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Sgt_Markoff

Brit-Noir

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This super festival, I attended some years ago. Not all of these 37 movies (probably most of them) are really accurately described as noir. But this is what happens; things get lumped together for the sake of convenience. Anyway it was all very fine viewing, no matter what.

Review:

https://tinyurl.com/y7zdgy7t

Review:

https://tinyurl.com/y9tfdf9y

Review:

https://tinyurl.com/y7fzp4wm

The festival page itself (as would appear on the theater's website) is no longer still up; but here's a list of titles with accompanying blurbs:

https://tinyurl.com/yddt6kjn

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I see that one of our favorites, Night and the City, is listed.    Now I don't wish to get into what is a 'brit noir' (ha ha),  but since the two main stars are American actors, (Widmark \ Tierney), and the production company was an American corporation,  20th Century Fox,  I view this as a Brit \ American film.

Either way, it doesn't matter;  first rate all the way and while I hate to use this terminology this film is close to 'true noir' as I have seen.      (but maybe not to you since it isn't low budget,,,,,  OK, sorry,  just couldn't help starching that itch). 

My only complaint about the film is Tierney's character wasn't "gritty" enough (i.e. a women from the side of the tracks).    Was this because Dassin didn't feel she could pull that off or because that is how they wanted the girlfriend to be?   Yea, she worked in a club and I assume she participated in the hustles (E.g. sell silly men candy at a 5 to 1 mark-up etc..),   but she came off as too 'clean'.   

   

  

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Look at all those juicy titles. Its to salivate over!

But yeah look at how almost every critic goes wildly off the rails with misuse of their terminology. ('Citizen Kane' a noir? One critic goes so far as to make that statement).

Its almost like the term has so much cachet that everyone has the blind urge to wield it. Its become a cache-all. What's wrong with calling a crime film ...a crime film? Eh, I'm digressing again. Maybe I'm one of those guys who hates to see someone fold up a road-map the wrong way.

Maybe only 'Detour' is fit to call film noir. There's middle ground somewhere...

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Of the Brit Noir List I've definitely seen:

THE THIRD MAN - great

NIGHT AND THE CITY -great

THE CLOUDED YELLOW - good

HELL DRIVERS ok thought the speeded up footage looked a bit fake

NEVER LET GO - great

THE LONG HAUL -good

BRIGHTON ROCK -great

THE FALLEN IDOL -good

THE CRIMINAL - good

THE MAN BETWEEN good

THE SNORKEL ok wasn't impressed

PEEPING TOM ok again was expecting moe

NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH ok

I may have seen one or two more but honestly don't remember though the titles sound familiar. I'd add

JOE MACBETH -good

THE LONG MEMORY -good

 

 

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When it comes to a film like 'Night and the City' or 'Detour' the proof of the pudding is in the eating. No label can cover up the lack of noir if it isn't intrinsically present. No checklist needs confirm the experience of a real mccoy.

Checklists are needed by pictures which don't provide true noir. The tiresome process of verifying ('is this noir?') with a lists, is instigated time and time again, by all the non-noir films which are incorrectly labeled.

Think of it like this: there's many red wines in France but French law forbids any other red wine except that grown in the beaujolaise region to label itself beaujolaise. Such thorny labeling issues--and drastic remedies to eliminate them--plague many industries.

A powerful noir --missing some minor technical hallmark--wouldn't mean we dismiss it. That would mean we accept that noir 'can happen (or not happen) by accident' or that it is a 'style'. I submit that film noir is not an effect that can be arrived at by accident.

Checklists are enlisted by non-noir films which accidentally happen to exhibit a few measly characteristics of noir These films are mistakenly advocated by their proponents as genuine noir. When the claims are not taken at face-value; then "the checklist" is drawn up as their argument.

Its as if they're trying to jeer at purists that "Ohh, these purists can't even say what a noir is, only that they know it when they see it" when instead; its more like "purists know what noir isn't and its easy to see when something isn't it".

Remember what I explained a few days ago: never start with a non-noir and tally up a few earmarks which "should make it" a noir. That's not the way.

 

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Of the Brit Noir List I've definitely seen:

Hey pretty good score there, Joe Man. Good innings. I've seen 7 of the 12 you rattled off. I dont recognize the last two.

Generally agree with your appraisals too; (except I see no flaw in 'Hell Drivers')

And also excepting, 'Peeping Tom'. I loathe 'Peeping Tom'. Did you see my scathing review of that right here on this site maybe eight or ten days ago?

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14 minutes ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

Generally agree with your appraisals too; (except I see no flaw in 'Hell Drivers')

And also excepting, 'Peeping Tom'. I loathe 'Peeping Tom'. Did you see my scathing review of that right here on this site maybe eight or ten days ago?

Those trucks would have flipped over if they were going as fast as depicted.

No I didn't see your review for Peeping Tom if you want a real Peeping Tom Film Noir check out Strange Compulsion

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Said better, said another way: I don't believe that once film noir became identified as such, became famous, that you could set out to make any ole film like a studio thriller or a studio crime and wind up with noir instead, as if by accident. Not once you've seen noir yourself.

The filmmakers who wound up forging noir for everyone else (late 1940s) didn't have a choice; this is the crucial difference. Its like when scientists accidentally stumbled into the making of penicillin, the first time. They were intensely bent on making something else; meeting some other requirement---and that exact same 'spur' can't be reinvented. Why would we? There's no need. The method is now known.

Similarly, (from what I gather) the early noir directors mindset went simply something like this;

  • Did you see the budget they gave is? Holy cow
  • Yeah I know. How the hell are we gonna do anything with a budget like that?
  • Its crazy. You can't make anything hard-hitting that cheap. What do they want from us?
  • They want something hard-hitting. Any ideas?
  • No. Hell no. I have no idea what I'm gonna do.
  • Maybe a heist or a burglary, or something, the usual...but even so, how to make it pop?
  • Well...let's start fooling around with something anyway and see what turns up. I don't know what we're gonna tell 'em, though.

See the difference? They were groping for something that (as yet) had no name. They had a few goals in mind (taut drama) but didn't know the exact way it would turn out under these new conditions. They were arriving at a new working method; doing so under pressure.

But it means some later director working on a 1955 musical can't claim he too, "accidentally" landed up in the same place.

If you're directing a glitzy musical and surprised how 'dark' and 'taut' the dailies look, then you scratch your chin and say "hey maybe I can pull in a little bit of that film noir stuff of Sidomak's" as you sip your coffee and munch your scone on your big-budget production.

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Those trucks would have flipped over if they were going as fast as depicted

But that's not the logic by which I rank the sequences as flawed or not. It was a visual effect which bypassed the mind and acted on me viscerally; and it succeeded.

It was simply "more vivid" and made me forget I was sitting in a cushioned theater seat. I'm sure if I was riding in a truck going even at a 'safer' ten mph less than the director depicted, I'd probably have been white-knuckled in the actual truck. So that's what the director found a way to convey to me. No complaints!

Anyway it immediately became one of my favorite films; astounding for it to leap right onto maybe my short-list of "top 25 flicks of all time"; just a bargain-basement noir-actioner like that, rather than an 'art' film which I usually go for. Incredible.

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My favorite British noir. 

Screen Shot 2018-10-30 at 12.00.55 PM.png

THE OCTOBER MAN (1947). John Mills is always great at playing an everyman type character. In this instance, he's a guy readjusting to life after a violent accident. His brain is a bit haywire, but he's struggling to find balance. Along the way he's accused of murdering someone in an apartment building where he's taken up lodging. It's a very atmospheric picture, and many of the scenes have minimal lighting. Several sequences take place outside at night. There are a lot of silent pauses between the lines, suggesting the characters are thinking about more than they're saying. It's a haunting story of redemption, and Mills is magnificent from start to finish.

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I was scheduled to include that one, in my ten day's breakneck movie-watching sprint (attending as many of these flicks as I could) but something prevented me from catching it. In New York City--at most times of the day--you literally can not get across town in less than an hour no matter what. The sheer density of people milling about. It's more than your life's worth, to even attempt. So I had to let that one pass.

 

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One of the titles on the list not often mentioned: "The Day at the Fair" or something like that. Jean Simmons. It's a historical suspense flick; set in 1800s Paris. Competent and smooth from start to finish; the kind of flawless storytelling ease which practically vanished with the great studios. Certainly not a 'noir' although it was naturally very 'dark' and 'atmospheric' in the stage sets; characters were (ostensibly) lit only by those old-fashioned hurricane-lamps or maybe some wall-sconces.

Anyway, its is the most exemplary version of the kind of thriller where the protagonist is being 'gaslit' by a bunch of other characters; similar to the ploy used in "The Lady Vanishes". You know the kind of thing. Whole rooms in a hotel are suddenly "gone"; no one recalls seeing her; there's not even a floor in the building where the event took place; the heroine swears she was accosted by this man who 'no, doesn't remember her at all'...trying to convince her that 'she imagined it'...etc etc etc

 

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32 minutes ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

One of the titles on the list not often mentioned: "The Day at the Fair" or something like that. Jean Simmons. It's a historical suspense flick; set in 1800s Paris. Competent and smooth from start to finish; the kind of flawless storytelling ease which practically vanished with the great studios. Certainly not a 'noir' although it was naturally very 'dark' and 'atmospheric' in the stage sets; characters were (ostensibly) lit only by those old-fashioned hurricane-lamps or maybe some wall-sconces.

Anyway, its is the most exemplary version of the kind of thriller where the protagonist is being 'gaslit' by a bunch of other characters; similar to the ploy used in "The Lady Vanishes". You know the kind of thing. Whole rooms in a hotel are suddenly "gone"; no one recalls seeing her; there's not even a floor in the building where the event took place; the heroine swears she was accosted by this man who 'no, doesn't remember her at all'...trying to convince her that 'she imagined it'...etc etc etc

You're referring to SO LONG AT THE FAIR. A young Jean Simmons and a young Dirk Bogarde star in it. The same basic idea was reused for an episode of the TV western The Big Valley. In that one Audra (Linda Evans) is not feeling well on a trip to another town and goes up to her hotel room to rest. But when her mother Victoria (Barbara Stanwyck) returns to the hotel after stepping out, Audra has vanished. And the townspeople are acting like Victoria doesn't have a daughter and that she's mad. They've hidden Audra away somewhere because they think she has some plague-like virus that could infect the whole community.

It's interesting to see the story reworked in the western genre.

Season 3's "The Disappearance."

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0524399/?ref_=fn_al_tt_2

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10 hours ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

I was scheduled to include that one, in my ten day's breakneck movie-watching sprint (attending as many of these flicks as I could) but something prevented me from catching it. In New York City--at most times of the day--you literally can not get across town in less than an hour no matter what. The sheer density of people milling about. It's more than your life's worth, to even attempt. So I had to let that one pass.

THE OCTOBER MAN is currently on YouTube. You can watch it there.

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Thanks. There's no way for you to know but I almost never watch videos. I might view an occasional clip of few second's length on that site...maybe at most, only two times in an entire year. I simply dislike the whole 'look' of Youtube.

That's just how I roll, pilgrim!

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29 minutes ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

Thanks. There's no way for you to know but I almost never watch videos. I might view an occasional clip of few second's length on that site...maybe at most, only two times in an entire year. I simply dislike the whole 'look' of Youtube.

That's just how I roll, pilgrim!

Well, then, the info is there for others who might want to watch it that way. I don't watch YouTube on my computer. I watch it on my TV, so it's just like watching stuff on TCM.

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One of the other titles in the list was a very well-articulated "perfect murder" yarn starring ...Edmund Gwenn? His was the only name I recognized at the time. I'm probably mis-recalling it now.

Anyway, it was a really ingenious as a murder plot and the nature of it made for a strong build-up of narrative suspense.

Basically, a jealous husband decides to kill his wife's lover. But instead of just blundering into a rash act of violence--he cunningly decides to take his time about it. He kidnaps him instead and socks him away in a hidden location which no one can discover. That way he can take his time and kill him many months later.

So it's all up to the hapless victim to prevent his own murder in the time he has left.

No loopholes, no feeling of being 'cheated' at the end. All of it was handled very satisfyingly.

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They Drive by Night (1938) Brit Noir, Directed by Arthur B. Woods, starred Emlyn Williams, Anna Konstam, and Allan Jeayes. Williams a convict, just out of prison, is the main suspect in the murder of a taxi dancer gal pal, who he finds dead. The reason is that he's seen by the landlady acting strange as he leaves the boarding house. He splits, heading North with a lorry driver. 6-7/10.

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I saw a selection of these movies at the National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC) My memories:

  • SEVEN DAYS TO NOON: Not film noir (it has a moral clarity which to my mind sets it apart from the noir genre). I would say Geopolitical Thriller, subtype Domestic.
  • THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT: Has much in common with French poetic realism and the movies Fritz Lang was making in Hollywood at this time. Deserves to be better known.
  • ON THE NIGHT OF THE FIRE: Definitely explores the theme of an everyday, otherwise decent man driven to do wrong.
  • NIGHT AND THE CITY: A noir icon.
  • I MET A MURDERER: I would say rural melodrama, although complicated guilt (or innocence) is a common noir theme.
  • THE OCTOBER MAN: A solid second-string exploration of noir tropes.
  • HELL DRIVERS: Not sure about noir, but definitely a solid drama (if the sped-up driving sequences don't suspend your disbelief).
  • THE UPTURNED GLASS: At the intersection of noir and horror (specifically, Mason's quest for revenge).
  • BRIGHTON ROCK: Another noir icon.
  • THE CRIMINAL: Less noir; more heist picture, but worth seeing.

Courtesy of TCM, I have also seen GASLIGHT (1940, and I prefer it to the 1944 version), NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH (agree with everyone who has called it an American-style gangster film made in the UK; it's not particularly good but I don't think it's very bad); and VICTIM (surely more of a socially conscious "problem" picture).

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a while ago, polly-of-the-precodes murmured:

Quote

it has a moral clarity which to my mind sets it apart from the noir genre

Key observation, there. Bravo.

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10 hours ago, Polly of the Precodes said:

THE OCTOBER MAN: A solid second-string exploration of noir tropes.

I don't think there's anything second-string or second-rate about this film. Not sure why you'd say such a thing. The film reminds me of THE BLUE DAHLIA where we see an ex-military man struggling to hold on to his sanity post-war. This film doesn't shy away from the subject matter like THE BLUE DAHLIA which had its ending compromised by the Hollywood production code. THE OCTOBER MAN really shows us what a British vet suffers, and the experiences he has after the war while trying to regain some semblance of normalcy. 

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I haven't seen the film myself, I missed my opportunity when that festival came my way.

Amnesia has become a "dusty old stand-by" of the genre but in 1947 (when this was released) I'm willing to grant that it could still be considered fresh at that date.  Especially since it was Eric Ambler doing the writing. Ambler knew the history of his chosen genre very well and was fairly sensitive to the taint of staleness.

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