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

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Noir Watch: Phantom Lady (1944)



Movies produced during the height of WWII are always interesting.  You certainly get to see who signed up to serve and who stayed stateside.  That's no judgment, everyone had reasons they did what they did.  Just a couple of weeks back, for the first time I saw the government docs telling my own grandfather he was not going to be signing up as his civilian job was considered vital to the war effort.

So, we get Franchot Tone, not really the biggest star to come out of Hollywood, and hardly a household name in 2016 (he was married to Joan Crawford for several years, so may God have mercy upon his soul).  I don't think I know Alan Curtis except for looking familiar enough he must have been in something I saw (ah.  High Sierra.).  And Ella Raines is both very good in the movie and terribly attractive, so its a bit odd this movie in particular didn't launch her further along.

Noir fans will, of course, delight to see Elisha Cook, Jr. show up in a movie doing anything, and hear he plays a lecherous jazz drummer.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

To Sterling Hayden on his 100th Birthday



Short of Harrison Ford, there aren't too many actors I look at and think "that guy is so cool.  I wish I were that guy."  But, yes, Sterling Hayden is absolutely one of those guys.  Maybe throw in Alan Ladd.

Today marks the 100th birthday of Sterling Hayden, the tall, tough-guy actor in two of my favorite noir movies of all time, The Killing and The Asphalt Jungle.  Of course, he was also the whacked out General Jack D. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove and Capt. McCluskey in The Godfather.  And, for extra credit, he was in Johnny Guitar (as Johnny Guitar), mooning over a pancake-make-upped Joan Crawford.

Here's an article in The Boston Globe celebrating Hayden.  He sounds like maybe he was a difficult man, but I respect anyone who ran away to sea at 17 to sail the world and was in the 20th century up to his elbows as much as he was.  He was a goddamn commando in the OSS!  He flirted with being a Red!  He hated acting and just wanted to be on boats!

No one quite did world-weary-but-seemingly-invulnerable like Hayden.

If you've not seen The Asphalt Jungle, do so now.  It's got Monroe in an early role, it's directed by John Huston, and has Jean Hagen in a heartbreaking role as Doll.  And, of course, Hayden as Dix, the heist man who just wants to get back what his family lost in Kentucky.  Failing that, watch The Killing.  Which is early Kubrick, features a platinum Marie Windsor, Elisha Cook, Jr. and a host of other perfectly noir faces.






Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Noir Watch: Gun Crazy (1950)



I've lost track of how many times I've seen Gun Crazy (1950).  And, in fact, over the past ten years its easily become one of my favorite movies.  Tuesday night JAL and I met up at the Alamo to catch a screening which was, it turned out, part of a series the Alamo was doing about social issues in movies.  And, of course, Gun Crazy is as good an example of how a good gun owner gets sucked into the issues of a bad gun owner as you're like to see.

The screening was either sold out or nearly so, which, even in a small theater at The Alamo on a Tuesday at 7:30 - for a movie that's now 66 years old - is a pretty good thing.  What was truly surprising was that the screening was of a 35mm print struck in the 1960's, as near as I could tell.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Noir Watch: Sweet Smell of Success (1957)



This one has been on my hit list for a couple of years now.  I recorded it off TCM way back in December and finally pulled the trigger and watched it.

Sweet Smell of Success (1957) is one of those movies like Sunset BoulevardThe Hustler or On the Waterfront that came out during a certain window of moviemaking that I think people associate with Eisenhower-era positivity, thanks to TV re-runs and a deluge of Disney movies in their youth.  Of course, Noir sort of blows the doors off all that.  But a lot of Noir gets caught up in incredible situations, with dames on the make, gangsters, long-game scams.  But sometimes something like this - stylized though it may be - gets at something a bit beyond the grift or the crime.

Tony Curtis plays Sidney Falco, a press agent for live acts in the Big Apple.  Things are falling apart for him as he can't seem to place a story with any of the major columnists, especially J.J. Hunsecker - played with menace usually reserved for dictators and ganglords by Burt Lancaster in a pair of horn-rimmed specs.  J.J. wanted Falco to break up a brewing romance between his sister, Susan, and a jazz guitarist, Steve Dallas.  With the two planning an engagement, Falco sees doom for his own business and begins wheeling and dealing, going to Hunsecker with his problem and the two pair, their styles different but need to manipulate people and situations spinning into darker and darker territory.

This was one hell of a movie.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Signal Watch Reads: "The Lady in the Lake" by Raymond Chandler (1943) - audiobook


The great thing about novel adaptations back in the day was that they clearly either adapted the movies of books they'd read ten years prior and couldn't remember anymore, or they'd be damned if they were going to finish the book before pounding out a script.

I say this, because I've seen the odd-ball noir detective film, The Lady in the Lake directed by and starring Robert Montgomery at least twice, but more like three times.  Why?  Well, it's a super strange movie told from a first person POV with a windy plot that takes a surprisingly believable break in the action for Christmas Eve, and features Audrey Totter at her Totter-iest.

Why, yes, I am going to look right into the camera the whole movie.  Why?

But I don't really want to write a compare-and-contrast of the film and book.  First, only one of you has likely even seen this movie (for shaaaaaame...), and, you know, they're two different beasts.

Still, Audrey Totter.

seriously, this movie is odd, and I totally recommend it

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Signal Watch Reads: The High Window (1942) by Raymond Chandler



I've been thinking a bit about the difference between the Continental Op work, Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe.  Brighter minds than me have surely covered this - but you're here reading this, so...  here we go.

To be sure, there are more similarities than there are differences.  Working class detectives working in a shadowy world where wealth buys your way into indulging your perversions and clear of ignominy.  Low class hoods are always on the make.  Dames who can work an angle have it made, until they don't.  And then they wind up cold and stiff.  It's not whether everyone you meet has an angle, it's what their angle is - and if they don't have one, they're a chump.

Mostly, anyway.

The Continental Op doesn't have a heart of gold, but he's a square guy.  He's a brawler, almost always has a gun and will throw some lead around.  Sam Spade has a heart in there, too, one that's more likely to fall for a dame than the Continental Op, who knows he's no looker and has reason to distrust any dame that gets too close.  But Hammett's detectives never really warm to much of anyone, even when they tell you otherwise.  At best, they tolerate others and try not to admit it when any women get too close.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Years Watch: Sunset Boulevard (1950)



The movie neither begins nor ends on New Years.  Instead, it's the morbid spectacle of New Years Eve in the Desmond mansion that's the crucial turning point in the movie as screenwriter Joe Gillis decides to stop fighting the pull of Norma Desmond.

With a night out (a rarity of late) ahead of us for New Years, I figured whatever I put in at 9:30 PM on 12/30 would be the last movie I'd watch for the year.  Sunset Boulevard (1950) is a movie I am afraid I came to quite late, and one I wish I'd paid attention to years ago, though I am uncertain that - as a 20-something - if I would have seen it as much more than highly enjoyable melodrama and camp.  Certainly I'd understand it was loaded with enough real star power behind it to lend it an air of legitimacy, but it's in watching the movie as an older viewer that the movie resonates in a way that I'm unsure it would in quite the same way for a younger viewer.

Joe Gillis is a down-on-his-luck screenwriter, a tarnished golden-boy, unable to produce the same kind of work that landed him some big gigs in Hollywood in recent memory.  Now, though, at 30-ish, he's yesterday's news, unable to sell a story, laden with debts at his heels, the finance company ready to take his car.

Avoiding those repo men, he turns into an overgrown driveway on Hollywood's famed Sunset Boulevard, finding himself on the grounds of a decaying mansion, an echo of the glory days of the silent era.  Inside he finds former silent star Norma Desmond, an actress who vanished - as so many did as the industry moved from silent to sound.  She's survived, wealthy enough to keep the world outside at bay, her manservant, Max, helping to protect and shield her from the world which has forgotten her and moved on.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Forget Noirvember - TCM has some great Film Noir queued up in December



Just checked out the Film Noir Foundation's December 2015 listings for what will broadcast this month on TCM.

I started making a list of what I'd want to DVR, and it was basically just the list they've got up on the site.

Whether you're looking for Courtroom Drama, Christmas Noir, Hitchcock or a Thin Man Marathon, they've got you covered.






Sunday, November 29, 2015

Noir Watch: The Glass Key (1942)

For reasons I don't quite understand, The Glass Key (1942) isn't discussed all that much and doesn't get the same hagiography as other pictures.  Nor has it been as readily available as other crime/ noir movies on home video, although I do note its available in a boxed set and a kind-of-pricey stand alone DVD.  That second-class-movie-citizen status is a shame, because the film is fantastic; a winding, complicated detective story taken on not by a private eye, but the right-hand man of a political boss.  Throw in some of my favorite talent (Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, William Bendix), and you've got a good picture going.



Based on the Dashiell Hammett novel of the same name, The Glass Key feels distinctly like a Hammett novel, never over-simplified, with all of the characters existing in a moral gray area, all possible suspects when it comes to a murder.  Whether its The Thin Man or The Maltese Falcon, everyone has a motivation, and no one does.  Sorting out whodunnit has terrific implications, but everyone might also be happy to see it just go away.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Gloria Grahame's Birthday


Today marks the 92nd birthday of actress Gloria Grahame.

We're big fans of the work of Ms. Grahame here at The Signal Watch, and seeing her listed in the credits for a movie will always get us to check it out.  We generally prefer her noir work, where she plays a wide range of roles, but always with a certain flair.  We particularly recommend her work in The Big Heat, Human Desire and In a Lonely Place.

But, she's also Ado Annie in Oklahoma! and she's Violet in It's a Wonderful Life.

Her personal life was like an unscripted noir that ignored the Hayes Code, but I'll let you look into that yourself.  What I will say is that she died too young, and I wish she'd had a second go with her career.  She's so darn good, it's hard to believe she wouldn't have ended up doing more on TV or in movies.

Here's to one of the good ones.  Do yourself a favor and take time out for a Gloria Grahame picture this month.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Noir Watch: The Unsuspected (1947)


It's Noirvemeber, and I haven't really been doing my duty to keep up.  Plowing through October and horror films and then thinking about watching mostly just one genre again sounded like being asked to eat a second turkey dinner on Thanksgiving Day.   I may like both genres but, man...  So, I have not taken too much of a noir plunge yet this month outside the superlative Fargo on FX.

But if we were going to jump into Noirvember, I was either going to do it by watching Narrow Margin and see Marie Windsor bust everyone's chops, or with another one of my favorite actresses of the genre, Audrey Totter.  And, man, is she ever good in this movie.  I appreciated her the last time I watched the movie, but this time... yowza.

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.