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Le témoin (1978)
Alberto Sordi sees his close friend Philippe Noiret at the scene of a crime
"Le témoin" (1978), which means "The Witness", is definitely a neo-noir. This is one that critic John Grant missed. Among neo-noirs, a subset mixes comedy and crime. This picture is in that group, but although there is comedy, and it is handled so beautifully by the masterful Alberto Sordi, the story is really very biting and very dark. It gets darker as it goes along, culminating in an ending that is as noir as it can get. This is a well-done film that I'd rate 3/4 or 7.5/10, indicating its above-par quality.
Philippe Noiret and Alberto Sordi are both top notch actors. Noiret has perhaps the easier role here, as a town father who plays around with women and is becoming more and more depraved, his attention now focusing on very young girls. The town has a choir of girls, and some of them are far from innocent. Noiret is expert at staying cool and soft-soaping his friend, Sordi, who has arrived from Rome to restore the paintings in the church. A young girl from the choir poses as a model for an angel. She has designs on Noiret. Another young girl bares her breasts to Sordi because she wants to be the model. Sordi's part is the more difficult because he does almost all the comedy but then becomes very seriously involved in a criminal matter when the first girl goes missing, only to be found to have been raped and strangled. He has difficult choices to make because he has seen his friend Noiret at the crime scene. Indeed, the girl was apparently murdered in an old house owned by Noiret.
Kill the Messenger (2014)
Reporter Gary Webb uncovers the CIA-Contra-cocaine connection and comes under severe pressure
"Kill the Messenger" (2014) tells an enthralling story. I wish it were even more hard-hitting than it is. It deserves a lot of credit merely for bringing the story of Gary Webb to the screen. I'd rate it 3/4 or 7.5/10 if I could.
The 2014 movie "Kill the Messenger" is excellent in telling the true story of Gary Webb. He was an investigative reporter for the San Jose Mercury News. We need to understand that his reporting was accurate in connecting the CIA with the Contras and their drug operations. This is now official. Documents attesting to the facts can be read in The National Security Archive kept by the George Washington University. Despite Webb's accuracy, the campaign to discredit Webb led to his losing his job and an eventual suicide, according to Robert Parry.
The Wikipedia plot summary is good. "Based on the true story of journalist Gary Webb, the film takes place in the mid-1990s. Webb uncovered the CIA's alleged role in importing crack cocaine into the U.S. to secretly fund the Nicaraguan contra rebels. Despite enormous pressure to stay away, Webb chose to pursue the story and went public with his evidence, publishing the series called 'Dark Alliance'. He then experienced a vicious smear campaign fueled by the CIA, during which he found himself defending his integrity, his family, and his life."
Rather than following up on Webb's revelations and delving deeper, both the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post sought to discredit Webb. This shameful behavior is depicted in the movie.
Il baco da seta (1974)
Nadja Tiller's insured jewels are stolen
"Il baco da seta" (1974) aka "The Silk Worm" is sometimes labeled a giallo, but it is not. It has no horror or slasher elements or a serial killer. It's a neo-noir and a mystery. At its center is Nadja Tiller in a meaty starring role. She is a singer, about whom we learn much during the story. She is separated from her husband, Guy Madison, who appears late in the film. Her retinue consists of a younger sister (Evi Marandi), a lawyer (Mario Feliciani) and a constant aide (Evi Rigano). With a good deal of resentment, they are tied inextricably to this self-centered entertainer who makes good money but who cannot handle her own affairs.
Tiller plays around with younger men. She's in the process of dumping George Eastman and taking up with Carlos de Castro. Her spending is out of control, her debts mounting, and she needs money badly. The story provides a detailed portrait of an entertainer with no head for business, who depends heavily on her retinue but gives them no thought.
The mystery plot revolves around a theft of her heavily-insured jewels. The police commissioner is played by Riccardo Garrone. Someone who knew the combination to the safe had to be involved. Who was it? The movie has good costuming, good music and a wide range of views of Tiller's character that she handles well. There is some style to it all. The movie pulled me in and never became sluggish or boring.
Hold Back the Night (1956)
Marine company retreats under pressure from Chinese attack in Korea
I might rate "Hold Back the Night" (1956) as 3/4 or 7.5 if I could, but 8/10 is okay too. No matter what, the idea is this is a very fine war movie. This movie shows the predicament of a company of Marines (about 150 men) suddenly attacked by great numbers of Chinese near the Chosen Reservoir in Korea, in conditions of snow and cold, in rugged hilly country. Many are killed and others wounded. They have to retreat. They keep getting attacked as they arduously trek back to their lines, at least 35 miles away. Air support, medical supplies, transport for wounded and rations are all in short supply. Their vehicles are getting hit and they must walk.
The movie feels and looks very realistic. John Payne is the captain. Chuck Connors is the sergeant. The movie avoids war clichés and characters. It stays with the mechanics of warfare under these pressing conditions. It shows the risks that have to be taken and the heroism of those who must take them.
Mona Freeman is Payne's love interest in some interludes. This plays well. A bottle of scotch plays a part too and ties the film together as an expression of will power, morale and good luck.
This is neither a pro- nor anti-war film. It doesn't analyze anything about the situation. It shows the responsibility of command and shows the maturity of the captain in command and the men under his command.
Bad to worse, emigration from Russia into white slavery
"Transe" (2006) tells the story of a young girl who leaves St. Petersburg for Germany, seeking to improve her life. Her dreams are shattered when she is kidnapped and sold into white slavery. She's given drugs. She resists the best way that she knows how. She escapes. It appears that she is recaptured and brought back into prostitution. The movie ends with her in a torpor but still trying to maintain some semblance of herself by not revealing her real name to a client. The men in the movie are most all beasts, selfish or twisted. Their degree of caring for her hardly extends beyond attraction to her beauty and wanting to have relations with her or otherwise degrading her. Her beauty goes down because of her resistance to captivity and conditions she's faced with.
This is not a pretty reality at all, but the picture tells the story as an art movie. It is drawn out, and it's not clear why it's drawn out. Perhaps it's to generate more feeling for her predicament, but I felt that this was not entirely successful. Sometimes, it purposely doesn't show the obvious kinds of scenes that most all movies show by habit. Instead, it shows some landscape, for example, and we "know" what's occurring off camera. The movie, I think, tries to induce something of a trance in viewers that's the counterpart of the trance state that the poor girl goes into by the end of the movie.
I thought the movie was reasonably okay for what it was trying to do and the way it was trying to do it. Although it leaves a memorable impression, I can't say I was enthralled by it.
The Glass Shield (1994)
Rookie cops contend with bad police force
"The Glass Shield" (1994) is a neo-noir, included in critic John Grant's extensive list of noirs. Bad cops and bad police forces are all too visible in 2017. There are many ways to go bad, and this has been shown in movies. On IMDb, there is a list of 22 "crooked" cop movies, the earliest being the 1991 "Bad Lieutenant". There is a list of 51 "dirty " cop movies, and its early entries include "Internal Affairs" (1990), "Violent Cop" (1989), "Serpico" (1973), "Q & A" (1990), and "Where the Sidewalk Ends". "Magnum Force" (1973) should not be forgotten. There are many other bad cops in movie history, but this gives us some perspective. The modern bad cop movies are quite popular but there are more duds as the plots become familiar and it becomes harder to create something fresh and vibrant that rings true while supplying suspense.
It's fair to say that among modern films, "The Glass Shield" is fairly early in making a dirty cop story. It's also fair to say that this movie is not as good as the ones mentioned above in dramatizing the basic plot of one cop going against a powerful bad cop or a group of them or a system that's corrupt. Those movies are very gripping and powerful. "The Glass Shield" tries to do so much in its 109 minutes that the tension and even the basic story become obscured. The movie lacks power for other reasons that include muddy characterizations and mediocre acting from the lead, Michael Boatman. He simply doesn't come up to a Will Smith or a Don Cheadle, and he cannot overcome the flabby screenplay and direction. Next to the really fine Bernie Casey and the veteran Richard Anderson, Boatman comes off looking very stiff. It doesn't help him at all that his character is written with such internal conflict that he's simultaneously against his department's racism but willing to bend basic ethics and become one of the group. He has to start off being green and then be conditioned into being accepted in the group by adopting the rotten police ethics and methods. Then he has to switch to a moral stance even later on. This is a difficult challenge for any actor.
The movie didn't need the presence of a Jewish female cop (Lori Petty) who works with Boatman. That's overkill on the prejudice angle plus it is a dramatic writing mistake. It diffuses the focus on Boatman, who already has a girl friend.
"The Glass Shield" has disturbing and erratic story telling as it jumps among different strains of plot. This diffuses suspense. Loose ends start to overwhelm the realism because there are too many characters and the story cannot juggle what all of them might reasonably be doing when they happen to be off screen.
The supporting cast is first rate, including appearances of Victoria Dillard, Linden Chiles, M. Emmet Walsh, Ice Cube, Erich Anderson, Michael Ironside, Natalija Nogulich and Elliott Gould.
Brock's Last Case (1973)
Widmark as city cop turned citrus farmer solves multiple murder case
"Brock's Last Case" (1973) features Richard Widmark. That should be enough for Widmark fans, and it is. No matter what setbacks Widmark runs into as a frustrated cop or a citrus farmer in this film, he takes charge, goes into problem-solving mode and moves ahead confidently.
Widmark as a movie star has a great voice and a great screen presence. You always hear every word he says and you always pay attention, whether he's a good guy, a bad guy, or anything in between. He's racked up a slew of unforgettable roles. This one is well-written enough that his part is reasonably memorable. It's laced with wit amid his frustrations as a New York cop and a would-be citrus farmer. He's very spry in his action scenes, and he was 60. Being a pilot for a TV series, the story introduces neighborly characters of all kinds. This makes it family-like and comfortable, and that conflicts with its being a really serious crime story. Nevertheless, the crime element and investigation dominate and the movie succeeds on that score too.
Fighting Back (1948)
Paul Langton becomes burglary suspect when John Kellogg returns from his criminal past
"Fighting Back" (1948) is mostly a family drama, but with a crime angle that brings in the story's main conflicts. The movie is not a noir. It's a mixture of drama and comedy leavened with a burglary that lands Langton in hot water.
Paul Langton was in prison for auto theft. He volunteered for the armed forces where he's been for 5 years fighting in the Pacific. Now going straight, he comes home to wife Jean Rogers and young son, Gary Gray. Also important is their terrier, Snuffy, who is trained to do many tricks. Rogers finds him a job with her boss, Morris Ankrum. There are some adjustment and other issues, but nothing that can't be handled. Ankrum's wife (Dorothy Christy) is a snob and doesn't like her son being so close to Gray; but that's a manageable problem. The movie goes along rather pleasantly.
A real problem emerges when crook John Kellogg pops up from Langton's past. He kidnaps Snuffy and uses him for a burglary of Christy's diamond bracelet, a mixture of tension and comedy. Heavy suspicion falls on Langton, and cop Joe Sawyer pushes into the story. The search of his house is a mixture of resistance and comedy, the neighbor playing a part.
The movie comes across as light fluff mostly. Snuffy is the main attraction.
The Strange Mrs. Crane (1948)
Politician's wife tries to shake off blackmailer from her criminal past
"The Strange Mrs. Crane" (1948) has been a noir that's been almost entirely overlooked by critics and fans, probably because it was an indie production that became rather unavailable and not shown on television in earlier days. That's changing because the film is currently available on YouTube. It definitely is worth seeking out and viewing.
The story has lawyer Pierre Watkin running for governor. His wife, Marjorie Lord, has a criminal past, unknown to him. Her old partner in crime, Robert Shayne, shows up. He works as a salesman in an establishment that sells fur coats. There he has enticed another employee, Ruth Brady. Lord and Watkin show up to buy a mink coat, whereupon Shayne spots her and hatches his blackmail scheme.
The blindness of Watkins and his drive to become governor lead him to place Lord under pressures she'd rather avoid. The criminal side of her nature re-emerges. The story generates a lot of feverish intensity on the part of Lord and Brady too. Lord has to cover up her worry in public so as not to reveal her knowledge of Shayne. She has to swim in a stream of deception and its course takes her to unexpected places. This one-hour thriller comes complete with a trial and courtroom sequence for fans of that element. The ending is a stunner.
Car 99 (1935)
Fred MacMurray and state police pursue bank robbery gang
I'd rate "Car 99" 3/4 or 7.5/10 if I could. This is a very well done cops and robbers film. The 1935 cars look great, whether parked or flying down the state roads in pursuits. Along the way, we see how the Michigan State Police used radio and dispersed police cars to blanket the state's roads to catch getaway vehicles and gangs. The story has one rollover of a speeding car that looks as good as anything done today. It also features a getaway car with some neat gimmicks like a fog/smoke emitter.
MacMurray is a new graduate who can handle himself. He and Ann Sheridan, a telephone operator, are a couple. Guy Standing, who reminds me very much of a John Barrymore character, plays a professor who is being shown the police operations by an ineffective county sheriff, the humorous Frank Craven. Another batch of humor comes from William Frawley, who was to be a major star on "I Love Lucy". MacMurray at times has a partner, a very young Dean Jagger.