Author Topic: Noirvember Group Marathon 2017  (Read 3446 times)

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Re: Noirvember Group Marathon 2017
« Reply #100 on: December 13, 2017, 02:12:58 PM »
























Angel Face  (Otto Preminger)

Except for a rewatch of Laura, my semi-recent Preminger screenings (Fallen Angel, Saint Joan, Exodus) all left me wanting, so that fact that I liked Angel Face at all was a victory of sorts. The film is largely a showcase for Jean Simmons and Dimitri Tiomkin, both of whom come off well. The scene of Simmons home alone with only her conscience and Tiomkin's score to keep her company is a clear highlight.

Robert Mitchum has his moments, too, but ultimately he's too sleepy here, lacking enough sustained sizzle with Simmons and Mona Freeman. The more engaged he is, the more engaging the movie is. Even though Simmons seems at first the classic femme fatale, one step ahead of everyone around her, one of the joys of the movie is that Mitchum and Freeman are hardly saps. The way they challenge Simmons with their own calm and calculating natures is a fun twist on expectations — at least in the first half. When, at the midpoint, Mitchum's character resigns himself to a passive role, the story really suffers.

Freeman's character is actually my favorite. I love her independence and the way she's juggling two guys without compunction — and zero sense of judgment. She also gets the film's best line when, after Mitchum lies, "Ten minutes after left Harry's I was in the sack," she replies "I can believe that!" Her scene at lunch with Simmons is another highlight. Convention dictates that Simmons would completely manipulate her, but Freeman just calls her out cold, and it's delightful.

Preminger is adept at using misdirection to maximize the impact of those kinds of turns, both minor and major. (He should have made a horror film). In the opening scene, for example, his camera treats Mitchum as a peripheral character, right up until the moment Simmons returns his slap. That classic moment is echoed, in jaw-dropping fashion, by the film's ending, which is a master class in turning the inevitable into the surprising. I love how drawn out and violent it all is, only to be punctuated by the quiet whimper of a waiting taxi. Very nicely done.

Grade: B-

Up next: Crime Wave

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Re: Noirvember Group Marathon 2017
« Reply #101 on: December 13, 2017, 07:17:35 PM »




































Crime Wave  (André De Toth, 1953)

The gas station robbery that opens Crime Wave has a great cinematic energy to it. It feels very vital, despite an overriding (and appealing) artificiality. In wonderful contrast, the subsequent scenes at the police station utilize a naturalistic style that feels almost revolutionary. It's as if De Toth and cinematographer Bert Glennon co-opted the Drew Associates documentary style nearly a decade before Drew Associates even existed. Crime Wave has many strong elements, but these seemingly insignificant scenes are by far my favorite, as the camera tries to stay out of Sterling Hayden's way as he stalks around the cramped space like the giant he is. (I want to see him fight Jack Palance in a bare-knuckles bout.)

This opening sets the stage for what seems like it would be the best procedural police thriller of the era — only that's not the path the film takes. The story of ex-con Gene Nelson being bullied back into crime by some escaped convicts sounds perfectly fine on paper, but there's something a little dry about the manner in which it unfolds, despite some lively location shooting. Maybe I was just disappointed that Nelson didn't go all Death Wish on Charles Bronson, Ted de Corsia, and the other criminals.

Bronson is a tremendous visual presence here, incidentally, despite some shaky acting. Timothy Carey also stands out, making the most of a completely minor role with his unhinged performance. Nelson and Phyllis Kirk are fine, but it's really Hayden's dominating, toothpick-gnawing performance that carries the film. Despite the redemption his character earns at the end, the film's portrait of the police is far from flattering. Many of these noir films seem to put cops on a tough-but-fair pedestal, but Hayden's cop is, for the most part, brutal and unfair.

Grade: B-

Up next: Suddenly

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Re: Noirvember Group Marathon 2017
« Reply #102 on: December 13, 2017, 09:16:33 PM »
Preminger is adept at using misdirection to maximize the impact of those kinds of turns, both minor and major. (He should have made a horror film).
Make a note to check out Bunny Lake is Missing next Shocktober. I was mixed but I think it has what you're looking for from Preminger. The entire premise is about taking the inevitable and making it suspenseful and surprising.
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Re: Noirvember Group Marathon 2017
« Reply #103 on: December 18, 2017, 12:25:53 AM »




















Quote from: Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide
Suddenly (1954) 77m. ★★★½ D: Lewis Allen. Frank Sinatra, Sterling Hayden, James Gleason, Nancy Gates, Willis Bouchey, Kim Charney, Paul Frees, Christopher Dark, Charles Smith. Sinatra leads trio of paid assassins who take over house in small town where the President will pass on his way to a fishing trip. White-knuckle thriller, written by Richard Sale, with Sinatra excellent in thoroughly detestable role; rest of cast equally fine. "Suddenly," incidentally, is the name of the town. Also shown in computer-colored version.

Suddenly  (Lewis Allen, 1954)

I'd always heard this was a taut little B thriller. Lies. Even to label it a B picture is generous. Lewis Allen's awful direction feels more indebted to television than cinema. It's nearly artless, and he elicits some absolutely terrible performances. The gold medal goes to Paul Wexler — who couldn't land a role in an Ed Wood movie — but even Sterling Hayden comes across like a complete amateur. I almost can't believe this is the same actor I just saw dominate the screen in Crime Wave. (Likewise, I can't believe the awful score is from David Raskin, the guy who scored Laura.) Did Sinatra'a people pay the rest of the cast to tank their performances to make him look masterful by comparison? Because it kind of works. Sinatra comes off like a veteran thespian slumming in a junior high play, bringing just the right amount of crazy to his part of a war veteran turned would be assassin for hire. A decent director (Richard Fleischer, André De Toth, or most of the other directors I watched as part of this Noirvember) could have taken this same exact script (which is actually pretty decent) and filmed a classic. Lewis Allen is not that guy. He'd find a better fit for his skills on Bonanza and Little House on the Prairie. Screenwriter Richard Sale, meanwhile, would get a chance to direct his script for Seven Waves Away (aka Abandon Ship) a few years later, with the result proving that he, too, would have been a much better choice here.

Grade: C

Up next: Tight Spot

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Re: Noirvember Group Marathon 2017
« Reply #104 on: December 18, 2017, 01:32:36 AM »






























Tight Spot  (Phil Karlson, 1955)

I'm really glad I chose to watch these Noirvember films in chronological order so that I could notice the development of trends, deviations from previous films, and so on. Perhaps the greatest reward, though, is how it allowed me to fully appreciate the excitement generated by the advent of widescreen cinematography. After spending twenty-films trapped (happily) in the Academy ratio, the expanded frame of Tight Spot was a blast to the senses. I love, too, the film's awareness of its ratio especially in relation to television, as evidence by the cut from this shot to this shot. I found that sly wink especially gratifying.

This might be the first time I've seen Ginger Rogers in a film made after 1942, and it's like discovering a whole new actress. She's extremely likable, despite her role remaining rather bland and even rote for long stretches. It's not a great performance, but it oscillates between good and very good, with plenty of nice moments that make me want to track down some of her other post-war performances.

Despite a good setup, Tight Spot's story is somewhat shockingly empty. I can't imagine it working on stage at all. The film's style is also weirdly genial and bland. There are a few exceptions — like a confrontation in a garage with young Vito Corleone — that become super exciting by comparison, in an "aw, there's the Karlson I was hoping for" way. The film reaches a decent conclusion, buoyed by a good, unexpected turn, but that middle act is a real drag.

I actually like Brian Keith more than Edward G. Robinson here, mostly because the latter's character is awful — just a mouthpiece for propaganda. Even Suddenly's script handled better the theme of an American's duty in dire circumstance. Comparing Robinson's role here to his somewhat similar role in The Stranger makes me sad — unless it was an intentional choice for his character to come across as a Fascist asshole; then that's fascinating.

Grade: B-

Up next: The Ship That Died of Shame

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Re: Noirvember Group Marathon 2017
« Reply #105 on: December 18, 2017, 02:47:13 AM »


The Ship That Died of Shame  (Basil Dearden, 1955)

Strong lead performances from George Baker, Richard Attenborough, and Bill Owen, along with good atmospheric direction from Dearden, make The Ship That Died of Shame as passably successful as it is. That title is even more horrible than you might imagine, for the film takes it very literally, as a once proud naval vessels chokes and dies in anthropomorphic shame when forced into service as a smuggling vessel as part of the post-war moral decay. US distributors can be forgiven for releasing the movie as PT Raiders.

It's a drab film, unappealingly so, and the structure is a bit wanting, with the whole first act being mere prologue. Again, though, it's the cast that enlivens things, with Attenborough proving a very capable cinematic snake and Baker shimmering with heroic everyman appeal, like a cross between Ty Burrell and some face I couldn't quite place. I'd like to see more of him from this period (perhaps in These Dangerous Years or Tread Softly Stranger). Bernard Lee and Virginia McKenna are also likable in their too brief appearances.

The special effects aren't great but at least serviceable.

Grade: B-

Up next: The Harder They Fall

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Re: Noirvember Group Marathon 2017
« Reply #106 on: December 18, 2017, 03:08:30 AM »








































The Harder They Fall  (Mark Robson, 1956)

Except for the Academy ratio of the opening credits (an odd choice, given the film's widescreen cinematography), The Harder They Fall feels quintessentially mid-50s American cinema, especially with the pop art style of those credits, the jazzy score, and the mix of acting styles, and the realistic-theatrical shifts in aesthetic. I never would have thought to label it noir, though.

The headline is always that this is Bogart's last film, but it's really Rod Steiger that commanded more of my attention here. His sizzling performance as Nick Benko is a wondrous Machiavellian portrait, dazzling with the subtle manipulations of the confident bully and the bravado of the elevated huckster. Steiger's occasional tendency to go over-the-top in his acting generally doesn't distract here, as it so often does, because the extremely well-written character of Benko possesses that same tendency.

Bogart is fine, too, though his role fits him almost too well, leaving little room for surprise, like an actor in the tenth season of the same televison drama. He's also saddled with most of the thematic exposition in a film that's far from subtle.

Burnett Guffey's photography is typical nice, hence the plethora of screenshots, with the final boxing sequence proving especially fantastic. There really needs to be a 30 for 30 doc about Primo Carnera, if there isn't one already, because I know too little about him.

Every shot of the bus is gold.

Grade: B

Up next: While the City Sleeps

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Re: Noirvember Group Marathon 2017
« Reply #107 on: December 18, 2017, 03:37:35 AM »


































While the City Sleeps  (Fritz Lang, 1956)

I'm flabbergasted at what an unfortunate mess this film is. The hook scene, showing a delivery man killing a random woman and leaving the words "ASK Mother" on her wall in lipstick, promises a taut and modern thriller, more 60s than 50s, a forerunner of films like Psycho, Lady in a Cage, and In Cold Blood. Quickly though, the focus turns to the silly and cynical rivalries within the heart of a media empire, written and filmed with the quality of a television soap opera. Even the all-star cast is a complete flop. Dana Andrews should be awarded a posthumous Razzie for worst drunk acting (Exhibit A; Exhibit B). Vincent Price's sober acting is little better, and George Sanders phones in his performance so completely that Thomas Mitchell's half-hearted effort seems dedicated in comparison. Ida Lupino comes off best, but that's a low bar.

There's enough of interest in the film to keep it watchable, but it's an awfully silly affair, especially in its plotting. Every character is such a louse (especially Andrews, who sets up his fiancée as bait for the killer — without asking her first), which I guess is the point, but it's not a very interesting one. The film's mature attitude towards sex is somewhat refreshing, but it's done so winkingly that it ends up feeling like a kid whispering "boobies" and then cracking up at himself. Some of the filmmaking is extremely sloppy, too, with one blatantly overdubbed line, continuity issues, etc. This really should have been a Richard Brooks project. Instead the whole thing feels about as cheap as Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome.

While the City Sleeps surpasses Suddenly for the month's biggest disappointment.

Grade: C

Up next: Seven Thieves

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Re: Noirvember Group Marathon 2017
« Reply #108 on: December 18, 2017, 03:59:31 AM »


















Seven Thieves  (Henry Hathaway, 1960)

This is such an empty film. The story is centered around a Casino heist in Monte Carlo, which you might mistakenly assume would be exciting. The first fifty or so minutes just tread water with no stakes. The team is already assembled except for one thief (Rod Steiger) who takes a full thirty-five minutes to be convinced, with neither his reluctance nor the convincing being at all interesting. The dialogue is bland as hell, almost as if the actors were just saying placeholder lines with the expectation that they'd dub the real dialogue in after. I was especially embarrassed for Edward G. Robinson, who seemed almost like he'd walked onto the set by accident and they didn't have the heart to send him away. Then again, Steiger doesn't come off much better. Eli Wallach and Joan Collins have the film's best scene, a highly sexualized night club pas de deux with Collins dancing as Wallach makes love to her with his saxophone, almost literally. Eventually we get to the heist itself, which is only slightly more engaging than the long setup. There's no joy in any of the details and little tension to be had. It just sort of happens, like the film as a whole.

Grade: C

Up next: A Colt Is My Passport

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« Last Edit: December 19, 2017, 03:49:39 AM by pixote »
I think I'd love how awkward it'd be, or how awkward it should be.

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Re: Noirvember Group Marathon 2017
« Reply #109 on: December 18, 2017, 09:59:59 PM »
You gave Suddenly a C, which really makes me wonder how you breakdown levels of quality. The best parts of Suddenly are average at best, but most of the movie is far below that. It's The Room of Film Noir (and if it isn't that's because of Follow Me Quietly.) I like your comment about Sinatra because as bad as this film is, he's really good in it and I couldn't figure out why because he's never this electric. Seeing it as masterful compared to the rest of the cast is right on.


Tight Spot I wanted to love. It's got Robinson and Rogers with Karlson directing, but the usually gritty Karlson goes for sheen. I'm sure the cutaways to the television aren't as bad as I remember but they are way I won't be re-watching this any time soon. Too much dread. Also, I can go through a list of late period Ginger Rogers films, but you NEED to go back to 1951 and watch Storm Warning.


The Ship That Died of Shame  (Basil Dearden, 1955)
That's all I needed right there. Part of the reason for my current Director Marathon is a constant reminder of filmmakers I want to see more from. Under normal circumstances, Basil Dearden would be lost among the trees. I've seen four and I want to see a lot more.


I've seen every Bogart film following The African Queen except for Battle Circus. The Barefoot Contessa, Deadline U.S.A. and The Harder They Fall are in my Essentials. Maybe he's one of those actors like John Wayne who always played variations on a type, but he also had great instincts for scripts with sharp dialogue and he could deliver it smooth right to the end. Steiger probably does give the better performance here - one of his best - but it's just a damn fine film all around. And you should make time for Deadline U.S.A.


I also hated While the City Sleeps. What do you think is the bigger waste, the cast or the title? (Didn't bother you that most of the film takes place while the city was awake?)


Seven Thieves - It's Edward, not Edgar, unless you're referring to the wooden performances all around. I agree with you here too, and I was embarrassed to sit through the entire Joan Collins striptease with Mrs. 1SO. Years later, Robinson participated in Grand Slam, which looks very similar but actually has all the fun that's missing here. Two words: Klaus Kinski.
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