Category: film noir

Jun 16 2014

‘Man Bait’ on TCM

Originally released in Britain as The Last Page, the title Man Bait makes this 1952 British crime drama sound like a femme fatale film noir, an aspect that director Terence Fisher emphasizes even as the script has other ideas.

The “man bait” of the title refers to Diana Dors, a curvy young blonde promoted as Britain’s blonde bombshell, but top billing goes to American actor George Brent, who plays John Harman, the proprietor of a London bookstore that specializes in rare books and collectible volumes. He’s married and faithful to his invalid wife, oblivious to the adoring looks of his assistant Stella (Marguerite Chapman). The 19-year-old Dors is the store’s receptionist Ruby, a party girl who is constantly late for work and only keeps her job thanks to the paternal affections of Mr. Harman. Those affections take a rather dangerous turn when a close-quarters work session after hours erupts in a passionate kiss. While Ruby is content to shrug it off after he pays to replace her ripped blouse (not torn by him, mind you, but on the corner of a file cabinet), Ruby’s conniving boyfriend sees the potential for a big payoff and his mercenary scheming leads to blackmail and murder. Peter Reynolds plays the seductive and ruthless Jeff, the ne’er do well who pushes the young and easily-manipulated Ruby, and Raymond Huntley is memorable as the fussy clerk with an unrequited crush on Stella.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

Plays on TCM on Monday, June 16

May 03 2014

Videophiled Classic: ‘Hollow Triumph’ and more from Film Chest

HollowTriumphWhen Film Chest began releasing their “restored” editions of public domain films a few years ago under the label HD Cinema Classics, they promised superior editions of film previously available in poor copies. After a launch fraught with mishandled restorations, they have finally delivered on the promise with three recent releases on DVD: Hollow Triumph (Film Chest, DVD), The Bigamist (Film Chest, DVD) and their latest release The Strange Woman (Film Chest, DVD), which became available just this week.

Actor Paul Henreid (most famous for playing resistance hero Victor Laszlo in Casablanca) produced the crime thriller Hollow Triumph (1948) as a vehicle for himself and he take two roles in it: as criminal mastermind John Muller, a medical school drop-out who comes out of prison with a scheme to rob a casino owned by a vindictive mob boss, and as a chilly psychiatrist who is his exact double but for a jagged scar running down his cheek. When the heist inevitably goes bad and Muller goes into hiding, he hatches a plan to kill the doctor and put his medical training to use by taking over the doc’s identity, complete with a scar carved into his cheek.

This low-budget film noir has a couple of clever twists that a few sharp viewers will likely see coming, some marvelous nocturnal Los Angeles locations shot by the great noir stylist John Alton, and a confident Joan Bennett in a supporting role as a single woman who has no illusions about dating the seductive but shady Muller. The film has been readily available on poor quality editions. This edition, which is branded “HD restoration from 35mm film elements,” is not exactly restored—there is visible wear on the print and crackle on the soundtrack—but it is a noticeable leap in quality from previous releases. It’s an enjoyable but minor film noir but it did spawn one of the greatest lines in film noir: “It’s a bitter little world.” DVD with no supplements.

Continue reading at Cinephiled

Apr 27 2014

Videophiled Essential: ‘Touch of Evil’ on Blu-ray

TouchEvilBD

Touch of Evil (Universal, Blu-ray) – Orson Welles’ baroque border town murder mystery is a wild masterpiece, a sleazy, grimy, jittery, and ultimately dazzling work of cinematic magic. It’s considered the last great film noir and the bookend to the true noir era. It was also Welles’s last attempt at a career in Hollywood before he packed up to make movies in Europe.

Charlton Heston is a stiff, straight-arrow Mexican government agent Mike Vargas whose planned honeymoon with his American bride Susie (Janet Leigh) is derailed by a sensationalistic murder and police detective Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles), a bloated, blustery grotesque with a doughy face and an ill manner who has a habit of creating evidence to speed the process of justice. It features Akin Tamiroff as a Mexican border town Little Caesar with a cheap toupee and a wise-guy patter, Dennis Weaver as a sex-obsessed motel clerk on the verge of a nervous breakdown, a guest appearance by Marlene Dietrich and cameos by Welles regulars Ray Collins and Joseph Cotten.

After studio executives viewed Welles’ work in progress in 1957, the film was taken from Welles and recut into a 109-minute version that was previewed for audiences. Welles viewed the studio’s rough cut and wrote a detailed 58 page memo describing the changes he felt needed to be made to save the film. Some of those suggestions were incorporated in the final cut, most were not, and it was subsequently edited down to the 96-minute version that was released in 1958. The “preview version” was discovered in 1976 and supplanted the release version, but while it feature more footage directed by Welles, it was not his cut of the film.

Jonathan Rosenbaum discovered Welles’ memo in the files of Universal Studios and published it in the 1990s and in 1998 he became an advisor to producer Rick Schmidlin and editor Walter Murch as they took on an unprecedented project: reconstructing the version that Welles described. Though referred to as the “restored version,” it’s in fact an entirely new version: “(A)n academic example of what Welles intended,” is how Schmidlin described it.

The differences in this revision are apparent in the first seconds of the film.

Continue reading at Cinephiled

Apr 17 2014

Videophiled Classic: ‘Cry Danger’ Restored and ‘Used Cars’ Revived on Blu-ray

CryDanger

You can thank The Film Noir Foundation for the rediscovery of Cry Danger (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD), the independently-produced 1951 film noir developed by star Dick Powell as a follow-up to Pitfall (1948). Like a lot of films made outside of the studio system, it fell through the cracks and was only recently restored by UCLA and The Film Noir Foundation, who searched for the best materials available and created a new negative and 35mm prints for screening. That restoration is the basis of this disc debut.

Dick Powell is in fine sardonic form as Rocky, a guy released from prison after serving five years for a bank heist he didn’t commit, thanks to a witness who verifies his alibi, and goes in search of the real criminal to spring his buddy, who is still serving time. Richard Erdman is the witness Delong, a Navy vet just off his last tour of duty, and he hitches himself to Rocky to see if he’ll find the loot. Rhonda Fleming is the buddy’s wife, but before that she was Rocky’s girl. Her affections are rekindled but there is more rapport between the low-key, unflappable Powell and Erdman, whose injured vet is a drunk and makes no bones about it. Erdman is even funnier and drier than Powell and has an inspired courtship with a blonde pickpocket in the trailer park, a young cutie who keeps robbing him as if theft was a form of flirtation.

Robert Parrish made his directorial debut with this film and it is terrific: efficient, tight, well-paced and full of attitude and dry humor. He shoots most of it on location in Los Angeles and the key location, a dumpy little trailer park on a hill that looks down upon the city, gives the film a great sense of character and location: they can see the dream below them as they mark time in their cramped trailers. There’s a dark heart under the snappy surface like the best low-budget noirs. William Conrad co-stars as the signature heavy, a gang leader by the name of Louis Castro that Rocky believes is the real mastermind behind the heist, and Regis Toomey is the tough cop with a wary respect for Rocky.

Olive doesn’t go in for supplements—they offer well-mastered discs at low prices—but this is one disc I’d love to see get the special edition treatment. Co-star Richard Erdman is still alive and well and sharp as a tack (he’s the world’s oldest college student in the TV sitcom Community) and Film Noir Foundation founder Eddie Muller has provided a lot of commentary tracks and interviews for other film noir releases on disc. A little background on the film and its production would have been very nice, but when it comes down to it, it is all about the film and the quality of presentation and this is top notch given the rescue job performed by UCLA.

UsedCars

Used Cars (Twilight Time, Blu-ray) – Robert Zemeckis made some of the most famous blasts of American pop culture cinema—Back to the Future and Forrest Gump among them—but none has his films root about the cynical underside of the American dream with the gleeful anarchic pleasure of this satirical cult classic from 1980. Kurt Russell is the epitome of the smiling mercenary selling lemons to suckers with dirty tricks and phony promises, aided ably by his superstitious buddy Gerrit Graham. The outrageous stunts (such as illegally jamming the Superbowl with a guerrilla commercial and hiring strippers to bump and grind on the cars like a Vegas sideshow) are more than simply high concept gags: Zemeckis and Bob Gale squeeze the limits of bad taste out of these lemons for a deliciously tart cinematic lemonade. The R rating is for foul mouthed tirades and nudity that would be at home in a risqué burlesque farce. Jack Warden has a field day playing twin brothers and Frank McRae is hilarious as the giant adrenaline-pumped mechanic. The crotch-grabbing Mexican junk car wholesaler is none other than Alfonso Arau, the ubiquitous character actor and director of Like Water for Chocolate.

The Blu-ray debut includes the commentary recorded for the earlier DVD release and the talk from director Zemeckis, co-writer and producer Bob Gale, and star Kurt Russell is almost as much fun as the film itself. “We wanted Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life, except he’s totally corrupt,” is how Zemeckis explains the genesis of the story. Kurt Russell laughs back: “So you cast me!” These guys are having a blast laughing their way through their remembrances, but they manage to stay on track and keep the production stories coming. Also features four minutes of outtakes and along with Twilight Time’s trademark isolated musical score is a bonus score track with the unused score. Also includes an eight-page booklet with an essay by Julie Kirgo. Limited to 3000 copies, available exclusively from Screen Archives and TCM.

More classic releases on Blu-ray and DVD at Cinephiled

Apr 13 2014

MOD Movies: ‘The Big House,’ ‘5 Fingers,’ ‘Roadblock

BigHouseTripleThe Big House: Triple Feature (Warner Archive) is a special edition for the MOD (manufacture-on-demand) line.

The 1930 The Big House, directed by George Hill, is the original men-in-prison drama in terms of the way it established the conventions. There’s the pecking order of tough guys behind bars, the culture of loyalty, the sniveling snitches, the prison reform speech from the tough but committed warden (Lewis Stone, who is indeed tough), an inmate protest, a prison break and a riot. And through it all, Hill shows us the overcrowding, the regimentation of routine, and the numbing, soul-crushing oppression of the experience, from the processing of a newly-convicted prisoner (Robert Montgomery as a privileged kid completely unprepared to take care of himself here) to the predatory society within. Chester Morris is the leading man here as Morgan, a kind of underworld aristocracy thanks to his reputation as a criminal mastermind, and he comes off as a slightly darker, tougher, and more wooden Richard Barthelmess, the square guy rolling with tough breaks. Wallace Beery is the prison-yard bully Butch, who isn’t too bright but defers to Morgan, and Montgomery is nervous and sweaty as the wide-eyed fresh meat who ignores good advice and turns snitch, illustrating the warning given by the warden in the first scene: “Prison doesn’t make you yellow, but if you are already yellow, prison brings it out.” I guess we know his predilections.

The story is basically a roll call of what will become prison movie clichés but the presentation is striking. The mess hall scene presents mealtime in purgatory, with the inmates lined up in rows and columns with regimented precision, and the image is echoed at chapel, where the prisoners file in out of duty rather than faith. Meanwhile Hill contrasts the surface of resignation to the routine with the covert dealings below the table tops as inmates pass weapons and messages out of sight of the guards. The soundtrack keeps returning to the lock-step trudge of marching feet instead of music. And the warden responds to the occupation of a cell block by prisoners with overwhelming force: he calls in the tanks! It was nominated for Best Picture and Best Actor (Wallace Beery) and won Oscars for the sound and France Marion’s screenplay.

Chester Morris and Wallace Beery in 'The Big House'

The Big House was previously released as a stand-alone movie on the Warner Archive line. The “special edition” of this release comes in the other two films of the triple feature: the French language version, directed by Paul Fejos and starring Charles Boyer as Morgan, and the Spanish language version. Both are shot on the same sets and utilize the same crowd shots, special effects, and even shot-lists and set-ups. The compositions are almost exactly the same, like an assembly line cranking out the alternate versions on a timetable, and the biggest difference is in the variations of characters brought by the actors and dramatic direction. Fejos seems constrained by the structure here—see his striking Hollywood work in the Lonesome disc set Criterion released last year (a triple feature in its own right) to see his eye for setting scenes and moving the camera—but he and Boyer turn Morgan into a much more charismatic figure, less hard-boiled, smoother and cooler, with a sense of authority that comes from confidence and ease. The Spanish version, from journeyman director Ward Wing (a sometime actor with a couple of shorts and documentaries to his credit as a filmmaker), hasn’t the same strength of character (Jose Crespo is a bland, unimpressive Morgan but Juan de Landa makes a strange mix of childlike clown and psychopathic bully as Butch) but the production value and the momentum keep it rolling along.

Three films on two discs. The print has seen wear and the contrast fluctuates a bit but it looks quite good considering the age and the era. The French and Spanish versions are not quite as well preserved but perfectly watchable and acceptable. The English subtitles are actually close captions and include notations on sound effects.

5Fingers

5 Fingers (20th Century Fox Cinema Archives), a smart 1952 espionage thriller directed by Joseph Mankiewicz, features James Mason in a superb performance as the contemptuous valet to the British Ambassador to Turkey during World War II. A career servant, he decides to make his fortune selling British military secrets to the Germans and enlists a penniless French countess (Danielle Darrieux), a woman he once served and still desires, to help him hide his money and provide a safe house. Based on real events from World War II, the 1952 film reworks the story and the players to make the valet, who is given the code name Cicero, a bitter, resentful British man determined to break through the class barriers. Mason plays him with smooth arrogance and cynicism, beholden to nothing but money and power. While he’s nakedly obsessed with class and status, everyone else is simply more subtle about it—this almost invisible valet is never once suspected by either side of being the leak in the embassy—and the Germans are so afraid that he’s actually a double agent that they never act upon the intelligence. Even the agent sent from London to find the leak (Michael Rennie) discounts him from his investigations.

The direction is low key, with a focus on the culture of the city of Ankara during the war (Turkey did not choose sides and Allied and Axis powers both had a presence in the city), the script full of sharp wit and clever dialogue, and the story is filled with delicious ironies. Mankiewicz did not receive screenplay credit but some of the dialogue surely came from his pen, such as the Countess saying to a civil servant: “Please don’t look at me as if you had a source of income other than your salary.”

The Fox Archive release has not been mastered in HD and it looks only slightly better than laserdisc quality, but it’s a good source print and is perfectly watchable.

Roadblock

Roadblock (Warner Archive) opens with a set-up that promises a femme fatale siren thriller and a heist picture, and in its own way it defies both genres, or at least it takes a different twist. Charles McGraw is the hardcase of an insurance investigator, an incorruptible agent who earned the name “Honest Joe” but falls hard for a chiseling dame (Joan Dixon) looking to score a rich husband: “You’re a nice guy, honest Joe, but you’re not in the right league. I’m aiming for the World Series.” So he trades his integrity in for a crooked payday and ends up investigating the very robbery he masterminded while his partner (Louis Jean Heydt in soft-spoken conscience mode) starts to suspect him.

The 1951 picture is a film noir by definition, with its corrupted characters and mercenary femme fatale and atmosphere of a noose tightening around our anti-hero. Director Harold Daniels is no visual stylist and there’s a slackness to many of the scenes, but he comes to life in a nighttime murder scene that he transforms into a model of noir violence, an urban street fight in the dark of the empty city picked out in shards of light (credit likely goes to cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca, RKO’s crime movie vet), and the screenplay co-written by Steve Fisher has a bite of irony in its twists. And give the film credit for making a heist film work where we never see the heist; we’re checking in from McGraw’s honeymoon, which is also his alibi. The gravel-voiced McGraw carries the rest of the film with his working class integrity and moral judgments twisted into self-destructive panic when he becomes everything he despises just to impress a girl. Print quality is good.

More crooks, cops, and spies on MOD from Warner and Fox at Cinephiled

Mar 10 2014

Blu-ray: ‘Man in the Dark’

Man in the Dark (1953) could be the working title of many a film noir, a genre that routinely casts shadows (literal and figurative) over its characters. In this case, the title is something of a pun, as criminal Steve Rawley (stolid, sturdy noir regular Edmond O’Brien) volunteers to undergo experimental brain surgery to curb his criminal tendencies and emerges with his personality softened and his memory gone. But it’s not quite a clean slate. Rawley’s past comes back in the form of an insurance investigator (Dan Riss) suspicious of the wonder cure and his former partners, who know nothing of his treatment. Rawley masterminded a payroll heist and hid the haul right before he was nabbed, money which was never recovered. When his old partners stumble onto his new situation, they bundle him off to their hideout to get their share. They aren’t taking “I don’t remember” for an answer, but when working him over doesn’t get any results, his former girlfriend Peg (Audrey Totter) tries to seduce it out of him. When it becomes clear to them that he’s telling the truth, they keep him captive to help sleuth out the location.

A remake of the 1936 crime melodrama The Man Who Lived Twice, this version takes the story of amnesia into urban noir territory. O’Brien spouts tough-guy wisecracks until he emerges a kinder, gentler soul (he turns to painting flowers during his recovery), Ted de Corsia does thug duty as the gang’s heavy (Horace McMahon and Nick Dennis, the va-va-voom mechanic of Kiss Me Deadly, fill out the crew), and the investigator turns out to be a mercenary soul in his own right.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

Feb 02 2014

Videophiled MOD Movies: ‘Cry of the City,’ ‘The Beast with Five Fingers,’ ‘Young America’ and Lee Tracy

CryCity

It’s been a few months since I’ve surveyed the MOD market – that’s the manufacture-on-demand line that Warner, Fox, and Sony currently present as a way to release films that the sales market no longer supports – and there have been a lot of releases in that time. Not all are ‘classic” in the essential sense, mind you, but why should that be? The deluge of New Releases in any given month is filled with titles you’d never heard of before and will never hear of again. What’s so much fun in the stream of MOD releases is the ongoing conversation with old Hollywood movies and vintage TV shows, and the continued connection with favorite stars through their less familiar films. There are always films and filmmakers and stars waiting to be discovered.

Cry of the City (20th Century Fox Cinema Archives) is one that should be known better. It’s one of Robert Siodmak’s darkest film noirs, a gangster drama seeped in shadows, corruption, and psychosis, with Victor Mature as an Italian-American police detective who takes the pursuit of small-time gangster Richard Conte personally. Siodmak shoots much of it on location in New York but still manages to get those studio shadows and rain-slicked streets into shot after shot, creating a nocturnal underworld within the urban jungle of the city.

Conte gets the showboating role of the glib, smart-talking hood whose grinning charm and sardonic wit never flag, not even in custody, until that smarmy confidence gives way to panic and predatory self-interest under pressure. Mature’s stoic stillness gives a sense of gravity to a dour and humorless role: the martyr fighting the good fight in a neighborhood that has turned its back on him. Shelley Winters has as small but splashy role as another of her brassy dames, loyal and not too bright, and Hope Emerson is even more memorable as a hatchet-faced masseuse ready to choke the life out of Conte. This is the classic noir world of corruption and betrayal and desperation. It’s a good-looking disc, too, mastered from a good print with minor scuffing, with strong contrasts (and this is a film of dark, dark shadows) and a sharp image.

MossRose

Moss Rose (20th Century Fox Cinema Archives) is in the British Gothic mystery tradition of Rebecca, Jane Eyre and Gaslight, set in turn-of-the-century Britain and starring Victor Mature as a prodigal son returned from Canada to his now-widowed mother (Ethel Barrymore) and their country manor. He’s the prime suspect in the murder of a London showgirl and Peggy Cummins blackmails him into passing her off as a fellow moneyed aristocrat. British-born ingénue Cummins, curiously enough, gets top billing over Mature (who was by far the bigger star in 1947) and Vincent Price is the wily detective who knows how to play upon the arrogance of the upper class as he builds his case against Mature. Gregory Ratoff directs with an understated sense of shadowy threat—he does love those hard shadows and partially obscured faces and stormy nights—and makes great use of the Victorian-era backlot street scenes and set. It’s a solid B&W transfer.

BeastFive

The 1948 The Beast with Five Fingers (Warner Archive) sounds like a twist on The Hands of Orlac—it does, after all, have a famed musician and a killer hand—but is actually more of an old dark house thriller set in a turn-of-the-century Italian castle where friends and relatives have been gathered for the reading of a will. They, of course, start turning up dead. Strangled, in fact, ostensibly by the disembodied hand of a crippled piano virtuoso. Robert Alda enters as an American con man and leaves a hero and J. Carroll Naish puts on his meatball Italian accent to play the village Commissario, but Peter Lorre makes the biggest impression as the personal secretary of the dead man, a scholar obsessed with the secrets of ancient magic. Robert Florey does just fine with the atmosphere and even better with the superb optical effects. While you can sometimes see the seams in this well-mastered edition, transferred from a preserved print, Florey makes the imagery of the disembodied hand skittering around like a spider so wonderfully weird that you hardly care. There’s a marvelous madness to it at its best and, true to the time, a little twist of humor in the epilogue, complete with ethnic flourish.

YoungAmerica

Spencer Tracy gets top billing in Frank Borzage’s 1932 Young America (20th Century Fox Cinema Archives) but the film is really about an orphan named Art (Tommy Conlon) who is called “the worst kid in town” but is really a good boy with bad judgment, loyal to his friends and uncompromising with bullies. Art is a hard-luck saint among kids, ready to sacrifice all to steal medicine for a dying friend or take on gangsters in the middle of a high-speed car chase. Tracy is a drug store owner with a streetwise attitude and a high society lifestyle. It’s amazing how many of the most widely parodied clichés of Hollywood melodrama are crammed into this one film (adapted from a stage play), and how enjoyable it is nonetheless thanks to Tracy’s lively personality and up-from-the-streets manner and to Borzage’s verging-on-sentimental-overkill affection for his working class characters. Seriously, at the risk of a spoiler, a dying child moans about flying through the air before croaking out “It’s getting dark…” Ralph Bellamy co-stars as a compassionate judge.

More reviews at Cinephiled

Jan 08 2014

DVD: ‘Cry of the City’

Robert Siodmak made more film noirs than any other director. It’s not like he set out to do so–they were considered crime thrillers and murder dramas by the studios and the term film noir was given to the shadowy subset long after Siodmak stopped making them–but he helped define the genre (or the style and attitude, if you prefer) in its glory days.

Cry of the City is not as well known as Siodmak’s The Killers (1946), Criss Cross (1949), and The Film on Thelma Jordan (1950), all of which star some of Hollywood’s most famous (and noir’s most iconic) performers, or his early, shadowy low-budget mystery Phantom Lady (1944), but it should be. It’s a gangster film seeped in shadows, corruption, and psychosis, starring Victor Mature as Lt. Candella, an Italian-American police detective who takes the pursuit of small-time gangster Martin Rome (Richard Conte) personally. They grew up together in Little Italy and Candella doesn’t buy Martin’s excuses of poverty and culture for turning to a life of crime, not with such salt-of-the-Earth parents who treat Candella almost like family. More to the point, he hates how he’s become an outlaw hero to the kids in the neighborhood and especially Martin’s adoring kid brother, Tony (Tommy Cook). When Candella goes knocking on doors for witnesses, he gets them slammed in his face. In a slum where no one trusts the cops, Martin’s brazen defiance makes him a Robin Hood, even if he fails to share any of his ill-gotten gains with the poor.

The film opens with Martin unconscious in a hospital, wounded in a shoot-out that left a policeman dead. When he’s awake he’s a glib, smart-talking guy, working his grinning charm and sardonic wit on the police (who have his ward under guard) and the hospital staff alike, and he has no illusions about his fate.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

Jan 06 2014

‘Gunman in the Street’ on TCM

Also known as Time Running Out and It Happened in France

“A deserter from the American army captured in 1949 by the French police after a series of daring daylight robberies, Eddy Robak is to appear tomorrow before the French criminal court…. This man is partly the product of insecurity and desperation, the war, and the black market. An opportunist with a small genius for organization: that is Eddy Robak.”

Shot in location in Paris in 1950 on a low budget with an international cast and crew (Russian and French producers, American director and star, French cast, German cinematographer, and screenwriters from all over), Gunman in the Streets stars Dane Clark as Eddy Robak, a different kind of American in Paris. The film opens with Eddy making a daring daylight escape from police custody and follows his efforts to elude the police dragnet over the long night. The cops have all of his haunts staked out, in particular his former lover Denise Vernon (Simone Signoret), loyal to the brutal Eddy even under police surveillance, but this is a love on the dark side.

Eddy is the classic American gangster psychopath, brutal and hot-tempered man, as we see in the opening minutes when he kicks a cop in the teeth during his escape (a shocking scene for the era that was censored in some countries), and jealous of any man who shows an interest in Denise, or worse, any man she shows the slightest affection for. Denise, meanwhile, is the classic elegant dame, cultured and cool on the outside but toughened up by the life she endured along the way. Her loyalty suggests more of a resignation to the inevitable than any desire left for this brazen criminal, but it is loyalty just the same. Which is why Paris Police Commissioner Dufresne (Fernand Gravey) makes a point of keeping her in his sights.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

Plays Wednesday, January 8 on TCM.

Jun 11 2013

‘The Burglar’ on TCM

The Burglar (1957), a sweaty, tawdry pulp crime thriller set in the seedy lower depths of low-rent crooks and raw passions, was released as the classic studio system — and the era of prime film noir — was coming to an end. It both looks back to the tales of down-and-out criminals in a world of shifting loyalties and betrayals and forward to the more lurid suggestions of sixties movies and the stark imagery and striking location shooting more common to independently-made films.

Novelist David Goodis, author of such classics as Dark Passage (which was turned into a 1947 classic with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall) and Down There (transformed by Francois Truffaut into the nouvelle vague masterpiece of doom Shoot the Piano Player, 1960), adapted his own novel for the screen, and Paul Wendkos, a documentary filmmaker and a fellow Philadelphian, made his feature debut directing the film. Bringing it even closer to home, Wendkos shot the film largely in Philadelphia in the summer of 1955 (Wendkos captures the sweltering atmosphere of the city in summer) and even used the Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra to perform the score.

The great character actor Dan Duryea centers the film with an easy, almost world-weary confidence as Nat Harbin, a career criminal and veteran safecracker who steals a priceless necklace and then holes up in a dump of a safe house in a seedy part of the city with his not-altogether-trustworthy gang.

Continue reading at TCM website

Plays on Friday, June 14 on Turner Classic Movies

Jan 15 2013

‘Tomorrow is Another Day’ on TCM

The fugitive couple on the run is a classic film noir trope, a situation steeped in romance and desperation and dreams and doom, from Fritz Lang’s tormented lovers in the proto-noir You Only Live Once (1937) to the innocence trampled in They Live by Night (1948) to the l’amour fou detonated in Gun Crazy (1950).

Tomorrow Is Another Day is a low-key take on the situation starring Steve Cochran as Bill Clark, a 34-year-old man who leaves prison after serving more than half his life behind bars, and Ruth Roman as Cay, a hard-shell dame at a dime-a-dance joint mixed up with a corrupt cop. A bad bounce of fate sends both of them on the road, two strangers tossed together on the run from a murder rap as. The story could have easily slipped into the cliche of the innocent corrupted by the predatory femme fatale, but there’s much more to both characters in this unassuming thriller directed by Felix Feist.

Ex-con and social naif Bill is a lamb in an urban culture of wolves (“I guess I’m the patsy this time,” he mumbles, resigned to getting the short end of every situation) and Cay has been hardened by years of getting knocked around and making a living off her looks. Both are slow to trust, but once they start, it softens both of their shells and inspires both of them to tough out a hard life of manual labor rather than turn back to their previous lives. For a film in the bleak culture of noir, it’s one of the more hopeful portraits of love among the damned.

Continue reading at TCM

Plays on Turner Classic Movies on Thursday, January 17

Nov 08 2012

Blu-ray: The ghosts of ‘Sunset Boulevard’

“I am big! It’s the pictures that got small!”

Sunset Boulevard (Paramount), the blackest of Hollywood’s self portraits, is an old dark house of a ghost story inhabited by the living shadows of its discarded stars.

Gloria Swanson is magnificent as Norma Desmond, the former silent movie queen living in her memories while plotting a fantasy of a comeback, and she understands both the monstrous and pathetic dimensions of her demented diva. William Holden is the failed screenwriter with a mercenary streak who plays the gigolo to hide from creditors. Director/co-writer Billy Wilder makes his scabrous and acidic expose of Hollywood’s living graveyards both ghoulish and tragic, thanks in part to the quiet devotion of Erich von Stroheim’s performance as her butler and, once upon a time, her director. It was a biting in-joke for tinseltown historians at the time, as von Stroheim’s directorial career was destroyed by “Queen Kelly,” where he directed Gloria Swanson. Wilder even fit some of that footage into the “home movie” scene.

The long-awaited Blu-ray debut comes from a new digital master from the best surviving  elements. Not only does it look rich with detail and texture, but Home Theater Forum restoration guru Robert Harris remarks that he’s “thrilled” with what he’s seen based on the materials at hand.

New for this disc is the never-before-release​d deleted scene: “The Paramount Don’t Want Me Blues,” a party sing-along scene with Jack Webb and, in the final frames, William Holden’s entrance. Nothing revelatory but it’s a fun piece of ephemera.

Continue reading at Videodrone

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