Showing posts with label noir. Show all posts
Showing posts with label noir. Show all posts

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Legal Thriller Watch: Presumed Innocent (1990)




Watched  04/09/2021
Format:  HBOmax
Viewing:  Second
Decade:  1990's
Director:  Alan J. Pakula

It's fair to say, that when I saw this at age 16 or whatever it was (I would have been 15 upon the film's release, and didn't see it in the theater) I followed the plot, but I didn't "get" the film.  Recently I was discussing this film with some folks who said it was a good neo-noir, and I should give it a shot, so I did.  What the hell else am I doing?

I'd literally forgotten I'd seen the film until reading the synopsis on wikipedia, and realized I had, in fact, seen it, but didn't remember which of the circa 1990-era adult court mystery dramas I was thinking of when and if details from the movie crossed my mind.  Firstly "Presumed Innocent" is as untelling a title as what often gets applied to noir.  Second, until about 1997, I think every fifth movie coming out was an actor in a suit going to court for some reason or other.

So, yeah, seeing a film about betrayal in a marriage and the fallout wrapped up in a mystery, semi-erotic thriller works far better at age 46 and with 21 years of marriage under your belt.  Also, realizing how *good* everyone is in this movie was a delight.  And goddamn the early passing of Raul Julia, who was amazing here.

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".

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Totter Noir Re-Watch: Tension (1949)




Watched:  04/07/2021
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  Unknown
Decade:  1940's
Director:  John Berry

It's relatively near my birthday, and so Jamie said "watch whatever you want", and-  me being me - I'd been wanting to watch Tension (1949) again as it had been a while.  

If you've not seen Tension, which Jenifer introduced me to years ago, thereby doing me the lifelong solid of introducing me to Audrey Totter's work, you should!  It's noir, but kinda goofy, has a career high performance for Totter as the femme fatale, Richard Basehart playing Richard Basehart, and Barry Sullivan and William Conrad as two cops I would have followed in any number of movies as they strode into rooms like they owned the place everywhere they went.

Weirdly, the film stars Cyd Charisse in a non-dancing role, something MGM must have been trying on for her to see how far she could push her acting chops.  And she's pretty good!  But mostly her job is to look lovely and be concerned about Richard Basehart, so she wasn't about to give Bette Davis a run for her money at this point.  

I won't describe the movie as "camp", but it's certainly a goofier entry in the annals of noir.  From the hook of the plot to the strategy of the cops trying to sort it all out, and topped by Totter's Claire Quimby - a whirlwind of badgirl behavior - it's a dang entertaining film.  You won't compare it to, say, The Third Man, but it does reward rewatching once you're familiar with the characters.  

Claire Quimby married Warren as a way out of whatever her life was in San Diego and because he was cute in a uniform.  He seemed like he was going places - but now she's living in a dingy apartment as Warren works 12 hours night shifts 5 days a week as a pharmacist, scrimping and saving to get her to the middle class life he thinks they both want.

Watch Cyd Charisse just want to smack the living hell out of Totter (but she's too nice)



At night, she's actually cruising the lunch counter in the pharmacy, looking to get picked up by guys who can show her a good time or provide her with her next step up (and with the looks to make it happen).  She runs off with a guy with a flashy car and a beach house, and Warren's attempts to get her back flop - he's beaten up and humiliated.  

SPOILERS

Thus, Warren dares to wear 1940's hard contact lenses to change his appearance, and creates a secondary life for himself as "Paul Southern", creating a persona unrelated to Warren so that the cops will look for this Southern person instead fo Warren when the time comes to kill Barney and reclaim his wife.

But - he meets Cyd Charisse, who apparently doesn't meet many men, because despite being Cyd Charisse, she's available and latches on to the mysterious cosmetics salesman who moved in next door.  Warren kinda realizes this murder scheme is dumb, his wife isn't worth it, and... hey... new girlfriend.  

Planning to let Cyd Charisse in on his charade and double life, he returns home, and so does Claire - letting him know Barney is dead.  

Enter our cops, trying to figure out what is going on with this weird couple - and so Barry Sullivan applies... TENSION.

IE: he sweats Warren and seduces Totter.  

Going for the Clark Kent Approved method of a "no glasses, different guy" disguise, was a pretty bold move in an era where Superman was already a pretty well-known figure.  But watching Sullivan deciding to go for Claire/ Totter, you really get the feeling he's okay with however this pans out and would take equal pleasure in jailing Warren and going to Acapulco with Claire or putting Claire away.  No big whoop.

END SPOILERS

It's a well shot, tight little film that does a lot with what it is.  And, really, it's a showcase for many of the things Totter does best when she gets to play a bad girl.  But add in a windy, multi-part plot and all the parties playing against each other, and while not exactly a mystery as to who did the murdering, it is a potboiler seeing how this thing will play out.

Anyway - can't recommend enough, if for no other eason than to see Totter's character's constant irritation with Basehart's character.  She is done, y'all.


Monday, April 5, 2021

Neo-Noir Watch: Body Heat (1981)




Watched:  04/03/2021
Format:  Amazon Streaming
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1980's
Director:  Lawrence Kasdan

I'll go ahead and put this out there:  this may be the best of the neo-noirs I've seen, and most akin to the original noir movement.  

Also: finally watching Body Heat (1981) gives me a big clue as to how neo-noir took a left turn by the late 80's and saw a divergent strain that became the "erotic thriller", which, itself, had several branches on the movie cladogram.

Despite the popular vision of noir, it wasn't always sexy stuff with classy dames showing up in the offices of PI's desperate for help.  The movement encompassed a lot of takes on how things can go badly, and how lust could turn things sideways remarkably fast was just one (if a popular) angle.  Body Heat delivers a 1980's spin on the Joseph M. Cain flavor of crime melodrama that gave us Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice.  No detectives here - just guys in over their head when they see a chance at romance with a woman out of their league (but aren't they all).

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Noir Watch: The Third Man (1949)




Watched:  04/03/2021
Format:  TCM Noir Alley on DVR
Viewing:  Unknown
Decade:  1940's
Director:  Carol Reed

One day I'll podcast on this film, and then we'll have a conversation.  

This is as close to a perfect movie as I can think of, so there you go.


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:

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.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Neo-Noir Erotic Thriller Madonna Watch Party Watch: Body of Evidence (1993)




When I was 17 years old, and a curious kid, and back when movies had all sorts of content in them - I saw all sorts of stuff on the big screen.  In general, I think it was actually a good thing.  I learned about the adult world, how sex looked under professional lighting, and that my ex-girlfriend was right about that nice lady in the Crying Game the second she showed up in the film.

And since the video for Lucky Star, I'd also thought that nice lady rolling around on the floor seemed like a pretty good idea.  By early 1993, the videos for Vogue and Express Yourself had done nothing to dissuade me of this opinion, let alone when my pal, Phil, taped the HBO concert special of Blonde Ambition for me. 

In 1992, Rob, Scott and I had gone to see a sold-out showing of Basic Instinct on opening night (I thought it was "meh" - and I have 10,000 words on what this did to the notion of noir for a decade), and at the time we did not anticipate that Hollywood would see gold in them thar hills and spend the early 90's trying to recapture the magic in a series of erotic thrillers.  

Simultaneously, Madonna had found she quite enjoyed freaking out America's moms via the Like A Prayer controversy (which seems both inappropriate and stupid rewatching the video now), and decided she would now say the word "sex" a lot, very much upsetting Tipper Gore.  She liked it so much, she made a picture book about how much she liked the word, and in a field trip to the Houston Public Library downtown, we got one of the people who was already 18 to get it for us to all look at at the reference desk.  And, man, were the librarians cheesed.

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



Sunday, February 14, 2021

Noir Watch: Born to Kill (1947)




Watched:  02/14/2021
Format:  Noir Alley on DVR
Viewing:  Unknown.  At least 3rd.
Decade:  1940's
Director:  Robert Wise

Some time ago, when I was first exploring noir, Born to Kill (1947) was included in one of the box sets I picked up to try and learn more about the genre.  Honestly, if I wanted to blow the doors off the expectations I think a *lot* of people have about Hayes Code-era film, this is the movie I'd show them.

Our leads are a psychopath and sociopath, divorce(!), a brutal murder, one of our most virtuous characters is a lush, and a PI who is mostly there as an equal-opportunity grifter.  Heck, there's an Elisha Cook Jr. lurking around for good measure.  It's a dark, nasty little film with no POV hero - just characters who cross paths and feel a mutual appreciation and attraction, even as they're connection is going to burn them both out.

This was the movie that showed me what films of the era were really capable of when it came to stepping into the shadows.  You might get sexy obsession in penty of other films, but there was always an obvious line that the characters crossed that was going to be their downfall, the thing that made you want to do the equivalent of "don't go in the basement!" as our protagonist decides to risk it for a nice set of legs or a smokey voice.  Born to Kill doesn't bother with all that  - these characters were going to hell, anyway.  They're just speeding each other along.

Starring Claire Trevor - someone I flat out did NOT appreciate enough for several years but whom I've come back around to and adore - and the notorious Lawrence Tierney as our leads, we've got a pair with some amazing presence.  Tierney's low-key menace and chiseled jaw works phenomenally well as the handsome psychopath who attracts women, but becaomes infuriated at the slightest hint of slight.  Trevor manages to find a delicate balance - we know she's play-acting to certain parties, and we know better to buy it, but it's absolutely seemingly sincere.  

Other players include Walter Slezak as the PI of iffy moral character, Elisha Cook Jr. as a longtime friend of Tierney's who's been maybe the only force on Earth keeping him in check.  Audrey Long is Trevor's wealthy but naive foster-sister with a fortune.  And, notably, Esther Howard plays a rooming house owner with more heart than you'd figure.

There is a character who is murdered with the name "Laury Palmer", and much of the mystery for the other characters is who killed Laury Palmer - and I can't help but think Lynch was winking at this character with Twin Peaks, til it was, you know, magic dream goblins or what have you.

Anyway - "wow, this things DARK" is not really much of a selling point, I suppose, but the execution of the movie, the performances and the winding story are all masterfully handled by director Robert Wise (yes, the man who brought you films as diverse as The Set-Up, The HauntingThe Sound of Music and Star Trek: The Motion Picture).    

But if you want to see what Hollywood could pull off (and Claire Trevor plotting in some excellent outfits), highly recommended.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Noir Watch: The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)




Watched:  02/06/2021
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  unknown
Decade:  1940's
Director:  Tay Garnett

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) is among the top ten films I'd recommend in a "what you need to know about noir" seminar.  It's got an earned place among the noir canon, and even though I've read the book and seen it half-dozen times, I find myself thoroughly enjoying every time I return to it.  It simply works.  

It shares a certain headspace with Double Indemnity, which makes sense as both started as novels by James M. Cain.  There's not just a gritty realism in how characters are and behave, it's matched by the worlds Cain created that seem not far off from our own.  Roadside diners, insurance offices.  Heck, throw in Mildred Pierce and you're in the suburbs and building up comfortable eateries.  

All it really takes is infatuation to become an obsession, and everything can go off the rails.  

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Noir Re-Watch: The Unsuspected (1947)




Watched:  02/03/2021
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  4th?
Decade:  1940's
Director:  Michael Curtiz

Michael Curtiz directed innumerable good to great movies, and we find ourselves watching his output a few times per year one way or another, but since finding The Unsuspected (1947) as part of my "let's watch all the Audrey Totter stuff we can find" quest, I'm a little surprised it just isn't more widely discussed.  The cinematography alone is noteworthy, courtesy industry veteran Elwood Bridell.  Add in a Franz Waxman score, and multiple hooks for a story, and it already has plenty to recommend it before you point out Claude Rains stars.



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.*

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

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

Noir Watch: The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945)



Watched:  01/15/2020
Format:  TCM on DVR (Noir Alley)
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's
Director:  Robert Siodmak

I'd been wanting to see this one for a while, so I'm glad it came on Noir Alley.  Directed by Robert Siodmak (one of those names that means this should be, minimum, pretty good), starring George Sanders, Ella Raines and Geraldine Fitzgerald and - a more recent interest - produced by Joan Harrison - it had a lot of elements that made it worth at least a look.

The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945) centers on a man aging into permanent bachelorhood as he pays the way for and cares for his two sisters - one a widow and the other an invalid.  The family fortune disappeared in the Depression, leaving the siblings scraping by in the rambling house that is a reminder of better times.  "Uncle Harry" (Sanders) meets a co-worker in from New York (Ella Raines) and the two spark an interest.  

However, one of the sisters isn't quite ready to let Harry go.  And things get weird.

The movie was made at the tail end of WWII (released pretty much the weekend after VJ Day), so it's got some similarities to other WWII-era films in that the cast is female-centric and the dashing male lead is George Sanders.  It takes place in limited spaces (based on a play, so there's that) and overall feels initimate and somewhat scaled down.

It's as easy to call this a melodrama as a noir, but I can see why Joan Harrison would have been interested in the script.  The characters are interesting and imperfect - no one (not even Raines) is a saint, and there's some genuine weirdness going on that goes beyond just sisterly affection.*  But, at the same time, Raines' character feels shockingly direct regarding her interest in Harry - she's no coy young lady, even when asked specifically to play that role.

As I thought - direction and performances were terrific, Sanders is in great form, and Geraldine Fitzgerald is note perfect.  But despite the actual warning not to spoil the ending they literally tag onto the end of the movie, I'll say:  the studio enforced ending that led to Harrison's parting with Universal and Siodmak shooting the bird at the studio is... awful.  The movie builds and builds to something absolutely mind-scrambling, and then... we get this cheesy ending.  But, you know, when they were wrapping this thing up, we were still fighting in Japan.  I get that maybe they wanted something that wasn't so depressing.

So, it makes it hard to actually recommend the movie.  It's a solid film right until, literally, the last minute, and then everything falls apart.  Did not like.

During the intro and outro, Eddie was joined by scholar Christina Lane - who has too many credentials for me to get into here - but she's an accomplished film academic.  I just picked up Lane's book on Joan Harrison and plan to crack it this weekend.  So - while I've seen a lot of Harrison's movies over the years, I'm looking forward to reading about the actual woman who made them happen (I also recently picked up Phantom Lady on BluRay and keep intending to show it to Jamie, and then I forget).


*that lady in the negligee is not the romantic subject of the film

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.


Friday, January 1, 2021

Christmas Noir Watch: Cover-Up (1949)




Watched:  12/23/2020
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's
Director:  Alfred E. Green

An insurance detective comes to a small town to look into the apparent suicide of a wealthy man with a considerable settlement coming to the benficiaries.  Arriving in town, he finds everyone hated the guy, it sure looks like murder, and everyone - including the foxy young lady he met on the bus on the way in, are in on a cover-up.  Thus, the name of the movie.

Stars William Bendix and Dennis O'Keefe.

The ending is weird and super chipper.  

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Watch Party Watch: Guest in the House (1944)




Watched:  12/29/2020
Format:  Amazon Watch Party
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's
Director:  this one is confusing, but it's listed as follows on IMDB -  John BrahmJohn Cromwell...(uncredited) AndrĂ© De Toth...(uncredited) Lewis Milestone...(uncredited)

A dopey young doctor has fallen for his patient - a mental patient with a phobia of birds and a love of stirring shit (Anne Baxter).  Reasonably, he takes her to meet his idiotic family (minus one key player).  Unreasonably, he just f'ing leaves her with his idiotic family who just met her.  She gaslights the living shit out of everyone, including an 8 year old girl.

This movie features:
  • 3 great 1940's hairstyles on lovely women
  • 1 coocoo bananas psycho
  • Multiple dum-dums who clearly never met a Mean Girl
  • 1 Margaret Hamilton reminding you why it was hard for her to find work after Wizard of Oz seared her into your mind as a broom-riding funster
  • 1 wife who is wildly tolerant of 1 husband who is clearly banging his model no matter what the script tries to tell us
  • 1 man who has all the appeal of a soaked Ralph Bellamy that is, because filmed during wartime, the only man around sold to us as a real dream boat
  • 1 bird pining for the fjords
It is not a BAD movie, but it is also not hard to imagine how this movie could be better.  Also - how this sort of movie became a Lifetime movie, which would be called "Psycho Sister-In-Law".

However, this movie ALSO was released under the name "Satan in Skirts", which...  *chef's kiss*.