Friday, March 31, 2017
This is likely the fourth time I've watched Tension, the 1949 pulp-tastic noir I was first introduced to by JSwift during a trip to SF a few years back. It aired this last Sunday during Turner Classic Movies' new segment, Noir Alley, hosted by Eddie Muller.*
Muller does what he does so well - introduce the movie, give some history and context and talk about the players in unpolished terms. This screening included an appreciation of co-star Audrey Totter, whom we at The Signal Watch think is absolutely tops, and a closer discussing the complicated life of director John Berry.
In addition to Totter, the movie also stars Richard Basehart, William Conrad, Lloyd Gough, Barry Sullivan - and, oddly, Cyd Charisse in a role where there is not a single step of dance. I mean, she's terrific - she's got some straight acting ability, but it's an odd fit for someone who appeared in roles with not a single line but a lot of dancing. That's sort of her deal.
It's a bit of a small-scale production, a tight cast working with a rat-a-tat script by Alan Rivkin, and good, twisty fun with some severely dated bits that don't seem aware they've inverted the Superman paradigm.
Monday, March 20, 2017
I remember trying to watch They Live By Night (1948) a decade or more ago when I was still narrowly defining "noir" as folks in hats in urban settings with tough-talking dames. Truthfully, I didn't get it. I made it about 40 minutes in and then threw in the towel.
But along the way, I've heard They Live By Night referred to so often, I began to feel downright guilty I'd never finished the movie. Maybe it's been in context of the career of Nicholas Ray, or a post WWII film that was reflective of the Depression-era storytelling that was still happening in the first years after the war. It's never given a top-billing-of-noir placement, but when writers who know noir start talking, eventually this movie gets a mention. And, as it turns out, deservedly so.
Three convicts escape from prison and hole up with the brother of one of the convicts. The youngest convict, Bowie - in for killing a man - seems to just want to get away, even as his colleagues want him as the third man necessary for committing bank heists. Bowie meets Keetchie, the daughter of the guy they're hiding out with, and they begin to fall for one another.
After the three convicts pull another heist, Bowie and Keetchie go on the lam together, splitting off for the other two. And, of course, things get complicated as the two bounce across the middle of America trying to keep ahead of both criminals and the law.
In many ways, They Live By Night is ground zero for the films that would come after it. Bonnie and Clyde. Badlands. Hell, even Gun Crazy is a funhouse mirror version of this movie in which morals are turned upside down.
Farley Granger who plays Bowie would also appear most famously in Hitchcock's Rope and Strangers on a Train. And you can see why Ray wanted him in the film. He's got a certain innocence and you can believe he really does want to do what's right if he had the slightest clue what that looked like. And, just as much, you can believe that Keetchie is the best thing that ever happened to him - maybe the only good thing. Keetchie is played by Cathy O'Donnell, who had previously appeared in The Best Years of Our Lives (an amazing post-war film), and would later appear in Ben-Hur.
Because the story has been copied over and over in many forms since, there's something weirdly modern but all-too-familiar about the movie. It's noir, so one can expect that things won't end well for the players involved, who can't make the right moves at the right times as forces bigger than them work against them.
Even the roadside wedding chapel bit reappears in a number of noir films - a sign of hope and purity made a little cheap and tawdry, something compromised about what's supposed to be a grand occasion.
Visually, the film has a few components that make it stand out, not the least of which is helicopter-mounted camera shots already in 1948, following cars blasting through prairies and dirt roads of rural America.
They Live By Night is a movie well worth checking out and I much more get how it fits in with the genre, especially in the non-urban branch of the genre, the hidden back alleys just off Main Street USA.
Sunday, February 12, 2017
As mentioned, I'm listening a bit to the You Must Remember This podcast during my commute, and moved on to a 6 episode run on Joan Crawford. One of the topics covered toward the end of the series is how much of an impact Mommie Dearest (starring Faye Dunaway as a cartoonish Crawford) had on the popular conception of Joan Crawford, surpassing the image the actress had worked tirelessly for decades to make herself a star and retain her star status for decades past those of her contemporaries.
Humoresque (1946) should probably be thought of as a John Garfield picture, first and foremost. He's certainly got the most screentime and the longest character arc. The actions of the other characters in the film are focused upon what focused on their relationship to Garfield.
He plays Paul Boray, a violinist who rose from working-class roots in the streets of New York to become a national sensation within the high-class world of classical performance. The film is a melodrama, no doubt, and an examination of a man of extraordinary talent and passion and the women in his life, including the girl-next-door, his mother and the wealthy society woman who elevates him from nothing to star status, but who carries an incredible amount of baggage.
Thursday, February 9, 2017
Sunday, February 5, 2017
Before all of you get excited, I did not watch the Patrick Swayze movie of the same name. So settle the hell down.
Instead, I spent part of my Saturday watching the Ida Lupino starring noir, Road House (1948). And, coincidentally, I finished the movie, looked at facebook and the Film Noir Foundation informed me that it was Lupino's birthday. So, happy birthday, Ida.
I'd heard some good things about Road House, and I'm becoming a bit of a fan of Lupino. Add in that the cast included Richard Widmark in crazy-villain mode, and it was one of my two rentals from Vulcan Video on Friday night.
Monday, January 23, 2017
Tuesday, December 20, 2016
I've seen Miracle on 34th Street (1947) probably a dozen times, so it seems unlikely I haven't written it up before. If you've never watched it, or the 1990's version, you should know that the 1990's version is mostly a treacly, charmless exercise in unearned sentimentality. Which is weird, because the cast is pretty good, so you have to just dislike the changes to the story and the bland direction.
Sunday, December 11, 2016
We were asked to review Cry of the City (1948) by NathanC over at Texas Public Radio.
Click on over there and read my review and Nathan's review of Boomerang (which I've never seen, but now I want to). A thousand thank-you's to Nathan. I had a great time watching the film (which I really, really liked. But I also think Mature and Conte are Mitchum cool.), and it was a great pleasure getting to contribute to TPR.org.
I'll post a draft of the review here in the future, but for now, please do click over to TPR.org
Sunday, December 4, 2016
No lie, Jimmy Stewart is one of my favorite actors of all time. I've thought the guy was brilliant since high school when I caught Harvey on VHS. The Shop Around the Corner (1940) is a bit of pre-war brilliance on Stewart's part, working from a pretty great script under a renowned director and with an excellent cast working as a team.
It's true the movie is steeped in social constructs of the early 20th Century, and so may be dated in too many ways for many viewers, but I tend to think the conflicts and humor of the movie transcends those qualities. It's not a sweeping, amazing movie, but it is a good movie for putting on during the Yuletide Season for you and your sweet woogums.
Saturday, November 26, 2016
I forgot to write this one up when we watched it a while back. It happens.
For a long time I thought the first MST3K episode I'd ever seen was Bride of the Monster, the Bela Lugosi-starring picture by Ed Wood with Lugosi playing a mad scientist living in a spooky old house with a slow-witted assistant and pursued by an eager girl reporter out to prove her mettle. But I actually remembered one of the jokes from the first time I saw MST3K, and as I've subsequently watched Bride of the Monster more than once, I've realized: nope, that joke wasn't used with that film.
So, I have very particular memories of the day I first saw MST3K which helped me track down the correct episode.
Sunday, October 30, 2016
It's been years since I've seen it, but once upon a time, I loved the 1940 movie Rebecca. And, yes, should my ship come in, I am absolutely naming my expansive estate "Manderley". I expect to be very unhappy there and hire extremely creepy staff.
The Uninvited (1944) is not Rebecca, but it feels very much of the same mindset and era, like someone took the basic work and pitched it up in some places, toned it down in others and added some layers of complexity while removing some of the scale. Also - ghosts.
That doesn't mean I didn't like The Uninvited, but it's hard not to see some parallels between stories of lovely seaside houses and the mysteries they hold about their former mistresses. A good PG-sort of fright fest, The Uninvited has genuinely creepy moments and does a pretty good deal on a World War II era budget and with the limited casting options.
Saturday, October 29, 2016
TCM was on a Universal Monsters sprint last night, and after the frighteningly monstrous loss by the Cubs in Game 3 of the World Series, I needed to chillax for a bit with some creepy mayhem. I watched the last twenty minutes of The Invisible Man (a movie I always give short shrift. It's really good.), and then moved into The Wolf Man (1941).
The Wolf Man is a movie of highs and lows. It sets up a great mythology from whole cloth and the modern-age denial of werewolfism as the result of some psychic shock suffered by our tortured protagonist. Of course all of these things are beats every werewolf movie since has imitated. It contains Claude Rains and Bela Lugosi - even a young Ralph Bellamy. I'm in the camp that likes the monster make-up, but the Wolf Man scenes are better in concept than execution, never really feeling like much more than a large guy manhandling people instead of a monster rending them apart.
It's kind of strange that Universal's 2010 go at rebooting this franchise was such a mess, because - this is a very simple movie. Seems like it should have gone better than it did (I only really liked the bits in the medical college and then in the streets of London - and that felt more like a Landis-homage than anything to do with this movie).
It's certainly a crucial movie for getting monster movie history, and I still think it's very well realized.
But there's an elephant in the room by name of Lon Chaney Jr. And that elephant isn't much of an actor. I really want to like Chaney Jr., but he's playing on the same screen as Claude Rains. There's just no comparison here, and his character spends most of the movie hitting on an engaged woman (I think I found your real wolf here). I wish the scenes with the Wolf Man felt more full of menace, but no matter how well shot and well-lit those scenes are... man. It looks like a hirsute lumberjack on a bender.
Thursday, September 15, 2016
I believe it was in 1994 or 1995 that our own JAL suggested I was Jean Cocteau's cinematic fever dream Beauty and the Beast (1946), or, as it's French, La Belle et la Bete. I don't know why it took me so long to finally watch it when I've probably watched National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation at least three times during the same interval, but there you go.
Most of my knowledge of the story of the fable of Beauty and the Beast comes from (a) the Disney film I've seen about a dozen times and (b) half-remembered snippets from a unit in my second grade class where Ms. Miles read us fairy tales. But I don't know if I've read any official versions of the story since childhood, I just remembered the "Belle's dad gives Belle a raw deal, something about a magic mirror, and Beast getting very sick because Belle leaves to go back home for a bit". And, of course, that he turns into a handsome prince.
Monday, May 30, 2016
Sometime about twenty years ago I actually read the novel this movie was based on, but all I can remember about it is that there is no literal "Big Clock", and more than there is any literal "Long Good-Bye" or literal "Big Heat" in those respective movies or books. But, hey, not so in the movie adaptation of The Big Clock (1948). This movie practically goes full-Batman in literalization of a rich sociopath's obsession.
The movie definitely qualifies for noir - a mysterious and sultry woman is responsible for the life-altering, seemingly insurmountable situation a man finds himself in - one only partially of his own doing, but one had he been behaving better, he never would have found himself in. But, really, it reminded me in many ways of a Hitchcockian-thriller, and that's no complaint. I enjoy a good Hitchcock movie from time to time.
I just remembered that I'd failed to write up a movie I watched last week, 1949's Criss Cross, starring Burt Lancaster, Yvonne DeCarlo and the always hiss-able Dan Duryea.
The movie seemed to be trying to recapture a bit of the magic of 1946's The Killers, also starring Lancaster, with Ava Gardner as the twisty (and, let's be honest, dangerously sexy) femme fatale. That picture is surely one of the purest examples of what we think of when we think about noir. In Criss Cross, once again Lancaster plays a fellow who can be led astray by a good looking brunette - not stumbling across a mobsters' girl this time, but coming home to Los Angeles, trying to tell himself it's not so he'll see his ex, Anna (the terrific Yvonne DeCarlo), but to settle in and lead a domestic life with his parents and brother. Get his old job back. But before he's even made it in the front door of the family house, he's back at his old haunt, seeing how things have changed.
Sunday, May 29, 2016
The Little Sister (1949) is the fifth Raymond Chandler novel starring Phillip Marlowe, the detective character made most famous in The Big Sleep. Clearly written after Chandler's stint in Hollywood (he would team with Billy Wilder during the writing of Double Indemnity), Marlowe's time in LA finally gets him crosswise with Hollywood machinations and mob ties.
A fairly prissy but possibly pretty young woman with the unlikely name Orfamay Quest from Manhattan, Kansas appears at Marlowe's office. She's seeking her brother, Orrin, who has been in LA for a while, but seems to have disappeared. Taking Midwestern thriftiness to extremes, she hires Marlowe at half-price (also, because Marlowe is bored and has no other clients that day) and it soon becomes clear the touchy Orrin may have been in deep into something shady, and, because it's a Chandler mystery, deadly.
Sunday, May 22, 2016
Due to work-related needs, I only attended the first double-bill of the day the Noir City Austin 2016.
I want to thank the Film Noir Foundation, Alamo Drafthouse Ritz and Austin Film Society for making this year something I wish I had planned for much, much better. Because what I was able to attend was absolutely fantastic, well planned and curated.
And, of course, once again thank Eddie Muller for being such a terrific host and guide through the world of film noir, film history and fantastic historian in his own right. People will be relying on his work for decades to come.
The two films they showed at mid-day were pure film noir, and as had been programmed in the double-bills all series, an A and B picture. I was a big fan of both of these films, neither of which I'd seen before. And that's much of the fun of Noir City. Yesterday I was talking to the guy sitting next to me when he asked if I was a fan of film noir or classic film. And I said "well, yeah, but, honestly, I hate to claim any expertise. I feel like no matter how much I've seen, there's an endless amount of content I haven't seen."
The Dark Corner (1946) is a just-post-war private dick film, starring Mark Stevens as a clear nod to the Philip Marlowe type, a sort of rusted Galahad in a fedora who maybe gets too personally involved in his cases. His Gal Friday is played by a pre-comedienne Lucille Ball, and she's actually sharply witty in this movie, and steals a lot of spotlight from her co-star. But, as I may have mentioned before, I find "sultry Lucy" kind of an odd concept after spending a lifetime thinking of her as Mrs. Ricardo, but there it is.
Saturday, May 21, 2016
I was intending to pace myself during Noir City Austin, but I wound up getting paced by external forces. The gameplan for today was to skip the morning shows, sleep in, walk the dogs, go to movies for a few hours in a row, be home around 10:30 this evening.
So, I made it out for the 3:00 - 6:15 double-bill of Flesh and Fantasy (1943) and Destiny (1944), and Jamie had even come to meet me for the 6:45 show of Scarlet Street, but during Destiny, I started getting an upset stomach - which I think was from just a combo of things I ate - and I was all sweaty and clammy and wasn't sure how I was doing, so we went home and I made her watch Criss-Cross instead.
But, man, the double-bill I did catch was pretty terrific, even if Noir Czar Eddie Muller admitted, it wasn't really noir, but more of a rare opportunity to catch a couple of films that aren't really in release anywhere, and that we were watching new prints from Universal.
Flesh and Fantasy (1943) is a fascinating experiment that feels 85% complete, but learning that the film had studio fingerprints all over it explained a tremendous amount. Essentially three tales hovering between magical realism and pre-Twilight Zone ironic and uncanny, the stories are held together with a studio-created book-ending mechanism of Robert Benchley being read three tales that relate to his current predicament of not being sure whether to believe a dream he had or a gypsy's fortune.
Friday, May 20, 2016
This weekend I'm attending the third Austin Film Noir Fest, or, at least, a good chunk of it. It's going on down at The Alamo Drafthouse Ritz on Austin's famed 6th Street.*
It's gonna be interesting but a bit of a marathon as each showing is a double-bill, and there are three showings on each day Saturday and Sunday.
The whole deal is hosted by Film Noir Foundation founder and President, Eddie Muller, whom you may have seen on TCM last summer, in interviews about the film noir genre, or popping up wherever film noir is found. Muller is a terrific author (from what I've read) - writing scholarly works on the genre. He also works to promote the preservation of film noir, restoring films and uncovering lost movies. And, I really think he and the Film Noir Foundation have been responsible for a resurgence and growth in interest in noir beyond the 10 or so films folks name-drop when it comes to noir classics.
This evening's pictures included noir staple (and a personal favorite of mine), This Gun for Hire (1942) and a far lesser known film, Fly-By-Night (1942). The idea is that each bill is an A and B picture from the same time period in the history of noir, so you can see a growth in the genre's development.
Sunday, April 17, 2016
Movies produced during the height of WWII are always interesting. You certainly get to see who signed up to serve and who stayed stateside. That's no judgment, everyone had reasons they did what they did. Just a couple of weeks back, for the first time I saw the government docs telling my own grandfather he was not going to be signing up as his civilian job was considered vital to the war effort.
So, we get Franchot Tone, not really the biggest star to come out of Hollywood, and hardly a household name in 2016 (he was married to Joan Crawford for several years, so may God have mercy upon his soul). I don't think I know Alan Curtis except for looking familiar enough he must have been in something I saw (ah. High Sierra.). And Ella Raines is both very good in the movie and terribly attractive, so its a bit odd this movie in particular didn't launch her further along.
Noir fans will, of course, delight to see Elisha Cook, Jr. show up in a movie doing anything, and hear he plays a lecherous jazz drummer.