Sunday, January 14, 2018

2017 in the 50s

Anatomy of a Murder - Otto Preminger - Court room drama generally ain't my jam. Luckily this one spends a lot of time outside of official proceedings with the likes of Lee Remick and Ben Gazzara. Unfortunately I am a philistine who doesn't care for jazz soundtracks in general. Final judgement - a sharp looking, nice-looking meh.

Armored Car RobberyRichard Fleischer - You know who would've made a hell of a (Richard Stark's) Parker? William Talman, that's who. Probably Charles McGraw too now that I think of it. Twenty years early, but if you dig that shit, you'll like this one too. Lean, mean and self-describing.
The Big Heat - Fritz Lang - Perfectly hardboiled fare and certainly a must for sons of Lee Marvin whose turn as sadist Vince Stone is probably the standout for the whole picture.

CompulsionRichard Fleischer -Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman as Leopold and Loeb (or Steiner and Strauss if you will) deliver engaging performances as the spoiled psychopaths and Orson Welles gets to speechify satisfactorily at the end, but for my money the film could've used a deeper look at the budding killers that climaxed with the crime or the arrest. Stockwell especially is unnerving and I wanted more time with him making my skin creep.

Crime in the Streets - Don Siegel - Biggest smile is "and introducing John Cassavetes" in the opening credits otherwise it feels like a made-for-TV level offering from the usually top-shelf Siegel. Too bad.

Diabolique - Henri-Georges Clouzot - A petty tyrant's murder is plotted and carried out by the women whose lives he makes most miserable, his wife and his mistress, but when his corpse disappears the co-conspirators find their plan shot, their resolve tested and their sanity strained. Adapted by Clouzot (who also adapted Georges Arnaud's book Wages of Fear for the screen) from the novel by Pierre Boileau, it's a classic noir setup and classy atmospheric treat where suspense and spookiness intercept. The film stars Véra Clouzot, wife and frequent collaborator of director Clouzot, and Simone Signoret whose physical resemblance to Sharon Stone I could believe was enough to have been the kick off for the Stone-starring 1996 remake (alongside Isabelle Adjani and Chazz Palminteri) as the femmes fatale and Paul Meurisse as the suitable object of violence.

Dial 1119 - Gerald Mayer - Nice little hostage stand off flick with a particularly strong turn from Marshall Thompson in the lead. His clean-cut, all-American looks hardly ruffle as he murders a man in the opening minutes setting the stage for a showdown we know will take further lives.

Edge of Doom - Mark Robson - Farley Granger is a working-class kid with a big religious chip on his shoulder doing his best to care for his sick mother. Dad was a suicide and denied a Catholic funeral and when mom dies the kid's attempt to get some help or at least acknowledgement is met with general indifference from the clergy and the big, hard city and little more than obtuse posturing from the church. Murder happens.

Fingerprints Don't Lie -Samuel Newfield - What a forensics-based slog. Ugh. Sid Melton's non-sequitur comic sketches fall flat while managing to be the best parts of the film.

House on Telegraph Hill - Robert Wise - Two women in a Nazi concentration camp develop a bond and when one of them dies leaving behind a fortune and a family in America her identity is assumed by the other when the camp is liberated. Her assumed identity helps her escape one set of problems only to set up many more. Romantic suspense is a tough target to bullseye (maybe for me more than you) and this one fell short for me in tone. Wise did terrific hardboiled and mean as shit noir with Born to Kill, delivered suspense in Run Silent, Run Deep and succeeded in romance with West Side Story. The elements don't all gel into a perfect whole and it succeeds and fails on a scene by scene basis.

Illegal - Lewis Allen - Edward G. Robinson is an upright D.A. who sends DeForest Kelley to the electric chair before realizing he was an innocent man. Distraught over his mistake he quits his job and briefly becomes a drunk before realizing his new calling as a defense attorney who employs all manner of trick to get his clients off. The tricks start off amusing, become silly and then loyalties are split between the upright and the leaning. Meh.

Kansas City Confidential - Phil Karlson - When the patsy for an armored car heist gets wise to his predicament he decides to cut himself in on the take tracking down the thieves and posing as one of them. Tough as hell tone and a great cast including Lee Van Cleef, Jack Elam, Neville Brand and John Payne (who went on to star in 99 River Street and Hell's Island for Karlson) make this one an all-timer recommendation.

The Left Handed Gun - Arthur Penn - Based on the Gore Vidal play inspired by the exploits of Billy the Kid, this production, despite its deep bench of talent suffers in comparison to Young Guns for its lack of Kiefer Sutherland.

The Lineup - Don Siegel - Big screen version of the small screen series that was essentially Dragnet in San Francisco. Lucky for us Siegel and screenwriter Stirling Silliphant threw the TV show's formula out the window and gave much more screen time to our trio of heavies Eli Wallach, Robert Keith and Richard Jaeckel than an episode ever would have. It's pretty plodding police fare until the focus shifts to the villains who really chew that scenery. Wallach and Keith especially hint at some dark psychic corners and depraved depths that time and the production code would never allow to be fleshed out. That's just as well - hints are often better than explicit explanations. They manage to pull off many a blackly-comic moment including a bath house sequence nearly as memorable as those in T-Men or Eastern Promises. The plot involving the most ridiculous heroin smuggling scheme ever is a one-crazy-day tour of the City by the Bay that leaves about as much blood on the pavement as Siegel's other Frisco film, Dirty Harry.

99 River Street - Phil Karlson - This one's the goods. Everything you want in a noir film - seedy atmosphere, class resentment, sexual distrust, men who only know how to solve their problems with violence and the men and women who manipulate them, moody cinematography. Bonus points for depictions of probably the two most thematically essential film noir occupations: fighter and cab driver. Fuckin-A.

On Dangerous Ground - Nicholas Ray - Robert Ryan turns in an electric performance as a hardboiled, even unhinged, violent cop trying to do a good job outside of his big city beat when he finds himself  demoted to a rural area and investigating a murder in the mountains. Ida Lupino plays a blind woman Ryan becomes involved with and who, as the sister of his suspect, significantly complicates his case. This one bristles with alternate energies generated by the leads and could have something to do with the dual directors as this one includes uncredited direction from Lupino to boot. Whatever the reason it's a top-notch noir.

On the Waterfront - Elia Kazan - One of those beloved pictures that tends to be reduced to a single scene or line of dialogue and you forget how great it actually is till you re-watch it. Plus, Karl Malden is always worth paying attention to on screen - one of those rare character actors you absolutely believe as the salt or scum of the earth depending on what the script suggests. The social conscience of his pictures coupled with his actions during the HUAC hearings make a Kazan an endlessly interesting figure whose personal life, try as I might, I'm not capable of separating from his art.

Orders to Kill - Anthony Asquith - Paul Massie plays an American fighter pilot who speaks french is trained to assassinate a member of the french resistance suspected of being a double agent (Leslie French). The heroic soldier eager to prove himself begins to have doubts about his mission and issues of morality and duty dominate the middle of the picture while the final act is a surprisingly engaging post-action character resolve. Worth noting that Lillian Gish has a small role while Irene Worth's resistance contact is the most compelling character and I found myself wishing for more time spent with her.

The Phenix City Story - Phil Karlson - The interview portions are a clunky device for exposition, but there's no denying the immediacy of the real locale street shots, the seedy brothels and casinos and the violence is potent - especially the murder of a young girl, just damn, you feel it.

The Racket - John Cromwell - Robert Mitchum, the face that gave no fucks, as a crusading policeman? Who smoked up that premise? It probably helps us swallow the conceit that Mitchum never wears a police uniform. Mitchum's cop is squared off against Robert Ryan's gangster in this remake of Lewis Milestone's 1928 adaptation of Bartlett Cormack's play of the same name. The best bits here are the details depicted of the inner-workings of the titular criminal empire so deeply entrenched into the life of the city they're practically legit - the toughest, most crooked racket there is.

Roaring City - William Berke - This one gives cheapies a good name. Lot of fun to watch handsome Hugh Beaumont talk tough and smooth. It's private eye fare that starts with fixed fights and escalates to murder and nobody takes any of it too seriously. The writing is cartoonish and cheesy, but Beaumont chews it well, and every time he sticks a pipe in his mouth it's fun to imagine Ward Cleaver fucked off to the gutter to live by his wits - make for a hell of a beat novel or Men's Adventure series.

Shake Hands With the Devil - Michael Anderson - An a-political American medical student is slowly recruited into the Irish Republican Army after experiencing the brutality of the black and tans, but he eventually comes to cross purposes with their fiery and charismatic leader in 1921.

The Sniper - Edward Dmytryk - A young man so afraid of women that he takes to shooting them for kicks ought to sound a lot more far-fetched than it does. I have no idea how it struck audiences at the time, but holy shit, how depressing is it that this feels so readily believable?

Time Without Pity - Joseph Losey - This race against the clock mystery about a bad father trying to clear his son's name before he's executed is fine, but suffers when compared to some of Losey's better work.

Union StationRudolph Maté - I kinda love movies that take place on trains and I most certainly love William Holden on screen so this cat and mouse kidnapping thriller's a no brainer.

Vertigo - Alfred Hitchcock - Somehow I always underestimate how gorgeously produced this deeply fucked up story is. Perhaps more than any other single movie may be most responsible for Brian De Palma's career - everything from the obsession of Jimmy Stewart, and the split identity of the Kim Novak to the technical precision of the staging and editing and the sensual surreality of the lighting. It's just a great flick.

Western Pacific Agent - Sam Newfield - The hunt for a killer riding the rails is intermittently interesting as the action stays with the bindle-stiff killer on the run after robbing a pay load of marked bills, but the investigation-end of things is pretty pat. Note to self: tramps are more interesting protagonists than cops. Sid Melton offers comic relief.

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