Showing posts with label 1950's. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1950's. Show all posts

Monday, October 11, 2021

Graham/ Kinda-Noir Watch: The Glass Wall (1953)




Watched:  10/09/2021
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Maxwell Shane

I dunno if this is actually Film Noir.  It sure didn't feel like it, but Eddie showed it and brought Dana Delaney along, so who am I to argue?

The Glass Wall (1953) was a contemporary issue movie in 1953, but one that echoes in the events of today.  A Hungarian WWII camp survivor and resistance fighter has stowed away on a ship and arrived in New York.  But with no papers, he's set to be turned away and returned to Europe where he is fairly certain he will be killed.

Any of this ringing a bell?

He's stowed away under the notion that if he can find an American he saved and hid for days in a haystack, that man will support his entry to the US.  But all he knows is a first name and that he plays the coronet.  So - he makes good his escape, pursued by the law, walking through the streets of New York.

Also starring Gloria Grahame in a surprisingly small role for her at the time.  But after Bold and the Beautiful, Grahame knew she'd been good in earthier roles like in Crossfire, and so appears as a factory worker, down on her luck and knocked around by life.  (She also steals the coat of an impossibly young Kathleen Freeman, who makes a federal case out of it eve though she gets her coat back).   

Less familiar will be the stripper with a heart of hold, played by Robin Raymond - a very Americanized Hungarian transplant living with her less-adjusted mother and deeply American brother (Joe Turkel!*).  It's a great part of the film I hadn't seen coming, and rather than platitudes and Gloria Grahame looking amazing as a shop-worn girl who needs a pal - typical movie stuff - it's a look at the multiple angles of the immigrants here in the US.  And, man, in one of those shining moments of film, it feels *true*.  

In this era of dismissing the UN as useless, it's also a time capsule of what the UN was supposed to be, and what it represented to the world in the wake of the atrocities and devastation of WWII.  And as quickly as it's established, we can see how useless an empty UN is - maybe something not intended in the way you can see it now, but certainly how it was meant at the time.

Star Vittorio Gassman is exactly what the film needed - a handsome face that could look desperate.  The film wasn't shot entirely on backlots.  There's some real footage of Gassman on the streets of 1953 NYC including Times Square.  It's chaotic and dark, lit with neon.  As Gassman looks for his friend, the loneliness and alienation are stunning.  

The movie also features Ann Robinson from War of the Worlds and a handful of character actors, as well as real jazz musicians like Jack Teagarden and Shorty Rogers.  

The movie isn't great, but I have a feeling - because of it's period messages reverberating to today - I'll remember it.  




*ah, you know him from Blade Runner and The Shining.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Halloween Price Watch: House of Wax (1953)




Watched:  10/04/2021
Format:  Amazon
Viewing:  Third
Decade:  1950's
Director:  AndrĂ© De Toth

I knew I'd seen this one again in recent years, and here's that post from 2012.  The one thing I'd walk back from that post is - yeah, this is necessary viewing.  I dig it.  You should watch it.

The movie has a terrific cast, great sets, really good make-up and costuming.  It feels high budget (I genuinely don't know if the listed $1 million budget was high or not.  I see Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, that same year, was $2.3 million, for comparison, and that movie looks super expensive.).  But, House of Wax made that budget back twenty-times over, including a couple of re-releases, one in the 70's.

The movie was also originally in 3D, and one day, maybe Alamo Drafthouse will show this in 3D.  That would be great.  I mean:  it's got an extended paddle-ball sequence that demands to be seen in 3D.  

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Noir Watch: Hell Bound (1957)




Watched:  09/30/2021
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  William J. Hole  Jr. (what a name)

Confession - I sort of 3/4ths watched Hell Bound (1957).  I watched it from beginning to end, but was checking email and whatnot.  

It's a low-budget/ poverty-rowish crime caper, complete with post-Naked City heavy-handed voice-over in a bizarre film-within-a-film conceit.  It's a heist picture, and I genuinely wish I'd paid more attention (and will rewatch at some point), as this one does a surprisingly good job of setting up "here's how the heist will go" and "here's how none of those carefully planned steps worked out" as the characters pursue their own vices and agendas.  Classic heist stuff.

In some ways, heist pictures and books speak to me as a Project Manager.  It's a funky angle, but there's always a plan you're supposed to be sticking to, and then the job becomes about wrangling cats and dealing with unforeseen complications.  You can plan, but God laughs, etc...

You're mostly not going to know the talent.  There's a "that guy" I think I know from Dark Passage, but everyone else was a bit of a mystery.  The movie does give a role to Miss January 1957, and she's good!  She went on to a long career (and married one of Ozzie Nelson's kids for a while).  

Mostly - it's got some great street-level photography of Los Angeles, some of it probably shot guerilla style.  But especially the back 1/3rd has some memorable stuff as our lead antagonist runs like hell through industrial ports and junk yard (seeing the stacked street cars waiting to be scrapped is a punishing image).  

Anyway - I'll definitely rewatch at some point.   



Saturday, September 25, 2021

Mixed-Feelings Watch: Man on a Tightrope (1953)




Watched:  09/23/2021
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Elia Kazan

I'm somewhat shocked I'd never heard of this movie before.  But, that's what TCM is all about - pulling out movies from the library and saying "here you go.  This one's solid.  Folks used to know how to make a movie, huh?"  

Brought to TCM on a night in which Dana Delaney co-hosted (with Eddie Muller) a slate of films featuring screen legend Gloria Grahame, Delaney came ready to talk.  

Look - I have some mixed feelings on this one.  It's a terrific movie.  I believe in the conceit of the film, and I think Muller explained it as well as you could, so I'm in a hard-agree mode.  As much as I generally agree that Kazan is an amazing director, the guy named names during HUAC that did a lot of damage.  

So, when a movie is about the iron grip of post WWII Soviet-style governance in Czechoslovakia, and how it pushes an a-political head of a circus to consider his options...  well, I tend to agree with anyone who wasn't a fan of Stalinism or the authoritarian/ police-state governance employed in Eastern Europe.  This movie could easily spin up a TL;DR post or a full college thesis, but... I'll be merciful. 

Friday, September 24, 2021

Melodrama Watch: All That Heaven Allows (1955)




Watched:  09/24/2021
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's (so, so 1950's)
Director:  Douglas Sirk

Douglas Sirk was a @#$%ing mad man.  

This is one of the most bizarre looking and beautiful movies I've ever seen - like someone went to technicolor and just said "this one goes to 11".  Every shot looks like one of those super-saturated ads from a 1950's print magazine, is perfectly framed and blocked.  It's just amazing to look at. 

The story is not exactly whisper thin, and it's some very real stuff served up as a fluffy morality play.  Sirk was a guy who knew his audience - we first studied him in the "women's pictures" unit in film school.  But that audience is absolutely not just women, it just puts women front and center in their own stories.  

Jane Wyman (Ms. Falconcrest herself) plays a middle-aged widow with two grown kids (well, college-aged) who is dealing with the nonsense of East Coast bougie social life, including husbands making passes at her (not cool, husbands).  Wyman's best pal is, of course, Agnes Moorehead.  Who looks fantastic by the way.*

Ida Watch: Private Hell 36 (1954)

this movie was also released as "Baby Face Killers" which makes no sense and is hilarious

Watched:  09/23/2021
Format:  BluRay
Viewing:  Second
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Don Siegel

I'd see this one before, one of the films from The Filmmakers, the producing company founded by Ida Lupino and her husband at the time.  Lupino had co-written the film, and co-stars in what I find an interesting role as a down-on-her-luck lounge singer who happens to be a witness valuable to two detectives (Steve Cochrane and Howard Duff) as they seek a murderer who has fled to LA and is now passing bills known to have been stolen in a murder/ robbery.  

It's a cheaper film, so it's smaller and occasionally falls into the trap of letting scenes linger on so we can make the necessary 80 minute feature run-time.  And there's a whole scene at the beginning that seems like a favor to Steve Cochrane so he can tear apart a set and do some cool action sequence stuff (there's not a ton of action, otherwise).  

But, I do like the set-up quite a bit.  Cochrane as the morally-shakey cop, Huff as the cop with a wife (Dorothy Malone in platinum hair) and kid who wants to be the one with the straight moral compass - who are assigned to track down the mysterious NY criminals.  Along the way they meet Lupino and eventually track down the criminal - and all that cash.  

Cochrane believes he needs money if he's going to keep Lupino, and Huff... is conflicted.  If the movie has a slow mid-section, it has some great moments of punctuation.  

Anyway, it's got some pure noir baked in, and something of an accidental femme fatale.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Noir Watch: Human Desire (1954)

weird.  I used that same tag line in my wedding vows.



Watched:  09/20/2021
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM 
Viewing:  Second
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Fritz Lang

First - this episode of Noir Alley was hosted by Eddie Muller and actor Dana Delaney, and what a goddamn delight.  Delaney has a presence and intellect that fits in perfectly with the TCM vibe.  She's a total cool kid who knows her stuff.  This wasn't, as happens on TCM from time to time, some actor wandering in who kinda-sorta likes a topic or film.  She wrote articles on Gloria Grahame for this quarter's Noir City magazine - so she was more than a bit prepared.  And, as long as she's Dana Delaney, she's going to be great talking about any topic.

Human Desire (1954) has enough elements going for it that it's totally watchable, but there's a reason I haven't returned to it til now.  Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame star.  It's directed by Fritz Lang.  There's a budget behind it.  You can do worse than Broderick Crawford.  My memory of it was the last act sort of falls apart, and before the movie opened, Delaney basically explained why:  I guess they totally rewrote the last act from the book and French movie it was based upon, and for some reason give Glenn Ford's character a moral high ground he hasn't earned and Graham's character is totally thrown to the wolves despite this making no sense in the film.  

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Noir Watch: Drive a Crooked Road (1954)




Watched:  09/15/2021
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Richard Quine

Before the movie, Muller pointed out that this film sure feels like the same story they use in The Killers from 1964.  If you asked me which to pick, I'd say to reach for The Killers, unless you have the option of the 1946 The Killers, which shares only some cosmetic similarities.  

But, Drive a Crooked Road (1954) was better than I figured, but still not setting the world on fire.  Starring Mickey Rooney as a lonely-hearts mechanic and would-be-race-car-driver, it hits all the beats of noir in a very small scale and is intended to give Rooney a new persona as far from Andy Hardy as possible. 

It doesn't hurt that a young Kevin McCarthy plays a bank-robber who sets up Rooney to fall for his girl, the Rita Hayworth-ish Dianne Foster, and get him wrapped up into a bank robbery as the get away wheelman.  

And, unlike most noir films, they do literally perform the action of the title and drive a crooked road to get away from a bank as we turn the corner into the third act.  

Foster is... okay.  She was clearly signed because she... looks good on film.  But she never quite knocks it out of the park in the charisma department or has that ineffable quality that would have made a really solid femme fatale role one for the ages.  She's not boring, and you get how Rooney's character can't believe how his fortunes have turned when she shows interest, but I can imagine the role in someone else's hands (Rhonda Fleming, honestly) and how much more they might have squeezed out of the part.

McCarthy and his pal played by Jack Kelly are a buyable counterpoint to Rooney's guileless driver.

What really struck me was the third act feeling like crime fiction of the era and earlier, with the quiet, doomed ending when I expected the usual Hayes-approved turn to escape and a happy life for our protagonist as his bad-girl turns good.

Nope.

Anyway, a great installment for this week's Noir Alley.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Brit Noir Watch: Cloudburst (1951)




Watched:  09/06/2021
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:

There's trouble!  Right here in London City!

It's interesting that the French focused so hard on the American films they'd dub "film noir".  It's not like the British weren't making gloomy crime movies around the same time.  Night and the City, Brighton Rock and others point not just to the "noir movement" in England, but that the films made there weren't afraid to go incredibly dark.

Produced by Hammer (they did more than horror, kids), this one stars American Robert Preston as a Canadian in service to British Intelligence as a codebreaker still doing his work in the wake of WWII to help prosecute war criminals.  The film takes place just a year after the war, and Preston is married to a fellow intelligence officer whom he fell in love with during their time as POWs, where both were tortured.

They have a chance now at a happy, calm life, with a baby on the way, when - one night as they pause on a country roadside considering buying some property, Preston's wife is struck and killed by criminals escaping a murder.  

Monday, August 23, 2021

Noir Re-Watch: The Big Heat (1953)




Watched:  08/22/2021
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  Unknown
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Fritz Lang

It's possible to say that The Big Heat (1953) is one of my favorite films.  I've seen it plenty, will watch parts of it when it pops up on TCM or wherever, and I think about parts of it a lot when considering other films.  I found it when I was discovering Gloria Grahame, and she's absolutely part of why I always come back to the movie.  She's so dang good in this movie as gangsters moll Debby Marsh - a plucky girl who has compromised a lot so she doesn't sink back into poverty.   To me, while she's very different from movies to movie, "excellent" is typical for the era from Grahame- but some consider this to be her final "great" performance.  Okay.  Fair enough.  She had some issues.  But what a way to leave a mark in cinema.

But I'm also fascinated by the story of the cop who spends his days and nights "white knighting" and not participating in the rampant corruption of his police department, only to lose his wife and... snap.  Like, Glenn Ford's Dave Bannion is not okay through a big part of the film.  It's an unusual fall from grace for a Hayes Era film, and while Bannion never quite breaks the Hayes Code, he sure seems like he might here and there.  

It's also got Lee Marvin in an early role, just filling up the screen and seeming like a whole lot more than the psycho second banana he's supposed to be, and playing it with a cool believability that his peers on screen aren't yet able to muster.

Anyway, I've written about this one before, and it's be a kick to podcast at some point.  So I'll duck out here.  But if you haven't seen it, give it a chance.  It feels remarkably modern for something 70 years old.

  

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Noir Watch: Where Danger Lives (1950)




Watched:  08/11/2021
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  Second
Decade:  1950's
Director:  John Farrow

I had seen this before, about eight years ago, but only remembered bits and pieces of it.  

Mitchum plays an over worked San Francisco-based doctor who plans to leave the hospital to start his own practice (and not put in 24 hour days).  He's got a swell gal in the person a Maureen O'Sullivan, a very understanding nurse, and all is looking good.  UNTIL.  He takes on a suicide attempt in the person of Faith Domergue - pitched here as the sexy, wealthy, society gal who throws herself at Mitchum.  That is until he figures out that Claude Raines (in high Raines style here) is not her father, but her husband.  A scuffle ensues, and Raines ends up dead.  Plus, Mitchum ends up concussed when he was already drunk.

Domergue leads Mitchum on, and they make a pretty classic noir-era cross-country escape to get across the border and escape murder charges.   Meanwhile, Domergue might be a lunatic and Mitchum has a serious concussion that needs attention.

It has a bit of a fugitive The Live By Night, on the lam quality, a noir staple (I'm immediately thinking of a few others, including High Sierra).  And comparisons to Detour are inevitable and unfortunate as that shines a light on the fact that Domergue just isn't Ann Savage.  It's a bit unclear what the appeal is beyond "pretty".  As nutsy as Ann Savage was, she at least had personality to spare.  

Still, it's a good watch for a second viewing in 10 years.  Mitchum is surprisingly dialed in, playing the increasing medical trauma in a buyable, understated way that stretches him beyond "awesome dude with troubles".  Raines was probably on set for 3 days to get his part in, but he's terrific.  

There are a number of setbacks for our leads en route to Mexico, and, frankly, they feel both concocted to the point of stretching credulity and absolutely like the dumb things that can keep you from achieving what seems like very reasonable goals.  Especially while traveling.  

Anyway - I don't dislike it, but there's a reason I only sort-of remembered it before turning it on.  But from now on it'll be "the one where Mitchum gets way-layed by small-town folk and their insistence on beards".

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Thriller Watch: Cause for Alarm! (1951)




Watched:  07/27/2021
Format:  Noir Alley on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Tay Garnett

Much like Beware, My Lovely, also written by Mel Dinelli, Cause for Alarm! (1951) feels like it could have been a play just as easily as a film.  The action takes place in a very limited amount of time, in very few locations, and resolve not abruptly, but quickly and fairly completely (minus a body or two).  And, a very small cast.  I think there's maybe 8 characters with speaking parts, if that.

I try to keep up with Noir Alley on TCM anyway, but you can do far worse than Loretta Young as your star.  I'll categorize the movie as noir because, hey, Eddie Muller had it on his show, but like Beware, My Lovely, it feels more like a straight thriller than particularly noir, either from an aesthetic or thematic standpoint.  

Monday, July 12, 2021

Noir Watch: Guilty Bystander (1950)




Watched:  07/11/2021
Format:  TCM Noir Alley
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  

I had absolutely no idea what Guilty Bystander (1950) was, and it sounds like the making of the film is film-worthy in and of itself.  I've seen enough low-budget films from the 1950's to recognize one when I see one, and it's positively weird to see Zachary Scott - five years earlier in blockbuster Mildred Pierce - and Faye Emerson, now married to American royalty, trying to save a picture through force of will and acting when the story is a mess and sometimes a scene just drones on for minutes past its expiration date.  

Weirdly, it also has some fascinating stuff!  Zach Scott plays an ex-cop who was maybe sliding toward alcoholism (as the very real Zach Scott was doing) when he made a mistake and decided to quit the force.  Which led to him leaving the very-together Faye Emerson, who you think would have gotten his straightened out if he'd stuck around.  She's tough, man!  Anyway, now he's a hotel detective in a hotel that seems like it can't afford a desk clerk, let alone a detective.  But mostly he just drinks.  Until Faye Emerson comes and gets him to tell him his son has been... taken?  Disappeared?  Anyway, he's not home.

Scott then basically tries to stay sober through the film, and it's kind of weird and depressing to watch as he sometimes does have a drink and people give him drinks knowing they shouldn't.  It's kinda heavy.

But it's also a mess of a movie that doesn't make a ton of sense, has some wildly convenient happenstances, and sometimes just refuses to agree that a scene is over or should change camera angles.  I cannot imagine what chips were cashed in to get Sam Levene for his scene as Scott's former cop colleague, but they clearly only had him for a few hours, because... in many movies, they change camera angles.  But I always like Sam Levene popping up.  


Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Joan Watch: Queen Bee (1955)




Watched: 06/22/2021
Format:  Amazon Watch Party
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Ranald MacDougall

Jenifer was good enough to host a watch party this evening and selected Queen Bee (1955), a film from Joan Crawford's mid-40's to mid-50's cycle.  

I'd label the movie as a "Southern Gothic Melodrama", and I wouldn't be shocked to see it pop up on Noir Alley, either, but not til we've exhausted other films like Flamingo Road, which fits the bill better.   I genuinely enjoyed the film, in part because it's so bonkers and done with complete sincerity as Crawford manipulates everyone around her in a grand old house in small-town Georgia.  

The film co-stars Barry Sullivan and John Ireland, but our POV is the young cousin of Crawford played by Lucy Marlow, who arrives after her schooling to be a sort of companion/ secretary to Crawford.  But I just figured out the woman playing one smaller role was Fay Wray, aged 48 or so.  Mind officially blown.

You can't not comment on the fact that Crawford was 50 or older when the movie was filmed and is still playing a woman who is probably supposed to be no older than 35.  I can never think of anyone who pulled this sort of thing off in the studio-era for as many movies in a row who wasn't Mae West.  But casting contemporary Wray against her as a former rival for the affections of Barry Sullivan, is no mean feat.  And, look, it's not a criticism.  Crawford's make-up was more a problem by 1955 than the actual aging process, and in some shots and in some entire films from the era, it works.  Crawford herself is no less powerful an actress, and one wonders if she dialed it back how she might have appeared (although her hair in this film is the tight perm of the mid-50's that did few women any favors). 

But, yeah, it's a tidy 100-or so minutes of Crawford wreaking all sorts of havoc upon her own family and their lovers.  It's got some outstanding dialog, terrific cinematography (Charles Lang), and you can't outguess the movie as it unfolds.  

 

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Teen Watch: High School Hellcats (1958)




Watched:  06/05/2021
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's (and how)
Director:  Edward Bernds


TEENS.

TEEN GIRLS.

TEEN GIRLS IN A GANG.

A gang that TRICKS YOU INTO WEARING SLACKS WHEN THAT IS STRICTLY AGAINST THE DRESS CODE.

High School Hellcats (1958) is part of the post WWII shock and awe that occurred when the Greatest Generation had their own kids, and since we were in our first real generation where kids weren't sent to a field or factory or married off at age 14, we accidentally invented "the teenager", and then, immediately, "the juvenile delinquent" when those teens used their free time and allowances to cause a ruckus by dancing to rock AND roll down at the soda fountain.

This movie is dumb as hell, following the dumber-than-a-bag-of-rocks protagonist/ heroine "Joyce" as she is moved to a new town.  Borrowing from Rebel Without a Cause (3 years earlier), Joyce's parents are distracted with lawyering and Bridge Club, and just want for her to behave, be home for supper and not date boys.  Also, pointedly, for a now kinda not exactly a slip of a girl to not run around the house in her underwear.  In truth, Joyce is a moron and a boor, so you kinda understand why dad wants her on a short leash.

She moves to a new school which is apparently segregated by gender, and she's immediately bullied into joining a gang called "The Hellcats", who seem to both seem hate her and insist on her membership and loyalty.  Yes, they neg her into joining.  Their big initiation is tricking her into wearing pants, which she isn't supposed to do.  When her teacher says "oh, yeah, we don't do that at this school.  Not a huge deal.  Do you have a skirt?" in tears she runs out of the school and seeks solace in the person of a local soda jerk who claims he's going to college and denies having any personal attachments, so he'll just focus on Joyce, thank you.  Entirely on Joyce.*

The gang is made up of some real winners and  insists Joyce get nothing higher than a "D" for a grade, and is otherwise obsessed with parliamentary procedure.  Joyce is all in.  If she's going to randomly decide who to people-please while acting shocked that anyone else has some pretty basic expectations of her as a human, throwing in with the down-slope of the bell curve is absolutely the way to a brighter future.

I'm not clear on what The Hellcats existed to do.  There's no organized crime, there don't seem to be threats of violence from which Joyce needs protection  - except the Hellcats themselves, and then it seems like telling a teacher or principal "hey, those girls just threatened me.  Is this normal?" would start the needed conversation.  We're told the school is crawling with gangs, but...  it's not apparent this is true or why or what for.  So, in the manner of all people searching for a reason to exist when there is none - they really do get hooked on their internal rules.  And as we all know, nothings says "rebel" like coming up with new and arbitrary rules!

Look, this movie is prime quality MST3K/ RiffTrax/ Friday Watch Party material.  At the same time, knowing how sneaky and dumb high schoolers can be (and more than occasionally homicidal), it's hard to say "oh, this is so unbelievable".  Y'all, if you told me all this was based on real events, I'd just say "yeah, okay.  Man, high schoolers are dumb."  Not all of them, but, you know, a LOT of them.  This is where we get dumb adults.  

I HIGHLY recommend High School Hellcats.  It's short, mind-bending, an absolute time-capsule, and shows what happens when you cross a second-banana who knows she's absolutely peaking before graduation.

Out of nowhere, it gets really dark really fast, and just gets darker from there as everyone on screen makes wildly stupid choices but which would make for a keen set-up for Season 2 of Mare of Easttown.

*it's a reminder that back in the day, anyone over the age of 14 was, apparently, fair game.  And why we have certain laws in place.  

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Whoops Watch: Gun Crazy (1950)




Watched:  06/05/2021
Format:  TCM
Viewing:  Unknown
Decade:  1950's
Director:   Joseph H. Lewis

Well, I turned on the TV and Gun Crazy (1950) was on TCM and at the part where an adult Bart meets Annie Laurie at the sideshow, and the next thing I knew I was finishing the movie.  

So, yeah.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Musical Watch: Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956)




Watched:  06/02/2021
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Roy Rowland

Cyd Charisse is Star of the Month on TCM.  We're on record that Cyd Charisse is a pretty good idea in general, and so we're going to watch some of these movies we've not seen before (they're airing on Tuesdays in June).  

This one felt more or less like an excuse for a variety of talents and Vegas floor shows to do a little something here and there in a showcase tucked between the paper-thin story of a Vegas gambler/ rancher and a ballerina who meet and fall in love.  That ballerina is, of course, Charisse.  You won't know the gambler/ rancher.

But the movie also has Agnes Moorehead as an earthy ranchwoman, Jim Backus as a casino manager, George Chakiris as a young romantic, Paul Henreid as Cyd's manager, Frankie Lane as Frankie Lane, and... most exciting of surprises... Lena Horne as Lena Horne.  

It's... dopey and fine.  I don't love it.  Charisse is amazing in every one of her numbers, not the least of which is a "Frankie and Johnny" performance (with narration by Sammy Davis Jr.).  

Anyway, I wouldn't rush out to see it, but it's... fine.


Saturday, May 29, 2021

Noir Watch: The Brothers Rico (1957)




Watched:  05/27/2021
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Phil Karlson

For gangster and crime film fans, there's a lot to like in The Brothers Rico (1957), and I have to wonder how many future gangster pictures were influenced by this one.  A story about family loyalty, gang loyalty, and where the two intersect, it's a tough picture.

Fortunately, it stars Richard Conte, who plays Eddie Rico, the eldest brother, pitch perfect.  A former mob accountant, Eddie's gotten out, left NYC and is running a laundry company handling industrial jobs like hotels.  He's married to a girl from the old neighborhood who talked him into getting out - and he's domesticated and ready to adopt a child when he's reminded he's still taking orders from New York.  And on the heels of that, he finds his brothers have been involved in a hit, and aren't following the mobster playbook.  One of them fell in love and grew a conscience.  

Throw in an old school Italian mother (Argentina Brunetti) who sees her ties to the mob as a good thing for she and her family, when not genuflecting, and it's more than the usual mob story, and hints at what's coming in mob fiction.  

There's no white-knight cop in this, nor any sign of law enforcement.  Nor is there anywhere to go where the New York mob hasn't syndicated operations.  As noir, it's about a character's belief in people, despite the fact they run a system that was always murderous, violent and corrupt.  He may have walked away as a friend in his mind, but he had never truly walked away - especially with his brothers remaining entangled.

There are some phenomenal scenes in the film (Conte waiting all day with the local boss in his hotel room), and Conte's scenes with his mother.

But at the end of the day, the film has a very weird Hollywood ending that just doesn't fit everything we saw before.  And absolutely can't have been what was in the original novel by Simenon or in the original screenplay.  

Still, worth watching.  Sometimes it feels positively modern.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Noir Watch: Touch of Evil (1958)




Watched:  05/22/2021
Format:  Noir Alley on DVR
Viewing:  Unknown - 4th?
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Orson Welles

Jesus, this movie.  

For anyone who wants to talk about the great days of America and imagines the 1950's as some period of Leave It To Beaver simplicity, knowing that the era could also produce a movie that every corrupt cop movie has tried to stand up to since is a hell of a reality check.  In an era where even the noir films were being relit for eventual television distribution (less in content than in visuals), Welles' final Hollywood backed opus hits some of the darkest notes in a noir of the entire era.  

I've written before about how anxious Touch of Evil (1958) makes me, and that's still true.  I'd previously attributed most of that anxiety to the frustration and sympathy with Janet Leigh's young bride character who seems to be (a) the only one with a clear-eyed view of the situation, (b) in absolute peril from multiple forms of assault, and (c) utterly ignored by the macho men playing cops and robbers around her - she's an absolute prop, even to her own husband.

SPOILERS

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Watch Party Watch: Voodoo Woman (1957)




Watched:  04/26/2021
Format:  Amazon Watch Party
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Edward L. Cahn

So, Voodoo Woman (1957) is a low-budget picture released through API that's more or less a jungle horror adventure aimed at teens, I think.  

The plot gives us the ruthless Marilyn (Marla English) who wants GOLD in the jungle, I think.  Anyway, she dupes a local barkeep into funding her as she talks her would-be boyfriend (Lance Fuller) into going out there, along with a hired guide/ tough guy (Touch Connors).  But - whoops - they're headed for a village where voodoo magic is melding with mad science as colonialist scientician Dr. Roland Gerard (Tom Conway) is working with local tribes people who perform voodoo to (a) prove you can transform a person into a sort of Voodoo Monster, and (b) use science to keep them in that state.

I won't bother you with more details.  It's a movie that is rigidly against more than three set-ups per scene, doesn't make much sense, but has both an AMAZING monster suit for the titular Voodoo Woman and Marla English is terrific as the scheming evil-lady at the center of the picture.  

Go in expecting a movie-serial-level production and you'll be fine!