hammer thriller. Overall the film wasn't much, but what made it entertaining was the exaggerated violence and sex (within a 1953 standard, of course). Hammer barges into rooms, shoves and slaps people around, talks way too loud, declares his thirst for revenge, makes suspicious facial expressions at signs of homosexuality and rebuffs women. All of this in 3-D and with Christmas card images used as scene transitions. (The action takes place during the holidays.) Sadly, Hammer was portrayed by an unconvincing actor named "Biff." That's not going to work. Parklane - the production company - tried again with a Mickey Spillane novel adaptation in 1955 and got it right by casting the sneering, unlikable Ralph Meeker in "Kiss Me, Deadly" - a favorite noir of most critics, including me.
The Captive City: A small town newspaperman (John Forsythe) discovers that his city has been infiltrated by the Mafia. Even the local police are in on it! What to do? Drive feverishly to the state capital, where Senator Estes Kefauver and his famous crime committee will save the day. The Federal government to the rescue! Concluding with a sequence featuring the senator intoning about how every town is at risk, this movie seemed more like a ninety-minute ad for Kefauver's political aspirations than a proper noir. (Kefauver would later run for president against Eisenhower. He also led the famous comic book committees of the 1950's, which included testimony by Fredric Wertham, which is famous for calling Batman and Robin gay.) Did the Kefauver Hearings ever stop or even slow down organized crime? I wonder.
Whiplash: I gave up on it after a half hour since it was a boring no-hoper. The main problem was its leading man, Dane Clark, who just didn't have the heft or presence to be a good leading man. He was excellent in "Moonrise" as a conflicted young man who suffered local shame as the son of a convicted murderer, but in this film he makes an extremely unlikely transition from painter to prizefighter. I popped the VHS tape out and watched an episode of Top Gear instead.
Strange Triangle: At only 65 minutes it moved right along and was okay, save the presence of Signe Hasso as the femme fatale. Her accent was annoying. Ruined the film for me.
The Whip Hand: A prime bit of 1950's Communist paranoia film making. In this Howard Hughes-influenced RKO film, those reprehensible Commies recruit a former Nazi scientist to run a germ warfare laboratory in a small American town. Fortunately, due to the investigative efforts of an All-American photo journalist, G-Men armed with Tommy guns arrive like the proverbial cavalry to shoot up the place and save the day. Sheesh.
Fear: A silly little noir starring nobody I know. An impoverished college student kills a professor for money to continue in school - then wakes up to find out that the whole thing was merely a dream! At least it was short, just over an hour.
The Accused: Loretta Young, a college professor, kills a student. No, she's not impoverished and neither was he and this doesn't end as a dream. The entire film is about her attempt to conceal the fact that what looked like a suicide or accident, wasn't. She is found out and goes to trial. Being Loretta Young (gooey, sweet and virginal), everyone falls in love with her and she gets off. Hooray.
Slaughter On Tenth Avenue: I really like the Richard Rogers music and so was looking forward to finally seeing this. But the film is disappointing, and doesn't use the music especially well. A second-rate "On the Waterfront."
Christmas Holiday: How noir can a film be with a title like "Christmas Holiday" starring Gene Kelly as a murderer? While it is a noir, it's not a very good one despite Robert Siodmak's direction. Kelly is just not very convincing - no big surprise there.
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie: A John Cassavetes-directed film neo-noir from 1976. I rented it mainly because I've read about Cassavetes for years without ever having seen one of his films. This film is one of his most celebrated and is very highly regarded by professional and semi-professional cineastes. At the rest of committing cinematic heresy - this director has a mighty reputation - I will state that at 135 minutes I found it overlong, self-indulgent and tedious. The directing is way too loosey-goosey for my taste; I like taut productions. Cassavetes' fans claim that this film was fully scripted out, but the dialogue in some scenes appears to have been improvised - and not well. Much of it reminded me of being conversationally cornered by some drunk at my mother's cafe near the close of business. There are some plot holes, too: at one point the protagonist runs and walks around with a bleeding bullet wound in his side to apparently no effect or blood trail. When confronted with negative reviews on the IMDb message board Cassavetes' supporters claim that, "This is a deeply personal vision - Cassavetes didn't make this film for you." Okay, fair enough. I'll watch film by directors who do make films for me. There are plenty: Fritz Lang, Michael Powell, David Lean, Anthony Mann, William Wyler, etc.
Still, the film wasn't entirely a waste of time as it featured Timothy Carey. (Pictured above.) Do you know him? He's one of the most thorough and convincing psychopaths in all of film noir - and that's saying something as the genre is rife with memorable nutjobs. He's especially good in Chinese Bookie. He was also a surprising bit of weirdness in Stanley Kubrick's "The Killing," given the assignment to shoot a thoroughbred horse during a race. How does one describe his film persona? You know Kramer in "Seinfeld?" Sort of like him, except mumbling, sadistic and scary. I think I'm going to have to see his self written and directed production "The World's Greatest Sinner" (1962). I bet it's in the Cult section of Video Vault...
Johnny Allegro: A George Raft thriller - which is indictment enough. Perhaps not really a film noir. Not really a thriller, either.
The Strip: A Mickey Rooney musical-noir hybrid - the Strip in question being Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, a former stomping ground of mine. I can't begin to count the number of times my friend Mike and I drove down it to get to Tower Records. I only recognized one part of it, however. It has changed a lot from 1951 to the Seventies and Eighties. It wasn't a bad film, but it wasn't a good one, either. It needed more bombast, more DAME HUNGRY KILLER-COP RUNS BERSERK!, if you know what I mean. The thugs, hoodlums and gangsters in it weren't nearly psychopathic enough. It had some great musical numbers by Louis Armstrong, and a surprisingly good role for "My Three Sons'" Uncle Charlie, William Demarest. But, in all, I didn't like it. And I must admit to fast forwarding through some of the songs. ("A Kiss to Build a Dream On" gets overplayed.)
The Bribe: A slow noir; nothing new in the plot. Looking at a young Ava Gardner was nice, though. And Charles Laughton was wonderful in this; excellent character work. The best thing about the film, in fact.
Man in the Vault: Boring. And William Campbell (best known as "Trelane" in a classic Star Trek episode) is a dreadful leading man. I have found that there is good low budget and bad low budget. This one is bad low budget.
Sin City: My friends, who know I like film noir, have all been suggesting that I have to see this. And, being a film noir compleatist of sorts, I did, despite my suspicions that I really wouldn't like this film. Problem is, it really isn't film noir. It isn't really even a neo-noir. While I will agree that it has the trappings of film noir (visual style, urban setting, narratives and an overall sense of corruption), it's really an on-screen comic book. Or "graphic novel," or whatever it is that they're calling comic books these days. What gives it away is the presence of scantily-clad women with Uzis and samurai swords, which set off my Fanboy B.S. alarm. Real film noir was and is written by and for adults, not adult males with the sensibilities of fourteen year olds who never advanced past comic books. Another turn off for me was the way, way over the top violence, which, after the thirtieth or fortieth stabbing, shooting or dismembering, I found tiresome. (At about the hour mark I began looking at the DVD player's timer, wondering how long was left.) There are far more effective ways to depict murder; what I call Sikes' Dog comes to mind. In the 1948 David Lean masterpiece "Oliver Twist," the cruel burglar Bill Sikes murders Nancy. You hear it, but you don't see it. As I recall, you don't even see shadows on a wall. What you see is Bill Sikes' terrified and hysterical dog barking and cowering as Sikes beats Nancy to death - an unforgettable scene. That's one murder that, thanks to David Lean's artistry, has far, far more impact than the laundry list of excessive and unrealistic violence in Sin City.
Kiss the Blood Off My Hands: A film noir with an absolutely untoppable title! Sadly, the film doesn't begin to live up to the promise of its title. It's a promising try, with excellent performances by Burt Lancaster, Joan Fontaine and especially Robert Newton, but an out of place redemptive/positive ending ruins it. Kill off Lancaster and it would have been a much more effective film...
Crime Against Joe: The plot was hackneyed, the lead actor was weak and even Julie London couldn't brighten this one. What's more, I'm pretty sure there was a scene that wasn't rendered with the necessary day for night filter, which made it look like the protagonist was on a 24 hour drunk. An all around horrible film.
Hot Summer Night: A late period noir. One online wag called it "Ma and Pa Kettle Meet Cornell Woolrich," which I think is frantically funny, but perhaps this now rather obscure reference is one only noirheads like me would find humorous. It's a curious film in that it has many strong individual performances from the cast - yet the film considered in total is not all that impressive. Noir guy Jay C. Flippen has a great role in this, one of his best. He plays an experienced old con who calmly instructs the trigger-happy goon in charge how to manage the mechanics of a hostage for ransom situation. At one point, he dispassionately watches the goon empty a revolver into two fellow gangsters, and takes over as the brains of the organization. Whether he lives or dies doesn't matter much - he's old. (59!) But, on the whole, not a good film.
Witness to Murder: A ho-hum movie with an unoriginal plot that John Alton's celebrated mystery lighting couldn't save.
The Unsuspected : Style over substance. Claude Rains stars in this pallid movie about upper-class crime. Audrey Totter is fun to watch, but otherwise, a yawner.
Ace in the Hole : A Billy Wilder film I really didn't care for. Why? I'm not sure. More so-so than bad. It may be one of those films that a second viewing will improve.
Nightfall: Aldo Ray is interesting to watch (he seems a convincing post-war Everyman), but I expected more from director Jacques Tourneur. This film just didn't do anything for me. Released in 1957, it's clear that by then film noir was losing steam fast.
The Glass Tomb: A silly, dull Brit-noir about a man who starves as a kind of carnival attraction - a murder also takes place. Who cares? I didn't.
Chicago Confidential: Boring. Short, but boring.
No Escape: Boring and lame. With Sonny Tufts. I used to wonder why this guy was such a joke among movie buffs; I wonder no more.
Paid to Kill: Boring. Some noir cliches; it's merely going through the motions.
The French Connection I and French Connection II: I can see why people like these films, but I didn't especially like them. First of all, I didn't find Gene Hackman's "Popeye Doyle" character at all sympathetic; perhaps I wasn't supposed to. But when you really don't care if a character lives or dies, what's the point and where's the drama? Secondly, these films are modern, gritty and nihilistic in a way that qualifies them as being film noir, but what's missing is the noir element of cinematic and screenplay style that was so prominent in the 40's and 50's. Being violent and gritty simply isn't enough. Also, there's a lack of credibility - how long would a cop who has the unfortunate habit of killing other cops realistically remain on a police force? Finally, in the second film, I thought one sequence - the recovering junkie scene with that long baseball monologue - was just plain boring. Classic film noir got to the point quickly and economically; by comparison, French Connection II was overlong and indulgent.
Seven: (or as the gimmicky spelling would have it, "Se7en"). The more I think about this film the less I like it. Brad Pitt is... Brad Pitt. No surprises and no great acting, either. Kevin Spacey is a bad guy - again. The only developed character is Morgan Freeman's. The murderer's motivations aren't described very well - and I'm not going to bother viewing the DVD features or look at the website to get additional insights, either. You either hook me in the film or you don't, and this one didn't. The single murders that take place at the ends of "Chinatown" and "Mulholland Drive" have more meaning, impact and drama than the seven that take place in this movie.
Edge of the City: A well-regarded noir that seemed too derivative of the more famous "On the Waterfront" for my taste. Also, Sidney Poitier seems to be overacting and some of the dialogue is unnatural. However... it does sustain a bleak atmosphere (great shots of New York City in the late 50's) and has a suitably downbeat conclusion... I guess I'm not sure whether or not Iiked it. It didn't wow me. Perhaps with another viewing it might grow on me a little.
The Girl Hunters: I fell asleep during it. Mickey Spillane isn't a very convincing actor. This one was a British production trying hard to feel American - but it fails. I couldn't muster any interest in it after the first fifteen minutes, to be honest.
The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry: A maddening film noir from the classic period starring George Sanders. Why maddening? Well, when a 1940's film has the word "strange" in it, they mean it: The plot involved brother-sister incest, that is, the plot suggested it. (They couldn't depict it outright in 1945.) So, in order to keep from running afoul of the Hays Code the murder which took place in the story was evaporated in a disingenuous ending which suggested that everything was but a dream. I hate that! The same kind of goofy, tacked-on ending ruined Gilda (1946), an otherwise excellent film.
Shoot to Kill: Undistinguished and boring, but short. The complicated plot doesn't help.
Arson, Inc.: I'd call it a police procedural, except that it's a fire department procedural. Too jokey to really be a noir. Too predictable; we've seen this movie done better as "T-Men."
Bury Me Dead: "Bury me dead" - rather than the alternative, please (which would put us into Edgar Allen Poe territory). Were they running out of noirish film title ideas? A promising film but John Alton's characteristic use of light and dark to set a noirish tone are ruined by too-frequent light-hearted moments and whimsical incidental music. Still, there is one memorable scene: when the bad guy's identity is revealed, he is dramatically lit by a slit of light on the character's eyes, followed by a slow lighting of the entire face. Not natural lighting at all, but psychological lighting. A nice touch!
Street of Shadows: Stars Cesar Romero as a fellow named Luigi who owns what seems to be the ancestor of what's now called a video arcade. (How noir could that be?) A British production of promise that is never fulfilled. One watches despite the go-nowhere plot and overly loose direction in the expectation that something will happen - it doesn't. A disappointment, which is a pity given traditionally literate British screenplays, character actors and mysterious and interestingly-lit interiors.
Hammett: A film that purports to give the pulp writer Dashiell Hammett a noir existence - and perhaps he actually had one - but fails to be interesting about it. This whole production seems like film noir with apostrophes. (A great phrase by film critic Foster Hirsch that describes films like this and L.A. Confidential.) Too self-aware of the noir stylistics to seem authentic, this seems like one long exercise in fandom rather than credibly extending the style into the Eighties. Body Heat was a much better neo-noir from the same period. Even John Barry's score and the presence of Elisha Cook, Jr. can't redeem it.
Breathless: A film cited in Foster Hirsch's book, so I gave it a viewing. It's only faintly noir; the murder is glossed over (not to mention the motivation behind it) and so is a betrayal and a "tragic" ending. It seems that most of the film is involved with the protagonist's efforts in trying to get Jean Seberg in bed. Is this noir? No. It isn't even an interesting film. I don't know why this film gets such positive reviews - I think it's really overrated. There is one scene where Jean-Paul Belmondo stares at a photo of Bogie; I was thinking that it was a depiction of a wannabe and the real thing, which, I suppose, is what Godard intended. But who cares? Not me.
Whirlpool: More of a melodrama than a real noir. Jose Ferrer is an effective enough villain, but Richard Conte's talents are under-used as a good guy. Dated because of a reliance upon the faddish practice of hypnotherapy to advance the plot; this was back when everybody was interested in psychoanalysis and the like. I never seem to like the films that feature this. Anyway, just sort of an all-around "Eh" film.
Night Train: The story of a chubby alcoholic (John Volstad - one of the Darryls from Bob Newhart's 80's sitcom) who ventures to Tijuana to find his brother, and runs afoul of the water, whores, cheap booze, a diminuitive gangster and his thugs. I can't honestly say I enjoyed it. It is film noir - and it has a great German Expressionist dream sequence in it that I enjoyed - but the production was grimy and sleezy with precious little art or morality to redeem it. Sure, Tijuana is a kind of hell - a couple of visits there conviced me of that - and I suppose that it's a locale begging for a noirish film treatment, but I just didn't enjoy watching this one. It was difficult for me to feel sympathetic for any of the characters - and that being the case, I'm not concerned with what happens to them. And when that happens, there is little dramatic interest. Somebody gets an axe in the back? Who cares? It is also quite graphic in terms of sex and violence, which, frankly, usually turns me off. There's one chase sequence that is frankly unbelievable: Volstad, who looks like he's a biscuit shy of 300 pounds, is being chased by a couple of thugs and runs as fast as he can through the streets of Tijuana for an extended sequence. But he isn't gasping or even breathing hard - and he supposedly has TB. Yeah, right. I play rugby - I know better. To me, the one decided triumph in this film is the black and white photography, done on a once common but now hard-to-find East German film stock called Orwo. It looks wonderful. The blacks are dark and velvety and the whites are stunning - the film begins with a sequence on some railroad tracks that looks as good as noir gets. And one really great shot is a single eye in the shadows - just an eye, with no other part of the face shown. An unexpectedly interesting image. Anyway, as far as Mexican noir goes I thought Luis Bunuel's "Los Olvidados" from 1950 was a much more bleak and affecting production. Included on the DVD is an earlier, alternative 22 minute version of part of the first part of the story set instead in Los Angeles, which, for me, works better. The expressionist dream sequence is better in this as well, I think.
The Big Knife: I have finally seen an Ida Lupino film I didn't like! I won't go into the plot - suffice to say that this is one of those navel-gazing productions Hollywood sometimes does; this one is about an actor and his loves and adversities - all played out in his 1950's-looking room which doubles as a stage for life. (Yawn.) The tragic end partially redeems it, but it's just too little noir, too late. Clifford Odets writes some odd dialog - it was quirky and entertaining in "Deadline to Dawn" and just plain great in "Sweet Smell of Success," but this one featured elliptical dialog, allusions and a lot of overly cerebral stuff that, for me, kept this from being an effective noir. Also, the actors seemed to be merely reading lines rather than listening and reacting. Also, it seemed to me that Jack Palance was badly miscast in this, as some sort of a romantic actor who millions of women loved. Jack Palance? With his kisser? It was a promising film: Robert Alrich directing, Shelly Winters, a leering Jean Hagen, the Va-Va Voom ethnic auto mechanic from Kiss Me Deadly and Wesley Addy from the same ("Mike, if I catch you carrying a gun I'll lock you uupppppppp"), but it never jelled for me. Oh, and Rod Steiger, roaring, mugging and generally just hamming it up. I don't like that guy at all...
The Trial: From a 1925 novel by Franz Kafka, this is an especially dreamlike and weirdly-shot nightmare of sorts. It has flashes of brilliance, and is reportedly Orson Welles' own favorite film. My real problem with it is that is it is badly-paced and very slow-moving, with leaden dialog. It is a noirish film in look and subject (an unjustly accused man); whether it is film noir is debatable.
The Basketball Fix: A yawner, but at least it was only an hour. There is one good line, however: Seated woman: "Where's my astrogram?" (Referring to an astrological chart.) Guy: "You're sitting on it."
Hell's Half Acre: It takes place in Hawaii. In fact, the beginning of the movie looks like a tourist board production of some kind, with palm trees swaying in the breeze, shots of happy natives doing the hula, surfing, etc. Until somebody takes a bullet in the middle of the forehead - then it turns into film noir. This one had big, beautiful Marie Windsor in it, once again playing the part of the Wife from Hell, an act she pretty much owned. It also had Elsa Lanchester ridiculously miscast as a taxi cab driver from Wyoming - but with an impossible to conceal plummy English dialect. Finally, Wendell Corey played the leading man part unconvincingly. Beady eyed, with no real jaw line to speak of, he looked rather like Frank Burns on MASH. Not en especuially engrossing noir.
The Fast and the Furious: It might have been a decent semi-noir if it didn't have a contrived redemptive ending, where the guy on the run suddenly gives himself up to the cops. It was fun looking at a bunch of mid-Fifties sportscars, but that's about it for this one.
The Underworld Story: Some good black and white shadowy cinematography, and interesting racial aspect, but that's about it. Dan Duryea annoys me.
Undercurrent: I put off renting this one for as long as I could because I suspected I wasn't going to like it. I was correct. Stars Katherine Hepburn, an actress I do not care for. That woodsy New England persona and her singsong delivery annoys me. Also stars Robert Taylor, who has never impressed me as a leading man. More a romantic thriller than a noir. I found myself fast-forwarding through sections of this one. Blecch.
The Frightened City: A mannered Brit noir from 1961 featuring Sean Connery. The acting and story is competent, but that's about all. Nothing exciting about it, no sense of fatalism or desperation, no grotesques, nothing hyperbolic. In one scene a Scotland Yard official decries the press calling London (the supposedly frightened city of the title) "Chicago" because of the gang outbursts, and that stands as a sort of metaphor for this film. In one word: wannabe.
The Long Night : A remake of an earlier - and superior - French film, Le Jour Se Leve, and cast as a noir production. Not a bad film, but I really didn't care for it. Vincent Price is truly obnoxious in this one. The main problem I had with this film is that I didn't understand the motivations of Henry Fonda's character. Why shoot a man just because he's annoying? And why hole yourself up in an apartment afterwards, holding off the police? I suppose there's some left-wing political statement about the working masses being exploited in this film, but I didn't quite catch it.
The Man Who Wasn't There: The Film That Wasn't There. Billy Bob Thornton pretty much defines the term "laconic" henceforth and forever in this one. He doesn't seem to be terribly interested in the unfolding events in this film - why should we be? Not funny enough to be a film noir satire and not interesting enough to work as a good homage; the only thing it has going for it is really fine black and white imagery. (Shot in color and digitally grayscaled.) More of an exercise in style than an engrossing movie. I was disappointed.
Beware, My Lovely: Robert Ryan, who plays a semi-retarded goon, menaces poor Ida Lupino. I hate "the unwanted guest" or "the guy who won't go away" themes in movies and literature, so I found this one more annoying than suspenseful.
The Big Steal : The only film titled "The Big..." I have seen that I didn't like. Much more of a romantic comedy (or romantic lame thriller) than a noir, this one is just plain boring, and I thought the Mexican locale made for some idiotic dialog. Robert Mitchum's continual nicknaming of Jane Greer as "Chiquita" was really getting on my nerves.
The Two Mrs. Carrolls : Bogie and Barbara Stanwyck, two noir specialists, star in this mix of "The Portrait of Dorian Gray," "Bluebeard" and Bogie's earlier "Conflict" - with a touch of "Sudden Fear." Anyway, the only really memorable things in this are Nigel Bruce (doddering as usual) and the surprising image of Stanwyck as the Angel of Death.
The Mask of Dimitrios: A film that seems to have been made simply to look as foreign and exotic as possible or to give Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet work. There isn't much of the way of surprise in this one. The primary interest is watching Peter Lorre respond to threats and guns pointed at him, etc. Safely missed.
Impact: It's boring and overlong. Probably Brian Donlevy's worst film. Starts off well, but peters out into a wifty romantic story.
Knock on Any Door: Way too socially heavy-handed to impress me, and in light of a failed multi-generational and multi-trillion dollar "War on Poverty," this film is badly dated. Bogie almost redeems it, but not quite.
Fear in the Night: With DeForest "Bones" Kelley. The only thing interesting about this one was the octagonal mirrored room. This should have had a creepy, recurring nightmare sequence, but no. Unless you're a fan of Cornell Woolrich, you may safely miss this.
Nightmare: A remake of the film above, marginally better. Once again, unless you're a fan of Cornell Woolrich, you may safely miss this.
They Won't Believe Me: A mediocre film. The only really unique thing about it is that Robert Young, TV's admirable father who knows best, plays against type as a womanizing rotter. However, expecting an audience to believe that the likes of him attracts the likes of Jane Greer and Susan Hayward stretches things... Gimmicky trick ending.
The Second Woman: Another mediocre film with Robert Young. The best thing about this one is the oceanside shots and a bit of mystery. More a (mild) thriller than a noir. Frankly, I think calling this one film noir abuses the classification. About the most hard-boiled thing happening here is a guy's dog gets poisoned and his house gets burned down. If you liked "Rebecca" - I didn't - you might like this.
Macao: I get the impression that the film's producers sought to substitute an interesting script with Jane Russell and an exotic setting. Boring. I found myself getting as sleepy as Robert Mitchum looks.
Caught: Booorrrrrrring! I just couldn't get interested in whatever happened to hapless Barbara Bel Geddes. Probably Robert Ryan's worst film.
Outside the Law: A yawner. I gave it twenty minutes, then quit.
Nocturne: Aside from an occasional highlight involving a darkened room, this is a pretty boring film. Raft's mother helps him to crack the case - how noir is that?
Laura: Not especially engrossing to me in that it wasn't hard-boiled enough, or too polite. A sort of boudoir noir.
The House on 92nd Street: An FBI procedural with especially pompous narration and faux-patriotic marches as incidental music. Also, it doesn't help that one thinks of women's lacy underwear when images of J. Edgar Hoover appear. Exhibit A in my case that the liberals made far better films noir than did conservatives. (The only exception I have to this is "T-Men.")
The Big Clock: A disappointing film, given that I love clocks. There was nothing especially interesting about the cinematography, the script or the cast (with the exception of Charles Laughton).
Stranger on the Third Floor: A clunker film with a silly resolution, but of historical interest since it precedes "The Maltese Falcon" by a year and has most of the noir elements in place - my noir encyclopedia says it's the first in the cycle. (Big things start small.) Features a nightmare sequence clearly influenced by German Expressionism. Just over an hour - at least it's short.
He Walked By Night: A rather dull police procedural starring Richard Basehart as an electrical engineer gone bad. It has a conclusion that takes place in the sewers, reminiscent of "The Third Man." I understand this was the film that inspired "Dragnet," in which case I'm sorry it was made.
Port of New York: Not a whole lot to recommend, actually. A be-haired Yul Brynner, and that's about it.
The Man Who Cheated Himself: Overly formulaic and dull. Lee J. Cobb seems to have phoned in his performance.
Out of the Past: I'm aware of this film's mythic stature among noir fans, but I found it rather slow-paced and silly, what with the foreign locales that seem to have been inserted merely to give the film color. I even gave it a second viewing to make sure my initial opinions were still valid - and yep, they were. I just don't care for this film.
Call Northside 777: Nahhh... Jimmy Stewart doesn't belong in noir. Too upbeat, too likable.
Edge of Doom: Farley Granger going on and on about wanting a big funeral for his mother got on my nerves. Even the schmaltzy priestly plotline was less objectionable. This one just didn't work.
The Big Sleep: It seems like heresy for me to call this one mediocre (it's regarded as such a noir classic), but the plot is way, way too convoluted for me. Bogie and the snappy dialog almost redeems it.
L.A. Confidential: In the noir style but not really a noir. Poser-noir. What's missing is authenticity. These actors are all products of the modern day, and it shows.
Pulp Fiction:This film is all about shock value, and that's it. Way, way over the top. Yes, I'm aware that it's massively lauded, but I think it's a fraud. I don't just not like this film, I despise it and the mentality behind it. I wish Bogie or Dick Powell were alive to slap Quentin Tarantino around a bit.
The Usual Suspects: This is a film with a screen play too clever for its own good, really. I classify this one with Pulp Fiction: in-your-face crime drama in the modern fashion, mistaken as film noir by those not in the know.
Fargo: Praised to the heavens, one of the main things that disturbs me about this one is the black humor and irony, which seem too too 1990's. I suppose many like this, but I didn't. And a murder has little impact with me if it's going to turn into a punch line for a gag. ("And I guess that was your accomplice in the woodchipper?") To me, this film was jarring from the very beginning, with the big, powerful Carter Burwell musical theme that sounded more suitable for a historical drama like "Last of the Mohicans" than a murder case in the Midwest. And the feminist overtones of a pregnant cop capturing a psychopathic killer (and later praising her husband to the hilt for getting a duck image on a stamp) get in the way, too.
Crossfire: Boring and preachy ("hate is bad"). Blech.
Cause for Alarm!: There is no cause to see this film. It is dull.
Female Jungle: Normally, the phrase "low budget" is not necessarily a negative attribute for a film noir - but it is here. Boring and lame.
Beyond the Forest: Bette Davis is a real pain in the neck in this one. The only memorable line in it is when she walks into a room, looks around, and says "What a dump!" in that fussy New England tone of voice she has. Also stars Joseph Cotten, an actor whose hair bothers me.
The Dark Past: A dreary melodrama that is really more about the 1940's obsession with psychotherapy than about film noir themes. The dream sequence and its psychiatric translation is only moderately interesting.
Blackout:A boring and conventional Hammer Brit Noir; Dane Clark couldn't save it. Most Brit Noirs are too mannered, pallid and safe to really excite. There are exceptions of course, but one gets the impression that the British public simply wouldn't accept flaming crepes Suzette being flung into a woman's face, or a wheelchair-bound woman being pushed down a staircase - so the result is "safe" and unsensational productions. All of the Walter Lippert Hammer ones I've seen fall into that category.
PRE-NOIR (Noirish films made prior to the Maltese Falcon - note how many are German.)
Sabotage: This is one of the better Hitchcock films I've seen, with lots of interesting expressionistic photography. As always, Oskar Homolka - the saboteur - is excellent. The surprising thing about this one is that, after a suspense sequence, Hitchcock kills off the kid (a likable English lad)! Hitchcock wrote later that he always regretted it because he thought that the audience resented him for it. In other words, a suspense sequence should have a happy ending, not a tragic one. He never repeated his mistake. I thought the film had a lot more emotional punch because of the kid's death. Also, an ununsual film because Silvia Sidney, in revenge for her young brother's death, murders her husband (who plotted it). And she gets away with it! So - an unusual film in many ways. Pre-noir but pretty noirish.
Three on a Match: It's about three swell gals who knew each other from the swell schoolyard. The tarty schoolyard one (Joan Blondell) turns out to be the moral one, the privileged, bored one (Ann Dvorak) turns out to be the drug-addicted suicidal one (menaced by no less than a young Humphrey Bogart), and Bette Davis winds up using a typewriter and acting as a governess. We also get to see Edward Arnold plucking his nose hairs. This one had a running time of just over an hour, so it moved fast and was a lot of fun. It got noirish towards the end. Surprisingly noirish, in fact. It was swell!
I Met a Murderer : A real curiosity. It's very primitive, almost like a home movie, and a very early starring vehicle for James Mason, who, of course, went on to greater stardom. In this he is married to one of cinema's most memorable miserable wretches of a wife who shoots his dog. Angry, he shoots her and goes on the run. He meets a charming young thing and together they flee the police. It is, plotwise, a legitimate noir, the "couple on the run" being a well-represented sub-category of the noir genre. This matters because by more or less common agreement the film noir cycle began in 1940, with The Stranger on the Third Floor, a Peter Lorre film. (However, some claim that The Maltese Falcon, from 1941, was the first true film noir.) I Met a Murderer might therefore be termed a pre-noir, or proto-noir. Was it any good? Yes - it was okay. It has an appropriately tragic ending, as Mason, wounded and hunted down by the police and the local populace, dives into the sea and drowns. Nice. (I hate silly Hollywood redemptive endings in film noir.)
Escape From Dartmoor (aka A Cottage on Dartmoor): A silent film proto-noir from Britain. It has sexual obsession, a crime, expressionistic camera angles and images and a tragic ending, with a suitable fatalistic overtone, so it qualifies. Problem is - it's kind of dull. The plot is more or less uneventful. But, still, it's an interesting indication of a future film genre. M: The first time I saw it, I was unimpressed. Having seen it again I am convinced it really is the great film the critics insist it is. Some of the noir elements are there: Peter Lorre, expressionistic cinematography (this is a German film, after all), a psychopathic killer, the streets - and Fritz Lang's direction. A crime masterpiece. I also like the inclusion of police chief Fatty Lohmann, from Lang's Dr. Mabuse films.
Le Jour Se Leve: Made in 1939, there's a thin line between this French poetic modernist classic and a real film noir. So much so that it was later easily recast into a noir with Henry Fonda, The Long Night. I've read that Jean Gabin is the French Humphrey Bogart - I can see why, in this. Excellent work. The final shot, where Gabin lays dead on the floor of his apartment as tear gas fills the room, with his alarm clock going off ("time's up") and daylight coming through the window, is truly memorable.
Die 3groschenoper (The Three Penny Opera): Not an entirely successful film - it kind of drags - but has a good street feel about it. Lotte Lenya's few scenes are interesting, and suggests what all the "hoop-la" is about. (Her "Pirate Jenny" song is a personal favorite.) I certainly don't like the happy ending!
Pandora's Box: It's hard for me to imagine a better femme fatale than Louise Brooks. The theme of fate winds through this one in the great noir fashion, each character depicted as meeting his or hers in some interesting fashion.
The Blue Angel: Another femme fatale - Marlene Dietrich - and, like Edward G. Robinson in Scarlet Street, another middle-aged sap - Emil Jannings. I find the cabaret background to this one especially fascinating.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari: A well-known and excellent German expressionist work - the noir elements are the streets, madness, and murder. The sets are simply amazing. My favorite scene shows the light from an overhead streetlamp painted on the ground! This is film noir in the raw - the stuff that came after deals with the same personalities, scenes and plots, but are refined and not so jagged and disoriented, for a wider audience.
They Drive By Night: Raft, Bogart, Lupino - very nearly close to noir. In fact, why isn't this a noir? Ahhhh, who cares? It's a great flick. I didn't have a lot of expectations about a film featuring truck driving, but I found this one riveting. Even George Raft couldn't ruin it.
I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang: Noir in the sense that an innocent man is continually brought down low and victimized, despite his efforts. This film's brutality is still notable, despite the fact that it's 70 years old! The very last scene is great: (Helen): "How do you live?" (Muni, disappearing into the shadows): "I steal."
Dead End: One of my very favorite films, noir or not; I guess you could more accurately describe this as a late gangster film. Bogie is wonderful in this, as are the other adults in the cast, but it is the Dead End Kids who really stand out. I love the way the action of this film is episodic, taking place on different sections of what looks like an enormous set on a sound stage. (In the old days the adaptations from stage plays was pretty obvious.) The spiritual ancestor of West Side Story, my favorite musical. (Is there such a thing as a musical noir?)
Fury: Sort of a Thirties cross between "the Wrong Man" and "Try and Get Me," this one deals with the subject of mob violence; Fritz Lang is very good at making films about how the common man can, at times, go wrong. Another favorite theme is humanity's foibles. The only problem I have with this film is that I'm not sure where I should be laughing - which tells me that either Lang played some of the characters a little too broadly or this film is too dated.
You and Me: With George Raft and the always sympathetic Sylvia Sidney. Another Fritz Lang film, and an odd one in that it opens with a kind of Kurt Weill song about capitalism and, later, has ex-cons doing a sort of hypnotic chant about prison communication rituals. The noir elements in this are, as in "Fury," the theme of trouble or fate befalling the little guy (or in the case of this film, gal), some shadowy photography and a heist. This film, with plenty of Depression Era sass and style, is a sort of film noir/romantic comedy/musical - definitely an unusual mix.
You Only Live Once: It's fun watching Henry Fonda turn desperate, upsetting poor Sylvia Sidney. (That seemed to be her lot in life, always fretting when her fella turns mean - as in "Fury," "Dead End," and this film.) Another Fritz Lang exploration of how a likable guy can turn into a creep, this one has all the Lang touches and is enjoyable. The final scenes are memorable.
The Informer: This film is quite noirish, as it contains many scenes of shadowed, foggy Dublin streets at night, a man driven by desperation and haunted by guilt, and many gunshots. A similar film, done later in the full blown noir style, is "Odd Man Out."
The Alibi : An early talkie, made in 1929. This is really an early gangster film rather than a film noir, but it's precocious. Stylistically it seems to be heavily influenced by German Expressionism, and there are some interestingly high contrast dark and light street scenes. There are some walls of rooms painted in a bold and dizzy Art Deco style - another recurring theme in this are the legs of chorus girls kicking about. At one point the camera is pointed directly at the legs! It's pretty violent, for its era, and at one point a character uses the word "hell," as in "This is a hell of a mess." (Or something like that.) Also, there is an anti-police attitude that runs thought part of it like a 50's film scripted by a blackballed Hollywood writer. The end of the film is shot in a darkened room, and then some rooftops at night. Also, in one point a gangster is shown peering down from a rooftop next to an enormous electrical sign, flashing on and off. It's a little reminiscent of a Fritz Lang Dr. Mabuse film, too. And there is an anti-hero. It has one scene of a policeman unloading a tommy gun (with circular magazine) into a door. I have always wanted to fire my initials into a dumpster with a tommy gun: rat-a-tat-tat-tat! Anyway, a very interesting film, certainly a proto-noir.
The Last Laugh: F.W. Murnau's expressionistic silent film about a high (but pathetic) doorman brought low, rather like The Blue Angel (both have Emil Jannings as the star). However, it has an absolutely silly and improbable ending tacked on to provide a happy conclusion - for which the director provided a title card that reads like an apology for what follows. Up to this point, it's good proto-noir. After that, it's clunky.
The Whispering Chorus: I think this may be the first film noir. (Understanding that the term is only really properly applied to films made after 1940.) Maybe calling it the first proto- or pre-film noir is more accurate. It's a silent film made in 1918 by Cecil B. DeMille. It has 1.) A psychological angle (whispered voices in the head of the protagonist), 2.) An escalation of events, 3.) A plotline that takes unexpected turns, 4.) A duality theme (dual identity), 5.) An overall dark, tragic tone, 6.) An unsympathetic (but not corrupt) authority figure (a cop), 7.) A sardonic crime (the man who murdered himself) and 8.) A downbeat ending. It's missing a femme or homme fatale and the characteristic low key black and white noir photography (perhaps not technically possible with the film of the time), but I think this film is as close to a film noir as a 1918 production could get. The acting was surprisingly naturalistic, given that it was shot in 1918. While some scenes were rather broadly acted, this film wasn't as badly dated, as, say, 1927's "The Cat and the Canary," which was pretty hard to watch.
I could go into all the great gangster films that James Cagney, George Raft and Edward G. Robinson made that are pre-noir crime films, but why? Suffice to say that the two main ingredients that led to noir were German expressionism and 1930's gangster flicks.
NOT NOIR, NEARLY NOIR OR NOIRISH
Cage of Gold: A promising British film starring Jean Simmons and David Farrar. It dudded out and I gave up. Yawwwwwn. Too much melodrama, not enough noir. A pity. I liked them a lot in Black Narcissus.
Strange Borders: Not noir because it's late Thirties and too early, but this spy flick was sprightly and fun. Googie Withers is a pretty young thing in this... and as we know, there is no such thing as a bad Googie Withers film.
Love from a Stranger: A costumed melodrama, not a film noir.
While I Live: A melodrama in the worse sense of the word.
Harry's Game: A British TV productions abotu the Troubles in Northern Ireland - excellent production. Is it noir? Yeah, sort of.
The Young Savages: It's a JD flick that starts out seeminging like West Side Story and morphs into an investigative drama and concludes as a courtroom film. It was excellent!
The Ticket of Leave Man: A British yawner.
A Tragedy at Midnight : A romantic-comedy murder mystery involving a "radio detective" who solves cases the cops can't solve. Somewhat better than the Thin Man series it resembles. Too light-hearted to be noir. Not bad, not good.
Fly-by-Night : The wackiest murder mystery I have ever seen with a preposterous plot - but, nevertheless, it was still entertaining. Richard Carlson stars. Too light-hearted to be noir.
Crime by Night : A jokey and light-hearted Warners feature that, yes, contains some deaths and wartime spy activity, but is really too amusing and comedic to be really noir.
The Night Fighters : A movie about the Irish Republican Army during World War II. Not as good as Shake Hands With the Devil, but not too bad. Not very noirish.
Cop Land : A noirish flick about police corruption and a central crime featuring a nicely understated performance by Sylvester Stallone; this must surely be one of his better films. It misses the fatalistic tone that is supposed to be the representative film noir signal; I'm on the fence about this one. But it was an entertaining film whatever you call it, suspense, thriller or noir.
An Act of Murder : A superior - but very depressing - film about mercy killing starring Fredric March. Not really a film noir, in my view.
Lone Star: It's sort of a film noir/western hybrid, but as the movie is more character-based than plot-based, it seemed soap operaish and talky. I thought the multicultural (white/black/mex) message got in the way, as well. Technically, it isn't even a western at all as it takes place in modern day Texas, not the old west. At over two hours, it was also a bit overlong.
Brother: A Russian crime film that was just noirish enough in some thematic elements (squalid urbanism, betrayal, a conflicted protagonist) to qualify. I was surprised by this one... St. Petersberg (the Communist era Leningrad), was a nasty looking place. Surely some free market wealth has improved things, has it not? But then... this film was made only six years after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Spectre of the Rose: One of the most thoroughly odd films ever to have come out of classic Hollywood, a psychological thriller/film noir/ballet production from Republic Studios, who normally produced low budget Roy Rogers Westerns. It starred a couple of attractive ballet stars, the handsome and impeccably buff Ivan Kirov and the darkly beautiful Viola Essen. Gruff-voiced Lionel Stander, whom I last saw in Guadalcanal Diary as the hard bitten Marine pal of William Bendix, portrays a sort of poet/arts buff who has the habit of trotting into the scenes and annoying everyone by grumbling improbable dialogue like, "You are a wilted carnation in the buttonhole of Broadway." In fact, the lines spoken by just about everyone in this production are damnably peculiar. Ivan Kirov: "Hug me with your eyes!" Viola Essen: "I am." Ivan Kirov: "Harder!" And so it goes. It's one of those productions that's all about not art, but, AAHRT, and features one of the most thoroughly homosexual characters I've ever seen in an old film, Michael Chekhov, as a queenish Russian impresario whose hair billows up in a strange gray wave. He's based on real life Serge Diaghilev of the Ballet Russes, I suppose. (In point of historical fact, Diaghilev was a homosexual.) A campy, must be seen to be believed flick.
Frieda: A good old British war film. The plot: a downed RAF pilot escapes capture via a German girl, whom he marries. He takes her back home to England, but she faces discrimination and hate from the locals. The war ends and things start to get better, but the situation suddenly worsens when her unreconstructed Nazi brother shows up. Part of the fun was watching three of the excellent crop of postwar British actors: David Farrar, Glynis Johns and Flora Robson. Good flick! My noir pal Michael Keaney gives this four stars, and I agree. I'm not entirely convinced it's film noir, however... it seems more of a war film to me. But there are no hard and fast rules concerning what's noir and what isn't, let alone what makes a film cross genres from being a war film to a noir. Noirheads bicker about what's noir and what isn't continually.
Tiger Bay: Hayley Mills' first movie. It was quite good. I can see why people saw this and thought, "Hey - she can really act!" Noirish, perhaps even film noir, if Bobby Driscoll's The Window from 1949 and based on a Cornell Woolrich is a true noir - this has a similar plot.
Blanche Fury: A Technicolor Gothic melodrama that had elements of Heathcliff-n-Cathy, horror, bodice-ripping and some film noir. This one even had gypsies! An overwrought production, but I stuck with it to the end. It was... okay. It starred romantic lead Stewart Granger, an actor I can take in small, infrequent doses. Come to think of it, very infrequent doses. The last time I saw him in a film was in the Prisoner of Zenda (1952) - a horrible film - back when I was sixteen or so.
Pickup: A curious semi-film noir. I call it a semi-noir because, for me, there has to be a central crime at the heart of the plot. This doesn't really have one. But what is does have is a tough-talking Beverly Michaels as a cynical and trampy blonde out to part a good-hearted older man from his bank account. It also had a hobo who was fond of great literature. While this film was entertaining, it was too full of humor to be a true noir. It also has wonderful marquee art: "They gave her a bad name... and she lived up to it!" (I had a postcard of this that I was using as a bookmark for years. It's nice to have finally seen the film.) Also, "You can 'pick up' this girl... but you won't if you know what's good for you!" It's almost as good as DAME HUNGRY KILLER COP RUNS BERSERK! I love film noir advertising. One curiosity in this film are the 1950's bras, which didn't give anything remotely resembling a natural curve to a woman's figure. There were a couple of scenes in this film where you half expected the women's breasts to launch like missiles. Very funny. The shape was called "Dagmars" (after an actress, of course), and it was so popular it made its way onto the fronts of Cadillacs. I'm guessing that somewhere, there's a film critic who rates old movies based on dagmars...
Hot Cars:...and he'd love this 1956 semi-demi-noir, Hot Cars. Joi Lansing is in it - I believe the 1950's term for actresses of her type was "sex bomb." There was one surprising sequence in this film: a man, accused of murder, has to use his evening spent cheating on his wife with Lansing as an alibi. So, to prove his innocence, he describes the contents of Lansing's bedroom to a detective - which must have been an ooh-la-la moment in 1950's film. Hot Cars is about the car sales trade, and has some great, evocative scenes shot in a Culver City car lot at night. As a kid, I loved being in car lots at night - it was exciting. The oversized promotional signs, the little flags fluttering overhead, the artificial lights, the shiny cars and the prospect of my parents buying one... the film also had a great fight sequence at the end - it was filmed aboard a seaside roller coaster (the Giant Dipper in San Diego, perhaps). The film also started well, with shots of Lansing driving around in a red Mercedes 300 SL convertible, for my money one of the prettiest cars ever built. Anyway, it was a nice way to spend an hour. (Yes, only an hour. Those old movies were often marvellously economical with time.)
Eyes in the Night: Edward Arnold as a blind detective. Programmer fare, not very noirish (too jokey). And since it's a war time production, yes, there are Nazi spies.
Talk About a Stranger: Essentially, a tale about a boy and his dog. It's in various film noir encyclopedias and books, but I don't accept this as film noir. A movie about a boy and his dog cannot be noir unless it has a solid central crime - and the accidental poisoning of the dog just doesn't cut it. But I seem to be alone in this. It's a good movie and I enjoyed it, but look, just because famous noir lighting specialist John Alton worked on it, that doesn't make it noir! It seemed more like A Very Special Episode of Lassie to me than a real noir.
The 13th Letter: An unknown gossip distributes poison pen letters which cause social havoc in a small French-Canadian town. I don't think this film was film noir at all, but somehow it made it into the Silver and Ward film noir encyclopedia, go figure. It was okay.
Comic Book Villains: A totally inept comedy. The story is that of warring comic book store owners vying for a collection of valuable old comic books. Looked promising, thought I, and since I collected comic books myself as a lad it had interest. It started out as a comedy but then ruined the light-heartedness with some totally inappropriate f-bombs, sexual humor and scenes from a strip club. Then the violent murders - yes, murders - began... and it somehow morphed into an inept film noir. Honest! It had the frequent noir elements: a central crime, desperation, a betrayal and murder. In a movie about comic books! Lame. The Netflix automated movie suggestion software predicted that I wouldn't like it; next time I'll pay more attention to it.
The Big Lebowski: Sort of a noir comedy. It was okay. I kept getting the impression that I was watching a Spike Channel made-for-TV movie. I can see why it turned into a cult film for guys, but a single viewing is adequate. I liked the parts with John Turturro as Jesus the bowler - those scenes made me laugh out loud. Otherwise, eh. I maintain that Blood Simple (1984) is the Coen Brothers' first, best and most satisfying film.
Guest in the House: I'm not sure if melodramas about a household harridan ruining people's lives is noir. Anne "Moses, Moses, Moses" Baxter appears as the vile and scheming young vixin. I like the alternate title better, "Satan in Skirts." Anyway, it seemed overlong but was okay.
Star 80: A bleak work. It's about the rise and fall (that is, murder) of Dorothy Stratton, the 1979 Playboy Playmate of the Year. Somebody I talked to years ago - I forget whom - endorsed it as an excellent evocation of the film noir loser archetype in Eric Roberts' portrayal of Stratton's Svengali, Paul Snider. Certainly, his is an excellent performance, right up there with Richard Widmark as the eternally hopeful, on the make young huckster in "Night and the City" (1950). Ebert gave Star 80 four stars and points out that while it's about a Playboy pin-up, the film contains not one erotic moment. True enough. Like Hollywoodland (2006) or Mulholland Drive (2001), it is very noir.
The Death of a Salesman: Most. Depressing. Movie. Ever. I can't imagine that listening to Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle" over and over again or watching continuous broadcasts of Tess of the d'Urbervilles could be worse. If you're a middle-aged man with a son or two (I am) and have any doubts whatsoever about your success in your chosen line of business (I do), this work pushes all the buttons. Take my word for it: if you have been prescribed mood-altering medication or are curious about suicide, avoid this one like the plague! Honestly, much of it was painful to watch. This is not to say that I regret seeing it, however, or that I consider it an artistic failure. Far from it! Willy Loman is one of the most finely-drawn and compelling characters in all of theatre, and I am happy to finally understand the references to him I encounter in the same way I now appreciate the Cassandra references after I read the Greek classics. And coming to terms with "Death of a Salesman" and the playwright's other great work, "All My Sons," as a middle-aged man brings comprehension to the pieces that I never would have had as a younger man.
Deadline, U.S.A.: It may have Humphrey Bogart, Ed Begley, Paul Stewart and a syndicate gangster in it, but it's more of a crime drama than a film noir. Still, it is worth watching. Bogie is almost always worth watching. And it recalls the days when the newspapers were relevant and printed news, not liberal talking points.
Step by Step: An RKO thriller that has a noirish element or two but is in actuality a fun thriller. Stars Lawrence Tierney as a former Marine out to defeat Nazi spies (in 1946!). Naturally, there's a blonde. And a cute doggie ("Bazooka").
The Trap: Richard Widmark and Tina Louise; what's not to like? Not necessarily film noir, however, more of a thriller.
The Lawless: Surprising in that I've never heard of this film and yet the subject matter - race relations between whites and Mexican-Americans in California - is still very topical. A good unknown, in other words. It starts out slowly and builds to a great climax featuring themes of yellow journalism on the part of the local media. I'm not sure this one really qualifies to be a film noir, but it is a nice companion piece to The Sound of Fury (1950), another film about yellow journalism that is a noir.
Boomerang!: It says "Fox Film Noir" on the cover, but that's more an indication of the realization that noir sells than it is of real film noir content. This is Elia Kazan's rather humdrum courtroom procedural. Ed Begley - a man who, even when he was young, looks continually like he's on the verge of a heart attack, is in it. Yawn.
To The Ends of the Earth: A starry-eyed procedural about how wonderful it is that all the nations of the earth are helping to get rid of narcotics. The fact that, 62 years later, this is nowhere near reality takes away from the idealistic impact this film was supposed to have. Still, it does feature Dick Powell in his post-musical hard-boiled persona, and that's always fun to watch.
The Company She Keeps: A pairing of noir gals Jane Greer and Liz Scott. Not bad, but Liz Scott was badly used as a parole officer - not her kind of role.
Cop Hater: A detective story in the vein of "A Detective Story," which was classified as a noir, so I guess this counts, too. Only 75 minutes long, it seemed more like a pilot for a television series, but I liked it. Had a decidedly late Fifties feel to it; more female flesh, more suggestive situations, etc. than one is used to seeing in noir from the classic period. Overall, a good little production.
Moontide: These days, film noir sells. This film, from 1942, with Ida Lupino and Jean Gabin, was marked FOX FILM NOIR at the top of the case. Only it isn't a film noir. The marketing people at Fox tried hard, though... with DVD features by the likes of Eddie Muller, the modern doyen of noir. But too many of the necessary elements are missing. And what do you have in a film when two people (Lupino and Gabin) are in love and it isn't a film noir? A melodrama. Oh, it wasn't a bad film, and I always enjoy seeing Ida Lupino, one of my favorite actresses. But the dark kick I usually get with a good noir was almost entirely missing.
Shock: Anything with Vincent Price in it is at least worth watching, and so was this. It was kind of noir, but as most of the elements were missing I can only claim it to be an enjoyable melodrama. Reminded me of a better film, The Snake Pit.
Stolen Face: From a review I wrote somewhere... THIS ISN'T A FILM NOIR! IT'S A MELODRAMA! Okay, I got that off my chest. Seriously, though, while noirs don't have to have *all* the key elements (low key lighting, a narrative, fedoras, a non-linear timeline, a femme fatale, corrupt authority figures, etc.) in order to qualify as a noir I think it has to have a crime somewhere near the center of the plot. This one doesn't. A plastic surgeon fashioning a woman in the likeness of another woman really doesn't qualify, in my opinion. Anyway, that said, this is an interesting film for Liz Scott fans (like me), and conclusively proves that you can't take a sow's ear and fashion a husky-voiced glamour puss like Liz Scott. So don't even try, okay? I did get a kick out of that pub piano performance sequence, however. She starts out playing ponderously classical chords which cause everyone to fall silent, moves into a boogie-woogie number and then plays a favorite that everyone in the pub sings along with. What a gal! As was pointed out, aspects of this film are simply ridiculous. The notion of ugly or scarred people turning to a life of crime because of their looks was a howler. And I suspected that I'd dislike this film when I saw the opening titles, awash with that pompous classical music. I am sorry to say that it's for Liz Scott fans only, really. AND IT'S NOT A FILM NOIR!
Veronika Voss: The fall of a middle-aged actress/addict. In real life, this was Sybille Schmitz. The very high contrast black and white photography is interesting and unique; I can honestly say that I've never seen whites this white. But... why shoot it this way? Does it symbolize something? An addict's view of the world without grey tones, perhaps? (She either has her fix, or she doesn't.) I'm not sure. An engrossing and stylish film. Note: Watching the DVD features, I learned that this film was shot on Orwo ("Original Wolfen") black and white film stock, which, watching it, I suspected. (Wow... I'm getting to know this stuff...) Orwo is an East German film stock that was used for industrial films. It results in very deep blacks and especially luminous whites. "Night Train," which, at times, looked stunning, was also shot on Orwo. Looks like this could be the film stock of choice for noir directors!
Vice Squad: An Edward G. Robinson period piece (1953) with a lot of familiar noir actors. Watching this was a lot of fun, actually... Robinson is excellent, as always, and it's great to see shots of mid-century Los Angeles. I liked his professional interaction with a Madam. This film was something like Detective Story and Naked City in that it showed an average day for a police captain. One reviewer described this as a first cousin to a film noir, which describes it nicely.
Michael Shayne, Private Detective: Many of the trappings of a noir involving a PI, but way too comic and light-hearted to qualify. Rather boring, actually.
The Man Who Wouldn't Die: Another Michael Shayne quickie, and a noir/comedy/horror hybrid of sorts. Better than the one above, but not sufficient good to interest me in the rest of the series.
They Were So Young: Beautiful models in peril in Brazil! Raymond Burr is once again the heavy! (Literally and figuratively.) Mildly entertaining. But not really noir.
The House on Telegraph Hill: More of a "woman's film" than a true noir. At any rate, it's kind of a yawner, with a predictable plot and no surprises. (I found Eddie Muller's DVD commentary track to be more fun that the film itself, which can't be a good sign.) Valentina Cortese, for whom this film was a vehicle, was much more interesting in Thieves' Highway.
Race Street: A likeable film starring George Raft and William Bendix. It has some noir attributes - the tale told in flashback, a murder, betrayals and a tragic ending - but what keeps it from being a true noir is the lack of a fatalistic atmosphere and the presence of humorous dialogue and a light-hearted feel. Still, it held my interest for an hour and a half.
The Louisiana Hussy: I found this one in the film noir section of Video Vault, put there mostly, I would imagine, upon the package art proclaiming it a "Hollywood Noir." However, this is far more a reflection of how marketable film noir has become than an accurate label of the contents. While this mostly enjoyable film has some noirish elements - a femme fatale with one of those 1950's busts that resemble the front of a period Cadillac, a flash-back, and contention between brothers over a woman - this is really more of a trash romp than a true film noir. The cajun setting certainly has originality going for it, however, in much the same way "Dark Odyssey" is a Greek (or Graeco-American) noir. But the conclusion, which is light-hearted and whimsical, as the Louisiana Hussy finds yet another male victim of her wiles, takes it out of the running as a true noir. A fun film.
Naked Youth: Another teen exploitation film with decidedly noirish overtones. A 1959 teen-noir hybrid, I guess you could call it. It's film noir insofar as the plot involves drug smuggling, murder and a couple of the run. In fact, it's mostly a police procedural. It deviates into the teen exploitation genre when, at one point in the film, switchblades get flashed even though one of the combatants, an older and hard-boiled murderer, is armed with a gun! The producers must have come up with an equation like, teens + switchblades + crime = teen interest film = novelty = box office, despite the logic of a handgun being a superior weapon. These early teen problem films are always interesting from a film noir point of view. I suppose that the producers, wanting to make a film about juvenile deliquency, naturally have to introduce crime into the plot. But the recognizable cinematic vernacular for crime movies at the time was film noir, even though noir was trending out. So it stands to reason that the end result is a curious mixture of noir themes and settings with teenagers (most of whom look suspiciously older to modern eyes). Substituting dark alleys in low key lit streets for the brightly-lit halls of a high school seems to be another feature of the hybrid.
The Queen of Spades: A wonderful British horror/suspense film set in St. Petersburg, Russia, in the early 1800's. A macabre costume drama done up in the full noir style, it reminded me of the John Alton lensed "Reign of Terror," from the same year (1949). An excellent production from the initial clever handbill-styled titles to the final shots of a broken man being led away by his enemy. I know it's a cliche, but, "They just don't make 'em like this anymore!"
Man in the Attic: An update of the Jack the Ripper story "The Lodger," but not a very good one. The main problem is that it doesn't generate or sustain much suspense. The young Jack Palance, as always, looks sinister, but it seems there's too much effort on the part of the filmmaker to try to cast doubt upon his being the murderer. When it's finally shown that he is indeed the Ripper one feels that the whole thing was merely a sort of cinematic exercise in creating doubt and red herrings. Some of the dank London nighttime street photography is nice and noirish, but on the whole this film doesn't deliver. Come to think of it, the lame Parisian review dance sequences, Frances Bavier ("Aunt Bee" on the Andy Griffith show) as a meddlesome old woman and the indefinite ending didn't help, either.
When a Stranger Calls: The film with a famous scene: "Ma'am, we've traced the calls from inside your house! Get out, now!" This suggests a horror film, but this isn't really a horror film. The extended middle manhunt section makes it far more noir than horror. Okay - maybe it's an early mad slasher film without any obvious slashing. Anyway, no matter what it is, it's better than I was led to believe it was.
Hard-Boiled Mahoney: A Bowery Boys/Noir hybrid of sorts. I was alerted to it in some noir reading; I forget where. They don't make comedies like this anymore - thank goodness.
The Band Wagon: Why would I watch a garishly Technicolor MGM Fred Astaire musical for noir content? Because it's in there. I read about this film in a translation of Borde and Chaumeton's 1955 work Panorama du Film Noir Americain (the Book of Genesis of film noir criticism). In it the authors state that the concluding eleven minute jazz ballet "Girl Hunt" is about as perfectly representative of the style as anything ever filmed, and I have to agree. Just about every noir feature is there: a narrative, the city at night in the opening, the hard-boiled private eye, a dangerous blonde, a double-cross, gunfire, beatings, black-outs, a convoluted plot, etc. What really surprised me, however, was that it also seemed to be a forerunner of the urban street dancing made famous in West Side Story. Maybe Jerome Robbins was influenced by Girl Hunt. Anyway, while I didn't care for the movie as a whole, I certainly liked the Girl Hunt sequence. Stunning.
The Spiral Staircase: Once again, not a film I would seek out for noir content, but it is mentioned in Borde and Chaumeton's work. Some familiar names are associated with it: Siodmak, Musuraca, Schary - and it does have its noirish moments. I liked the frenzied eye peering out at victims. A decent thriller.
Across the Bridge: A curiosity in that it's a 1957 Brit-noir set in Mexico, with a dog that appears as a sort of major character! Rod Steiger didn't chew up as much scenery in this as he normally does, but I still had a hard time taking it seriously.
The Clouded Yellow: An entertaining Brit film from 1951 in the style of a Hitchcock thriller, with some impressive noir touches. Would fall into the "couple on the run" subgenre of noir. The main thing keeping this film from being a fully-fledged noir, however, is its upbeat, good-natured, non-fatalistic tone. (Also, the title - referring to a butterfly - doesn't seem to fall into the same league as "Kiss the Blood Off my Hands," does it?)
Sanctuary: An excellent and underappreciated film from 1961. It's sort of a rural-noir companion piece with Andy Griffith's "A Face in the Crowd." Even Southern hicks can't escape film noir! I was especially struck by the screenwriting, which I thought was hard-hitting and yet within the restraints of 50's/early 60's filmmaking. Why show sex and violence explicitly when you can suggest it so well and require the audience to use its imagination? At one point Lee Remick's father asks if she left the evil crook Candy (Ives Montand) after he resurfaced in her life, and she says, "Yes. The next morning." It just doesn't get any better or more succinct than that. Also excellent was the black folk singer Odetta... a stand out performance, I thought. Perhaps the best by a black performer in all of noir. The only contender I can think of is Harry Belafonte in "Odds Against Tomorrow." Her card-reading gave this movie the necessary noir fatalistic kick. The last shot was great - the white woman walks away free and the black woman is shown framed in the prison window awaiting execution. A powerful film all around. It makes me wonder what its reception was like in the 1961 South - and why it kind of disappeared from view. I also liked Alex North's bluesy incedental music. But is it noir? Almost, borderline, I guess. Some of the elements are there: fatalism, a central crime (two, actually, rape and murder), a morally ambiguous protagonist, an homme fatale. The only thing I would have liked to see done differently is to get an indication that Lee Remick's character was wracked with guilt at the end. Sure, there's a redemption at the end - but I would have liked to have seen her suffer a bit more. (But then... why? After all, she started out as a victim. There are a lot of morally puzzling angles to this film...) Anyway, an excellent film. It should be better known than it is.
She Shoulda Said No!: I think I've discovered an exploitation/noir hybrid from 1949: "She Shoulda Said No!" This film starts out very much like "Reefer Madness," the usual corny exploitation thing. A blonde gets addicted to pot and then is shown what her end is likely to be (imprisonment, madness and death) - all the while keeping a tough-as-nails look on her puss. (Convincing acting on the part of Lila Leeds. The fact that she had been busted with Robert Mitchum for pot in real life probably added to the realism!) You think she's become hardened - and then it's revealed she's really working for the cops in a very noirish last part that looks just like a police procedural (which, technically, it is). The film turns sappy again at the end, as a warning is scrolled down the screen, extolling viewers to educate their children about the dangers of "marihuana (sometimes spelled marijuana)." Sure, this film has some really corny moments - but mid-way it morphs into a fairly respectable noir! There are some deaths in it so there is a crime element in addition to the drug use. Not necessarily recommended - unless you make a habit of viewing these kinds of productions in an effort to understand what life was like in mid-century America. (An historical spin-off of an interest in film noir.)
The Sweet Hereafter: This film is a combination of the Pied Piper of Hamlin and Twin Peaks, if you can imagine such a thing. I'm not certain a movie such as this, which has at its core themes of loss and grief, can properly be called film noir, but it is certainly somber and dark. The setting, a remote town in Canada, and the small-town characters who harbor deep secrets suggest that genre, however, insofar as the works of David Lynch are considered. An interesting film in that it causes the viewer to wonder about motives and look for allusions. Like "Memento," it's a thinking person's film. I liked it because I believe that there is significant psychological meaning under the surface of common fairy tales and nursery rhymes. (I became more convinced that this is the case when I read Robert Bly's "Iron John.") The Sweet Hereafter has an artful incest scene that gave me the same sort of creepy feeling I got when viewing the revelatory slapping scene in "Chinatown." And like some films noir, it has a non-linear timeline. It also has a sort of narrative: a young girl reading Browning's Pied Piper. This film causes me to look at the story of the Pied Piper, heretofore an innocent subject fit only for small children, in a completely different way. Highly recommended.
Elektra: This excellent 1962 Greek film production of the Euripides play "Elektra" stars Irene Papas, an actress who was very well cast in the role. Her face effectively conveyed the pain, bitterness, anger and hate that is so involved with this character. The cinematography was a stark black and white. Not what we'd call low-key noir stuff, but effective. Why do I mention it? No, I'm not going to make a claim that Elektra is film noir - but it did remind me of some noir elements and films. Elektra is a femme fatale, instigating a regicide and a matricide. But instead of using sexual attractiveness to advance her plans (indeed, she can't - in anger over an arranged marriage she cuts her hair to make herself less attractive) she uses her hate. It reminded me of Mr. Brown's (Richard Conte) comments to his boxer in "The Big Combo." The boxer just lost his match, and after a discussion of why those who can use hate get ahead, Mr. Brown says, "I can't use you. You haven't got the hate." Elektra has ample hate. The overall theme which drives the plot of Elektra isn't very different from "The Big Heat," "Underworld U.S.A." or "Point Blank": revenge. And the emotional tone of the film, while sometimes punctuated by flashes of hate, is one of sadness. In fact, there is a crowd of women who accompany Elektra in a sort of perpetual state of mourning. They also serve as a chorus. The scenes showing the young Elektra also reminded me of the first fifteen minutes or so of "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers." Not only are the child actors in both films interesting to watch, but they set up the action for the remainder of their respective films so well. Finally, the closing scene showing Elektra and her brother Orestis walking away from one another, after realizing that their actions have condemned them, reminded me of the same kind of ending in "Scarlet Street," where a haunted and unredeemed Edward G. Robinson prowls the city streets like a ghost. A bitter set of circumstances which separated them leads to a bitter life, a very brief joyful reunion - and then a bitter leave-taking. I have always seen noirish elements in Shakespeare (indeed, Welles' production of Othello works well with a noirish cinematography) but this is the first time I have seen parallels between classical Greek art and film noir.
Z: I rented this one because I was so impressed with Elektra and Irene Papas. I'm not sure, but this film may have been an early example of a genre popular today, the political thriller. It is equal parts political pamphleteering and film noir. It started off slowly and rather uninterestingly and built into a fascinating conclusion. What makes it memorable is the sting at the end, which is surprisingly historical. (Surprising because one is led to believe that the "good guys" win in the end.) Also, the meaning of the film's title is explained - which is something I was wondering about! A truly remarkable film.
Night Must Fall: A mannered thriller in the British style very much like an Alfred Hitchcock work of the era (1937). What makes it more noirish than the ordinary crime drama or mystery is the element of the repressed young woman becoming attracted to the live-in murderer. She strongly suspects he killed and beheaded his victim, but she cannot keep from returning to be around him. This psychological nuance is singular for a late Thirties production, I think. There are also excellent British actors in this that make it worth viewing - my favorite of whom is Kathleen Harrison, who played Scrooge's housekeeper in the Alastair Sim production. This film runs somewhat long for my taste, and could have been edited somewhat.
Don't Bother to Knock: A film which features Richard Widmark and Marilyn Monroe as a mentally-deranged babysitter from hell is certainly worth consideration! Mildly noirish but entertaining. An early indication that Monroe had real acting talent.
Shadows and Fog: An homage of German Expressionism, this was my first Woody Allen film - and probably my last. Not funny enough to be a comedy, not dramatic or suspenseful enough to be a drama or suspense. The only thing this film had going for it was cinematography, which was an appropriately-lit black and white in the grand old style.
That Obscure Object of Desire : Not a noir, but an examination of the femme fatale. I thought it was pointless. Okay, I have a minor in English Lit and understand allegories, metaphors and symbolic meaning. I can interpret the two different women as being symbolic aspects of the same desired woman (even though this threw me at first - "Hey! Isn't this a different actress?") One is chaste, the other promiscuous. Fine. I even got the symbolism of the mouse in a trap ("A-ha! I got her!") the fly in the drink (stuck or swimming around in circles) and the guy walking by with the bag ("I bagged her"). Or the symbolic entrapment of reaching for the woman from behind bars - the man is jailed by his own desires. But what's the point of: 1. Those pesky terrorists? 2. The bag motif ("Women are a bag of excrement!")? 3. The dwarf psychiatrist? 4. The "They Got Blowed Up Good" ending? 5. The whole film? On the whole, I found this a rather unimpressive work.
Carnival Story: Wow - it's in AgfaColor! Wasn't expecting that, looking at the video box. Features Anne "Moses, Moses, Moses, you stubborn, handsome fool" Baxter. Did I like it? Not especially. Steve Cochran plays a greasy-haired schmoe with chest hair billowing up from his open collar. Baxter plays a slatternly Kraut. My primary interest is in deciding whether or not this film is a film noir. I think not. 1. That AgfaColor gets in the way. 2. There really is no femme fatale or homme fatale is a pure sense. (Cochran doesn't count.) 3. Not precisely urban or rural (like Moonrise). But what really causes me to cast a vote in the negative is the absence of a fatalistic or destiny-laden storyline. Look at Nightmare Alley: A carny story that begins with a dramatic forecast of a geek's role. You just know that somehow, no matter how high Tyrone Power gets, he's gonna be a geek by the film's end. That sense of destiny and the futility of trying to raise oneself is missing from Carnival Story. (In fact, CS is a rags to riches tale.) So, I think it's a drama, not noir.
Mr. Ace: Like me, you may stumble across the video of "Mr. Ace" (1946) starring George Raft and Sylvia Sidney, read the notes on the back, see the words "corrupt politicians, racketeering, etc." and think, "Hey, this might be a film noir" and rent it. Don't do this. There are a couple of moments when the cinematography looks promising, but nothing comes of it. (It reminded me of the scene in "The Mystery Men," where the fledgling super group are holding interviews for potential members. One fellow, muscular and dark approaches, and the heroes are clearly interested - then he flings open his black cape, shows he is wearing a pink tutu and announces, "I am Ballerina Man!" Same kind of letdown in this film.) I am now convinced that George Raft couldn't act his way out of a paper sack. I think he has one facial expression all though this film, and it ain't much to look at. This film seems to have as a premise, "Should a beautiful woman run for governor?" (Assuming Sylvia Sidney was beautiful in 1946, which she wasn't.) This film is badly dated and - I don't normally complain about this - sexist. It has some of the worst, most intrusive and constant incidental music I have ever heard. At one point there's a political discussion going on between Raft and Sidney with dialog that is supposed to be meaningful. And yet, the sound of gypsy violins dominates. Gak. Raft's motivations in this make no sense at all. I can't go on. This sucked.
Club Havana: This is an Edgar Ulmer cheapie with - but not starring - Tom Neal. It's mostly about the lives and loves of club-goers, with some boring South American/Cuban music performances. (What IS it with South America in those 40's films? They must have had a real tourist boom in those days...) It gets off to a slow start and sort of keeps that pace. Still, the sets are much nicer than the ones in "Detour," and there are a couple of highlights: 1.) A scene where an older roué gets propositioned for marriage by a very savvy and experienced wealthy older gal - this happens in front of her three bespectacled kids. When he agrees, she turns and says to the kids, "That's the way Mama does it!" 2.) A woman gets plugged in the forehead from a gunman while attempting to ram him in her car outside the club. (That's pretty noirish, isn't it?) The fellow who caused the death is reprimanded by a cop, and he then perkily says, "Well, I've learned my lesson!" (Gee! Now what are we gonna do with that bleeding corpse slumped in the front seat of the bulbous black sedan with the cracked windshield?) Sheesh. Anyway, this really wasn't a noir, but noirish. And probably not worth watching.
Ossessione: Based on references in various film noir books I rented this Luchino Visconti 1943 film; an adaptation of Cain's "the Postman Always Rings Twice," with a distinctly Italian twist. (I can't believe the opera try-outs were in the original book!). It was banned by Mussolini! I enjoyed it, but it dragged towards the end. My wife pointed out that the male lead, Massimo Girotti, is not just handsome, but handsome in a modern way. He looks like a contemporary film star. Apparently the film noir light-and-shadow cinematography style didn't make it to Italy by 1942/1943, if the noir book material did.
A Kiss Before Dying: Joanne Woodward looked and acted a lot like Gaby Rodgers! This could be noir, except it's in raging color and there just doesn't seem to be a sense of inevitable fatality or "The Big ." Know what I mean? However, it's about as noirish as Niagrara, which is called noir... Anyway, I liked it. Robert Wagner is a smooth, murderous young man. And the film starting out with the announcement of an unexpected pregnancy must have seemed pretty daring in 1956. But the wide screen photography, as reproduced on my TV, was pretty annoying. I'd hear voices, but didn't see the face.
Shack Out on 101: Stars Lee Marvin as a short-order cook nicknamed "Slob" ("Slob's got an eight cylinder body and a 2 cylinder mind"), Frank Lovejoy and a 50's blonde named Terry More, who portrays a bimbo seeking to elevate her station in life by passing the exacting tests required for civil service with the United States government. I was hoping that the "shack out" was referring to an illicit relationship of some kind leading to murder, but no. IMDB trivia asserts that the title was supposed to be "Shack Up on 101", but star Terry More objected on the grounds that it was too suggestive. The shack in question is Wynn's little eatery on the beach. Slob is stealing atomic secrets to the Soviets! (That traitorous bastard!) Really corny, this has the most preposterous bodybuilding/weightlifting scene committed to film, with Keenan Wynn ("Don't call 'em muscles - they're PECS!") and Marvin. It's almost noir in places - some of the interior shots at night have the right look - but the main problem with giving this movie the coveted noir designation is the frequent dorky attempts at humor. (Especially Keenan Wynn clopping around in flippers.)
Dementia: If Detour was a noir nightmare, this film is the logical extension of that idea into the horror genre. The chase scene through Venice, California is as well-photographed as anything I've seen in noir (by Ed Wood's photographer, yet), and the femme fatale in this one is a doozy - in a gruesome, weirdly-photographed sequence she cuts a guy's hand off with a switchblade! The unrealness of this film is highlighted by the opening sequence - the usual noir city at night - but this time it's animated. And there's no dialogue - unless you happen to be watching the variant movie titled "Daughter of Horror," narrated by Ed McMahon! A bizarre and compelling movie.
No Way Out: First of all, great noir title. One of my favorite noir stars, Richard Widmark, is brilliant as a vile, n-word-spouting racist. (In fact, calling him "vile" doesn't do justice to the character. ) The scenes building up to and including the race riot are oddly reminiscent of the rumble sequence in "West Side Story" - except these are adults. Linda Darnell is great to watch and listen to... except I wonder about her makeup, which looks oddly out of place. Her eyebrows are plucked in a Thirties fashion, and this film is set in 1950. What gives? Sidney Poitier's first role and a good one - he has real presence in this, especially considering that he was only 22. Also, I liked the fact that this film not only included black prejudice in addition to white, but threw in some text about socio-economic resentments as well. Finally, the concluding scene, where a wounded Poitier is using a handgun to torque a tourniquet on a wounded Widmark's leg (which one suspects he's going to lose), has real impact. A terrific film all around.
When Gangland Strikes: A guilty favorite. This is the most light-hearted, good-natured, folksy, aw-shucks, Ma-and-Pa-Kettle-Meet-Film-Noir I have ever seen (assuming any critic who values his film school diploma will call it a film noir). To top it all, it features Slim Pickens (Slim Pickens!) as a comic relief. He and two other rather comical folks are all chuckling and laughing in the final scene in the manner of a 1950's teleplay. But... there's a rather shocking shooting of a hapless and comical-looking bowler at the beginning (with a big bloodstain in his back you don't normally see in a period noir), and a rather surprising murder about three-quarters of the way through - so I'll call it film noir if nobody else will. Anyway, I found myself getting interested in the plot and characters... and I actually liked this film. I think it has cult appeal. So there.
On the Waterfront: Universally critically acclaimed - but not necessarily as film noir. I read in some article on the subject that in noirs with non-tragic endings, the best that can be achieved is that the worst hasn't happened, which describes this film. I like the stark New Jersey sites and powerful acting. What else can I say?
The Getaway: Okay, here's a neat little test. This film features an exciting heist (like Asphalt Jungle). It has a man and a woman on the run (like Gun Crazy). Being a Sam Peckinpah film, it is violent and hard-hitting (like Brute Force). There are double-crosses aplenty in the fine noir tradition. There's even a corrupt politician. The lead character, a ex-con portrayed by Steve McQueen, is morally ambiguous and tortured by his wife's unfaithfulness; the fact that he initially approved of it as a condition to get sprung from jail only complicates things emotionally. So is it a film noir? No. Why not? Aside from the bright color cinematography, it's because of the cheery conclusion and escape made possible by Slim Pickens, a traditional Hollywood comedy relief. This film has occasional dark moments, but these are obliterated by the sunny conclusion - a conclusion not a part of the source material. (A book by Jim Thompson. Steve McQueen objected to the dark, nightmarish climax and insisted on a rewrite.) Film noir is mostly about mood, not material. And this could have been a great neo-noir instead of an entertaining action flick. (One suggested improvement: When Sally Struthers begins noisily whining in that fashion so characteristic of her, I would have liked to have seen some boiling hot coffee get flung into her face, as in The Big Heat.)
Gangs, Inc.: A 67 minute PRC low budget production from 1941, with Alan Ladd in a supporting role a year before his breakthrough noir "This Gun for Hire." An interesting film for a number of reasons: 1) Made in 1941, it could be called an early noir in that some of the elements are in place - especially in the political influence the syndicate has on a puppet mayor. There is an alleyway murder scene that uses the usual lighting and shadows. 2.) The main character - Joan Woodbury - gets a raw deal, spends some time in prison, gets out and becomes a highly effective and motivated "girl bandit," power broken and gang leader. This is unusual for a 40's film, and would probably interest Women's Studies professors. Her character is a bit like Laurie's in "Gun Crazy." 3.) Joan Woodbury, with her dark, Balkan appearance, looks a lot like Vampira! Her manner during the course of the film goes from innocent and sweet to vengeful and calculating to regretful and repentant. A much better acting job than one would expect to find in a PRC production. 4.) This film opens dramatically with the murder of a gangland informer in front of his young daughter (Woodbury's character).
Dillinger: Film noir bad boy Lawrence Tierney's first role; he plays a murderous thug well. He seems to have specialized in a thin-lipped, squint-eyed look that presaged violence of some kind. (As he got into trouble with the law pretty often in real life, perhaps he wasn't acting.) Otherwise, at only seventy minutes, this is a minor film.
Crime of Passion: An indication that not all was well in Suburbia during the Fifties - obsession and murder also took up residence along with ugly wall art and chrome dinette sets. Barbara Stanwyck, Sterling Hayden and Raymond Burr, all film noir stalwarts, give good performances. The only thing missing in this film is a grotesque character actor, a jarring camera angle or some weird lighting to give it that noirish kick over the top.
The Spanish Prisoner: An excellent David Mamet production about the con. Stars Steve Martin in a non-comedic role.
I, Mobster: Pretty much a routine mobster movie; all the gimmicks are present. Only mildly noir. What gives it the added Roger Corman sensationalistic edge is a scene with Lili St. Cyr (whom I vaguely remember in conjunction with ladies underwear ads in the 60's) doing an onstage striptease and bubblebath. You don't see that sort in thing in noir very often.
Inner Sanctum: This film is only 50 minutes long, and, watching it, I had it figured as another one of those aw-shucks rural noirs, with Roscoe Ates as comic relief. It's something like "When Gangland Strikes," a guilty pleasure of mine. The final metaphysical scene however (a psychic predicts the action of the preceding film, and then sees it begin again), gives the film an entirely different slant as well as a recursive plot. The relationship between the boy who witnesses the murder and the murderer makes me fidget a little; it's too close for comfort. An odd film.
Strange Illusion: An enjoyable little thriller that gets off to a slow start but manages to generate interest; it reminded me of a Nancy Drew mystery in its mannered approach. Four things make it a film noir: 1.) Direction by Edgar "Detour" Ulmer, 2.) A psycho/metaphysical dream sequence, 3.) The film is an adaptation of Hamlet - which is about as noir as Shakespeare got, 4.) The suave, be-moustached suitor has a thing for underage girls (like Asphalt Jungle's Doc Riedenschneider).
A Double Life: An okay film, not a great one. Ronald Colman won an Oscar for this performance as an obsessed actor turned murderer, which is certainly something other than the weary, elegant man he normally seems to play - but I feel this one only flirts with true noir. Frankly, I find the idea of an actor being taken over by his role improbable and overly navel-gazing on the part of Hollywood. Come on, has this ever really happened?
Among the Living: This film starts slow, but gets moving when Susan Hayward - who could always light up a film - makes her appearance. More a Southern Gothic than a noir, but not a bad way to spend 67 minutes.
Lured: A delightful Brit-noir with an excellent cast, including Lucille Ball and Boris Karloff! An effective vehicle for Lucy - she should have done more drama in the 40's. An inversion of the usual killer-stalking-a-woman in that Lucy is going after the killer. A lot of fun to watch. In a way, it's too bad she wound up on TV with Desi - she could have introduced an entirely new slant to the urban crime cycle: comedic noir.
Strange Impersonation: Short and well-acted, with an engaging script and a trick ending (that I'm not convinced works). An odd little film, but an enjoyable one.
Make Haste to Live: I was impressed with this film because it seemed adult and plausible. In other words, life seems to happen the way this movie's story moves along. There wasn't a silly scene in it, and the screenplay was interestingly subtle in places. Good suspense in the opening stalker sequence. The only quibble I have is with the uncertain psychology in way the female lead deals with her returned gangster husband: at times she's resourceful and determined to protect her daughter, at other times helpless. But, I suppose, that's realistic. (Or good drama... uncertainty drives the action in "Hamlet.")
Bullitt: A silly film. Mildly noirish due to the obsession of the lead character, a seemingly wordless Steve McQueen with a severely restricted range of facial gestures. Okay, maybe it's not noir at all. I admit: I rented it because I've spent thirty years hearing about how great the chase scene was. What a disappointment. The truly notable thing was how that little green VW wound up in so many of the shots. Didn't this occur to anyone during editing? For me, 1967's "Point Blank" was how to do crime drama right. 1968's "Bullitt" is how to do it wrong.
Jigsaw: The only point of interest here are the odd cameos by Marlene Dietrich, John Garfield, Burgess Meredith and Jimmy Stewart. How they were talked into this ordinary tale is another matter. Some good noir cinematography, but that's it. Has an odd racial intolerance theme that is never quite worked out.
Bluebeard: Claimed to be a sort of period piece film noir by critics. In Detour and Strange Illusion Edgar Ulmer was able to turn an unpromising film premise and a low budget into something interesting - and he nearly makes it in this one. While the acting of John Carradine and the inclusion of puppetry are interesting, this film drags. In fact, I fell asleep at one point. Too bad... I had high hopes and a natural interest in the source material, being a fan of the Bartok Bluebeard opera.
A Bullet for Joey: Edward G. Robinson almost redeems this one, but George Raft's bad acting makes it below par. Unique, it that it takes place in Canada.