Showing posts with label noir. Show all posts
Showing posts with label noir. Show all posts

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Noir Watch: Pitfall (1948)

I've had this one sitting on the ol' DVR for months now.  It seems I overinundated Jamie with Noir over the summer, so I'm staggering the movies out a bit more so she won't seize the remotes and and hide them from me.

Starring Dick Powell and Lizabeth Scott (and the omnipresent Raymond Burr), Pitfall (1948) is another movie that proves you should just really not have sex with Lizabeth Scott.  It always leads to shenanigans.

Also, this is Film Noir #875 where Raymond Burr plays a total jerk.  How he landed the good-guy role in the American release of Godzilla is just beyond me.

But I have really come to like Dick Powell a lot.  As I was reading Farewell, My Lovely, he's the guy I had in mind as Chandler's Philip Marlowe (Bogart will always be Sam Spade to me, man) thanks to his turn in Murder, My Sweet.  And, of course, I love Cry Danger.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

McQueen Watch: The Getaway (1972)

Full confession time.

I haven't seen that much in the way of Sam Peckinpah.  It's not usually something I think Jamie will like, and as we watch movies together, I haven't seen The Wild Bunch since college.  And, prior to this evening, I'd never seen this movie, but I didn't know it was Peckinpah until the credits rolled.  I just didn't say anything to Jamie because, well, I really wanted to watch this movie.

I also haven't watched all that many Walter Hill movies, and only saw The Warriors sometime in the last 12-24 months.  And I loved it for what it was.

And, of Jim Thompson's work, I've also only read The Killer Inside Me.  And, at that, a long time ago, and I barely remember it.

Still, I'm familiar with all of their work by reputation.  You can't watch and read what I do and not have that stuff enter your sphere a little.

I wanted to watch this because it's one of the three or four "must watch" Steve McQueen movies, and I'd never gotten around to it, and, I'll be honest, I'm totally kicking myself for not having had watched this 20 years ago so I could have re-watched it a bunch by now.  It's a @#$%ing good movie.

Directed by Sam Peckinpah.  Written for the screen by Walter Hill, based on a novel by Jim Thompson.  Shot in Huntsville, San Marcos, San Antonio and other parts of Texas.  Starring Steve McQueen and with a small role by Slim Pickens.

What's not to like?

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

TV Comedy Noir Watch: The Spoils Before Dying (2015)

I am absolutely flabbergasted that the 2014 IFC mini-series The Spoils of Babylon is not more widely discussed.  It had an all-star cast, a distinctive narrative and visual style and did something most comedy utterly fails to do - continue to tell a story that's still sort of interesting as the thing goes along.

The 2015 follow up is The Spoils Before Dying.

Now, follow me here.

Both series are framed by introductions of each episode by author, screenwriter, producer, director Eric Jonrosh.  Jonrosh was the sort of high-literary figure of the 20th century that's since been kind of forgotten as Fifty Shades of Grey has come to define the modern American novel.   Jonrosh also embodies the worst excesses of the brightest minds of the 20th Century and their more, uh, colorful golden years.  And is played by Will Ferrell in a beard, old age make-up and about 150 extra pounds.

this is not actually me, your humble blogger, but I understand the confusion

The Spoils Before Dying is less the sprawling 1970's-era TV mini-series than its predecessor and, in a tale unrelated to the prior series, a noir-jazz-Mickey Spillane mash-up pastiche.  Again, the story itself would probably be fine as a drama, played straight.  I'm not kidding.  It's a tight little murder mystery with Chandler-esque turns and a nice upping of the ante in the final act.

But that's not really so much what they're up to.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Neo-Noir Action Flick Keanu Watch: John Wick (2014)

So, for reasons I completely understand, for some time, Loyal Leaguer RHPT has been on my butt to watch John Wick (2014).  It's a stylish action thriller with a decidedly noirish bent, complete with a guy with an affection for dogs who also happens to be one of the world's foremost assassins.  I guess.  It sure seems that way, because his bodycount in the 48 hour storyline of this movie has to be cresting triple digits and all anyone else gets in, at best, is a hitcount between 0 and 5 kills, and that includes folks who are supposed to be his peers.

The movie begins with John Wick burying his wife, the lady who, of course, was not absolutely horrified to marry a mass-murderer (hey, rich guys who have homes out of Architectural Digest have their appeal).  She's died of an unnamed disease, which did nothing to ravage her good looks as she lays there dead after losing her battle with the disease.  John is bereft, but his wife somehow orders him a puppy from beyond the grave (but cleverly does not order any pet accouterments, but we'll not pick nits - it's poetic) and John sees maybe a spark of life or hope.

However, a Russian thug decides to steal John Wick's car, and, in the process, breaks into John's house and kills his puppy.  Turns out this kid is the son of John's former employer, the most powerful mobster in New York.  So, John must fight his way boss-level style, through New York.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Noir Suspense Watch: Beware, My Lovely (1952)

There's nothing much complicated about Beware, My Lovely (1952).  But it works.

Based on a short story and play by the same person who wrote the screenplay, Mel Dinelli, the movie takes place in 1918 in the wake of WWI.  Ida Lupino plays a war widow who now runs a boarding house (so, don't actually expect to see Lupino's plunging neckline as in the poster, which... tamp it back a bit, poster artist.).  Robert Ryan, an actor who I like more and more with every movie, is a day-laborer she's hired to get some cleaning and work done around her gigantic Queen Anne-style house.

Oh, and he's totally crazy.  Memory lapses and a desire to kill perfectly nice ladies seems to be the overriding set of symptoms of whatever's ailing him.  So, it's more or less a good hour of Lupino realizing this dude is going to kill her and keeping herself alive by managing to stay a step ahead of him and trying to tell her idiotic neighbors that this dude is going to kill her.

It's pure suspense, has a brief running time and Lupino and Ryan, so what's not to like?

It does seem this movie has been made over and over, with a recent example being the Idris Elba/ Taraji Henson film, No Good Deed (2014).  But, you know, it's a pretty primal fear, so it's inherently interesting.  I mean, every time Jamie has to let someone into the house to fix the AC or whatever, I'm always like "oh gosh, what if they do something to my comics?".

Poor, helpless comics.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Crawford Watch: Possessed (1947)

You know, I probably like Joan Crawford more than your average straight dude born in 1975.  Thanks to Faye Dunaway's performance in Mommy Dearest, the Joan Crawford of legend has superseded the Joan Crawford who shows up in her movies.  But watching those movies, you can see why folks decided maybe Joan was a little on the intense side.  And, her personal reputation as one tough lady did nothing to soften that edge (look up her rise within PepsiCo some day.  Absolutely bad-ass.).

To get real, Joan Crawford was a great beauty in the 20's and 30's when she hit Hollywood, and as she aged, maybe some of that slipped on her.  She remained attractive, but there's only so attractive someone can be when anger seems to their default setting, and you can see it set in somewhere in their resting face.  Here's where this boomerangs back - because Joan Crawford said "screw you, I'm still playing the sexy dame in middle-age", and did not just disappear into motherly, unsexed roles - and it kind of flips back on itself that the iron will in there somewhere is attractive all on its own.

Probably the first Joan Crawford movie I saw was Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, which is a crazy movie to start to get to know Crawford.  I love that movie, and she's great in it, but Mildred Pierce, which I saw next, is still my favorite Crawford movie.  She's so damn good in it, and it's such a weirdly excellent movie for a movie about a lady making pies.

It turns out Possessed (1947) is sort of Yin to the Yang that is Mildred Pierce.  And I have new second favorite Joan Crawford movie (move over, Johnny Guitar).  It's not a mother and daughter coming up together in a tough world with lay-abouts for men and fried chicken joints as cash cows.  It's a woman on her own, trying to find love, witha  complicated relationship with her step daughter.  Oh, and she has schizophrenia.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Noir Watch: Conflict (1945)

No one is going to accuse Conflict (1945) of being my new favorite movie.

It played a few weeks ago on TCM's Summer of Darkness, and I recorded it as I always like Sydney Greenstreet, but hadn't seen (or heard of) this movie.

As host Eddie Muller explained prior to the film, the movie disappeared in part because it's not a film in which Bogart plays the hero, even if he is the focal character and, in that way, the protagonist.  But he's a protagonist who has fallen out of love with his, admittedly not-terribly-fun wife and in love with her sister (played by Alexis Smith).

In order to clear the way to the sister, Bogart works out a pretty good plan to murder his wife (I mean, credit where it's due) while everyone believes he's not even ambulatory thanks to a car wreck.  From here, things get messier and messier, despite the fact that the entire movie feels like one long, telegraphed, inevitable conclusion.

Greenstreet actually plays a nice guy, so while I was delighted to see him...  you know, it's not going to be anyone's favorite Sydney Greenstreet performance.

Not exactly a forgettable movie, but one that feels well worn, plot wise, and certainly lacking in tension both due to the inevitable ending and because... really...  like a lot of movies, they sort of missed the whole element of people acting like people.   Though someone's wife and sister is missing, no one grieves, particularly.  No one is inconsolable and out of their minds.  Instead, they take a jaunty trips to the country and go out for nights on the town.   I dunno.  I don't need gnashing of teeth, but it almost seems like everything after the action of this movie and the horror Alexis Smith's character will feel upon learning the motives for her sister's murder, should have been included.

It's so weird that grieving rarely shows up on film in any significant way in so many movies, both then and now.  But especially in a movie shot during a war.

I do like the windy plotting and Bogart is actually very on point in his acting here (he's so much a presence, sometimes I forget the man actually can act).  But, Alexis Smith doesn't do much but look pretty, and everything else just feels like snapped in parts of a build-it-yourself plot and movie.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Noir Watch: Double Indemnity (1944)

I've talked about Double Indemnity (1944) before, but I finally purchased the movie on BluRay thanks to a recent release that had a lot of participation from TCM and a short doc with Eddie Muller, James Ellroy and others all talking about the film.  And, it cost less than what it would have cost to go to the theater to see the movie when Fathom Events played it when I was in Chicago and couldn't go.

As the commentary on the BluRay sort of barks at you, Double Indemnity set the standard for noir, a form I think of as really cementing maybe 3-5 years later.  The form has its origins in both pulp magazines and adaptations of those stories on the big screen like The Maltese Falcon from 1941, but in comparison to even the crime movies of the 1930's and pre-Hays Code, it's just... different.  Just as comics had to adapt with the Comics Code Authority in place, and that took them down whole new avenues, I tend to think of a lot of the subtlety of noir stemming from the constrictions of the Hays Code era trying to make sense of post-Depression/ post-WWII life.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: Flashfire (a Parker Novel)

As much as the folks write the introductions in these books want to say otherwise, when Stark came back to Parker after decades of being away, it's pretty clear his worldview had changed a bit, what he could and wanted to do in a heist book had altered.  But, you know, you're talking about the 15th or so book of the Parker series, and, if you include the 4 Grofield novels, this is the 19th written under the nom de plume of Richard Stark rather than Donald Westlake.

It's an oddly silly Parker novel, a pretty far cry from The Seventh or The Sour Lemon Score, and after however many years of writing Dortmunder novels, I have to assume it all bleeds together for the writer.  Also, as in the return novels, a lot relies on coincidence and hoping the reader isn't thinking too hard about possible holes in the plot.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Noir Watch: 99 River Street (1953)

As part of TCM's Summer of Darkness, this evening Eddie Muller showed 99 River Street (1953), a noir I'd somehow started once but never quite finished.  Given the issues we had with our last DVR, I believe that it just got pushed off the DVR when we accidentally recorded an all-day Archer marathon or something.

I'm not surprised Muller showed this one, but am, perhaps, surprised it took him this long.  I've heard him speak about Evelyn Keyes, a woman he met before her passing, and he spoke with tremendous admiration, and this movie fits as neatly in with the more rough and tumble noir as anything.  I've seen Keyes in a few movies, and she's a surprising talent.  Maybe more striking than beautiful, but with a certain calculating intelligence she brings to her roles that I like.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Noir Watch: The Third Man (1949)

In general, it seems that at some point someone will suggest The Third Man (1949) to you.  I know the name had been thrown at me for years, especially when I started digging into film noir, but there seemed to be a certain lack of availability to the movie, and I wasn't going to just buy it on DVD of Amazon, site unseen.

new poster by ace artist Francesco Francavilla

A year or three ago, it was included in the Paramount Summer Film Series, our local grand theater's showcase of classic film.* Jamie and I went and saw it, sitting up in the balcony (my prime spot).  And while I often watch and enjoy a movie, it is all too rare that I go back to that place where I can both become utterly absorbed in a movie and enjoy the construction of the movie simultaneously.  these days, even if I enjoy the hell out of a movie - let's say Captain America 2, for example, I'm generally just enjoying watching a fun entertainment with characters I like, blowing up floating aircraft carriers and whatnot.

But The Third Man takes me not just back to how much I liked the parts of a film during film school, but wanting to take it all apart and look at how it's assembled - the reason I wanted to go to film school - more to learn how it all worked more than I suspect I ever really had any intention of going off to be the next jodhpur-clad director that America did not need.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Noir Watch: Red Light (1949)

This wasn't my favorite movie, so I'll keep it short.

Red Light (1949) tells the story of a successful San Francisco trucking magnate played by George Raft*, whose brother has returned from service as an Army chaplain and will now be going full time as a Catholic Priest, complete with his own church.  The brother is killed (by Harry Morgan! at the direction of Raymond Burr!) in a revenge scheme as Raft sent up Burr for some crooked dealings.

This poster is basically lying about what this movie is about.  

Raft's dying brother whispers to him that if he's looking for who killed him, the answer is in the Gideon's Bible in his room.  Raft goes to claim it and it's disappeared, so he runs around the Southwest trying to find the Bible, as any of five people could have taken it.  Virgina Mayo is one of those folks, and she gets wrapped up in helping George Raft and being very white bread and pretty.

In any movie you see him in, Raft has more or less one mode, and here it's tilted toward impatient anger from the moment his brother dies.  I don't know that the performance is flat, exactly, but sometimes the line delivery can be all so one-note, it becomes almost funny.

There's a sort of weird mid-20th Century evangelism to the movie, with Raft maybe learning the lessons in the Bible are there for men like him who are in real trouble - including a sort of homily from a soldier who (in a goofy flashback sequence) contemplates suicide until a window washer leaps through the window and saves him.

It all sort of feels like Reader's Digest got it's hands on your standard potboiler noir and said "I know how to spruce this up!".

Anyway, not really my cup of tea.

*Raft also played a trucking magnate in They Drive By Night, which was just a better movie by anyone's measure.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Noir Watch: Key Largo (1948)

I didn't have a particular reason I'd missed Key Largo (1948), but somehow I'd never gotten around to watching it, which is crazy.  Just the three names above the title should have been enough to get me to seek it out, and had I noticed Claire Trevor and Lionel Barrymore are also in the movie AND its directed by John Huston...

Anyway, better late than never.

Still adrift three years after the war, Major Frank McCloud stops by the hotel where he knows the father and wife of one of his brothers-in-arms from the Italy campaign are residing, way down in Key Largo, Florida.  His comrade was killed in action, and its not clear McCloud is doing terribly well on this side of the war.

But when he arrives at the hotel, it's the summer off-season, he can't immediately find his buddy's father or wife, and there are a few toughs hanging around the hotel bar with a blonde who seems like maybe she lives at the bottom of a bottle.

During all this, the local authorities are out looking for a couple of Native Americans who ran off from jail.  And, of course, a hurricane is blowing in.

We learn too late that the men are part of Johnny Rocco's gang, an old school gangster who was deported years ago and who is trying to make his way back into the US.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Noir Watch: Nightmare Alley (1947)

I like a movie that starts at the circus, and especially anything that starts on the Midway.  Probably because I know that if I were born 100 years prior, I'd have been some roustabout working behind the scenes of a freak show and hanging around the pinheads.

Nightmare Alley (1947) stars a whole lot of people I'm not overly familiar with, from Tyrone Power (who I think of as being a pirate-y and shirtless), and Colleen Gray.  The movie also stars a 41 year old Joan Blondell as a formerly hugely successful mentalist now working the circus sideshow circuit with her former partner assisting (now a shambling drunk) and Tyrone Power flirting with her/ trying to figure out her angle for his own gain.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Noir Watch: Gun Crazy (1950)

This is, I believe, the fourth time I've watched Gun Crazy (1950), a movie about a guy, a girl, their guns and how it all gets a smidge out of control.  It's a movie both entirely of its time, but points the way for movies that would come along within 20 years from studios who learned to take chances as the 60's steamed along (Bonnie and Clyde), and maybe reached it's wildest point with Natural Born Killers (1994).

I'd label the movie safely noir.  Two people that can't control themselves who, through their actions and inactions, get in way over their heads with no path out.  When Bart Tare (John Dall) meets Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins), it's the worst possible combination for both of them as their obsession with guns gets mixed up in greed, sex and an inability to find a groove in square living.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Friday Night, don't forget to catch "Gun Crazy" on TCM

I know I already pitched this at you, but one more time: Gun Crazy is on TCM on Friday, hosted by Eddie Muller.

A great movie.  Hugely influential and with some terrific cinematography, not to mention a tremendous performance by both Peggy Cummins and John Dall.

Check it out.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Set Your DVR's - "Gun Crazy" is on Turner Classic this Friday!

Eddie Muller, the Czar of Noir, takes the captain's chair at TCM for several Fridays this summer.  You can read up on the program, dubbed "Summer of Darkness", and maybe learn a bit more about Noir and Muller himself.

He's recently released a book on the a cult favorite in Noir circles, the 1950 feature Gun Crazy, starring John Dall and the phenomenal Peggy Cummins.  

I'll go ahead and recommend this one.  I've seen it a few times, and I'll definitely watch it several more.  It's a remarkable movie.  Wonderfully shot, well acted and just extremely well put together story about two people who never should have met - a spiritual predecessor of the 1967 Bonnie and Clyde.

I really wanted to hit Noir City XI in San Francisco as Ms. Cummins was the guest of honor at a screening of the movie, and was present for an interview.  Our own J_Swift scored me a signed poster by Ms. Cummins, which is a prized item in my household.

So set that DVR for this Friday.  Or, better yet, make a date and watch it.  It's a hell of a movie.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Noir Watch: Detour (1945)

At some point in your life, set aside 1 hour and 10 minutes to make it through Detour (1945), one of the grimiest, most uncomfortable, brilliantly economical movies you're likely to ever catch.  It's a short bit of distilled noir which kind of meanders for the first third, and then it starts to pick up.  And THEN Ann Savage shows up and holy @#$%.

I don't know what it says about me that I adore Ann Savage in this movie.  There's some matrix I need to devise of "what's wrong with me?" that I need to make with attributes of various Femme Fatales, including Savage in this movie, Peggy Cummins in Gun Crazy, Stanwyck in Double Indemnity and Babyface, Marie Windsor in everything...  But Ann Savage is a special kind of nuts in this movie, that veers almost into noir Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf-ish territory sometime in the back 1/3rd of the movie.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Noir Watch: They Drive By Night (1940)

Released in that precarious period as the Depression wore on, but while America hadn't yet stepped up and become involved in the wars brewing across the rest of the planet, They Drive By Night (1940) sits at an interesting crossroads.  It certainly features the sort of crime-story from the pulps of the 20's and 30's, but doesn't delve as deeply into moral ambiguity of the post-war film noir pictures nor a good Chandler or Hammett story.

Even the actors are at an interesting period in their careers.  Raft plays the lead and Bogart takes the back seat as his brother, Bogart becoming Hollywood royalty only a year later with The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca in 1942.  Raft certainly continued on as a popular actor for some time, but only one would remain a household name.  Ann Sheridan was also very popular during the era, but Lupino was just breaking out from the blonde dye and good-girl roles she'd been playing.  And she's really damn good here in a Femme Fatale role that casts the movie squarely into the categorization of film noir, even if it's a bit early for the genre (no doubt a version of this in the 1950's would have allowed Raft and Lupino to knock-boots off screen).

Friday, April 17, 2015

SW Watches: While the City Sleeps (1956)

I DVR'd While the City Sleeps (1956) off of TCM because I saw it starred Rhonda Fleming and Ida Lupino, and that Dana Andrews is no slouch.  But I like Lupino in particular, and while her part is not gigantic in this movie, as always, she nails it.  And, hey, it also features Vincent Price in another playboy-layabout role, because that's more or less what he always did until he got recast as the master of horror.

Also, turns out this was directed by the always terrific Fritz Lang, and was one of his final projects as a director.

Rhonda Fleming = Production Value