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Author Topic: Mulholland Falls (1996) LA/Desert/Western "B" style Neo Noir  (Read 2380 times)
cigar joe
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« on: September 24, 2014, 06:50:49 AM »


title sequence stag film

Director: Lee Tamahori, Stars: Nick Nolte, Melanie Griffith, Jennifer Connelly, Chazz Palminteri, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, Treat Williams, Daniel Baldwin, John Malkovich, Andrew McCarthy, Louise Fletcher, Rob Lowe and Bruce Dern.

The Wild West circa 1950s....

This film reminds you not only of all the "B" LA/Desert based crime Noir films but it also channels a very strong updated Western vibe with its quasi legal vigilante justice story line. Endorsed by the "chief" a nice cameo by Dern, the un-officially sanctioned Hat Squad, Hoover (Nolte), Coolidge (Palminteri), Hall (Madsen), and Relyea (Penn) are like modern day Earp Brothers riding around the boulevards of broken dreams in the ultimate Western "boom" town, The City of Angels, "tinsel town", LA. Their mission is to keep the vice rackets under local control and their territory/turf runs from the desert ranges of the Cal/Nev border country to the Pacific rim. Their targets are any organized crime mobsters from the Mid West or East Coast who they sort of run out of town by sundown by escorting them to Mulholland Falls, sort of like Niagara Falls without the water.

Hoover makes you think of Dashiell Hammett's Continental OP, a big imposing stocky cross between Noir icons Sterling Hayden and Raymond Burr. He wields justice with a sap, again reminiscent of the way Wyatt Earp would coldcock outlaws with his Buntline special, and re-enforcing the films Wild West vibe. His partner Coolidge reminds you of Joseph Calleia's character in Touch of Evil, is a slightly neurotic transplanted Easterner, the squads methods of vigilante justice are effecting his life to the point to where he is seeing a female psychiatrist. The attempts by Coolidge to deal with old school Hoover's wild mood swings and his admonitions to the squad about how they agreed that they weren't going do this or that again are quite humorous. Hall and Relyea are both more laconic, though Hall is the cockier of the two.


The squad about to launch a victim off the "falls"


mobster: You can't do this this is America.
Hoover: This ain't America, this is LA...

The catalyst to the decent into Noirsville is when the squad is sent to investigate the body of a woman who is embedded face down into the ground at a housing development in the hills above LA. She looks like she was run over by a steam roller, and when she is pried out and turned over her identity is known to Hoover who is visibly shaken.  His reaction is noticed by his squad mates. An autopsy indicates that she fell from a great height, like a cliff, but there are no cliffs at the site. An X-Ray has a curious blank section caused by a radio active piece of glass. Back at headquarters a film canister arrives addressed to Hoover and a screening reveals a stag film spliced with shots of a desert resort, a military instillation, a hospital ward and soldiers at a tactical atomic bomb test.


Stag film

The stag film shows the films equivalent to the femme fatale, Allison Ponds (Connelly) a '56 Caddy love goddess, fatal in one way or another to all the men she touches. Connelly is like a brunette Marilyn Monroe and she displays her assets in all their glory. Allison in the film is screwing an unknown man, Hoover's reaction to the film spurs Coolidge to confront him about the girls identity, and Hoover confesses to having a six month affair with Allison, a high priced prostitute. In flashback we see Hoover, during a raid on an after hours club, walk in on Allison bitch slapping a pimp who was about to shoot the teen aged girl laying on a bed behind her with junk. Hoover over doses the pimp dead with his own needle.


Allison defending an underage girl from the pimp who was about to shoot her up with horse.

Allison's best friend and neighbor is Jimmy Fields (McCarthy), a gay photographer, he sent the film footage to Hoover as both evidence of a government cover-up (the reason he thinks that Allison was killed) and for protection from her killers. He confesses to the existence of other films indicating that he also has a film of Hoover with Allison.


Fields with Hoover in LAPD interrogation room

The radioactive glass and the film sends the squad like a posse, riding across the desert to a Nevada test site in a 49 Buick Roadmaster. This beautifully filmed sequence strongly enforces the contemporary modern setting with the classic Hollywood Western replacing horses with automobiles, while at the same time evoking classic era Western US Noirs, Detour, Highway Dragnet, Bad Day At Black Rock, Inferno, High Sierra, I Died A Thousand Times, Hitck-Hike, Raw Deal, Touch of Evil.


the posse in their trusty steed a '49 Roadmaster

Melanie Griffith playing against her usual type is convincing as Hoovers wife, the woman he done wrong. It nice to see her stretch her talent to vulnerable characters.



Griffith happy to tragic

The other players are all spot on Dern as mentioned previously, Baldwin as an FBI agent, Malkovich as General Timms, Williams as the rogue soldier and Louise Fletcher as Ester a police woman.


General Timms


Sedan Crater


Pacific Coast, Malibu

Classic Noir locations used are the Los Angels City Hall, the Pacific Coast at Malibu, Desert Hot Springs, and Mulholland Drive. The film adds to that list a neat googie style apartment with pool and what has to be a unique instantly iconic neo noir location, the Sedan Crater in Nevada, a spooky nuclear bomb test site. The nuclear test angle of the story is a nod to Kiss Me Deadly but I've read that the films original ending was for Hoover and Coolidge, after surviving an emergency landing too near a test site, were to be incinerated by a nuclear blast.  Now how utterly noir would that have been?


Coolidge & Hoover right before the rumored vaporizing original ending.

I say I like it better than LA Confidential, and more every time I watch it. The Cinematography by Haskell Wexler (In The Heat Of The Night) is gorgeous.

It got the hats right, it has a nice rendition of "Harbour Lights" by Aaron Neville, you gotta love that Buick Roadmaster convertible tooling across the gorgeous desert landscapes and also Jennifer Connelly's bOObs. I guess you gotta find out these things for yourself rather than go by critics, it's the reason I never checked it out. WTF were they thinking? Is it because almost nobody wears fedoras anymore or drive dinosaur gas guzzlers?, or was it because the cast was all adults and smoking is frowned upon, who knows. It reminds you of all the LA based crime Noirs. The only small fault is Nolte's mumbling, it's hard to understand him at times. Nice enough score by Dave Grusin 9/10

« Last Edit: September 24, 2014, 05:45:09 PM by cigar joe » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: September 24, 2014, 06:03:18 PM »

Roger Ebert     4 1/2 stars

 
They were called the Hat Squad. They were four beefy middle-age guys who drove around in a black Buick convertible, wearing fedoras and chain-smoking, and throwing guys, mostly bad guys, over cliffs. They worked for the Los Angeles Police Department. This was in the early 1950s. “Mulholland Falls” takes the idea of these licensed vigilantes and crafts it into a “Chinatown” of the early Atomic Age. When a young woman is found murdered at a construction site, her body pressed into the earth almost as if by a steamroller, the Hat Squad gets involved. More involved than they planned, because the squad's leader, a cop named Hoover (Nick Nolte), knew the dead girl. Knew her, and had knowledge of her, if you see what I mean. This is the kind of movie where every note is put in lovingly. It's a 1950s crime movie, but with a modern, ironic edge: The cops are just a shade over the top, just slightly in on the joke. They smoke all through the movie, but there's one scene where they're disturbed and thoughtful, and they all light up and smoke furiously, the smoke lit by the cinematographer to look like great billowing clouds, and you smile, because you know the scene is really about itself. In addition to Nolte, the squad is played by Michael Madsen, Chazz Palminteri and Chris Penn. Palminteri is seeing a shrink because he has trouble sleeping at night, no doubt because of his job (the film opens with the guys throwing a gangster over the edge of Mulholland Drive with the helpful advice, “We don't want organized crime in L.A.!”). The other three guys look like they sleep all right. But Nolte's dreams are haunted after he sees the dead girl.

Her name is Allison Pond (Jennifer Connelly). She lives in an efficiency apartment in a post-World War II pool-and-bedroom building, and is one of those beautiful lost Hollywood girls who is halfway between being discovered as a starlet and growing old as a hooker. Hoover met her for the first time as she was being beaten by a hoodlum. He sapped the hood and then injected him with a needle-full of his own medicine, causing a drug overdose. That led to his first conversation with Allison: “That's an inventive way of dispensing justice.” “It's an integral part of the job. So, who are you?” “Well, you won't find out by killing me.” She is breathtakingly beautiful, lush, carnal and yet innocent. She could be a cover model for all those 1950s pulp detective magazines. When the cops find her body, Hoover feels a special pain, because he loved her for six months, and then finally left her because he loved his wife (Melanie Griffith) more. The cops follow a trail of leads and clues through a strange cross-section of southern California. Their search mirrors the method used by Raymond Chandler in his Philip Marlowe novels, where a crime requires an expedition into the psychological undergrowth of a sinful and greedy community.

Hoover gets a film in the mail showing him having sex with Allison. Tracking down the film leads to the possibility that there were other films, and that blackmail may be involved. And then tests show that glass in the dead girl’s foot is radioactive, and the Hat Squad finds itself breaking onto a military atomic test range. This Allison knew a lot of guys. Maybe she would have stayed with Hoover if he had stayed with her. But then her list grew longer, and as Hoover follows it, it leads him to the consumptive Gen. Timms (John Malkovich), kingpin of U.S. atomic testing, who saw the girl on the last weekend of her life. And Timms, in turn, is connected to the unbending Col. Fitzgerald (Treat Williams) and the snaky chief of police (Bruce Dern). “Mulholland Falls” is the first movie directed by Lee Tamahori since his powerful 1994 film “Once Were Warriors,” the story of violence and abuse in a New Zealand Maori family. “Mullholland Falls” couldn't look and feel more different--it's a masterfully atmospheric film noir--and yet it sees a similar culture of men who define themselves violently by other men, and use women without knowing them.

The film was photographed by Haskell Wexler, who finds a clean, hard-edged look to shots such as one where the cops peer down into a nuclear crater in the sand, and others where the Hat Squad in their shiny Buick lookalike male action dolls out for a spin in “Toy Story.” One of the key casting decisions was to use Jennifer Connelly as the wounded beauty at the heart of the story. Connelly is sexy in the way Marilyn Monroe was sexy--as if she doesn't quite believe it, and can't quite help it--and she finds the right note, halfway between innocence and heedless abandon. The men around her are well-cast (Dern and Malkovich are uncredited) to show the varieties of male ego and ruthless power, and it's no surprise that her best friend (Andrew McCarthy) is gay. In the way the movie makes a tour through colorful locations--gangster nightclubs, lonely mountain roads, cheap apartment complexes, saloons, the desert--it reminds us of Chandler's famous line, about the mean streets a man must walk down. It also seems to know something about how those streets got tube so mean.

« Last Edit: September 24, 2014, 06:04:26 PM by cigar joe » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: September 24, 2014, 06:39:33 PM »

Never heard of it. Looks cool.
The second picture in your post is the most 90's image ever.

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« Reply #3 on: June 14, 2016, 10:29:20 AM »

I saw it in French yesterday. Gorgeous cinematography, atmosphere, set and costumes design. Mostly an amazing cast, it feels like a time travel to what the 90's got right.
The film is severely flawed though. The story doesn't work, the fact that one can basically attack a US military base several times without too much problems is unbelievable. The whole nuclear thing is a bit over the top, especially for a noir film. I don't know who they had in mind for the main character first but Nolte often feels miscasted (although he's doing a great job. His last close up is absolutely stunning). Also, some dialogues are based in great idea but are too heavily executed... good thing the cast is good enough to bring them to another level.
I'm giving it a solid 7/10. You HAVE to watch it if you're into noir films. Don't bother if the noirish atmosphere doesn't do it for you: you'll be annoyed by the flaws.
Thanks CJ for bringing this to my attention, I'd never have known about it. I had a very good time and I'll watch it again (in English this time).

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« Reply #4 on: June 14, 2016, 10:39:24 AM »

I saw it in French yesterday. Gorgeous cinematography, atmosphere, set and costumes design. Mostly an amazing cast, it feels like a time travel to what the 90's got right.
The film is severely flawed though. The story doesn't work, the fact that one can basically attack a US military base several times without too much problems is unbelievable. The whole nuclear thing is a bit over the top, especially for a noir film. I don't know who they had in mind for the main character first but Nolte often feels miscasted (although he's doing a great job. His last close up is absolutely stunning). Also, some dialogues are based in great idea but are too heavily executed... good thing the cast is good enough to bring them to another level.
I'm giving it a solid 7/10. You HAVE to watch it if you're into noir films. Don't bother if the noirish atmosphere doesn't do it for you: you'll be annoyed by the flaws.
Thanks CJ for bringing this to my attention, I'd never have known about it. I had a very good time and I'll watch it again (in English this time).

Now you have to check out Hit Me (1996) with Parisian Laure Marsac

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« Reply #5 on: September 23, 2016, 02:20:16 PM »

So that's where Williams ended up after he embarked for Vietnam. Cool I had great hopes after the start, but the story hangs on a spit: why was Connelly murdered? The fact that the characters themselves say it was for nothing doesn't help making the circumstance more credible. Was Connelly killed because she had filmed places and circumstances to be kept secret? But then she shouldn't be allowed free entrance in the base at the start. Never for a second there was a trace of western, on the contrary it was more some SF movies I was reminded of during vision. 7/10

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« Reply #6 on: September 23, 2016, 02:47:27 PM »

So that's where Williams ended up after he embarked for Vietnam. Cool I had great hopes after the start, but the story hangs on a spit: why was Connelly murdered? The fact that the characters themselves say it was for nothing doesn't help making the circumstance more credible. Was Connelly killed because she had filmed places and circumstances to be kept secret? But then she shouldn't be allowed free entrance in the base at the start. Never for a second there was a trace of western, on the contrary it was more some SF movies I was reminded of during vision. 7/10

The "/Desert/Western" part is the landscapes nothing to do with the plot.

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« Reply #7 on: September 24, 2016, 12:39:33 AM »

The "/Desert/Western" part is the landscapes nothing to do with the plot.

So every time there's a desert in the shot we have a western? You're joking?   

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« Reply #8 on: September 24, 2016, 01:13:19 AM »



I dare any film buff to guess if this shot is from a western or a SF movie.

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« Reply #9 on: September 24, 2016, 06:56:41 AM »

So every time there's a desert in the shot we have a western? You're joking?   

Don't be ridiculouse, you are misunderstanding me, the landscapes - mountains, deserts suggest the atmosphere of a Western, not that the film is a Western.

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« Reply #10 on: September 24, 2016, 08:28:52 AM »

Don't be ridiculouse, you are misunderstanding me, the landscapes - mountains, deserts suggest the atmosphere of a Western, not that the film is a Western.

Of course it is not a western. And the fact that you have to insult me  to try to reinforce your argument makes the fact that I didn't mean that clear. But I want to know from you if the jpg you posted and I reused suggests to you a western or a SF "atmosphere".

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« Reply #11 on: September 24, 2016, 01:10:58 PM »

Of course it is not a western. And the fact that you have to insult me  to try to reinforce your argument makes the fact that I didn't mean that clear. But I want to know from you if the jpg you posted and I reused suggests to you a western or a SF "atmosphere".

How did I insult you? I though you were asking a question, "So every time there's a desert in the shot we have a western?" I saying a desert shot does suggest a western unless it has camels in it. The crater shot you posted though does suggest SF.


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« Reply #12 on: September 24, 2016, 01:58:06 PM »

How did I insult you?

You "ridicu-louse"d me. Angry

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« Reply #13 on: September 24, 2016, 04:22:11 PM »

You "ridicu-louse"d me. Angry

I meant the question "every time we see a desert shot we have a western" was a bit over the top ridiculous..... not you.

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« Reply #14 on: September 25, 2016, 01:08:35 PM »

I meant the question "every time we see a desert shot we have a western" was a bit over the top ridiculous..... not you.

No need for the louse part, though. Angry

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