Humphrey Bogart meets an immoveable object.
If you haven't seen Mord for betaling, better known as The Enforcer, you may want to add it to your queue. In addition to featuring yet another excellent Humphrey Bogart performance, it's a historical curiosity. Central to its plot is Murder, Inc., a group of killers-for-hire used by organized crime gangs. Murder, Inc. contracted anonymous killers for mob hits, leaving police with bodies but no motives and no suspects. In fact, the terms “contract” and “hit” were invented by Murder, Inc. The Enforcer is also of historical significance because showings featured a foreword in which Senator Estes Kefauver, chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee to Investigate Organized Crime, talked to the audience about the mafia, which the general public was just learning about at the time.
In the film Bogart plays a prosecutor who has been trying for years to bring down a crime boss named Albert Mendoza. When a witness dies, Bogart becomes aware of the existence of Murder, Inc. (though they aren't named that in the film), which to him seems like an impossibly bizarre idea. But he keeps uncovering more traces of the group until he finally believes. The rest of the film deals with his efforts to convince (or coerce) one of the cartel's members into being a witness in order to fry Mendoza. There are some twists and turns that force Bogart to shift gears more than once, and all of this is told in flashback, after the death of his stool pigeon, which happens in the first reel to set up the plot.
As we said, Bogart is solid as always, and he's helped greatly by Zero Mostel, who's quite good as a shaky potential witness. As far as the film as a whole goes, most vintage cinema fans consider it middling Bogart, but that's plenty good enough to warrant a look. The poster you see above, which we absolutely love, was made for Denmark, where the movie's title means, appropriately, “murder for payment.” We have several other posters for the film you can see at this link, and a cool Bogart promo photo that mirrors the above image, viewable at this link. The Enforcer premiered in the U.S. in 1951 and opened in Denmark today in 1952. But I distinctly remember being told this was a bow tie-only affair. I guess not.
Time keeps on ticking ticking ticking into the future.
Above is a poster for the film noir The Big Clock, based on Kenneth Fearing's 1946 novel, with Ray Milland playing a journalist at fictional Crimeways magazine who finds himself entangled with the boss's girlfriend, then in murder when she turns up dead. He had nothing to do with it, but had been seen all over Manhattan with her the night of her death, and is presumed to be the killer though nobody has identified him yet. In classic film noir fashion, Milland's boss sets him to solving the case. But how can he, when he's actually looking for himself? And how can he throw his numerous staffers off the scent while appearing to conduct a legit investigation, yet somehow find the real killer? It's quite a mess.
For casual movie fans, distinguishing film noir from vintage drama can be difficult, but of its many defining characteristics, flag this one: the man who finds himself in a vise that slowly tightens due to what had seemed at first to be inconsequential or random acts. The panting Milland bought in an art shop becomes a potential piece of evidence against him. The cheap sundial he acquired in a bar does the same. The random man he exchanged a few words with becomes a potential witness. And so on. He's the subject of a puzzle that has his face in the center. Other characters are slowly assembling pieces from the edges inward. If Milland doesn't outwit them before they find the piece with his face on it, he's screwed.
In addition to an involving plot, nice technical values, Ray Milland, and a large clock, The Big Clock brings the legendary Charles Laughton to the party, along with Maureen O'Sullivan, a decade removed from her ingenue period playing Jane in Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan movies, all grown up here as the smart, loyal, beautiful wife willing to come to Milland's aid when the chips are down. The film is unique, as well, for its interwoven comedy, unusual in films from this genre. These moments come often, and may seem obtrusive to some, but we thought they fit fine. And that's a good way to sum up The Big Clock. If you're a film noir fan, it'll fit you just fine. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1948.
But she's about to solve it permanently.
This photo of U.S. actress Virginia Huston was made when she was filming her debut feature, 1946's Nocturne. From that auspicious beginning she went on to appear in Out of the Past, Flamingo Road, The Racket, and Sudden Fear. Her online bios are contradictory. Wikipedia notes that she broke her back in a car accident, and her career slowed afterward. That isn't true. Her accident was in 1950, and though she was convalescing for a year, most of her film roles came afterward. Meanwhile IMDB says she pretty much retied after marrying in 1952. That's probably closer to the truth, though without more sources we can't say if she stepped away from cinema by choice, or if her moment was simply over. Whatever the case, this is a cool photo.
Let's see, I'll need one bullet for my blackmailer... one for my betrayer... a couple for his henchmen...
Above is a rare promo poster for the film noir Cry Danger, starring the ever reliable Dick Powell, face of such classic winners as Pitfall and Cornered. In this one he plays a criminal tossed into prison for a robbery and murder he didn't commit, but who's released when someone provides the courts with an alibi. To Powell's surprise, this rescuer isn't someone he knows, but rather an opportunist who figures to benefit when Powell goes after the hidden holdup loot. Powell, though, really didn't commit the crime. He was framed, so he goes about trying to clear his name. Since that necessarily means locating the cash, he finds himself an unwilling and unlikely asset of the police, who are following him night and day. That's a good set-up for a movie, and with competent acting assured thanks to Powell's participation, along with that of Rhonda Fleming and William Conrad, you end up with a solid film noir that generates all the anticipated darkness and personal disaster. The movie looks good too, thanks to first time director Robert Parrish and cinematographer Joseph F. Biroc. Much of it is set in a Bunker Hill trailer park with a nice view over Los Angeles, including Chinatown. Two thumbs up on this. IMDB and AFI disagree on the premiere date, but we'll go with IMDB because it specifically mentions the premieres took place in New York City and Birmingham, Alabama. That was today in 1951
It's the sad songs that always come back to haunt you.
Above is a stunning Belgian poster in French and Dutch for François Truffaut's comi-tragic crime tale Tirez sur le pianiste, known in Dutch as Schiet op de pianist, in English as Shoot the Piano Player, and which starred Charles Aznavour as a hard luck nightclub musician. We talked about the movie in detail back in November. Shorter version: when French New Wave meets film noir strange things happen. There's no release date for Belgium but the movie probably opened there shortly after its premiere in France, which was in November 1960.
Does this look like the face of a homicidal maniac?
Above are two nice posters for the film noir Angel Face, starring Jean Simmons as an incredibly sneaky nineteen-year-old who wants to kill her stepmother, and Robert Mitchum as a hapless chauffeur who finds himself sucked into the plot. The movie opened in the U.S. today in 1953. The bottom poster, made to look like a tabloid cover, in true tabloid style gives everything away. We debated posting it, but decided to do it for historical purposes, because this is the only promo poster we've ever seen that explicitly gives away the ending of the film it promotes. Is it still worth watching? We think so.
You know what else is bad for your health? Telling me for like the 10,000th time I should quit smoking.
U.S. actress Ella Raines gives the camera a look that could flash freeze an espresso macchiato in this promo image made for her film noir Phantom Lady. She has also been known to smile, for instance here. And to make funny faces, for example here. With that kind of range you can be sure she'll be seen here again before long.
Is that a double-barrel in your coat or are you just unhappy to see me?
Gene Tierney had a great career on stage and screen, but as time has gone by the role that movie buffs seem most drawn to has been her turn as Laura Hunt in the 1944 film noir Laura. This photo was made as promo for that film, which we agree is one of her best. You can see a couple of Laura posters here, and if you follow the links in that post you can find out more about the film.
The past is never dead. It's not even past.
Long review short—Act of Violence, which premiered today in 1949 and starred Van Heflin and Robert Ryan, is as solid as film noir gets. You have a comfortable middle class protagonist whose good life will be screwed if he doesn't take drastic action to deal with the repercussions of a past decision. You have characters whose motivations, as they are revealed to the audience, shift those characters' positions on the spectrum of good and evil. You have three female co-stars who each nudge the plot in different directions. And you have top notch film noir stylings brought to life by director Fred Zinnemann and cinematographer Robert Surtees.
The plot involves a terrible event from the war to which Heflin and Ryan are the only surviving witnesses. They're pitted against each other because of this event, and while one hopes to let the past die, the other is driven to force a reckoning. We'll leave the plot description there. Acting-wise, Heflin is good, Ryan is solid as always, and you get to see Janet Leigh near the start of her film career and Mary Astor near the end of hers, legends passing in the noir. We haven't seen Act of Violence ranked among the top films in the genre, but for our money it's up there with some of the best. See it.
Let me feel your neck for a second. Don't worry, I've gotten over your devastating betrayal.
When the sun's away the crooks will slay.
And speaking of the film noir starring Aldo Ray and Anne Bancroft, we watched it right after finishing the book, and though the novel was pretty dark, the filmmakers decided a little upbeat mood music was on order, so they got the immortal jazz crooner Al Hibbler to sing a theme song. Everybody knows this one. Join right in: Nightfaaaaaaall... and youuuuuuuuuuu... lovely you... underneath the wreath of heaven's pale blue... you are poetry (possibly haiku)... you are melody (maybe in d minor, the saddest of keys)... You get the idea. Don't let us turn you off this film. The theme song is nothing the mute button won't fix.
As we mentioned in the post above, Nightfall was directed by Jacques Tourneur, the heavyweight talent behind the film noir monument Out of the Past, and he has the kind of skills that make an early shot of co-star James Gregory getting on a bus an artistic achievement. Gregory plays an insurance investigator on the trail of $350,000 of missing heist loot, and, as in the novel, the innocent schmuck who accidentally got stuck with it lost it and doesn't remember how or where. That person is played by Ray, who's great in this, as he relates his dilemma in flashbacks and desperately tries to deal with the two murderous robbers who originally stole the cash.
Nightfall is no Out of the Past, but it's a solid film noir entry, well worth watching. Besides Ray and Gregory, the two robbers Brian Keith and Rudy Bond are good, and honey-voiced Bancroft as the femme fatale handles her pivotal role nicely. Credit here also goes to Burnett Guffey, who photographed the movie, and added to his long list of beautiful film noir achievements—Johnny O'Clock, Night Editor, In a Lonely Place, The Sniper, Private Hell 36, Screaming Mimi, and a portfolio of other films. Put Nightfall in your queue. It'll be worth it—once the theme song is over. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1956
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1923—Yankee Stadium Opens
In New York City, Yankee Stadium, home of Major League Baseball's New York Yankees, opens with the Yankees beating their eternal rivals the Boston Red Sox 4 to 1. The stadium, which is nicknamed The House that Ruth Built, sees the Yankees become the most successful franchise in baseball history. It is eventually replaced by a new Yankee Stadium and closes in September 2008.
1961—Bay of Pigs Invasion Is Launched
A group of CIA financed and trained Cuban refugees lands at the Bay of Pigs in southern Cuba with the aim of ousting Fidel Castro. However, the invasion fails badly and the result is embarrassment for U.S. president John F. Kennedy and a major boost in popularity for Fidel Castro, and also has the effect of pushing him toward the Soviet Union for protection.
1943—First LSD Trip Takes Place
Swiss scientist Albert Hofmann, while working at Sandoz Laboratories in Basel, accidentally absorbs lysergic acid diethylamide, better known as LSD, and thus discovers its psychedelic properties. He had first synthesized the substance five years earlier but hadn't been aware of its effects. He goes on to write scores of articles and books about his creation.
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