Dr. Rich Edwards

JULY 3 TCM FILM NOIR DISCUSSIONS FOR #NOIRSUMMER FOR ALL 14 FILMS

135 posts in this topic

Scene of the Crime (1949):

 

In Scene of the Crime, MGM is trying ever so hard to be Warner Bros, the master of fast-talking, rough, action-packed gritty urban melodramas. For the most part it fails, but it's an entertaining enough attempt.

 

Basic Plot: A tough LAPD cop investigates the mysterious murder of a former partner.

 

Noir Elements: Literary precursor, open at night with a murder, urban setting (Los Angeles), attempt at realism (Schary), some cinematography flourishes (wide-angle lens, close-ups, reflective surfaces), chiaroscuro lighting, post-war cynicism, femme fatale, and hero who uses morally ambiguous means to do the right thing (while also being swept into a larger, darker plot)

 

House Style: (MGM) Big budget, big stars, and middle class appeal

 

Note: Some comparisons, at least narrative-wise, could be drawn with L.A. Confidential: old cop friend of hero murdered, mob and police working in tandem, amoral cops, salacious press, larger outfit coming to L.A. to take over, and a blonde "sizzler" supposedly with a heart of gold who sets up our hero.

 

Van Johnson joins the line-up of MGM pretty boys becoming tough guys, with Dick Powell and James Cagney (though he had 30s gangster origins). Though he does know how to carry a dramatic role, particularly in war films, this performance occasionally feels forced. Arlene Dahl would have been more appropriately cast as the femme fatale and Gloria DeHaven as the sweet-faced blonde waiting for our hero at the end of the story, but both try their best and make out better than some of the others. As a composite, they would a more effective dark lady, with Dahl's platinum appearance and sweet facade in combination with the wife's bitterness, beauty, manipulation, and perfectly-placed mole.

 

The film's major flaws are found in miscasting, putting all the interesting violence offscreen (and removing the seedier aspects), lacking a formidable villain, too clean appearance, and attempting the middle class appeal (especially with the presence of the wife and the warm ending).

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Scene of the Crime (1949) [CONTINUED – CYNICISM]

 

As a transition between gangster films and cop shows, Scene speaks successfully to cynicism, this time not among criminals but cops. The cops, doing the the grunt work (similar to Mystery Street), have their own secret rules not found in the books of rules and regulations. They work the system, using fear and stool pigeons, which is how the LAPD is often portrayed as doing. Even the film's only private detective mentions the fantasy of Bogart's film roles; he is beaten up but admits his own weakness and drawbacks in being a private dick in the face of violent clients, and cops willing to cross the lines that only they thought they would cross.

 

And Johnson's' own war scars, seen prominent on his forehead, do add to that character, sick and tired and uncomfortable in normal surroundings (like dinner parties). People like former partners Monigan and Piper are old and equally tired, in fear of being replaced and unable to function in the careers that have left them isolated and alienated. Furthermore, the scene with Monigan's son probably resembles many a conversation with soldier's families, a boy growing up without a father who doesn't care how is father died, how glorious they make it look – he's still dead. [Note: I might add that Monigan's murder which start the film is the most effective death of the film.]

 

Being a hero is not celebrated in this post-war world, and that line "Don't try and be a hero" is repeated constantly, and those who do end by betrayed or shot for being such a sap.

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They Live by Night (1948):

 

They Live By Night is a very fine noir, somewhere in between High Sierra and Gun Crazy. If at times sentimental and melodramatic, the film's simple story, tense pacing, reasonably sophisticated cinematography, and compelling characters make it just as formidable a noir as the aforementioned.

 

Basic Plot: An unjustly imprisoned young convict crashes out with two other older, hardened criminals in order to prove his innocence. However, the world that his two cohorts drag him into may make it impossible to escape, and when he goes on the run with a girl he meets at a filling station, there will be no turning back.

 

Noir Elements: Literary precursor, on-location shooting, chiaroscuro lighting, criminal element, and noir heroes (similar to Gun Crazy – leads that don't look hardened but are swept up into a darker world)

 

Note: Directed by Nicholas Ray (A Woman's Secret, In a Lonely Place, On Dangerous Ground, Macao) and cinematography by George E. Diskant (Beware, My Lovely, Kansas City Confidential)

 

House Style: (RKO) Eclectic, experimental (use of youths), theatrical (melodramatic ending), NY sophistication (cinematography)

 

While this noir does not open on a scene of night, it does open with quite a bit of excitement, starting with a jailbreak (similar to Dark Passage). In this tense escape, we meet robbers (and occasionally killers) T-Dub (Jay C. Flippen) and Chickamaw (Howard Da Silva – Border Incident), and their much younger partner Bowie (Farley Granger). Further along, we are introduced to Keechie (Cathy O'Donnell) and her drunk father Mobley (Will Wright).

 

While Flippen gives T-Dub a steady character, it is Silva's Chickamaw, O'Donnell's Keechie, and Granger's Bowie that make the film. Chickamaw's main feature may be his one eye, but he has a kinetic force that made me as a viewer feel very uncomfortable, we knew that whatever room he was in, nothing but trouble would follow. He's jittery and addicted to action (and booze) and anything can happen when he's there, and something will go wrong.

 

Many noirs tend to  portray the criminal more sympathetically, especially if they don't kill anyone (or don't mean to), are unjustly accused, have something to lose (like a family, girl, or dog), and in this case, also because they are young. They get caught up in something, get in over their head, and feel they have no choice which is the real story for a lot of criminals.

 

Note: The association with Bonnie and Clyde (1967) is justified, they were both Depression-era "criminals" whoare often portrayed sympathetically (or romantically).

 

Keechie isn't exactly a femme fatale like Peggy Cummins in Gun Crazy (more closely resembling a young Jodie foster), but she is solemn and quiet (for the most part), and a lot of her and Bowie's relationship is communicated through a few syllables and meaningful looks.

 

Like Cummins, Granger was in his early 20s when he played this part but they both look about 17. He is full of energy, and his dark eyes are either fearful or hopeless or playful. They aren't Marie and Earle, experienced and hardened. They're just two quiet children in an adult world, and their simple dreams are complicated by dirty money and a path that can lead nowhere good.

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White Heat (1949):

 

White Heat would be James Cagney's first gangster picture in ten years (his last being The Roaring Twenties, also starring fledgling Humphrey Bogart). It's slow and steady pace with lightning flashes of cruelty and chaos are rewarded with an explosive ending.

 

Basic Plot: A ruthless and homicidal gangster, with an unusual relationship with his mother, spirals further down as he descends into chaos, revenge, and murder.

 

Noir Elements: Literary precursor, on-location shooting, chiaroscuro lighting, urban settings, femme fatale, violence paired with sympathetically-portrayed criminal element (some based on real gangsters), and completely amoral hero(es)

 

House Style: (WB) Gritty urban melodramas, fast-talking and rough action, low budget, working class values

 

The performances are undeniably electric, thanks to Cagney's natural fire and energy (read the IMDb trivia on Cagney's little touches) and Margaret Wycherly as Ma Jarrett, equally ruthless. O'Brien provides the viewer's perspective as an average, generally moral man in a line of work that forces him to bend the rules and play against his principles.

 

This sort of reminds of Possessed, which might have been an examination of the psychological underpinnings of a femme fatale, why she acts they way she does. In this, Cagney's Jarrett is not merely ruthless or violent but homicidal, psychotic, and/or mentally ill. The portrayal of his headaches and deep relationship with his mother make a more sympathetic protagonist. Some may argue that O'Brien is  the hero, but he doesn't show up until thirty minutes in. Virginia Mayo as our femme fatale Verna and Steve Cochran as the slimy, betraying Big Ed are more than serviceable in their few scenes, especially in their respective scenes with Jarrett. But, we must never forget: THIS IS CAGNEY'S FILM.

 

The film begins big with unwavering cruelty in the realistic train robbery and the aftermath, then goes onto a slow burn in the prison. After the breakout, it's downhill for Jarret's mind, picking flowers and tossing chocolate chips but also shooting men in car trunks while eating fried chicken and almost strangling a woman to death before going completely, self-destructively insane.

I would however identify this film more as a gangster film or crime drama (maybe a psychological thriller), with some noir stylistic tendencies and violence, amorality, and fatalism to match.

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Key Largo (1948)

Warner Bros.

 

Discuss common characteristics among the lead characters across multiple films

 

In film noir we sometimes meet desperate characters who for various reasons take desperate measures to appease their fears and anxieties as we saw with Cody Jarrett in “White Heat” and see here with Johnny Rocco in “Key Largo“.

 

Both Rocco and Jarrett have similar personas; each are hot-tempered, quick to pull the trigger, hit their women, talk down to them and behave in an overall antisocial manner.

 

Whereas Jarrett boasts that he is “On top of the World!” Rocco boasts that he owns it:

You'd give your left arm to nail me wouldn't you? I could see the headlines now, 'Local Deputy Captures Johnny Rocco'. Your pictured be in all the papers. You might even get to tell on the newsreels how you pulled if off, yeah. Listen hick, I was too much for any big city police force to handle. It took the United States Government to pin a rap on me. And they won't make it stick. You hick, I'll be back pulling strings to get guys elected mayor and governor before you get a ten buck raise.”

 

I found the hurricane effects to be realistic in particular the glass windows shattering and the storm surge. The marina set was very detailed and looked real.

 

Lauren Bacall’s performance or character (Nora Temple) was low key, I can’t distinguish which.

Lionel Barrymore performance as James Temple was excellent.

Claire Trevor exceled as Gaye Dawn, Rocco’s alcoholic and emotionally drained girlfriend.

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White Heat

 

The part before the final shootout always makes me laugh. Back in the mid 80s, I had Madonna's True Blue album. One of her songs samples some of the scenes from White Heat. Love it. It actually got me to watch this film back in those days.

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The Threat (1949):

 

The Threat is a tight, violent cop drama with the noir tone and style that thrives in B-pictures.

 

Basic Plot: An escaped convict aims to get revenge against the District Attorney, detective, and female associate he thinks are responsible for his arrest.

 

Noir Elements: Literary precursor, on-location shooting (realistic, gritty appearance), B-film (and noir) character actors and director, some interesting camera angles and chiaroscuro lighting, femme fatale (in the sense of a female in an unsavory line of work who attempt to manipulate a man and then kills him), and unyielding brutality and cynicism in an amoral protagonist

 

House Style (RKO): Theatrical and experimental (in the build-up and violence)

 

It starts with an escape in the dead of night, building as the very mention of Kluger's name strikes fear into all the people he plans to burn.  He is escaping Folsom Prison, one of the first maximum-security prisons in the nation, where up until the 1940s, most prisoners spend their stir in darkness behind boilerplate doors (air holes were added some time later). Everyone is very average in appearance, typical of the B-film cast – nothing glamorous.

 

And then Charles McGraw (who we saw as one of the hitmen in The Killers) as "Red" Kluger makes his entrance, a square draw and gravelly voice. He's big and bulky, strong, violent, and focused. He  was a bootlegger after the war and then a robber and killer. He has a wicked slap that almost looks real, and has no qualms about violence towards women (similar to Cagney's characters). His eyes are usually dead, except when he's violent.

 

Along for the ride are Red's tough, neanderthal-like heavies and a former partner's girlfriend who works at a seedy burlesque joint. Scene of the Crime wishes it was this tough. The only baffling character is Joe, the truck driver in the wrong place at the wrong time: why does he have gun? Where did the explosive anger come from? Why was his partner not surprised by his troubles?

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The Threat (1949) [CINEMATOGRAPHY]

 

The natural crackle of the film print adds a certain texture to the scenes of violence. The cinematographer (see note) knew when to show the violence in full like during the death scenes (we even see a bullet hole in the final death) but also when to convey the violence through the looks of terror on other's face (like during the interrogation of the D.A.).

 

Note: Cinematographer Harry J. Wild also shot Murder, My Sweet (1944), Cornered (1945) Johnny Angel (1945), Nocturne (1946), The Woman on the Beach (1947), They Won't Believe Me (1947), and Macao (1952).

Furthermore, the heat conveyed this film is staggering. Everyone's dusty and sweaty from their stained shirts and pants, wet brows, and desperate actio

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The Big Clock (1948):

 

The Big Clock inspired mixed feelings, for me at least. Some may like it, it has some decent performances and good cinematography, but I found it dull, due to its writing and pacing. It was only an hour and thirty-five minutes but it felt so stretched out, and not even Milland, Laughton, MacReady, Sullivan, Johnson, or Morgan, great noir leads and supporters one and all, could not save it.

 

Basic Plot: The strained editor of a crime magazine finds himself in a frame-up for murder on the night he misses his wife's train and goes bar-hopping with the boss's former mistress.

 

Noir Elements: Literary precursor, urban setting, flashback sequence, chiaroscuro lighting, femme fatale, and story of men's fateful decisions that could lead to their doom or redemption

 

The first and last twenty minutes show genuine promise and satisfaction, with a few sprinkles of tension, mostly in the performances of Laughton, MacReady, and Morgan but the bare bones of the plot are too simple to stretch over an hour-and-a-half and the attempts at complexity and cleverness lack payoff or interest. If you want to see a film about a strained marriage, a hunt for the identification of one man, a cover up, and a payoff involving a large clock, see The Stranger not this.

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don't know why this whole movie makes me laugh- to me it's full of dark humor

White Heat

 

The part before the final shootout always makes me laugh. Back in the mid 80s, I had Madonna's True Blue album. One of her songs samples some of the scenes from White Heat. Love it. It actually got me to watch this film back in those days.

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Altman's The Long Goodbye (1973)  albeit an unorthodox modernization of the Marlowe storyline does adhere to the film noir formula and makes the film worthy of discussion within this forum.  Film noir were known for being unconventional storytelling....a new breed of films and filmmakers who (as Prof. Edwards has states ) performed a "heist" of standard Hollywood and reinvented film for their own means.  In many ways,  The Long Goodbye represents a heist of film noir itself and Altman twists the noir style into a a film that sends the noir mystique in new direction.  Elliot Gould plays a world weary Marlow not unlike the one portrayed by Bogart; he speaks in fast, clipped dialogue which was another staple of noir.  He coasts through a seamy, dark Los Angeles not unlike the gritty urban landscapes his forefathers wandered through in the 1940's and 1950's. 

 

      One of the recurring motifs of The Long Goodbye is the film's title song which is reinterpreted in several ways. We constantly hear the  song in different incantations. The song is dark, foreboding and haunting.  We find the film's story and the character of Marlow encapsulate in its lyrics; the song is a thread thru the film which warns of a dark world ahead.

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The Long Goodbye (1973):

 

In the 1970s, a new period of cynicism and experimentation emerged in American cinema, and it is evidenced in the appearance of many now-famous neo-noirs. The similarities to the origins of noir are uncanny, a time post-war in which even more mistrust and cynicism are justified, after Watergate, after Vietnam, after Civil Rights, amidst new social movements and countercultures. However, this time, these independent filmmakers work outside the confines of the studio system (United Artists, well-known even during the studio era as more independent); they have swearing, drugs, extensive nudity, and can more than imply something. 

 
The Long Goodbye is set in this world, and with warm, soft colors, it features naked women doing yoga and eating pot brownies, men with infamous 70s 'staches and too long hair, imprisoned minorities, jaded, aggressive cops, and lots of colorful, patterned oversized clothes
 
Basic Plot: One late night, private detective Philip Marlowe drives an old friend to the Mexican border. But when that same friend's wife ends up dead, Marlowe now finds himself in a web lies, further complicated by the arrival of a new, beautiful client.. 
 
We have another man filling Marlowe's shoes, not tough Bogart or smoother Powell, but awkward, out-of-touch Elliott Gould, playing the private detective as the "loser." He drives a 1940s car, smokes in every scene when nobody else does, wears a suit everywhere, uses private dick lingo like "$50 a day and expenses," and calls the freezer an icebox. He's a good guy, going to great lengths to feed his cat, help a friend, serve a client, not run over a dog, and find the truth. He is a dispossessed man, further represented by noir great Sterling Hayden. Hayden wrote most of his own lines, and was often drunk or high. He looks like the older Ernest Hemingway, and is the inevitable future for many a hardboiled writer or detective: an overly-trusting alcoholic who's robustness and romanticized version of himself is really the joke, a killing joke. 

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The Long Goodbye (1973) [CONTINUED]:

 

The film is visual comfortable with its warm tones and Altman's signature mobile style is evident – the camera is never static. The score of mainstream jazz at a time when fusion jazz was all the rage adds to the noir atmosphere. It has a signature song repeated throughout the score (provided by a young John Williams with contributions from one of the most popular songwriters from the 1930s to 50s, Johnny Mercer). It's sad and romantic but also foreboding.
 
Much can be said about themes and supporting performance(i.e. Rydell's Augustine, Gibson's Verringer, Bouton's Terry, van Pallandt's Mrs. Wade, and cameos from David Carradine and Arnold Schwarzenegger) in The Long Goodbye, but it, like its predecessors, has a distinct American flavor. It doesn't feel French or German, but most definitely native. Like the other Chandler-adapted film we've watched, the story is often complicated and the plot secondary to the interactions between characters and the look. 
 
This film could definitely be viewed as satire of an accepted style or genre. Even though film noir was first identified in 1946, the notion didn't seem to be accepted for wide study until the 1970s. In the end, the film, like many of this decade, are all about not trusting anybody. Your best friend will betray you, the women you think you like will betray you and so will your client, and hell, even the cat will leave when you don't have the very specific food it likes. Many a noir hero learns this by the end of a film, living a violent world that has no room for guys who know right and from wrong and who toe the line closer to the light. It's a world just as cynical but even more so, it's even outgrown what was the symbol of cynicism, mistrust, and amorality in the previous post-war world.
 
Note: I suggest skimming Roger Ebert's first and second reviews.

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Just a general note on films made in the 1970s: you will see breasts, you will see 'staches of varying quaity, and you will not feel happy after it's all over.


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The Window (1949):

 

Like The Set-Up, The Window is another tight 73-minute noir with a simple story but compelling characters and interesting setting that lends itself to the noir style. I definitely recommend it.

 

Basic Plot: Tommy, a little boy living in a New York tenement who is also known for spinning tales, witnesses a murder one hot summer night. But will anyone believe him – his parents, the cops – or will the murderers silence him forever?

 

Noir Elements: Literary precursor, documentary realism (aerial shots, on-location shooting of New York), chiaroscuro lighting (cramped NY tenements), and sophisticated cinematography (low angles, close-ups, slow motion)

 

House Style: (RKO) NY sophistication, experimental (little boy lead in film noir), theatrical (fable connection and drama)

 

The Window is shot all on-location in the tenements of New York. It's dirty and all the kids look it as they play in abandoned buildings amongst the scrap, playing coppers and robbers, cowboys and indians. It's like Little Rascals meets film noir. Like in M (also Stranger on a Third Floor), a cramped tenement building lends itself to the chiaroscuro lighting, a compact space where little light gets through and everything is bathed in shadows.

 

Besides the cinematography, the simplicity of the story and the down-to-earth performances are what elevate this film. Barbara Hale and Arthur Kennedy as the Woodry’s, Tommy's average and compassionate yet suspecting parents and Ruth Roman and Paul Stewart (Berlin Express, Johnny Eager) as the equally average but suspicious Kellersons are perfectly ordinary; they aren't glossy or outlandish and neither look like they could be mixed up in murder. All the cops and tenement tenants add an extra layer of normalcy to the story, no matter how incompetent almost every adult seems.

 

However, what really sells the film is undeniably little Bobby Driscoll as Tommy. He runs like a kid, talks like one, and his motives and actions are accurate, he isn't written like an overly savvy kid or as an adult, but a creative child who gets in trouble every so often but for once, is in actual fear of his life and a little less innocent for his experiences. Driscoll has his own few iconic roles and a tragic life unfortunately befitting a child actor, but for this role and another later one, he won a Juvenile Academy Award – it was deserved.

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What a fun day...

Key Largo love this story with Bogart and Bacall.  Robinson and Barrymore at their best.  

 

Lady From Shanghai Over narration with dark shadows  "...start out as a hero...which I most definitely am not."  The best mirror scene in the fun house, and what better character than Elsa to die alone.

 

The Bribe  Music by Rozka, the eyes in the dark room and Laughton stealing the show.

 

Scene of the Crime catch a movie, eat 6 cent candy and hold hands.

 

They Live By Night The drive along the country roads, all diagonals, dark nights, harsh overhead lighting.  The $20 wedding dark pathway leading up to the lighted doorway.  The dark light on Keeshie's face as the scene cuts to the end.

 

White Heat any wonder Cagney was "top of the world" in gangster films?

 

The Big Clock Laughton, Lancaster, Morgan and other character actors ran away with that movie.  Maureen O'Sullivan just along for the ride.  Darkness, squares of light and over narration.

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JOHNNY BELINDA 1948  I  disagreed with the introductory comments on the casting of Jane Wyman. Jane was 29 or 39 when she was cast as Belinda. Teresa Wright was less than two years younger. Jane paid her dues at Warner Brothers playing the third or fourth lead in many light comedies. Billy Wilder saw her potential when he cast Jane as Helen St. James Ray Milland`s long suffering girlfriend.She followed this with her performance as Ma Baxter in THE YEARLING 1945. Jane gave a fine performance showing her emotions through her eyes.

Agree, no wonder Ron left her.  Her star rising, his falling having never gotten very high.

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The Threat (1949)

RKO Radio Pictures

 

I was in a mood for a genuine “B” noir and The Threat sure fit the bill.

 

Red Kluger (Charles McGraw) is one mean hoodlum who escapes from prison and quickly rounds up those he feel put him there. He tortures, terrorizes and even kills a cop in cold blood. In the noir world he is a classic brute.

 

Overall the film is a straight forward fast paced noir with no surprises.

 

Side Note- I sometimes confuse Charles McGraw (Narrow Margin, The Killers) with Lawrence Tierney (Born to Kill, Dillinger, The Devil Thumbs a Ride). They both have that certain glare that works so well in noir.

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Johnny Belinda. (Some spoilers)

 

My first inclination would have been to agree with those who have concluded that "Johnny Belinda" should not be considered a noir film. The viewer is so drawn to the warmth of Belinda and the doctor, that it is easy to overlook the noir treatment given to desperate desire and willful wrongdoing on the part of many characters in the film. However, on watching for a second time, the noir elements come through more clearly.

The cinematography in the film is clearly influenced by the noir movement. While Belinda is bathed in light through most scenes in the movie, other characters are often filmed in deep shadow.

Common film noir elements are often used in the film. Of particular note are the scene in which Belinda's father sits framed in a doorway cleaning the rifle that Belinda will later use to shoot Locky. Other examples are the storm which anticipates Locky's visit to the farm, the mise en scène at the town meeting, and the scenes at the cliff side.

Perhaps this film marks a shift in style requiring a broader definition of film noir. I have no problem broadening my definition.

Or maybe both film noir and films like these share similar inspirations or even natural progressions? If we are expanding film noir to these types of films than what's keeping us from including films like A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, I REMEMBER MAMA, ALL THE KING'S MEN and THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES into noir as well? 

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JOHNNY BELINDA 1948  I  disagreed with the introductory comments on the casting of Jane Wyman. Jane was 29 or 39 when she was cast as Belinda. Teresa Wright was less than two years younger. Jane paid her dues at Warner Brothers playing the third or fourth lead in many light comedies. Billy Wilder saw her potential when he cast Jane as Helen St. James Ray Milland`s long suffering girlfriend.She followed this with her performance as Ma Baxter in THE YEARLING 1945. Jane gave a fine performance showing her emotions through her eyes.

Sorry for my typo on Jane Wyman`s age. Jane was born on January 4, 1917. She would have been 30 or 31 when she made the film. The Academy Award was given to Jane for her performance as best actress of 1948. The movie would not have worked if the part of Belinda was given to the wrong actress.

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THE THREAT

 

"This heat is murder"

 

Brief, tight crime noir. And above all brutal and violent. It never ceases to amaze me how violence in these 'older' films has so much more impact than what is shown in theaters these days. And this one really brings it with Charles McGraw playing cold blooded killer Kluger for maximum effect. 

 

Direction was pretty effective too. The suspense in the confrontation between Kluger and Joe had me on the edge of my seat, and the way it played out was just.... brutal. 

 

A couple of real nice shots, with some nice low and high angle camera positions. But this one was maybe one of the coolest.  it's nice to see a composite shot like this in what is probably a low-budget B-movie. And I never get tired of seeing a tv-broadcast in film. Particularly when you think of the effect of a shot like this shown on a big screen in a regular theater. 

 

(Very) small screen on the big screen. (Notice how the tv-set completely fills the frame)

 

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The Lady From Shanghai

 

I have to admit something: I do not understand the love for Orson Welles.

 

I watched this last night (giving myself a bit of space to think about it) and wished I hadn't, hard on the heels of watching The Stranger. The latter film I didn't have much of a problem with, apart from the premise, that is: surely even in the 1940s the government would have been able to carry out basic background checks that would've quickly blown Orson Welles' Nazi's cover! Instead, the Fed. Mr Wilson, hangs around, attends parties, plays checquers and basically waits for Welles to make a mistake and murder again. In any event, I did like the film to a degree: I enjoyed some of the cinematography (the long shot of the ladder leading up to Welles in the belfry) and the performances of Edward G Robinson and Loretta Young...but Welles...no. All swivel eyes (has anyone else noticed he seems incapable of looking at anyone in the eye in movies?), and odd jerky movements and monologues (btw, really...it took hours for Robinson to twig to Welles's comment about "Jewish, not German?), I just found him so unconvincing. And his utter indifference to his wife made you wonder what it was that she was supposed to have seen in him in the first place! 

 

Anyway, that was the film I quite liked! 

 

But where to start on The Lady From Shanghai? (Lets get Welles' awful mock-Irish brogue out of the way first and say no more about it!) I understand that Welles' stated aim was that he wanted to get unique acting performances out of the cast in this film and he certainly did that! Uniquely awful. I get that we're asked to suspend belief for a while when we enter a noir...but would anyone - ever - believe that Bannister and Grisby were the top attorneys they were supposed to be, and not some escapees from the asylum? Glen Anders' (Grisby) hysterical over-acting alone made me cringe and want to tune into something else. And there we go with Welles' swiveling eyes again. Deliberately, maybe but Rita Hayworth looked perhaps the only relatively normal person in the movie but even she seemed to glide lagubriously through the whole thing; I got the idea she wouldn't have even had the energy to scheme the way she was supposed to have! 

 

Cinematography wise it was just fine, but for me no amount of visual flair could make up for the mess of the script and the dreadful acting performances. I understand that the reaction of press and public at the time of release was distinctly lukewarm and I'm not surprised. 

 

I've never watched The Third Man and after these two films, I'm not sure I want to.

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The Lady From Shanghai

 

I have to admit something: I do not understand the love for Orson Welles.

 

 

Neither do I. I think he's overrated as there were many actors and directors who were far superior. I think he just had one great movie (Citizen Kane) that he hit out of the ballpark. The rest of his directed films are average at best. Other superior films were at someone else's direction. It seemed he had a very high opinion of himself with a high sense of entitlement.

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THE BRIBE

 

It has an MGM gloss all over it, as it does its best to make stars Robert Taylor and Ava Garder look beautiful. And let's acknowlegde that by saying Ava Gardner looks stupendous in that black dress. 

 

avathebribe.jpg

 

It's interesting to see how this production focuses on the romance between Taylor and Gardner and less on the criminal activities taking place. While some violence occurs it looks rather sanitized compared to the RKO and WB noirs. 

 

The final sequence, the shootout during the fireworks looks pretty spectacular and has some surreal qualities to it. Alledgedly this sequence was directed by Vincente Minelli..

 

Charles Laughton's charisma and talents are undeniable, even though he was clearly struggling with the accent his character was supposed to have.

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Neither do I. I think he's overrated as there were many actors and directors who were far superior. I think he just had one great movie (Citizen Kane) that he hit out of the ballpark. The rest of his directed films are average at best. Other superior films were at someone else's direction. It seemed he had a very high opinion of himself with a high sense of entitlement.

 

Could not disagree more.  I'm not sure it's possible to over-rate or over-emphasize how important and influential Welles was in virtually everything he attempted.    Yes, he was a larger-than-life personality and presence, with a very flawed personal life that suffered from some of the same traits that undermined his professional career; arrogant, over-bearing, prone to self-promotion, surely egotistical --- but whether in theater, radio or film he forever changed the medium in which he worked.    Not many artists can say that.      

 

Orson was as good as he wanted to be which, admittedly, wasn't always that good.   He took lots of hack acting roles to support his independent directorial efforts once he fell out of favor in Hollywood.   Several of his films were taken away from him and butchered by producers/studios for a variety of reasons.   Many of his productions were terribly underfunded because he found it hard to find backers.   That often forced him to be inventive in his productions, ala Val Lewton; shooting them piecemeal, as funds could be found, in between his acting roles, and the final results sometimes suffered because of it.   (That's certainly the case with his equally flawed but often brilliant Shakespearean efforts, Macbeth, Othello, Chimes at Midnight.)

 

At his best, Welles arguably made some of the finest, most innovative and visually stunning films ever made.   Knowingly or not, he was one of the forerunners of the noir style, not only because of his use of lighting and camera angles and visual imagery, but also because of the way he (and Herman Mankiewicz) told a story or the way he (and Bernard Hermann) used music.  No one ever did these things in film until Orson did them, just as he broke ground in theater and radio before it.   

 

Citizen Kane may indeed be the single greatest film ever made.   The Magnificent Ambersons is almost as good, but only suffers in comparison to Kane as well as an admittedly dated Booth Tarkenton story, Journey Into Fear, The Stranger, The Lady From Shanghai, and Touch of Evil followed; the latter two among the very best noirs.  

 

And by no means forget the staggeringly impressive coterie of actors, writers, musicians, editors and cinematographers, etc. whose careers were launched by and under Welles.  

 

For all that, of course, we continue to wonder what Welles might have accomplished if given a free hand and ample resources throughout his career, if he hadn't have alienated so many studios and producers, if he hadn't driven himself into exile and film-making purgatory...or if he had ultimately chosen to confine himself to just directing, or acting, etc. instead of literally juggling so many different callings.  

 

Then again, that wasn't Orson.   Welles never knew, or perhaps refused to recognize his own limitations.   Lucky for us he didn't.   

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