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

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.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Signal Re-Watch: "Sunset Boulevard" and watching "Casino" on basic cable

Sunset Boulevard (1950)



I finally watched Sunset Boulevard about two years ago, and it's already become one of my favorite films.  I received a copy on BluRay for Christmas (thanks, Jason & Amy!), and gave it a whirl.  Frankly, I'm a bit shocked that I didn't do a lengthy write up of the movie during that time a couple years back when I first watched the movie in its entirety then went to the Paramount to see it, but I can't find a record of any formal prior discussion of the movie.

If you're not familiar, Sunset Boulevard opens on a murder in the Hollywood Hills (I guess, I don't know LA geography) and backtracks in pure noir style to how we got to this point.  A struggling screenwriter who tasted success and watched it fade stumbles upon the decaying mansion of a once great silent film star now living as a recluse, planning her return to greatness.  She has money, and plenty of it, and Joe is willing to take the money and deal with the insanity of the mansion and wretched screenplay she wants him to tidy up that will surely mean the return of Norma Desmond to an imagined legions of fans eagerly awaiting her return.

And then things get dark and weird.

The movie spawned a million quotes, and is best remembered for Gloria Swanson's stunning portrayal of Norma Desmond - a character that reflects what had happened to some extent to many stars of the silent era (and continues to happen to talent as they fade from the public eye in favor of the next new thing) - only, you know, amped up a bit.  Add on real-life former silent director Eric von Stroheim as Desmond's aloof butler, and you've got a really interesting dynamic going.

In general, I don't love movies about Hollywood making movies, but sometimes the industry turns the eye back on itself and is willing to admit a few things about itself that make for a great story or provide an opportunity for great performances - even if there's maybe not a sense of a universal human experience or some such idea.  But I do think the ideas about self-delusion, dreams of stardom and relevancy and what it means when it fades, what we're willing to do for a buck, and more... are recognizable if not relatable.

Plus, man, Billy Wilder's dialog.

"...we had faces!"

There are a LOT of extras on the disc.  Probably too many, but you can't say it's not fairly complete when it comes to talking about the film and reminds me of the difference between access to a film via a streaming service and why you might want to own a copy of your favorite movies.

The movie itself is one of those things that will continue to reveal bits of Billy Wilder's brilliance for several more screenings, and my appreciation for how all of the pieces fit together just grows with every viewing.  I appreciate the devotion to Hitchcock (and also received the Hitch BluRay box set for Christmas that I am dying to crack open), but I think film school could do worse than to point that eye at Wilder and his ability to leap from genre to genre and redefine it as it goes.  As they point out in the bonus features, he not only managed genre - he moved outside of genre and created his own kind of film with Sunset Boulevard.

Casino (1995)

Casino is not a short movie, clocking in at about 3 hours, but I've still seen it probably 8 or 9 times.  And, I argue, it's one of the best reasons to reconsider Sharon Stone as something other than the somewhat Norma Desmond-esque figure she's hellbent on becoming.

you kids who work with video will never know the night mare of lighting this for film

The movie rolls out DeNiro as DeNiro, Pesci as Pesci and a whole herd of hoodlum and thug stereotypes from the Eastern US and drops them in Nevada in the wake of the Rat Pack.

Based on something approximating the real-life events of Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal leaving Chicago and illegal gambling to establish mob foundations in a town where everything is legal - the movie presents the story using a fictionalized version in Sam "Ace" Rothstein (DeNiro) as a mobbed-up bookie who finds he can make a fortune as a legitimate businessman in the wilds of Vegas.  How much is true, how much is speculation and how much is fabrication - probably best Scorsese himself doesn't know.  Pesci, not so long since he tried mainstream credibility with My Cousin Vinny plays mob thug Nicky Santoro, the muscle Ace needs in the early days, but who becomes a liability the minute respectability becomes a necessity.  Stone plays DeNiro's showgirl wife/ greatest distraction and liability.

Fantastically shot, meticulously detailed, Scorsese captured the last of old Vegas before it was subsumed with Vegas' secondary major industry - construction.  (If you've never been to Vegas, it changes completely about every 8-10 years).

this one time in 1995, Sharon Stone made a movie in which she was terrific

It's an epic film that isn't shy about a sprawling cast and intricate relationships presented in sketchy detail, but Scorsese keeps it easy to follow, using the template started in Goodfellas as a jumping off point.  The story stretches over a decade or more, following the rise and fall of key characters who ignite the Vegas scene and make the world there possible before being subsumed by corruption outside, inside and something resembling the actual forces of the justice via the US Justice Department and a lot of bad karma.

Anyway, on this go-round I was really struck by how well the movie presents all of the characters, their motivations and points of view, and even if we want to root for Ace, he's maybe as bad or worse than Nicky in some ways - at least Nicky is honest about his nature and seems to want for things to work out - he just doesn't have the big picture vision that Ace seems to have in spades.

And, by the way, if you're a James Woods fan, this is one of his smaller, wonkier roles and every time it makes me laugh a little bit.

I did watch the movie on basic cable.  Why?  I don't know.  I have a copy on DVD.  But it was fascinating watching them edit the living heck out of Jos Pesci's dialog while allowing for bats to collide with skulls and running ads for The Untouchables where the ad was entirely the infamous "teamwork" scene.

Oh, American TV standards.  You are so weird.

The movie will also have my undying respect for casting Don Rickles in a straight role in a movie.  I mean, who does that?  Brilliant.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Happy Birthday, Audrey Totter!


December 20th is the 95th Birthday of actress Audrey Totter!  I suppose that makes the timing of this post Audrey Totter-Day Eve.

Ms. Totter starred in a terrific run of films, and had one of her breakout appearances as a source of temptation for the always terrific John Garfield in The Postman Always Rings Twice.  Ms. Totter's character caused a bit of jealousy in Lana Turner.  People, if you can give Lana Turner a moment of pause, clearly you're a force to be reckoned with.

The first movie I saw in which Ms. Totter got top billing was The Set-Up, and it's an absolutely terrific bit of acting under the direction of Robert Wise, but I'd also point you toward Tension, which is a terrific example of noir (and also has Cyd Charisse and Richard Basehart!).  In this one, Totter blows everyone else on screen right out of the frame.   I'd also recommend The Unsuspected to see her alongside Claude Rains and playing a wide range in a single film.

That's sort of what I think of now when I consider Ms. Totter's films.  She wasn't a character actor, and in all of her movies, she manages to do what better actors pull off - and that's too completely fill the character in a unique way and disappear into the role, but still retain the ability to make you notice them.  Her roles in Man or Gun and Tension couldn't be more different, but she's terrific in both movies.

In the 50's, Ms. Totter began working in both film and television, she starred in series like Cimarron City and Medical Center, and retired from the screen with her final televised appearance in 1984 on Murder, She Wrote.

Today, Ms. Totter is still living in Southern California, and through a terrific series of internet blips by way of Jenifer, on Sunday morning I received a video in my email that made my year.   The video is of Audrey Totter sending Jenifer and me best wishes.  The video absolutely blew my mind.  It's like someone you watch at the movies turning to the screen and saying, "Oh, hello, Ryan."

Special thanks to Ms. Totter's granddaughter, voice artist, Eden Totter.  (Eden is super-great, by the way.)


Happy Birthday, Ms. Totter!  We wish you the best on your birthday and will be spending the holiday break catching up on some of your movies we haven't yet seen.



PS.  If you ever want to know what it would be like to be a detective in the presence of Audrey Totter, I highly recommend the experimental first-person movie, Lady in the Lake, based on the Raymond Chandler novel.



Signal Watch Watches: A Bullet for Joey (1955)

I considered listing this one as a noir, but it's more or less really a 1950's G-Man thiller mixing gangsters, fifth columnists, monkeys and Audrey Totter.

The movie opens on Montreal (?) where an organ grinder and monkey wait outside a building at McGill University where they snap picks of an unsuspecting French-Canadian scientist from a camera hidden in the hurdy-gurdy.  A cop spots the iffy organ grinder, and gets straight-up murdered by the oddly dated stereotype.

Turns out our organ grinder is a Fifth Columnist gathering info on a physicist, and then it gets complicated.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Signal Reads: Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell (2006)

I have not seen the film of Winter's Bone, and now it'll be a while longer before I'll feel comfortable watching an adaptation.  I always need some space between the book and the movie or it runs the risk of ruining both for me.

The story, from what I gather, isn't too much changed in the filmed translation, so those of you have seen the movie may not have seen a story that deviates much on plot points.


The novel is set in the near past if the comments made about what's on television are any indication (the book loosely describes characters watching the now-defunct series Wishbone on PBS), located within a few miles of the hilly forests of the Ozarks where the secretive, backwoods families run their business outside of law and society, dealing with each other in brutal fashion.  These days they make and sell crank, but they still spend generation after generation expecting short, ugly lives.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Noir Watch: The Unsuspected (1947)

A few points:

1.  Everyone is familiar with Claude Rains from some of his bigger pictures like Casablanca, but he was truly the Michael Caine/ Gene Hackman of his time.  He was a terrifically talented performer who fit neatly into film after film, and despite the fact he is obviously and indelibly Claude Rains, he just works in every role, no matter how good or bad the film.  

2.  A special thanks to Jenifer out in San Fran for making sure I paid attention to Audrey Totter.  I still haven't seen that many of Totter's film, but she's a terrific talent.  



The Unsuspected (1947) played a few nights ago on TCM and I managed to record it.  It's an interesting film, and I don't think host Robert Osbourne was wrong to make comparisons to Laura prior to the film starting.  It may borrow an idea or three from the film, but director Michael Curtiz (of Mildred Pierce, Casablanca and many, many other films) instills the film with his own vision and more than enough suspects and twists to keep you going for the duration.  It may not be one of his better known efforts, but it is extremely well directed, even as it hinges on "new technology" to tell its stories - something that often doesn't age well with movies.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Happy Birthday, Gloria Grahame

Actress Gloria Grahame would have been 89 today.  Unfortunately, Grahame passed in the early 1980's, well before her time.




We've profiled Ms. Grahame here before, and it's likely she'll get mentioned here again in the future.

Ms. Grahame is a bright point in the constellation of lady-actors from a certain era whose work I go out of my way to find.  It's hard not to love the work she does in movies like Crossfire and The Big Heat.

A little digging will turn up a lot of evidence that Ms. Grahame led a deeply complicated life, but its hard not to love what she did on the screen.

Here's to Ms. Grahame.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Noir Watch: Hotel Noir (2012)

The story on this movie is that it's a low-budget affair and a passion project that's made it's way to In-Demand on cable before theaters or BluRay.  The movie sports some pretty big names from Danny DeVito to Robert Forster to Carla Gugino and the perhaps too always-game Rosario Dawson.

The film is a tribute to various offshoots of the noir genre, recognizing the occasionally laconic pacing and low-rent nature of many of the stories in these films, of low-level cops and grifters making bad decisions for sex and money or some combination of the pair.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Noir Watch: The Set-Up (1949)

This is the third time I'd watched this movie, but every time it's been years apart.  

The Set-Up (1949) is the story of an aging fighter, well past his prime, but still taking to the ring on a low-class circuit, fighting at the bottom of crummy bills in shoddy venues.  Robert Ryan played a lot of heavies, but here he plays the fighter who truly only knows how to do one thing - and that's get up and get back in the ring again and again, not yet shaken off the promise of the one-in-a-million shot, now with much smaller dreams of respectability.  

Audrey Totter plays Julie, the woman in his life who has seen his string of losses and watched every fight, seeing the man she loves beaten and bloodied.  As the movie begins, they've hit a cross-roads - though it's possible Ryan's "Stoker" doesn't yet fully realize the gravity of the situation.



Meanwhile his manager, who can count on Stoker to lose in every bout, takes a pay-off promising Stoker will take a fall, but cuts his own fighter out of the deal, considering it a no-brainer that his guy can't make it and wont' get lucky.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Signal Reads: The Damsel (1967) by Richard Stark

At the conclusion of the Parker novel The Handle, Parker and Alan Grofield have landed in Mexico City with Grofield licking his wounds and Parker leaving him there so he can get on with it.

Richard Stark (aka: Donald Westlake) spun off Grofield into his own sub-set from the Parker novels with The Damsel (1967), giving Parker's occasional co-worker with the head full of flights of fancy room to pursue his own adventures.



Structurally, it feels a bit like a Parker novel, but tonally, The Damsel is a lot lighter on its feet and a bit wackier in scope.  While Stark narrates both books from a third-person perspective, the attitude of the protagonists infiltrates the worldview of the book.  Parker's methodical, systematic, almost obsessive-compulsive perspective is ditched for Grofield's devil-may-care approach, and talent for improvisation and theatricality giving the adventure more of... an adventurous air.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Signal Watch Reads: The Handle (a Parker novel)

The eighth in the line of Parker novels, The Handle places master thief Parker in several odd positions.  Most of the prior stories occurred above the Mason-Dixon line and detailed Parker working with a team of professionals.  This one has Parker working, for reasons of his own, alongside The Outfit, the bloated, corporatized mob from the first three or so Parker books.  The score settled between the two and pragmatism the word of the day, and The Outfit has hired Parker to crack a nut they can't solve.

Off the coast of Galveston, by forty miles, a casino has been built by a man with no affiliations with The Outfit.  Of course, that's bad business to have vice occurring so close to Outfit territory but with them getting nothing, so they'd like to see if Parker can rob the place blind and then shut it down.