He's the guy who always ruins the party.
Bogart has an anger problem. You know someone just like him. He claims to be unaffected by the human condition and would have you believe all others are weaklings and he is strong. But of course when things don't go his way he flies into a rage, showing that he's actually frailer than most. Indifference and anger—two sides of the same coin for those unable to cope with the world as it is. When a female acquaintance of Bogart's is murdered his uncaring attitude makes the cops suspect he's a killer. Did he do it? Maybe—he's too indifferent to bother convincing the police otherwise. But when he meets his beautiful neighbor Gloria Grahame and the two become involved we see his defense mechanism fall away and be replaced by a renewed interest in life. Grahame becomes the receptacle for all Bogart's hopes, but can she deal with that level of need? More to the point—should she? Critics liked Bogart in this role at the time, and In a Lonely Place is today considered one of the best noirs. We have to agree. It's a psychological study of a personality type that has probably proliferated in America since 1950, which makes it relevant viewing in 2016. Highly recommended.
If at first you don't succeed.
We watched The Two Mrs. Carrolls with the Pulp Intl. girlfriends, which is a shame because years of work trying to get them to like old films was finally bearing fruit, only to be partly undone by this one. Whereas In a Lonely Place is one of Bogart's best, The Two Mrs. Carrolls is one of his worst—which should make for an interesting double bill at Noir City tonight. There are problems in most elements of this film, but the main saboteur is the script, adapted by Thomas Job from Martin Vale’s 1935 play of the same name. Structurally, it has some problematic loose threads, and in terms of plot progression, relying upon a child to impart several pieces of crucial information to the heroine all at once all during a casual conversation is not a good move for a suspense movie. Having Barbara Stanwyck find the entire murder scheme outlined on a piece of notebook paper would have been less contrived. Stanwyck, Humphrey Bogart, and Alexis Smith give it a spirited go, but they can overcome only so much. At least the movie looks great. Credit director Peter Godfrey for that much, with a big assist from cinematographer J. Peverell Marley. The Two Mrs. Carrolls
, Peter Godfrey
, Humphrey Bogart
, Barbara Stanwyck
, Alexis Smith
, J. Peverell Marley
, Martin Vale
, poster art
, film noir
, movie review
Romance between two musical geniuses hits a few unexpected sour notes.
Classical musicians separated during the chaos of World War II are reunited in New York City, but the woman neglects to mention to her fiancée that she's acquired a lover and sugar daddy who happens to be a world renowned composer. Bette Davis gives a confident turn as a gifted and successful pianist, while Paul Henreid as her cellist fiancée and Claude Rains as the jilter lover are both excellent. The latter two actors also featured in Casablanca, and Deception bears some similarities to that earlier film in two ways—Henreid is lost during war and presumed dead, leading his love to turn to another; Rains is a caustic smartass, something he does really well.
Another aspect of Deception we enjoyed was how much work went into making Davis and Henried perform like master musicians. In Davis’s case, she fakes it on piano just long enough to pass the eye test, while Henreid had a hidden cellist insert his arms through a modified jacket and play the parts blind. It’s an, um, deceptively simple solution that worked perfectly. Deception didn’t perform well at the box office when released in 1946, but time has been kind to it, and criticisms have waned. At the very least you may want to watch it to get a gander at Davis’s spectacular loft apartment.
No place to run, no place to hide.
Today the Noir City Film Festival in San Francisco will be screening The Dark Corner, a movie that starts fast and keeps up a quick pace throughout, telling the story of small-time detective who is tormented and eventually framed by an unknown enemy. The script, which is credited to five writers, is filled with fun jargon and treats viewers to one of the better quotes from film noir when Mark Stevens references the title with, “I feel all dead inside. I’m backed up in a dark corner and I don’t know who’s hitting me.”
Lucille Ball, top-billed, is pitch perfect as Stevens’ secretary, love interest, and driving force, and William Bendix, who made a career out of tough-and-volatile, nails his role even more solidly than usual here. You also get good work from Clifton Webb and femme fatale Cathy Downs. Atypically violent, and brilliantly wrapped in shadows and cut by black silhouettes by director Henry Hathaway and director of photography Joseph MacDonald, The Dark Corner is what watching film noir is all about. Favorite line: after a character is pushed thirty-one floors to his death a witness on the street gestures at a high window and remarks to a policeman, “Brother, he came out of there like a hot rivet. You know it’s a funny thing, I never yet seen one of those guys bounce.” A must-see.
The Dark Corner
, Henry Hathaway
, Lucille Ball
, Mark Stevens
, William Bendix
, Cathy Downs
, Clifton Webb
, Joseph MacDonald
, film noir
, poster art
, movie review
Stewart violates the norms of neighborliness and ends up with a mystery on his hands.
Above are two iconic posters for Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, 1954. This is a great movie, but definitively not a film noir—instead it’s a big Technicolor drama, bright and vibrant in a way movies aren’t today. It’s also only nominally a mystery, as the question is never who is the murder suspect, nor who is the murder victim, but whether there was actually a murder at all. This is one of Hitchcock’s greatest achievements, with James Stewart at his likeable best even as a voyeur, and Grace Kelly fueling the fantasies of male cinemagoers as the perfect girlfriend Lisa Fremont. Is the movie perfect? No. It fumbles its attempt to underline Stewart’s reckless nature, putting him in a wheelchair for the unbelievable act of running onto the middle of a Formula 1 track to get a photo. It also requires the audience to believe he can see all from his apartment, but his neighbors never notice him. Yet Rear Window overcomes those annoyances and is deservedly considered an all-time classic. Seeing it on the big screen as patrons of the Noir City Film Festival will tonight would be a treat, but see it in any case.
How far would you go to get the perfect shot?
A freelance photographer who has spent his career documenting the mean streets of New York City, always arriving in the aftermath of terrible events, finds himself presented with the opportunity to photograph a gangland massacre at the instant it occurs. One crime family has decided to wipe out another and Joe Pesci's Leon Bernstein, aka the Great Bernzini, knows where and when it will happen. He wants up close photos and the only way he can get them is to be in the restaurant where the killings will happen. After two decades of seeing his photography ignored by the art world, he thinks pulling off this feat will make everyone take notice of him. Bernzini is reckless the same way Jimmy Stewart is in Rear Window, but in less cartoonish fashion because we’re taken inside his thought process and made to understand it.
There's more here of course—love, loneliness, social status, musings about art—but the shootout and whether Bernzini is crazy enough to shut himself in a room where one stray bullet could end his life is what the film is really about. The Public Eye, which appeared in 1992, was a clear influence (along with the French film Man Bites Dog), on the acclaimed 2014 thriller Nightcrawler, but this one is a period piece, set during 1942. While the historical details are convincing, director Howard Franklin and cinematographer Peter Suschitztky don't aim for a true noir look. The filmscape is dark, but not technically stylish. Still it's good, and it benefits from Pesci, who has a way of inhabiting roles to the extent that you can't imagine anyone else playing them. He makes the movie work.
Azuma turns to banditry and heads roll.
Dokufu oden kubikiri asa is known in English by many titles—officially it's aka Poisonous Oden and Decapitator Asa or Samurai Executioner. But in our efforts to locate it we discovered it's known online also as Decapitation of an Evil Woman and Vamp and Samurai. Do we even need to tell you about this one, considering how much info is given away by the titles? A country girl played by Terumi Azuma goads a country boy into theivery and they and two partners quickly become notorious bandits hunted by the authorities. The story is derived from the real-life Oden Takahashi, who in 1879 became the last woman executed by decapitation in Japan. Despite this inspiration, much of the movie is played for laughs, with quite a bit of slapsticking, bungling, and yelling. Of course, it has to take a serious turn eventually, and indeed all four gang members soon become seasoned killers—just in time to start being whittled down by those annoyingly persistent authorities. We were surprised by the comedic tone saturating much of the film, but since Japanese audiences already knew the story of Oden Takahashi, maybe some foolishness was needed to keep them interested. We could have done without it, but the movie is still pretty good, and at sixty-one minutes you don't lose too much life to it. The poster above is exceedingly rare, never before seen online we're pretty sure. The one below is more common, but still very nice. Dokufu oden kubikiri asa premiered in Japan today in 1977.
, Toei Company
, Dokufu oden kubikiri asa
, Vamp and Samurai
, Poisonous Oden and Decapitator Asa
, Terumi Azuma
, Yukiko Tachibana
, Oden Takahashi
, poster art
, movie review
Reaching the top isn’t easy. Staying on top is even harder.
Above is a Spanish poster by Josep Soligó Tena for La casa de la colina, which was originally released in the U.S. as The House on Telegraph Hill. The movie tells the story of a Polish concentration camp survivor—played by Valentina Cortese—who upon release takes the identity of her dead friend, and later insinuates herself into the lives of the dead woman’s San Francisco relatives. This identity swap is the classic Hitchcockian MacGuffin, which is to say it initially seems to be the plot driver, but later isn’t important at all. While Cortese’s labyrinthine lie is always a worrisome background element, the movie is really about how she finds herself embroiled in an inheritance mess and a love triangle. We thought this movie was quite good, but you do have to ignore bits like the improbable placement of a child’s playhouse above a sheer drop (in a sense, another MacGuffin, as the threat of falling has no bearing at all on later developments). Highly recommended movie, and it has nice San Fran exteriors as a bonus. The House on Telegraph Hill premiered in the U.S. in 1951, and as La casa de la colina in Spain today in 1952. See more work from Tena here.
, San Francisco
, Twentieth Century Fox
, La casa de la colina
, The House on Telegraph Hill
, Richard Basehart
, Valentina Cortese
, William Lundigan
, Josep Soligó Tena
, poster art
, film noir
, movie review
Carmilla’s in the mist.
When we shared a poster for Roger Vadim’s Il sangue e la rosa way back in 2009 we didn’t talk about the movie. But since we found this beautiful alternate promo to show you, we thought we’d watch the film again to refresh our memories. It’s an ethereal gothic drama about a woman caught in a love triangle who is subsequently possessed by a vampire after an accidental explosion opens the monster’s centuries buried tomb. It feels like a supernatural version of Emily Brontë, but the source material was actually from Sheridan le Fanu, whose vampire story Carmilla predates Bram Stoker’s Dracula by more than twenty years. Long on lustful gazes, lingering fog, and lilting harp music, short on chills and thrills, Il sangue e la rosa is more of a Vadim art piece than a conventional film, but it has some charms, personified by Elsa Martinelli and Annette Vadim, aka Annette Stroyberg. Il sangue e la rosa premiered in Italy today in 1961. See the other poster here.
, Il sangue e la rosa
, Roger Vadim
, Mel Ferrer
, Elsa Martinelli
, Annette Vadim
, Sheridan le Fanu
, Bram Stoker
, poster art
, movie review
Grier reappears in her rightful place.
Remember the two excellent Italian posters for the 1974 swords-and-sandals/blaxploitation epic The Arena? Usually the American posters for films from this era compare unfavorably to the foreign versions, but in this case the U.S. promo is also very good. And as a bonus Grier actually gets to star on this one. On the Italian versions she was entirely whitewashed from one, and relegated to secondary status on the other. Not only that—on the text of both posters Italian actress Lucretia Love is given top billing, though she’s actually a supporting character in the film. We can only assume the distributors thought Italian audiences wouldn’t flock to cinemas to see a movie headlined by Grier, and dissed her twice over. Well, above we see her where she belongs.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1929—Seven Men Shot Dead in Chicago
Seven people, six of them gangster rivals of Al Capone's South Side gang, are machine gunned to death in Chicago, Illinois, in an event that would become known as the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Because two of the shooters were dressed as police officers, it was initially thought that police might have been responsible, but an investigation soon proved the killings were gang related. The slaughter exceeded anything yet seen in the United States at that time.
1935—Jury Finds Hauptmann Guilty
A jury in Flemington, New Jersey finds Bruno Hauptmann guilty of the 1932 kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby, the son of Charles Lindbergh. Hauptmann is sentenced to death and executed in 1936. For decades, his widow Anna, fights to have his named cleared, claiming that Hauptmann did not commit the crime, and was instead a victim of prosecutorial misconduct, but her claims are ultimately dismissed in 1984 after the U.S. Supreme Court refuses to address the case.
1961—Soviets Launch Venus Probe
The U.S.S.R. launches the spacecraft Venera 1, equipped with scientific instruments to measure solar wind, micrometeorites, and cosmic radiation, towards planet Venus. The craft is the first modern planetary probe. Among its many achievements, it confirms the presence of solar wind in deep space, but overheats due to the failure of a sensor before its Venus mission is completed.
1994—Thieves Steal Munch Masterpiece
In Oslo, Norway, a pair of art thieves steal one of the world's best-known paintings, Edvard Munch's "The Scream," from a gallery in the Norwegian capital.
The two men take less than a minute to climb a ladder, smash through a window of the National Art Museum, and remove the painting from the wall with wire cutters. After a ransom demand the museum refuses to pay, police manage to locate the panting in May, and the two thieves, as well as two accomplices, are arrested.
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