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

Saturday, July 13, 2024

Western Watch: Colt. 45 (1950)

Watched:  07/13/2024
Format:  Amazon
Viewing:  First
Director:  Edwin L. Marin

I'm not a proud man, and so I cop to watching this movie to catch Ruth Roman in another flick - especially something like a fairly short western action film.  Plus, I get a kick out of both Randolph Scott and Austin's own Zachary Scott (no relation to Randolph), who plays the villain in this movie.  

The basic set-up is that Randolph Scott is a war veteran and salesman for the new Colt .45, which he used in the Mexican-American War to great effect.  He's now selling them to law enforcement on the frontier, which has not previously seen a repeating, multi-shot handgun - ie: a revolver.  The tactical advantage of 6 shots over 1 is pretty obvious, I hope.    

While showing off his wares, the idiot sheriff (who doesn't get the value) picks a handfight with his prisoner, Zach Scott, who handily wins the fight, grabs the .45s and kills the Sheriff before running off, leaving Randolph - who the townsfolk decide is an accomplice.  Zach Scott goes on a rampage, founding the .45's gang, and raiding wagons carrying gold from a mining town.

Ruth Roman plays the wife to an early-career Lloyd Bridges, and the two are essentially hostages to Zach Scott's gang - except, Lloyd has realized farming doesn't pay as well as stealing gold, so he teams up with Zach Scott while tell his wife that they're biding their time and playing it safe.

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Texas Watch: Dallas (1950)

Watched:  07/09/2024
Format:  Amazon 
Viewing:  First
Director:  Stuart Heisler

Full disclosure, I was just looking to see what else Ruth Roman was in, and this came up.  And, as a long-time Texan, I was curious how a movie about Dallas, the most Dallasy city in Texas, was going to work.  Plus, Gary Cooper.  And Steve Cochran in facial hair!

Dallas (1950) takes place shortly after the Civil War, so Dallas is a small, growing western town (it was founded in the early 1840's).  Gary Cooper plays a former Confederate colonel who is sought by the law.  A young Bostonian of means has become a US Marshall to impress his fiance, and come west to prove he's no shrinking violet.  He stumbles across Cooper - a fugitive, and after finding out the situation is not so clear as his orders suggested, he and Cooper ride to Dallas together.  Cooper hears three brothers are there, and he'd like to help take them down.  

There's some frankly unnecessary identity switching as the two enter town, and we learn that the Bostonian is engaged to the daughter of a local Don, which, yes, means Ruth Roman is playing a Mexican-American.   Which...  there's a lot of Hollywood history why this was probably true.  Is Roman, of Jewish-Lithuanian heritage, a good candidate for a Latina?  Uhhhhhhhh...  man, that's a loaded question I asked myself.  

On the flip side, I don't remember too many movies from this era that include Hispanic characters quite like this, shown to be very successful ranchers (or even more so, if these criminals weren't so busy being criminals at them and taking their cattle).

In a lot of ways, this is a pretty typical Western, where some shady dudes are going to take advantage of the lawless nature of the new town/ land and exploit that weakness to steal property and land from others, and the promise of civilization coming is welcomed.  It's also likely an early of an example of the mastermind bad-guy with the loose-canon sibling he's trying to wrangle (Cochran!).  

In the course of events, Roman's character falls for Cooper, who looks old enough to be her father (she's 27-28 and he's probably 49 here).  And, man, Hollywood.  They couldn't stop pairing Cooper with women who look way too young.

There's not much to actually report about this one - other than that the terrain and town look nothing like Dallas or North Texas, which IRL is hilariously flat and so visually uninteresting that Dallas architecture has been weird since the 1970s in an effort to combat this problem.  But this movie is shot in typical ranchland outside of LA, so... behold!  The rolling hill country of Ft. Worth!  The deep valleys outside of Dallas!

If you're looking for more Ruth Roman:  good news.  She's in this.  But I'm not sure this movie is terribly ground-breaking.  It is, however, fairly entertaining and a reminder how cool vaqueros looked in their jackets and on Mexican-style saddles.

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Giant Watch: Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)

Watched:  06/28/2024
Format:  Amazon
Viewing:  Second
Director:  Nathan Juran

If ever there were a movie ripe for a modern re-telling, it's Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958).  

The movie is likely now most famous from the title and poster art, with only a small percentage of people who've seen it or remember the actual film.  And the poster is killer, to be honest.  And in the best, shlocky 1950's sci-fi way, far surpasses anything on the screen.  

What's funny about this incredibly cheap (I read the budget was $88,000) film is that it's so different from the atomic scare movies of the era with giant ants, giant lizards, colossal men, etc...  The story plays on a completely different flavor of fear.

The film follows Harry Archer, a cad who is two-timing his wife, Nancy (Allison Hayes*).  Nancy has some emotional issues and problems with the bottle, but those seem to have started once Harry showed up and started catting around almost immediately.  On a night where Nancy has stumbled across Harry publicly fondling his latest squeeze, Honey (Yvette Vickers), she drives off in a huff, only to run into a UFO and the giant contained therein, who reaches for Nancy's gigantic diamond necklace, fumbling the attempt.  

Nancy returns to the bar to get help, but everyone thinks she's just wacky, drunk, crazy Nancy.  Sober and not-crazy, a gaslit Nancy heads out with Harry, with whom she's fighting, to find the spaceship - and succeeds.  The giant grabs her and Harry runs away like the shitheel he is.  

Soon, Nancy is found - but grows to enormous size, and attacks the bar.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Fellini Watch: La Strada (1954)

Watched:  06/16/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Federico Fellini

Back in the 1990's, I managed to escape film school without much in the way of a "film studies" background.  I was a "production" guy, so I was taking classes that required hauling around equipment and working with fellow students to try and get shorts made - and there weren't credit hours or time for me to also take the classes offered on Fellini and others.*  

At the mercy of the syllabus for the classes I did take, I saw a wide variety of film, but we weren't shown some of the giants, which I now find... odd.  Because in the mid-90's, people still cared about European film and the work of folks like Bergman, Fellini, Godard and others, both inside and outside of academia.  It would be like securing an English degree, but they assume you're reading Shakespeare on your own.

As a result, some of this became so monumental in my head as "challenging viewing", I just never took the Pepsi Challenge.  

But...  then, I realized as I turned 49 -  why not?  So.

Anyway, I am currently on a quest to make the most of my Criterion subscription by checking out a few movies from name directors, especially non-American directors.  You may have noted my recent four movie sprint through some Akira Kurosawa.

Mentioning Fellini on facebook, our own NathanC, who tends to dip into these kinds of film better than many, recommended I start with La Strada (1954).  My only prior exposure to Fellini had been randomly watching Roma back in college.**  So, La Strada it was.  

I have zero complaints about this movie.  I get it.  I know that's not much of a review, but this is what had been advertised to me about Fellini since college, complete with circuses, clowns and sadness.  This is not a complaint.  It's like hearing "well, Dr. Seuss features a lot of Loraxes" and there you are, spotting a Lorax.  

To me, the remarkable thing about the film was that La Strada is the art that a post-WWII Italy was producing.  While certainly not directly commenting on the war, I can only imagine the mood of the post-Mussolini Italians climbing out of the rubble after the Allies bombed and shot their way across the country.  Of *course* the need to tell stories about the people living on the edge of society, the misfits, and making the cruelty casual no matter what love you throw at it came from this era and this place. 

I also understand how folks trying to imitate what is on screen here could go very, very badly indeed.

I was confused and delighted that this movie starred Anthony Quinn and Richard Basehart, both Americans, and my eyes about fell out of my head that Dino De Laurentiis was a producer.  

Anyway, the movie is one of the most written about in cinema, and I don't think anyone will gain much from my scribblings, so I'll cut it short here.  But thanks to Nathan for the suggestion!  I'll be seeking out La Dolce Vita, 8 1/2 and Amarcord soon (with a possible check in with Nights of Cabria).  

*I'll talk about the abortive Bergman class I took, soon
**which I need to rewatch as I think Cassandra "Elvira" Peterson is in it as a young woman after reading her memoir

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Kurosawa Watch: The Seven Samurai (1954)

Watched:  05/28/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Akira Kurosawa

So.  A little housekeeping.

This is our 100th post of 2024 under the Movies 2024 tab.  Good for us.  I'm glad we picked a good one for this milestone.  

Fun fact:  this movie came out in 1954, the same year Toho Studios also released Gojira.  Pretty damn big year for Toho.  But I also am curious how the years since the war influenced this movie as much as it influenced Gojira.

Also:  I've walked around since about 1995 with the belief that I'd previously seen The Seven Samurai (1954).  I think I've even marked it on "what movies have you seen?" quizzes as one I'd watched.  I basically knew what it was about, how it ended in broad strokes.  But began to suspect something was up when I saw the runtime on the movie and said "I don't remember it being this long..."

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Kurosawa Watch: The Hidden Fortress (1958)

Watched:  05/21/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Akira Kurosawa

A really pretty fascinating, human movie about a princess being smuggled incognito across feudal Japan, The Hidden Fortress (1958) is a cinema classic that I'd missed til this point.  A large-scale, gorgeous film, it can read a bit like a fable, with the point - beyond its existence as a rollicking samurai movie - revealing itself in the final scenes, feels organic and still provides a bit of catharsis as the plot threads come together.

The story follows two bumbling, inept peasants who can't seem to do anything right.  They're greedy to a fault, believe themselves clever (they are not, and are constantly shown to make terrible mistakes), and probably terrible people.  They even arrived too late to participate in a war they thought would enrich them, and were caught and pressed into work digging graves.  Heading home, they stumble across a Toshiro Mifune, who is a samurai general travelling incognito.  He's stowed the heir to the throne of his clan in a hidden fortress.

Taking the wealth needed to restart the clan and the princess, the peasants, the general and the princess (posing as a mute country girl) travel across the land trying to reach home and safe harbor, the peasants unaware of their companions' identity and doing it for the massive amounts of gold that they're transporting.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Lupino Watch: The Big Knife (1955)

Watched:  04/29/2023
Format:  TCM Noir Alley
Viewing:  First
Director:  Robert Aldrich

I'd been meaning to watch The Big Knife (1955) for at least the past year through a few different channels.  Fortunately, Eddie Muller programmed the film as part of Noir Alley over on TCM.

The film is based on a play by Clifford Odets*, a playwright who had his own bad experience in Hollywood.  And, in many ways, feels very much like a filmed play.

My interests were Ida Lupino and Jean Hagen related, as both appear in the film, and I'd read Lupino was quite good in this (she is).  But it's an all-star cast, with Jack Palance as our lead - a successful actor who is a piece of studio machinery but who once had nobler aspirations for acting, film and theater.  Rod Steiger is astounding as a studio chief who needs Palance to sign a seven year contract, and Wendell Corey is similarly great as his fixer (a la Eddie Mannix).  Shelley Winters plays a would-be actress with information about Palance that's a big problem.

This is, by far, the best acting I've seen Palance do in any of the handful of films in which I've seen him.  He's not limited to general weird malevolence, or a bruiser of some kind.  He's a thoughtful guy juggling a lot of things and maybe just in over his head - and I bought him through the whole film.

In my opinion, this movie is very, very good, if a product of its time - not that the story doesn't work or even feels irrelevant.  It's more that the ending felt telegraphed in a mid-century drama sort of way.  But that doesn't make it bad.  I still felt like it worked, and was managed brilliantly.

Lupino just being rad as hell

This write-up is brief because I'm genuinely in a "I have no notes" mode with this one.  The story, performances, limited set, etc... all worked for me.  And Ida Lupino looked smashing, and was terrific.  And if you ever doubted Hagen, now's the time to see her once again nail the assignment.  

I'll take Muller's reasoning for why it's noir, and throw the tag on it.    

*who I've seen cited as the basis for Barton Fink

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Adventure Watch: Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)

Watched:  04/22/2024
Format:  Fox Movies
Viewing:  First
Director:  Henry Levin

I've not read the original novel of Journey to the Center of the Earth, and until viewing this movie, I'd never felt particularly guilty about that or questioned it, but it's kind of kooky that I had not read it.  I'm a fan of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and have been since I was a small kid - whether you mean the Disney film, the book, or what my mother reports was likely a kid's adaptation she read me when I was 5 or 6 that she even recently was relating to me how enthused I was about the book.

When it came to the novel of Journey, I had the basic gist down from a lifetime of absorbing pop culture.  Science folk find a hole, wander about, figure out there's all sorts of crazy stuff under the surface, like an ocean and dinosaurs.  Which should sound real familiar-like to fans of Legendary's Monsterverse franchise/ the latest Kong and Godzilla team-up film.  So, yeah, hope you're enjoying a fresh, new 160 year old concept.  

Anyway, that guilt about my poor reading habits seeped in about five minutes after starting the film of Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959), and I got a taste of the ol' adventure-spirit that could fill a splashy all-ages sci-fi movie in 1959.  But I also remembered how much I enjoyed the book of Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and, anyway.  I'll give it time and then read the book.

First:  This thing looks insanely expensive for 1959.  Massive sets, period setting, maybe 1/3rd of the movie on the surface before we see any caves, and lots of matte and other visual FX.  Plus, James Mason as the lead, Pat Boone(!) as the young scientist/ admirer of Mason's daughter, and Ms. Arlene Dahl playing about ten years older than she was at the time of shooting.  Some scenes have boat-loads of extras. 

Friday, April 19, 2024

Noir Watch: Panic in the Streets (1950)

Watched:  04/18/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  Second
Director:  Eliza Kazan
Selection:  me

Well, this was more fun before we actually had a pandemic.  

There are two movies I can immediately think of that are about plague carriers and which fit into the noir genre.  There's likely more, but the first is the Evelyn Keyes-starring thriller The Killer That Stalked New York (released this same year) and then Panic In the Streets (1950).  

This film is about a guy smuggled into the country who finds he's feeling horrible and tries to leave a card game, only to be bumped off by the guys running the game (including Zero Mostel and Jack Palance!).  What they don't know is that he's carrying the pneumonic plague.  

Richard Widmark plays a doctor in the employ of US Health and Human Services, who teams with the New Orleans PD to try to find out who the body was they find washed up, and who that guy might have been in touch with, spreading the disease through out the city.  

I wouldn't say the movie is uneven, but it pulls three separate directions:  the hunt for who may be contaminated, the domestic life of Widmark's character and him realizing that under pressure he takes it out on the ones he loves, and then the story of Palance as a would-be criminal mastermind who is reading all the signs wrong.

In the wake of the spread of COVID, it can be a little unnerving to watch a movie that's essentially about how no one will help, and no one trusts a doctor coming with bad news - and that even the bad news has to be contained - or people will do the worst possible thing.  

This is directed by Elia Kazan looking for realism, and so the casting isn't even from central.  It feels like real people straight up telling Widmark where to get off.  This isn't a stage set of New Orleans, they're running along the waterfront and walking the streets of the Crescent City.  However, it's also a New Orleans largely devoid of Black people, which...  is insane.  

But Kazan does manage to get some stark photography out of his locations, making for some great scenes and capturing of a time capsule - but really setting the noirish mood - curiously setting the final actionish sequences as Palance is taken down in broad daylight.  Sunlight a cleansing agent and all that.

On this go-round (this is my second time with the film), I was really struck by the domestic scenes with Barbara Bel Geddes and Widmark, and how delicately those scenes play out.  And how real it feels to get called on your @#$% in the middle of something else that's important as you do the wrong things with the people who actually do care about you.*

I do want to go dig up The Killer That Stalked New York.  It's been a good long while, and I no longer get an eye twitch just thinking about the reality of a very bad situation from screen winding up as a reality.

*not that I would ever

Monday, April 15, 2024

Noir Watch: The Sleeping City (1950)

This poster is a liar, and sells a movie that this movie is not

Watched:  04/15/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  George Sherman
Selection:  It is I

This has the feeling of an article or short story ripped from the headlines and turned into a movie, but I guess was an original screenplay.  Curiously, Richard Conte starts the film by  directly addressing the camera as himself, explaining that they had actual access to Bellevue Hospital where the filming occurred.

Admittedly, the location shooting provides a certain believability and grit to the movie, as does the look inside how hospitals were functioning in 1950 - with direct throughlines to how they work today.  

The film opens on a young doctor murdered by an unseen assassin as he paces near the hospital, clearly distressed.  Unable to find a motive for the murder, a suspect, etc...  the cops decide to plant their own inside the hospital.  And, here, you need to suspend disbelief.  Conte, 40 here and looking at least that old, plays a cop posing as an intern.    The hospital lets him come in as a doctor with a couple of years of "Pre-Med" under his belt and having had served in medical units during the war. 

Placed in the Trauma Unit, he partners with Coleen Grey, the head nurse, and the two hit it off romantic-stylez.

Apparently doctors would room *inside* the hospital, which seems problematic for any number of reasons, but must have been a real thing.  Conte's roommate first says he's leaving medicine and marrying Peggy Dow, which sounds like a plan, but he soon winds up dead.


With the new angle, Conte digs into what's happening, and figures out that the wacky elevator operator is actually front man for a bookie.  And being a clever fellow, he knows how to set things up so that the doctors get in over their head, and have to start stealing drugs in order to pay off debts.  Once that starts, he squeezes them.  

Oh, and Coleen Grey is in on it, using her cut to pay for a sick kid's treatment and then getting in over her head.

The movie itself is... fine.  It's helped immensely by the location shooting, borrowing from The Naked City's concept of you are there! to lend credibility to the proceedings.   And the actual architecture of Bellevue is put on display.  

Buying that a hospital would allow a cop to pose as a doctor is a monumental leap of faith - the liability seems insane, not to mention the ethical lapse.  And that no one sorts out the fact he doesn't quite know what he's doing...  Like, seems folks would notice that.  Or you'd hope they would.  But Conte is a favorite around here, and I liked him in the part.

Peggy Dow is only in the film for a scene and change, but she does make an impression, and I was impressed with Grey's entire portrayal, especially her final scenes. 

I can't really say why the movie wasn't my favorite - maybe it takes too long to sort out what's happening and the mystery wasn't all that gripping.  But the location and the back 1/3rd of the movie make it worth checking out as more than a curiosity.

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.