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Zachary Scott creates a counterfeiting operation, 22 May 2017

"The Counterfeit Plan" (1957) is a Britnoir and a crime noir. It almost entirely takes the view of the criminal counterfeiters led by escaped murderer Zachary Scott. Scott is ruthless in the pursuit of starting a counterfeit operation from scratch and seeing it through to the mass distribution of the forged currency. The story is a crime procedural.

Scott is assisted willingly by Lee Patterson, as muscle, and Sydney Tafler to set up the distribution. Making the plates unwillingly is Mervyn Johns. His daughter, Peggie Castle, shows up and then must be held too.

Scott is a driving, ambitious, forceful presence throughout, and dangerously violent at times. He lets no person or obstacle hold him back. I was reminded of a more ruthless Cagney character as in "Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye" or Mickey Rooney's "Baby Face Nelson". These movies and "The Counterfeit Plan" have pruned away all softness and reached a core of toughness. They become character studies of total criminal personalities. The dialog and action cut to the chase. There is no Freudian psychology here or mention of childhood issues or even much challenge of the wisdom of the project. There is no preaching and not even much in the way of moral condemnation. He's resisted in certain respects, but talking to him would be futile. Scott is all drive, and that can be a problem for him. He's very alert to any leakage of information or impediment that might compromise his project, but can he control everything?

Staid archaeologist Tony Britton has a fling with Nadja Tiller and she with him, 21 May 2017

"The Rough and the Smooth" (1959) is a good noir, with Nadja Tiller in the spotlight as a femme fatale. We cannot wait to see what she'll come up with next. Tony Britton is first-rate as a man who rejects having his life be run by the woman he may propose to and her father. He is especially upset when she publicly announces their engagement without consulting him. That and the attractiveness of the bitchy and bewitching Tiller, who makes him feel alive and unconfined, make it easy for him to lose his head for awhile to Tiller. Also in her grasp is William Bendix, who supports her and is hopelessly in her thrall. The film is quite entertaining, even in the full screen version I watched.

The direction of Robert Siodmak is smooth and unobtrusive. I really think he has done an excellent job in drawing out of his main three players their reactions through mobile expressions, especially in medium close-ups. They look as if they thoroughly enjoyed being these characters. Britton's fling and character are more straightforward to understand. Tiller's complex psychology is more the center of the movie. Bendix is much Tiller's elder and so his attraction to her is more tragic. There is a fourth man in the background until nearer the end, played by Tony Wright. Therefore, the story involves a set of triangles like Bendix-Tiller-Wright, Bendix-Tiller-Britton, and Britton-Tiller-Wright. The fiancée of Britton makes a fourth triangle with Britton between her and Tiller. All of this adds to the noir aspect. So does Tiller's capacity to bend the truth and lie and yet still remain attractive and enticing. Britton at times cannot help himself, but he has limits.

For reasons unknown, the 5 existing user reviews see little merit in the film, rating it 2, 2, 3, 4 and 5. Voters are more on target at 6.2.

They all can't be classics, 21 May 2017

"The Half-Breed" (1952) is a western that doesn't click. It just doesn't come together. The cast is a good one, but their acting in this one shows an edge of being uncomfortable. It's not overwhelming but it's noticeable. I suppose it's a directing failure. The script is disappointing and maybe that influenced the cast in not really bringing this to life as it should. The scenery is good, but that can't rescue the story and script, which do not move smoothly along as they should. All films in the usually good western genre cannot be classics. This one certainly isn't. They went into production too quickly on this movie and not with the first team behind the camera. The movie has a rushed ending.

As a western fan, I still got some pleasure from seeing Robert Young as a gambler who finds himself between the town and the Indians. I liked Janis Carter for awhile, but then she seemed to go rigid in the part as did Young. She sang or lip-synched two good numbers. Barton MacLane was gruff enough but his part was thankless. I liked Reed Hadley as the land-greedy provocateur, but his actions were restricted on the screen. Porter Hall was effective in a small part as a cheating Indian agent. Jack Buetel was saddled with stiff dialog, and he's stiff to begin with.

Focus (2015/II)
Will Smith smooth as master con artist, 20 May 2017

"Focus" (2015) is a neo-noir, focusing solely on the con games of a master conman, Will Smith. The dark side of his endeavors is that his way of life is an impediment to a love life that is believable to his partner, Margot Robbie, whom he tutors in con games. His criminal life effectively alienates him even from his father, who taught him.

The movie is a series of cons, distinct from one another, and becoming larger as they proceed. The script cleverly erases the line between a "real" experience and a pre-designed con, so that we as viewers can also be taken in. The movie is very entertaining if you go for movies about con games like "The Sting", "House of Games", "Matchstick Men", and "The Grifters".

Will Smith's excellent acting looks effortless. His character is supposed to be mellow and quite imperturbable, but he really carries it off beautifully.

Bleak lives in post-Korean War years, 19 May 2017

"Obaltan" (1961) or "The Stray Bullet" is a Korean film noir, one with an unremitting downcast atmosphere. It would not be until the 1990s that Seoul would see construction of its many skyscrapers begin in earnest. The Seoul in this movie is very different, not modern, but a third-world city in which dwellings are ramshackle and crowded. Good jobs are scarce. Veterans are disillusioned. A man with several children who is an accountant can barely get by. Life seems a trap. The man's mother is infirm of mind and obsessively repeats that they must get out of there. The wife is pregnant and not getting the proper care. The man's brother who lives with them refuses to be exploited as a veteran, even turning down a movie role that would show is gun wounds. He'd rather rob a bank than suffer such an indignity.

If anything can go badly or wrong for these people, it will. Hope is in short supply, and tenacity has no payoff. A sister has to resort to prostitution.

I doubt if you will run across a noir that's more bleak than this one. Unlike the Italian neo-realism that sometimes vents in tears as an emotional release, this story is beyond even tears. The style is not the overdone melodramatics of a silent film that issues in exaggerated acting. Instead, it's the melodramatics of receiving blow after blow and reacting to them in various ways.

Ivan Desny loses agents while ferreting out source of stolen documents, 19 May 2017

"O.S.S. 117 n'est pas mort" (1957) is a spy-noir. The print I watched is currently on YouTube with English subtitles available elsewhere. The print is old and dull looking, well below average. One can only imagine how the film would look in pristine condition.

I was struck by the tough nature of the movie. The main character, the agent played by Ivan Desny, absorbs the death of two of his subordinate agents without any show of emotion; although he does later convey his desire for payback. One agent, a woman who has obtained information hidden in a hearing aid, is strangled before his eyes. He was supposed to be watching out for her, but it seems that the swiftness or force of her assailant surprised him. At any rate, he makes a comment to the effect that he had already written her off as being too full of fear to be effective. I thought Desny was very effective in conveying his single-minded attitude to the job at hand.

This movie is 5 years before the first Bond movie, "Dr. No". The license to kill is already present in O.S.S. 117. His humor is much more subtle, however. It's not in wisecracks. For example, he evidently gets a private kick out of faking severe injuries in a car crash designed to kill him.

Desny works with a female assistant to infiltrate the villa from which the secret documents that a French official keeps in his safe are being stolen. The capable lady feigns being attracted by a big guy named Boris who is in a spy group. Desny's group opposes this spy group that has gotten someone on the inside under their control. The machinations of the two opposing sides are much of the movie, and the people living inside the villa are a third group.

The film comes across as a second-tier or b-film production, not quite a major but not a short second feature either. My rating would be higher if I could appreciate a restored print.

Young man makes plans to leave Kaunas for Buenos Aires, 17 May 2017

"Adomas nori buti zmogumi" (1959) is listed as a noir by critic Spencer Selby. Otherwise I'd never have looked for this fine Lithuanian movie, which is on YouTube at present. The print is good. Subtitles in English are available elsewhere.

This is a coming of age story. I do not recollect another noir of that type, although maybe some teen oriented films of the 50s come close. The protagonist is a young man named Adam who has no money but, like many others in the film, is seeking to leave Lithuania and its bad economy behind them. Their dream is represented by leaving for Buenos Aires, a trip prominently promoted by Adam's employer.

Almost everyone in the film is working some sort of hustle in order to get by. An exception is the girl whom Adam meets. They hit it off and they want to run off together if possible. Standing in the way is the pursuit of several older men, a passport and money. Her mother doesn't want her to leave. Adam stays on an old barge, befriended by a disillusioned "Captain" who plans to sink it in order to collect the insurance.

The cinematography is very beautiful, featuring noir lighting mostly and expressionistic staging at other times. The tone is wistful and longing. The main theme is people's dreams and illusions. They make attempts at escaping from nothingness. The movie is noir but it's not pessimistic. It may be bleak but it takes a loving attitude toward the humanity that passes through the story.

Kalde spor (1962)
Toralv Maurstad seeks peace of mind, 16 May 2017

"Kalde spor" (1962) resembles Arne Skouen's earlier "Nine Lives" (1957), in featuring rugged, snowy mountain locations and in again casting Henny Moan and Alf Malland as a couple. But this story is much different. There is triangle love conflict in it as Toralv Maurstad returns after a 15 year absence, motivated by the past competing affections of the two men for Moan and how that set up the central tragedy of the story, which was the death of a dozen wartime escapees from Norway whom Maurstad was guiding to safety over the mountain. Maurstad's failing has left him ravaged with guilt and partly mad, constantly accompanied by the ghosts of the lost dozen. He wants another chance to meet them and shepherd them across. At a distance they attract him and recede. He wants to settle his grievances with Moan and Malland and how he got separated from his love.

It's always a challenge to pull off a story whose central feature is internal conflict, here, that of Maurstad. Skouen holds us by adding the triangle revelations bit by bit and the conflict with nature. The cinematography brings us into a second world of beauty linked to danger of storms, driving snow and winds. It seems man is beset as much by himself as by nature.

The movie seems to be a more personal project for Skouen, a smaller canvas than was the case with "Nine Lives". It's a tale of regret for what we have done in the past that cannot be undone. Even mad imaginings will not bring redemption.

Warner Brothers at its best, 16 May 2017

"Hi, Nellie" (1934) is yet another example of the great, great Warner Brothers movies of the 1930s. The fluidity and professionalism of this movie are astonishing. It shows a production team and a cast with complete mastery of film making. There is never a dull moment in the story, and it maintains suspense throughout. This movie grabbed me from the start and never let go. The story features interplay and conflict that's handled with great skill. The conflict between Muni and Burton Churchill, that between Muni and Farrell, and that between Muni and Dumbrille all are a pleasure to watch. Ned Sparks anchors the tougher part of the story.

The film looks great. The recreation of the newsroom is great. The cast assembled is a marvel. Paul Muni's facial expressions, down to the smallest raising of eyebrows, are an acting course by themselves. This is an example of Hollywood and Warner Brothers at their best.

It would be easy mistakenly to pass this film by, thinking by its title that it's just another 30s comedy. Don't.

Luminous Ida Lupino and action create a neat thriller, 15 May 2017

"The Ghost Camera" (1933) has movement going for it, with quite a few exterior scenes as Ida Lupino joins with Henry Kendall to locate her brother, John Mills. And it has Ida Lupino lighting up the screen and showing star quality. It has a good story too that is told with some fluency, the film editor being David Lean. In fact, careful analysis might even show that in some respects it's ahead of Alfred Hitchcock's work or may have influenced him. Still, the film does have a stiff quality here and there. Kendall's character is a mixed bag. The script is uneven in places. This reduces the overall impact. As a film, it's far below the dynamism and professionalism of any Warner Brothers film of the same era. But it's done well enough that it's quite watchable. It seems to herald future movies that would pair a man and a woman in some sort of adventure that takes them into interesting settings, as in "The 39 Steps" (1935), "Young and Innocent" (1938) and Escape (1948).

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