Detective, Noir, Unsung Classics

Unsung Classics 8: Woman On The Run (1950)

I came across this Noir gem purely by chance a few days ago. I had never heard of this one before, but I really loved the sound of the story, so I made the decision to check it out. I am so happy that I watched this.

Woman On The Run is quite a unique Noir film. Originally titled Man On The Run, the title was changed to what it is now, and the focus was taken off of the pursued man on the run, and shifted instead onto his wife. I think this change really helps the film. Such stories would usually focus on the man who has gone into hiding, by shifting the focus away from him, the film becomes an out of the ordinary depiction of this type of story.

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Ann Sheridan as Eleanor. Screenshot by me.

The film is also notable for having a female lead. It was pretty rare for a woman to have the main lead role in a Noir film; women certainly get big and interesting roles in these films, but the main character generally tends to be male.

Ann  Sheridan also co-produced the film. Her character is one tough and independent gal. I wish she had been given more roles like this in her career.

Sadly this film isn’t one that is all that well known today, and there were quite a few years where it wasn’t known about at all. It is also a film that we recently came very close to losing forever. In 2008 a fire burned down part of the Universal Studios lot, in the process there were also a lot of films destroyed that were stored in the film vault there. The print of Woman On The Run was among the films lost in this blaze.

The interesting story of how a copy of the film came to be found and restored is included in a booklet with the Blu-ray release of the film. It is an amazing story, and I for one am very grateful that this film was able to be restored. The film is shot out on location in San Francisco. The locations used are less well known areas of the city instead of instantly recognisable landmarks.

I really like the marriage depicted in this film. What we see here is a marriage that is far from ideal, and it is also far from what marriage was expected to be during the 1940’s. I also dig how Ann’s character doesn’t cook for her husband. When asked what the couple do for food, she coolly replies “we eat out.” This gal is not content to sit at home cooking a three course meal for her man.  Good on her is what I say. The two married characters have also fallen out of love, they tolerate one another, but they have no interest or desire for each other any more. The only thing keeping them together is their shared love for their pet dog, and the fact that their shared life is fairly comfortable and tolerable.

The film tells the story of Frank Johnson (Ross Elliott). He is out at night walking his dog. While doing so, he witnesses a gangland execution. The killer spots him, shoots at him, and then drives off. Frank is unharmed and calls the Police. The cops ask him if he can identity the killer, he says that he can. The cops immediately want him in protective custody, but he doesn’t like the sound of that, so he makes off into the night to take a chance looking after his own back.

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Inspector Ferris and Eleanor. Screenshot by me.

Inspector Ferris (Robert Keith) persuades Frank’s wife, Eleanor (Ann Sheridan)to help them look for him. She is wary of leading them to him in case the gang should get to him if the Police get him to testify at the trial.

Teaming up with the charming and determined reporter Danny Legget(Dennis O’Keefe), Eleanor sets out to look for her husband.

Legget will keep his silence as to Frank’s location in exchange for an exclusive interview with the couple. There are a couple surprising twists late in the story, which lead to a thrilling and suspenseful finale at an amusement park.

This is a very good film and it is one in which the characters and actors are the real stars. There is some very funny dialogue throughout the film. The wisecracks being thrown back and forth between O’Keefe and Ann Sheridan are class.

I also love the dialogue and scenes between Robert Keith and Ann. I love how Eleanor and the Inspector rub each other up the wrong way, but they both come to develop a mutual respect for one another and even start to like each other.

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Danny and Eleanor in the city. Screenshot by me.

Ann Sheridan is very good as the tough woman who discovers herself falling back in love with a man she thought she was over. Dennis O’Keefe is a highlight in the film, I think this is one of the best performances he ever gave.

I really like how Dennis conveys Danny’s growing feelings for Eleanor to us. Robert Keith (father of Brian Keith)steals all the scenes he is in, I love his character and the way he delivers his lines.  

The film clocks in at 1 hour and 18 minutes, but boy does it manage to pack a lot in during such a short space of time. This one reminds me a bit of The Narrow Margin, with both films being compact Noir films that pack quite a punch, and have a gripping story.

My favourite scenes are the following. The skylight sequence between Danny and Eleanor. The finale in the amusement park. Ferris speaking to Eleanor for the first time and looking around her apartment. Danny and Eleanor escaping a Police officer tailing them.

This film also contains a very funny exchange between a drunk woman and Eleanor. It’s one that is funnier when you see it, rather than when you read the dialogue.

Woman:”Say, why don’t you wear a hat?”

Eleanor: “I look funny in hats”

Woman: “You’re not wrong!”  Haha.  🙂

Cracking little flick that deserves to be much better known. Do you love Film Noir? Then this is a film for you.

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Detective, Page To Screen

The New Centurions (1972)

Dixon Of Dock Green this film sure isn’t. This film gives us a frank look at the reality of policing the streets, and it throws us headfirst into the dirt, pain, and the horror of the streets of 1970’s Los Angeles. This is a warts and all portrayal of the reality of police work, it’s not a pretty job and it is always dangerous.

At the time this film was made and set, the days when a copper could simply defuse a situation just by walking around the corner were sadly long gone. In America an increase in prostitution, gun crime and violence meant that policing the beat was more dangerous than it had ever been before.

The film is directed by Richard Fleischer, has a screenplay by Stirling Silliphant, and music by Quincy Jones. The film is based upon Joseph Wambaugh’s 1971 novel of the same name. Wambaugh was a serving LAPD cop when he wrote the book. His experience of the job meant that the novel was a very realistic portrayal of the Police department.

The realism and authenticity of the novel is carried over into the film. The films technical advisor was Richard E. Kalk, he was also a serving officer and he was Wambaugh’s police partner.

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Roy and Kilvinski out on patrol. Screenshot by me.

This is one of the best films about patrolling the beat ever made anywhere in the world in my opinion. George C. Scott is utterly ferocious here as Kilvinski, the tough, older, wiser and more experienced police officer mentoring a young rookie called Roy.

Kilvinski has seen it all during his years on the force. Nothing surprises him anymore. No form of violence shocks him to the core as it once might have; it still affects him of course, but he has learnt to hide the disgust and horror. He’s tough but fair, and he certainly does his best to help those in need when and where he can.

The film is split into a series of incidents involving Kilvinski and several other officers. We follow three young rookies. They are all very keen men, and they are all determined to bring law, order and justice to the streets that they will patrol. They are Roy (Stacy Keach),Sergio (Erik Estrada)and Gus (Scott Wilson). These men are each paired with a senior officer who will partner and support them while they get settled in. Gus is partnered with Whitey (Clifton James), Sergio with Galloway (Ed Lauter) and Roy with Kilvinski.

There is a documentary look to the film which helps to make it come across as being very realistic. We are made to feel as though we are out there patrolling the streets with these officers, and feel like we are encountering and getting to know the villains and victims along with the police officers.

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Kilvinski comforts Dorothy. Screenshot by me.

This film is both shocking and violent. It is also extremely bleak. It shows us that these officers can face death at any time from anybody.

We also see that this job emotionally destroys the men and women who do it, they seldom remain the same as they were when they joined the force. It’s not just the dead officers whose photos hang on the station wall who pay the price, every single person on the force pays some kind of price for their service.

The film also shows us that for some on the force the job is literally all they have. If they retire, or if they have to leave for other reasons, it can be near on impossible for them to have a meaningful life away from the force.

The film also shows the effect that a police officers career can have on their family. The families of these officers are victims too, they also end up paying a heavy price for supporting their loved one in their job. We see that the cops spend more time on the job and sadly their family then often begin to come in second place to the job. Jane Alexander is excellent as Fehler’s wife Dorothy. She has to watch the job create quite an impact on their personal life and she struggles to accept that change.

The entire cast give superb performances with special praise going to Scott. He was famous for being able to portray pent up rage, and for flipping into all out anger in many of his films. Here he gets to unleash the famous Scott screen rage on several occasions.

A scene that will stay with me forever is when one of the rookies is chasing a robbery suspect in the dark, somebody runs at him and he shoots them, when he gets closer he sees it’s the father of the robbery victim. This man had come out into the alley to look for the suspect too. When the officer sees what he has done he breaks down, and he looks so haunted, it’s a powerful moment for sure.

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The men show their appreciation to Kilvinski. Screenshot by me.

My favourite scenes are the following. Kilvinski comforting Dorothy at the hospital. The officer briefing his men at the start of the film ( I love the banter between the guys in this). The shoot out in the bank car park. Kilvinski and Roy getting a group of prostitutes off the street(this is a very funny sequence and I think it’s nice that there is a lighthearted moment in an otherwise serious and bleak flick). Kilvinski and Sergio speaking to a despicable landlord, and Kilvinski then giving this a guy a piece of his mind. Kilvinski explaining his laws.

If you didn’t respect the police before seeing this, then I would seriously hope that seeing this would change your mind. These men and women risk their lives for us, the job takes a huge toll on them and on their personal life, and they often get very little reward for their sacrifice and hard times. 

This flick tells it like it is, and it sure isn’t pretty. The story is gripping and the characters believable. It is the performances that draw me back to this one again and again. The actors playing the rookies all do a superb job of showing their personalities change as they get their eyes opened to the realities of the job. Scott steals all the scenes he is in, and his character really becomes the heart of the film.

This is one of my favourite films about police officers. I also think it is one of the best films of the 70’s, and it deserves to be more well known today. See this if you enjoyed Dirty Harry and Law and Order (TV series).

Any other fans of this one? Please leave your thoughts on this film below.

British Cinema, Detective, Thriller, True Story

Robbery (1967)

In August, 1963, the British public could talk about only one thing over their bacon, eggs,toast and orange juice. The topic of the day was a robbery. Not just any robbery though. Oh no, this robbery was considered to be the robbery to end all robberies.

Early in the morning of the 8th of August, 1963, sixteen men had held up a Royal Mail train on its way down from Glasgow to London. They boarded the train while it was stopped on a bridge. They severely injured the trains driver, Jack Mills by hitting him with a metal bar, and then they made off with all the cash on board. The grand total they got away with? £2.6 million. At the time this was the largest money robbery in British history.

Several of the gang were eventually caught and a trial was held in 1964. Two of the gang, Ronnie Biggs and Charlie Wilson, escaped prison in daring prison breaks, and they and many others in the gang lived abroad for decades. The case is well known here in the UK, but if you’re not familiar with it you can find more about the case, trial, and the gang members themselves online.

The robbery and what happened afterwards sounds like it’s a plot straight out of a film. Fact can be stranger than fiction though, and that is certainly true in this particular case. It proved too much of an opportunity to pass up on, and so in 1967, production began in the UK on a film based upon the robbery. It was a rather fictionalised account and peoples names were changed etc, and it didn’t end quite how the real life event did either.

The film was directed by Peter Yates (who would go on to great fame as the director of Bullitt) and it was produced by Stanley Baker and Michael Deeley. Baker would also star as the leader of the gang aiming to rob the Royal Mail train of its cash. The films electrifying score was by Johnny Keating, and his music adds so much atmosphere to the film.

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The gang force the train driver to follow their instructions. Screenshot by me.

Robbery is a tense, gripping and gritty flick. It has you on the edge of your seat throughout and I think it has a very realistic look to it. I also like how the Police are not shown as idiots or the enemy here as is so often the case in films mainly focusing on the criminals.

Also we don’t really (well I didn’t anyway)feel like we should be fully on the side of either the Police, or of the criminals, the depiction of what both sides did and went through is well balanced I think.  We can envy at the audacity of the plan, and the fact that it works, but we never forget that these men are criminals, nor that the Police have to do their job and get them.

The first fifteen minutes are some of the most tense I’ve ever seen in a film. The film opens with four criminals setting up a robbery in broad daylight. They set up a gas canister in the car of a man who has a briefcase handcuffed to him. The gas is set to go off at a certain time, it does so knocking out the driver and the man with the case, and causes the car to crash. Three of the gang in a stolen ambulance take the two men out of the car and drive off. In the ambulance they remove the case and some diamonds.

They abandon the ambulance and get into a getaway vehicle, they are spotted by coppers in a passing car who are on the look out for the stolen ambulance, thus begins one of the best car chases in film history. The Police pursue the robbers car at high speed, as the gang try and evade capture. Filmed out on location in and around London streets, this chase had me on the edge of my seat, peeking through my fingers. In some ways this can easily be seen as the warm up for Yates film Bullitt(which features another brilliant car chase.) The bit where the gang get nearer to a London school crossing is edge of your seat stuff.

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Stanley Baker as Clifton. Screenshot by me.

The film sees Paul Clifton(Stanley Baker)get a crew together to help him rob a Royal Mail train. Clifton has thought every possibility through, and is leaving nothing to chance. He doesn’t bet on the determined Scotland Yard Detective George Langdon (James Booth).

Langdon gets to hear interesting info from some of his informers which alerts him to the fact that a big job is about to go down. Langdon and fellow colleagues set about trying to uncover what the job is, and do their best to capture the criminals.  

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James Booth as Langdon. Screenshot by me.

Stanley Baker is excellent as the tough criminal mastermind who you wouldn’t want to mess with. James Booth (Baker’s co-star in the classic war flick Zulu)steals every scene he is in, as the copper determined to get the gang.

Barry Foster, Clinton Greyn, Frank Finlay, George Sewell and William Marlowe all impress as members of Clifton’s crew. Joanna Pettet has a small role as Clifton’s stylish wife, she doesn’t get much to do here, but she does make an impression when she is on the screen.

My favourite scenes are the following. The opening car chase. Frank Finlay’s character being rescued from the prison yard. The line up, where the schoolteacher identifies the man who was driving the speeding car. Clifton’s wife asking him why he has a gun. The train robbery sequence. The discussion at the football match. I also really love the opening title sequence, where the names and credits go backwards, giving us the impression that the train is passing them by.

This is a realistic and thrilling crime film inspired by a incredible true story. I’d also like to say that fans of vintage British cars will be in for a real treat, this film is full of old cars that are sure to bring back happy memories for car lovers.

I highly recommend you see this one on Blu-Ray to see it looking at its best. The Network Blu-Ray release also has lots of very good extras to enjoy, including an interesting interview with Stanley Baker.

Any other fans of this film? Please leave your comments below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Detective, Noir

The Big Heat (1953)

What a film this is! A gripping story of violence, corruption, hate, revenge, and a strong determination to fight back against evil. It also quite interestingly shows us that the line between people who are good and bad can sometimes get quite blurred.

The film is based upon the Saturday Evening Post Serial by William P. McGivern. I have never read this but would love to do so. If you have read it, I would love to get your take on the differences  and similarities between the text and the film. 

For a film from the 50’s, this one is very violent and brutal. Some of the violence we actually see on screen, some is inferred, but all of it makes quite an impact on us. The film still shocks and grips when viewed today. The clothes and cars may have dated, but the story, shock of the violence, and the types of people seen in the film certainly haven’t changed all that much.

The film is directed by Fritz Lang. He made so many masterpieces throughout his career(especially his German Silent films, such as Metropolis), that I find it very hard to single out any one of his films as being better than others. The Big Heat is one of his that I would certainly single out though, and for me it is his best American film.

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Bannion. Screenshot by me.

Lang focuses on the darkness of humanity and really rubs our noses in that darkness and dirt. He also lets us see that there can sometimes be good, decency and courage found in the sewer of humanity. This is a film that is all about humanity, and Lang focuses upon the characters and their actions instead of making the film one that is all about visuals or action.

This is what I call an actors film. The camera is focused on the actors throughout and lets them convey to us what’s going on. The entire cast all deliver superb performances, and for some I think it’s fair to say they deliver career best performances. Glenn Ford in particular is excellent as the good detective who ends up going around filled with barely concealed rage and hatred.

The vast majority of the films power comes via the interactions between characters and their reaction to the violence that occurs throughout the film. I also love how the film is split into little sections which almost come across as mini films in their own right. Apart from one scene, the film all takes place inside.

The interior locations and the close way the camera is focused on the actors really gives the film a claustrophobic feel. Much of the film also has an almost documentary style feel about it. There is a strong sense of realism in this film.

I like that women play a major role in this film. The female characters we see are very strong women and once they get mixed up with Bannion’s investigation they suffer unspeakable cruelty. Much of the violence in this film seems to be directed towards women. Women are the main victims in this film, they either end up getting killed, physically scarred, emotionally damaged, or have their lives put at risk. Even Detective Bannion’s own daughter suffers too; in as much as her childhood innocence gets shattered and lost by what happens to her mum.

                                  Debby gets permanently disfigured. Screenshot by me.

It is also the women in this film who take most of the risks, or who get hurt the most. In the end it is a woman who gets revenge on two of the main villains of the film. Bannion, who is supposed to be the films hero, actually doesn’t get his hands dirty all that often, but through his investigation and persuasion others face danger or lose their lives by helping him get revenge. Bannion also does or say things that make him not unlike the people he is seeking revenge against. There’s that old saying which I think applies to him and his situation; violence begets violence. Revenge is just a never ending cycle of pain and violence.

The film begins with Bertha Duncan (Jeanette Nolan)hearing a gunshot. She comes downstairs and finds her husband (a police detective)dead in an apparent suicide. She reads a letter he has written, but we don’t see what is in it. Throughout all of this she never looks shocked or upset in any way, she looks cold and seems unbothered by the grim sight before her. She makes a call to dapper crime boss Lagana (Alexander Scourby)to inform him of the death, he seems to have mixed feelings to her news, and he says he will see her soon.

Detective Dave Bannion(Glenn Ford)is put on the case and at first seems convinced it is a simple suicide. His suspicions are aroused when he speaks to Lucy Chapman(Dorothy Green)a woman who was Duncan’s mistress and who claims there is no way he killed himself. Bannion sees there is more to this when Lucy is found brutally murdered shortly after telling him what she did.

Across town, the thuggish Vince Stone (Lee Marvin)is one of Lagana’s men and he is put in charge of getting rid of Bannion. A car bomb meant to take out the curious detective accidentally kills Bannion’s wife Katie (Jocelyn Brando) instead. Bannion driven crazy by grief is determined to get revenge and uncover the truth about the case. He also puts his young daughter into the protective custody of former army pals of his to keep her safe.

Stone’s flirtatious, and fun loving girl, Debby(Gloria Grahame)is rebellious, and she takes a liking to Bannion. This affection gets her a pot of boiling coffee in the face, scarring her for life. Debby teams up with Bannion in his quest to get the men who killed his wife. Debby gets to dish out some revenge of her own along the way.

Glenn Ford is excellent as a decent, ordinary man plunged headfirst into violence, grief and pain. He is excellent at conveying little gestures or looks showing Bannion becoming enraged and no longer playing by the rules. His performance is all in the eyes, pay close attention to him in every scene. Glenn often looked quite baby faced in many roles, but here he looks more mature and proves what a good dramatic actor he could be.

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Vince. Screenshot by me.

Lee Marvin steals every scene he is in as the despicable heavy, who has no feelings for anyone, not even for a woman who is supposed to be his girlfriend. Marvin had such an expressive and fascinating face and here he says so much with that face. You sure wouldn’t want to mess with this guy!

Gloria Grahame (who to me has always been quite an underrated actress)is at her best as the fun loving, strong and stubborn Debby. In the last part of the film Debby becomes the main focus of the film instead of Bannion. Gloria relishes these scenes where she shows us Debby overcoming her pain to become a strong woman determined to get some justice for herself and Bannion.

Jocelyn Brando (older sister of Marlon) is very good as Bannion’s loving wife. She gives him a normal, happy and stable existence away from the darkness of his job. Jocelyn and Glenn work well together making us feel this couples connection and devotion.

Jeannette Nolan steals every scene she is in as the ice cold woman who thinks only of her self. Her character is one of the most interesting and controlling in the whole film. Jeannette was a superb actress, but I think this may be one of the best performances she ever gave.

Alexander Scourby oozes evil as the big boss who thinks he is king of the city. He has people very afraid indeed, but of course he won’t dirty his own hands by killing or injuring, he hires heavies to do that for him. Lagana uses words and body language to scare and intimidate, he finds this doesn’t work on Bannion. Scourby is excellent and gives you a good sense of what his character is all about.

This film features many fine supporting performances from the following: Dan Seymour, Willis Bouchey, Edith Evanson and a young Carolyn Jones.

My favourite scenes are the following. Debby answering the phonecall from Lagana for Vince. Bannion and Katie sharing a steak, a drink and a cigarette. Debby going to Bannion after she has been injured. The carbomb sequence. The “sisters under the mink” sequence. Bannion speaking to the old woman through the fence. The finale in the penthouse. Bannion’s Lt speaking to him after Katie’s funeral.

This is a taut film which packs quite a bit into just 89 minutes. There is not one wasted second in this. There are also scenes where you don’t find yourselves wondering why two characters are suddenly together, as they will say a few words that explain all (we don’t need to see them come together to do what they are about to when we catch up to them).

I also like how Bannion is showed to enjoy a very happy marriage and home life. Quite often in films like this the detectives are unmarried or are unhappily married. I like how this film takes a different approach. I also like how this happiness in his character allows Ford to turn in a very dark performance once the happiness is shattered. 

I also have to praise the photography by Charles Lang, he keeps the camera close to the actors at all times and makes us feel a part of the scenes. The film is interesting visually, without the look of the film being the sole focus of attention (like many of the visuals in Fritz Lang’s Silent films).

Be sure to see this one on Blu-Ray to see it looking its best. This format also has some great extras for you to enjoy too.

Any other fans of this film? Please leave your comments below.

 

 

 

 

 

Detective, Films I Love, Japanese Cinema

Stray Dog(1949)

If you thought that Akira Kurosawa’s films were all historical epics, featuring swordfights and Samurai warriors, then you really need to think again. Kurosawa also made several dramas and thrillers set in the present day of his time(40’s and 50’s Japan.)

Two of my favourites amongst these particular set of films are Ikiru and The Quiet Duel. 

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Murakami gets desperate. Screenshot by me.

Stray Dog is another great favourite of mine. It is a type of film that I dearly wish Kurosawa had made more of.

I really do love Akira Kurosawa’s Samurai films, but I find that his lesser known drama films have become even more special to me than the samurai films. It is to these more intimate drama films that I keep returning again and again.

The film is set in Japan and takes place during a rather oppressive heatwave. This Noir Thriller features Kurosawa’s regular lead actor Toshiro Mifune. Mifune delivers one of the best performances of his career in this film.

Mifune is excellent as the sweat soaked, keen, rookie detective Murakami. When his police gun is stolen from him he doesn’t stop trying to track it down. As time goes on, Murakami finds that his gun has moved on from the pickpocket who snatched it and into the criminal underworld.

Murakami becomes guilt ridden when the gun becomes linked to crimes. It is at this point that he has to ask for help in his search for the gun(and in a way his own redemption). Murakami is helped by veteran detective Sato(Takashi Shimura at his best here, perfectly conveying wisdom and world weariness).

This is such a good film. It is exciting, moving and very thrilling too. There is some striking photography by Asaichi Nakai, and some strong performances from pretty much everyone in the cast. Even people who feature for a small amount of screen time make a real impression.

The film is shot on location and that really adds a great deal of authenticity to the story we are watching. The film also shows us the good and bad sides of life in that country. The film also shows us a side of Japanese life which we don’t see too often on screen, that of nightclubs and dancehalls.

The film rarely lets up on its edge the seat thrills, but there are some quieter moments to be found too. A scene that always stays with me after viewing, shows the grief stricken husband of a woman killed by Murakami’s stolen gun sobbing in his wife’s garden; we see (as does Murakami)the terrible impact such a crime has on the victims loved ones.

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The wise Sato. Screenshot by me.

Interestingly Sato seems quite distant in that scene, which to me shows that he has seen so many similar things in his career. Due to his experience at dealing with such crimes he has in a way become used to and hardened against such things.

Sato tries to teach Murakami that he can’t get personally involved in every case, if he did the emotions would break him apart; but the older detective also knows he can’t teach that, it is something that has to be learnt by bitter experience. Sato and Murakami’s odd couple relationship also predates the buddy cop plots which are so common in films and series today.

The finale in the field is tense and deeply moving, as we find ourselves feeling some pity for someone who we should actually hate. If the film tells us anything, it is that crime is a destroyer and waster all round, there are only losers in such a life. The lives of both the victims and perpetrators of crime are ruined and forever altered by criminal activity of one sort or another.

Strangely enough Kurosawa himself never actually regarded this film very highly for some reason. I’d love to know why that was, as this really is one of his very best films.

A great one to watch over the weekend. If you’re not really into Japanese cinema this would serve as a great introduction I think, give it a go and share your thoughts.

If, like me, you are already a fan of this flick then please share your thoughts.