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

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.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Noir Watch: The Maltese Falcon (1941)

I have no idea when the last time was that I watched this movie.  Likely 7 or 8 years ago when I got the DVD and again right after we moved back to Austin.

It's weird I don't watch it over and over, because there's a perfectly good reason The Maltese Falcon carries the reputation its got.  Smart, ruthless, and lean down to the bone, and with every actor in the film turning in terrific performances, its a great ride.  It carries the tone and at least the echo of Dashiell Hammett's spitfire dialog, and definitely retains the labyrinthine plotting that even Hammett's short stories are known for.

actually, those two guns belong to Elisha Cook Jr., but whatever


Friday, June 7, 2013

Film Noir on Fridays in June on TCM

Noir maestro Eddie Muller is guest hosting every Friday in June on Turner Classic Movies.  The line-up is pretty nuts, and I highly recommend looking at the list and setting your DVR.

Here's a website up at TCM.

Check out the schedule starting this evening!

Tonight:
The Maltese Falcon
City Streets
After the Thin Man
The Glass Key (a must see)
Satan Met a Lady

well, we've all wanted to punch Peter Lorre at some point



Monday, June 3, 2013

Signal Watches "Brick" from 2005

Between his role as the adorable kid on 90's sitcome 3rd Rock from the Sun and his leap to leading man status in 2012, Joseph Gordon-Levitt made a peculiar film with Looper writer/ director Rian Johnson.

I cannot begin to imagine how my high school brain would have dealt with this movie, but I am fairly certain I would have believed it to be The Best Movie Ever.  Basically, it's a faux-Dashiell Hammett mystery set in a high school with a hard-boiled detective replaced by a hard-boiled high school senior, playing the angles and trying to get to the mystery that opens the film, of what happened to his ex-girlfriend who had reached out to him days before for help, seemingly wrapped up in some trouble with local drug peddlers.

The film is both curiously believable as a low-level crime story happening in the margins around high schoolers, just outside the periphery of parent or teacher supervision.  But because of the similarities to the stories of Hammett and Chandler that have so permeated western fiction, it's also an interesting point of view that the sorts of things we usually tie to the adult world we know are happening just out of view even in suburban sprawl at public high schools.

I do wish some of the writing were a bit tighter, but it's a signature move of Chandler or Hammett work to see the plot become so twisted it takes a chart to keep it all straight.  That sort of thing pays off well in repeated viewings, and while I did watch this movie years ago (probably in 2007) I'll probably not wait 6 years between viewings again so I don't feel like I'm just playing catch-up the whole time.

Joseph Gordon-Leviitt shows chops that so many child actors dream of having but never develop as they get older and have the usual post-child star tail spin.  If you want to see some of what materialized on the big screen in 2012 with this guy in an earlier stage, I think JGL was already pretty excellent here.  

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A few Richard Stark Books - The Dame, The Black Ice Score and The Sour Lemon Score

I've been plowing through more of the Parker and Allan Grofield novels by Richard Stark.  As much as I write here, I can't imagine how much time that guy must have spent in front of the typewriter.  Keep in mind, Richard Stark was just one pen name of Donald Westlake, who was usually out writing kind of wacky crime and mystery stories.  The three books I just finished, originally pulpy paperbacks, all came out between 1968 and 1969, and the next one I'm going to pick up also was released in 1969.



But in writing that much, it's interesting to see Stark second guess himself, realize maybe he went a little off formula and come back to correct himself, especially with Parker.  It makes me wonder if he'd gone back and re-read the first Parker novels and seen how far afield The Black Ice Score truly was from The Hunter and The Man with the Getaway Face (still a great book title), and that, maybe The Black Ice Score felt a little, almost, cozy for Parker.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Today is the birthday of Sterling Hayden

from "The Asphalt Jungle"
You probably know Hayden from Dr. Strangelove, where he was worried about fluoride in the water and what it had done to his virility, or The Godfather, where Michael put a bullet in him from a gun he took from a toilet.  Hayden is also the featured player in a couple of my favorite movies, The Asphalt Jungle and The Killing, two great heist movies with a noir core.

Born this day in 1916, Hayden was never overly excited by his Hollywood career, and he was a bit of an odd guy.  When War II broke out, he joined the military and served under an assumed name (in the OSS, no less).  After the war he had communist ties, later named names, and generally seemed to never recover from the overall experience.

He also once ran off with his kids against court order and sailed them to Tahiti.  Literally, he captained the boat.  That was his thing.

Nobody puts Sterling Hayden in a corner.

We salute you, Mr. Hayden.  You always look how I feel.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Signal Reads: The Green Eagle Score (a Parker Novel)

This is what I like about a Parker novel.  On Saturday I had a rainy day, and while I'd started the book at the doctor's office on Tuesday (I'm fine.  Just getting the annual inspection.), I read all but those first 23 pages today.



Like other Parker novels, it's difficult to imagine the heist pulled off in the modern era of paranoid security, electric systems everywhere, etc...  But people don't really change all that much, and so the stories still work very, very well.

Since The Jugger - but really, starting with The Score, Stark wisely began fanning out his narrative attention a bit more on the other characters in the books.  Probably the closest I'd point to in something you'd be immediately familiar is some of the feel of the "let's check in with our villain" of the Ocean's 11 franchise.  The characters don't have to be right next to Parker throughout the novel - the narrative eye wanders and gives us some background on some of these characters, some of whom then proceed to die just a few pages later and without much attention paid to their fate.

It's an interesting narrative trick as you definitely get a complete picture of the story, but you also know that Stark's narrative in invested in the story and isn't going to get sentimental about  a character just because we spent two or three pages with that person, learning their inner thoughts.

The Green Eagle Score is about the payroll heist of an Air Force base in upstate New York.  Parker leaves Claire, whom he picked up in the last book, The Rare Coin Score, in Puerto Rico, to chase down a haul put in front of him by an old comrade whose ex-wife is shacked up with a clerk in the finance office on the base.

The book takes a telegraphed but no-less fascinating left turn into the usual complications of a Parker heist, but it's so wildly different from the complications of The Seventh or even The Handle, that it doesn't feel like old hat, even in the 10th Parker novel.

Good, fun read.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Noir Watch: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is a tough sell for a "hey, want to pop in a movie and relax?" kind of movie.  For this reason, I hadn't seen it in its entirety since college*, and had to do some convincing to get Jamie to watch the movie with me - but she soldiered through,and I think she liked it again.

I will do what a straight dude in 2013 will rarely do and admit a lot of affection for Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, even though the number of films I have seen each of them in is fairly small.**  By this point in both of their careers, the two weren't considered bankable stars, and while we tend to think of the early 60's as a conservative time, it's almost impossible to imagine this movie getting made today - and getting an audience to look up from their phones long enough to pay attention.



Friday, January 25, 2013

Monday, January 14, 2013

Thursday: Eddie Muller on Turner Classic - Talking Noir

Noir fans are exceedingly lucky to have a few key figures playing ringmaster for the genre mostly out of pure love for the genre.

Eddie Muller is known in some circles as The Czar of Noir.  He's written a few books on the topic.  I read and loved, Dark City, myself.  He also hosts and manages not just the San Francisco based Noir City festival (now in its 11th year), but he also hosts other noir festivals around the country.  

I first became aware of Eddie when I went to The Alamo Ritz to see The Prowler in a print restored with proceeds earned for the Film Noir Foundation at Noir City.  He's spent decades tracking down the films and some of the stars, now mostly forgotten except by the noir audience, and out of that - he's an excellent story teller, warm host for interviews and a really decent guy.

My pal Jenifer (@J__Swift) knows Eddie a bit, and so she introduced me at Noir City X.  Eddie was exceedingly kind to a dopey guy from Texas, making sure we got a tour of the Hammett apartment on Pike Street, and we agreed that the cinnamon laced bourbon they were serving was more than a little iffy.


Eddie isn't going to trot out the crowd pleasers, necessarily.  We've already all seen Gilda and Laura.  But he will uncover gems you might not otherwise ever see, and which have special qualities or performances you don't see anywhere else.

Of the films, Eddie selected four and the fifth was chosen by TCM as a special nod to Eddie and his restoration efforts for the film.
  • Cry Danger
  • 99 River Street
  • Tomorrow is Another Day
  • The Breaking Point
  • The Prowler
I've got my DVR set, and I'm looking forward to seeing the films on this list I've not caught before.  Very much looking forward to the intros we'll see.


Friday, January 4, 2013

Movies 2012 - The Final Commentary

As mentioned before, I watched and blogged movies 147 times, sort of.  Anyway, the point is, I watched John Carter 3 times, and never regretted it.  Process everything in the rest of this post* with that in mind.

So, the actual experience of deciding to blog every movie for a year was sort of in line with other "for a year I shall..." plans I've had.  Like the year I went vegetarian, just to be difficult. Yes, I did this.

Honestly, I think I was probably way down on number of movies viewed this past year.  I don't know how many movies people normally watch, but I know that for the first time in 5 years, my attendance at the Alamo and Paramount this summer was significantly lower than usual.

All that also took a financial toll in past years, and I've been cutting back on Alamo visits to try to better maintain our finances.  I'm guessing I still hit the movies more than the average bear, but it did feel like a down year for being at the theater, but maybe I made up for that in Cable viewership and watching home video.