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1  Other/Miscellaneous / Off-Topic Discussion / Re: I Wake Up Screaming (1941) A Gateway Noir on: February 06, 2018, 11:17:14 AM
My problem was the plot itself.

Plot does not matter.
2  Other/Miscellaneous / Off-Topic Discussion / Re: Where Danger Lives (1950) on: January 28, 2018, 10:13:38 AM
And thanks again.
3  Other/Miscellaneous / Off-Topic Discussion / Re: Act Of Violence (1948) on: January 28, 2018, 10:10:42 AM
Thanks, D & D.  Afro
4  Other/Miscellaneous / Off-Topic Discussion / Re: Raw Deal (1948) on: January 17, 2018, 08:31:41 AM
Too bad the movie sucks.

Not at all. Tell me more.
5  Other/Miscellaneous / Off-Topic Discussion / Re: Raw Deal (1948) on: January 12, 2018, 11:25:56 AM
Finally. I can't wait.
6  Other/Miscellaneous / Off-Topic Discussion / Re: Breaking Point (The) (1950) on: January 10, 2018, 05:17:59 PM
Thanks, D & D, for the upload.  Afro
7  Other/Miscellaneous / Off-Topic Discussion / Re: Plunder Road (1957) on: January 09, 2018, 04:12:39 PM
Don't buy Miami Story. It's not bad but I wouldn't spend the money on it.
8  Other/Miscellaneous / Off-Topic Discussion / Re: Plunder Road (1957) on: January 09, 2018, 03:43:52 PM
Moorman, you could have watched this on youtube. Perfect copy.
9  Other/Miscellaneous / Off-Topic Discussion / Re: Too Late for Tears (1949) on: January 09, 2018, 10:08:14 AM
The restoration is out now. The price is bad though.
10  Other/Miscellaneous / Off-Topic Discussion / Re: The Big Combo (1955) on: January 04, 2018, 03:16:30 PM
Adding my support also.

Made in 1955 by Poverty Row studio Allied Artist (Monogram’s banner for their upgraded products) on a paltry budget, The Big Combo garnered mediocre reviews upon its release. The contemporary NYTimes review went so far as to call the picture “a shrill, clumsy and rather old-fashioned crime melodrama” and “a sputtering, misguided antique.” Harsh words for a movie that is considered a classic now, and not at all justified either. But then we have the benefit of hindsight.
By 1955 the Noir cycle was coming to an end. The 50s saw Expressionist visual poetry be replaced by a more realistic semi-documentary approach with emphasis on natural lighting. Combo is a throwback, it’s one of the last great 40s Noirs, made in the 50s.

One of the stars of Combo is John Alton’s brilliant photography. He gives us a masterclass on Noir style, utilizing his entire Noir bag of tricks. Deep shadows, high contrast lighting, dimly lit back alleys, canted angles and sets that are near empty, oftentimes just semi-realistic and seemingly lit only by cigarette butts. Alton turned a buck fifty budget into a virtue, creating a surreal dreamy mood piece that is visually one of the last pure Noirs. The deserted corridors of the boxing arena shrouded in darkness and the empty concert house for the piano recital are almost stripped to the bones abstractions.

Cornel Wilde stars as Leonard Diamond, a cop with one mission in life: to take down untouchable kingpin Mr. Brown (Richard Conte). He’s not just single-minded about it, he’s a man obsessed. His zeal borders on fanatic. Diamond is on a crusade. Caught in the middle between the two men is Susan Lowell (Jean Wallace), Brown’s moll, who Diamond has the hots for. But Susan seems to be completely under Brown’s spell…

Directed by Joseph H. Lewis, Combo is a movie that’s decidedly character-driven. It’s brimming with fascinating characters. The plot is negligible. Cop hunts robber. We’ve seen it all before. It’s probably why the NYT considered it stale. They just neglected to dig a little deeper and took it all at face value.
Lewis’ last movie Gun Crazy didn’t separate between sex and violence, in Combo it’s sex and power that seem to be interchangeable. Really, the whole movie is about sex, sex and more sex. Everybody’s demons seem to rest on it. It’s all not-so-discreet.
Combo is a movie about obsessions. Brown is obsessed with power, Diamond is obsessed with Brown and his moll, Susan is obsessed with kinky sex. There’s an incredible seediness and perversity about it all. The twisted love triangle, or quadrangle, of the protagonists is something any shrink would have a field day with.

It is Richard Conte who carries the movie. Unfailingly suave, vicious, without conscience and an arrogance that knows no bounds, Mr. Brown is obsessed with power and always being No.1: “First is first and second is nobody” is his maxim. He gives the audience a little lesson on his personal philosophy. Hate. It’s life’s great motivator:

“What makes the difference? Hate…Hate the man who tries to kill you. Hate him until you see red and you come out winning the big money. The girls will come tumbling after.”

Brown drops a boxer he’d backed when the kid loses a fight, simply because he lacks that all-important killer instinct. He despises most people including his insecure second-in-command - and former boss - Joe McClure (Brian Donlevy), who he continuously humiliates mercilessly as a “little man”. Nobody is allowed to stand in Brown’s way and whoever does must die.

Hate is what keeps Brown warm at night…and his mistress Susan. Brown is quite proud of his prowess with women. Susan used to be a high society girl with ambitions to become a concert pianist. She would love to go back to that life, but instead she’s been sinking further into the gutter quite frankly because sex with Brown is so good! The movie leaves no doubt that Brown holds Susan in an erotic thrall. Brown is a sadist, he literally owns Susan. When she’s not with him he has her shadowed. She’s sexually drawn to Brown despite his  possessiveness. Or maybe just because of it. Brown has her emotionally and sexually hypnotized. THAT way-ahead-of-its-time love scene - suggesting oral sex -  with Susan’s ecstatic face leaves no doubt about it.
The PCA collectively had a conniption and wanted the scene cut, but Lewis steadfastly maintained that there was no proof of any sexual activity. It was all in the censors’ dirty minds.
Susan despises herself for her weakness. She can’t admit why exactly she stays with Brown. She doesn’t need to, we get the message anyway.

Brown has the obsessive Diamond pegged alright. With uncanny psychological insight he lays a finger on what keeps Diamond up at night. Hiding behind a facade of righteousness is a man eaten up by jealousy:

“Diamond, the only trouble with you is you’d like to be me.  You’d like to have my organization, my influence, my fix. You can’t. That’s impossible. You think it’s money. It’s not. It’s personality. You haven’t got it, Lieutenant – you’re a cop. Slow, steady, intelligent…With a big yen for a girl you can’t have.”

Brown has everything, Diamond only has dumpy digs and $96.50 a week. There is something incredibly impotent about Diamond’s rage against Brown. Diamond has been spending several months’ pay to trail Susan around the country for six months, ostensibly in order to catch Brown. She isn’t even aware of his existence! It’s less the cop’s sense of justice that makes him hunt the mobster, Diamond’s private vendetta rests purely on his personal libido problem. He may not want to admit it to himself, but this is his true motivator for putting Brown behind bars. Actually, if Diamond could, he’d rather castrate Brown than lock him up. It’s a seriously twisted set-up.

Diamond is not only humorless, he’s a self-righteous prick to boot. He lays the moralizing on really thick: ”You think this is mink, Miss Lowell…These are the skins of human beings, Miss Lowell!”. Frankly, Brown may be a sadist killer, but he’s at least not a sanctimonious hypocrite. I rooted for him.
Diamond however isn’t quite as straight-laced and upright as he would like to have the world believe. He’s in a sort of “relationship” with a sexy stripper, make that burlesque dancer, that would now be called friends with benefits. Rita is clearly in love with him, she’d like to be something more than the occasional booty call. She is wise beyond her years and has more honest insight into human relationships than anybody else in the film. She tells Diamond outright: “A woman doesn’t care how a man makes his living. Only how he makes love.”
Helen Stanton is phenomenal in a small role that could easily have been just another cliched variation on the hooker-with-the-heart-of-gold. She infuses Rita with a genuine integrity that all the other characters seem to lack. In the most upsetting scene of the movie Rita gets killed in a hit in Diamond’s apartment in a case of mistaken identity. The bullets were for him. Diamond tries to show some kind of regret after her death. “I treated her like a pair of gloves” he says. But it doesn’t sound very sincere. Susan is all that’s on his mind. The guy doesn’t know how good he has it. Rita has Susan beat on every level.

Cornel Wilde was an actor of limited range, he was always rather stiff and wooden and is really no match for Conte. But if Wilde was a limited actor, Jean Wallace - as the good girl gone bad - was no actress at all. She was Wilde’s real-life wife and that’s the reason she got cast. She’s pretty but rather vapid, spineless and without much personality. It’s hard to believe she has two men fighting over her. She isn’t a femme fatale either. She doesn’t have the guts for it.

Oddly enough, there’s only one healthy relationship in the movie. The one between the two gay henchmen Fante and Mingo (Lee Van Cleef and Earl Holliman) who are an strangely likable pair for all their brutality and ruthlessness. They are inseparable, loyal to each other and live in happy self-contained domesticity.

Combo has quite a few memorable scenes, like Brown’s subtle negotiation tactics which include Diamond’s torture by hearing aid and hair tonic.
Also the chilling execution scene of Brown’s lieutenant McClure. Brown informs the deaf man that he won't have to hear the gun fire that’ll kill him. He yanks out McClure's hearing aid and the soundtrack goes silent simultaneously. We see the gun fire but can only hear what McClure can hear, nothing.  

The finale is a riff on Casablanca. In a hangar shrouded in thick fog, Diamond finally has Brown cornered. It is Susan who is Brown’s downfall. She shines a big spotlight on him, thus exposing him and figuratively his sins. Like a vampire, Brown is disorientated. Diamond doesn’t even mercifully kill him, Brown is being dragged away by two policemen, finally transformed into a nobody.
Diamond and Susan venture out onto the airfield together, beautifully silhouetted against the swirling fog. Susan has finally freed herself of him.
11  Other/Miscellaneous / Off-Topic Discussion / Re: The Big Combo (1955) on: January 04, 2018, 10:06:19 AM
The cinematography was just ok to me.

No, no, no. NO.
12  Other/Miscellaneous / Off-Topic Discussion / Re: The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) on: December 20, 2017, 10:34:32 AM
Again thanks, D & D.
13  Other/Miscellaneous / Off-Topic Discussion / Re: Pushover (1954) on: December 20, 2017, 10:33:51 AM
Thank you, D & D.  Afro
14  Other/Miscellaneous / Off-Topic Discussion / Re: Tomorrow Is Another Day (1951) on: December 19, 2017, 09:46:41 AM
This is a great review by The Professor, but I can't quite work up the same enthusiasm for the movie as he can. I like my Noir bleak and depressing. Smiley

Tomorrow is Another Day was directed by strictly B director Felix Feist for WB and is a virtually unknown Noir. The movie basically consists of two distinctively separate parts which makes it feel slightly disjointed. We have two movies in one. The first half has all the high-octane ingredients for a crackerjack Noir, but the movie doesn't play by the (Noir) rules. What promises to be a dark and cynical Bonny and Clyde “couple on the run” picture, then becomes romantic melodrama in the second half which is light on crime. Cynicism melts into sentimentality. In the narrowly confined parameters of Noir Tomorrow is a failure, it doesn’t fulfill genre expectations; but as the Noir formula was written in stone only retrospectively, there’s no reason why this picture shouldn’t break the mold.
What we get is a Noir about redemption. It’s an interesting setup. Is change possible? Can one’s life be ultimately redeemed? Are people forever damned by their past?

After 18 years inside, Bill Clark (Steve Cochran) is released from prison. He was only 13 when he went in, after having killed his abusive and drunk father in what can with justification be called self-defense. After a reporter ruins his chances at a decent job by splashing his picture across the morning papers, Bill takes off to NY where he meats cheap peroxide blonde dime-a-dance girl Cay Higgins (Ruth Roman). Cay is a hardboiled dame if there ever was one. After demurring quite insincerely and playing coy, Cay asks Bill to her apartment where her cop boyfriend Conover is waiting. Boyfriend gets angry and knocks out Bill, Cay shoots him in self-defense and sees her chance to let Bill take the blame. They decide to go on the lam and find work on a farm as lettuce pickers. But they can’t hide forever, in a pulp crime magazine the Dawson family's little boy sees a wanted poster for Bill promising a nice reward…
There is (maybe) some careful criticism of the HUAC committee here. Mr. Dawson wants to rat out Bill to the police, but Mrs. Dawson is adamant that this would amount to blood money. Not before Mrs. Dawson is desperate for the money to pay for her husband’s operation, is she willing to do it.
Cochran - playing against type - truly breathes life into his portrayal of Bill, he simply nails the character. Having spent all of his adult life in prison, he literally never grew up other than in the purely physical sense. He’s a child trapped in a man’s body. He’s still a babe in the woods. He’s completely unprepared to face the outside world and society. He hasn’t changed much since he went in, but the world has.
From the first we’re on his side though we don’t know his whole story yet. Not until at least the halfway mark do we find out that his killing was justified, leaving him essentially blameless. During the trial he just refused to take the easy way out by showing any kind of remorse, instead truthfully stating he didn’t regret his killing. The jury took it as utter cold-bloodedness and handed down a guilty verdict.

The film shines in the depiction of Bill’s first moments of freedom. Bill has never kissed a girl. He’s never had a drink, never driven a car, he has nothing in common with the people outside because he never shared their life experiences. His first few hours in freedom are at the same time funny and heart-breaking. He sees a new snazzy convertible parked in the streets with electric buttons (!) and he’s in awe. He just has to touch them. He sees a pretty girl and simply tries to follow her. His social skills are non-existent. He then goes into a diner and like a child who can’t get enough he orders not one, but three different pieces of pie, as well as his very first beer. Our first reaction is to laugh at him, but we can’t.
Then he goes to a dancehall and sees Roman and one look is all it takes. He uses his prison pay to buy dances and trinkets for her. He’s got it bad. It’s lust at first sight.

Cay is a taxi dancer at Dreamland. Taxi dance halls were incredibly popular from the 20s to the 50s. Patrons bought a ticket for a dime to dance with the girl of their choice. Taxi dancers earned commission on every dance ticket— it wasn’t a bad deal if the girl knew how to milk the customers. It was a gift from God for lonely men, outsiders and misfits and most certainly a place a guy like Bill would gravitate towards. The dance hall scenes are fantastic. They have a wonderfully lurid appeal.
Roman is at her baddest best and is as hard-bitten and calculating a cheap dame as any that can be found in more famous Noirs. Cay’s original career dream as ballet dancer didn’t pan out. Now she’s selling dances, dreams and then some at a dancehall. It is more than strongly implied that she and the other girls are moonlighting as prostitutes, or maybe it’s the other way around. They seductively coo invitations to “private lessons” after hours in the customers’ ears and Cay makes it clear her affections can be bought with pretty shiny gifts, even though she constantly but not very convincingly plays coy. She isn’t above fleecing her customers and stealing other girls’ “suitors” when they’re not looking either. Cay also has a cop boyfriend who -very likely - doubles as her pimp.
Enter Bill who Cay right away sums up as a perfect patsy, ripe for the plucking. She’s not just morally ambiguous, she’s absolutely rotten.

Up until the couple go on the run and stay in a little motel where Bill asks Cay to marry him, the movie is pure Noir. After that we’re in romantic melodrama territory. We go from hard-boiled to soft-boiled. Cay changes her hair color from brassy blond to brunette and from one second to another she’s a changed woman. Her tough facade begins to crumble. The symbolism is all too clear, with her hair color she’s changed her personality. The bad can simply be washed out, and this stretches credibility to the max. Cay’s change is never really explained, it happens out of the blue. Character development is sorely lacking. Roman can pull off both roles, but the script lets her down. One second hard-bitten tramp, next second wholesome and loving wife. The brassy cheap bottle blonde was just an illusion. True Love rears its ugly head (sorry, I had to say it), and really, true love has no business in Noir.

After getting married, Bill and Cay try to make a decent living for themselves as lettuce pickers, living in small shack like other migrant laborers. The picture is a bit Grapes of Wrath light at that point, without the desperation and exploitation. The workers’ lives are depicted with real warmth. For the first time Bill and Cay find contentment in honest hard work and the camaraderie with others.
After seeing the wanted ad though, the Dawsons inform the police about Bill who come for him. Not to let her husband get into any more trouble, Cay shoots Bill in the shoulder and confesses it was she who shot Conover. Both are taken into custody.
And here is where the script really crumbles beneath the actors, this time with a vengeance. They’re taken to the DA who tells them that Conover made a statement before he died that Cay shot him in self-defense. The hack writer of the pulp wanted ad was a bit trigger-happy and concocted a BS story without having all the facts. Bill and Cay are now free to continue their new life together.
The ending is not only laughable, but truly ruined what could have been a great Noir. It is too upbeat and obviously studio-imposed. The PCA didn’t just neuter a good film, it shot it all to pieces. This copout completely dulls all the rough edges set up in the first half by abandoning all kind of political and social criticism. The bad cop wasn’t really so bad and corrupt, the DA is just really a nice benevolent uncle who only wants to help. All authority figures in the movie are simply too benign and sympathetic. The theme of corruption and not giving the downtrodden a (second) chance is blown to bits.
Only Bill’s and Cay’s paranoia made them run. Only in their imagination were they trapped by circumstances. All their fears were really unfounded.

The movie is really quite good and it has a lot to recommend it, though the viewer has to abandon his preconceptions about Noir. But for me the two halves of the film never quite gel. True Love in Noir usually amounts to a useless sentimental pipe dream that only suckers believe in. Tomorrow is a Noir that has a moral center, but that’s not what I’m looking for in Noir.
Other Noirs handled the redemption angle much better. What I wanted was more Bonny and Clyde, Noir to the bitter end. It all should have ended in a hail of bullets. I think the producers owed us a warning in the beginning: soap suds alert.
15  Other/Miscellaneous / Off-Topic Discussion / Re: The Racket (1951) on: December 08, 2017, 10:17:41 AM
Greenbudgie, there are several Noirs which skip the background music in favor of what could be called the sounds of the city. Call Northside 777, The Dark Corner and The Naked City , or movies where railroads feature prominently, like The Narrow Margin and Human Desire. To me it works just fine.
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