Noir, Uncategorized

Blade Runner Reimagined as a Classic Era Noir Film

I really love Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Science Fiction Noir film Blade Runner. I watched the film again recently, and I found myself wondering what this film would have been like if it had been made as a Noir film in the 1940’s or 1950’s.

So I sat and had a long think about who to direct and who to cast in this classic Noir version of the film.

The Director

I would have had Fritz Lang and Edward Dmytryk co-direct this film. I thought of Fritz Lang because of his stellar work in creating a futuristic city and society in his film Metropolis. That expertise would have been much needed to create the futuristic looking city the film is set in.

Lang also directed one of the darkest and most brutal Noir films, The Big Heat, so I’m pretty sure that he would have had no trouble bringing a Sci-Fi Noir film to the screen. 

I thought of Edward Dmytryk because he directed the best Noir film (in my opinion)Murder My Sweet(1944); this is a film which oozes Noir from every single frame. He would have done wonders with the characters, the lighting, and with the overall look and mood of the film I think. 

The Cast

I thought of Charles McGraw for the role of Detective Rick Deckard.

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Charles McGraw. Screenshot by me.

I think that Charles could give Deckard the tough quality he needs as a replicant hunter(known as Blade Runners). I also think that he could show the softer side of the man when necessary in certain scenes.

 

I thought of Gene Tierney for the role of Rachel, a woman who may or may not be a replicant. Gene always did a good job of playing haughty, reserved women with a hint of mystery about them.

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Gene Tierney. Screenshot by me.

I also think that she could easily capture the unreadable and troubled aspects of the character, while also being able to make her vulnerable and innocent during certain scenes.

 

I thought of Robert Ryan for the role of Roy Batty, the intelligent and violent leader of the escaped replicants.

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Robert Ryan. Screenshot by me.

I think that he could easily convey the intensity, the strength and the rage of Roy, yet also perfectly capture his emotional struggle and also convey his gentle and tender side too. 

 

I thought of Clifton Webb for the role of Dr. Tyrell, the intellectual and scientific genius who created the replicants.

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Clifton Webb. Screenshot by me.

Clifton always convinced as intelligent characters who were self assured, dignified, smug and confident. I think he would be perfect in this role. 

 

I thought of Gloria Grahame for the role of Pris, who is one of the escaped replicants. I think Gloria would be a good choice because she always had a mix of childlike innocence about her and conveyed intelligence and sultriness at the same time.

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Gloria Grahame. Screenshot by me.

Pris is a character who looks innocent, is curious, is childlike at times, and is also a very smart and manipulative woman. I think Gloria would have been awesome in this role.

 

I thought of Marie Windsor for the role of Zhora, another of the escaped replicants who won’t give up without a fight. Marie always had a toughness about her that I think would make her perfect for this role.

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Marie Windsor. Screenshot by me.

I also think that Marie would have been great in the club scenes. I think she would have been terrific in the scene in the dressing room where Zhora shows no inhibitions around Deckard. 

 

I thought of Edward G. Robinson for the role of J.F Sebastian, the genetic designer who works alongside Dr. Tyrell. Sebastian is kind to Roy and Pris and he takes them to see Tyrell.

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Edward G. Robinson. Screenshot by me.

I thought of Eddie G because he had a knack for playing kind and well meaning characters who get themselves in a situation that they can’t easily get back out of. I think he would been able to convey the intelligence of his character, also his good nature, and also his fear of Roy. 

 

Would you have watched this film? What do you think of the cast I selected? I’d love to know who you would cast as directors or actors in this. Who would you cast if it had been made outside of America?

Are there any other films which you can imagine as a classic era film? Start a post and share it with us.

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Films I Love, Noir

The Narrow Margin (1952)

The Narrow Margin is a film that I never get tired of watching. It’s a very brisk film and it is one which manages to pack quite a punch in just 71 minutes. This is a film in which no scene or dialogue exchange feels like a waste of time. I also consider this film to be a prime example of how a low budget B movie can sometimes stand head and shoulders above any A film. 

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Brown and Forbes meet Mrs. Neall. Screenshot by me.

The Narrow Margin was an RKO studios film and it was directed by Richard Fleischer. It was shot in just twelve days. The screenplay for the film was written by Earl Felton and it was Oscar nominated. The film has no music other than Mrs.Neall’s beloved records. Instead the sound effects of the train wheels and ambient noise are all that we hear as the film goes on. I think those natural sounds add a great amount of realism to the film and I like that the scenes are undisturbed by intrusive or over dramatic music.  

This film has more twists and turns than a roller-coaster, and it also features some of the greatest lines ever uttered in Film Noir history.  The following are just a few of my favourite lines of dialogue from the film.  

Brown: ” She’s a sixty-cent special.Cheap, flashy, and strictly poison under the gravy.”

Brown: “Take it all, I can’t eat it!” Mrs. Neall: “That’s because you’ve been packin’ away steaks behind my back.”

Mrs. Neall: “Some protection they send me. An old man who walks right into it, and a weeper”.  

Brown: “You make me sick to my stomach.” Mrs. Neall: “Well use your own sink!, and let me know when the target practice starts!”

Brown: “My partners dead, and it’s my fault. He’s dead and you’re alive. Some exchange.” 

Mrs. Neall: “Not till I tell you something, you cheap badge-pusher! When we started on this safari, you made it clear I was just a job, and no joy in it, remember?”

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Brown. Screenshot by me.

Besides the fabulous dialogue, it is the complex and very fascinating characters who make this film what it is. Charles McGraw’s character is one of the hardest, toughest and cynical men that you’ll find in any film, let alone in any Noir film. Marie Windsor steals every scene she is in as the tough-talking, strong willed dame who sprays quips and insults around as though they were bullets coming out of a gun. 

Police Detectives Walter Brown (Charles McGraw)and Gus Forbes(Don Beddoe)are assigned to protect Mrs.Neall(Marie Windsor)and escort her to court. Neall is a mobsters wife who has agreed to testify against her man in court. People associated with her husband are trying to kill her before she can talk to the law.

Brown is tough, cynical and he hates the fact that he and his partner are risking their lives for a no good gal like Mrs. Neall. Even though she is testifying, he doesn’t think she’s a good person at heart at all. As they escort her to the train they’ve booked tickets on, Forbes is gunned down by a hitman sent to take out Mrs. Neall. Brown manages to get Mrs.Neall on the train and locks her in the empty compartment. A number of hired heavies board the train too, and there are now very few places on the train for Brown and Mrs. Neall to hide. Can Brown protect her or not? Brown also has to deal with the distraction of the lovely Mrs. Sinclair (Jacqueline White)who is travelling on the train with her young son. Brown and Mrs. Sinclair strike up a genuine bond and he becomes very fond of her. 

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Brown and Mrs. Neall have words. Screenshot by me.

This is a very tense film and the train setting gives it an extra level of suspense as there are very few places that Brown and Mrs. Neall can hide once they’re on board that train and it is hurtling down the tracks. The antagonistic relationship between Mrs.Neall and Brown is also very interesting to watch, the pair loath one another, have wild sexual tension going on, and their verbal sparring is a Noir lovers treat to listen to. 

There is a big twist in this film concerning a main character (which I’m not going to reveal because it’s best to go into this film not knowing who it is, this in order to retain the surprise and impact when the reveal does arrive) and when it is revealed, I think that it makes you see this person in a very different light than you did much earlier in the film. When this twist is revealed we also realise that there are two different Police operations being run, and each one is as important and dangerous as the other.  

If there is a downside to this film I would say that it lies with the way the sacrifice and murder of this character later on in the film is only referred to once afterwards. When you realise the risk this person was taking and how brave they were, I think that it’s a shame that more time isn’t devoted to acknowledging that sacrifice.That issue aside though this is one of the best Noir films and it is filled with superb performances and many memorable moments. 

McGraw gives one of his best performances as the tough as nails Detective who hates his current assignment, but despite his personal feelings he will work hard to protect Mrs.Neall no matter what. He may be mean, he may be rude and rough at times, but there is no doubt that he is a good guy underneath all that, and he is certainly someone you would want on your side in a fight.

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Mrs. Neall gets threatened. Screenshot by me.

 It’s a real shame that Marie Windsor appeared in so few Noir films because she is perfectly at home in the dark and seedy world of Noir. Marie comes across as being strong, sexy, and she is a real natural with that snappy dialogue.

Paul Maxey also turns in a very memorable performance as an overweight train passenger who keeps getting in the way of Brown a few times.

My favourite scenes are the following. Brown fighting in the train compartment. Brown and Forbes meeting Mrs. Neall for the first time. Brown and Forbes discussing what Mrs. Neall is going to be like. Mrs. Neall and Brown arguing after he brings her a sandwich. The reveal/twist murder scene.  

Any other fans of this one?

Drama, Films I Love, Noir

Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)

Odds Against Tomorrow is directed by Robert Wise. The film was one of two films to be produced by its star Harry Belafonte’s own production company – HarBel Productions. This is a film that I love very much. I recently treated myself and bought it on Blu-ray. I highly recommend that you purchase it in that format as it looks fantastic, there are some great extras on it to also enjoy.

This is a taut, atmospheric and extremely gritty film all about desperate people doing desperate things in order to survive. The film also takes a hard-hitting look at the issue of racism too. The final shot shows the stupidity of racism(and other prejudices) because we are all the same; we are all humans who are trying to live, and when we die it doesn’t matter what skin colour, sexual orientation, gender etc we are, as we are all equally dead and are the same in death. So what the hell are we wasting time fighting and hating one another for when we are alive? As the film goes along we also see that Harry Belafonte and Robert Ryan’s characters are more similar than they are dissimilar, both in terms of their struggles and prejudices, and also in their mutual run of bad luck.

The film was shot out on location in New York and for me this helps to give the film a very realistic feel. In terms of its atmosphere and look this film reminds me quite a bit of Sweet Smell Of Success. The realistic look of this film coupled with the performances and the characters stories, make this one give off an almost documentary vibe. This story manages to have an impact because it comes across as being so real and true to life. 

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The robbery in progress. Screenshot by me.

Harry Belafonte and Robert Ryan both deliver two of the best performances of their respective acting careers. They are both excellent as the two tightly wound men edging ever closer to their respective breaking points.

Both Harry Belafonte and Robert Ryan make us care about their characters and convey to us how frustrated they are with their respective situations. Both tell us much about their characters simply by an expression, or by the way they respond to something someone says to them. 

This film was quite daring for the time it was made in because it showed black and white people as being the same. In this film Johnny and Earle are both depicted as having good times and bad, they each have difficulties where their romantic relationships are concerned and they both need money.

Despite their mutual hatred for one another, Earle and Johnny are actually very similar men. We can tell these are just two broken, lonely and essentially decent guys just trying to survive and get by doing what they have to. Both men love their wives very much and are trying to make a better life for their families. The film shows us that we are all people and if we look beyond our petty prejudices we will find more similarities with one another than we will find differences.

Dave Burke (Ed Begley)is a bitter ex detective who is living a pretty crummy life. He has planned what sounds like a perfect bank robbery. He just needs two people to help him do the job. He enlists embittered, WW2 veteran and ruthless killer, Earle Slater (Robert Ryan)and heavily in debt, gambling singer Johnny Ingram (Harry Belafonte) to help him. Each man stands to get $50,000 for their part in the robbery. 

The robbery should be pretty simple but Johnny and Earle’s mutual hatred of each other causes tension and chaos. Earle is openly racist and Johnny is not one to stand by and just take that foul rubbish lying down, he returns the hatred, and Earle doesn’t like it one bit. It all leads to a tense and violent finale. 

The main trio of Ryan, Belafonte and Begley are all excellent. Begley is another actor in this who tells you much with just an expression or glance. I believe from the way he reacts to racist comments that his character is not a racist, and that is quite an interesting angle to the film. His character Dave is also shown to be friends with Johnny and they have known each other for years. Dave doesn’t like Earle’s attitude and he is shown to be openly disgusted by Earle’s horrible words and attitudes. I also find Dave an interesting character because he started out on the right side of the law and has now joined the wrong side.

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Johnny puts his anger into his singing. Screenshot by me.

Harry Belafonte plays Johnny as a tightly wound man who has got where he has in the world due to his own skill and determination and nothing else. There are times when he wants to strike out at the  people giving him racial abuse, but he stops himself knowing there will be trouble if he does.

I love the nightclub sequence where his eyes show the undisguised hatred he feels for the gangster he is heavily in debt to. Watch Harry’s eyes throughout the film, those eyes convey so much about what Johnny is feeling and going through.

I also love how the way that Harry sings in this film, he shows us that singing is a way for Johnny to be able to release all that rage and distress building up inside of him; Johnny may not be able to take his rage out on the people hurting him, but he sure can take it out on the microphone. 

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Earle. Screenshot by me.

Robert Ryan plays Earle like a ticking time bomb. This man has a temper which is on a real short fuse. He feels less of a man due to his dire situation and thinks money will make him something more.

Keep your eye on Robert throughout and you will see him convey how on edge Earle is, this guy is just waiting to unleash his pent up anger on anyone who happens to be around.

In real life Robert was the exact opposite of the racist Earle, he was a very liberal man and was involved in Civil Rights; the fact that he so convinces as such a despicable character as Earle shows what a gifted actor he was.

Shelley Winters, Kim Hamilton and Gloria Grahame play the dames in the lives of Earle and Johnny. Kim is Ruth, Johnny’s ex wife and the mother of his adored daughter. Ruth loves him but she cannot take his lifestyle, nor can she stand his hatred of white people. Ruth will always love him, but she can’t be with him anymore. Kim is excellent and conveys so much by her facial expressions alone.

Shelley is Earle’s much younger wife Lorry, she loves him dearly and with her he can be vulnerable and himself. It is in scenes with her that we see his tender and gentle nature come out into the open.

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Earle and Lorry share a moment. Screenshot by me.

Gloria Grahame is Helen, a friend of Lorry’s who lives in the flat above theirs. She wants to be taken out of herself and treated as a woman (an escape from the drudgery of her life)she fancies Earle and he knows it.

Earle has never cheated on Lorry, but one night he and Helen are talking and it’s obvious to them (and certainly to us)that they are going to have sex. The tension between them is electric in this sequence. Sadly the actresses don’t have as much to do on screen as the men do, but they are all excellent and make an impression when they are on screen.

Keep an eye out for Richard Bright (best known for playing Michael’s loyal bodyguard Neri, in The Godfather)as a homosexual henchman of the gangster that Johnny is in debt to. Wayne Rogers (of MASH fame)also has a small role as a soldier who gets on the wrong side of Earle.

I’m always left feeling sorry for those who love and are waiting for these men to return from their date with crime. There’s Earle and Johnny’s wives, and David’s beloved pet dog, the one thing on earth who appears to love him and who is loved in return. They all have my symapthy and I’m always left wondering what happened to them all following the events that end this film.

My favourite scenes are the following. Johnny taking his daughter to the park. Lorry telling Earle he can borrow money from her. Johnny’s funny exchange with the elevator operator. Earle punching the soldier in the bar. The entire final 30 minutes of the film.

This story comes across as just one example of thousands more like it. We are all (whether we are men or women) trying to escape from some pain or perceived weakness, we all want a better life and we are all trying to get by. This film captures the lonelieness and problems of humanity well. It also shows us that racism is so stupid as we are all the same, can’t we make some effort to get along while we are living on this planet?

This film is a real highpoint in the careers of all in the cast and of the director Robert Wise. I’d love to know what you think of this film? Please leave your comments below.

Drama, Films I Love, Noir

Sunset Blvd (1950)

“I am big. It’s the pictures that got small!” These words are spoken by Norma Desmond, a former American screen queen who longs to be back in the era of Silent films.

Norma thinks longingly of a time when actors used their faces and emotions to convey the plot and the directors intent for a scene. She also longs to be back in the era when dialogue and effects were not needed or relied upon on screen.

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Norma Desmond desperate to be back on screen. Screenshot by me.

Silent films were big in every way, from how they looked, and also the scope of the stories that they told. Once sound came in there were still many superb films being made, but I think films lost that epic and mesmerising look and style that the Silent films had. There were also so many films being made, and so many stories being recycled, that you could argue that films no longer became the special events that they had been in the Silent era; instead films ended up becoming very run of the mill things. 

Sunset Blvd is one of my favourite classic era films. It was one of the first classics that I ever saw and it made quite an impression on me. I love the blend of drama and Noir, the stunning photography by John F. Seitz, and for the sad and tragic tale it depicts.

This is the film that made me aware of Silent films. I was quite young when I first saw this film,and before seeing this I didn’t even know that there had once been Silent films, I’m well aware that sounds pretty dumb LOL. Before this film I had no reason to imagine there had ever been a time when films were Silent.  I also love this film because it brought to my attention people like De Mille, Swanson, Wilder and Keaton.

Superbly directed by Billy Wilder, Sunset Blvd is a warts and all portrait of Hollywood. Wilder wrote the screenplay along with Charles Brackett(regular collaborator on so many of Wilder’s films)and D.M Marshman Jr.

The films depiction of the darker and sadder side to the glamourous perceived image of the American film industry wasn’t very well received by Hollywood upon release. I guess some people didn’t like, or simply flat out refused to see the truth that Billy so boldly served up to them with this film.

Wilder’s film showed the Hollywood community the unpleasant truth about itself; the sad truth that once great stars get tossed aside like rubbish. That people think only of themselves at the expense of others. That people use others in order to further their careers and get to the top. That fame and stardom rarely lasts all that long (no matter how much you believe otherwise when you are enjoying it).

Wilder’s film is a sad film and is difficult to watch at times. His film is spot on though and that is what makes it so worth watching; the film deals with ruined lives, damaged people and also looks at mental illness.

This film is also a very good Noir film. Holden’s character is mistaken for someone else, this then brings him into contact with Norma, and he then gets sucked deeper and deeper into her world that he reaches a point where he is a doomed man incapable of getting out of this situation. Holden also narrates the film, I’m not a big fan of voiceover work but it fits this film and doesn’t occur too often.

The film features Gloria Swanson and William Holden delivering two of the finest performances in film history. I really like that their performances also highlight the different acting styles of both the Silent and Sound eras. 

Gloria Swanson steals the show as the damaged and deranged Norma. She cannot accept that her fame has gone, that she is all but forgotten about, and that everything she once held so dear has now vanished. Swanson was one of the biggest and most talented stars of the Silent era, she had one of the most expressive faces and uses that face to its full effect in this film.

The irony of her playing this role can not have been lost on Swanson. Gloria had once been one of the biggest stars in American Silent films. Gloria’s career was over at this point, and she certainly no longer enjoyed the fame of her glory days. Unlike Norma though, Swanson (thankfully)found her change of situation easier to cope with. She was able to very successfully bring a blend of Silent and Sound acting techniques to her performance in this film. Gloria is phenomenal in this role and I consider it to be the best performance she ever gave.  Her performance is all in the eyes. Watch those eyes of hers because they speak volumes. She manages to be creepy, pathetic, pitiful, strong and fun.

Holden is both likeable and not so likeable as the down on his luck Joe Gillis, a man who seizes on an opportunity with Norma and uses her to get it. He starts out eager, outgoing, and also with some control over his life. As the film goes on Holden shows us Joe becoming desperate, on edge, depressed, a man with no control and no power. He is being used by Norma to bring her soul back to life (watch how she brightens up once he comes into her life)and even if he is unhappy he now can’t be allowed to leave this woman.

The famous opening swimming pool scene. Screenshot by me.

The film begins with a dead man floating in a swimming pool. The Police are gathered round the body trying to figure out what has happened. This opening shot is one of the most impressive and memorable in film history. We see the body from under the water looking up at it. The dead man is Joe Gillis, and the film that we are about to watch will show us how he came to meet his watery death.  Originally the film was to have opened in a morgue, with Gillis’s soul talking to other dead bodies, this was scrapped in favour of the opening we have now.

Joe Gillis(William Holden) is a film scriptwriter who needs some money fast. By accident he meets former silent film star, Norma Desmond(Gloria Swanson). She has written the screenplay of a version of Salome, she wishes it to be directed by Cecil B. DeMille and to be her glorious return to the screen. Joe gets himself hired (to get some money)to work on her script for her. He works on it at Norma’s home(a fading luxury mansion, that I see as representing the luxury and excess of the 1920’s.)

As he spends more time with Norma, Joe soon realises that she is falling in love with him and also that she is completely detached from reality. Things get complicated when Joe falls in love with Betty(Nancy Olsen)an outgoing young studio writer. Betty offers Joe an escape from the possessive nature of Norma. Betty offers Joe love, fun, friendship, and above all some happiness. Joe’s desperation for a career opportunity and for money, means that he leaves Betty and returns to the wealth, glamour and supposed opportunity that Norma can offer him. He becomes her kept man, no different than the beloved monkey she once had as a pet. Norma dotes on him, splashes out money on him, and he can’t stand it.

As he spends more time with Norma, Joe soon realises that she is falling in love with him and that she is also completely detached from reality. Things get complicated when Joe falls in love with Betty(Nancy Olsen), a young and outgoing studio writer. Betty offers Joe an escape from the possessive nature of Norma. Betty offers Joe love, fun, friendship, and above all some happiness.

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Joe and Betty fall for one another. Screenshot by me.

Joe’s desperation for a career opportunity and for money, means that he leaves Betty and returns to the wealth, glamour and supposed opportunity that Norma can offer him. He becomes her kept man, no different than the beloved monkey she once had as a pet. Norma dotes on him, splashes out money on him, and he can’t stand it. Norma becomes suspicious of Joe and Betty and her anger and distress begins to steadily build up within her leading to one of the most tragic and unforgettable finales in film history.

The scenes between Norma and Joe play out like some sort of  horror film. Norma appears almost vampire like in certain scenes, and many of her hand gestures appear claw like and grotesque. Norma sucks Joe in with promises of fame and fortune, he gets caught up in her delusions and he can’t escape her, no matter how much he might try to do so.

Joe’s relationship with Norma becomes all consuming and it changes who he is as a person. He becomes bound to her and cannot escape her, he may try to, but when he does he cannot find any peace or happiness because her shadow looms large over any joy he may find.

Norma is also grotesque in as much as she is getting old, but she won’t accept it and still dresses and makes herself up to be young. Norma and her home(and it could also be said her acting style)are starting to fade away and crumble into non existence and relevance. It’s also a look at two different acting styles the silent era(telling the story through expressions, emotion and gestures)and the sound era. Holden and Swanson both give great performances showing us these opposite acting styles and techniques.

Swanson and Holden get strong support from film director Eric Von Stronheim, who appears as Norma’s loyal butler Max.

Max was once married to Norma and he now works for her and cares for her. He fakes thousands of fan letters which he delivers to Norma so that she actually feels like she is still remembered and valued by fans. Stroheim is excellent as a proud man brought low, he too cannot have missed the irony of his casting. He was once a man of power and influence and was now playing a former director, turned servant/carer working for one of his former stars.

Von Stronheim was once of the greatest Silent era directors and famously made a film called Greed, which originally ran for nine or ten hours! His directorial career ended soon after he directed Gloria Swanson in Queen Kelly. That film is the film that Norma watches on her private cinema screen with Joe at her side.

Nancy Olsen is terrific as keen, pure, passionate and gentle Betty. She offers Joe an escape from Norma. Nancy’s character is a lifeline for Joe, and she lets us see that Betty is falling for Joe and that they would be good together. She isn’t on screen all that much, but when she is she sure makes a strong impression.

The film also includes some terrific cameos from other famous Silent film figures: Buster Keaton, Cecil. B DeMille, H.B.Warner and Anna Q Nilsson. This film is an inside look at the glamour, pain, excess and madness of Hollywood and it also gives us glimpses of the different people involved in the film making process the writers, directors, actors, designers etc. 

I also like how real people and films are mentioned and shown throughout the film. Greta Garbo is mentioned by Norma as being a current actress (Garbo had been retired for about a decade by this time, so this shows how out of touch Norma is with current events)who had the same face and acting style of the Silent era. Interestingly Garbo was one of the few Silent stars who successfully made the transition to the sound era and retained the same level of fame from one era to the next. Director Cecil B. DeMille (who appears as himself) is another who successfully transitioned and retained fame and influence.

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Norma and DeMille reunite. Screenshot by me.

The scene between Norma and Cecil B. DeMille (appearing as himself) is one that I’m not ashamed to admit always makes me tear up a bit. Norma is warmly welcomed back by former colleagues, crew and studio staff. She sees that there are some who still hold her in affection and high regard.

This scene is also important because De Mille could easily have ignored Norma but he greets her with such tenderness and affection. He respects her and treats her as she deserves to be treated.

De Mille also utters a line of dialogue here that I think is quite interesting. When asked by an assistant if it was true that Norma was difficult to work with, he replies “only towards the end. A dozen press agents working overtime can do terrible things to the human spirit”.

To me those words from De Mille indicate that something in Norma’s life had been seized on by the press and stories were being run. Press intrusion is another dark aspect of Hollywood, with careers and reputations being ruined and lost due to scandals and rumours being splashed over front pages. Maybe this intrusion is what began her descent into madness?

My favourite scenes are the following. Norma’s charades performance for Joe. The New Year’s Eve party with Joe and Norma being the only guests. Joe discovering what Norma has done to herself in her despair. The “I’m ready for my close up” scene. Joe at the crowded party in the apartment. Joe and Norma’s first meeting. Norma returning to the film studios and being warmly welcomed and getting to sit on the set of De Mille’s latest film.

Thanks to this film we hopefully come to understand how brutal Hollywood can be to its own, and how awful it must be when a big star falls from their pedestal and becomes yesterdays news.

The final shot is one that stays in the mind long after the film has finished. In this scene the now truly deranged Norma gets the fame and attention she has been so long starved of. The trouble is it is the wrong kind of attention. We know that she now only has an institution to look forward to (unless Max can pull some strings and keep her at home being looked after there)and that she will certainly never be able to act again.  

Norma finally gets that close-up she’s been dreaming of. Screenshot by me. 

For one brief moment though, Norma shines again, and the cameras roll to capture her emotions and her every move. Her name will never be forgotten once this story makes the headlines. Is that a blessing or a curse though? She will certainly get her fame back, but her illness and despair will be milked to sell papers, and she will most likely be ridiculed too. A sad end and one that really makes you think. In the end this is a film all about victims, and about how they are used and how they suffer. 

The film could almost be viewed as a warning about getting into the film industry. If you do you may get fame and fortune, but at what cost will these be achieved? Can you stand what happens once your star starts to fade?

I think this is one of Wilder’s best films and it’s certainly the best film about Hollywood I’ve ever seen.

What are your thoughts on Sunset Blvd?

 

British Cinema, Noir

Brighton Rock (1947)

In 1947, two films were made on opposite sides of the Atlantic ocean. One film starred Richard Widmark, and the other one starred Richard Attenborough. The performances of these two men in these films would set both of them onto the path to stardom.

Widmark and Attenborough’s performances in these films also showed us the full extent of their acting talents. They both played characters who were equally scary, evil and real nasty pieces of work. Widmark’s film was Kiss Of Death (this was also his film debut). Attenborough’s was an adaptation of a 1938 novel by Graham Greene. The film was called Brighton Rock. It has since become regarded as one of the best British films of the era. It is also a cracking British Noir.

The realism of the actors performances coupled with the fact that Brighton Rock was shot on location in Brighton, all helps to give this film an extremely authentic look I think. I also love the grimy and gritty look that the film has about it.

America was leading the way in Film Noir at the time this film was made, and some would say the US was leading the way in film making in general in the 1940’s. Over here in Britain we were also making some films that could easily rival, and in some cases surpass, those films coming out of Hollywood. This is one such film.

Unlike the American filmmakers who were hampered by the Breen Office and the Production Code, British filmmakers of the time tended to be able to get away with showing more violence, or alluding to things like sex and violence in more detail on screen. This film is one which is greatly aided by being able to show and insinuate more than American films featuring a similar story would probably have been able to.

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Pinkie. Screenshot by me.

Growing up in the 1990’s, I was so used to seeing Attenborough as the kindly grandfather figure on screen that I found it to be quite a surprise to catch him in this film and see him playing such a violent, heartless, wannabe gangster. I think his performance in this film is right up there with his terrifying performance in 10 Rillington Place. It really is one of his very best performances.

As the violent Pinkie, Attenborough is edgy and he conveys a barely repressed rage that is just waiting to be unleashed. He steals every scene he is with his expressions alone. His youthful appearance works to the films advantage I think, as it makes Pinkie’s acts of violence seem all the more shocking when they occur. 

The film was produced by the Boulting brothers. The film was co-written by Graham Green and Terence Rattigan. John Boulting directed the film. The Boulting brothers were identical twins who worked on a number of British films including: Thunder Rock, The Magic Box, The Family Way and Seven Days To Noon.

The body of a man called William Kite is discovered in a gravel pit. Kite was the leader of a local gang. The Police believe he was killed by a rival gang after speaking to a newspaper reporter called Fred Hale (Alan Wheatley). Hale wrote a crime expose piece which led to Kite’s name being published.  

Pinkie Brown (Richard Attenborough), the baby faced and youngest member of the gang assumes Kite’s position as leader of their gang. Pinkie is aided by the ice cold and loyal Dallow (William Hartnell), the ageing but loyal Spicer (Wylie Watson), and the giggling  Cubitt(Nigel Stock).

Pinkie and his men go after Hale to kill him for what happened to Kite. They catch up to him aboard a horror train ride on Brighton Pier. This stunning sequence is a highpoint in the film and is truly unforgettable. The horror imagery in the ride is very scary and the lighting is superb and used to great effect.

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Ida. Screenshot by me.

Hale’s death is ruled a suicide. Ida Arnold (Hermione Baddeley) doesn’t believe that for one moment. Ida knew Fred and she was with him just before he got on that ride. She isn’t afraid to put herself at risk to find out the truth. Ida sets out on her own to do some investigating to get to the truth.

With Ida sniffing around, rival gangs causing trouble, and the Police keeping an eye on what’s going, Pinkie becomes more and more paranoid and violent. He also soon becomes as big a threat to his friends as he is to his sworn enemies. 

Naïve young waitress, Rose (Carol Marsh)is a potential witness to Pinkie’s crime. To shut her up and keep an eye on her, he woos her and then marries her. She is a very innocent and fragile woman, and as the film goes on she seems to be heading ever closer to a breakdown. Pinkie treats her like rubbish. He makes a mistake in not heeding the warning he gets from Dallow about not mistreating Rose. 

The performances in this are excellent. Attenborough goes full psycho and is utterly chilling as Pinkie. If you have never seen Richard Attenborough play evil before, then you really need to watch this film. He makes us see that his character wants to be number one, and he wants this at the expense of all else. He craves power and he enjoys violence. He also doesn’t seem to care who is on the receiving end of his violent outbursts. This man is a cold hearted thug.

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Dallow. Screenshot by me.

William Hartnell (the first Doctor Who)steals all the scenes he is in as Dallow. Hartnell often played heavies in British films, his performance here is one of his very best I think. He more than convinces as a hard man who has a moral code when it comes to treating women. He too is a nasty piece of work, but he takes no pleasure from what he does, he does it because it’s a job and it’s what he is good at. Deep down he is actually not all bad.

Hermione Baddeley was one of the greates character actresses of the classic era. In this film I think she may well have been given her best role. I think it’s a real shame she didn’t get more substantial roles.

As Ida, she is loud, outgoing, funny, strong and very determined. I like how she is really the hero of the film. I think it’s nice to see an older woman get such a strong role in a film too.  

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Hale. Screenshot by me.

Alan Wheatley is memorable as the terrified Hale fleeing for his life. He more than convinces as the terrified and desperate man on edge, running away from Pinkie’s gang with all the speed that his legs can muster. Wheatley had the sharp and thin features that I think would have made him the perfect choice to play Sherlock Holmes. He was a fine character actor and is terrific in this film.

Carol Marsh makes you want to yell at her character, to shake her out of her wide eyed adoration of the vile Pinkie. She is so naïve and very easily led. Marsh does a superb job of playing this girl who refuses to accept that Pinkie is all bad. She is something of a doormat, but you can’t help but feel sorry for her anyway. There is a childlike innocence about her. 

The book (which I’ve yet to read)apparently had more religious overtones than the film and was full of Catholic guilt. The film doesn’t focus so much on that, but there are a couple of moments where this can be picked up on if you’re looking for it. Religion also rather heavily features in the unforgettable ending scene. 

This is a thrilling, engrossing and a gritty flick that is a real character piece. Everyone in the cast gets their chance to shine.  

My favourite scenes are the following. Ida questioning Rose at the café. Dallow warning Pinkie not to touch Rose. The finale on the pier. Hale meeting a terrifying end on the ghost train ride. Ida and Hale meeting in the bar. Pinkie making a recording of his voice to Rose and in it telling her just what he thinks of her. Dallow telling Rose that she should ask Pinkie for some new clothes. The final scene with the message on the record.

The film was remade in 2010. The remake sadly pales in comparison to this one. Why oh why do people keep insisting on remaking classic films? Most of the time the original is way better than the remake, so why bother doing it? I recommend you stick with this version and enjoy a cracking example of British cinema at its very best. 

What are your thoughts on this film?

 

 

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. It came up as a recommended purchase after I had bought another Noir film. I had never heard of this one before, but I really loved the sound of the story. I also really like Ann Sheridan(who is the star of the film) and so I just had to have it. Having watched this yesterday, I can report that this certainly was money well spent. 

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 a male.

I found it very interesting for the focus of the film to be on Sheridan’s character. Sheridan also co- produced the film. Her character is one tough and independent gal. I wish she had been given more roles like this.

I really like how the marriage depicted in this film is far from ideal, and it is also far from what marriage was expected to be during the 40’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 have no interest in, or any 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 comfortable and tolerable.

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 huge 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 and the focus isn’t heavily on landmarks.

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.

British Cinema, Drama, Noir

It Always Rains On Sunday (1947)

This film is one of the best screen portrayals of everyday life in post World War Two London that there has ever been.  We see the grime, the claustrophobia, the boredom, the frayed tempers and the nosy neighbors. Part Noir thriller, and part superb character study, this  flick came out of Ealing Studios during their grittier and darker period in the 1940’s.

The film is interesting visually because photographer Douglas Slocombe shot it out on location in and around the streets of London. This choice certainly gives the film a great deal of realism, and it really helps to add atmosphere to the film. We see the cramped and busy city streets, and the somewhat calmer residential streets. It’s like being there with the characters. 

Rose Sandigate is a London housewife whose dull Sunday morning is turned on its head by the arrival of her former sweetheart Tommy Swann(John McCallum). Tommy has been in prison for years and has escaped; he is now on the run and is being searched for by the police in a manhunt led by the highly experienced, observant, pipe smoking Detective Fothergill (Jack Warner).

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Rose and Tommy have a talk. Screenshot by me.

Rose hates Tommy for having left her, but she won’t turn him over to the cops, and she will try and offer him what little help she can (shelter, food and money). The trouble is Rose is now married to George (Edward Chapman)and is the mother to her own son, and to her two stepdaughters, Vi and Doris. Her family are in and out of the house and she must try and hide Tommy from them, her neighbours, and from the police.

The escape of Tommy isn’t the only story of the film though. There are several other stories being told, and the paths of some of the other characters in those stories end up connecting with Tommy Swann later in the film. There’s the three criminals who are trying to flog stolen rollerskates, the reporter who is also trying to find Tommy, and the crime boss who Doris’s boyfriend wrongly assumes fancies her.

We also follow Rose’s two stepdaughters Vi (Susan Shaw)and Doris (Patricia Plunkett) and their love lives. We also see the antagonism they (more so Vi)have towards Rose. Interestingly Vi and Rose are both quite similar in that they are strong and determined women, and they both fall for a guy who breaks their heart; in Vi’s case it is the suave, married musician and music store owner Morry (Sydney Tafler). Vi and Rose have more in common with one another than they’d like to realise.

This film is thrilling, suspenseful, funny and quite realistic. There are strong characters and performances to enjoy throughout.

The standout performance is Googie Withers as Rose. She perfectly captures this woman’s boredom and her unleashed excitement when the situation with Tommy makes this Sunday one she’ll never forget. Rose is on edge throughout the film, struggling to control her temper when she argues with Vi, struggling to ignore her feelings for Tommy, and struggling to endure the dullness of her life as a housewife.

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Vi. Screenshot by me.

I think that Susan Shaw makes quite an impression in the film. She is excellent as the glamourous Vi. Shaw shows us that this woman is tough and also easily hurt. Shaw had a tragic life, she married the popular actor Bonar Colleano, and became an alcoholic after he was killed in a car crash in 1958. A sad life and end for a very promising actress.

Sydney Tafler is excellent as Morry. He steals every scene he is in as the man who cheats on his wife, but who wrongly assumes she doesn’t know when she actually does. This leads to him rather amusingly finding out he is wrong in that. He breaks a lot of hearts, and doesn’t give it a second thought. What a cad!

I like how the film shows how the family have frayed tempers because they live in such a cramped environment and have little privacy from one another. This would have been the reality in many homes at the time. The film also reflects the dullness of everyday living and the excitement that beckons from living in the city, or from living your life outside of the norm.

The film also shows us the two sides of criminal life. There’s the money and nice times when the criminal succeeds, and there is also the imprisonment and heartbreak when they fail and are caught and punished. This is reflected in the exploits of the gang trying to flog their stolen skates, and in Tommy, who literally embodies what happens to a criminal when they are caught and punished. In the film Tommy is shown to have been severely flogged while in prison. He has come out a scared, broken and desperate man. Hopefully his situation may have served as a wakeup call to anyone in the audience who thought crime pays.

I think this film also highlights that it is women who so often are left to pick up the pieces, and to suffer great emotional pain when their men go and do something stupid (be it crime or cheating). The women take that pain and use it to make themselves stronger, as that is the only way they can go on after what has happened.

The film also makes Rose an interesting character, she is shown as a married woman who still has feelings for her ex, and there is a scene where it is pretty strongly hinted that they have sex in her bed! Also the rather shocking decision she makes near the very end of the film is also interesting; I think that it must surely have shocked quite a few people morally at the time of release.

This choice Rose makes adds even more darkness and despair to a film already swimming in both of those things. Interestingly though Rose does get some happiness at the end, which goes against what usually happened to characters like her, especially if they made the decision she did at the end.

Interestingly the rain itself becomes almost like a character in the film, and one part of the music by Georges Auric sounds just like the patter of raindrops as they fall, which I think is very clever and adds so much to the film.

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Googie Withers as Rose. Screenshot by me.

This was one of Googie Withers best film roles, and sadly it was to be the last film that Googie would make for Ealing Studios. 

She continued to make films elsewhere though. She and John McCallum fell in love while they made this film and they got married the following year. They moved to Australia in the 1950’s and they stayed married until John died in 2010. Googie died the following year.

This is one of the best British films, and I think it does such a good job of portraying the post war life. It has become a great favourite of mine, and when I’m in the mood for a well acted British Noir this is one I turn to.

I like how many of the characters actions, gestures and words give the film a strong dose of authenticity and realism. One of my favourite examples of this is the scene with Hermione Baddeley as a landlady interviewed by the police; she is so disdainful and walks away from them yawning and scratching her bum. It’s the little moments like this that bring characters to life and make a film or series more realistic.

I also like how the people in this film are relatable and ordinary, they are not rich or doing things that most people at this time would never have been able to afford to do.

My favourite scenes are the following. Rose and Vi’s argument and fight about the bedroom door and the mirror. The entire sequence at the railway yard. The inspector speaking to the three men in the pub. The opening scene where Doris has to make breakfast, and the family all start to get up and get ready. Tommy and Rose’s first meeting in the air raid shelter. The flashback sequences showing us Tommy and Rose’s romance.  The two boys blackmailing Morry in return for their silence about seeing him with Vi. The ending.

Any other fans of this one?

 

Blogathons, Noir

The Alan Ladd Blogathon: This Gun For Hire (1942)

Alan Ladd Blogathon YellowRachel, over at Hamlette’s Soliloquy is hosting this blogathon all about the actor Alan Ladd. Be sure to visit her site to read all the entries. I can’t wait to read them all myself. I’m writing about Alan’s performance in the Noir film This Gun For Hire.

In 1942, Alan Ladd (seen in the banner above) was cast in the lead role in a little Noir film which would catapult him to film stardom. For several years before this role came along Alan had been working very hard trying to get his big screen break. 

Since the early 1930’s Alan Ladd had been seen on screen in bit parts, including in a small role as a reporter in Citizen Kane. Try as he might though, he just wasn’t getting cast in any major film roles and it seemed like he was going nowhere mighty fast. 

Alan’s luck was about to change though when he was offered the role of the contract killer Raven, in Frank Tuttle’s 1942 Noir film, This Gun For Hire.

Who knows what Ladd thought of his role as Raven, or indeed if he had any expectations at all as to audience reactions to his performance. Whatever he may have thought though, he was in for a very pleasant surprise indeed. This film made him into a star.

Following his performance in this film Alan Ladd would go on to become one of the most beloved stars of the 40’s and 50’s. His career peaked with the 1953 Western film Shane. Alan sadly died in 1964 , aged just fifty years old. A sad loss indeed for the film industry.

This Gun For Hire is a very good film indeed, but I think it is Ladd who makes this film remain so memorable today. He is downright scary as the ice cold killer calmly killing to order. He steals every scene he is in with just a look. He really doesn’t need much dialogue in this one, his face tells us all we will ever need to know about this guy and what his motives are.   

Right from the films opening scene Ladd has our attention with every little move he makes, and with every look which crosses his face. He gives us a very clear impression of Raven. We see that he is kind and tender towards his cat, and that he shows absolutely nothing but contempt and hatred towards the cleaning woman who hurts his cat. Raven slaps the cleaning woman and roughly makes her leave his room. 

As the film goes on we see that Raven isn’t a people person, and he has no qualms whatsoever about killing other people to order. He will use his own judgement though at times and if something doesn’t seem right to him he will go against orders. He is also a very good judge of character too.

This film also saw the first pairing of one of cinemas greatest screen couples. Who are they? Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake of course. This couple worked together in four Noir films. As far as I’m concerned this first film is one of their very best pairings. They are magical together and have real chemistry. Ladd’s baby faced, tough guy, and Lake’s cool, sensual blonde sure do make for a very memorable screen pairing.

The growing relationship between their characters is a major part of why I love this film so much. They slowly grow to trust and like each other, and Raven opens up to tell her about his past, which then explains so much to us about how he came to be the man he is. The interactions between their characters is the heart and soul of the film. Ladd and Lake (and their characters) are the reason (in my opinion)why this film stands up so well when viewed today. The film has a really cracking story, but it is the strong performances which linger most in your mind after viewing this one.

Raven (Alan Ladd)is a gun for hire, he is not a people person and much prefers the company of animals. Raven is hired by the peppermint chewing Willard Gates (Laird Cregar) to kill a blackmailer who has stolen a chemical formula from the Nitro Chemical company where Gates works. Raven (in a pretty brutal sequence for the era) kills the blackmailer and his girlfriend, and then leaves with the recovered formula.

Gates betrays Raven by paying him off with some marked money. Gates then reports Raven to the Police. Raven doesn’t trust Gates and he buys something from a shop to test if the money is being watched for. He sees that it is marked, and so Raven then goes after Gates for revenge.

Gates also works as a nightclub manager and hires the talented singer/magic act entertainer Ellen Graham (Veronica Lake) to work for him. Unbeknown to him she is the girlfriend of Detective Michael Crane (Robert Preston)who is on Raven’s tale. Ellen is also asked to spy on Gates by a Senator, who is himself being blackmailed by Gates.

It soon transpires that Nitro Chemicals, Gates, and his colleagues are under suspicion of being traitors to their country. Ellen risks her life to get dirt on Gates, and is soon also thrown together with Raven. The two get closer and closer to danger and to the truth.

My favourite scenes are the following. Ellen’s magic trick act for Gates(featuring a catchy song and some clever camera trickery and editing.) Raven evading the Police at his hotel. Raven telling Ellen about his childhood. Raven and Ellen meeting on the train. Gates discovering Raven is on the same train as him and getting very worried indeed.  

This is a solid Noir/thriller about a brave gal, and about a morally dubious man, who in the end does show some redemptive qualities. Ladd steals every scene he is in here. It’s really not hard to see why this performance turned him into a star. This is one of my favourite films of his, and I think it would be a very good place to start to introduce someone to his film work.

Here are my five favourite Alan Ladd performances.

                                                                 1- This Gun For Hire

                                                                 2 – The Blue Dahlia

                                                                 3- Shane

                                                               4- Hell Below Zero

                                                               5  -The Proud Rebel

What are your thoughts on this film?  Any other fans? What do you think of Alan’s performance as Raven? 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.

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Bannion questions Mrs. Duncan. Screenshot by me.

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.

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A happy moment for Bannion and his wife. Screenshot by me.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Noir

Taking A Walk Through The Dark Alley of Film Noir.

 

 

If pressed to choose just one film genre as my all time favourite, I would certainly have to go with Film Noir. Why is this genre such a favourite? Well, it’s because I love these films because they reflect the truth of humanity. We all have good and bad within us, we are all complicated in some way, and we all do what we have to do to survive and get by in life. Noir films reflect this reality back at us.

Following the horrors of WW2, 1940’s film audiences began to be bombarded with films which reflected the reality of the life they were living at the time. Not since the 1930’s gangster flicks had films been so violent. These films dished out a slice of real life for many viewers, and they captured the cynical and bleak mood of the times. People now were much more aware of the dark side of humanity, and everyone in some way had been affected by the darkness of the war. Noir films picked up on the mood of the times.

The Noir villains were ice cold and very nasty pieces of work, the women were independent, strong and even manipulative; even the heroes themselves were not clear cut good guys. The public lapped these films up and they continued being made throughout the 1940’s and 50’s.

It was the French film critics who first came up with a name for these films. The word they chose was Noir(meaning black or dark.) This word was their way to best describe these films being made in the States. The French themselves though had also made many excellent Noir films; films such as Le Jour Se Leve and Rififi for example. These moody and atmospheric films are among the very best in the genre. My favourite French Noir is Le Jour Se Leve, featuring an unforgettable lead performance by the great Jean Gabin.

 

I also really like Noir films because they are often very interesting visually. The black and white photography captures long shadows and creates an atmosphere unlike anything seen before or since (with the exception of German expressionist films of the 20’s.) Darkness is all around in these films, clinging to all the characters like a suffocating fog. The photography and lighting are such important parts of these films, so much of that Noir atmosphere and look is down to the skill of the camera and lighting crews.

Another major and memorable part to a Noir film is the femme fatale. As a woman I love that these films offered such juicy roles for women to play. The Noir era was really the first time since the 1920’s, and pre-code 30’s, that actresses had been offered such strong, and obvious bad girl roles. The femme fatales are overtly sexual, devious, independent and sexually aggressive women. These gals know what they want and they go after it.

These women are not content to stay at home cooking in the kitchen and looking nice for their men. They use men and then toss them aside without a second thought. My favourites amongst these women are Kathie (Jane Greer)in Out Of The Past, and Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck)in Double Indemnity.

I think it must have fun for the actresses to be able to play these women in this way. When you look at the roles of Noir actresses film credits, you’ll often find that their Noir characters are the most memorable and interesting roles of their career. Mention Stanwyck, Bacall, Peggy Cummins or Lana Turner, and what is the first film of theirs that usually gets mentioned? nine times out of ten it is their Noir films – Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep, Gun Crazy and The Postman Always Rings Twice respectively. These strong female roles remain as memorable and impressive today as they were upon release.

As well as the bad girls, Noir also features many memorable good girls too. These are also strong and independent gals, who will happily get mixed up in danger and who prove to the cynical men in their lives that not all women are femme fatales. These gals don’t get their kicks in using and hurting men.

My favourites of these characters are Kathleen (Lucille Ball)in Dark Corner (1946). Kathleen is the loyal secretary to Bradford Galt (Mark Stevens)a tough Private Investigator who is being set up. Kathleen happily puts herself at risk to help him uncover the bad guys, and proves herself to be a woman worthy of his heart.

My other favourite is Candy (Jean Peters)in Pickup On South Street. Candy is a tough gal who puts up a I can take care of myself front, when in reality she can be easily hurt. Candy puts herself in great danger helping Skip (Richard Widmark)uncover a communist gang.

The men in Noir films (both good and bad)are usually cynical and world weary chaps. They are tough and comfortable with dishing out (and being around) violence. Some are bad guys with no redeeming features; while others have tough exteriors in order to survive, but who underneath are total sweethearts. Sometimes a decent guy (like Walter Neff for example)gets caught up in a web weaved by a femme fatale, and becomes caught up in murder and crime and soon finds they have no way out and will end up dead or in jail.

Actors like Humphrey Bogart, Richard Widmark, Dick Powell and Robert Mitchum played some of the best remembered Noir male characters. These performances remain powerful when viewed today. My favourites from the Noir guys are Philip Marlowe (Dick Powell)in Farewell My Lovely, Bradford Galt (Mark Stevens)in The Dark Corner, Walter Brown (Charles McGraw) in The Narrow Margin, Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford) in The Big Heat, Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark) in Pickup On South Street and Frank Chambers (John Garfield) in The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Despite being made in the era of the censor, these films contain images and dialogue that make me sit up and go “did I really just see or hear that?” These films are very violent without being overly so, most of what we see is implied but it still packs a punch for the viewer. The films also contain dialogue or shared glances between characters that leave you in no doubt as to meaning, be that implied meaning sexual or violent.

When you mention Noir, I will bet that most people automatically associate that word with American cinema. Noir films were predominantly American, but there were many fantastic Noir films made outside of the USA though.

I’ve already mentioned that the French made many fantastic Noir flicks. There are also many Noir treasures to be found in British cinema. Films like: The Long Memory, Pool Of London, Hell Is A City, The October Man, Odd Man Out, It Always Rains On Sunday and Brighton Rock. My favourite of these is The Long Memory, which sees John Mills playing against type as a tough, embittered man wrongly accused of murder who is out for revenge. I also love Pool Of London, Pink String and Ceiling Wax, It Always Rains On Sunday, and Hell Is A City.

 

Noir slowly began to wind down towards the end of the 1950’s. It enjoyed a revival in the 80’s though, with the release of the much more sexually explicit Body Heat. In this film, Kathleen Turner is Mattie, the sultry femme fatale leading William Hurt into her trap. Sex is Mattie’s weapon, and she is in complete control of her situation. I consider this to be the best Noir film made outside of the 40’s and 50’s.

Since then films such as Basic Instinct, Femme Fatale and LA Confidential have gained Film Noir new generations of fans. Hopefully people who liked these flicks, characters, and the look of the films, will go and check out Noir titles from the 40’s and 50’s. If they don’t, then I say that they are missing out on so many superb films and performances.

My top 10 Noir films are: Farewell My Lovely (Dick Powell version),Double Indemnity, Pickup On South Street, Le Jour Se Leve, The Dark Corner, The Big Heat, The Narrow Margin, Body Heat, LA Confidential and The Long Memory.

My favourite decade for Noir? Without a doubt it has to be the 1940’s. When I hear the word Noir, I immediately think of black and white images, smoke filled rooms, the light catching the shadows on the blinds, which in turn cast long dark shadows. This decade has so many films that I think are the best of the genre. For me just the word Noir, conjures up images of world weary detectives, cynical people trying to make it from one day to the next, and of women whose greatest weapon is themselves.

My favourite Noir actor? Dick Powell, he suited these films perfectly. His appearance in these films gave him a nice career change proving he was a gifted dramatic actor.

My favourite Noir actress? A tie between Jean Peters and Barbara Stanwyck. They were both perfect as tough and sultry dames.

Do you love Noir too? Please share your thoughts below. What are your favourite Noir films? Who are your favourite Noir characters?