Nobody can hurt you quite like your own family.
Noir City ticketholders are in for a nasty treat with Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. Made in 2007, well reviewed but under appreciated, it doesn't tick the film noir box but it's a top level thriller, gripping from explosive beginning to crushing end, with timelines restarting to drip feed plot twists to the viewer. And “drip feed” is apropos as a descriptive, because it's like water torture watching the lives of the family at the center of this film come apart.
It all starts when Philip Seymour Hoffman—in desperate need of cash—convinces his little brother Ethan Hawke—also in need of money—to knock off a jewelry store. Neither are criminals, but the potential robbery is too easy to resist. The store, you see, belongs to their hardworking parents. It's literally a mom and pop operation, located in a quiet suburb, insufficiently guarded because there's never been an instant of trouble in all the years the place has been in business.
Hawke is good as a man who is never remotely in control of his circumstances, and Hoffman is brilliant, but Albert Finney drives the movie with righteous anger and unbearable heartbreak. Critics'fave Michael Shannon has a crucial role, Oscar winner Marisa Tomei is perfect as a woman in the middle of a mess she can only barely discern, and fourteen-time nominee Sidney Lumet directs with austere precision.
We originally saw Before the Devil Knows You're Dead years ago and always planned to rewatch it, but kept shying away from doing so because we knew it would be difficult to sit through again. Yeah. It's like that. Hard to watch—even with Marisa Tomei in it—when you know what's coming. But since you have no idea how it unfolds you'll get through it fine. We highly recommend that you queue this one up.
Eastwood tries to teach a new dog old tricks.
Squirrelly young criminal Lightfoot, played by Jeff Bridges, is just the kind of guy you want to smack. Always running his mouth, never paying attention, totally wrapped up in himself. He picks up John Doherty, played by the older Clint Eastwood, and the two form a bromance. During their travels, Lightfoot learns that Doherty is a famed bank robber known as the Thunderbolt, for his usage of an anti-aircraft cannon to penetrate a bank vault. Thunderbolt has two ex-partners on his trail who are seeking a cache of hidden money from a previous job. The money is hidden behind a blackboard in an old, one-room schoolhouse, but when Thunderbolt and Lightfoot travel to the site of the school it's been replaced a modern new building.
The angry ex-partners eventually corral Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, but when they learn the money is gone, rather than exact revenge, they decide to pull off the same job, the same way, and maybe the loss of the other cash will be forgiven. The only snag is they have no way to finance the robbery—particularly the acquisition of another cannon. So they do what any career criminals would do—get jobs. They drive an ice cream truck, groom dogs, anything to earn cash. The question is never really whether they'll finance the heist, but whether their fragile coalition—which is strained by mistrust from the loss of the previous bank loot, as well as by Lightfoot's grating antics—can hang together.
Jeff Bridges' Oscar nominated performance is a reminder that Millennial, Generation X, Beat Generation, et al, are just marketing terms used for social engineering. Every young generation is infuriating to the older ones. It's genetic, not social. Lightfoot is impatient, oblivious, andrude—like someone raised on mobile devices, only decades before those existed for people to focus their ire upon. A constant underlying concern is whether he will finally go too far and get his ass seriously beaten, or maybe even get killed. He's likeable, of course, but he's also a protagonist. If you met him on the street you'd wonder if he was ever dropped on his head as an infant—and then proceed to drop him on his head. And no—he doesn't turn out to be secretly a criminal genius. He's exactly the constant annoyance he seems.
Though Thunderbolt and Lightfoot isn't film noir, it's full spectrum entertainment, with laughs, thrills, and a touch of sex, as well as just enough menace to keep viewers on edge. But we don't think Noir City patrons will walk away from the screening 100% pleased. We get that they're being asked to think outside the box, but there's a pretty wide gap between noir, with its beautiful visual palette and nostalgia invoking cultural stature, and a ’70s road thriller, with its dusty look and twangy country music soundtrack. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is a great movie in the wrong festival, in our view. As a side note, the promo poster, which we're sure you've noticed is high quality, was painted by Ken Barr, who was a respected comic book and promo artist for many years. You can read a bit more about him here.
Trevor makes the most of her smoke break by posing for a master.
Brooklyn born actress Claire Trevor made more than sixty movies over seven decades, including the important film noir entries Raw Deal, Born To Kill, Johnny Angel, Murder My Sweet, and Key Largo, the latter of which snared her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. And if you haven't seen her in it you really should. She was one of film noir's defining artists, an indispensable participant in it. We're also fond of her in lighter fare such as 1965's How To Murder Your Wife, with Jack Lemmon. The noirish shot above was used as a reference photo by the legendary Peruvian artist Alberto Vargas. He painted a portrait of Trevor which you see inset just above, and you also see her posing with the piece below. The portrait was commissioned by her employers Fox Film Corporation as a promo image, a type of work Vargas did often, and the studio used prints of portrait as lobby cards. All of these images came about in 1934.
From Here to Oscar night.
American actor Burt Lancaster posed for the promo photo you see above when he was filming the World War II drama From Here to Eternity in the Hawaiian Islands in 1953. The movie, based on James Jones' novel, was one of the highest grossing productions of the 1950s, and film noir vet Lancaster in the lead as Sergeant Warden was a prime reason why. The movie also starred Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Donna Reed, Frank Sinatra, and Ernest Borgnine, making for a supremely talented cast. In the end From Here to Eternity scored thirteen Academy Award nominations and won eight, including Best Picture.
Amid medieval Japan’s manners and restraint, how can a person tell the difference between love, honor, and duty?
Above is a poster for Teinosuke Kinugasa’s masterwork samurai drama Jigokumon, which was known in English as Gate of Hell. It was the first Japanese film shot in color, via the process Eastmancolor, which was a leap beyond three-strip Technicolor, and one that makes Jigokumon blaze like a supernova. The story, from a play by Kan Kikuchi, concerns a Heian-era samurai named Moritoh whose bravery during a battle is rewarded by his lord granting him anything he desires. What he desires is the Lady Kesa. Problem is she’s married to another samurai. The lord mistakenly grants Moritoh’s wish, which is soon revealed to be impossible, but Moritoh resolves to have Kesa anyway, by any means necessary—trickery, bribery, even all-out murder. What develops is not just a thriller about entitlement and lust, but a meditation on honor, love and, especially, social strictures.
Jigokumon was a sensation. A hit in Japan, it was a revelation to foreign audiences. It took home the Palme d’Or from the 1954 Cannes Film Festival, a 1955 special Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, an Oscar for Best Costume Design in a color film, and more prestigious nods. Along with Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, Kimisaburo Yoshimura’s Genji Monogatari, Kenji Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu Monogatari, and other films from the early 1950s, it marked the emergence of Japanese cinema onto the international scene. We’ve posted a large group of screen grabs below—perhaps overkill, considering how many—but the film just looks so damn good and the shots are so spectacular that we couldn’t help ourselves. Jigokumon premiered in Japan today in 1953.
Hmm, I think maybe I’ll just keep this for myself.
Above, a promo image of the beautiful Kim Novak from the 1958 Academy Awards at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. She wasn’t nominated that year, though her hit film Vertigo was eligible. Instead she accepted the statuette for Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium on behalf of winner Pierre Boulle, who had written the script for The Bridge on the River Kwai. No word on whether she ever actually gave him the Oscar.
When Joan Fontaine decided to try her luck in Hollywood her mother reportedly refused to let her use the family’s name—de Havilland, which was being used by her actress sister Olivia—so she chose Fontaine as her last name. After a slow start earning good roles she scored the coveted part of Mrs. De Winter in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 Daphne du Maurier adaptation Rebecca and was nominated for an Academy Award. She didn’t win that one, but the next year took home the statuette for her role in Suspicion, becoming the only performer to win an Oscar for acting in a Hitchcock film. From there her career took off, and she worked steadily through the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Ironically, when her mother—a former actress—decided to rekindle her own career she did so under the stage name Lillian Fontaine. Of her famous sister, Joan Fontaine once said, “I married first, won the Oscar before Olivia did, and if I die first, she’ll undoubtedly be livid because I beat her to it.” The third part of that quip came true when Fontaine—née Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland—died of natural causes Sunday in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.
A great future in plastics.
Somehow, among many casual cinema fans, Barbarella is thought of as Jane Fonda’s starmaking role, if not her debut. It wasn’t. She had debuted eight years earlier and had already earned three Golden Globe nominations and a BAFTA nomination for her acting. The fact that she was so established makes her decision to play Barbarella all the more remarkable. This shot, a centerfold from Photoplay magazine, is from 1968, and below you see a shot that is aaaalmost identical, but, if you look closely, not quite.
Sixty-two years old and spry as a youth.
Above, a poster for Akira Kurosawa’s seminal samurai movie Rashomon, with Toshirô Mifune, Machiko Kyô, and Masayuki Mori. We could tell you this flick is great, but there’s no point. Information abounds, written by people far more expert than us, and it all says the same thing—this is one of the top films ever made. It was admired in its time, winning the Leone d’Oro at the 1951 Venice Film Festival and 1952 Academy Award for best Foreign Language Film, and it has weathered the last sixty-two years proudly. Watch it. Rashomon premiered in Japan today in 1950.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1981—Ronnie Biggs Rescued After Kidnapping
Fugitive thief Ronnie Biggs, a British citizen who was a member of the gang that pulled off the Great Train Robbery, is rescued by police in Barbados after being kidnapped. Biggs had been abducted a week earlier from a bar in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil by members of a British security firm. Upon release he was returned to Brazil and continued to be a fugitive from British justice.
2011—Elizabeth Taylor Dies
American actress Elizabeth Taylor, whose career began at age 12 when she starred in National Velvet
, and who would eventually be nominated for five Academy Awards as best actress and win for Butterfield 8
and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
of congestive heart failure in Los Angeles. During her life she had been hospitalized more than 70 times.
1963—Profumo Denies Affair
In England, the Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, denies any impropriety with showgirl Christine Keeler and threatens to sue anyone repeating the allegations. The accusations involve not just infidelity, but the possibility acquaintances of Keeler might be trying to ply Profumo for nuclear secrets. In June, Profumo finally resigns from the government after confessing his sexual involvement with Keeler
and admitting he lied to parliament.
1978—Karl Wallenda Falls to His Death
World famous German daredevil and high-wire walker Karl Wallenda, founder of the acrobatic troupe The Flying Wallendas, falls to his death attempting to walk on a cable strung between the two towers of the Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Wallenda is seventy-three years old at the time, but it is a 30 mph wind, rather than age, that is generally blamed for sending him from the wire.
2006—Swedish Spy Stig Wennerstrom Dies
Swedish air force colonel Stig Wennerström, who had been convicted in the 1970s of passing Swedish, U.S. and NATO secrets to the Soviet Union over the course of fifteen years, dies in an old age home at the age of ninety-nine. The Wennerström affair, as some called it, was at the time one of the biggest scandals
of the Cold War.
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