Showing posts with label gangsters. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gangsters. Show all posts

Monday, March 22, 2021

PODCAST: "The Long Good Friday" (1979) - a SimonUK Canon episode w/ Ryan



Watched:  03/16/2021
Format:  Criterion Channel
Viewing:  Second
Decade:  1970's
Director:  John MacKenzie



We're still talking our personal canon, and SimonUK brings a favorite from the UK - and one hell of a film. We talk amazing performances, tight stories, and the real world of late-70's England that informed one of the hallmark films of the gangster genre. Join us for a long chat on a good movie.




Music:  

The Long Good Friday Theme, Extended Edition - Francis Monkman


Signal Watch Canon:

Friday, February 19, 2021

Noir Watch: Johnny Eager (1941)




Watched:  02/18/2021
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's
Director:  Mervyn LeRoy

Summing up the plot to Johnny Eager (1941) would be extraordinarily difficult - but the short version is: ex-con pretends to go straight, meets Lana Turner, uses her and her step-father to get his new dog track open.  Poetic boozy pal plays Eager's conscience.  

Honestly, it's a hell of a movie, and it's likely the goofy title that's kept it from being checked out by enough people.  

I'm not a huge fan of star Robert Taylor - who is pretty rock solid here as a handsome, devil-may-care gangster with no refinement.  That's not a dig, but I think I'd only seen two or so Robert Taylor films previously.  But he's totally buyable as Johnny Eager.

The real hook is that Johnny can spot an angle, spot a dope, and has a mind perfectly set for operating in the criminal world - but he can't understand the straight world.  People with pure motivations are a mystery that gnaws at him.  More than that, his understanding of women is only as pliable tools, either as sexual playthings or as employees.  

What makes the movie curious - and maybe different from other gangster films with bent leads - is the presence of Van Heflin as Jeff Jartnett, a drunk and seemingly a man of education, who hangs around Johnny as pal, enabler, and because he sees the greatness within Johnny and wants to bear witness to either the rise or fall of a great mind.

Out of prison, Johnny has put everything he's got into a dummy organization trying to open a dog track with no permits, but meanwhile it seems his control on the city is slipping.  Others may be moving against him. 

Annnnd in the middle of all this, he meets Lan Turner, who more or less throws herself at him.  But winds up in way deeper than she barganined for, and it takes a toll on her psyche.

This is very early to be considered true noir, but not so as a gangster picture, which this most certainly is.  And Turner is a femme fatale only in that she leads Johnny toward his downfall because he actually does come close to understanding sacrifice via whatever passes for love in his heart.  It absolutely is a man making bad decisions (that, I mean, get him dead) over a woman, but they also redeem him, which isn't very noirish.  But that he goes down throwing a hail of bullets and popped off by the cop who married his first girl?  That's some symmetry there.

And that's the interesting thing about the movie, really.  It's a down-in-the-streets gangster picture about a guy trying to build an empire, and sees the poetry and literary mythology in it all - right down to pointing out "he's just some guy" who dies badly in the middle of the road.

Anyhoo... I enjoyed the heck out of this movie, and not just because Turner had amazing hair through the whole thing, even when we were told she looked "awful".*



*she did not



Saturday, January 16, 2021

Noir Watch: The Glass Key (1942)




Watched:  01/16/2021
Format:  Noir Alley on DVR
Viewing:  Not sure
Decade:  1940's
Director:   Stuart Heisler

Measured by the fact I think this is the fourth time I've seen this movie, you can take it at face value - I think pretty highly of The Glass Key (1942).  But, it is based on a novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett, co-stars Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, and has a large supporting role for William Bendix - w, yes.  I'm pre-disposed to like the film.  

We're going to cover Miller's Crossing on the podcast at some point, an early 90's Coen Bros. film, and one of my personal canon.  I think I was in early college when I read my first Hammett on JAL's recommendation and got a few pages into Red Harvest before saying "wait a minute, maybe the Coen Bros. weren't so darn clever after all...".   Because, honestly, Miller's Crossing is the love child of The Glass Key and Red Harvest, both Hammett books.*

I did read The Glass Key before seeing this film (and just learned via Eddie Muller there's an earlier version starring George Raft - which may lead to me skipping it) - and, sure, the book is better, yadda yadda.  But, the film is terrific all on its own - a twisting, double-double-crossing political/gangland yarn that adds up perfectly, but the first time through can be hard to keep track of all the parts of the equation.  

Ladd plays the lieutenant to a political boss who, upon meeting the daughter (Lake) of a reform candidate  decides to back the reform candidate.  This gets his boss crosswise with another, shadier, political boss, and all of a sudden Lake's brother winds up dead on the street.  

The movie has a similar tone to a Hammett novel when it comes to casual brutality and unsavory characters.  That includes our lead, who never really throws a punch, but he's not exactly a knight in shining armor as he works angles, falls out with his boss, and tries not to fall for Lake.

The movie is difficult to discuss, but the characters in it are terrifically drawn, each instantly knowable in broad strokes, even if in the framework of the story, they're all capable of anything - which is part of what keeps the mystery of the story rolling.  

Frankly, this is a "could be a TL;DR post" kind of movie, and I'm not going to do that.  Maybe I'll podcast this movie one day instead.  But in the meantime, I highly recommend the film.  Just go with that. 


*and a bit of visual flavoring from The Conformist

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Noir Watch: Destination Murder (1950)




Watched:  10/21/2020
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Edward L. Cahn

Shown on Noir Alley, Eddie Muller set the stage perfectly - Destination Murder (1950) is not going to fool anyone into thinking they're watching an A picture, but it is a wild ride of a film with a lot of character and more twists than a bag of pretzels.  

Laura Mansfield (Joyce MacKenzie) has come home from college on the east coast when her father opens the door for a seeming delivery man and takes a fatal bullet.  The cops seem to be stumbling, so Laura takes it upon herself to do some snooping.  Unfortunately, all of the delivery drivers in their line-up had alibis, but Laura fakes trust in her most likely suspect, and that opens a door into the underworld of the city, all based around The Vogue nightclub.  

Cast includes most recognizably Stanley Clements as the delivery man and assassin, Albert Dekker as the boss of the nightclub, Hurd Hatfield as the brains and manager of the nightclub, and Myrna Dell as a competing femme fatale.  

For the first thirty minutes, it feels like a standard B-picture, and then the twists start coming hard and fast.  Some are jaw-droppers, some are "say what?" moments, but all of it does fit into the logic of the movie.  And, anchored by the solid delivery by Joyce MacKenzie, it's all a bit crazy but just works.  That said - no one will be in a rush to nominate anyone here for an Oscar.  

Highly recommended in a "well, that was crazy!" kind of way.

Watch Party Watch: Slighty Scarlet (1956)




Watched:  10/20/2020
Format:  Amazon Watch Party
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Allan Dwan - Director of Photography:  John Alton

This week's Tuesday selection by Jenifer was Slightly Scarlet (1956), an RKO noir picture that seemed to have all the hallmarks of an RKO crime picture, and - starring the late Rhonda Fleming - was released in technicolor.  Jenifer no doubt selected the film because Fleming passed just last week on the 14th, and it seemed like a good way to remember the red-head bombshell, known as "Queen of Technicolor".*

Shot by John Alton, one of the now-most-famous noir DP's, it's wild to see a noir of this period in color, and one that was still being lit like all we were working with was gray tone and black and white.  Even if the story of the film doesn't grab you, it's interesting enough just to see how the rules for how these movies would be shot that had been brewing for a decade works and doesn't work once your subjects are in living color.

The story is James M. Cain, who gave us Mildred Pierce and The Postman Always Rings Twice, so you know it's family melodrama mixed with MURDER.

Fleming plays a career-gal who has just landed the next mayor of her California coastal city (the fictional Bay City) as her beau.  She's picking up her sister from jail, a troubled young woman with a bent psyche.  But along comes John Payne - an educated fellow playing dirty in the rackets and has an eye on the Big Man's chair (Ted De Corsia).  

Payne romances Fleming, the sister - who becomes increasingly unhinged out of her prison environs - decides she wants her some John Payne, and city politics mix with mob corruption.

All in all, a tight noir plot.  Aside from color, the stand-out difference is really Arlene Dahl's portrayal of the troubled sister, who would be winding up in a Mental Health Court these days, and how treatment and support of family (even as Dahl is blaming Fleming for her state) is everything.  It does lean into "there's a specific event that caused this" psychology of the time, at least as far as movies are concerned - and it is lifted wholesale from 1946's The Locket - but it's still an interesting twist to not just write off the sister as twisted or evil.

Also - a harpoon gun is deployed!

I think I did a phenomenal job of not acting like a Tex Avery wolf cartoon when Fleming was on screen - and the movie (in classic RKO noir fashion) - was certainly going for production value.  I can't tell if this was part of the Howard Hughes era of the studio - certainly it has the feel of something he would have had his hands on, from Fleming's wardrobe, to Arlene Dahl's personal line of negligee playing a featured role, and fight scenes that feel a little bone-crunchy.  My suspicion is: yes.  But I'm not sure when Hughes' grip on RKO slipped, and it would have been around this period.  But, man, that poster looks like something Hughes would have insisted on.



*it's hard to say the impact red-heads had on Technicolor and it had on red-heads.  I know Maureen O'Hara was also considered a highlight of Technicolor film.  

Friday, June 19, 2020

Noir Watch: Backtrack (1990) and Murder by Contract (1958) w/ JAL & Ryan


Watched:  06/11/2020 (Backtrack) & 06/16/2020 (Contract)
Format:  Amazon Streaming and TCM Noir Alley
Viewing:  First / Second
Decade:  1990's/ 1950's
Director:  Dennis Hopper/ Irving Lerner

More ways to listen - choose an app


We're back with more noir - neo and otherwise! It's two movies about weirdo hitmen filmed 30 years apart. One is from the go-go 90's and has a lot of surprises, and the other is a cult classic of noir, about a man who just wants enough money to get that house he's had his eye on. Both have casts worth discussing and off-kilter approaches to their form. Join JAL and Ryan as we make our way through two features that don't get that many mentions.





Music:
The Executioner Theme - Perry Botkin, Murder By Contract score


Noir Playlist:

Friday, March 27, 2020

Noir Watch: Ride the Pink Horse (1947)


Watched:  03/25/2020
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's

I've been meaning to read some Dorothy B. Hughes, and now I'm deadly curious.  She wrote the novel this movie - a gritty, all-in-one-night (well, two nights) - is based on, and it sounds like the book is even meaner.

But you kind of have to know that anything that's called "Ride the Pink Horse" is either a children's book, porn or something rough and tumble enough that it can have a goofy name and walk away with it.  Sort of the "Boy Named 'Sue"" effect.  I won't pretend Ride the Pink Horse (1947) is a great film, but it's different and interesting enough that I can see why it's got it's own reputation among noiristas and landed a Criterion edition release.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

PODCAST: Vampire Halloween Watch: "Vampire Circus" (1972) and "Innocent Blood" (1992)



Watched:  09/13/2019, 09/0152019
Format:  Amazon Streaming/ DVD
Viewing: Second/ First
Decade:  1970's/ 1990's

For more information on the PodCast and places/ services where you can find the PodCast

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SimonUK and I rise from the grave with two more takes on the Vampire Genre! In the first film, vampires make a killing running a circus while carrying a grudge and harassing a small European town. In the other, Italian mafia stereotypes collide with a French vampire in a 90's-tastic take on The City of Brotherly Love, and we can't figure out which sangria anyone is drinking. It's a Halloween vampire fest!





Music:
Vampire Circus Suite - David Whitaker, Vampire Circus OST
Night - Jackie Wilson, A Woman, a Lover, a Friend


Halloween 2019



Halloween 2018

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Monday, July 23, 2018

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Monday, April 9, 2018

Monday, February 12, 2018

Coen Watch: Miller's Crossing (1990)



Watched:  02/03/2018
Format:  Google Play Streaming
Viewing:  Unknown, but somewhere over 25th
Decade:  1990's

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Noir Watch: The Glass Key (1942)

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



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

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

TV Watch: Peaky Blinders - recommended

We've been watching the BBC series, now streaming on Netflix, Peaky Blinders.  In BBC or HBO big-budget style, the show is only 6 episodes per season, but the production is incredible per episode with top flight talent in front of, and as near I can tell, behind the camera.



Our resident music snobs will like the soundtrack.  Though the setting is 1919 Birmingham, England, the show makes excellent use of Nick Cave in season 1 (including use of "Red Right Hand" as the credits track) and, as we've just cracked season 2, they've subbed in Ms. Polly Jean Harvey.  The music fits shockingly well against the late Industrial Age backdrop as working-class gangs move like sharks through the factory workers, IRA sympathizers, nascent communists and blue-clad cops on dirt streets in flat caps and tweed.

Season 1 playlist
Season 2 partial playlist

You can't get thrown by the name of the show (the name of the family-based gang at the center of the show) any more than you can get thrown by the accents and patter unfamiliar to American ears, but all of it understandable enough.

The lead of the show, Thomas Shelby, is played by Cillian Murphy - most recognizable to Americans as The Scarecrow from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises.  The cops out to get the gang are led by Jurassic Park's Sam Neill.  One of my favorite characters is Tommy's Aunt Polly, played by Helen McCrory, who you might have seen as Draco Malfoy's mother in the Harry Potter films and briefly in Skyfall.  I hear Thomas Hardy shows up here in Season 2, so I'm ready for that.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Noir Watch: The Big Heat (1953)

I have to assume I've annoyed you people before by talking about the 1953 Fritz Lang directed noir, The Big Heat.  But, what's not to like?  Glenn Ford as a straight-and-narrow cop pushed too far, Lee Marvin as a semi-psychotic mob heavy, Gloria Grahame as...  Gloria Grahame, really (and what more do you need?).

The title does not refer to the lady depicted on the poster


Monday, March 18, 2013

Join Us: Miller's Crossing at The Drafthouse Ritz

If you knew me in college you knew two things about me:

  • I was probably up for getting some tacos
  • I never got over that first viewing of Miller's Crossing





The movie comes to The Alamo Ritz on March 28th.  Simon, Paul and I have our tickets, and we expect you'll be joining us (we're seats 7 - 10 on row 21 for reserved seating).

Put on your fedora or mink coat and come on out and join us to see the movie that sort of set me on the path of being into movies with guys in hats and a lifetime fascination with women in gowns who talk fast and maybe carry a gun.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Signal Re-Watch: "Sunset Boulevard" and watching "Casino" on basic cable

Sunset Boulevard (1950)



I finally watched Sunset Boulevard about two years ago, and it's already become one of my favorite films.  I received a copy on BluRay for Christmas (thanks, Jason & Amy!), and gave it a whirl.  Frankly, I'm a bit shocked that I didn't do a lengthy write up of the movie during that time a couple years back when I first watched the movie in its entirety then went to the Paramount to see it, but I can't find a record of any formal prior discussion of the movie.

If you're not familiar, Sunset Boulevard opens on a murder in the Hollywood Hills (I guess, I don't know LA geography) and backtracks in pure noir style to how we got to this point.  A struggling screenwriter who tasted success and watched it fade stumbles upon the decaying mansion of a once great silent film star now living as a recluse, planning her return to greatness.  She has money, and plenty of it, and Joe is willing to take the money and deal with the insanity of the mansion and wretched screenplay she wants him to tidy up that will surely mean the return of Norma Desmond to an imagined legions of fans eagerly awaiting her return.

And then things get dark and weird.

The movie spawned a million quotes, and is best remembered for Gloria Swanson's stunning portrayal of Norma Desmond - a character that reflects what had happened to some extent to many stars of the silent era (and continues to happen to talent as they fade from the public eye in favor of the next new thing) - only, you know, amped up a bit.  Add on real-life former silent director Eric von Stroheim as Desmond's aloof butler, and you've got a really interesting dynamic going.

In general, I don't love movies about Hollywood making movies, but sometimes the industry turns the eye back on itself and is willing to admit a few things about itself that make for a great story or provide an opportunity for great performances - even if there's maybe not a sense of a universal human experience or some such idea.  But I do think the ideas about self-delusion, dreams of stardom and relevancy and what it means when it fades, what we're willing to do for a buck, and more... are recognizable if not relatable.

Plus, man, Billy Wilder's dialog.

"...we had faces!"

There are a LOT of extras on the disc.  Probably too many, but you can't say it's not fairly complete when it comes to talking about the film and reminds me of the difference between access to a film via a streaming service and why you might want to own a copy of your favorite movies.

The movie itself is one of those things that will continue to reveal bits of Billy Wilder's brilliance for several more screenings, and my appreciation for how all of the pieces fit together just grows with every viewing.  I appreciate the devotion to Hitchcock (and also received the Hitch BluRay box set for Christmas that I am dying to crack open), but I think film school could do worse than to point that eye at Wilder and his ability to leap from genre to genre and redefine it as it goes.  As they point out in the bonus features, he not only managed genre - he moved outside of genre and created his own kind of film with Sunset Boulevard.

Casino (1995)

Casino is not a short movie, clocking in at about 3 hours, but I've still seen it probably 8 or 9 times.  And, I argue, it's one of the best reasons to reconsider Sharon Stone as something other than the somewhat Norma Desmond-esque figure she's hellbent on becoming.

you kids who work with video will never know the night mare of lighting this for film

The movie rolls out DeNiro as DeNiro, Pesci as Pesci and a whole herd of hoodlum and thug stereotypes from the Eastern US and drops them in Nevada in the wake of the Rat Pack.

Based on something approximating the real-life events of Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal leaving Chicago and illegal gambling to establish mob foundations in a town where everything is legal - the movie presents the story using a fictionalized version in Sam "Ace" Rothstein (DeNiro) as a mobbed-up bookie who finds he can make a fortune as a legitimate businessman in the wilds of Vegas.  How much is true, how much is speculation and how much is fabrication - probably best Scorsese himself doesn't know.  Pesci, not so long since he tried mainstream credibility with My Cousin Vinny plays mob thug Nicky Santoro, the muscle Ace needs in the early days, but who becomes a liability the minute respectability becomes a necessity.  Stone plays DeNiro's showgirl wife/ greatest distraction and liability.

Fantastically shot, meticulously detailed, Scorsese captured the last of old Vegas before it was subsumed with Vegas' secondary major industry - construction.  (If you've never been to Vegas, it changes completely about every 8-10 years).

this one time in 1995, Sharon Stone made a movie in which she was terrific

It's an epic film that isn't shy about a sprawling cast and intricate relationships presented in sketchy detail, but Scorsese keeps it easy to follow, using the template started in Goodfellas as a jumping off point.  The story stretches over a decade or more, following the rise and fall of key characters who ignite the Vegas scene and make the world there possible before being subsumed by corruption outside, inside and something resembling the actual forces of the justice via the US Justice Department and a lot of bad karma.

Anyway, on this go-round I was really struck by how well the movie presents all of the characters, their motivations and points of view, and even if we want to root for Ace, he's maybe as bad or worse than Nicky in some ways - at least Nicky is honest about his nature and seems to want for things to work out - he just doesn't have the big picture vision that Ace seems to have in spades.

And, by the way, if you're a James Woods fan, this is one of his smaller, wonkier roles and every time it makes me laugh a little bit.

I did watch the movie on basic cable.  Why?  I don't know.  I have a copy on DVD.  But it was fascinating watching them edit the living heck out of Jos Pesci's dialog while allowing for bats to collide with skulls and running ads for The Untouchables where the ad was entirely the infamous "teamwork" scene.

Oh, American TV standards.  You are so weird.

The movie will also have my undying respect for casting Don Rickles in a straight role in a movie.  I mean, who does that?  Brilliant.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Signal Watch Review: Masks & Mobsters (from MonkeyBrain Comics)



One of the great things thus far about MonkeyBrain Comics has been the wide variety of genre content coming from the publisher.  Last week saw tweaky hipster/ swords & sorcery strip Wander hit the internets.  This week MonkeyBrain rolls out Masks & Mobsters, a book that's pretty well set on the Signal Watch Venn Diagram as it's crime/ gangster comics set in a 1930's-era urban center with wiseguys starting to feel the heat from mystery men with strange powers.

The book's title page promises that this will be less of a straight narrative, issue after issue, as it announces it's an anthology title (ie: a fresh story with each issue, I'm guessing), so we'll see where the creative team is taking it from here (or if the same creative team will even stay around).

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Next week we head for Chicago - Expect low to no posting

Next week Jamie and I head for sunny Chicago, Illinois for a few days of vacation.  We're escaping the Texas heat in exchange for Chicago heat.



I'm definitely looking forward to it.  Somehow, Jamie and I have never been able to work in a normal vacation like humans are supposed to, especially if they've been together since the first Clinton Administration.  I know, it sounds weird, but we've had lots of extenuating circumstances and Jamie does not travel easily.  However, this year we made it a priority, and so off we go to The Windy City.

Anybody else have this poster?
My plan is to basically see a lot of museums and go to a Cubs game.  We've also got a Fodor's guide, and I have a couple of recommendations for some stuff to do at night.  We'll see.  But it does mean that early next week we'll be posting in an extremely limited capacity unless I decide to bother to bring my laptop (I probably will).

The 1908 Cubs look forward to what will surely be an endless string of pennants

Jamie has just informed me I cannot buy us tickets to see Ministry, who is playing while we're there.  Which shocks me, because I thought those dudes hung it up eons ago.  No rockin' out to "Stigmata" for us, I guess.  Nor is playing clips of Ministry from YouTube really winning Jamie over.

I may try to talk her into going to The Green Mill.  We'll see what happens.

So if you're in the Chicagoland Area and feel like coming pretty much to the dead center of town (we're staying right across from Grant Park, I think), give me a buzz.

Really, I don't know anything about Chiacgo.  I went there some as a kid, but we were mostly out in the suburbs.  My ideas about Chicago are formed by:

  • The Untouchables
  • The Chicago Cubs
  • The Chicago Bulls
  • Superbowl XXV
  • Ferris Bueller
  • John Hughes movies
  • Mr. T
  • street scenes in The Dark Knight
  • viewing WGN as a kid to watch cartoons
  • The Blues Brothers
  • I once watched "ER"
  • and their history of putting their politicians in jail (in Texas we just make whatever politicians do legal)

I am perfectly aware that Chicago is a great American city, and I look forward to gawking around like the idiot tourist I shall be.

Also, I'm totally looking up the "1920's Gangsters Tour" I've heard they've got.

Cubs Win!