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

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!  

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Noir Watch Party: The Blue Gardenia (1953)




Watched:  04/13/2021
Format:  Amazon Watch Party
Viewing:  Second
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Fritz Lang

We'd watched The Blue Gardenia (1953) some time back, and this time I'm inclined to be kinder to the film.  It's still not my favorite, but with Anne Baxter, Ann Sothern, Richard Conte and Raymond Burr and Fritz Lang directing, you kind of expect a bit more.

Anne Baxter gets a Dear Jane letter from her solider-boy boyfriend who has met a nurse overseas, and tells her he's getting married.  She does as anyone might do, receives a call for her roommate (Ann Sothern) looking for a date, takes up the fellow on it, and meets up with Raymond Burr.  Because it's 1953, Burr is not a nice guy, and he gets Baxter drunk and takes her back to his place to take advantage of her.  

Baxter wakes up at home, unsure of what happened, but she's left her shoes at Burr's apartment, which is embarrassing enough, but also: he's been killed with a fire poker.  So.  She seems to have totally murdered a dude and left her shoes behind.

Conte plays a local reporter - a social crusading type in search of headlines, and he begins the search for the woman they dub "The Blue Gardenia".

Fritz Lang wasn't one to shy away from a good thriller, of course, and this film puts the audience in the curious spot of identifying with a woman who just killed someone, with pretty good reason, but by social mores of the 1950's - if she's arrested, who knows?  Could be the gas chamber.  And if she's acquitted for self-protection?  One can assume she'd be "ruined" by attacks on her character for having made the terrible decision to cozy up to Raymond Burr.  The film doesn't explicitly say anything about a woman's place in society in 1953, but it's not hard to understand what the assumed rules are, and how Lang and the writers used those notions to build a better mousetrap for our protagonist.  As the audience, we know it's unjust, but...

Unfortunately, Conte is written as a bit of a dingbat, apparently buying a whole lot of "I have a friend who may have done a thing" storytelling, that I'd assume anyone as old as 14 would recognize as "and I assume this friend is you?"  But it's not how it's played off.  

The movie generally *looks* great, with Nicholas Musuraca listed as Cinematographer, and who had plenty of prior experience he brought to bear in this film.  

Again, the movie is fine - it just wasn't one I'd had any particular penchant for the first time I saw it, and that was more or less how I felt on round 2.


Noir Watch: Naked Alibi (1954)




Watched:  04/12/2021
Format:  BluRay
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Jerry Hopper


Burning the last of my "it's your birthday, watch what you want" goodwill, I chose Naked Alibi (1954) - a movie I'd heard was "ehhh".  And, indeed, it was. 

But, look, I'm a Sterling Hayden stan and a Gloria Grahame nut, so this seemed like a slam dunk.  Alas.

Sterling Hayden plays a detective that in literally any other movie would be a rogue cop.or just a thug of a cop (see Hayden in Crimewave).  Here, his underlings haul in a guy for basically existing on the sidewalk after dark and seem set to pin a crime on him minus any evidence, so he loses it and slugs a cop.  But the guy is a baker, with a young wife and kids.  It makes no sense, yet Hayden decides he's a crook and hassles him.  Two of his guys get blown up by a car bomb, and he decides it must be Al the Baker, and goes about police-harassing him, including manhandling him in front of witnesses and the press, which gets him fired.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Ida/ Noir Watch: Woman in Hiding (1950)




Watched:  04/08/2021
Format: BluRay
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Michael Gordon

Well, it's still coming up on my birthday, and Jamie said "watch whatever, it's your b-day."  And, with a Totter movie cleared we moved on to Ida Lupino.  Well, friends, while it may have started pre-pandemic, Jamie has thrown in with the Ida Lupino Fan train the past year, for sure.  So, this selection was saluted.

I'd not previously seen Woman in Hiding (1950), but picked it up cheap on BluRay, because: Lupino.  

I will argue that the noir movement splintered into several familiar genres, from the erotic thriller to the Lifetime Network's basic movie programming.  Film's with "women in peril" such as Sudden Fear and Beware, My Lovely - which definitely have precedents from the start of film found a home in the crime genres of the 1950's, doubling as "women's films" with plucky heroines (scared out of their minds) and some chisel-jawed dude who might come to the rescue.  By the early 00's: I mean - have you seen the names of movies on the Lifetime Network?*

Woman in Hiding follows Ida Lupino playing the daughter of a wealthy mill-owner in small-town North Carolina.  After the accidental death of her father, she marries the factory foreman, only to be met at their honeymoon cottage by a young woman informing Lupino "he was my man, he married you for the mill, and he probably killed your dad."

Freaked out, Lupino goes into HIDING (see - the title is accurate).  Here she meets Howard Duff (whom she's marry the next year) and shenanigans ensue.  

The film does contain a drinking game noir item - there's a convention in the hotel where they're staying.  

The film co-stars the lovely Peggy Dow in one of her very few film roles - she was also in the film version of Harvey that same year - and she was out of movies by 1952.  Which is a shame - she's great here and totally different from her character in Harvey.  

It also stars "that guy" actor Taylor Holmes, as well as Don Beddoe.  

This isn't my favorite Lupino role, but that's the script more than anything she's doing.  But, man, when confronted by Dow's character with what her new husband of less than a day may have done - she's got a lot to do there and nails it.  

Special nod on this one to cinematographer William H. Daniels.  He manages to get in some great stuff, especially in the sequence on the stairwell, on the bus and in the finale sequence.  Gorgeous looking noir stuff.  And letting the drafts in the stairwell kick at Lupino's skirt of her dress was pretty great (and likely a happy accident).  


*it's a parade of playing on paranoia re: domestic insecurity mixed with actual issues of domestic trauma, and it's a wild ride that Lifetime programs that shit 24/7 and then flips to "and now two months of movies about Santa being your boyfriend's dad".

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Noir Watch: Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)




Watched:  02/28/2021
Format:  Noir Alley on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Robert Wise

A year or two ago, twitter-friendly comics artist and classic movie buff Patch Zircher suggested the film Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) my direction.  This last weekend, the film aired on TCM's Noir Alley, so I was able to get the Eddie Muller discussion to frame the production and story.

The talent in the movie is undeniable - Signal Watch faves Robert Ryan and Gloria Grahame star, along with Ed Begley Sr. and Shelley Winters, and Harry Belafonte, who I think Jamie was eager to see (me too, maybe for different reasons).  But the talent behind the camera is also entirely notable.  Expert filmmaker Robert Wise was listed as both Director and Producer, Abraham Polonsky was secretly the writer (but blacklisted at the time, did it under cover), Joseph C. Brun as cinematographer, and the great Dede Allen in an early job as editor.  

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Noir Watch: Native Son (1951)




Watched:  02/28/2021
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Pierre Chenal

Look, there's easily a book to be written about this movie, not a blog post.  It's a remarkable bit of cinema for a multitude of reasons.  

Based on a novel by celebrated author Richard Wright, and *starring* Richard Wright(!), the movie is maybe the most surprisingly frank depiction of the world a Black American lived within in mid-20th Century America captured on film at the time that I've seen.  Now - let me also say: it is very true I watch studio movies of the era, and have not had access to, and am not aware of, much of the independent Black cinema of the the 1940's and 50's, which I am sure had plenty to say and show.

But, look, this movie was never, ever going to get made in America at a studio - at least until the 1960's.  And so it wasn't.  Shot in Argentina to get around the Hayes Code, the movie does feature a good number of American actors, but not all of them are... the best.  And there's some serious ADR work happening over some of the rest of the talent that must have been local.  But - just imagine in 2021 hearing "we had to leave the country because telling this story was so controversial, the US just couldn't handle it".  I mean - that is not a great thing to have to say in a supposedly free society.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Musical Watch: The Band Wagon (1953)




Watched:  02/21/2021
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  Second
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Vincente Minnelli

This isn't the world's best musical, but it's also aggressively about not being about anything (by way of being a traditional, vaudeville-style Broadway show, and proving THAT'S what people really want).  

It's been a long week, and I have a lot of things on the DVR, but Jamie didn't care what we watched, and I figured Cyd Charisse seemed like a great thing to watch.  

By the time this movie was filmed, Astaire was in his mid-50's, and the story seemed all but pointedly about him.  His character is a film song and dance man who has lost the spotlight.  By this point, musicals were far from dead, but maybe weren't at the height of their heyday.  He's playing someone maybe a few years younger than himself (convincingly) who returns to New York to work on a show with a husband and wife writing team (Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray).  They get involved with the latest big-name of Broadway, who does *serious theatre*, but who wants to try a musical.  

You know he's fancy because he's doing that new-fangled Oedipus Rex show.  

They rope in a top-tier choreographer and his top-teir ballerina girlfriend played by Cyd Charisse.  

This isn't the only musical from around this time that feels like middle-aged people wrestling with the coming wave of American theater and dance and trying to take the piss out of it.  There's a kind of goofy number in White Christmas that's really the one that doesn't work trying to poke fun at what we now call "modern dance".  And, as I said up top, this one wants to remind us "please stop taking these new musicals seriously!  Your heart really just wants to see people dance for 90 minutes and end with a wedding!  Right?  RIGHT?"  

And, you know, sometimes that's true.  But you kind of want to say to the movie "my friend, you haven't seen *anything* yet.  Wait for the 60's.".  

The movie is probably most famous for its show-within-a-show-within-a-show interlude of Astaire playing a priavte eye in a sort of Chandler/ Hammer/ whatever mystery homage and an excuse for Charisse to sex it up a whole lot.  It's goofy as all get-out, and for the life of me, I can't figure out if it's full camp, a light spoof or someone trying to be quasi-earnest.  But... the "Broadway Melody" sequence it is not.  (By the way, this was written by the same folks who wrote Singin' In the Rain).

But, man, really, I'm not sure this sequence could have happened any earlier than 1953 or much later than '53.  Noir (not yet called noir) had been in theaters for almost ten years, and all I can think is that this was how it was interpreted by song-and-dance folks trying to be cool, daddio.  But... holy @#$%balls.



(also, look for when Julie Newmar walks right up to the camera!)

What *does* work, and beautifully, is the Dancing in the Dark number with Astaire and Charisse, which is the kind of number you want to see and remember with the talent they've lined up.  The pair are in amazing form, and it's the one time you kind of think "well... maybe" as you look at the romance they're trying to push between a man and a woman young enough to be his daughter.



That poor Cyd Charisse, such an ungraceful and plain girl.

On the flip side, there's this weird thing where they suggest that the writer-couple is on the skids and the wife has taken up with the big-deal actor/ director/ producer guy that never... gets resolved.  I guess we see a couple break up in slow motion, but just sort of from the edges?   Someone help me out here, because that was weird and dark and I can't find mention of it anywhere online.

Anyway, it's not my favorite film, but I was amazed how much of it I didn't remember.  A lot of people love this film, but... eh.  It's fine.  

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Disney Watch: Treasure Island (1950)

 

Watched: 02/20/2021
Format:  BluRay
Viewing:  unknown, but first in a while
Decade:  1950's
Director:   Byron Haskin

To give you guys an idea of the difference between kids movies of the early 1950's (that I watched about 30 years later) and what comes out these days - Walt Disney's Treasure Island (1950) features a guy ordering a "double rum" in the first scene, an old pirate drinks himself to death in the first ten minutes, and then there's cold-blooded murder, mutiny, and people shooting each other and a kid who shoots a guy in the face after getting stabbed with a dagger.

I mean, we saw this movie at school.  

I also checked the novel out of my elementary school library, and it makes the movie look like a walk in the park.  

Now THAT'S adventure!

It's a fascinating movie as Jim Hawkins, our 12-year-old avatar, is a kid caught up in a *very* adult adventure, complete with both the violence and risk of a pirate story, but - watching it as an adult - I'm reminded how flawed the protagonist-type characters are as well.  But, more than that, it walks a gray path for Jim as he is genuinely befriended, to the best of his ability, by Long John Silver - who clearly has a soft-spot for the kid, but will also cut his throat to save his own skin.  

This was one of the first movies I ever saw that included this sort of betrayal, and it was all the weirder to parse watching as a kid, because Jim and John do have a weird buddy-ship even though they're locked in mortal combat, and LJS's minions are *always* ready to gut the kid.  But I do like that Hawkins sees both sides of the coflict, and has complicated interactions with the adults around him.  It's a heck of a way to illustrate a young man discovering the world beyond his door.  



Sunday, February 7, 2021

PODCAST: "Singin' in the Rain" (1952) - A Signal Watch Canon episode w/ Jamie and Ryan


Watched:  02/06/2021
Format:  HBOmax
Viewing:  Unknown
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly



Jamie and Ryan sing the praises of an American classic! It's pouring superlatives and compliments as we take a look at a movie that really speaks to you, even if it's not with its own voice. Join us as we talk through the technical achievements, phenomenal performances and great fun of an American classic!

Signal Watch Canon Playlist
Jamie's Cinema Classics

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Ida Watch Party Watch: Jennifer (1953)




Watched:  02/01/2021
Format:  Amazon Watch Party
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Joel Newton


A thriller which lifts elements from plenty of Gothic mysteries, borrows from noir, and has an ending that's maybe whatever the opposite is of deus ex machina, Jennifer (1953) has some great things going for it, but was not my cup of tea, exactly, but I found myself actually fairly wrapped up in the mystery.

Starring the lovely and talented Ida Lupino, with photography by James Wong Howe (one of the best to ever DP a movie), it still feels oddly like a B- picture, and maybe it was.  The film runs (blessedly) short, relies upon a small cast where Lupino is the biggest star, and we see only a handful of locations.   
Lupino wasn't quite done with movies at this point, and two of my favorite of hers follow this one: Private Hell 36 and the phenomenal The City That Never Sleeps.  She'd just come off two great films with Robert Ryan, Beware, My Lovely and the icy On Dangerous Ground.  By the time she hit her 40's in the late 1950's, she was more or less transitioning to TV where she'd remain for the rest of her career - as, at the same time, she took to directing as much or more than acting.*

Friday, January 29, 2021

Noir Watch: The Breaking Point




Watched:  01/28/2021
Format:  Noir Alley on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950
Director:  Michael Curtiz

Based on a Hemingway novel I haven't read,* To Have and Have Not, The Breaking Point (1950) stars John Garfield, Phyllis Taxter and a smooth as hell Patricia Neal - all under the direction of the great Michael Curtiz.  

I honestly thought I'd seen this one, so I let it sit on my DVR - but I hadn't.  It bares very little resemblance to the film that borrows the novel's name, the famed Bogart and Bacall vehicle, which I recommend.  You could double-bill them and it'd be an interesting ride.  

As I understand it, the movie strays from the novel in several key ways, but as a noir - it fits perfectly when it comes to theme and occasionally dabbles in the look and feel, which is a tough sell when you have a lot of daytime story on boats and piers.  But.  

Garfield plays the captain of a fishing charter who, paired with his pal Wesley (Juano Hernandez), is scraping by in tough times.  They pick up a wealthy client who ditches them and his lady-friend, Patricia Neal, in Mexico without payment.  Forced into a corner, Garfield agrees to take on a group of Chinese immigrants to smuggle into the country - but things go poorly.  From there, things just keep escalating.  Because: noir.

As a noir, it fits like a glove.  Our character is forced into a corner, gets in over his head doing something he doesn't want to do.  Neal isn't a femme fatale, but she's a fascinating distraction and her appeal demonstrates Garfield's duality, when he has Phyllis Thaxter at home, offering love, support and a way out.  

Honestly - it's just a damn good movie, surprisngly progressive with some of its characters, and has maybe one of the gut-punchiest endings I can remember seeing in a movie in off TCM in a long time.  The themes are absolutely universal/ timeless.  Garfield is so *human* in the film, his driving insecurities and stubbornness in the face of reality so relatable (at the expense of the people who love him), it's a remarkable feat of story, script, acting and direction.  

Highly recommended.


*I've only read a smattering of Hemingway, but I don't have time for the "he wasn't that good" chatter the kids are so fond of. Your inability to relate to any fiction where people don't have access to a television that is not YA fantasy is not my problem.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Musical Watch: Pal Joey (1957)




Watched:  01/26/2021
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  George Sidney

So, sometimes you watch a movie and it doesn't work out.  I did take a note that this movie, on paper, seems to have everything going for it, but it isn't well remembered.  Which, you know, can often mean something.  Starring Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth and Kim Novak, and from George Sidney who has a list of quality directorial credits as long as your arm, it shoud have been a cinch.  But.

Pal Joey (1957) could be retitled Pal Joey - A Study in The Male Gaze or That's Problematic!  And this is coming from the guy who stands on soapboxes about modern audiences learning from and understanding the societal frameworks of a year in which a film was released.  

But we don't get thirty seconds into the film and our hero is being accused of trying to both get a minor drunk and maybe sleep with her.  Another two minutes in and blatant racism.  And then 90 minutes of misogyny and every possible shot they can get of the female form.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Noir Watch: Witness to Murder (1954)




Watched:  01/23/2021
Format:  Noir Alley on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Roy Rowland

I think Jamie has become a full Barbara Stanwyck fangirl, and that's a feature, not a bug.  So, I used that to leverage spending our Saturday night watching Witness to Murder (1954), a great small-scale thriller with two terrific leads in Stanwyck and George Sanders - an actor I realize I may see in more movies by happenstance than anyone else.  

Our plot seems derived from Rear Window, but this movie came out just before the Hitchcock classic, and the structure is very different.  Before the credits finish rolling, Stanwyck awakens in the night and happens to look across the way out her window just in time to see a neighbor choking a woman to death.  Naturally, she calls the police, but the murderer, George Sanders, has figured what's happening and manages to stash the body when the cops drop by.

From here it's a game of cat and mouse, with Stanwyck certain of what she saw, but with no evidence to back her up and Sanders out-maneuvering her, and, in fact, beginning to plot against her.

The real villain of the movie is, curiously, 1950's attitudes about gender roles and women and their crazy lady brains not being good like man brains.  Curiosuly, this is focused through our upright cop/ love interest played by Gary Merrill (who never actually seems worthy of the attention of Stanwyck, but we'll just let that one go), as well as his parter played by Jesse White and the police Captain.  Sanders is able to leverage their "well, she has a crazy lady brain" predisposition against Stanwyck repeatedly and to to great effect.  

Muller took time in his post-movie wrap up to give modern critics a bit a knuckle-wrap for calling the movie "unrealistic", and I can't be sure how I would have thought of the film had he not made sure we thought hard on this before and after.  But here's what I know (SPOILERS) - putting inconveniently brash or argumentative spouses and children in psych wards was all the rage for a good chunk of the 20th century.  With psychology on the rise in post-war America, and using science as a blunt instrument, it didn't take much to get someone tossed in a hospital.  

It's played up for dramatic effect, I guess, but I think the most frustrating bit is that Stanwyck keeps cozying up to the detective who "wants to believe her", but just can't.  And, frankly, the script and Sanders himself do a great job of giving him the upper hand as the devious sociopath versus Stanwyck just being smart and plucky.  But, yeah, you want to have Stanwyck just give that cop the business, and it just doesn't happen.

IE: I agree with Muller that this movie is not "unrealistic" in how folks dismiss a single, late-night witness to a murder that doesn't appear to have happened to a body that no one has seen.

You don't need me to tell you Stanwyck is great in this, or that Sanders is terriific as the killer (and, btw, he's a Nazi, too!).  The direction is fine, but with John Alton as the DP, the movie looks like a million bucks based on some of those set-ups alone.  

I find myself digging thrillers like this.  This same script would have turned into something tedious by the late 1980's and through to today, with a post, Athony Hopkins killer and a chase scene that would go on for, like, a year.  I feel like Crawford's Sudden Fear is in a similar vein of small-scale thrillers from this era, or even Lupino and Ryan in Beware, My Lovely.  

Here's to hoping Jamie continues to volunteer her time for more Stanwyck pictures, because Barbara made, like, 100 movies.  I'm sure we'll keep finding good stuff.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Pirate Watch: Against All Flags (1952)




Watched:  01/15/2021
Format:  Amazon Watch Party
Viewing:  Unknown
Decade:  1950's
Director:   George Sherman

I have previously discussed this movie, including just last year.  

I believe that right up properly expresses my appreciation and major points I'd make about the movie.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Noir Watch: The Killer is Loose (1956)



Watched:  01/04/2021
Format:  Amazon Watch
Viewing:  Second
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Budd Boetticher 

We did this as a watch party.  

I already wrote this up a while back, and literally have nothing to add.  

It was super fun to watch with the watch party, but... nope.  No new insights or observations.


Sunday, December 27, 2020

Holiday Watch Party Watch: We're No Angels (1955)




Watched: 12/22/2020
Format: Amazon Watch Party
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Michael Curtiz

In general I think of Michael Curtiz as one of the most versatile and best directors of the Studio Era of Hollywood.  This is not the movie I'd use as Exhibit A for that argument.  

I don't really get it.  This movie is well liked and features a cast of solid, well-known actors (I *do* include Aldo Ray in that statement.  I like Nightfall).  But it has a very, very strange pacing - like, a snail's pace - is not immediately or obviously terribly *funny*.  And, yeah, it's a comedy.  It's listed by AFI as one of the 500 funniest movies ever made, so...  what the hell do I know?  

But, yeah, it's about three Devil's Island prisoners (Humphrey Bogart, Aldo Ray and Peter Ustinov) who hide out in a shop/ home owned by Joan Bennett and Leo G. Carroll - and, along the way - wind up helping out the shop and solving all of their problems.  

I do feel less crazy as I was not the only one watching the movie and I don't think any of us were fans of the thing.  

I dunno, maybe none of us were in the mood or something - but I think something about the stageyness of the production - that they seemed to pace it as a play they hadn't quite figured out the timing for - just really impacted the watchability.

All that said - it did have one of the darkest/ most leaning on gallows humor endings to a movie I can think of from this period, and maybe that has a great deal to do with how it's been received.  No idea.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Noir Watch: Tomorrow is Another Day (1951)




Watched:  12/13/2020
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM
Viewing:  Second
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Felix E. Feist

I watched this film once before and did a brief write-up, so I won't belabor the points there.  Instead, I'll dwell on how there's always multiple reasons to watch a movie, starting with "is it any good?" and "was the story worth it?"  And, yes, and yes.  

Watching Tomorrow is Another Day (1951) again, I found  it seems to intersect at a lot of places in cinema and cinema history.  It's not breaking ground, but it does feel like 1951 is a particular time and place in what we're talking about, and the aesthetics of how that story is done.  And - it's helped along by the plot element of the basic set-up.

Steve Cochrane - who is becoming a personal fave - has just been released from prison after killing someone when he was still a teenager.  Now in his early 30's, he doesn't really know anything about post-Depression America.  Or how to function as an adult in society.  He's basically a 15 year old kid in a grown-up's body wandering the streets of post-War America with no context for anything from a 1950's era car with power windows to how to get a job.

One of the curious aspects of watching movies from the 1920's - 1960's is getting used to the wardrobes, ideas and fashions of each era - and getting your head around what the 50's looked like compared to the 1930's, and that can all bleed together in hats and suits in black and white.  But here it's a plot point to know the hat of 1951 is not the hat of 1935, and the cut of the suit is different (those of us who grew up in the 80's know our 1990's suit from our 2020 suit).  

For us sitting in 2020, who are staring at the taxi dancer sequence with wonder - this movie may have the most straight-forward presentation of what was going on in these places that doesn't assume a lot of audience knowledge (as Cochrane's character tries to sort it out).  

But the film also sits on the edge of the 1940's.  The urban portions, where Cochrane heads to NYC, feel like any movie from 1944-1950 (and miles away from the NYC of Sweet Smell of Success in 1957).  It's still dime-a-dance girls and tenement apartments.  But the back third of the film where Cochrane and Ruth Roman join seasonal workers picking lettuce - feels almost pre-war.  It's not the picture of post-war prosperity that we tend to think of, but which does show up in films like Border Incident and Thieves' Highway.  The hand-to-mouth existence of anyone wasn't always shown - but here it's a reminder of the struggles of a lot of America that the movies never really sought to show once the war came along.

It's not the way anyone really intended you watch the film, but every once in a while the structure or story of a film of the era can be a window into the period in ways that weren't necessarily intended, but wtill jump out at a modern viewer.  

I did like 95% of the movie again - but, man, that ending.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Watch Party Watch: "I, The Jury" (1953)




Watched:  12/8/2020
Format: Amazon Watch Party
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Harry Essex

There was a time before Mickey Spillane was a name everyone kind of knew, and before Mike Hammer books had been adapted by major studios.  I, the Jury is one of the first Hammer books, released in 1947.  This poverty row movie adaptation came out in 1953 - and it really isn't like anything else coming out at the time.  

Yeah, the acting in this film wasn't going to threaten the usual Oscar contenders, and at first blush, there's a lot of what you might have seen in a Marlowe mystery - but (a) this case starts personal and finishes even more so for our detective, and (b) this detective is going to punch his way through the mystery.  

Where Marlowe tries to keep his cool, often over the top of rage whichs pills over, Hammer starts at a ten and goes up from there.  When your mystery starts with a dead best friend and you're on the trail through a bunch of weirdos - any of whom could have done it - I guess I can see how you'd be testy.  

Star Biff Elliot who plays Hammer is a curious choice.  He's not the stringest actor and his decision to go "angry" in every scene means that there's nowhere to go, really.  He blasts into the frame the first time we see him, and barges into every room thereafter  - so we don't ever really see him in any other state.  And anger is an easy go-to for actors, but it's hard to maintain.

The rest of the cast is actually pretty solid.  Peggie Castle as a love interest/ psychologist and Margaret Sheridan as Velda are both pretty great.  And Frances Osborne - who I'd only seen elsewhere in Murder By Contract - was very good as the mourning girlfriend of the murder victim.  

I discussed Spillane's semi-controversial place in crime-fiction, and this movie doesn't do much to dismiss the notion.  It's got as gritty a crime and violence angle, adjacent to overt sexuality as anything I can think of from this era - but still coded deeply enough that it was going to fly past the censors.  But, man, that ending is something else for the era.

The film was shot by John Alton, who always makes any picture look far better than it has a right to look - and I'd argue this movie had a huge impact on Frank Miller and his Sin City look and feel, from the deep shadow and windy mystery to the cinch in Hammer's raincoat.  

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Noir Watch: Kiss Me Deadly (1955)




Watched:  12/6/2020
Format:  TCM on Noir Alley
Viewing:  third?
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Robert Aldrich

Mickey Spillane is a weird sell in crime and noir circles.  I've never read any of his books (I'm fixing that ASAP), but the general idea is that his detective novels featuring Mike Hammer are (more) sexist (than other noir) and sadistic.  That's spilled over to the Mike Hammer films and other media, most of which I haven't seen or paid much attention to - but Kiss Me Deadly (1955) is a @#$%ing crazy movie, and you should check it out sometime.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Elementary Watch: The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)


 

Watched:  10/31/2020
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Terence Fisher

Frankly I'm surprised I'd never seen this movie before, except:  I've always been embarrassed to not have actually read the novel, which I usually like to do first on things like this.  For a while as a kid I read my brother's Sherlock Holmes collections, and like many a 13 year old kid, was a fan.  Frankly haven't read much since, so if anyone is doing any Christmas shopping for me... could use a nice Holmes collection.

Anyhoo...  Peter Cushing was TCM's Star of the Month, and they aired the movie and I decided: heck, now is the time.  It's Halloween-ish.  Ghost hounds and all.

Cushing plays Sherlock Holmes (to perfection, I might add).  Andre Morell is Watson.  I was further delighted to find out it co-starred Christopher Lee is the heir to the Baskerville manor and fortune, Sir Henry.  

The mystery surrounds a longstanding curse of the Baskerville family, that a demon hound occasionally gets them out on the moors surrounding their manor house.  When the latest occupant dies, killed by some large creature, the next in line is summoned home from South Africa to take his place.  In London, a Dr. Mortimer enlists the aid of Holmes and Watson to sort things out before Sir Henry falls to a similar fate.

The scope of the story plays well to the strengths of Hammer studios - access to solid actors, a limited number of locations, a grisly murder and kind of crazy story.  It has that Terence Fisher touch to it of not being overly stuffy, but also not ever feeling exploitative regarding the horror or grisly details while also painting a picture of what has occurred off screen or which was hinted at.  

If I have *any* complaint, I could have stood *more* of this movie.  It runs 87 minutes, and feels like it could have spent more time building suspects, detailed a bit more here and there, and given more room for Sir Henry's budding romance/ infatuation with the neighbor's comely daughter.  And, of course, with Cushing as Holmes such a delight, it would have been great to get more Holmes/ Watson time.