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Re: Film Noir Journals
Posted: Wed Jan 17, 2007 6:22 pm
If you want to know some other movies which I rated 100/100 on our board: Being John Malkovich, un chien andalou, Andrei Rublyov.
One I rated higher (105/100) was Sabu's "Blessing Bell" (2002). Though I need to see it again, as it seems almost impossible...
I saw two noir films recently which ended on the negative side of my rating scale. The Postman always rings twice (1946) and Dead Reckoning (1947). Both have some memorable scenes though, and could have been made into a great film by a better (or simply more dedicated) director.
And I need to see more films with Lana Turner. I don't want to say everything I thought while watching her, but her being a rather lame actress didn't bother me at all. If i had been the director, I would have made a film a la Vivre sa vie with her, only more radical. Lana Turner in every shot for at least three hours. Ok, I better stop, you see where i'm going...
Re: Film Noir Journals
Posted: Wed Jan 17, 2007 7:53 pm
I prefer Postman Always Rings Twice to Visconti's Ossessione, primarily on the strength of Garfield and Turner, who as you pointed out makes up for a lack in acting abilities with screen presence. You should see Turner in Douglas Sirk's version of Imitation of Life, she's actually pretty good in it, as well as Peyton Place, two slices of melodrama I can't help but love.
Re: Film Noir Journals
Posted: Wed Aug 08, 2007 7:00 am
Naked City (1948) - Jules Dassin
Ah the good old days when you could just put the word "naked" in your film title to guarantee a generous return. Jules Dassin would earn a reputation in future years as being one of the most consistently good film noir directors reaching his peak while in exile in Europe. He followed up the success of his prison picture Brute Force with this gritty crime film set and shot in New York City. It deserves to be mentioned that Universal released this picture a full year before MGM made On the Town, which likes to lay some sort of claim to being the first studio film shot on location in NYC. Perhaps their argument was that they were the first musical shot there. Dassin's film, much like Brute Force isn't exactly a true film noir. It has all the ingredients at the start though. The film begins at night. A random collage of images showing the city at sleep and the few who are still up and a couple of people who are up to no good. Through this all is an omniscient narrator. Unlike most film noirs this narrator is not a member of the cast, and his opening exposition turns into a running commentary. Far different from the voice of god introductions typically found in the films of Henry Hathaway.
Universal earned a slight reputation for their film noirs of this time, then referred to as Universal International. They produced Robert Siodmak's landmark film The Killers and would later famously butcher Orson Welles Touch of Evil. This is one of those "in between films". A true urban film, and the cast of virtually unrecognizable contract players makes the film take on an extra level of realism, or at least Hollywood's version of it. The only member of the cast to get any sort of star billing is Barry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald may not be remembered by many today, but he made history when he won a best supporting actor Oscar for Going My Way the same year he was also nominated for a best lead actor Oscar for the same film. Fitzgerald plays the veteran police detective who tells the officer handing him the case "I haven't had a hard day's work since yesterday". He's encountered countless false confessions but he always seems to know where to get his answers, and believes in taking everything step by step.
What is of note is that the new detective assigned to do his leg work (Don Taylor) solves the case but at the same time across town Lt. Muldoon (Fitzgerald) is reaching the same conclusion via his own method. So even at this juncture he always seems to know more than anyone else, and whatever he doesn't know he always seems to be aware of who to ask. What's remarkable in the introduction is that we are shown two different murders taking place. The narrator (producer Mark Hellinger) discusses these murders as if they were no more significant than the late night janitor, the empty theater, or any other random attraction. As viewers though we should know something is coming up here. Jean Dexter is murdered by two men and we can quickly suspect this is going to be central to our story. Therefore we are privilege to some information the cops don't immediately have by knowing that the murder was committed by two men, and that she was drugged before drowned.
Because this first murder comes into play immediately we have to look at the second one. Jimmy Halloran (Taylor) suspects there might be a coincidence when a body is found in the East River. He simply figures two people killed same night at significantly different times apart. Its a wild hunch, but as viewers we wouldn't mind knowing why this drunk guy at the beginning got knocked out and thrown overboard. Halloran wants to know too and that leads us to Willy Garzah (Ted de Corsia). It is interesting to note the confrontation scene between Halloran and Garzah. We know that earlier these two men met as Garzah was attempting to murder compulsive liar Frank Niles (Howard Duff). However neither we the viewers or Halloran get a good look at Garzah, certainly not enough to know who it is. So when he is confronted in his apartment and told that his former partner who we all know is dead is actually alive and in a hospital he plays it well. Dassin could have told Corsia to play it surprised, at least moderately so. Instead Corsia doesn't bat an eye or remotely fall for it. He isn't a particularly smart criminal but he most certainly isn't a dumb one. The simple fact that anyone found out where he lived lets him know that this person can't be trusted.
Contrary to much of noir nearly all the action in this film takes place in broad daylight. This isn't too hard to explain considering that the film was shot on location in New York, which as already has been pointed out was far from commonplace. Not being on a studio set lighting would be an issue, and if you're worrying about having enough light to shoot at night, then just shoot in the daytime. It gives at least the final scene a more chaotic feel because you know so many people can be witness. However the havoc isn't played up too well. There are no hostages taken by Garzah on the run, or huge crowds following the police. Far from the chaotic daytime rundown in Samuel Fuller's House of Bamboo. What keeps this film noir is basically its detective story. The murders were committed at night, but all the work is done in the day. I'm sure Dassin and everyone else making the film considered this a detective film, because after all film noir is basically an oversimplified tag that has been used too frequently to describe nearly any film with a crime. Still it is a compelling film and among the better works of Dassin.
Grade B +
Re: Film Noir Journals
Posted: Mon Feb 18, 2008 6:10 pm
The Reckless Moment (1949) - Max Ophuls
After a trio of films for Fritz Lang, Joan Bennett began to slightly modify her screen image. In Max Ophuls' final American film she assumes her role as a the supreme matriarch in the mode of Joan Crawford's Mildred Pierce. Here she does any and everything to protect her family while her husband is away. The story, which came from the fountain of American literature The Ladies Home Journal was written during wartime and therefore had a more patriotic overtone. Bennett's Lucia Harper was a little more in line with Mrs. Minniver and her would be blackmailers were a little more German. Here however the action loses that undercurrent and instead focuses on a much more direct level, not allowing us the generalizations common with so many other films of its type. It is alarming first off that this film has been so hard to come by, but an excellent DVD from Second Sight in the UK is well worth the import. It remains another one of many studio gems that may never see the light of day on American soil because most of the multinational corporations that own studio vaults aren't even aware of film.
The plot is somewhat simple. A woman finds that her daughter (Geraldine Brooks) has fallen for a no good art dealer (Shepperd Strudwick) and she vows to do what it takes to prevent them from seeing each other. The man asks for money and when Bea discovers that her boyfriend is the louse that her mother told her about the two get into an altercation. In a freak accident Ted falls off the deck of their boat house and lands on an anchor, dying instantly. The next day the mother finds the body and without asking any questions puts it in her boat in a rather long extended scene with no music, sails out to sea and dumps the body. He turns up and so do some letters Bea wrote to him. In comes Donnelly (James Mason) an Irish thug who has the letters and blackmails Lucia.
So there is your conflict, rather simple in all regards. What isn't simple is Ophuls' staging. His few films in Hollywood allowed for a very professional and refined approach to his directing, and there is a light breeze to the whole film. The producer Walter Wanger (who was married to Bennett) originally wanted Jean Renoir to direct the film and you can almost sense Ophuls tapping into that mode. Both directors liked to stage in depth and Renoir's brother Claude was certainly one to let his camera roam. Burnett Guffrey did the cinematography here and in case you're wondering I've never heard of him either. The picture was designed largely to help ease Bennett's transition between femme fatale and endearing mother, a role she would perfect in Vincente Minnelli's Father of the Bride and it's sequel. She seemed poised to step into this role and her role allows her to fit into each category, providing a convincing amount of attraction to Donnelly in much the same way Crawford's Pierce was a little of both. Make no mistake though she's no seductress and her quietly suffering mother would be echoed in films for years afterwards.
Now for the film noir checklist. There is a murder, there is an investigation, there is a wrong man accused of the crime, there is a criminal underworld, a slight taste of forbidden love, and of course enough shadows to make Val Lewton happy. The relationship between Mason and Bennett grows very gradually and there is no evidence of incrimination on the part of Bennett. The two grow towards each other, and as the film progresses Donnelly becomes more and more likable. It's easy to be on Mason's side as a performer and its hard to see him as the blackmailer, even when playing a gangster in Odd Man Out he managed to achieve a saintly martyrdom. His fate is very much the same here, taking the motto that a degenerate lifelong criminal can finally do something right in his life in death. A great sentiment that allows us to feel a general relief when the father of the family calls home wishing them a Merry Christmas.
Re: Film Noir Journals
Posted: Sat Jun 07, 2008 6:58 pm
Kiss Me Deadly (1955) - Robert Aldrich
Does it get any better than this? That's the question a few critics have posed when discussing Robert Aldrich's incredible Kiss Me Deadly, made in the twilight of film noir, the dawn of widescreen, and in the peak of Cold War hysteria. A film noir without any movie stars, with a director few had heard of, and a budget that would make a Sam Fuller film comparable. Like any great film noir this one didn't get any recognition upon it's original release, at least here in the states. Few noirs did, the one major exception would be Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity, nominated for 7 Oscars in 1944. Kiss Me Deadly by comparison received zero Oscar nominations but remained a cult favorite for decades quietly becoming part of the popular culture without many people ever actually seeing the film.
Mike Hammer here is played by Ralph Meeker an actor who remains a small footnote in film but had a rather remarkable career on stage. He took over the role of Stanley Kowalski once Brando left the show, and was the original lead in Picnic, but was passed over in favor of William Holden when it came time to make the film. Aside from Kiss Me Deadly, Meeker is probably most recognizable as one of the condemned privates in Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory. As Mike Hammer, I will boldly declare him the greatest of all film noir anti-heroes. The character is not likable in any way. He's a two bit thug, a bedroom dick, a user, and too dumb to even know what he's even trying to figure out. What makes him spectacular is his violence. He asks once nicely, even willing to shell out a few dollars, but if you keep your mouth shut, he'll just slap the @**% out of you until you start talking. He's a man who wastes no time and eventually has enough brains to figure out what he needs to know.
Robert Aldrich handles the action superbly. 1950's cinema began to develop a few characteristics and Aldrich's brand of directing seemed to be perfectly suited to Don Seigel who directed Invasion of the Body Snatchers a year later in much the same vein. Aldrich cants his angles and makes an entire film out of what we can't see. Action takes place off screen, and for almost the entire film we don't see who's behind all the action. A lot has been made about the infamous glowing box and what's in it. Dr. Soberin (Albert Dekker) doesn't make things any easier for us or Lily Carver (Gaby Rodgers) who keeps asking what's in it. All Soberin can do is constantly remind us of fables of curious characters, when he finally says he'll tell her all he says is it's Medusa's head in the box and if you look you'll be turned to ash and brimstone instead of stone. He is deliberately vague about it and it angers us as viewers about as much as Lily/Gabrielle. We do however know more than Lily does at that time thanks to the few random words we were told when Hammer gave up the key. It is something atomic, not sure exactly what, but people are more than willing to kill for it and in the estimate of both Hammer and Lily that makes it incredibly valuable. Neither person has any idea what they'll do with it once they get their hands on it, but if everybody wants it, so do they.
Hammer's motivation comes almost more from a disparity in his own line of work. He wants something big not so much to maintain his dignity, but because he's tired of the dirty double life he is constantly leading. If this is a big score he can relax from the two-bit cases that he and his assistant/girlfriend Velda (Maxine Cooper). As he goes on he gets more and more violent because more and more people are becoming casualties. What he isn't aware of is that he's leading both the good and bad guys right to the package they're looking for, even if he doesn't yet know what the hell he's trying to find. His friends and allies might be crass and Hammer doesn't show a tremendous amount of emotion for any of them, just rage at whoever is behind it. As the film progresses though we do get more of a feeling that he may genuinely care about Velda but is hiding it behind a mask of macho indifference. Hammer is of a new generation of men who are unable to express any emotions aside from rage and violence. It makes him dangerous, but also makes him effective in finding out information.
Can't say enough about this, possibly the greatest of all film noirs.
Grade A +