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

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.  

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Noir Watch: The Racket (1951)




Watched:  10/13/2020
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  John CromwellMel Ferrer...(uncredited), Tay Garnett...(uncredited), Nicholas Ray...(uncredited)  Sherman Todd...(uncredited)

Part of the "tough, straight-lace cop goes up against the mob" noir genre that crescendos (for me) with The Big Heat, The Racket (1951) sees Robert Ryan cast as a mob boss who came up the ranks thanks to his Capone-like ruthlessness who now realizes that by joining a combination that's moved into town and absorbed him - he's getting sidelined.  And in his business, that can mean a pine box.  Ryan's opposite is Robert Mitchum, a guy who grew up in the same neighborhood as Ryan, but found satisfaction on the side of the angels.  before we see him, we know he's paid the price for not playing patty-cake with the mob -  passed over for promotion despite his success and pushed to yet another district.

There's no small amount of politics, graft and corruption, and Ryan's to-date clean record (bought via a line of pliable judges) is still holding up, but his desire to remain top dog in his town is leading him to recklessness - including deciding to put out a hit on a would-be judicial candidate.  Mitchum takes the indirect route to Ryan, picks up his brother, which brings the brother's songbird ladyfriend into the picture - here played by noir icon Lizabeth Scott.  There's also an amorous reporter who is awkwardly guileless for the profession he's selected, and William Talman plays a cop trying to live up to and follow in Mitchum's footsteps.

Also look for a young, The Killers-era William Conrad playing a role 20 years ahead of its time and "that guy" actor Ray Collins as the scumbag politician.

The film is an RKO picture, and on the tough side.  Even our good-guys play a bit fast and loose with the truth when they know the mob is using the law as a blunt instrument.  People throw punches with minimal provocation.  Even the virginal housewives (Joyce Mackenzie and Virginia Huston) have to deal with death and their foyers exploding.  Cars don't just crash, they flip.  

If you're a Mitchum or Robert Ryan fan (and I am), then that's enough.  RKO spent some money on this one, if not a ton of money, and the performances, dialog and stakes work well enough to gloss over some rockier aspects of the story.  

It's interesting to see Lizabeth Scott cast as more of a free-agent than the love interest of a main character.  Yeah, she's pursued by two characters in the film, but when her character speaks to Ryan and Mitchum, it's not through the filter of a romance - she's just laying down the truth, man.  She's pretty good here, honestly (she's never been my favorite of the noirista favorite dames), but credit where it's due.  I think she's terrific as an end-of-her rope songbird who couldn't believe she'd stumbled into a little luck in romance and possible financial security (those post-Depression notes just don't show up in movies anymore as a motivator, and they should).  

This is an ancestor of tough guy cops and robbers movies that we're still enjoying  - although after Heat, I'm not sure anyone is bothering anymore.  It's got that visceral appeal of an RKO noir, and doesn't put a shiny veneer on anything.  And, honestly, probably hews closer to a version of the truth than we want to think about as more than a fun crime story. It won't make you rethink cinema, and it's not the best even in it's sub-genre, but it's a solid production despite multiple writers and 4 directors (that we know of).

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Noir Watch: Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)




Watched:  10/08/2020
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Otto Preminger


Before watching, I had a general awareness of Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950), a movie I've seen listed here and there as a noir-buff favorite.  Starring Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney and directed by Otto Preminger, you'd think I'd have prioritized the film.  I did not.  No idea why.  

And, of course, because noir buffs don't tend to oversell movies, the movie does not disappoint.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Noir Watch: They Won't Believe Me (1947)



Watched:  10/02/2020
Format:  TCM Noir Alley
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's
Director:  Irving Pichel

An interesting noir with a series of curious twists and a solid cast.  Presented on TCM's Noir Alley, host Eddie Muller brought in author Christina Lane who recently released a book on the film's producer Joan Harrison, Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, the Forgotten Woman Behind Hitchcock (which would make a welcome Christmas gift for us at Signal Watch HQ).  Harrison is worth discussing for her path into the film business, sensibility she brought to Hitchcock's story-telling, and... frankly, some of the other movies she's produced - including Phantom Lady* and Ride the Pink Horse - are fantastic and owe a lot of their story strength and sensibility to Harrison.

They Won't Believe Me (1947) is framed with a murder trial. Young is the defendant, and he's telling his tale/ spilling his guts from the witness stand, trying to explain what really happened, and which looks, honestly, really, really bad for him.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Noir Watch: Danger Signal (1945)


 

Watched:  09/19/2020
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's
Director:  Robert Florey

Noir Alley is back, and I was delighted to see another movie by Austin hometown-boy-made-good, Zachary Scott.  Danger Signal (1945) is a WWII-era potboiler that's of the noir flavor that has kind of become a thing in Lifetime Channel thrillers.  Scott plays a ne'er-do-well who escapes the murder of a woman for whom he's managed to somehow plant a suicide note.  

He winds up in an idyllic California town where he boards with a middle-aged woman and her stenographer daughter, played by Faye Emerson.  He woos and wins Emerson, who doesn't notice the strapping, handsome, baritone-voiced scientist who keeps bringing her work may have the hots for her.  Instead, she slips for Scott's charm.  That is until her 17 year old sister comes home and Scott pivots his interest to her.  

Emerson has a friend who is a psychologist/ scientist who gets involved (Rosemary DeCamp), and more or less tears Scott apart as the charming sociopath he actually knows he is.  It's kinda cool.  I was kinda there for Dr. Silla.  

ANYWAY, Faye Emerson steals a vial of @#$%ing botulism from her hunky scientist friend and plans to kill Scott because, basically, he's a big shit bag and shouldn't get to keep being a shit bag who will hurt her sister.

It's a weird movie that seems like they just kept forgetting parts of the movie.  Scott has a limp he fakes as a war wound that they just don't mention.  A gun shows up, but is never really used.  And the end is - weird.  Like, totally unsatisfying.  Which Muller discussed in the backmatter of the episode.

Anyway - Zach Scott is terrific, Emerson is pretty good, and I felt like the overall direction by Robert Florey was solid and built tension despite the narrative bumps.  Special note for Mona Freeman who does a remarkable heel-turn in the back third of the film, and a young Dick Erdman playing "Bunkie", who is everyone's personal disappointment.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Noir Watch: The Unfaithful (1947)


 

Watched:  I dunno.  A couple of months ago.
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's
Director: Vincent Sherman

I just totally forgot to write this one up and realized that today whilst thinking about Zachary Scott.  As you do.

The Unfaithful (1947) is essentially a domestic version of The Letter, the extraordinary William Wyler film starring Bette Davis.  This version transplants the action from rubber farms in the Maylay Peninsula to suburban Los Angeles just after WWII and puts Ann Sheridan in the lead.  None of that is a problem, and were The Letter not such a bombshell of a movie, The Unfaithful would shine brighter.  

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Neo-Noir Watch: Nocturnal Animals (2016)



Watched:  08/29/2020
Format:  HBO
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2010's
Director:  Tom Ford

A lot of the coverage of the release of this film was that it was directed by Tom Ford, a fashion designer - which is an interesting idea.  One would assume a fashion designer has an eye for visuals, lifestyle cues, wardrobe and staging.  And - arguably, Ford delivers on all of these things.

He's cast beautiful people and dressed them well.  He's hired some beautiful people and dressed them down.  And, of course, there's the opening sequence which casts some (let's be honest) not gorgeous people and dressed them not at all.  For Ford - this is a hellish horror, absurd and tasteless, open to interpretation and meaningless, so awful its funny.  And knowingly hard to look at.  And... is, at best, a very small building block of what is arguably his point with the film, and set me to thinking about what and who a Tom Ford is and how that would set them for empathy and sympathy with characters in a story.

Monday, August 17, 2020

PODCAST: "Le Samourai" (1967) and "The Conformist" (1970) - a European Neonoir Watch w/ JAL and RYan



Watched:  Le Samourai 07/28, The Conformist 07/31
Format:  HBOmax/ BluRay
Viewing:  third for both, I believe
Decade:  1960's/ 1970's
Director:  Jean-Pierre Melville  & Bernardo Bertolucci

For more ways to listen


Justin and Ryan head to Europe for some neo-noir! We swing through France for a hitman film and over to Italy for... well, he's not much of a hitman, really. One of these is absolutely noir and the other, we're kind of calling a noir - and we're pretty excited about both of them. Join us as for a double-bill, continental style!





Music:

Le Samourai Title Theme - Fran├žois De Roubaix
The Conformist Title Theme - Georges Delerue


Playlist - Noir Watch:




Monday, July 20, 2020

Noirish Melodrama Watch: The Sign of the Ram (1948)



Watched:  07/20/2020
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's
Director:  John Sturges

A sort of gothic noir, The Sign of the Ram (1948) is a peculiar film.  Set in a sprawling English countryside home, a seemingly happy family welcomes a new secretary into the fold (Phyllis Thaxter).  She's to be the aid, in particular, to the beautiful, young, wheelchair bound stepmother to the family. 

The film is a showcase for actress Susan Peters who had screen success until a hunting accident left her in a wheelchair.  She's actually fantastic in the role, which is that of the antagonist.  This is, apparently, the screenplay she finally accepted after being asked to play a chipper Pollyanna overcoming adversity in offer after offer.  I'll not play armchair psychologist, but it's a hell of a heel turn for Peters to take on - but she nails it, showing tremendous range in the single role (young actors, take note: you can play all sorts of things with an angry character and none of them have to read "angry"). 

That said, there's something both entirely believable about the tension at the center of the film - a family completely dominated by the iron willed matriarch who plays everyone like puppets without them ever noticing it - and a sense of melodrama that skews a bit too much toward telegraphing where the film is headed. 

It's well shot, Peters and Thaxter are great, but I can't say it was exactly my cup of tea.  It was clearly made in the shadow of stuff like Rebecca, but never quite hits those notes.  But for a solid melodrama, you could do worse.


Sunday, July 19, 2020

French Noir Watch: Elevator to the Gallows (1958)



Watched:  07/18/2020
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Louis Malle


Look - I'd never seen this movie, thoroughly enjoyed it, and would quickly recommend. But I can also imagine it hits the buttons of every pretentious film dork out there.

A shining example of (a) made in the 1950's, (b) being French (b) more or less New Wave (c) noir, (d) with a fatalistic, downbeat ending and (e) the soundtrack is by Miles Davis.  Ferchrissake - I can just see my film school instructors getting the vapors talking about this one.

And, you know, deservedly so.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Noir Watch: The Lady From Shanghai (1947)



Watched:  06/29/2020
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM
Viewing:  third
Decade:  1940's
Director:  Orson Welles

The backstory to the making of The Lady From Shanghai (1947) is famous, gossipy Hollywood lore.  Hayworth starred alongside soon-to-be-ex husband and director, Orson Welles, transformed from the red-coiffed icon of Gilda into a platinum blonde and a femme fatale.

A bit like The Big Sleep, a lot of people talk about how this movie is confusing, but I didn't find it particularly so.  While I cop to the fact that The Lady from Shanghai isn't a pat story and that the plot wanders - it all holds together within each character's motivation, and I don't really get the complaints.  From Muller's shownotes, I'll give the credit for cohesive storytelling not to Welles, but to his editor Viola Lawrence, who took Welles' loose footage and worked with him to get it into some sort of story, and got it cut to a standard-length picture when Welles left the movie.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Noir Watch: Underworld USA (1961)



Watched:  06/26/2020
Format:  Noir Alley on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1960's
Director:  Samuel Fuller

One of the things I enjoy about watching noir and older films is figuring out how great some directors really were.  I still haven't watched enough Samuel Fuller, but I have yet to see a Fuller movie that didn't hit me over the head like a 2x4, and Underworld U.S.A. (1961) is no exception.

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, June 12, 2020

Noir Watch: The Woman in the Window (1944)



Watched:  06/10/2020
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's
Director:  Fritz Lang

This film has a tremendous premise, a terrific cast, and is absolutely knee-capped by the Hayes Code in the final minutes.  I wouldn't say it's not worth watching, but if you're squinting at the movie and aware of the rules of the road for a movie made in 1944, and wondering "holy heck, how is *this* going to resolve?" - you may be on to something.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Noir Watch: Cornered (1945)



Watched:  06/04/2020
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM on BluRay
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's
Director:  Edward Dmytryk

There's a lot to like in Cornered (1945), categorized here as Film Noir, but it's early in the movement and won't fit some people's ideas of the category.  Still, a man driven half-mad by obsession ignores common sense in pursuit of his goals, his weaknesses clobber him repeatedly and near fatally, and there are possibly scheming women, even as he sets about solving a mystery.  He's not a professional detective, but former Canadian RAF pilot Gerard (a not Canadian-polite Dick Powell) is recovering at the end of the war and learns that the French girl he met and married while hiding out in a village after being downed, was rounded up and killed by a Nazi collaborator.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Forgot to Mention It Watch: Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982)



Watched:  05/something/2020
Format:  Amazon Streaming
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1980's
Director:  Carl Reiner

I watched this weeks ago and a stray comment from Jenifer reminded me I for to post about it, but I did watch it. 

Now I'm too tired to write about it. 

Monday, May 25, 2020

Noir Watch: The Crimson Kimono (1959)



Watched:  05/24/2020
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Samuel Fuller

One of the deep dives I'm likely to do in the next couple of years is dive into the filmography of director Samuel Fuller.  I've never seen a Fuller film I didn't like *a lot*.  Pickup on South Street, Shock Corridor, The Naked Kiss...  all solid films.  A while back The Crimson Kimono (1959) played the Austin Noir City film festival, but I wasn't able to stay for the movie, and now I'm very mad at myself for not sticking around for the movie (I think Paul saw it). 

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Noir Watch: Mildred Pierce (1945)



Watched:  05/16/2020
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM on DVR
Viewing:  Unknown
Decade:  1940's
Director: Michael Curtiz


It's pointless for a schlub blogger like me to get into writing much about Mildred Pierce (1945) - it's one of the best known and most written about movies out there, still a favorite among even the most casual of classic film fans.  Anyway, there's no shortage of critical analysis out there about the film. 

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Noir Watch: Fallen Angel (1945)



Watched:  05/08/2020
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's
Director:  Otto Preminger

This movie sort of felt like it was all over the place, or like parts of a few movies crammed together and held together by the twin powers of Dana Andrews and Linda Darnell.  Which is a shame, because Alice Faye, with whom I am not familiar, is good in this movie as well, but her plotline feels like it's sliced and diced til it leaves what looks like an interesting role as a sort of bystander on the sideline of her own story. 

Is it a Nightmare Alley look at carnival people and illusion?  Is it a Postman Always Rings Twice story of a girl stuck in a rut of her own making and wanting out, making a sap of a guy to do so?  It is a small town drama about spinsters and a travelling huckster?  It's got all of these elements, and you can see the lines where the stories are fused, but it does stick together.