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When will a film noir devotee examine William Castle's directing in
detail and elevate his standing in film noir history and, sans noir,
directing history in general? His role as producer is nothing to sneeze
Compared to today's average quality of story-telling, which is what a movie is all about, Castle's work stands very tall.
This praise is elicited by watching "Undertow" (1949) again last night. This used to be on VHS and now is on a tcm vault copy looking excellent. It's a treasure. It's so easy for casual reviewers to dismiss a movie like this as a minor noir or not a classic or not a major film or simply a b-film or plot-driven or some other attitude like these. But this "smaller" film and others like it are gems, and they stand out well after 65 years and stand out against today's average products. Not every gem has to be a major film.
Castle introduces many touches that make this film so good, and at least some of these do pop up in the reviews of others who are more reluctant to come right out and say that Castle was a fine director. People cannot seem to forgive him for his promotional gimmicks.
The on location photography (Reno and Chicago) is copious and mixed skillfully with some process shots. The script is a tight 72 minutes and presents a satisfying story of making Brady the fall guy. The Chicago setting brings in a big black guy as a critical character, and that's done very well. Chicago has a large black population and the role that this man (Daniel Ferniel) has is realistic. He's very loyal to his white mob boss who has been murdered. He's not needlessly or psychopathically violent. He shows really gentle emotions at one point, but he's still determined to punish his boss's murderer. He feels deeply about it. This is no typical Hollywood black servant type, even if his job is a menial one. This story element is extremely successful.
The film is well-photographed and meaningfully relates to Brady's being trapped. He's in the open and free starting in Reno, but after meeting John Russell, they enter a casino managed by Russell and it seems to function as a potential trap as compared with his dream of settling at a lodge in the Sierras. In Chicago, his freedom doesn't ever get off the ground. He's met at the airplane by several detectives, including an old friend Bruce Bennett. Later, Brady is being tailed by police and makes an escape via the stairways on the Chicago elevated train. He walks along Wabash Avenue while being tailed, in the open but not free of those spying on him. When he is framed, he's blindfolded and led down a long corridor. Later police pursue him at night through a confined factory or mill of some sort with machinery and a conveyor belt going. He runs down a narrowly railed passage. When he meets the woman he wants to marry (Dorothy Hart) near the Aquarium in the distance, they talk furtively in a below ground passage.
There is cohesion in this film, an integral approach to the story. The way in which the story is told by Castle in film complements the story's content and vice versa.
"Paint It Black" (1989) appears on a list of neo-noirs in Spicer's
book. Indeed, it definitely is a noir in plot. It is a thriller-noir.
It also has many references to Hitchcock's work as one reviewer has
already noted in detail.
I was impressed by the acting of the two male leads and one of the female leads. Rick Rossovich plays a down-to-earth nice guy metal sculptor. He has a contract with a crooked art dealer (Sally Kirkland) who is not paying him the proceeds of his sales, but she's sleeping with him. She gets jealous when he's attracted to Julie Carmen, whose father (Martin Landau) just happens to be a big and much more honest art dealer. The other main male lead is a psychopathic art collector, a young man played by Doug Savant. He steals art and kills along the way sometimes. In shades of "Strangers on a Train", he murders Kirkland as a favor to Rossovich who brought him home after he was stabbed in an attempted art robbery. This leads to a number of complications for Rossovich who was in the Kirkland gallery the night of the murder.
Rossovich has appeared in several movies I've seen, but I can't remember his part. Next time through "The Terminator", I'll look for him. He's a big muscular guy and this movie makes a point of showing him from the waist up. Doug Savant has done a lot of TV work, so I wouldn't have seen him.
Sally Kirkland did a good job as the dealer for Rossovich. She came across clearly as wanting this younger man badly, but her part didn't really explain why she was cheating him so badly, unless we were supposed to believe that this was her way of keeping him under her thumb. The other female lead, Julie Carmen, had a badly written part to contend with that she could not overcome.
The picture overall transitions from noir to a rather long thriller kind of ending sequence. The initial story development runs long and rather loose. The ending part doesn't seem paced right. It gets to the point where everyone is going through their story paces, but it doesn't really gel or grip us as it should. This makes the movie below par, but it's not a bomb. As a noir fan, I'm glad to have run across it and seen it. As an objective movie critic, I can't say it's that good of a movie.
"Time to Remember" (1962) is a reasonable crime story entry in the
Edgar Wallace Mysteries series (season 3, episode 2). It opens with a
burglary in a house up for sale. The gang includes a French safecracker
who will take a stamp collection, while the others get the jewels. The
explosion brings a policeman running during their escape, and the man
with the jewels goes to the roof. It's snowy and slippery and it's is a
well-filmed sequence up there as he hides the jewels and falls to his
death. A second scene on the roof is equally good. This sets up a
three-way scramble for the jewels. The dead man's wife wants to buy the
house to get the jewels. The Frenchman figures out they must be there
and his girl friend prevails upon him to go back to London. A real
estate agent puts two and two together and wants the house himself.
The music blares at times and creates a mood of jocularity. The male characters involved are on the colorless side; the women involved have more fire. Pretty much an average or somewhat below-par entry for the series. The plot is fairly predictable.
"Number Six" refers to Scotland Yard's code name for its undercover
agent. Ivan Desny plays a criminal suspected of bilking women out of
their money and killing them, but there's no evidence against him. He's
shrewd and unsmiling for the most part. Det. Michael Goodliffe and
Desny spar and Desny knows there is an agent in his life, but neither
he nor we know who it is until the very end. We are kept guessing, and
so is he.
This entry in the series is very good indeed with Desny trying to bilk rich Nadja Regin while dealing with the suspected number six. Goodliffe applies psychological pressure but does little else. Along the way, we are treated to a good jazzy song (and part of a not so good novelty song) by Joyce Blair. She also dances. Between her and Ms. Regin, we are treated to some very attractive feminine beauty. There are also at least three other bad guys, with varying shades of criminality, in the story.
Desny had a long career and I've surely seem him in other movies, but he's the kind of character actor whose face is not that memorable unless you make a point of remembering him. Regin had notable roles in some early James Bond films. Goodliffe is very well known. He had substantial parts in "Sink the Bismarck" and other major movies like "A Night to Remember".
I am liking this series a lot. It has good stories, not at all boring, handled smoothly by good actors.
"The Mad Ghoul" is a really good Universal horror story from a
different era. I love it. You get a terrific obsessed scientist
portrayal from George Zucco. His enunciation and delivery of lines, his
eyes and face are worth the watching alone. He's not mad but he's
willing to commit murder to get what he wants. You get a mild-looking
but effective makeover of David Bruce so that he becomes a zombie whom
Zucco bosses around to do ghoulish deeds. Bruce gives a nuanced
performance of a man who has had his will taken away and only gradually
realizes what has happened to him in his moments of normality. This
story element is something like the pathos of "The Wolf Man".
Horror movies from this period are totally different from the current kind, so that the taking of a heart from a dead body is never shown. No blood. No gore. No phony thrills either. In the old days, the style was to rely on story, makeup, performance, a robust cast of stars, and beautiful black and white photography of people dressed in nice clothes in nice settings mostly. But then there are the labs, the dark allies, and the cemeteries.
The cast also includes Evelyn Ankers as a singer. She was Bruce's girl but her affections have switched over to her pianist, Turhan Bey. Zucco wants her, so watch out. A reporter, Robert Armstrong, does some detective work until the police catch on. They are Milburn Stone (Doc from Gunsmoke) and making a surprise appearance, Charles McGraw. This was one of his earliest credited film appearances.
This will be way too mild for those who demand today's tastes. It doesn't scare anyone, but it's a very good story in the horror vein of those days.
"Tokyo File 212" is a charming and serious spy-noir (somewhere below
the b-category) filmed entirely in Japan, and that adds a lot. There
are some bits in Japanese, but they present no problem at all. Lee
Frederick (or Robert Peyton) is an army intelligence man sent to Tokyo
to sniff out a communist sabotage ring that can damage the war effort
in Korea that used Tokyo as a transport hub for supplies and men. He's
sent because suspicion has fallen on a former roommate of his who has
apparently gone red and may be able to lead him to the top man. His
cover is that he's a correspondent.
The story opens with a bombing aimed at the main leads, and then proceeds by flashback. It's like a serial, except we have to wait till the end to find out what happened; and it's nothing like you might expect.
No sooner Frederick arrives than he's offered help from Florence Marly who can guide him around and be his secretary, but she's in at least partial cahoots with the commies who have a hold on her. She's an exotic woman, quite forward, who talks about herself in the third person, "Steffi this, and Steffi that". Their repartee is entertaining.
Frederick does his detective work, encountering a number of very dangerous situations, including that final bomb blast.
There's some bad acting in this movie, enough to say it's below the b-movie category. The plot's linkages are not as tight as they should be. But overall it's a pleasant detective story kind of watch that has its moments. Frederick and Marly make it work. She's lively, alluring, suitably ambiguous and mysterious.
"The Share Out" is yet another good short movie in the Edgar Wallace
Mysteries series. It was episode 10 in season 2. The stars here are big
names: Bernard Lee and Alexander Knox. Lee is the Scotland Yard man,
and Knox leads an upscale white-collar gang. Knox is especially
effective with flinty-eyed glares that show he means business.
Knox heads a company with 4 principals, including himself. They use thieves to obtain scandalous information on targets who have businesses or property. They use it as a threat to induce these targets to sell them property at below market value which they then sell. This has netted them half a million so far. They've had to have murdered one of the thieves and their risks have risen but Knox refuses to have a division of the spoils (a share out) just yet.
Lee confronts them in order to sow discord, scare the weaker members, and get one of them to rat out the others. He infiltrates the group by providing them with a new thief replacement (William Russell). Being a thief, he's not fully trustworthy himself. He forms an alliance with Moira Redmond, one of the principals.
This setup allows for multiple double crosses that the plot develops and explores as best it can within an hour. It's deliciously engaging to watch everyone trying to get over on everyone else.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Heartaches" features a famous song by the same name, first published
in 1931. "Heartaches" (1947) the movie opens with a very nice,
narrated, few minutes about Hollywood, showing many of its attractions
of that time. Great fun. This opening ends up inside Grauman's Chinese
Theater where we see a fictional preview of a fictional movie named
"Heartaches" produced by a fictional "Majestic Studios" starring the
character named Vic Morton (played by Ken Farrell) in the actual movie
we are watching. This preview has him singing to an uncredited and very
beautiful Terry Moore, who does not appear in the real "Heartaches".
Got that? It's a bit mind-boggling but also pleasurable to have one's
experience of watching a fictional movie have that movie make it seem
that its fictional character (Vic Morton) is real and the star of a
movie with the same name.
This device brings out the unique character of watching any movie, which is its illusion of reality, when the only realities are that the movie was made and we are watching what was made. This movie then transitions to this fictional Majestic Studios where Farrell (playing Morton) is making his second picture, the first having been that other "Heartaches" which was a big hit and featured his singing. He's rehearsing a song, and we see that he's lip-synching it and that Chill Wills is the vocalist. Sheila Ryan is present too. Now get this. Chill Wills actually did sing, but he had a bass voice, not the tenor and unaccented voice we hear. This means that when we see Wills "singing", in reality he was lip-synching! When we see them both singing in this scene, they are both lip-synching but we are being made to think that only Farrell is. It's hard to believe because Wills's actual voice is nothing like the singing voice we hear.
Ed Norris, a reporter, walks in without knocking and almost discovers the trade secret that Farrell can't sing, although the public adores his singing in his first picture. Norris is close to Ryan and they're engaged without a firm marriage date. Ryan is a businesswoman assigned to Farrell.
Farrell receives a death threat note and a picture is stolen from his office. That night he's recording. Norris sneaks in and sees that he really cannot sing. Ryan persuades him not to report it until his career is firmly established.
Next, we see Farrell playing a scene in his next movie. A handgun that had been loaded with blanks the night before is shot as part of the scene and breaks a mirror, narrowly missing Farrell. Police (James Seay) are baffled. Then Farrell receives a second threatening letter.
A radio agent (Mack Williams) pursues Farrell for a stint singing at very high pay, but Farrell turns him down cold and throws him out. Angry, he vows to find out why. He enters the office of Farrell's agent (Frank Orth) one night, but he's shot and killed by an unknown assailant who enters through a window. Suspicion falls on Farrell.
We are a little past the halfway mark of this mystery. Later, Farrell argues with his own agent (Orth) who is also killed in the latter's office. Norris does a lot of detective work on his own. On the wrong track, he eventually gets on the right track.
The lead players more than hold our attention in well-written parts. The movie moves along briskly, although there are several pop/swing songs that slow it down. They are typical of the time but nothing special, even for an older audience.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I watched the complete 128-minute version of "The Light at the Edge of
the World" in a good widescreen print. Pirate Yul Brynner takes over a
lighthouse island with a crew of about 20 cutthroats. He kills two of
the light keepers but the third, Kirk Douglas, escapes. The island has
many caves, making it difficult for Brynner's crew to find the elusive
Douglas. Meanwhile Douglas manages to pick off and kill some of
Brynner's band. Brynner turns off the light and uses fake lights to
lure a ship to its destruction. The pirates viciously kill everyone on
board except Renato Salvatori (well-known from the famous "Rocco and
His Brothers") and Samantha Eggar. Salvatori is saved by Douglas and
together they manage to stay alive and check Brynner from wrecking a
second ship. Eggar plays at being a lady in order to prolong her life
and eventually casts her lot with Brynner rather than escape with
The movie builds up a tremendous sense of danger and foreboding when the pirate ship first arrives and the camera pans over the crew members, clearly an outlandish, cruel and very dangerous outfit. This mood is sustained for quite a while, but eventually the story slackens and the conflicts dissipate somewhat despite the varied encounters between Douglas and the pirates. The overall result is to reduce the film to average from what might have been superior if the story and screenplay had filled out the plot's potential.
Still, average is not at all bad. The picture has a number of positives and points of interest. The cinematography of Henri Decae is fine. The special effects are first-rate, and they include realistic looking fires, a shipwreck, torture, a horse falling down, cliff-climbing, and hanging upside down. This must have been dangerous work. The music has nice themes. The acting is very good. The pirates are quite grotesque and they have among them at least one who cross dresses, dances wildly and is pursued by several other crew members. There's an interesting subplot in which Brynner tries to attract Douglas by using Eggar to mimic an old flame of Douglas who married someone else.
The plot is murkier than it needed to have been regarding Brynner's character. It's underwritten. We see him very stony in bed with Eggar, and she has to seduce him. Is he impotent or what? He avoids the "share-out" with his crew, i.e., dividing the spoils. He wants more and he wants to capture Douglas, but this motive is none too clear. His appetite to catch Douglas slackens as the movie proceeds, and it's not clear why. He becomes more withdrawn and passive as his men get picked off. He seems to miss some of his favorite right-hand men.
Douglas seems to cavort around the island a little too easily, avoiding detection when he might have been spotted rather easily. In the finale, he makes an attack on the pirate ship that depends on a very implausible situation that could only happen if Brynner were so slack at protecting his turf that it defies belief.
The picture is worth seeing, but one must expect these defects.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The Deadly Trap" (1971) combines some clear negatives and a few
positives, and the overall result is a movie that's below par. The
director, Rene Clement, is certainly no Hitchcock as he is advertised
to be. This movie is certainly no Hitchcockian thriller. It's too slow,
too predictable, and too slack to be a good thriller. On the other
hand, Dunaway is excellent and the movie has a kind of intriguing
ambiguity about it.
The basic plot is simple. Dunaway and Langella are married with two children. They live in Paris. Although they are doing well financially, they are not getting along. Langella used to work in industrial espionage and now Maurice Ronet wants him to do another job and is pressuring him to accept. There are threats, because Langella refuses to go back to this work. The communication between Dunaway and Langella is poor; he has concealed his past from her and his current pressures. The real source of their frictions is never entirely revealed, but he seems to resent having married her because she was pregnant and his personality and work (mathematical precision) seems to conflict with her more free-wheeling ways. Dunaway is an artist.
Strange things begin to happen to Dunaway, suggesting memory lapses. Her psychiatrist suggests she's all right and to think about the association of these events with her helpful neighbor, Barbara Parkins. The over-friendliness and intrusiveness of Parkins also makes us suspect her early on. It's seems quite clear that psychological warfare is being conducted on the couple to induce Langella to accept. The pressure ramps up sharply when their two children go missing.
The first part of the movie depicts the family relationships and the early pressures upon Dunaway. It's not badly done. Dunaway can do neurotic or semi-neurotic or unstable behavior very well. There are some scenes photographed to have an other-worldly character, a kind of mistiness in the opening sequence on a barge. Later there is a sequence in which the little boy runs away from Dunaway with a hoop, and that's kind of like De Palma in its effect.
The second part of the movie after the kidnapping is more straight thriller, and this part is not really successful as a thriller. The screenplay itself is partly responsible for not developing effective motion and tensions. This is because of the lack of good subplotting. There is, for example, too sudden a realization of Dunaway of what has occurred, partly through overhearing Langella reveal some things to Parkins that he kept from Dunaway inexplicably.
Langella's part is the weakest part of the movie. He simply has little to do and he disappears from the action at times. His character remains undeveloped. The Parkins character becomes ambiguous and the whole nature of the "organization" she and Ronet belong to remains murky. Ronet disappears from the movie after his first scene.
While not entirely without interest because of Dunaway's presence and skills, the movie has to be regarded as something of a flop. If the aspiration to depict a broken family life was paramount, that failed. If it was to be a thriller in the Hitchcock vein, that too failed.
I'm a sucker for movies, good and bad. I watch many bad movies over again because I'm simply entranced by the escapism. This movie belongs in that category. I might watch it again just to see the acting, which is decent, or the feeling of it, which is one of ambiguity. But either as a deeply themed or thrilling movie, it doesn't work on those levels.
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