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

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


Friday, April 3, 2015

Noir Watch: The Killer is Loose (1956)

This was an interesting one, starting off pretty dark and then just careening toward a nice, abysmal, jet black.

I'd read about The Killer is Loose (1956) a few years ago - I think in the Eddie Mueller book Dark City - and was quite thrilled it made it to TCM this month.


A bank is ripped off in broad daylight and the bad-guys get away.  The detective on the case, played by Joseph Cotten, figures it had to have been something of an inside job.  Following a lead, the cops go after one of the tellers and, upon finding out he's caught, their inside man locks himself in his apartment.

A tragic mistake later, and Cotten has put a bullet in the wife of the teller, Poole.  But the cops have their man.  At the trial, Cotten's new bride, played by Rhonda Fleming, is spied by Poole who swears revenge.  A daring and grisly prison escape later, and the unassuming Poole, played by Wendell Corey, is on the trail for Fleming, and mounts a substantial body count along the way.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Noir Watch (sorta): High Wall (1947)

So, like a month ago I started watching this movie on a DVD I'd picked up, and got an hour into it and the DVD fritzed out on me.  So I got a replacement copy from Amazon (seriously, their return policy is the bees knees), and finally got around to finishing the movie this evening.

I am not sure I'd recommend High Wall.  By far the best feature of the movie is that it stars Audrey Totter as a psychiatrist who is not afraid to monkey around with experimental brain surgery and the liberal application of medication.  It's only marginally noir, in my book.  More of a suspense thriller with noirish undertones.



Basically, the movie is about a guy who probably really is, at the very least, unstable following his return from WWII, who comes home to a wife he married in the fog of war, only to find out that she wants someone pulling in more bucks than he's worth now that he's not drawing a military salary.  He leaves for Burma to fly cargo and send home paychecks.  When he comes home, he may or may not have killed his wife, who he figures is schtupping her boss - a kind of sleazy dude who happens to be overseeing a Christian Book publisher.

It's all very sordid.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Noir Watch: The Big Heat (1953)

I have to assume I've annoyed you people before by talking about the 1953 Fritz Lang directed noir, The Big Heat.  But, what's not to like?  Glenn Ford as a straight-and-narrow cop pushed too far, Lee Marvin as a semi-psychotic mob heavy, Gloria Grahame as...  Gloria Grahame, really (and what more do you need?).

The title does not refer to the lady depicted on the poster


Friday, February 6, 2015

SW Watches: The Big Lebowski

I'll never really be sure I understand what the Coen Bros. were thinking with this one.  That's not to say it doesn't work, but it's an odd bit of noir-detective, what with our detective in this mystery barely participating, a cowboy narrator and all the bowling.  At the end of the day, it's really a movie, I guess, about two very different guys who love and understand one another not just despite their differences, but because of them.  Maybe.

The movie certainly leans on the trappings of the Chandler or Hammett detective novel, which - 20 years after the fact, would get associated with noir detective movies, mostly thanks to the success of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe adaptations.  There's the wealthy, non-ambulatory older gentleman in his castle asking for assistance, a sexy ice-queen of a daughter with schemes of her own, third and fourth parties working at cross-purposes, niggling idiots who cross the path of our detective who just get in the way, and repeated blackouts for our hero.

But, really, all our hero wants to do is go bowling and get a replacement rug for his living room.



Lizabeth Scott Merges With The Infinite


According to the Film Noir Foundation and LA Times, noir siren Lizabeth Scott has passed at the age of 92.

If you've never seen The Strange Love of Martha Ivers or Too Late for Tears, I recommend both.

Friday, January 30, 2015

SW Reads: Mystic River

blogger's note:  For some reason, this post gets a lot of traffic.  Can someone tell me how you got to this page?  I find the hit count on this post perplexing.

I just finished the audiobook of the Dennis Lehane novel Mystic River, the basis for the 2003 film which drew plum nominations and won a few Academy Awards (and which earned a bucketload of other awards).

Frankly, I never saw the movie, and I really had no idea what either the book or movie were about.  No, I have no recollection of 2003 and what I was doing.  Working, I guess.

There's a guy who works security sometimes in the building where I show up every day, and I think his story is that he does security as his day job (because he can sit there and read), and he goes home and works on his own crime novels.  I admire the hell out of that, and he recommended the book to me about two years ago, and so I finally got around to reading/ listening to Mystic River this year.



Audiobooks are a strange experience.  You're dealing with an actor's interpretation of how this should be read, and sometimes I just feel like maybe the reader missed the mark.  And, this may have been one of those times.  I think he went for "overwrought" and melodramatic when, maybe, he could have pulled it back a bit for a different impact.  I believe I listened to Scott Brick, who also read The Devil in the White City, which I listened to last year, and which I felt was fine, if memory serves.  But this book required a lot more acting and interpretation.

I don't know how I felt about the book.  I guess I'm a little surprised this particular story was thought of so well as to earn Oscar nominations, so I'd like to see the movie soon to see how it worked as Oscar bair.  And it certainly is not the first time a book that maybe wasn't the most inspiring source material worked stunningly well as a movie.  This was certainly nowhere near my favorite book, but what it did, it did well.