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A Very Good Film
A very good and very interesting noir featuring excellent performances from Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney, Clifton Webb and Vincent Price. Andrews plays a detective investigating the murder of successful businesswoman Tierney. As the investigation unfolds, Andrews begins to fall for the victim, seemingly drawn to her by a self portrait in her apartment. As the case deepens, Andrews cannot prepare himself for the unexpected twist the lurid situation is about to throw his way. I was really impressed with the performances, particularly Dana Andrews as Lt. Mark McPherson. His was a subdued performance but commanding and authoritative. Gene Tierney is great also and possesses one of the most beautiful faces I have ever seen. Direction by Otto Preminger is solid with great atmosphere that lingers throughout what is a twisty, turny film noir. A very good film and one that every serious noir fan needs to see/own.
The Roaring Twenties (1939)
Well Paced And Exciting
Terrific, involving gangster film by director Raoul Walsh featuring top-notch performances led by the usual good as gold James Cagney. JC plays a good man who comes home from WWI realizing the world has changed and there is nothing there for him compared to before he went overseas. Though his introduction to the underworld is set-up without him knowing, Cags takes to the lifestyle since the best he can do is make a living as a cabbie. He fly's to the top during prohibition falling for Priscilla Lane, the girl he brought into his nightclub to sing and who doesn't return his affection, as well as taking Humphrey Bogart on as a partner. Lane falls for JC's good guy lawyer Jeffrey Lynn who she eventually marries and has a child with. Along the way, Lynn has been made an assistant district attorney. With the repeal of prohibition, Cags falls on hard times and is forced back to the cabbie ranks while ex-partner Bogart rises to the top. This sets up a memorable confrontation between the two as JC tries to prevent Bogie from knocking off Lane's lawyer husband.
Some folks found this film to be slow moving but I didn't. Sure, it doesn't crackle with an over-abundance of energy like some of Cagney's other gangster films but I thought it was well paced and exciting enough. Lot's of great dialog and a nice semi-documentary style employed by the great Walsh. The performances are excellent all around and as usual, Cagney stands out but the one performance I do want to mention is that of Gladys George as Panama Smith. Her friendship and chemistry with Cagney bursts on the screen as soon as they meet and the saucy George is also tough as nails and at the ready with a great one-liner. Her toughness is at times just a mask for a soft heart and an obvious boatload of affection for Cagney's Eddie Bartlett. It really is a memorable performance.
Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)
A memorable, amazing gangster film with a social message featuring a blistering performance by the one and only James Cagney. JC plays notorious gangster Rocky Sullivan who comes back to his old neighborhood and a reunion with his old pal Jerry Connelly. Time has a strange way of changing things, you see, Sullivan and Connelly were boyhood pals from the wrong side of the tracks. Sullivan spent time in a reformatory only to emerge the hardened criminal that he is. Connelly, spared time in the reformatory because he could run faster then Rocky and got away, is now a priest trying to keep the youth from his neighborhood out of trouble. Father Connelly is working hard on a group of youngsters, the Dead End Kids, who are already headed in the wrong direction. Things become complicated when Rocky arrives as the youngsters idolize the gangster and begin to really show signs of an impending criminal life. Rocky's own problems mount, including being ripped off by his lawyer James Frazier played by Humphrey Bogart. Rocky tries to remedy his situation but his cohorts are planning to rub out Father Connelly who's one man crusade to wipe out the criminal element is going too far. Rocky will have no part of it and resorts to murder to prevent his friend from being killed. Unfortunately, Rocky is caught and is sentenced to die in the electric chair setting up one of the most memorable conclusions in film history.
This is a completely absorbing, emotional film with standout performances from everyone. Besides Cagney, Pat O'Brien as Father Connelly gives what is perhaps his finest performance. The support from Bogart, the Dead End Kids and Ann Sheridan are all top notch. Many unforgettable scenes abound, namely Cagney's unorthodox "refereeing" at a basketball game and the aforementioned conclusion which still haunts me to this day. Director Michael Curtiz does an amazing job. His camera is almost in constant movement with fluid passes and turns and his brilliant use of light, darkness and shadow is amazing to watch. I just can't say enough about this film, one of the finest gangster epics to ever grace the big screen. It's very easy to see why Cagney was nominated for an Academy Award in this one.
White Heat (1949)
The One And Only James Cagney!
What more can be said about this unforgettable, landmark film featuring a memorable James Cagney performance that may be one of the finest in screen history? The film never gets old and is as much fun to watch the 50th time as it is the first. JC's portrayal of maniacal, mother-obsessed Cody Jarrett is one for the ages and director Raoul Walsh never flinches in bringing us what may be the finest gangster film ever and, IMHO, one of the very few perfect gangster movies of all time. The supporting cast lead by Virginia Mayo, Edmond O'Brien, Steve Cochran and Margaret Wycherly is spot on perfect. The film which is exciting and swiftly paced from start to finish, features an almost documentary feel particularly the efforts of the Treasury Department and their attempts to put an end to Jarrett once and for all. A brilliant film on all counts and one for the ages IMHO.
The Petrified Forest (1936)
Solid And Menacing
Solid, well written film with fine performances and a menacing, breakthrough acting job by Humphrey Bogart. Set in a desolate, desert cafe in a desolate Arizona town, Bogart and his murderous, violent band of criminals hold up and hold hostage, a various assortment of people. There is an intellectual(Leslie Howard), a waitress with big aspirations(Bette Davis), a jock(Dick Foran), a vigilante(Porter Hall) and a rich, squabbling couple(Paul Harvey and Genevieve Tobin) among others. The action is limited as this is basically a filmed stage play, but the dialog crackles and is crisply delivered by the actors. Director Archie Mayo does a fine job in the film noir style creating dark, shadowy and sombre moments. He also does a great job wringing out the atmosphere as the viewer can really get the feeling that they are in this desolate cafe in the middle of nowhere with a howling wind and blowing sagebrush. The performance by Bogart is astonishing. Unshaven, menacing and brooding. He may have been the screens first truly mean and scary gangster. A fine film.
More Soap Opera Then Noir
Classified by many as film noir, this one plays more like an overly dramatic melodrama and soap opera IMHO. Joan Crawford plays an unstable woman who slowly slips into madness after being rejected by Van Heflin. To make matters worse, Heflin is now dating Crawford's step daughter following Joan's rebound marriage to Raymond Massey. Sounds pretty sappy, and, it really is.
I did like the performances of both Heflin and Massey but for whatever reason, I couldn't really take Crawford seriously in this one and found her role to be hammy and over the top. A lot of folks praise this movie and Joan's work but it must have slipped right by me. I didn't find it all that entertaining but it definitely was atmospheric in spots.
Little Caesar (1931)
Enjoyable And Memorable
Very entertaining and enjoyable film that put Edward G. Robinson on the map. Robinson plays Cesare Enrico 'Rico' Bandello, aka, Little Caesar and the film documents his rise to the top of the Chicago underworld and his subsequent crash to a skid row boarding house. Robinson's performance is wonderful to watch as the quick fingered Rico who will kill anyone he can who stands in his way or who tries to do him in. Robinson receives fine support from Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Glenda Farrell, Thomas E. Jackson, Stanley Fields and George E. Stone. Though not as good as it's often compared to cousin "The Public Enemy", the film is tremendously enjoyable and memorable.
This one doesn't rank highly among Alfred Hitchcock fans but it has become my favorite Hitchcock film and one that gets better for me after repeat viewings. Loosley based on the real life Leopold and Loeb case, Farley Granger and John Dall play close buddies who are convinced that their superior intellect and high social standards will allow them to get away with the perfect murder. They do away with a friend of theirs, hide him in a trunk in the living room and proceed to throw a party for the dead man's family and friends while serving a buffet dinner on the very trunk that now houses his dead body. All seems well for Granger and Dall until their old schoolmaster, played by Jimmy Stewart, arrives at the party. From there, Stewart begins to suspect something is not right and then the fun really begins.
I really like this film. Yes, it is extremely dialog heavy and maybe slow in spots and there is very little action in the course of it's 81 minutes but that doesn't hamper the viewing experience for me. From the outstanding performances to the sparse studio set, the film slowly builds it's suspense to a satisfying pay-off in the final 20 minutes. There is so much for the eye to follow and the ears to listen to that the film is a totally involving experience. Cutting only to replace the camera's with new film after every 10 minutes, Hitchcock films the movie basically in real time. As a result, the camera and main microphones may be focused on a conversation between Stewart and Dall but you have to listen closely because a conversation between Granger and another character is taking place and there are interesting tid-bits to pick up. An amazing feature of the film is the New York skyline outside the apartment's spacious picture windows. To keep with the real time feel, the skyline changes cloud formations, turns to dusk and then neon lit nighttime. It's an excellent touch. I really can't say enough about the film, almost perfect Hitchcock IMHO.
The Public Enemy (1931)
Cagney's Star Making Vehicle
The film that made James Cagney a star and even after all these years, it's easy to see why. JC commands the screen as Tom Powers, a troubled youth who along with partner Matt Doyle rises to near the top of the underworld during the prohibition era. Tom and his brother Mike are deeply loved by their Mother though the two are as different as night and day. Mike stays home to help take care of Ma and eventually enlists in the armed services as WWI is declared. Tom and Matt are the muscle for both Paddy Ryan and Nails Nathan and Tom, clearly with no feeling for others, has no qualms about committing murder which, in a fit of blind vengeance, will lead to his downfall.
This is a wonderful film to watch. The performances from most of the cast are terrific with special kudos to Cagney, Edward Woods and Leslie Fenton. For me, what prevents this from being a four star movie is the dated overacting of others including Donald Cook as Mike and Beryl Mercer as Ma. Still, it doesn't completely detract from the power of the film and the many memorable scenes including the infamous "grapefruit in the face" moment, Tom's brutal, cold slaying of Putty Nose and the famous ending which still packs a surreal wallop to this day. As good as Cagney is in the movie, the direction by William A. Wellman may be even better. Wellman employs a prowling camera and keeps his performers in constant motion which was a bit different then most of the static direction of the era. His camera doesn't show the violence making it's power of suggestion all the more powerful. Again, I go back to the finale and as Cagney comes crashing to the ground, his shocked and stunned brother lifts himself up and in a zombie like state begins the walk to tell his mother about Tom. It's very powerful and memorable. A very vivid, unforgettable film that falls just short of being a four star movie due to some of the performances but it's something that should not be missed by film fans anywhere.
An Interesting Watch
A different and at times dark and disturbing noir/crime/political drama starring Franchot Tone. Tone plays Assistant District Attorney Howard Malloy who is investigating a couple of strange murders, including that of his friend and newspaper columnist Charles Riggs, that seem to have ties to an underground hate group called The Crusaders. Though it is not ever mentioned by name, the film seems to point towards the emerging dangers of communism. The film is well acted by Tone and his supporting cast including Jean Wallace, Marc Lawrence, Myron McCormick, Winifred Lenihan and Betty Harper. Though only competently directed by Fletcher Markle, there are some interesting camera angles and the finale in a dark, shadowy museum is the real highlight of the film. The movie appears to be filmed on location in New York City and the keen eye will spot quick walk-on and cameo appearances from stars such as Marlene Dietrich, Henry Fonda and Burgess Meredith. A unique, dark, if at times slow film that makes for a real interesting watch.