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"The Dark Light" (1951) is a Britnoir. My copy runs 63 minutes and 27
seconds, no doubt cut from the IMDb official 75-minute version. Critic
John Grant reviews this movie and lists an even longer 82-minute
The first 9 minutes show a small ship engaging a dark lighthouse. This is a sea-lighthouse, not a land lighthouse. Three people from the ship go into the unusual structure to explore why it's dark. The rest of the movie dispenses with these characters until near the end and shows a flashback. Someone has doctored the video and superimposed "Previous Day" at the 9-minute mark.
In the flashback, the lighthouse keepers are three in number: David Greene, Norman Macowan and Jack Stewart. Greene is a simple beefy bloke. Stewart is older, wiser and cynical. Macowan is the old salt skipper. They spot a small boat at sea and take in three more persons: the leader Albert Lieven, Martin Benson, who is prone to violence, and the attractive and lively Katherine Blake. They have robbed a bank and escaped by sea, but had to take to the small boat. As this is revealed, conflicts develop as the guest trio wants to escape, not await a rescue, and as fissures develop within the host trio.
It's an unusual setting that makes for tension and mystery.
The dead man in "Dead Man's Evidence" (1962) is a frogman washed up on
an Irish beach. A British intelligence chief, Bruce Seton, thinks it
might be an agent (Ryck Rydon) that had disappeared in Germany and was
possibly a double agent who had betrayed more than a handful of British
agents. Since he had worked with Conrad Phillips, Seton sends Phillips
off to identify the body without getting involved with local police.
Two reporters, including photographer Jane Howard, were on the scene
early and took photos. The body had a distinctive ring which then went
missing. Phillips runs into a problem seeing the body at the mortuary,
and he encounters Jane Griffiths as the first person who discovered the
corpse and who may have taken the ring.
In scenes at the beginning of the story, Griffiths awaits Phillips at the airport, spots him, and reports this to a man with a beard who opened the movie by using binoculars to view the body on the beach and its discovery by Griffiths and the two reporters. These scenes tell the viewer that there is more to this mission than meets the eye. The story eventually delivers upon this promise. You have to stay on your toes to understand the machinations, but they are eventually explained. Unfortunately, the director Francis Searles was not able to inject subtle foreshadowings in order to raise the suspense, so that the story is more plodding than it should be. This is a difficult kind of story to pull off, however. The result is somewhat below par for the Britnoir genre. The IMDb rating of 5.0 accurately reflects this.
"The Blue Parrot" (1953) is a crime story told as a police procedural. It might be classified loosely as a Britnoir, but it really lacks noir elements. The story is well-plotted, with a good deal of mystery and complication to it. Dermot Walsh, putting on an American accent and personality, stars. He's a well-known presence in a good many movies like this. He plays a cop that's visiting Scotland Yard. A Superintendent (Ballard Berkeley) takes him in hand and there Walsh meets the charming Jacqueline Hill. Ferdy Mayne is a patron of the Blue Parrot club run by John Le Mesurier, both actors that fans of these old movies will recognize. Several leads connect a murder to the club, which leads to undercover work by both Hill and Walsh, but most of the film is taken up by investigation and following leads. It's modestly mounted but tight and good entertainment.
"Federal Man" (1950) for the most part is a very solid and
well-executed and paced crime story. Only the action ending is not up
to par, but the rest of it moves along nicely between a narcotics
operation and a police procedural attempting to uncover it and get
enough evidence for a conviction. It's a decent b-movie.
The two main agents in the narcotics bureau are William Henry, unfamiliar to me, and Robert Shayne, who is well-known to me. Shayne stars, for example, in "The Neanderthal Man". Henry appears in several movies I've seen, so maybe next time I'll remember him. Lyle Talbot is a third member of their team; he's famous. The head of the narcotics operation is George Eldredge. He and actor John Eldredge were brothers and they resemble, right down to the mustaches. As character actors, they both have a well-groomed appearance, and their speech and speaking voices are sophisticated and smooth, not British but reminding one of that. B-movie fans may also recognize Joe Turkel in the gang; also, Noel Cravat as a heavy. And one more familiar player is Myron Healey who has a small part as a police technician. For song and dance relief, there is Movita.
The task of discovering the operation is not easy in this film, and Eldredge is very cautious. This makes for a good story. The latest mechanical techniques are brought in toward the end.
There are some lesser crime or crime-tinged movies of the 30s and 40s that, to me, are quite difficult to sit through, due to stilted acting or cheapness or drawn out pacing. "Federal Man" is not at all in that class. It was easy to watch and enjoyable.
Although "World Without End" (1956) is not that terrific of a movie, I
value it as one of a fairly small number of 50s sci-fi movies that are
filmed in good-looking color, have good acting and show imagination in
production design and story. I'm thinking of movies like "When Worlds
Collide" (1951), "This Island Earth" (1955), "Invaders from Mars"
(1953), "Gog" (1954), "Forbidden Planet" (1956), "4D Man" (1959),
"Flight to Mars" (1951), "The Blob" (1958), "Conquest of Space" (1955),
"Destination Moon" (1950), and "Riders to the Stars" (1954).
"World Without End" has a crew of four in a spaceship that has circumnavigated Mars and starts back to Earth, when it encounters a time displacement. The spaceship ends up in the year 2508 on an Earth that has been recovering from a nuclear Armageddon for a long time. On the surface are savage mutants mostly, and in caves are a civilized but defensive people that's dying out, even though it has maintained an advanced technology. In the crew are Hugh Marlowe and Rod Taylor, who would 4 years later win the lead in "The Time Machine". Fans might also recognize a good many of the other competent players, such as Nancy Gates, Christopher Dark, Nelson Leigh, and Booth Colman.
Their landing place in the Rockies is simulated by the Iverson Ranch, a favorite location for shooting westerns, and this external part of the movie shares some western feel as the explorers encounter mutant savages. The cave locations are colorful and modernistic sets with geometric patterns, beauteous females and less than robust men who all wear tight-fitting skull caps. The drama mainly involves the crew's attempts to motivate the cave-dwellers to take back the surface. This is tied in with a couple of triangular love conflicts and a power struggle on the ruling council.
It's pretty mild stuff. It's not big-budget. The effects are low-tech 50s. The focus is on the personal side of coping with a new situation in which the crew may never see family and friends again and in which persist the drives that led these men to be explorers on a dangerous task. In their philosophy, life must go on beyond living in a hole in the ground and the world must go on without end. They find more support from the underground females than the males. The females want robust babies and/or what produces them; the men's testosterone seems to be waning. The story drives this movie, put across by a capable cast.
If you are attracted to 50s sci-fi movies, you will want to see this one even though it is not at the top of the heap even of those in its subset.
I rate "Death of a President" (2006) highly. It's a fascinating,
engrossing, insightful picture. The screenplay is extremely clever. It
imagines the assassination of George W. Bush, and that provides a way
of examining a host of associated features of the post-9/11 American
scene, psychology, politics and culture. The result is a treasure chest
of scrutiny; but what one sees and hears and how one interprets it will
depend very highly on what a viewer brings to the viewing.
From where I sit, the writing is brilliant. It gives plenty of room, well more than half I'd guess, to hearing the authorities. We hear from Bush, Cheney, Bush's main speechwriter, several layers of police including the Chicago police and the FBI, a forensic expert, and the secret service. No one is treated disrespectfully in this set of people. We hear and see them in discourses that sound absolutely real and how these people actually come across and think and feel. Yet simultaneously, one can see through what they are saying and how they are behaving. We see their limitations, the closed circle of thought in their approaches, and their failings. We see the organizational failures. We may see a good deal of hypocrisy, depending on what we bring to the movie.
On another plane, the movie just as accurately depicts a range of lesser lights, ordinary people, including protesters, Muslims living in the USA, and army vets who have fought in Iraq, and we get their viewpoints.
All of this is shown more or less in passing, as necessary parts of the plot. That's what makes it so clever, not to mention the script's ability to capture so well the different kinds of people involved. The plot basically shows the buildup to the assassination, the assassination itself, an investigation that leads to an arrest, trial and conviction, and then important post-trial revelations.
The main theme of the movie is justice. It examines the justice of the Iraq War and the justice of the domestic justice system. It uses a documentary form, all of it fictional but looking real, and using some actual footage of Bush and Cheney that add realism. Another theme of the movie is the divergence between the ordinary American and the leaders. The contrasts between the disillusioned veteran, the repressed Syrians, and the street demonstrators with the state's officials are brought out.
I'd like to rate "Gun the Man Down" (1956) at 3/4 or 7.5/10. This is a
high-quality western in all respects and definitely one that shouldn't
be overlooked. This was a Batjac production (John Wayne's company), and
its level of quality is typically high.
James Arness stars as a reluctant bank robber in with Robert Wilke and Don Megowan. Angie Dickinson debuts as Arness's girl who's been around the saloon circuit. The robbery (not shown) goes wrong with Arness being shot, The others leave him behind, with Dickinson not wanting to leave him. Arness goes to jail for a year and upon release vows to find the lot of them.
There is one sequence (series of scenes) in this movie that is outstanding, almost achieving classic status. This occurs when a gunslinger (Michael Emmet), who is a friend of Arness, is paid $5,000 by Wilke to kill him and slowly trods through the small town hunting for him. Everything is done beautifully here: pacing, staging, deep focus shots, editing and emotional content.
The rest of the film is likewise done in an accomplished way by director Andrew V. McLaglen, son of actor Victor McLaglen. McLaglen would go on to specialize in westerns, directing Arness in 96 episodes of "Gunsmoke" and Richard Boone in 116 episodes of "Have Gun - Will Travel." The music of Henry Vars combines classic western sounds with themes that draw from great classical composers. Cinematographer William Clothier provided a very sure hand behind the camera. He too specialized in westerns, often of a darker-themed sort, and a smattering of noirs. This movie looks very good in its widescreen edition. Angie Dickinson certainly holds her own amid the experienced cast, and her role is not an easy one. She has always taken on challenging roles that required subtle shadings of character, and her good work has probably not been fully appreciated.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
At some fairly early point in this story, I realized that the principle character, a sky-diver played by Ellen Barkin, was dead or in her last few seconds of life, and that we were seeing a hodge-podge of things going through her mind. This may have dawned on me the first time that she noticed her bruises were gone. Actually, the thought occurred to me the first time she woke up in a field, because her injuries were not as serious as what actually would have happened if she had had a mishap and survived it. At any rate, The game was over and the film had then to survive on the merits of her dreams-recollections-fantasies or whatever. Unfortunately, it was, for me at least, uninteresting. I ran out of patience and fast-forwarded through the rest of the film. My rating may be therefore dismissed, if you will. All you have from me on this one is that I didn't want to sit another hour through it, no matter how nice Ms. Barkin looks. In "Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" (the French film) and in "Jacob's Ladder", the journeys are about something, a drive toward family and a drive toward heaven, respectively. The portion that I saw lacked that feeling and motivation for watching.
"Death and the Maiden" (1994) is a filmed play with three main
characters. It's set in a South American country that has had a history
of fascist suppression, torture and presumably death squads. Sigourney
Weaver plays a past victim of torture and rape. She courageously did
not reveal the name of her now-husband, Stuart Wilson. He's a lawyer
who has just been made head of a commission to investigate past deaths
during those years. By chance, Ben Kingsley gives her husband a lift
one rainy night and she recognizes him, perhaps mistakenly, as the
doctor who raped her 15 years earlier.
There ensues a tense series of confrontations among the three of them. Kingsley stoutly maintains his innocence. Wilson, as liberal voice, attempts to restrain Weaver's strong-arm methods. Weaver attempts to make Kingsley confess, and she reveals to her husband for the first time details of her captivity.
Director Polanski maintains a high degree of tension throughout, and the performances are solid, with Weaver a standout. The content is less satisfactory. It reveals a past that is well-known to those who follow world politics. This will not be the general American audience. For that audience, using a play to reveal such events is all right, but a movie? This filmed play relies on words, not showing the past. As such, it becomes a matter of imagining and relying on word-pictures rather than seeing. Within that limitation, the theme seems to be that the past needs to be confessed, brought out into the open, so that various blockages can be overcome. They are reduced to the demons experienced by the victimized Weaver.
We must appraise the play, not the movie. It's a decent play, even quite good at times, but it's not great. It doesn't all seem natural. It's a bit trying to sit through and not all that surprising. Its psychological depth is modest. It teeters on wanting mainly to deliver a message or two, even though it deals at length with the details of Weaver's torture. The psychology of her rapist is dealt with at some length and effectively, but the final resolution of those crimes is not satisfying. It may satisfy Weaver, but not be satisfying in a broader social context.
A new kind of movie is afoot as found in the Pusher trilogy (1996),
(2004) and (2010), A Call Girl (2009) or "Slovenian Girl", "L'enfant"
(2005), and "The Silence of Lorna" (2008). The movie "London to
Brighton" (2006) is of this kind. They focus on lower-class people,
people outside middle-class jobs and mores, engaged perhaps in vice or
drugs, who are scrambling to get by and who get into trouble that can
be very dangerous. This film builds great sympathy for a prostitute
(Lorraine Stanley) and a 12-year old runaway (Georgia Groome).
These films have found ways of seeming very real, even though professional actors are used throughout. That makes them easy to engage with, and they are frequently very suspenseful as this one is. Broadly speaking they are neo-noirs, but that doesn't adequately capture the qualities that distinguish them.
The style of these films is realism and not on big budgets. The movies feel like we are seeing real and unglamorized people. There is no Hollywood gloss. The streets, apartments, cars, offices and people all look real. The movies go right into the life of their subjects, showing them via an objective scenario. There is no narration. We are immersed without exposition. We learn through brief snippets what's going on.
The previous paragraph is what I wrote a year ago, and it applies to "London to Brighton", except that maybe its scenes run longer and are more metaphorical in places. This is a very good film.
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