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2020 reviews in total 
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Strange and Uninvolving Movie from Carol Reed, 30 July 2015

James Mason stars as an IRA member who gets wounded and spends a long dark night being shuttled from one hiding spot to another by people who either honestly want to help or use him for their own personal gain.

This is a strange film from Carol Reed, and a bleak one. It has a very cynical attitude about humanity, and a major downer of an ending. I wanted to like it more than I did, because I like Reed so much and the setting appealed to me. But it's very episodic in nature and hard to get into; we're supposed to feel compassion for Mason, but only because we're told to, not because the movie builds an argument for doing so. Mason's character is a blank slate whom we learn nothing about, so the film is a series of scenes detailing what may or may not happen to a random stranger. I get it, we're supposed to feel compassion for him not because we know him but simply because he's a fellow human being, an attitude that we're then supposed to extend to both sides of the IRA issue (or any war for that matter). But I can't help but feel the movie could have done a better job of making that point.

Grade: B-

Cornered (1945)
Dull Post-WWII Crime Film, 30 July 2015

A post WWII snoozer about an American (Dick Powell) investigating the death of his wife. The plot involves Nazi war criminals, shady dealings, European settings that have been turned into rubble by the war, and all of it is pretty dull. It's billed as a film noir, but like so many such films, it's only done so because it's in black and white, was released in the 1940s, and has a strong crime/espionage element to it. But it really doesn't feel like a film noir in any significant way, not in its tone or themes. That wouldn't be a criticism if the film was better, but it's unfortunately long and draggy. Edward Dmytryk, who could show a lot of panache when he wanted to (see "Crossfire") directs with no discernible style here.

Grade: C

Housebound (2014)
Not Your Grandmother's Haunted House, 30 July 2015

Fans of "Shaun of the Dead" will find much to like in this clever horror comedy.

"Housebound" shares the same quirky deadpan sense of humor as the Simon Pegg film. Its laughs don't come quite as nonstop, but it's still a creative and very entertaining riff on the haunted house genre. A surly young woman is sentenced to several months house arrest for her role in a robbery. Because she's bored out of her mind, she begins to investigate the history of her family home after she by chance comes across some stray clues that suggest some terrible things happened there. The bottom line is that there's a killer on the loose who's involved in the house's sordid past, and there are some nifty twists and turns along the way to finding out who that killer is.

Twist endings are a dime a dozen, and some are much better than others. The one in "Housebound" is a good one, and I have to admit that I did not see it coming at all. It was refreshing to have my cynical expectations upended.

The actors in this film get into the spirit of the proceedings, and they're a major reason that the tone -- always tricky to pull off in a movie like this -- works so well. They're having a good time, and I was perfectly willing to join in the fun.

Grade: A-

Possessed (1947)
Tiresome Vehicle for Joan Crawford, 13 July 2015

"Possessed" was included among TCM's "Summer of Darkness" series celebrating film noir, but it really doesn't belong to that genre. It's instead one of those rather tiresome "women's pictures" from the 1940s and 50s, melodramas that usually had some talented actress swooning over some leading man or other. In this one, it's Joan Crawford so obsessed with lover Van Heflin that she literally goes crazy when he breaks off their affair and she instead marries dutiful but dull Raymond Massey. Crawford is much more fun when she's taking charge, not weeping and wailing, and though she tries her best, she can't make much of this thankless character or director Curtis Bernhardt's utter lack of recognizable style.

Still, she managed to somehow snag an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her performance.

Grade: C

A Gimmick Film Where the Gimmick Really Works, 13 July 2015

"Lady in the Lake" is the rare gimmick movie where the gimmick works with little to no qualification.

The gimmick is that the whole film (mostly) is told in the first-person point of view of Robert Montgomery's detective character. You only see Montgomery's face when he's reflected in a mirror, or in a few moments where the action pauses and he addresses the audience directly. The approach allows the viewer to focus on the faces of the other characters with whom Montgomery comes in contact, and what a wonderful treat for us since that means many scenes of nearly unbroken takes of Audrey Totter, who is absolutely sensational as Montgomery's arch nemesis turned his girl Friday. Totter can do more with an arched eyebrow than many other actresses can do with their entire face, and her performance is one of the best to be found in the genre: sexy, quirky, and, most surprisingly, funny. Indeed, the whole movie is a hoot. Montgomery too is terrific with a one-liner, and the fact that you can only hear him deliver them without seeing his face makes them even funnier. I just saw "Lady in the Lake" for the first time recently on TCM, but it instantly vaulted to the top of my favorite film noir list.

Jayne Meadows is also superb in the smaller but crucial role of the movie's femme fatale.

Grade: A

A Dark Gem, According to TCM...And I Happen to Agree, 16 June 2015

"Tomorrow Is Another Day" is an example of why I love TCM.

Included as part of the station's "Summer of Darkness" series, highlighting my favorite genre, film noir, "Tomorrow Is Another Day" aired at 10:45 pm. I had no intention of watching it, since I was tired and I'd already sat through two other movies in the series that evening: "The Gangster" and one of my all time faves, "Gun Crazy." But then the host started talking about how "Tomorrow..." is a "dark gem" in the noir canon and how it's relatively unknown, and I started to think about when I would ever have the chance to see it again and decided I had to sit down and watch the damn thing.

And man was I glad I did. A gem indeed, "Tomorrow..." stars Steve Cochran and Ruth Roman as a recently released con and a dance hall hostess, respectively, who move away from the city and set up house, only to find that his criminal past will not be left behind so easily. There's a whole sub genre of noir that involves flights from big cities into the open spaces of America and how those open spaces are no longer safe; the decay of urban environments will follow relentlessly, and the open spaces are even more dangerous because there are fewer places to hide. Cochran and Roman have incredible chemistry together, and the movie really makes you root for both of them, even though he comes across as perhaps a tad off his rocker.

In case I've oversold it, don't think this film is going to change your life. There's nothing groundbreaking to be found here. But it is a fresh surprise in a genre that's full of fresh surprises.

Felix Feist (who?) provides the playful direction.

Grade: A

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
This Gangster Doesn't Generate Much Heat, 16 June 2015

I watched "The Gangster" because of those wily tricksters at TCM, who do such a great job setting up all of their movies that you feel like you simply can't miss whatever terrific gem is on next. "The Gangster" was part of their "Summer of Darkness" series, a series devoted to my favorite film genre: film noir. But "The Gangster" is not a noir, nor is it even a gangster movie. It's more like the character study of someone who happens to be a gangster, and it's pretty underwhelming stuff. Barry Sullivan is the titular character, a heavy with a serious case of self doubt. Around him float a supporting cast of more or less pathetic loners, and the film plays like an examination of the loneliness to be found on the crowded city streets, a loneliness that persists despite being constantly surrounded by fellow human beings. That's a noir theme, but it isn't given a noir treatment by director Gordon Wiles, who won an art direction Oscar in 1931-32 for "Transatlantic." The TCM host said that his production design background is evident in his direction, as the film looks more like a play than a movie. Boy does it, and it's impossible to stage a film noir this way, since noir is, above anything else, cinematic.

But my disappointment in "The Gangster" lies not only in the false advertising of TCM. On its own terms it's still not much more than a mediocre, rather slow movie.

Grade: C+

Desperate (1947)
Raymond Burr Was Such a Good Bad Guy, 16 June 2015

Steve Brodie is a decent working guy who gets roped into a heist against his will by some gangsters and has to go on the lam with his pregnant wife. "Desperate" is a very minor affair, but it does have some stylistic panache courtesy of Anthony Mann, who directed and had plenty of experience working in this genre. Raymond Burr is the film's biggest asset as the head thug; he wants to take down Brodie's character because his own brother gets the death penalty for shooting a police officer during the robbery. He pursues him out of pure spite long after the events that set the principal plot in motion have passed. Indeed, one of the most confusing things about the film is its timeline, with a good nine to ten months intervening between the film's beginning and its conclusion but which is treated by the film like it's a couple of weeks.

Really the two most memorable things about "Desperate" are a scene where Burr and his toughs rough up Brodie and Mann chooses to shoot the scene while a suspended bulb sways back and forth creating eerie shadow effects; and the other is the fact that I spent the whole movie waiting to see what I thought would be a very young Jason Robards, only to find that there was a different actor by that name, and he plays the head detective in charge of tracking down the criminals.

Grade: B

The Man Without a Face, 16 June 2015

"Dark Passage" is an example of how a gimmick can work wonders.

Humphrey Bogart plays an escaped con who was wrongfully accused of murdering his wife -- of course he was wrongfully accused....he's Bogie! To evade the law, he enlists the help of a shady plastic surgeon to give him a new face. While he's waiting for his face to heal, he's nursed by none other than Lauren Bacall, fetching as hell as a do-gooder who wants to help him because her own father was similarly wrongfully accused of a crime. The gimmick is that we don't see Bogie's face for the first half of the movie. Much of the film is shot in first-person perspective except for the occasional establishing shot. Once his face is in bandages, the film switches to a more omniscient perspective, but we still don't get a glimpse of that hang-dog mug until the bandages come off.

After Bogie becomes Bogie again, he sets out to solve the mystery of his wife's true murderer, which brings Agnes Moorehead into the picture, absolutely sensational as a shrill harridan with whom Bogie has some history. Moorehead steals the picture simply by being on the screen, a considerable feat given the screen presence of Bogie and the visual sizzle of Bacall.

The first half of "Dark Passage" is effectively eerie; the first-person camera work really adds to the atmosphere, and Bogart's bandaged visage lends a creepiness to things. The second half is more conventional in terms of filmmaking, but by then the engaging plot and the presence of Moorehead have successfully filled in for what the film loses in visual interest.

"Dark Passage" is a real winner.

Grade: A

Ann Sheridan Could Teach a Class on Delivering Sardonic Come Backs, 16 June 2015

Ann Sheridan plays a bitter housewife who has a way with a curt one liner in this nifty little noir from 1950.

Her husband is on the run after inadvertently witnessing a murder. The detectives are hounding his wife for clues about where he might be (she honestly doesn't know). Also hounding her is a reporter (Dennis O'Keefe) who wants to be first to the scoop. Or is he really a reporter? The film makes the bold move of letting you know early on that the reporter is actually the murderer, and he's slyly manipulating Sheridan into leading him to her husband so that he can bump off the only witness. O'Keefe plays against type, proving that his sardonic charm works just as well when cast as a bad guy as it does when cast as the leading man.

O'Keefe is good, but Sheridan provides the biggest incentive for watching this one. Her, and a cleverly filmed nail biter of a finale that takes place on and underneath a carnival roller coaster.

I don't know why the film is called "Woman on the Run," since the husband is the one who runs away and the woman doesn't even know she's in danger until the very end. Maybe I'm just missing the point or maybe the title really doesn't make sense because film noir titles almost never do.

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