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

Friday, April 12, 2024

Noir Watch: Born to be Bad (1950)

oh, come on.  Clearly the artist forgot about the assignment til the night before.

Watched:  04/11/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Nicholas Ray
Selection:  moi

Uh.  So, this movie is not bad, no matter how it was born.  But Born to Be Bad (1950) is just not my cup of tea.  I can see how if you squint it's film noir, but it tilts much further toward just straight melodrama in my book.  

And I think it's odd I wasn't into it, even as a melodrama.  Directed by Nicholas Ray, starring Joan Fontaine, Robert Ryan, Mel Ferrer, Joan Leslie and Signal Watch fave Zachary Scott, I thought it would be a slam dunk.  But it's like Diet Coke All About Eve or something (curiously, All About Eve is also a 1950 release).  

Joan Fontaine plays a seemingly sweet young woman who comes to San Francisco (seen in exactly one shot) who is going to rent a room from Joan Leslie, engaged to millionaire Zachary Scott.  Novelist Robert Ryan is floating around, and she goes for him, but also while undermining Joan Leslie and Scott's relationship.  

In short, there's no real crime or danger in the movie.  It's just... Joan Fontaine being a naughty person and people take a while to figure it out.  

Now, I think this movie would be a *blast* to do as a watch party or to riff.  It's very well made, but Fontaine is such a heel in this, and everyone else such a dupe, it seems like you could have some fun playing along.  It's sort of the spirit Mel Ferrer's character is engaged with the movie, anyway.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Noir Watch: The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

Watched:  04/08/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Vincent Sherman
Selection:  Me

First:  The Damned Don't Cry (1950) is an amazing, pulpy-perfect name for a movie.  I am not sure more movies need to do this in this age, but The Dead Don't Hurt coming soon as a Western is a pretty dang solid name, too.  Marketers, challenge yourself when selling movies!  

Criterion Channel currently has a series going on featuring noir films made in 1950 entitled "Peak Noir", and I'm going to catch all of them I haven't seen.  Honestly, shoving Joan Crawford into a movie from this series was going to get me to prioritize it, so here we are. 

Crawford plays a mother to a young child, married to a roughneck and living with her parents in near poverty.  After the tragic death of her child on a bike they couldn't afford, she splits and heads for New York.  She moves swiftly into modelling for a dress-maker, and finds it has a side-hustle that's not quite prostitution, but adjacent.  Meeting a harmless CPA, she sees a way out, and gets him better gigs working for shady operations (and I think it's assumed, they're friendly).  However, this means she meets a 50's-style syndicate boss, and she trades up to become his kept woman.  

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Noir Watch: No Way Out (1950)

Watched:  04/06/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Joseph L. Mankiewicz

If you want to see a young actor show up with a ton of star power - and this was Sidney Poitier's real screen debut - seeing him in this film is extraordinary.  Heck, in most ways, this film is extraordinary.  

I thought No Way Out (1950) was a simpler film, but confess I didn't know anything about the plot or set-up.  Just that it starred young Poitier, the always great Richard Widmark and Linda Darnell, who is always a good reason to watch a film.  

Poitier plays a doctor just done with school on his first day as an official doctor.  He's sent to treat two criminals caught during a robbery, shot and in need of care.  One of them is displaying bizarre symptoms and while Poitier is looking into what ails him via a spinal tap, one of the crooks dies.  His horrendously racist brother (Widmark) is convinced Poitier killed him on purpose.  

While the hospital backs Poitier, Poitier still wants an autopsy, and so they go to the dead man's wife (Darnell) to get her to convince the brother that an autopsy should be performed.  Widmark convinces her that the hospital is looking to cover up the evidence of foul play, which she conveys to the residents of Beaver Canal, which is where the poorest (and apparently most racist) folks in their city live.  

Soon, a race riot breaks out, but rather than have it happen in their neighborhood, the Black men head to Beaver Canal.  Things get violent.

There's a wide array of characters in the film, from the progressive chief doctor supporting Poitier to the pragmatic hospital director to the elevator operator who sees Poitier as stepping outside of his place to the domestic who knows more than she says.  And, of course, Poitier's family, with a negative nelly of a matriarch.  It's a great way of showing some of the complexity everyone is dealing with, and even the purest of intentions gets mangled by agendas and scars (some literal).  

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Noir Watch: Pushover (1954)

Watched:  04/03/2024
Format:  TCM Noir Alley
Viewing:  Second
Director:  Richard Quine
Selection:  Myself via Noir Alley

I vaguely recalled watching this movie several years ago, and liking it well enough.  And, sure enough, in 2011, I'd seen it during one of my noir sprints.   

The post linked above is good enough at providing a synopsis.  I would argue my appreciation for the film is probably greater at this point than in 2011.  On that first viewing I was a bit dismissive about the stakes and the scope being too small of a plot for a movie in modern terms, comparing it to a single episode of a cop show, but i feel like And that may be somewhat true:  I don't think this would be greenlit - or at least the execution would now be greatly reimagined.  But I'd walk that back to:  this is a full arc for a prestige TV show. 

What I don't think, now, is that I quite grasped exactly how noir this movie is, how much one could use it on an exam to say "now, in what ways is Novak's character a femme fatale?" and "what mistakes did Fred MacMurray's character make and why did he make them?"  The movie is like a punchlist of what makes noir, noir - right down to the contrasting story with Dorothy Malone as the bubbly nurse living nextdoor to Novak and the "good" cop slowly falling for her.

There's the obvious 50's film favorite issue of voyeurism, which I mostly previously discussed in the framework of "oh, hey, Vertigo also came out around the same time."  While it's impossible not to think of Hitch's film, this movie seems less aware of the perverse thrill of people-watching, and treats it in a "boys will be boys" way as our cops enjoy their stakeout ogling women, which only really serves as subtext and draws commentary as discussion external to the film.  

The movie is also not just beautifully shot, but I think you need to be impressed by the editing.  A good chunk of the film takes place in and around a single apartment building, in and out of doors - almost to the point of absurdity - and it's never a question for the audience who is where and what they're doing. There's some modern version of this with cameras and a split screen tracking everyone.  

I also didn't say much about Novak in the original post, but it is her first film, and she's an astounding natural talent.  She's very young here - something like 20, and she already has polish of a seasoned actor (which may be Quine's direction).  Her character is going through a lot, and I think only once did I think "is that the right reading of that line?" but it was the one that wound up in the film on purpose.  But, yeah, amazing work from Novak who is both the center and kind of heart of the film.

Anyway, I don't know that this movie will change your life, but it's better than I gave it credit for on the first viewing.  

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Noir Watch: The Big Combo (1955)

Watched:  03/22/2024
Format:  TCM
Viewing:  3rd?  4th?
Director:  Joseph H. Lewis
Selection:  'tis I

Sometime in my 20's (I'm now dangerously close to the end of my 40's) in trying to read up on and learn about film noir, I came across a single still image:

I mean, that is noir in a single frame there

Whether you are into film noir or not, it's possible you've seen this still, pulled for the final minute of The Big Combo (1955).  Upon learning the film's name, I went and found the movie.  It was one of the first things I'd call "film noir" which I intentionally watched on my path to better-knowing what we meant by "noir".  

And, hey, it was a really good picture to stumble into somewhat by accident.  If you're looking for something to tick all the boxes I tend to think of as elements of noir, it's hitting a lot of them - all except a true femme fatale.  We'll leave discussion of Out of the Past or Angel Face as prime example of the fatal-ist of femmes for another time (I have no quibble with Stanwyck in Double Indemnity, but she manages to somehow remain a bit sympathetic in her way, to me).  

We get:
  • obsessed detective
  • "pure" woman promising hope (and who is being corrupted!)
  • you're putting everything on the line for a girl
  • suffering in style, as Mueller would say

Upon a first viewing, I wasn't familiar with any of the players except Lee Van Cleef, and of course now know who Cornel Wilde, Brian Donlevy, Richard Conte and others are, and am a fan of their work on various levels (I really like Conte).  I had never heard of director Joseph H. Lewis, but more importantly, I was unfamiliar with the work of John Alton, director of cinematography.   

The story is a post-Laura tale of an obsessed cop (Wilde), but in this film, two obsessions, intertwined.  He wants to take down mobster "Mr. Brown" (Conte), but in his investigation, he's come across Brown's ladyfriend, Susan (Jean Wallace), who seems to be now more of an object or bit of property to Brown than a girlfriend, and she can't escape, constantly wrangled by Brown's two lackeys (Van Cleef and Earl Holliman).  Susan is spiraling as she deals with the hopelessness of her situation, and our cop, Diamond, is starting to crack a bit himself, as his own department thinks this is a wild goose chase and a bad way to spend funds.  And, of course, his boss says "well, you're in love with the girl," which is maybe true.  

There's an ex-girlfriend of Diamond played by Helene Stanton who only did a handful of pictures, but she's honestly really good in this movie.*  

Look, I don't want to spoil the whole story.  It's a twisty crime yarn with all sorts of good stuff, and what I think are stellar performances by everyone involved.  Wallace kills it as a Susan, I absolutely believe Wilde in this movie, and Conte is fan-fucking-tastic.  You will hate Mr. Brown!   Even if you kind of like his two pet psychos.

The movie is a really good entry point for how you got sex and violence into Hayes Code-era films, with what's clearly one of the dirtiest shots in 50's-noir (I just learned thanks to TCM's Dave Karger that Wilde was super-pissed his wife was in the scene).  And it features two gunmen who are clearly more than just pals.  

All of this is great stuff, and worthy of study.  But if I was going to tell you "watch this film" for a particular reason, it's going to be the cinematography.   This is sort of the apotheosis of noir light and shadow.  Sure, maybe Double Indemnity technically has some better tricks up its sleeve, or James Wong Howe is going to bend your mind a bit - and no shade on any of that work.  But, The Big Combo is here to show you how it's done with light and shadow, close-ups and wide shots and doing more with less.  It probably doesn't hurt that director Joseph H. Lewis was famed for finding interesting set-ups and angles, and this movie is full of them.  There's the assassination of McClure and Rita that stick out, Susan's attempts to escape, the dramatic lighting of the hospital room as Diamond tries to get to the bottom of things...  and of course the barely consensual encounter between Brown and Susan.  And of course I'd call out the entire final sequence where light is practically a character.  

Even if the story isn't your thing, or you can't hack 50's-era acting styles and narrative, it's worth seeing what John Alton did with some Klieg lights, some flags, some night shots, and a great eye.  

A lot gets thrown around as "this is noir!" by folks who have some specific ideas that are usually just scraping at the surface.  And I'm not saying you need Alton on a film or its not noir (or even the expressionistic use of light and shadow), but, got-damn, when he is the DP on one of these things, the results are stunning and it helped define a whole visual language we're still trying to grapple with.  

Anyway, no mistake he gets a big ol' credit at the head of the movie.

*and, my dude...  by the evidence presented, you may have made a mistake breaking up with Rita 

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Western Russell Watch: The Tall Men (1955)

Watched:  03/13/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Raoul Walsh
Selection:  me

I had a brief, brief moment at the start of this film where I wondered if Larry McMurtry hadn't seen this film and decided to borrow from it.  And... maybe, but unlikely.

This is kitchen sink western, with the wilds of the northern west, the frontierish town of San Antonio, cattle drives, hostile Sioux, weather, and one woman.

The basic gist is that the Allison brothers, played by Clark Gable and Cameron Mitchell, have gone northwest since the end of the Civil War, where they fought for the South in Quantrill's Raiders (look it up, and it is a choice).  After the war, they've decided to turn outlaw (really trying to not to editorialize historically here) and gone to Montana.  

Seeing what appears to be an easy mark in Robert Ryan and his moneybelt, they stick him up, only to find he has nothing but $100's, which would draw too much attention.  They strike a deal that Clark Gable will drive Ryan's cattle from San Antonio to Montana and they'll split the proceeds.  

On the way to San Antonio, they meet Jane Russell, who is travelling west to seek her fortune in California.  Eventually Gable and Russell wind up sort of falling for each other until it becomes clear their ideas of what life should be like don't jive.  In San Antonio, she falls in with Ryan and his money.

Together, they head to Montana with the cattle.  

Like a lot of these epic westerns, it's hard to say if this is an action-comedy-musical or what it is, exactly.  It's a fascinating period where a setting and period could open the door for a movie to wear a lot of genre hats under the banner of "Western".  

There's the genuine issue of Cameron Mitchell's characters' blood lust when he's drunk, and he's an alcoholic.  The challenge of moving cattle from Texas to Montana, through Kansas and then through Sioux territory.  And the utterly open question of why on earth Jane Russell went on the cattle drive with them back to Montana.  

There's parts of this movie I liked quite a bit.  I also find the movie a fascinating time capsule of a film that is a-ok with having it's heroes being not just former Confederates and their lost cause, but Quantrill's Raiders, who were notoriously awful people.  I won't comment much on the way the Sioux are depicted, because it's about what you'd expect, only marginally worse, maybe?  We have no actual Native American characters that are even seen in close-up.  And of course Hispanics are depicted as friendly and gregarious and existing to serve alpha male white dudes.  

The gender politics are wildly all over the place, with Russell an independent woman, and that's what the men like, but then still applying mid-50's POV to her - even after it falls flat.  But Russell is almost a cartoon throughout the movie, and we know she can play it serious, so it's a little odd.  She's also 20 years younger than Gable here, who is starting to show his age a bit and clearly playing a guy a decade or more younger.

In general, I like the cattle drive idea, and that it's staffed with vaqueros out of San Antonio, which has a nice historical realism to it.  And the drive footage is kind of beautiful.  And the overall plot of the film still basically works.  I just think there's a better film in here somewhere, and maybe I should just watch or re-read Lonesome Dove.  There is a whole sequence at the end I'd be curious how it got filmed, because it's people in the middle of a stampede, which seems... terrifying?  

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Russell Watch: The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1956)

Watched:  03/02/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Raoul Walsh
Selection:  Pretty clearly it was me

Criterion Channel announced their lineup of "collections" for the month, and among them was a series of films starring Hollywood legend Jane Russell.  I count myself as a fan of Russell - she's got a certain fire and intelligence I always dig in her roles - and took a peek at what was offered.  Having seen half of the movies on the list, and not wanting Jamie to have to watch a western, I clicked on The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1956) as it promised DeLuxe Color, widescreen photography and Hawaii.   

I can't say this was my favorite movie, but it was certainly *interesting* - for a medley of reasons.  It's a movie made post war about Hawaii in 1941, which gave the movie a framing I did not expect.  The basic story sounds like maybe the B or C plot to a more modern movie, but I do wonder if this movie didn't set that possibility of a plot into motion.

Mamie Stover (Russell) is a prostitute getting put on a boat to get her out of San Francisco (ie: she's getting run out of town by the cops, which makes you wonder what she'd gotten up to).  En route she meets a writer, Jim (Richard Egan), and they strike up a friendship as he considers her as a subject for his writing.  He's aware of her prior occupation, and he's pegged her story as one old as time.  The relationship turns romantic (I assume sexual, but 1956), and while Mamie offers to straighten up for him, Jim flat turns her down.  He's got a square society-dame girlfriend at home.

Jim isn't crazy for side-eyeing Mamie - she's clearly money-hungry and makes mistakes.  

Mamie lands a job at a club that's a clip joint/ brothel and does well.  Jim pops in to say hi, and they rekindle their romance (and assumed sexual relationship).  The classy girlfriend bails.  


Thursday, February 29, 2024

Water Watch: Million Dollar Mermaid (1952)

Watched:  02/28/2024
Format:  TCM
Viewing:  First
Director:  Mervyn LeRoy (with some Busby Berkely)
Selection:  Me

I've not seen many Esther Williams movies, but Million Dollar Mermaid (1952) often gets mentioned, so I thought we'd give it a spin since it played on TCM recently.  I was curious about what an Esther Williams movie might entail - can't be all swimming - so this seemed like a safe bet.

The thing I did not know was that Million Dollar Mermaid was (very, very loosely) based upon real life personality, Annette Kellermann, an Australian swimmer and entertainer.  I won't get too much into who Kellermann was, because I had never heard of her prior to watching the movie, so I'm no expert.  

A major clue at the end of the movie suggested that maybe this movie was mostly nonsense and not to be taken at all seriously as a biopic, and it's probably best to just think of this as a fantasy/ fictional account of Kellermann's life.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

SF Science-Fiction Watch: It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955)

Watched:  02/24/2024
Format:  Amazon 
Viewing:  First
Director:  Robert Gordon
Selection:  me

I was watching something recently - no idea what - and they showed clips from It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955), one of the 1950's staple sci-fi atomic-age monster horror movies I'd always meant to get around to, but it just never happened.  In the clips, I saw the giant, stop-motion squid at the center of the movie tearing up San Francisco-based landmarks so I thought "hey, let's watch that with Dug."

So, we did.

Quick note:  the version we watched on Amazon was colorized, and done pretty well, I believe by Amazon.  But it's not what I was intending to watch.  Beware which version you're clicking on when you agree to rent the film.

At the time, this movie was very successful, but seems to have been somewhat forgotten by Gen-X and subsequent generations.  Jamie stated out loud what I was wondering:  did someone read a synopsis of Gojira (1954) and decide to try to make something similar here?  Maybe, but also:  by 1955, we were into the second wave of monster films as studios realized the popularity of Dracula and Co. had not really diminished, but - also - wasn't it fun to have giant, radioactive ants (Them! - 1954) or just big old sea beasts (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms - 1953).  

Unlike Gojira, the military here is shown as successful, eventually, against the beast.  But, if you like movies about meetings and some awkward romance (and if you have an interest in getting into Godzilla, I hope you like both), this is the movie for you.  

Look, Harryhausen is a master, but he can only make so much movie so fast.  And make it look as good as it does in this film.  So there's not a lot of time in the movie where we actually see the giant octopus.  When we do, it looks fantastic.  The FX and stop-motion are top of their game for the era, if nothing else, just skip around the timeline of the film to watch that.  It's extremely cool.

The film stars Kenneth Tobey as our submarine commander hero and sexual harasser, Faith Domergue as the brilliant lady scientist who eventually takes Tobey down a peg even as she's clearly ready to bed him, and Donald Curtis, whom I have seen in multiple other movies but never in such a prominent role.  They're all fine.  Tobey I have an affection for as the guy from the original The Thing From Another World and a whole bunch of Joe Dante films (plus Airplane!).  Domergue just isn't one of my favorites.  She's very...  there in the movie, but she always feels a little flat to me.  And Curtis isn't bad as the third wheel.  

The sexual politics of the movie are squarely 1955 for most of the film:  he-man Tobey makes his intentions known, Domergue is sorta having it as Tobey literally corners her and all but waggles his eyebrows.  But the curious bit is the speech delivered by Curtis, informing Tobey (who presumably has been at sea since WWII) "hey, women have their own minds, and they're entering the workforce as equals, so step the fuck off" to which Tobey seems amenable-ish.  It arrives way too late, and has been ignored coming from the mouth of Domergue, but it does arrive, and for that alone I was shocked.

The movie is a tight 80-something minutes, so it's not exactly going to kill your day to watch the movie.  Just don't come in expecting deep character studies or anything.  Come in looking for SF to get blowed up by a squid and you're good.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

SF Noir Watch: The House on Telegraph Hill (1951)

Watched:  02/24/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Robert Wise
Selection:  It is I

Director Robert Wise has never let me down.  It's amazing.  Every single one of his movies is good and a lot of them are great.  And, more than a couple of them are straight up classics - the best of the best.  It's super weird we aren't talking about him in the same breath with David Lean, Hitchcock and other famed directors.  He jumps from genre to genre with no problem, and without a stable of his favorite actors he brings in tow.  Anyway, Robert Wise.  Look into him.

This movie's biggest star - to me - is Richard Basehart, but it also has Valentina Cortese and Fay Baker - who I've seen in other things.  And William Lundigen (who I know from nothing).

The movie starts dark as hell and just keeps on going along that path to the end.  Valentina Cortese (who is Italian as the Roman Colosseum) plays a Polish woman in a concentration camp - although the movie never specifically asserts her Jewishness, so it's possible she's one of any of a number of categories that the Nazis murdered.  She is imprisoned with a good friend who sent her son to America and safety, a rich aunt in San Francisco.  

The plot involved Cortese claiming her friend's identity so she can get to the US, the possibility of her identity's exposure, meeting the boy's caretaker (Basehart) and marrying him, and then going to San Francisco to move into the Queen Anne-style mansion on Telegraph Hill.  And then things get domestic-noir dark as the house-keeper (Baker) seems threatened by Cortese's appearance, and curious hints something is amiss begin to pile up.  And, of course, the US administrator (Lundigen) who met her in teh camps and could blow the lid off her identity gets in the mix. 

It's *a lot* but it's a really solid set-up, and top-tier melodramatic tension, something I'd categorize as a noir-thriller.  Cortese is in way over her head for a number of reasons, and the threats are from all sides.  But even as Cortese and others play chess, everything is subtext.  The conversation is polite and has nothing to do with what's actually happening as the characters circle each other, Cortese trying to sort out how to survive what will surely be written off as an unfortunate tragedy.

It's beautifully shot, and the performances are solid.  The story feels ripe for an update or remake.  It's nothing earth-shattering as a film, and not going to change anyone's world, but I was impressed with what it was - and I attribute the success to Wise's direction and the casting.  This could be a forgettable B-movie, but instead I was all in watching the film.  

The ending is pretty wild, keeping the audience going right til the last moments - which could have been tedious, but just works in this roller-coaster of a plot.  

Anyway - I liked it!  No notes.  I'm still having a light chuckle over Cortese playing a Polish woman when the film could have easily found a way to make her Italian, but whatevs.  She's a really solid leading lady, and carries the film with no problem.

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Ida Noir Watch: Woman in Hiding (1950)

Watched:  02/03/2024
Format:  TCM Noir Alley
Viewing:  Second
Director:  Michael Gordon
Selection:  Me.  

This one popped up on TCM's Noir Alley, and my memory was enjoying the film, so I gave it a spin.  Also, it had been a minute since I'd watched anything with Ida Lupino in it, and that seemed wrong.  

Anyway, I stand by the review from three years ago.  And my assertion that Ida Lupino is a good idea.

Monday, January 29, 2024

Classic Comedy Watch: Operation Petticoat (1959)

Watched:  01/27/2024
Format: Prime
Viewing:  First
Director:  Blake Edwards
Selection:  Me, by rec

So, a colleague had recommended this one, and forewarned me that it is a product of it's time, and I could not agree more.  

This is a movie with an odd framing device - a US Navy Admiral returning to the submarine he skippered during the war on the morning the boat is set to head to the boneyard.  He sits down and reads his Captain's log from cover to cover in his former bunk.

By 1959 two things were apparently true:  
1) the US was ready to do light, sexy comedies about the war, including starting out with making Pearl Harbor a wacky incident that happened
2) the role of women in film - especially light comedies - had changed a lot, with the "can do" spirit of women in the war or even noir

There is not room in this post to discuss the rapid swing of women in pictures of the 1950's from tough-women-on-the-homefront to "don't let those daffy women near machinery.  That's for MEN." that I assume reflects the culture of the time.  But it's kind of a thing, and for as fast as it happened, it took a lot longer to eke our way back out.  

This movie is the Admiral's (Cary Grant) recollections of the submarine crew's post Pearl Harbor response, lifting the boat and getting it semi-seaworthy again thanks to shenanigans on the part of a new Lieutenant (Tony Curtis), a streetwise fast talker who has joined the navy for the uniform and social ladder climbing opportunities.

It's got a hint of Sgt. Bilko (which pre-dates the film) as some of the best gags are about Tony Curtis finding the materials needed.  Good stuff. 

But the main feature of the film is when the sub stops off at an island and finds they have to evacuate 6 female nurses.  Who are, of course, mostly stacked.  And then it's a lot of "boys will be boys" and "women don't belong on a boat!" humor that you either are going to have to get settled in with or you're going to want to choke a boat load of US servicemen.  

The humor is a brand of post-screwball wackiness that would continue to expand into the 1960's and be killed off by 1970s film while being embraced by 1970's TV, in its way.  And some bits are really good.  I did want to tell the editor to please leave Cary Grant alone and let him have his moments after something wacky happened, because that's where you get the laugh doubled down (see Grant in Bringing Up Baby).  There's not even exactly double-entendres but in an era that was sanitizing comedy, this must have felt pretty racy (you see a girdle and a bra!).  

Fun bit of casting - look for Marion "Mrs. Cunningham" Ross as one of the nurses.  And, fun fact:  there was a 1977 TV show that basically remade the movie starring John Astin in the Cary Grant role and had a very young Jamie Lee Curtis as one of the nurses.  I have absolutely no idea how this premise was carried off for two seasons of network TV.  

Anyway, it's a fascinating time capsule talking to the generation who was in the war now that they bought suburban houses as much as it's a comedy you can still put on and get most of the jokes.  

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Noir Watch: I Died a Thousand Times (1955)

Watched:  01/21/2024
Format:  TCM
Viewing:  First
Director:  Stuart Heisler
Selection:  Me

Uh...  I don't know why this movie exists other than the fact money is a good thing to have.  

TCM's Noir Alley host, Eddie Muller, forewarned this was a remake of a personal fave of mine, High Sierra, from 1940.  That film stars Bogart and a very young Ida Lupino, is directed by Raoul Walsh, and generally kicks ass.  

A mere fifteen years later, the studio decided to remake the movie, but not in the way I'm used to remakes on Noir Alley.  Generally, studios would use the skeleton of the plot, relationships and conflicts, but reset the movie in a different place, changing circumstances, combining characters, etc...  You might have to squint, but you can tell.  

Monday, January 8, 2024

Noir Watch: Pickup (1951)

Watched:  01/07/2024
Format:  TCM
Viewing:  First
Director:  Hugo Haas
Selection:  Me by way of Noir Alley

As happens a lot at the start of the year, I was fired up to break the Christmas movie cycle and watch some non-Christmas-type stuff.  I've also been missing noir films, from the original period as well as everything up to today, and wanted to get back on that train.  Luckily, Noir Alley was on TCM Saturday and Sunday, so I set the DVR to record a movie I'd not yet seen.  

It's easy to say Pickup (1951) is a riff on The Postman Always Rings Twice.  And there's definitely some truth to that, but so are a number of movies from the era.  What I found interesting was that there's enough different here that it pivots the whole concept.  While we still have the remote home/ workplace, the older husband, the sexy wife and the yearning employee, this is less the story of the troubled, star-crossed lovers in over their heads, and more the story of "Hunky", the older husband.  And, it's worth saying at the outset, Beverly Michaels' Betty is not the sympathetic figure Lana Turner cut as Cora.  

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Christmas Watch: White Christmas (1954)

Watched:  12/17/2023
Format:  Netflix
Viewing:  Unknown
Director:  Michael Curtiz

I have seen and written this movie up endlessly.  This year, I just leave you with the black dress from the Carousel Club number.

Anyway, Edith Head was a genius.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Sirk Watch: Imitation of Life (1959)

Watched:  09/21/2023
Format:  TCM
Viewing:  Second
Director:  Douglas Sirk

Sometimes you just need a good cry.  This is the movie to make you do it whether you like it or not.

Way back in the mid-90's when I was going through film school, we, of course, had screenings of films.  The movies were curated and representative of a variety of eras, forms, genres, etc...  all tee'd up to illustrate whatever the instructors planned to discuss that week.  It's a weird way to do homework, but we saw some great stuff.  Also, I got to learn to sit with films that were never going to be my cup of tea, especially at age 19 or so.

One of the films shown was Imitation of Life, a 1959 melodrama spanning decades and following a young, widowed white woman, Lora (Lana Turner), who teams up with an African-American single mother, Annie (Juanita Moore), to jointly raise daughters of a similar age.  

It's actually a remake of a film I haven't seen from 1934, starring Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers.  And one day I'll watch that one, too.

During the same meet-cute where Annie and Lora meet, Steve (John Gavin) appears as a photographer, indirectly getting Lora her first gig and - as this is Lana Turner - deciding to woo her.  Lora welcomes Annie and her daughter into their humble apartment, and as Annie settles into triple role of housekeeper, best friend, co-mother, Lora's dreams of success on the stage suddenly take off. 

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Noir Watch: The Secret Fury (1950)

Watched:  09/05/2023
Format:  TCM
Viewing:  First
Director:  Mel Ferrer

What a weird, weird movie.  

And not *good* weird.  

The movie features the great Claudette Colbert and Signal Watch fave Robert Ryan, but the story itself is a mess, leaning almost to camp.  

Part crime drama, all melodrama, The Secret Fury (1950) follows a society woman (Colbert) moments from saying I do to her beau (Ryan) when someone DOES say "I object", claiming Colbert is already married.  To her knowledge, Colbert has never been married, but when multiple witnesses claim she was married - and not that long ago - she now believes she may have gone mad, losing time.

The very premise, however, makes no sense and is based on the notion that people really get married after knowing each other for about 8 hours, which was quite the Hollywood trope for the first 70 years or so.  And it also assumes Colbert wouldn't see whomever murdered someone right before her eyes.  And that Ryan's character would make a completely unbuyable decision to leave Colbert alone with a strange man claiming to be her husband.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Western Watch: Rio Bravo (1959)

Watched:  08/26/2023
Format:  Max
Viewing:  First
Director:  Howard Hawks

Sometimes a movie just works, and there's a reason that folks keep watching it, decade over decade.  Rio Bravo (1959) has a bit of a reputation as Dean Martin's best role, or at least that's what I recall hearing, and I always assumed I'd get to the movie, but just had not.  

Had I known it also stars Angie Dickinson, I would have gotten to it more quickly.  But it surprised me to learn this was Howard Hawks, not John Ford, and that Leigh Brackett had been involved with the screenplay.  So, you've got a lot of things going for the movie right out of the gate.

I'm also aware that John Wayne is now considered a terrible human by folks younger than myself, but if you want to be mad about (a) things that are likely a myth, and (b) every opinion and attitude of generations prior that do not match your own - we're going to be here all day.  

For going on a decade, I've compared the superhero film to the Western.  It's a broad category encompassing a lot of movies that share common elements, but it's also a dubious and overly broad categorization, and no indicator of quality one way or another.  Plenty of terrible superhero films are released, just as plenty of terrible westerns were made, but there are also great, thoughtful superhero film just as there are phenomenal movies made featuring characters who wear hats and six-shooters.  

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Noir Watch: Dial 1119 (1950)

Watched:  05/24/2023
Format:  TCM
Viewing:  First
Director:  Gerald Mayer

I went into this film with low expectations and finished it absolutely knocked over by the script, direction and actors - not to mention the camera work, attention to costume, etc...  It's a dynamite package of a movie, and one I'd recommend for folks thinking of character detail done economically.

The movie takes place in near real-time as an escaped psychiatric patient steals a gun on a charter bus and then winds up taking a bar and its patrons hostage while things escalate outside.  It's part of the noir subgenre of hostage-dramas that probably started before The Petrified Forest, but found footing there and worked it's way into a thousand scenarios (check our Key Largo if you haven't prior).  

The cast is mostly folks who were not mainstream stars in 1950, though some became household names.  In it's way, it's an ensemble picture, and feels influenced by theater of the first half of the 20th century, not least of which is the Pulitzer prize winning Time of Your Life.  Only interrupted by a psychotic gunman.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Noir Watch: The File on Thelma Jordan (1950)

Watched:  05/15/2023
Format:  TCM
Viewing:  First
Director:  Robert Siodmak

What's not to like?  A Hal B. Wallis production, directed by Robert Siodmak, shot by George Barnes and starring Stanwyck.  No notes.  Well done.

The movie was written by a pair of women, one on story (Marty Holland) and one on script (Ketti Frings), who understand the assignment and put together characters in trouble before the action even starts.  

Wendell Corey plays an Assistant DA, an up-and-comer, whose wife has slotted him as caretaker and figurehead but who has made him a stranger in his own home by refusing to hear him on anything, but in the sweetest and dimmest way, all wrapped up with good intentions.   Meanwhile, Stanwyck - at the end of her rope - has moved in with her elderly aunt as a companion.  The two meet under boozy circumstances, and soon strike up an affair.