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Off-Topic Discussion / The Racket (1951)
« on: December 01, 2017, 10:37:51 AM »
The Racket is another fair to middling Howard Hughes offering that is less outright Noir than straightforward crime thriller. It was a remake of Hughes own 1928 movie of the same name which in turn was based on a 1927 stage play. The play daringly suggested that crime was not only practiced by gangsters, hoodlums and career criminals, but also by guardians of law and order and scions of society. Gasp! By 1951, especially after the Kefauver Hearings on Organized Crime, this was a bit of an old chestnut and nobody was particularly shocked anymore.
On top of that, the picture can’t hide its stage origins, especially in the precinct scenes. Characters enter and exit stage right and stage left, as if they’re on Broadway.

Mobster Nick Scanlon (Robert Ryan) has been running Anytown, USA for years by having several local government and law-enforcement officials in his pocket. However, he can't touch incorruptible police captain Tom McQuigg (Mitchum), who refuses all attempts at bribery. He’s continually transferred from one precinct to another because he’s stepped on too many toes. When Johnson (William Talman), one of his best and most honest officers, gets killed by Scanlon, McQuigg wants to bring down Scanlon once and for all with the help of nightclub singer Irene Hayes (Lizabeth Scott).

Hughes overzealous supervision created another movie that if not an outright mess, certainly could have been tighter and more streamlined had Hughes kept his harebrained ideas to himself. No such luck. As he was want to do, he not only couldn’t leave a picture alone during filming, he had to tinker with it even after wrapping. Again he spent thousands of dollars on editorial revisions, retakes and reshoots, especially after Kefauver and his Hearings had become trendy. With predictable results.
Sam Fuller wrote the script’s first draft, but of course Hughes scrapped it. I assume it wasn’t quite safe enough. He had the more  conventional William Haines rewrite it, then tossed his script too and drafted W. R. Burnett to do the deed and add more action.
Though John Cromwell was the credited director, directing duties were shared by many, including Mel Ferrer and Tay Garnett. Hughes even pressed producer Edmund Grainger and film editor Sherman Todd into (directing) service. In the end it was Nicolas Ray who was left with the thankless task to pick up the pieces and make a decent film out of the chaos. Needless to say, even he couldn’t make a purse out of a pig’s ear.
What Hughes never understood was that you can’t make a good film out of bits and pieces of material, sewn together like a patchwork quilt. It has to be built from the ground up with a solid foundation. His tinkering was supposed to achieve perfection, but it actually yielded a product that was uneven, choppy and occasionally schizophrenic.
What stays though is an amazingly dark vision about Anytown, USA, a city like a hundred others that is completely in the hand of a corrupt mob. It almost seems as if the entire city is mob-affiliated with no way out.

In the wake of the Kefauver Hearings on Organized Crime (1951) - alluded to on the movie poster - a wave of crime films followed which purported to tell exposé stories of stalwart lawmen and their fight against organized crime. In the beginning of the movie we get the obligatory preachy “crime doesn’t pay” message, this time not delivered by a governor, but the a Crime Commission clearly modeled after Kefauver’s Investigating Committee.
Crime had moved out of the hood into the boardroom, from smuggling illegal booze across state lines to buying judges and rigging elections. Crime had not only gone corporate, it had gone national. It now functioned as a partnership of corrupt politicians, judges and business men with methods a lot less crude than Prohibition-era strong-arm tactics. Crime as a sophisticated well-oiled machine.

If this movie belongs to anyone, it is scenery-chewing Robert Ryan. He’s at his psychotic, deranged and snarling best. Ryan is incredibly intense and literally seething with venomous rage, but at the same time manages to come off as a tragic figure. He is oddly sympathetic when he has to see in the end that his days are numbered. He’s a man who has outlived his time. As a Prohibition-style enforcer, a streetwise tough guy, muscle and violence is all he knows when it comes to protecting his two-bit territory. But times are changing as even his goons notice, Scanlon just didn’t get the memo. It is a battle for dominance between Nick Scanlon and the (never-seen) Old Man, between old-school gangster and the new faceless Syndicate.
It is to Ryan’s credit that his Nick Scanlon doesn’t end up as a one-note caricature.

Mitchum though is a different matter. He’s on the other side of the fence, in true 30s gangster fashion a former boyhood pal of Ryan’s. Honest, stolid, upright, righteous…stop! hold it right there. A squeaky-clean Mitchum? Say it ain’t so. To say he’s playing his role with indifference would be an understatement. He sleepwalks through the movie. He even gives the cops in his new precinct the requisite “stay on the straight and narrow, boys!” speech. But it comes off as anything but motivational, as if Mitchum knows he’s really not the guy to pontificate, especially after his own marihuana bust. One reviewer called him “Eliot Ness with a hangover”. Spot on.
He’s never even tempted once. The script gives him nothing to learn about himself, nothing to work with. He’s the same man at the conclusion of the movie as in the beginning. He has almost the entire town against him, his house is blown up and his wife almost killed yet he faces no internal conflicts at all. His character doesn’t evolve.
McQuigg must be one of Mitchum’s least interesting roles, and he knows it too. It’s a toothless performance. He’s not so much understated as bland.
Mitchum only comes to live in his last standoff with Ryan. It’s a collision of two giants.
However, as RKO’s No.1 star he dutifully did his job as Hughes asked, even if the material was beneath him.

As always Liz Scott is good in her role as yet another nightclub singer. No-one could ever mistake her for a great actress, there’s always something slightly wooden about her acting, but with her husky breathy whiskey-soaked bedroom voice she could hold any man’s attention. She doesn’t so much give a performance as take up space on the screen and that's okay with me. Given the right material, she is very effective.

William Tallman is cast against type as goody two shoes rookie officer who gets killed by Scanlon. But the real scene stealer here is gum-chewing William Conrad as another crooked cop who brings to live his character more than anybody else on screen.

In the end the picture doesn’t amount to much. The stuff of greatness is there, it’s just that it is all too moralistic, too simplistic, too clear-cut. The good guys are good, the bad guys bad. Nobody’s motives and intentions are in the least bit murky, there’s no ambiguity here.
There is something incredibly old-fashioned about this film which is simply out of whack with Noir. The punch is missing.
The star power of Ryan and Mitchum counts for a lot, but the very good cast is hampered by an outdated story and trite cliches.
Hughes may have tried to update his Prohibition era play, but ultimately he got a 1920 crime melodrama that should have stayed in the past. I give it an A for effort.

Off-Topic Discussion / Wicked Woman (1953)
« on: October 05, 2017, 12:50:00 PM »
Camp, glorious camp.

Sultry Beverly Michaels, one of Hollywood’s most statuesque actresses, plays a trampy platinum blonde who blows into dismal Hicktown, USA and gets herself a job as a waitress at a dive where she promptly starts to hit on the bar’s owner, hunky Richard Egan, who unfortunately has a lush for a wife. She'd like him to sell the bar, unknown to his wife, take the money and skip to Mexico with him.

Wicked Woman is not even B Noir, more C or D, but it’s a trashy little gem. This is bottom-of-the-barrel done right. Ed Wood should have taken note. This is not your typical Noir crime drama, though it does have the lurid quality of pulp fiction down pat.The photography is uninspired, but the gritty locations and sets lend a seedy realism and authenticity to the movie that we don’t often see in Noir. There is no play of light and shadow, no highly stylized sets and frames, instead we get, fully lit, a lousy dump of a boarding house with low-life residents and a grubby dive bar that never had any aspirations to class. This ain’t no swanky nightclub with glamorous patrons. Whoever ends up there knows he's reached the end of the line.

The way Beverly, always dressed in virginal white, sashays through the entire movie in slow-motion alone is worth a look. She turns in a great performance as the hard-bitten cheap tramp who’s quite the happy sinner. She uses men like disposable Kleenex to get what she wants.
She’s no classy dame, she has quite frankly white trash written all over her. But there is an underlying desperation to escape her miserable existence about her actions too. She just doesn’t have the brains to make it work.

The ending isn’t your average Noir either. There is no murder, no pre-ordained fate. The film ends how it started, the cycle of the spider trapping a fly in her web simply continues. Beverly gets back on that Greyhound to sucker another chump, in the next town.

Special mention has to go to pipsqueak Percy Helton, in one of his weasliest roles. He oozes slime from every pore. He’s about half as tall as Beverly, but that doesn’t deter him from slobbering all over her.

Watch it for the wonderful sleaziness and over-the-top and hysterical performance by Michaels (“Runt! Runt! Runt!). Every lover of camp owes it to himself to see it.

Off-Topic Discussion / Born to be Bad (1950)
« on: July 12, 2017, 01:21:25 PM »
Born to be Bad was directed by Nicholas Ray for RKO. Ray worked for Hughes between 1949 and 1953, directing six features for the studio. The picture is certainly one of the director’s lesser-and lesser-known -  efforts. It has an A list cast but at its heart it’s strictly B. Hughes as always couldn’t curb his meddling. Lots of different writers and directors tried their hand at the film before Ray showed up and straightened out the mess Hughes had made. Hughes was also wooing Fontaine at the time and that muddled (production) waters even more (could that man ever keep his hands to himself?).

Ray was an extremely versatile director able to work in a wide range of genres without dulling the sharp edge of his vision. Though Ray’s filmography spans various different genres, his work maintains a remarkable thematic consistency.
As a director Ray was drawn to complex, hopeless characters. He painted portraits of down-and-outers, troubled losers and loners, outsiders and rebels who couldn’t find their place within established society. His protagonists eschewed conformity. Ray’s cinema was infused with a deep sympathy for vulnerable underdogs. Loneliness and loss play a big part in his films. Ray gave a voice and dignity to the marginalized. François Truffaut called him “the poet of nightfall”.

Ray imparts his films with strong elements of sentimentality and bitter-sweet romanticism which at first seem at odds with Noir conventions, thus offering variations on well-trodden themes.
Desperate, star-crossed lovers (They Live by Night), redemption and spiritual renewal (On Dangerous Grounds) and emotional fragility and loneliness (In a Lonely Place) at first glance seem incompatible with Noir, but Ray’s interest lay primarily in his protagonists’ motivations.
His leftist sympathies were largely rooted in the Depression era where he became active in the Socialist movement and joined left-wing theater groups. In a way working for the right-wing Hughes protected Ray from being blacklisted in spite of his political radicalism which under the circumstances should have landed him in hot water.

Ray didn’t care for too much for Born to be Bad, but he did a competent job on a routine studio assignment. Still, coming from a man who liked his stories to have a message, this one’s a bit banal. One could say Ray had a day off when he made this melodrama but that would be a tad unfair.
For its time it’s quite frank in sexual matters and it is imbued with a cynicism that is lacking in his other movies.

Though often labeled Noir, this classification is a bit of a hard sell. If the picture is Noir then it is mostly that by virtue of a great femme fatale. There’s no grit, no desperation, no pessimism, no paranoia in this movie. Instead we get a stylish woman’s picture with occasional soap opera antics. It’s a sly melodrama that is so overheated at times it verges on campy parody, with Fontaine playing a conniving bitch to rival Eve Harrington.

Joan Leslie plays Donna, a young publishing assistant in San Francisco with filthy rich fiancé Curtis Carey (Zachary Scott). Her friends include gay painter Gobby (Mel Ferrer) who has a knack for zingy one-liners and put-downs; and Nick, a studly novelist (Robert Ryan, who else).
Into town breezes Donna’s seemingly prim and proper cousin Christabel Caine (Joan Fontaine) who thus far has lived with her old maiden aunt in a boring backwater. Christabel’s trouble from the second she establishes herself in Donna’s apartment. She goes to work immediately on every man in sight. But what Chris really wants is Donna’s fiancé, or better his money, and she isn’t too choosy in her methods. The sucker falls for it of course. There’s just the little complication of Christabel’s hot and steamy affair with Nick who doesn’t want to give her up…

The against-type casting of Fontaine as femme fatale is quite inspired though not every viewer bought into it. Subverting her genteel on-screen persona, she gives an entertaining performance. That patrician air of hers could go either way, naughty or nice. Her character is described by Nick as "a cross between Lucrezia Borgia and Peg O' My Heart".
She’s fluffy and sweet cotton candy, laced in copious amounts of deadly poison. So helpless, so sweet, so eager to please…but under a facade of simpering maidenish virtue and humility - she even clutches her pearls several times! - she is a passive-aggressive schemer and manipulator, a deceitful and calculating social climber who leaves a wake of destroyed relationships in her path.
She plays her innocent act so well that it takes people a while until they catch on to her. Always on the lookout to drive a wedge between Donna and Curtis, innuendo is her weapon. She preys on people’s insecurities. To get her way she sweetly coos poisonous nothings about Donna into Curtis’ ears to encourage him to think of Donna as a gold-digger.

Christabel’s cool turns to smoking hot whenever she’s around Nick. The scenes between Fontaine and Ryan sizzle. We get lots of steamy clinches and sexy talk. I always considered Ryan a sexy man and he was at his rugged handsome best here, spouting insinuating pick-up lines and convincing Chris with his phenomenal kissing technique.
Nick isn’t fooled by her though. He has Christabel’s number alright and he knows that his lady love is a scheming tramp with the soul of a cash register, but he doesn’t care. He wants her anyway.

Mel Ferrer is charming as gay artist Gobby, the cynical and catty Greek chorus in the film, with a penetrating insight into human nature. He’s throwing out acerbic little barbs and one-liners continually which are as razor-sharp as they are funny.
He’s got Christabel pegged from the start, yet he never breathes a word. He’s almost too non-judgmental. Chris’ malicious ambition seem to amuse him more than shock him. He is contemptuous of the people he paints, but at least he’s honest about it.
Ray wrote the character as obviously gay as he could get away with, including declarations of his orientation. Christabel, who notices his lack of sexual interest in her, asks him: “You don't care very much for women, do you?” to which he answers: “My dear girl, apart from painting my major occupation is convincing women's husbands that I'm harmless.” Gobby thankfully avoids any hint of the typical effeminate stereotype so often found in older films. He doesn’t feel neutered.
He steals every scene he’s in.

Joan Leslie is sympathetic as Donna. Her shining hour comes when she tells Christabel what exactly she thinks of her. She may be one of Chris’ victims, but she doesn’t take it quietly.
There’s an interesting little social comment on working women in the 50s. The good woman, Donna, works for a living while the evil woman here has no interest in work, explicitly rejecting career opportunities thrown her way.

In a nice change from the norm the ending doesn’t follow the Code-approved formula that evil must be punished. Curtis gets wise to Christabel’s shenanigans and finally kicks her out. Her world comes crashing down but Chris lands on her feet. Avoiding the cliche of the punishment scene, Christabel doesn't die as the credits roll. No professing of shame and guilt on the deathbed for her. She isn’t looking for redemption, she gets clean away with it all, no doubt looking for some other poor sap to hook. She lives to lie another day.
In an interesting side-note, there was an alternate ending shot which can now finally be found on the Warner Archive Collection DVD. It’s even better. While speeding away from the house, Christabel crashes her car. Does she die? No, she ends up in a hospital where she immediately starts to hit on her surgeon whose wife then sues her for alienation of affection. She’s created another juicy scandal that needs the delicate touch of a lawyer, also married. Another day, another sucker, and a game that can be played endlessly. It fits the tone of the movie perfectly.

Zachary Scott has the most thankless role in the film as wooden and a bit dim-witted fiancé who wants to be loved for himself, not his money. He was so much better when playing cads.

Far from a masterpiece, but entertaining nevertheless.

Off-Topic Discussion / The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965)
« on: June 12, 2017, 01:41:55 PM »
“One can’t stay out of doors all the time. One needs to come in from the cold.”
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is based on John le Carré’s eponyms book. Having worked for MI6 himself, Carré had a solid knowledge on the subject. His portrayal of secret service agencies is realistic and unflattering as he took a consistently bleak view of the espionage business. Spy is an utterly cynical study of human treachery.

Made at the height of the Bond craze, the film is Bond through a glass darkly. It is the anti-companion piece to 007, the spy profession is stripped of all its glamour and seductive powers. Director Martin Ritt conceives a vision of intelligence operations with bleak squalor in place of thrills, fun and sexy dames.

Ritt’s direction is faultless and very faithful to the book. The cinematography is stunning. Unusual for a film from 1965 Spy was shot in stark forbidding black and white. Most studios by then had switched to color, but Ritt knew what he was doing. Nothing else would have conveyed the film’s funereal, relentlessly grim, bleak, hopeless and desolate mood better. The environs are austere and drab, the protagonists filled with anguish and alienation. Throw every Noir buzz word at the film and it would stick. This is not Neo-Noir, this is 100% proof unadulterated Noir served neat and straight up, a throw-back to the 40s. As far as spy movies go, this is the gloomiest of them all. A study in futility and bitterness with a core that is pure nihilism. Life per se is meaningless. Nothing lasts, nothing is worth striving for because everything ends in death.

Ritt creates surroundings that are always dark, cold and rainy. If daylight exists at all, it is never the sunshiny happy kind. Light doesn’t provide warmth. It’s cold and clinical and supplies just enough illumination to expose the rottenness of the dirty game that is the spy profession. Characters appear to be constantly freezing, as if they are emotionally crippled and dead inside. The cold has numbed their senses.  

“I want you to stay out in the cold a little longer.”
It is the height of the Cold War and Alec Leamas (Richard Burton), head of the Berlin Station for the British Secret Service, is tasked with the mission to take down an enemy spy, Hans-Dieter Mundt (Peter Van Eyck), head of the Abteilung (East German intelligence). British Intelligence wants to trick the Abteilung into thinking Mundt is a British double agent and so eliminate a dangerous enemy.  Leamas pretends to defect, but his charade unravels fairly quickly and he’s forced to admit he’s still a British operative.
To Leamas’ surprise it turns out Mundt actually is a double agent and he helps him and his girl-friend Nan escape. But there is just one last surprise in store for Leamas…

A large part of the film's appeal lies in trying to figure out - along with the characters - what is really happening. Everyone is in the dark as to other people’s motives and agendas. Leamas is willing to swear that it is impossible for his superiors to run an agent without his knowledge right under his nose. He would be mistaken. Knowledge that has been taken for granted proves to be inaccurate. Answers don’t lead anywhere, they just raise more questions.
The film is never quite clear if Burton is just playing at being a embittered down-and-out drunk or if he actually has gone off the deep end after a lifetime of spying. Too convincing is his cover. His deeply felt cynicism is no pose. Where does playacting end and reality begin?

The plot is very complex, its intricacies can be hard to follow. There’s next to no action, the pacing is deliberate, the screen play is wordy, but it doesn’t matter. The film’s quiet, melancholic pleasures have nothing to do with the plot. The pleasure comes from watching Burton who plays with incredible subtlety. He is fantastic as the disillusioned and burnt-out agent on a fake defection mission. One has to watch this picture to appreciate what a phenomenally brilliant actor Burton was. The close-ups of his ravaged face make the movie, in fact they ARE the movie. Burton’s lined and tired face is full of pain and and resignation. Burton IS Leamas and one has to wonder what inner turmoil supplied him with the insight to portray so jaded a man.
At the time of Spy Burton was at the height of his fame and success. Often it seemed he put his considerable talents more into overblown epics and living the jet-set life with Liz. But when he put his mind to it, he could blow everybody else off the screen. His performance here is uncharacteristically subdued and restrained, he doesn’t go in for grandiose outbursts of passion and emotion. He simply oozes inner anguish. But we can’t take our eyes off him, he’s magnetic.
When Leamas has to helplessly watch one of his agent -  who he hoped to extract from the East - being killed at the border crossing, his face seems like a mask, but the exhaustion and hopelessness he feels register in tiniest nuances and flickers of emotion.

His acting is more than ably supported by Oskar Werner as Fiedler, Peter van Eyck as Mundt and Clair Bloom as Nan who are all in top form.

Leamas is a loner without emotional attachments. Only for a short time his loneliness is alleviated by his love for earnest librarian Nan Perry (Claire Bloom), an idealistic and naive True Believer who has no clue as to what exactly she is supporting. Another patsy who doesn’t stand a chance.

“I mean you can't be less ruthless than the opposition simply because your government's 'policy' is benevolent, can you now?”
But if Leamas is a disillusioned idealist, his superiors are emotionless, amoral, dried-up, callous little men in tweed suits, manipulating their foot-soldiers with coaxing or blackmail into doing their bidding. On the surface caring, they’re really all-knowing puppet-masters pulling invisible strings just to make the puppets dance and amuse themselves, interested only in their little game whose depths nobody who’s not in the know can even fathom and understand. They have long since been removed from notions of moral right and wrong.
Though field operatives risk their lives for their country all the time, for their masters they are completely expendable. After all that’s what they’re paid for. Terrible things happen in this film while people talk quietly and effortlessly to one another in monotonous tones…about tea, or murder. It’s all one to them.
Did his superiors set Leamas up for a fall from the beginning? Was he supposed to die at the Wall because he had become disillusioned and thus useless?

Agendas are murky. None of the spy masters pay more than lip-service to their cause and their loyalty to their country. Neither side seems interested in a belief, they’re not in it for mere gain, or fun, or glory, they’re not doing it for Queen and Country or the Great Socialist Experiment. It’s about power, control and self-preservation. Capitalist, Communist…it makes no difference. Sharks who devour anyone who happens to cross their path.
Who’s friend and who’s foe is in no way clear-cut, the very concept of the enemy becomes blurred: “Before, he was evil and my enemy; now, he is evil and my friend,” shrugs the desolate Leamas at Mundt’s reveal as a double agent.

Just before the end it dawns on Leamas that he’s never been as savvy as he thought he was at playing the game. Being one step ahead was an illusion. Before he dies Leamas has just enough time to figure out that his whole mission was nothing but an elaborately orchestrated set-up. Leamas’ own role in the affair was a convenient smoke screen for his superiors; he was a pawn in an complex double-cross used by both sides to accomplish Byzantine ends that he couldn't see coming.
Life’s cheap. Then you die and bleed to death in a gutter. Good doesn’t triumph over evil. Humanity has no part in the spy game.

Leamas’ last monologue is full of self-loathing and finally comprehension. “What the hell do you think spies are? Moral philosophers measuring everything they do against the word of God or Karl Marx? They're not. They're just a bunch of seedy, squalid bastards like me. Little men. Drunkards, queers, henpecked husbands, civil servants playing cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten little lives.”

The film has lost none of its power to emotionally affect the audience. One can truly feel the chill in the air, and it stays with us long after the movie is over. The Cold War has never been so cold.

Off-Topic Discussion / No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1948)
« on: June 01, 2017, 06:11:43 PM »
No Orchids for Miss Blandish is a tawdry tale penned by prolific British novelist James Hadley Chase, an author now mostly forgotten but in his time very successful. The film was based on the eponymous book from 1939, also published under the more salacious alternative title of The Villain and the Virgin.

Chase was an interesting phenomenon, a British writer of American pulp who had become fascinated by the hard-boiled crime fiction that made its way across the Pond. He began writing in the 1930s at a time when Prohibition in America gave rise to the gangster culture. Hollywood knew a good thing when it saw it and churned out one gangster movie after another. The British public fell in love with it too. So Chase decided to jump on the bandwagon and capitalize on the trend. Though he only made two brief visits to the US in his lifetime, most of his books were set in America. Chase got himself a slang dictionary, maps, newspapers and books about gangsters and set to work. The result was No Orchids for Miss Blandish, a book full of murder, drugs, rape, torture and sadism. It was a publishing sensation and gained notoriety very quickly. The critics jumped on it and deemed it vile, sick and disgusting.
No Orchids is an utterly unsentimental and matter-of-fact depiction of sex and violence which is without a doubt still quite astonishing today. It has that in common with Mickey Spillane. Miss Blandish, kidnapped by mad-dog utterly depraved gangster Slim Grisson, is kept in a near-constant drug-induced stupor for months by Ma Grisson so her mentally unstable and impotent psychotic son can find out the differences between boys and girls. Miss B’s own father believes in tough love and doesn’t want his kidnapped “soiled” daughter back. “Better dead than deflowered” is his charming estimation of the whole situation.
The book is positively unsavory, exploitative and crude and as such a highly entertaining pulpy shocker.

For the film the story obviously had to be toned down tremendously. The film’s plot has Miss Blandish (Linden Travers) as the virginal and posh heiress to a vast fortune who is engaged to a bland but eminently suitable young man, of course approved by the family. Her fiancé considers her frigid and cold because she doesn’t return his kisses. On a way to a hot date, crooks hold up their car to steal Miss Blandish’s expensive necklace but botch the heist and kill the fiancé. They take Miss B with them for some fun. A rival group of gangsters, led by Slim Grisson (Jack La Rue), moves in and Grisson takes Miss B to his nightclub and keeps her prisoner. But of course she falls in love with him and turns her back on her family and upbringing.

The film is decidedly tame in comparison to the novel. Yes, there is quite a bit of pervasive violence throughout, people get knocked about constantly. There are lots of half-naked dames, suggestive situations and the mildly shocking subject matter of Miss B falling in love with the gangster who kidnaps her, which would now be filed under Stockholm Syndrome. But it is very hard to see what all the fuss was about. All the controversial aspects of the book were taken out. Grisson’s and Miss B’s whole relationship was transformed. They may have been off to a weird start, but in the movie Grisson never forces himself on Miss B, no drugs are involved and she clearly doesn’t leave when she has the chance. What the changes leave us with is simply a story about a doomed and tragic romance where both parties are victims of circumstance. One wonders why the censors had their knickers in a twist. The only explanation can be that Miss B is sexually awakened by someone socially and morally completely unsuitable, and likes it.

Nevertheless the picture caused a huge public outcry and drew criticism from all corners. After the War much harder crime films about “spivs” had already become popular in Britain. It wasn’t all tea and crumpets anymore. Brighton Rock (1947) was one of the first films to spark the censors’ outrage due to its depiction of violence and crime.
When the notorious No Orchids came along, British censors went haywire. Reactions went from “A wicked disgrace to the British film industry” to "It has all the morals of an alley cat and the sweetness of a sewer” and "the most sickening exhibition of brutality, perversion, sex and sadism ever to be shown on a cinema screen”. A tempest in a teapot surely but a brilliant way to orchestrate a sensation. The filmmakers got exactly what they wanted. Clearly this kind of high praise was enough to practically guarantee the movie’s overwhelming success. Who can resist this kind of advertisement?
But underneath all this vehement condemnation lay a different fear: that British culture was becoming Americanized. British theaters showed a vast amount of Hollywood imports, loved by the audience but not by the critics and British filmmakers who saw themselves as defenders of British culture which they didn’t like to see “corrupted”. The most damning insult came from The Guardian. It labeled the film ”thoroughly un-British”.

But the movie’s problems lie in completely different areas. Not only has the pulpy soul of the source material been snuffed out, but from the moment Miss B and Grisson meet they behave like two silly star-crossed lovers in a mawkish melodrama on their road to doom. It’s Beauty and the Beast with all the beastliness taken out.
The ending however is quite tragic and poignant. After Grisson is killed by the police, Miss B throws herself from her balcony over the loss of her lover.

Another problem is Jack La Rue, a minor leading man of the 30s. He’s the only American in the cast and trying to impersonate George Raft (who had been tapped to play Grisson but bowed out), but simply can’t quite carry it off. I’m not much of a Raft fan, but he has La Rue beat by a long shot. La Rue doesn’t have much charisma and the supposed feverish chemistry between him and Linden Travers is more lukewarm than sizzling. Both parties are supposed to be in constant ecstasy, but it doesn’t quite translate to the screen.

The best and most genuinely sexy scene is not between LaRue and Travers, but between investigative reporter Dave Fenner, who’s been trying to free Travers from her ordeal, and nightclub singer Margo when she’s undressing for bed and he whips the drawstring from her pajamas. Those two generate more heat than the main couple. She invites him to stay.

Lily Molnar as Ma Grisson though is very good, a tough-talking and repulsive Ma Barker clone.

But the biggest issue by far is that No Orchids takes place in some alternate gangland universe. Made in England and starring a mostly English cast, the filmmakers clearly have an outsider’s view of America and can’t quite nail it. It’s gangland USA through English eyes. It plays more like a parody of a gangster movie. The American slang never feels right. Accents are all over the place, one reviewer called them appropriately “a mixed bag of crumpets and hot dogs”. The actors don’t quite fit their roles. For the most part it’s simply awkward. You can’t take a thing out of its natural habitat and expect it to survive untouched.
The film’s an oddity. There are no orchids for Miss Blandish and no hotdogs either.

Conclusion: The Brits make absolutely fantastic Brit Noir and crime dramas, but not American Noir. (This of course goes the other way around too, Hollywood has a long and bad track record of meddling in things it shouldn’t).

Off-Topic Discussion / My Gun is Quick (1957)
« on: May 28, 2017, 12:09:36 PM »
"I just crawled out of a sewer, not a decent person left in the world"

My Gun is Quick is a slightly bland B effort that doesn't live up to either the nice quote nor to other Spillane movies like I, The Jury (minus Biff Elliot) and Kiss Me Deadly. If the audiences hopes to see the hero wallow in the cesspool of humanity, we’re gonna be disappointed.

Mike Hammer (Robert Bray) meets tired and disillusioned young hooker Red at a greasy spoon. Hours later she turns up dead and the valuable ring she was wearing, from an Italian treasure stolen during the War, is gone. Hammer is out to avenge her death trying to unravel a convoluted conspiracy involving sexy divorcee Nancy, several other available dames and lots of unsavory characters.

Mickey Spillane was a comic book writer before he began to write pulp fiction and his books clearly reflect that. Hammer is written as a cartoon character. Raymond Chandler loathed Spillane’s writing and protagonist intensely though he shouldn’t have. Spillane’s protagonist is simply the darker alter ego of Marlowe et al., and while Chandler had the critics on his side, Spillane was loved by the audience. Mike Hammer was firmly entrenched in the gutter, and he liked it there.

Mickey Spillane’s Hammer was fueled by a rage against violent crime, but at the same time considered the legal system a big hindrance to mete out justice. Hammer doesn’t just bend the law, he holds it in contempt. For him law and justice aren’t the same thing and for that reason he often decides to enforce the law himself by acting as judge, jury and executioner. He is an avenger, in a way a precursor to The Punisher or Judge Dredd. 
Hammer has often been called misogynistic but it’s simply not right. He’s not so much misogynistic as misanthropic. Hammer hates everybody.

Spillane’s creation was a crude, violent, sadistic, unethical commie-hating thug with a badge who gleefully beat the snot out of people just for the fun of it, and other film versions didn’t bother to pretty him up. Ralph Meeker came much closer to Hammer's true character in Kiss Me Deadly though obviously the Code diluted him a bit. Bray is not Spillane’s Hammer, he may still have the macho appeal but whitewashes Hammer’s key traits considerably. He’s a boy scout, much closer to what Chandler called “a knight in dirty armor”, hard-boiled, morally ambivalent maybe but with a heart of gold. He is simply too timid!

And that’s the problem with My Gun is Quick. To ignore all that Mike Hammer is invalidates the specialness of Spillane’s writing. Spillane’s Hammer was a breed apart, he was unique, Bray’s Hammer is just another PI, indistinguishable from other 50s PI characters. This movie just doesn’t capture the feel of Spillane’s novels, everything that makes Spillane Spillane is missing, so why name the main character Mike Hammer? Robert Bray had the looks to play Hammer, but he felt neutered. Many late 50s movies were a lot more brutal and gritty than this one.

When Red’s pimp starts harassing her, Bray beats him up and gives the hooker enough money to buy herself new shoes and a bus ticket back home. This is Hammer the savior of humanity, he takes pity on Red and even gives her a fatherly (!) good-bye kiss. This guy actually gives a damn and it’s simply out-of-character.

Another issue is the uneven pace of the movie, it was filmed by two different directors which showed, though it picks up in the second half.

On the plus side we have some good dialogue and lots of sexy, duplicitous, scantily clad and occasionally lethal babes.

Greasy spoons, run-down hotel rooms and strip clubs are Hammer’s natural habitat and capture the seedy ambience of Spillane quite well.

The outside locations are interesting. The 50s featured a lot more on-location shooting, but this is not a glamorous LA we get to see. Instead we have big freeways, oil derricks and stark industrial sights which convey a sense of desolation and bleakness.

It’s on youtube and definitively worth a watch though I'd call the film a failed effort simply because this is not Spillane. Other than that, it's a fun movie.

Off-Topic Discussion / I Walk Alone (1948)
« on: May 06, 2017, 04:18:06 PM »
I Walk Alone was directed by Byron Haskin for Paramount. Haskin made only one other Noir, the vastly superior Too Late for Tears. Large parts of I Walk Alone take place exclusively in one venue, a nightclub, and that shows the film's beginnings as a stage play.
Unfortunately, there is too much pondering going on here, the film would have benefited from a much tighter script. The soundtrack too is often overly intrusive and overwhelms the action at times.

I Walk Alone is a solid entry into the Noir canon, but no more. The movie’s appeal lies mainly in its star power. Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas and Lizabeth Scott are always fun to watch, and the film is worth seeing mostly as the first on-screen pairing of legendary duo Lancaster and Douglas. Seeing those two fight it out with the gloves off is a pleasant way to spend 90 minutes. There’s always a ferocious intensity and flamboyance about both actors, it’s the battle of the snarling alpha males.

The picture follows the well-worn storyline of two friends who are no longer friends due to a little thing called money. Frankie Madison (Burt Lancaster) and Noll “Dink” Turner (Kirk Douglas) had a successful  bootlegging business going during prohibition, running illegal booze across the Canadian border. One night the police is waiting for them, Noll gets away, Frankie is caught and has to take the rap. He’s jailed for 14 year while Noll hits it big and opens a swanky nightclub in New York City. He’s raking in big money. After Frankie’s release he visits Noll with the intention of collecting his half of the nightclub’s profits, as was agreed upon years earlier with a verbal fifty-fifty agreement. But Noll has no intention of honoring their understanding and uses his mistress Kay (Lizabeth Scott) to bamboozle Frankie. When Noll on top of that kills Frankies’s old friend Dave who wanted out of the racket, Frankie is out for revenge.

Frankie’s and Noll’s partnership must always have been an unequal one.
Douglas was the brains behind the operation, clever, devious and sly. He’s a snake charmer with plenty of charisma that makes people think he’s a nice guy.
Lancaster’s Frankie is a blunt instrument, he was the muscle in the organization. He’s a volatile brute who knows how to use his fists but not his head. He was born in a tough neighborhood and can handle himself though he’s like an elephant in a porcelain shop when out of his natural habitat.

What is of real interest here is the portrayal of Frankie as a career criminal. This is not a man trying desperately to go straight after his stint in jail, instead we have a man who is simply determined to claim what he believes to be his, by any means possible. He has no compunction about returning to a life of crime as long as he gets his due. He does have his own brand of integrity though, even if it’s just honor amongst thieves.

But while Frankie was inside, the world had changed and with it had crime. Crime had gone corporate, it was strictly Big Business now, organized, semi-legitimate and faceless. Back in the days Frankie and Noll ruled things by force, but now Noll deals with banks, lawyers, dummy corporations, legal technicalities and loopholes in the system.
In the best scene of the movie the audience gets a little history lesson on the ins and outs of modern-day racketeering. It’s completely unexpected and unlike anything you see in 40s Noir.
Frankie busts into Noll’s office with a bunch of goons to force him to hand over his share. Frankie only remembers the strong-arm methods of Prohibition times, for him a loaded gun is an unbeatable argument. He has to learn the harsh lesson that he can’t simply pick up life where he left off. He’s still the same guy as on the day he went to prison, but the world has moved on. Every one of Frankie’s threats is answered with double-edged business talk. Frankie’s force is no match for that.
It’s a shocking, funny and oddly educational scene all in one when Frankie finally has to realize that violence doesn’t get him what he wants from Noll, and his humiliation is almost painful to watch.
After this disaster Frankie is forced to use his brain for the first time in his life.

Lizabeth Scott is good in her role as torch singer Kay Lawrence. Not a great actress by any means, given the right role she was a very effective one. Here she plays yet another good-bad girl, a tarnished angel, and her performance is sincere and warm. She’s the pawn in the fight between two men, torn in her conflicted loyalty between both of them. Noll wants her to be the femme fatale who hooks and ensnares Frankie, but Kay spurns that role. She’s had enough of this life.

You really can’t go wrong with a Lancaster/Douglas picture but it could have been so much better. Despite a great cast, good dialogue and nice cinematography, that last final spark that elevates a film to great is missing. Not a wasted opportunity, but certainly no classic either.

Off-Topic Discussion / Brit Noir: The Man Between (1953)
« on: April 19, 2017, 06:43:46 PM »
Directed by Carol Reed, The Man Between is a Cold War spy thriller/Noir with strong romantic undercurrents. After the groundbreaking success of The Third Man, critics and audience alike anxiously awaited Reed’s follow-up effort. Upon its release four years later, the picture received mostly mediocre reviews from critics bemoaning the fact that Reed had failed to produce another Third Man. To many The Man Between seemed an inferior effort, but it simply suffers unfair comparison to a masterpiece. The truth is that every movie is inferior to it. This is hardly an insult.
The Man Between stands perfectly fine by itself and doesn’t need to fear any comparison. The cinematography and the cast are marvelous, the love story is heartbreaking, and the music is perfectly suited to the bleak and hopeless atmosphere. The Man Between deserves much more credit than it's been given. Mason and Bloom are excellent together in this film.
With respect to the oft-noted parallels between them, the tone of The Man Between differs considerably from The Third Man. The former lacks Graham Greene's dry wit and his sharp and cynical observations about the complexities of East-West relationships. There’s no irony in The Man Between, and no humor to lighten it up.
The better comparison may actually be to Odd Man Out, another story of a man on the run, where Reed likewise employed his trademark chase sequence including the snowy finale.

I’ve seen a few reviewers pointing out the rather pedestrian and uninspired cinematography of The Man Between. They couldn’t be more wrong. The photography is excellent which was maybe not obvious in the unrestored version, but thankfully the film got a superb restoration from the BFI.

The plot centers on Susanne Mallison’s (Claire Bloom) trip to occupied Berlin to visit her army doctor brother and his new German wife Bettina (Hildegard Knef). There she meets Ivo Kern (James Mason), a mysterious acquaintance of Bettina’s who does unsavory work for the East Germans. Kern is after a man named Olaf Kastner who has been rescuing people from the Russian Zone. To get to Kastner, Bettina is supposed to be kidnapped, but by mistake it is Susanne who gets taken. Now Kern must extract her and maybe into the bargain get on the good side of the Western authorities…

The film was (mostly) shot on location and is a fascinating snapshot its time. The opening sequence, a sweeping aerial view of a ravaged Berlin, immerses the viewer right away into the grim reality of a city suffering from the fallout from a war.
To this day, it is sobering to see the ruins of a destroyed country, similar to Berlin Express, Germany, Year Zero and Bicycle Thieves. No studio set could ever convey the absolute devastation brought on by falling bombs. Seven years after the War Berlin was still mostly laying in rubble. At the dawn of a new age, the city was facing an uncertain future whose outcome nobody could yet foresee or even remotely guess. The Cold War had come to stay. West Germany was on the eve of reconstruction and soon-to-come prosperity, East Germany found itself under another dictatorship. We see huge posters extolling the virtues of communism in the Russian sector, suffocating and threatening at the same time.

As he did with Belfast and Vienna, Reed again demonstrates his genius for exposing the dark underbelly of an iconic city. He perfectly captures the atmosphere of those eerie times in a divided city, which nobody who has seen will ever forget. The film is steeped in a moody, mysterious, melancholy and tragic atmosphere. Ruins, dark shadows contrasting with a brightly illuminated construction site and the stark winter coldness of snow-covered rubble-strewn streets convey an air of desolation, unease, mistrust and hopelessness which is mirrored in the drabness and quiet desperation of the city’s inhabitants. The Man Between not only captures the atmosphere of a beleaguered city but also its psyche. Add to that the feeling of claustrophobia in a place walled in by enemy country, and you have yourself the perfect Noir setup.

The film is divided into two parts, the first part Cold War espionage intrigue, the second part, after Suzanne’s abduction, romance and ultimately redemption. In the beginning the audience is not at all sure who is friend and who is enemy, whose side the players are on, who’s pulling the strings and who’s just a pawn in the game, and what is the game anyway? Everybody is keeping secrets, loyalties seem to shift constantly in an ever-changing pattern of uncertainty.

The second part is romance without sirupy sentimentality. The last 15 minutes of the film between Mason and Bloom have a lyrical quality to them, they’re heart-breaking and poignant, and display a subtle, tender and very understated eroticism. Mason tells Bloom of his life and crimes in the war, she doesn’t care. She’s fallen in love with him anyway. But the star-crossed lovers know they live on borrowed time. An impossible love in impossible times.

Mason is phenomenal here, as always in his European films. Hollywood, with a few exceptions, never seemed to know how best to utilize his persona, as opposed to British filmmakers who knew exactly how to exploit it.
At different times he is world-weary, charming, opportunistic, ruthless, tender and in the end heroic, in a word ambiguously noirish. He’s concealing many secrets and we’re never quite sure about his agenda.
It turns out he is no Harry Lime though, but a disillusioned idealist, a good man gone bad, who before the war believed in things like justice and the Rights of Man, until a very rude awakening. He lost his way, betrayed his ideals and did what he could to survive. But he hasn’t lost all his humanity, he still has a moral core. It isn’t only physical barriers that separate people, it is the often shameful secrets in their lives that keep them apart and from finding happiness.
Mason also serves as a sort of father figure to a young boy who follows him around on a bike, even though Mason pretends not to care. Their scenes too are touching. The boy clearly adores him, and in a tragic twist it’s they boy’s devotion that inadvertently betrays Mason’s presence to the border authorities.

The title’s meaning is quite obvious. Mason stands between two sides, good and bad, West and East. The ending is heart-wrenching, he dies in the no-man’s land between them, sacrificing his life for Bloom’s. He finds his redemption, if only in death.
It’s a case of “so close” and pure Noir, the absolute arbitrariness of death.

Claire Bloom in only her second role displays genuine warmth and sensitivity as a young, naive and idealistic schoolteacher who is forced to grow up and learn that the world is not just black and white.

Also impressive, though a bit underused, is Hildegard Knef of the husky voice (always billed as Neff in her international films).There’s a wonderfully poised and enigmatic quality to her which is unfortunately not enough exploited in the film. As opposed to Bloom, she’s jaded and world-weary beyond her years because she’s seen too much. She too has her own secrets, Susanne fears Bettina is having a clandestine affair with Mason right under her husband’s nose, but the truth is much more complicated and sad.

Reed was a brilliant director and this film is a must-see. It’s a spy thriller frozen in time.

Off-Topic Discussion / Fallen Angel (1945)
« on: March 30, 2017, 04:18:04 PM »
“We were born to tread the earth as angels, to seek out heaven this side of the sky. But they who race above shall stumble in the dark, and fall from grace. Then love alone can make the fallen angel rise. For only two together can enter Paradise.”

Fallen Angel, directed by Otto Preminger, was his follow-up movie to Laura. After the immensely successful Laura, Darryl Zanuck demanded that Preminger do it again. So Preminger assembled the same director, lensman, leading man, composer and costume designer again, but replaced Gene Tierney with Linda Darnell, in this case a smart decision. Tierney’s personality was too high-toned and refined, Darnell’s appeal is much more down-to-earth and no-nonsense, and when it comes to playing slutty she’s just right. It is what’s needed here.

Fallen Angel is a very good though not brilliant entry into the genre, it doesn’t have Laura’s gloss and dazzle, focusing instead on desperation and hopelessness.

The cinematography throughout is impressive, thanks to Joseph LaShelle, with wonderful shadows, clandestine meetings in dark alleys and a great opening sequence, a bus speeding through the dark night with credits zipping by as super-imposed street signs.

The movie sees Dana Andrews as aimless drifter Eric Stanton. After he can’t pay his fare all the way to San Francisco, he’s unceremoniously tossed off a Greyhound literally in the middle of nowhere, halfway between LA and SF. No man’s land, the nothing town of Walton. He’s down to his last buck and needs money fast. In Pop’s diner he meets Stella (Linda Darnell), and all it takes is one look and he’s hooked. He wants her, she wants money.
Trading on his charm, he devises several schemes to strike it rich. He’s not only a drifter, but soon-to-be con artist. After meeting smarmy spiritualist Madley (John Carradine in a great little supporting role), he sees his chance to sucker gullible local yokels out of their money by raising phony ghosts from the dead. Stanton seems to be a natural at these scams, he isn’t hampered by an abundance of conscience. He’s so good in fact that Madley offers him a steady job. But he’s stuck on Stella.
To win his lady love, Stanton concocts quite a cruel plan. Marry one girl, local heiress June (Alice Faye) for her money, then ditch her, run and marry the other. His plan works out, but to great his surprise he finds himself falling for his bride. When Stella gets herself murdered because she’s been pushing somebody too far, the heat is on him, as he was seen arguing with her. He goes on the run with June, because he doesn’t want the murder pinned on him…

Noir is predominantly an urban based style of filmmaking where crowds of people can nevertheless barely hide the isolation and loneliness of its dwellers. From the faceless anonymity of the bleak concrete jungle Noir derives many of its themes. However, Noir can survive perfectly fine outside this particular environment. The very often confined and narrow-minded atmosphere of small towns too can be a fertile ground for alienation. Walton seems to be more or less a one-horse town with what looks like just one place for entertainment. Nothing ever happens there and nothing is ever crowded which gives the movie a very intimate feel. The town seems to exist mainly in shadows, hinting at dark secrets of thwarted passions that lurk underneath.

Andrews is very convincing as the down-on-his-luck huckster who’s always looking for a quick buck. He’s been running to and from something his whole life. Fights, honest work, responsibility. He’s tormented about his past. He’s a failure, nothing he touched ever turned to gold, one financial endeavor after another tanked, he has a million jobs behind him. He confesses to June: “It all adds up to only one thing, a complete wash-out…at 30”.
He’s not really a bad guy, but he isn’t good either, and as such he’s the perfect ambiguous Noir protagonist. He’s quite complex, he doesn’t give you answers easily because he probably doesn’t know them himself.

It’s the counter at Pop’s Diner that serves as the altar the men of Walton come to worship at daily, drinking bad coffee just to get a glimpse of its resident voluptuous and provocative hash slinger slash goddess with her come-hither but don’t touch me looks.
Her entrance is pure Noir and grabs the audiences’ attention right away. She comes back after a three-day absence from just one more lousy fling that went nowhere, world-weary and tired. The camera lovingly caresses her legs, and so do all the men - with their eyes. We know right away the dame’s no good. Stella’s been around the block a few too many times.

She’s juggling many suitors at the same time, trying to milk them for as much money as possible. The girl wants to live easy. Diner owner Pop is acting like a love-sick puppy, retired cop Judd and salesman Atkins hungrily watch her all the time, so Stanton has to get in line.
But what she wants is a ring on her finger. The guy who gets her must have money to pay her way out of this backwater, that’s the way to her mercenary little heart. She wants a mealticket to respectability, then maybe she’ll consent to a little canoodling.
It’s not marriage per se she wants, it’s marriage WITH money, emphasis on money. Then she can prove to the world that she’s not just a cheap hash slinger. In an odd way, Stella wants to be June.

The problem is, Stella isn’t just greedy, she’s bone idle and downright lazy. She’s belligerent, selfish, coarse and goes out of her way to insult customers and the men who desire her. Her demeanor is a stark contrast to her looks. Sure, she’s honest about what she wants - she makes it quite clear it isn’t love she’s after, it’s money - but only because she’s so self-centered, the feelings of others mean nothing to her. Frankly, she’s simply not the sharpest knife in the drawer. She doesn’t have the brains to make it work, otherwise with her looks she should have been on easy street a long time ago.
But it’s interesting to note that it isn’t Stella who brings Andrews down, his doom is entirely of his own making. He has the chance to leave town numerous times, Stella certainly doesn’t try to hold him back, but he doesn’t. She isn’t quite a femme fatale, at least not a completely evil one. In contrast to other deadly dames, she isn’t a murderous sociopath who sets some poor sap up to take the fall for her crimes, she’s just a floozy who wants money and gets herself killed in the bargain.

Pop’s Diner is the spiritual center of the town. It’s a crummy little joint out in the boonies, it’s nothing but a shoddy clapboard structure with the word BEER written in huge letters on it. But the joint is just as crummy as the people who frequent it. Losers, drifters, down-and-outers…Stanton fits right in.

Alice Faye got top billing, but has the most thankless role in the movie, the good girl, the local spinster. Guileless, bookish, virginal and repressed, she falls for Andrews in no time.
Originally, Faye’s role was supposed to be much bigger. She had been a very successful musical actress, Fox’s No. 1 star for a while, who now wanted to make the transition to dramatic roles. Fallen Angel was supposed to launch her career on a new path. In something of a cruel twist, this didn’t happen as she was up against Darnell whose smoldering sultriness was hard to beat, and who became a huge star after the film. A lot of Faye’s scenes were left on the cutting room floor, including one in which she was supposed to sing the song “Slowly” to Andrews on the beach. This decision upset Faye, and is partly given as a reason she retired from film after Fallen Angel. In Faye’s view Preminger decidedly favored Darnell and made her role too prominent.
This should act as a warning to all actresses. If anyone ever offers you the role of good girl in a Noir, just say no. Noir belongs to the femme fatale and the good girl is simply the other woman.

Nevertheless, Faye is good as June, the redemptive woman though without a doubt too much on the saintly side. Stella and June are contrasted dramatically throughout the picture, night-time Stella and sunny-day June, sincerity vs. the gold-digger. June wants companionship, her love for Stanton is unconditional which in the end turns out to be a strength rather than a weakness. When things go bad she rises to the challenge. She’s the one who convinces her man that he’s not as bad as he thinks himself to be. All he needs is the love of a good woman. We’ve all heard that before, but as it’s Dana Andrews we’re talking about it’s a safe bet to take a chance on him. We believe it because she believes it. There is always the possibility of redemption, the quote about the fallen angel who can rise again makes that clear. As it turns out, the fallen angel is Stanton, not Stella as we are made to believe in the beginning.

We've been heavily influenced by film critics to see happy endings in Noir as a fault and the redemptive aspects of the genre are often overlooked. Many Noir protagonists do find salvation, though oftentimes only in death. But Noir doesn’t have to fit a particular template.

Despite the happy ending, Fallen Angel has its Noir credentials straight. Lust, unfulfilled longing, sexual obsession, broken promises, dashed dreams, greed, desperation and the overwhelming desire to break free from stifling unhappy lives are the main themes. Everybody here wants something they can’t have. For most of characters their aspirations end in a nightmare.

Fallen Angel is a frequently overlooked Noir, but it shouldn’t be.

Off-Topic Discussion / The Girl in the Black Stockings (1957)
« on: February 17, 2017, 04:20:52 PM »
The Girl in the Black Stockings, directed by Howard Koch (Shield for Murder), is more of a thriller/slasher film with exploitation touches than Noir and quite a decent little flick, campy and highly entertaining with good location shooting and decent dialogue. The movie has gotten a lot of flak over the years, but I find the ridicule quite undeserved.

Maybe I just have a thing for pulpy B movies but I like The Girl in the Black Stockings, a misleading title if there ever was one. No girl wears stockings of any kind in the movie.

Technically this could be called late period Noir, but rather than focusing on doom, gloom and pessimism, it is strangely wacky and jam-packed with suggested depravity, sex and psycho-babble. Noir was going into a different direction, exploitation was on its way in and this movie foreshadows more realistically brutal and shocking thrillers like Psycho or Peeping Tom.

Everybody seems to have nothing but sex on the brain here and everyone has sexual hang-ups, and in the end we find out it was sex (should be spelled in all caps) that made the killer go over the edge. Well, well…it’s just unfortunate that the whole thing isn’t trashy and lurid enough. The posters, the title and the set-up promise pulpy luridness but they don’t quite deliver what they promise, and if we expect glorious all-out trashiness, we don’t get it. All the wonderful sinfulness is only hinted at.

On vacation at Parry Lodge in Utah, hunky lawyer (!) David Hewson (Lex Barker), out on a romantic date with Beth Dixon (Anne Bancroft) finds the badly mutilated body of a party girl. Soon the bodies start piling up, there’s no shortage of suspects because the visitors to the lodge are a strange lot.

The cast is very good, though the performances are strangely off-kilter and veer into camp territory quite often.

Lex Barker is Lex Barker and he struts around in swim shorts a lot of the time. No complaints there.

Mamie Van Doren is bodacious as always, her tangible assets are plenty on display and she has the best campy scene the movie in which she literally throws herself at the hotel owner.

The best of the cast is probably Ron Randell who plays completely paralyzed embittered lodge owner Edmund Parry, who’s eaten up by an all-consuming hate for the world, everybody who lives in it and most of all himself. His injuries are purely psychosomatic, he has been paralyzed since his lady love left him decades earlier. His ice-cold seething hate for women and his obsession with sex are chilling to watch. It’s a very strange performance, at the same time off-kilter, hammy but oddly effective nevertheless.
For the longest time the audience is made to believe that he’s only shamming his injury.

Marie Windsor, who could vamp it up with the best of them, plays his too-devoted sister who takes care of him. It’s a bit odd to see her as repressed spinster and not the femme fatale.
Her possessiveness knows no bounds, there are definitively incestuous undercurrents in their relationship. The way she caresses her brother is not in the least sisterly, and it was her who drove her brother’s girl-friend away. In fact it’s a bit shock to find out she’s Edmund’s sister, not his wife.

Anne Bancroft is slight under-utilized here, she had much meatier roles in Nightfall and New York Confidential. Though she turns out to be the serial killer, the motives for her crimes are too murky, it is only alluded too that she was supposedly made to do “shameful” things. There we go again. Even in the 50s there were films that didn't shy away from giving a bit more detail.

A fun little time waster.

I will also post this review in the individual Film Noir thread. Or is Joe going to do that?

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