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
She's probably the first person who wants to get a raw deal online.
This photo is identified all over the internet as a shot of U.S. actress Marsha Hunt from the 1947 film noir T-Men. The only problem is Hunt didn't appear in T-Men. This is actually her from 1948's Raw Deal, in which she starred with Dennis O'Keefe and Claire Trevor. So take note internet gatekeepers—uncredit this Hunt photo from T-Men and apply it instead to Raw Deal. As a side note, we have copies of both movies, and we'll get around to watching them at some point. When we do we'll report back.
I call this one Robbie, the second one Chip, and the third one... well I forget. But they're all great!
Above are three promo photos of U.S. actor Fred MacMurray, two from his film noir Singapore, and one of unknown provenance. While MacMurray made his name in deadly serious films such as Double Indemnity and Pushover, many fans remember him better as the affable father from the television series My Three Sons, on which he starred from 1960 until 1972, as the show chronicled the life of a widower and his three sons Robbie, Chip, and Mike. Why was he a widower? We don't think it's ever revealed, but perhaps a firearms “accident” had something to do with it.
Real love knows no limits. Not even death.
We're circling back to the classic film noir Laura today to share two more promo posters. Previously we showed you a Spanish promo that caught our eye because of its red and violet colors, and a dark Finnish poster that uses a photo of Gene Tierney, but the U.S. promos above are better known. If you haven't seen Laura, it's about a detective who falls in love with a murdered woman. Definitely watch it. It premiered in New York City today in 1944.
Robert Montgomery rides into town and trouble soon follows.
We'd seen the movie adaptation of Dorothy B. Hughes' novel Ride the Pink Horse before, more than once, but decided to watch it again because its premiere date was today in 1947. It differs from the book, of course—it's more streamlined, the real life town of Santa Fe becomes fictional San Pablo, the villains are more proactive, the heartless anti-hero Sailor becomes the not-so-bad Lucky Gagin, and the Mexican girl Pila is an adult instead of a fourteen-year-old. All these changes work fine. The most striking addition is the movie's use of Spanish dialogue, five or six lines worth, untranslated and unsubtitled. It adds authenticity, plus a touch of bonus material for Spanish speakers. Robert Montgomery directs and stars, handling the dual chores solidly. In the end Ride the Pink Horse is a good film noir that has increased in stature over the years. It's always been one of our favorites, but we admit that after seeing so many rote entries it's the quirky ones that tend to stand out. We wouldn't recommend this to novices as their first noir, but if you've seen many and are looking for something that surprises, Ride the Pink Horse will do the job. You can learn more about the movie by reading our detailed write-up about the novel here.
If you think being on the wrong side of the tracks is bad, trying being right in the middle of them.
This poster was made for Railroaded!, which is a competent b-noir about a gangster managing to steer cops into arresting a patsy for murder. These cops are damn easy to steer, and later they're really not at all concerned that they might have the wrong man. In fact, they're downright eager to usher this guy into the gas chamber. It's only because Ed Kelly as the innocent man sticks so doggedly to his story that the police start to have doubts. At that point the patsy's sister takes the reins and starts to steer the highly influenceable cops in the right direction, which brings gangster danger to her door. But the benefit of leading cops by the nose is that they tend to linger about.
On the whole, this is a surprisingly tidy little thriller. John Ireland is the gangster/puppetmaster, Hugh Beaumont, later of Leave It to Beaver, is one of the cops, and Sheila Ryan plays the sister of never-wavering faith. All of them are good. Railroaded man Ed Kelly is fine too, but he basically acted in only this movie. True, he appeared uncredited in a film in 1950, and had a bit part in 1970, but those barely count. We don't know why he vanished, but wherever he went we imagine he was pretty satisfied to have starred in what is generally remembered as a pretty good low budget crime thriller. Railroaded! (with an exclamation mark in its official title, though it doesn't appear on this poster) premiered in the U.S. today in 1947.
There are worse fates than being Shanghaied by Hayworth.
This beautiful poster was made for Argentina to promote the film noir The Lady from Shanghai, which starred Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles. There's no official Argentine premiere date, but since the movie reached Mexico in April 1948 and Uruguay in July 1948, it's a reasonable bet that it hit Argentina sometime during the summer of that year. Read a bit about the film here.
It was the beginning of a beautiful endship.
Above, a crop of a PRC (Producers Releasing Corporation) promo image made for the 1945 film noir Detour. It was directed by Edgar G. Ulmer and starred Tom Neal and Ann Savage as a pair thrown together by circumstance who soon bring each other to grief. Made for just $30,000, it was a bottom tier b-movie that transcended its bounds. It was generally lauded upon release, which is why the fact that it's in the public domain today is amazing. Detour recieved a 2015 restoration, so we recommend giving the movie a look. It shows what can be achieved with very little money but a lot of vision.
Live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse.
When we saw Jean Peters in 1953's Pickup on South Street, it was our first exposure to her, and we immediately knew we'd be seeking out more of her work later. Last night we watched another film of hers from 1953—the mystery Vicki, which is based on Steve Fisher's 1941 novel I Wake Up Screaming. Peters plays an up and coming New York City model and actress who's found murdered. The rest of the film, told partly in flashback, details her rise from obscurity to celebrated It girl, and the investigation that follows her killing. Jeanne Crain plays Peters' sister who's dedicated to finding the truth, and Richard Boone takes on the unusual role of an emotionally unstable lead detective whose assumptions affect his objectivity.
The movie plays like a partial retread of 1946's Laura, and like Gene Tierney's famed character Laura Hunt, Peters' aspiring superstar Vicki Reed has a profound effect on people even after her death, from broken hearts to poisonous resentment. But Vicki doesn't have the same atmosphere and narrative heft as Laura. Even though it's a mystery, there are no real surprises. Still, we've seen far worse films, and Peters' performance is fine, if not quite as enjoyable as her jaded working class beauty from Pickup on South Street. We recommend that film unreservedly, and Vicki cautiously. It premiered in New York City today in 1953 before going into national release on October 5. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1924—St. Petersburg is renamed Leningrad
St. Peterburg, the Russian city founded by Peter the Great in 1703, and which was capital of the Russian Empire for more than 200 years, is renamed Leningrad three days after the death of Vladimir Lenin. The city had already been renamed Petrograd in 1914. It was finally given back its original name St. Petersburg in 1991.
1966—Beaumont Children Disappear
In Australia, siblings Jane Nartare Beaumont, Arnna Kathleen Beaumont, and Grant Ellis Beaumont, aged 9, 7, and 4, disappear from Glenelg Beach near Adelaide, and are never seen again. Witnesses claim to have spotted them in the company of a tall, blonde man, but over the years, after interviewing many potential suspects, police are unable generate enough solid leads to result in an arrest. The disappearances remain Australia's most infamous cold case.
1949—First Emmy Awards Are Presented
At the Hollywood Athletic Club in Los Angeles, California, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences presents the first Emmy Awards. The name Emmy was chosen as a feminization of "immy", a nickname used for the image orthicon tubes that were common in early television cameras.
1971—Manson Family Found Guilty
Charles Manson and three female members of his "family" are found guilty of the 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders, which Manson orchestrated in hopes of bringing about Helter Skelter, an apocalyptic war he believed would arise between blacks and whites.
1961—Plane Carrying Nuclear Bombs Crashes
A B-52 Stratofortress carrying two H-bombs experiences trouble during a refueling operation, and in the midst of an emergency descent breaks up in mid-air over Goldsboro, North Carolina. Five of the six arming devices on one of the bombs somehow activate before it lands via parachute in a wooded region where it is later recovered. The other bomb does not deploy its chute and crashes into muddy ground at 700 mph, disintegrating while driving its radioactive core fifty feet into the earth, where it remains to this day.
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