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I Love This Film
Anyone who knows me knows I enjoy pre-1960 films that use Los Angeles as a backdrop, and Nocturne is one of 'em. Several scenes were shot off the lot, and one can catch quick (and sometimes elongated) glimpses of Hollywood Blvd., Vine Street, Tom Brenneman's, the Pantages, and the (Hollywood) Brown Derby in their heyday - the exterior of the Derby is used for a scene between Warne and Torp, the oafish thug for hire. One of the places I haven't been able to pinpoint is the location of the Shawn photography studio. It could very well be the area of Sunset Blvd. printed on the photographer's mark in the film... hard to say as the whole area has changed dramatically since the late 1940's. And that's too bad, because the building they used for the exterior shot of the studio looked pretty nice. But I suspect that it's one of those buildings like Mildred Pierce's Glendale house: the actual structure was 1 storey on the outside and the Hollywood set shows it magically to be 2 storeys on the inside. Suspension of disbelief anyone?
If you like post-war design as much as I, a couple of the sets are a treat to see - those being Vincent's house (possibly a Neutra-inspired creation) and the Shawn Studio, both of which feature up-to-the-minute trends in styling and decor (that is, for Southern California, 1946). Personally, I'd move into Keith Vincent's house in a heartbeat! It's like a little bit of Palm Springs in the Hollywood Hills.
When it comes to performances, Mabel Paige steals the show, especially in the scene where she's having tea with her gambling partner, Mrs. O'Rourke (Virginia Edwards). Her character adds a delightful touch of homespun levity to the story. I'd love to have her as a grandmother!
Surprisingly, George Raft's performance is so stiff that Woody Woodpecker was probably eying him for lunch. He kind of traipses through the pic with a strange, wry countenance, and grins at (what strike me as) odd times, like we're all missing out on some behind-the- scenes joke. Raft doesn't strike me as a great actor of the period, the likes of Clark Gable or Edward G. Robinson, but he held his own in movies where he played the bad guy. I don't think he really got the concept of how to play the good guy. Someone else said that Dick Powell should have been awarded the role, and I couldn't agree more. What a great transitional picture that could have been for Powell, the warbler from Warner Bros. turned private dick. Music and murder. But alas...
Myrna Dell is a kick. I see her as a kind of a cross between Eve Arden and Joan Blondell. Wish there were more of her in the movie. Her delivery of lines like "I didn't listen to his music. It was icky!" are priceless.
The full cast list includes characters in scenes that were deleted. I wonder what the deleted scenes were all about...
(POSSIBLE SPOILER FOLLOWS) All in all, I really like this movie. It's got some fun twists and turns as it goes along, and the revelation of the culprit caught me by surprise. I have this film on a commercially-released VHS but have not come across it on DVD yet. Apparently it was released on DVD in the early 90's, so it probably isn't a restored print, and I'd also assume it wouldn't have any decent bonus material (like the deleted scenes). Too bad, because this is a good little film worth watching, all in all.
Le ballon rouge (1956)
Amazing little film
Like so many others who have contributed reviews of The Red Balloon, I too had special memories, long buried and locked away in my mind, that resurfaced immediately when I ran across a still image from the movie. I, too, had one of those "I must see this again" responses to that memory. It's kind of weird when you think about it - like a subconscious or hypnotic suggestion that got planted in our brains 30, 40, 50 years ago...
Watching it again I was surprised at how little of it I actually remembered. But the image of the boy with the giant round red balloon was seared into my psyche as a child, and it now evokes emotions and nostalgic feelings unlike any others I have yet re-experienced.
Now, as an adult in 2012, I am struck by the photographic and emotional brilliance of juxtaposing a vividly red over-sized and very round balloon against a predominantly gray backdrop. Even the boy is dressed entirely in gray when he adopts the balloon. From the moment the balloon enters the stage it becomes the point of visual contrast. The film, shot in Technicolor, was probably not manipulated too much in terms of its tonality the way digital editors do today. What you see is pretty much what was there. And that was a lot of blue-gray neutral tones and one big bright red balloon.
I am also aware of something else. Maybe some have discussed this, maybe not. But beyond the story and any subliminal, archetypal references to Christianity or other mysticism or fable is the magic of how the film was made. I don't know how they did it. Obviously they had some means of controlling the balloon's movement. I did not see any strings or wires aside from the rather hefty string attached to the balloon throughout the film (granted, I was watching it on Youtube, so, not the best optical quality). Not only does the balloon bob and weave, rise and fall and thus become its own character with apparent emotions and seemingly intentional playfulness, but the white string dangling from the balloon has its own "emotions" attached to it, much like a cat's tail. So not only did the director succeed in the challenge of making a balloon appear to have a mind of its own, he also somehow gave the "tail" a separate personality.
Given that this film was made in the mid-1950's, the technique the director used to maneuver the balloon and its string was undoubtedly some sort of wonderful feat at the time. If the film were made today, the balloon would be CGI-ed in post (and any guide wires would be digitally erased). Big whoop. Let's see Hollywood filmmakers return to real filmmaking magic rather than defaulting to computer-generated stuff that goes so far beyond 'analog' (natural) credibility that it becomes un-real. What makes The Red Balloon so much more special today, in my opinion, is that we KNOW that a real balloon can't possibly do the things that this red balloon does. And yet we know that this balloon IS a real balloon. And we are mystified and enchanted as a result. Therein lies the true magic of filmmaking.
Heavy Equipment (1977)
A rather unique piece of porno needing restoration
This really is a silly little gay skin-flick, but I've got to hand it to Lancer Brooks, the director, for coming up with a story that gives a reason for going from 2-D to 3-D ~ and for having the ambition to make a 3-D sex movie. There isn't very much 3-D gay porn out there so for that alone it stands out in its genre. Add in several men who were or would become the icons of gay adult movies and magazines of the 70's, an imaginative story, and an outdated music track (even for its time) and you have a real unique film. Caballero DVD (Vidco StarGaze) has a print of this out on DVD, but the color is rather bad and the quality is grainy, so the 3-D effect is almost completely lost. Someone should restore this film and re-release it in HD (with 3-D glasses)!
The Dirty Picture Show (1980)
History in the strangest of places
"The Dirty Picture Show" is an interesting little gay adult film for its time. First of all, it was shot during the pre-video (and what would later become known as the pre-condom) days, at a time when most gay film loops were usually set in cheesy hotel rooms, badly decorated bedrooms, and pool decks. Yet this film is shot inside the now historic Vista Theatre in Hollywood/Los Feliz -- with opening and closing scenes shot outside the building itself.
Additionally, this film becomes a film-within-a-film as the main character watches two all-male adult films in the auditorium (while having sex with various patrons of the theatre). The action alternates between the films on the screen, sometimes seen through a haze of cigarette smoke (back when you apparently could still smoke in theatres), and the action happening between the main character and his anonymous tricks. You even get to see the titles of the films he is watching... though I am not certain if they were ever released individually or filmed for the purpose of using as the backdrop for this film.
At any rate, "The Dirty Picture Show" is technically advanced for its day and genre, also using a lot of actual sound for the "live" action, including the set-ups for the different scenes (many adult gay films of the period were filmed without sound only to have the moans and groans dubbed in later by the production team). The over-the-shoulder views of the screen, cut to the actual "films" themselves, cut to the "live" action in the auditorium comes off as much more professional and thought out than most adult films of the time. And while the films on the screen have cheesy set ups (an aspiring photo model gets seduced by his photographer; a young man seduces his pool-cleaning guy), the "live" scenes come off as more natural and spontaneous and thereby more realistic.
Any theatre historian interested in the Vista Theatre may find the settings interesting, as it shows parts of the theatre lobby, auditorium, and (supposedly) the men's room as they appeared during the theatre's run as an X-rated entertainment house in the 70's. However these aspects are incidental to the action, so if you want to watch it for historical purpose you may have to deal with the very graphic gay sex action as well.