Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Yet this is where I come to relax.
Follow Me Quietly (1949)
More style than substance - but that's not a bad thing.
It's been a long time since I last saw Richard Fleischer's "Follow Me Quietly" on TV with commercial breaks making it seem longer than its 60 minute running time.
Looking at it again last week via a Warner Archive DVD that sure looks a lot better than the copy I saw years ago, my first reaction was one of "style over substance" but that's hardly a knock, and actually common for me when it comes to noir. This is really a programmer showing the talent of a director with aspirations, or as Fleischer claimed "This is the film that, above all, increased my knowledge of the trade. I learned how to organize a film." One can see that he was handed a script that is fairly routine, despite Anthony Mann sharing the credit for story. But Fleischer manages to add a few touches here and there to make an impression. The bit in policeman William Lundigan's apartment with the female reporter trying to get some story leads is quite suggestive although the two don't even so much as get into a clinch.
Lundigan, along with partner Jeff Corey, are on the trail of a serial killer known only as "The Judge" and in piling up what few clues they have, they manage to create a dummy that is the killer's size and appropriately dressed based on thread samples found - it's just missing a face. One eerie segment has Lundigan talking to the dummy until Corey walks in and warns him that he's bordering on being as crazy as the killer. But the scene doesn't end there however you'll have to watch it without my spoilers. I will say that here Fleischer does demonstrate his awareness that a film can be more than the sum of its parts.
However that point is teased several times in the film - that Lundigan and the killer may be of the same ilk. Lundigan is so unhinged perhaps to even allow a suspect who is confessing to demonstrate the method of strangulation that he used on a victim. Douglas Spencer makes good use of his minimal screen time in this segment. Even a waitress comments on a pattern of behavior that the cop shares with the criminal.
As Howard Hawks has said, a good film should have three good scenes and no boring scenes. In that respect, Fleischer doesn't let us down, even if a few scenes are the clichéd montage bits of cops pursuing leads, interviewing and pounding the pavement. You have to move the action forward somehow, even in a film that runs only an hour.
There's a mix of location shots (especially good in the finale) and studio sets to represent what we can presume to be Los Angeles. I'm just about certain that "The Judge" lived on the same block that Peter Lorre terrorized in "Stranger on the Third Floor." Dorothy Patrick plays the plucky reporter, she's quite appealing and manages to stay out of the way when told and thus avoiding the need for the cop to rescue the clueless female. In fact she's quite helpful when Lundigan gets a new lead and it's he who struck me as clueless on this point. Jeff Corey shines as Lundigan's partner and walks away with the film with ease.
New York Confidential (1955)
Cast is the biggest virtue
The credits come on and one is really set up for something good. Broderick Crawford, Richard Conte, Anne Bancroft, Onslow Stevens, Marilyn Maxwell, J. Carroll Naish, Barry Kelley, Tom Powers, Mike Mazurki, Celia Lovsky...
The film starts with location footage and the stentorian tones of a narrator so you figure you're going to get one of those De Rochemont docudramas or at least a cheapie along the lines of Conte's The Sleeping City which was shot on location here in NYC.
No, soon we're on the Goldwyn lot which wouldn't be bad if there were some creative angles or lighting. But no, individual scenes are all harshly lit except for a fist fight when they needed to hide the stunt men (not very well either). Also, there are no dissolves, all scenes end with a fade to black and you half expect to see a commercial.
The story structure is no better - two major characters are just written out with no drama to punctuate the exits. The story in itself is promising enough, with hit man Conte imported from Chicago and recruited to remain with Crawford's mob after he neatly disposes of some upstart who causes headlines which "the syndicate" would prefer to avoid.
Crawford's daughter Bancroft seems to be falling for Conte, but that goes nowhere. Crawford's girl Marilyn Maxwell is definitely falling for Conte, but that goes nowhere, but hey, at least now the subtext folks have something to read into it. All I saw there was poor writing.
Conte's character is fairly bright it seems, then Bancroft uses the word "penchant" and he seems dumbfounded. That reversal happens again at the end of the film, but I won't reveal in what manner. Crawford keeps telling Conte he's brighter than all the other "pigs" he has in his employ who can't even spell their own names. So then, how has Crawford managed to head the East Coast mob and hold off trouble for 20 years if everyone working for him is an idiot? By the way, you will never hear the word "pigs" used so often in 87 minutes unless you're at a hog-calling contest.
Worth watching to see so many familiar faces in one film, but as to whether it's worth watching again is another matter. If I do, it won't be soon.
Shed No Tears (1948)
No tears, just applause
Wallace Ford fakes his death in a hotel room fire. He hooks up with his much younger wife, June Vincent, and together they plan on bilking the insurance company for the payoff of 50 grand which will reunite them once she collects. She watches as he gets on the bus, then meets her boyfriend in the parking lot and they talk of how they're going to spend the money.
All this happens in the first ten minutes or so - there's no fat on this baby.
But meanwhile, Ford's son thinks that something is amiss, he thinks that Vincent killed Ford herself and he hires an investigator to prove it. This is where things really start perking as the Clifton Webb-like sleuth, played wonderfully by Johnstone White, soon figures out what's going on and he starts playing the supposed widow and the son against each other as well as Ford himself who comes back to town and discovers his wife in a clinch with her boyfriend.
But wait - there's still more but you're going to have to find out for yourself. Jean Yarbrough, veteran of just about every kind of movie and TV genre, manages to keep one's interest despite a lack of noirish touches. It's likely that he had to get this done in a week or so, so there wasn't any time for complicated camera set-ups. The story here is the main thing, you likely will not be disappointed.
Do You Know This Voice? (1964)
Dandy Dan Duryea doing dirty
Dan Duryea is once again a man down on his luck, so he opts for a new profession as a kidnapper. His inexperience shows as he kidnaps the son of some working class people who couldn't afford the ransom anyway, plus he accidentally kills the child. No spoiler here, this all comes out in the first fifteen minutes and just as exposition. On revealing that, he tells his wife who is also in on the plot, that the boy was "lucky to have died clean" - as in free of sin.
How considerate Dan! Otherwise, Dan's a nice guy who hung around in Britain after the war, he's nice to his neighbors, and that's where the tide turns. It seems that one of those neighbors, played by Isa Miranda, caught a glimpse of the kidnapper making a ransom call. She offers to help the police capture the man by making it public that she saw him and then just sitting as bait for the criminal.
She only saw the caller from the back, but that's a minor point as long as the caller doesn't know that.
All of this happens in the first twenty minutes, so don't worry about too much being spoiled. Some of it is only referred to anyway as it happens off-screen or even before the film starts.
From here on, as far as the story goes you're on your own. Unfortunately the director Frank Nesbitt not only telegraphs the ending, he writes it in the sky with gigantic letters by fixing the camera on a key prop that comes into play later.
Otherwise, the performances are tops and while it's obviously done on the cheap, that only enhances the look of the film which isn't exactly set among the upper class anyway.
Chicago Calling (1951)
Don't hang up on Duryea
This was a nice little film. Duryea played the average man here, a bit down on his luck as we first see him, a point emphasized by the stairway that we see him descending en route home. His wife is about to leave him since he's chronically unemployed, and says she's going to take their daughter with her.
This happens the next day and then he later gets a telegram stating that his daughter was injured in a car accident and is about to undergo surgery. He'll supposedly get the details the next day via a phone call. But that's just it - his day started out bad, and only got worse as the phone company terminated his service and if that isn't bad enough, his dog is also injured in an accident while he's out trying to scrounge up money to pay the bill so he can get the call the next day.
It reminded me of Loretta Young's "Cause For Alarm" in which we follow the protagonist through an agonizing day, in her case she was trying to retrieve an incriminating letter. It may have been sunny in each film, but the characters are having one very dark day.
"Chicago Calling" may be the title, but what we get is the lower environs of Los Angeles in all of its seediness. But still some helpful characters emerge, such as a counter-woman who must have seen The Grapes of Wrath and has a soft spot for Duryea's woe, and a young boy, the one whose bicycle hits Duryea's dog. The boy's "help" only compounds Duryea's problems, but he meant well.
A very nice job on a low budget, the director John Reinhardt died the next year, but based on this and "Open Secret" - another budget job that had antisemitism in its sights, he had a lot of promise that might have been fulfilled had he gotten the breaks.
The Underworld Story (1950)
Will Dan Duryea take the high road eventually?
Mike Reese is a reporter who is about as sleazy as they come. He must be, he's played by Dan Duryea in the Cy Endfield noir gem. Chuck Tatum of ACE IN THE HOLE has nothing on Mike - except that he probably makes a bigger salary.
Mike's lost his job because given some confidential info about a mobster's secret testimony, Mike runs it the paper that employs him which causes the bad guys to know just where to ambush the man testifying. Sure, the paper is equally at fault, but they'll get off by printing an apology, Mike's the scapegoat.
With a stake provided by the local New England gangster who benefited most from the silenced witness, Mike buys into another suburban newspaper. Shortly thereafter, the murder of the daughter-in-law of a prominent publisher and the cover-up, as well as the innocent black woman accused of that murder, has Mike manipulating all in his path to make his way back to the top and a few bucks on the side.
As the guilty person says of the accused: "She's a n-word, who is going to take her word over ours?" This one is that gritty, but it moves with B movie speed not trying to make a social statement. Or is it? What happened to director Endfield, having to relocate to England owing to HUAC, has some reviewers reading "witch hunt" into the narrative. But if one didn't know the personal history, it's a riveting tale anyway that reveals the levels and layers of corruption and also of the depths of sacrifice. Subtext is just as often the baggage one brings to a film as opposed to what the director installs.
Gale Storm, Herbert Marshall, Harry Shannon, Michael O'Shea and Howard da Silva in what seems to be a return to the kind of character he played in THE BLUE DAHLIA all figure prominently. Mary Anderson plays the accused black woman and there's a bit of irony now in that casting (beyond her being Caucasian) - her brother James Anderson played the vicious Bob Ewell in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. She would also play Duryea's wife in CHICAGO CALLING a couple of years later. Both films are highly recommended.
A Time for Killing (1967)
Not even good enough for killing time
It aired on TCM last night and as I remembered that when it came out in 1967 I walked out of it, I wanted to see just how bad this thing was, or if I was that impatient. I rarely walk out on films.
As soon as the credits ended, I was reminded of one of the initial negative reactions I had to the film. We get a title song under the credits (left over from when the production title was "The Long Ride Home") and as soon as the director credit disappears, so does the song. As in someone picked the needle up off the phonograph record before it was done. That's only the first example of the kitchen blender editing that goes on in this film.
A group of Confederates are in a Northern fort, caged in a big pen and apparently treated decently by Major Glenn Ford. The leader of this group is played by George Hamilton and when his accent isn't atrocious, it's gone. The editing faults show up again when somehow a bunch of the rebels kill some guards, turn the fort's cannons around and begin firing on it. We just don't get to see how they managed to get out of the holding pen in which they were confined
They escape through some magical tunnel that leads to the river, but with no establishing shots, we have no idea of how far that tunnel goes. We never even get a shot in the tunnel. The rebs manage to catch up to and defeat a previously departed detail that includes Ford's betrothed Inger Stevens and they accomplish this by magically hiding in trees that manage to be right in the path of each Union soldier in the detail as they attempted to scatter when fired upon.
There's all sorts of exposition here to show us what a mean bastard Hamilton is - he's left most of his men behind when he should have waited for them at the river. There's so much exposition that we forget that top-billed Glenn Ford is even in the film since he disappears for about a half-hour. Ford's search party includes two comic relief types (one of whom is Dick Miller) who seem to have walked in from another movie or an episode of "F Troop." This is made more apparent as they are frequently seen in obvious studio shots that don't match the surrounding footage shot on location.
It was at this point that I recalled that this film was started by Roger Corman but it was usurped by the studio and given to Phil Karlson. Corman's involvement would explain Dick Miller, but the handling of his scenes might explain why Corman was dismissed. Apparently it was enough of a disaster for longtime producer Harry Joe Brown to quit the business.
Harrison Ford (billed with middle initial "J") gets reasonably prominent billing but he disappears once the film leaves the fort - we don't see if he's killed while the rebels escape. Paul Petersen is given very prominent billing above the title, but he doesn't show up with any dialogue until Glenn Ford comes back into the film in the last half-hour. That's just as well, Petersen is horrendous in his few scenes.
Even worse is Max Baer, Jr. as a whacked-out Confederate who loves killing and physically sparring with a buddy. This goes on my list of all-time worst performances and it indicates why Baer never got beyond Jethro Bodine on "The Beverly Hillbillies." Surprisingly effective is Todd Armstrong as Hamilton's sympathetic second-in-command yet this was his last feature film. As George Hamilton's moral conscience, he has the most well-written role in the film.
There is one strong plot twist here involving Inger Stevens that is quickly thrown away. En route, Baer comes across a Union dispatch carrier and kills him, taking from him the message that the war is over. The message couldn't have been that important to the carrier anyway as he's hanging out in a cantina with a bunch of whores. Hamilton swears Baer to silence (this way he "can kill more blue-bellies") as he wants to engage in a cat-and-mouse game with Ford.
This makes no sense as there would be no need for further pursuit but that would mean that the film would end just as abruptly as the title song. So just in case, Hamilton rapes and beats Stevens after telling her that the war is over. He leaves her there, but when Ford (the Glenn one, not Harrison) catches up to her, she fails to tell him that the war is over. She wants vengeance for having been spoiled. The film makes little more of that motive.
I could go on, but the film isn't really worth the verbiage I've given it thus far. Consider this a public service message and beware at all costs.
Oklahoma Outlaws (1943)
Where did I see this before?
THE OKLAHOMA KID rides again as this Warners short reaps miles of footage from that feature film into an abbreviated version. The names of the hero and villain are unchanged, and leads Robert Shayne and Warner Anderson are dressed just as were Cagney and Bogart in the original film.
At times you can spot both Bogie and Cagney in long shots or "from behind" shots. All of the action and crowd scenes come from Lloyd Bacon's film, and it's practically a sin that he wasn't credited.
Charles Middleton, who was in the original film, shows up again, this time in a different role. Addison Richards, often seen as a doctor, lawyer or military man in tons of 40s films, shows up as a judge. Like most of these shorts featuring either Shayne or George Reeves (who would appear together years later in the "Superman" TV series), the budget may have been minuscule, but they're fun to the maximum.
Hangman's Knot (1952)
Scott's best prior to Budd Boetticher
1952 saw the Columbia release of one of Scott's best - Hangman's Knot.
They don't come much more taut than this, and its success only brings into question as to why director Roy Huggins never made another film as director. This one really begins to approach the later Boetticher films, being set in an isolated way station, as several of Budd's films happened to be, with Randy as a Confederate officer, who has stolen Union gold, not knowing the war is over.
Outlaws, learning of the loot, besiege the soldiers at the way station, but just as much danger comes from within - the menacing soldier played by Lee Marvin. The cast is better than those in the then most recent Scott vehicles, including Donna Reed, Claude Jarman, Jr., Richard Denning and Guinn "Big Boy Williams. Randy's son C.H. Scott, in the book "Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott" speaks fondly of Donna Reed, as if she was a second mother, and says that she and his father never lost touch over the years, and were devoted to each other.
Omitting the Boetticher films, this one is clearly the strongest Scott offering of the 1950s. That Huggins never directed a feature film again (he did direct a 1970 TV movie) is more our loss than his. Huggins did quite well in the long run, with items like Maverick, Rockford Files and The Fugitive in his future.
With much of the film set within the way station, Huggins manages to keep the tension high as Scott has to deal with the group of bounty hunters outside (led by Ray Teal in a rousing performance) and the wayward loose cannon Ralph, the Lee Marvin character. Lee must have impressed producer Scott as he got a much showier role in the first Scott-Boetticher classic SEVEN MEN FROM NOW. Meanwhile, Scott must serve as surrogate big brother of Claude Jarman Jr, no longer the little boy of THE YEARLING and in fact nearly as tall as the film's lead star.
Richard Denning also impresses in his part as Donna Reed's fiancée, a character as weak-willed as the fiancée in the later Boetticher film THE TALL T. At first willing to call attention to an attempted escape by Scott and company (despite giving his word otherwise), he later bargains to give them an alternate plan of escape - in exchange for two bars of the captured gold.
My favorite of Scott's 50's westerns prior to his Boetticher films and dollar for dollar, the equal of many much bigger budgeted items from the likes of Wayne and Cooper.
Fort Worth (1951)
Well worth the time and the price
Warner Brothers had a thing for "city westerns" ever since the success of DODGE CITY in 1939. In its wake followed VIRGINIA CITY, SAN ANTONIO, DALLAS, Carson CITY and this 1951 tale, the last film of director Edwin L. Marin. Marin and star Randolph Scott had previously worked on several films together, including some oaters for RKO as well as Christmas EVE, Scott's last non-western. Here they were doing a follow-up to their successful COLT 45 for Warners in 1950.
In this one, Scott stars as a reformed gunman, now "shooting" lead type from a printing press rather than bullets from a six shooter. Not intending to set up shop in his old home town, when he comes across a nearly vanquished Ft. Worth, and spurred by the death of a child which was the result of a cattle stampede caused by the errant shot of of member of the Clevenger Gang, Scott opts to use the power of the press to bring settlers back to the city and achieve justice for the slain boy. The death of a child is a plot turn that goes back to the first in the series, DODGE CITY. In that film the child was played by Dickie Jones, here, twelve years later, Jones plays Scott's reporter Luther Wick, soon he'd be on his way into the hearts of millions of kids in the series THE RANGE RIDER, followed by BUFFALO BILL, JR.
David Brian co-stars as a man banking his future on the future of Fort Worth by buying up options on properties abandoned by those terrorized by the Clevenger gang. But as Scott's mentor wonders, if Brian cares so much for the town, why is he letting its population dwindle from 5000 to less than 1000? Could it be to be able to secure more options, is he in cahoots with Clevenger? Plot twists cause he and Scott to take on an alliance at times, while at others, they're inches away from gunning each other down, and rivals for the hand of Phyllis Thaxter.
Clevenger is played by Ray Teal, known to most as Sheriff Coffee from BONANZA. Often villainous in these things, he outdoes himself here by occasionally being quite charming in his delivery - perhaps his glee at being given more dialog than he usually gets and more screen time also. Another fine performance is given by Emerson Treacy as Ben Garvin, Scott's partner in the Fort Worth Star and his teacher in ways of the press. Usually uncredited in scores of films, he makes the most of his screen time.
The DVD offers glorious Technicolor, the detail right down to Scott's pearl-handled pistols is a sight to behold. The film is packaged with two other Randolph Scott features, COLT 45 and TALL MAN RIDING. and at 15 bucks list price, they're one of the great bargains a Scott fan is likely to find.