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The Great Flamarion (1945)
A Force Of Evil
It's remarkable just how entertaining this low-budget crime drama is considering its lack of twists, absence of any real mystery and minimal amounts of tension. Instead it makes its impact by delivering a story about murder, deception and betrayal in a way that's very straight forward and seemingly uninhibited by the relatively strict censorship rules that were in force at the time when the movie was made. Its focus on a diabolical femme fatale and the ways in which she uses sex as a force of evil is fun to watch and also highly effective in driving the narrative along. Adapted from a story called "Big Shot" by Vicki Baum, it's also evident that the writer must've had some fun in naming her characters as they include a con-artist called Connie, an alcoholic called Al and a professional cyclist called Wheeler.
The action begins in 1936 in a vaudeville hall in Mexico City where a comedian's act is interrupted by the sounds of a couple of gunshots and a woman's scream. The show is soon brought to a close and a performer called Eddie Wheeler (Stephen Barclay) is arrested for the murder of his wife Connie (Mary Beth Hughes). After everyone else has left the building and the comedian is left to collect up his props, a seriously injured man falls onto the stage from the rafters above and proceeds to tell his story to the bewildered Tony (Lester Allen) who recognises the story-teller as one of his fellow performers called "The Great Flamarion" (Erich von Stroheim). Even more surprisingly, the bullet-ridden Flamarion confesses that he actually strangled Connie to death and then describes the events that lead to the murder.
Over a year earlier, Flamarion, who was a highly skilled marksman, had been working on the Pittsburgh vaudeville circuit with his assistants, the beautiful Connie and her habitually drunk husband Al (Dan Duryea). Unknown to Flamarion, Connie was having an affair with a member of a bicycle act called Eddie and was also planning to get rid of Al with the assistance of her boss. She then carried out her plan by convincing the sceptical Flamarion that she was hopelessly in love with him and persuading him to "accidentally" kill Al during one of their performances. The besotted sharpshooter went ahead with the murder as planned and afterwards the Coroner's verdict was that Falmarion was blameless because Al was so drunk that his timing had been adversely affected.
Afterwards, when Flamarion expects to be able to get married to Connie, he reluctantly agrees when she suggests that they should let the dust settle for three months to avoid giving anyone any grounds for suspicion about what's happened. She says that she'll spend the time at her mother's place in Minnesota and agrees to meet up with Flamarion at "The Empire Hotel" in Chicago at an appointed date. She doesn't turn up, the Minnesota address doesn't exist and in reality, she has instead gone on to marry and work with Eddie Wheeler. The eventual realisation of all these things and his recognition that he's been so cynically manipulated, propels Flamarion into a rapid and devastating downward spiral that culminates in the deadly revenge that he took on Connie and the fate that he suffers soon after.
Importantly, Mary Beth Hughes is a knockout in her key role bringing tremendous vibrancy and sparkle to her character and consistently showing the thoughts that are going through this evil woman's head. Dan Duryea is superb as her husband who claims that he turned to drink because of her antics and despite this, prefers to stay with her. When Connie decided to seduce Flamarion into doing what she wanted, she took on a challenge because, he was a man who following a romance that had gone wrong many years earlier, had become a woman hater and a solitary guy who didn't smoke, drink or have any friends. Softening up this proud and bitter man was probably her greatest achievement even though, ironically this action also ultimately determined her fate. The wonderfully eccentric Erich von Stroheim's main achievement in his role is the ways in which he so convincingly portrays both sides of Flamarion's character and makes the changes he goes through appear to be perfectly plausible.
Whilst "The Great Flamarion" is no masterpiece or even a top rated film noir, it is nevertheless, highly entertaining and a lot of fun to watch.
The Fury (1978)
A Fast-Paced Chase Movie
In view of the tremendous success of his 1976 movie "Carrie", it can't have surprised anyone that Brian De Palma returned in 1978 with another horror film about teenagers with telekinetic powers. Based on John Farris' novel, "The Fury" is a fast-paced chase movie that begins with a shocking incident, ends with a spectacular finale and in between features an entertaining combination of action, comedy and dramatic sequences that are delivered with great energy, terrific flair and enough shocks to meet the demands of most horror fans.
On the beach of a holiday resort somewhere in the Middle East, U.S. Government Agent Peter Sandza (Kirk Douglas) and his teenage son Robin (Andrew Stevens) are enjoying some time together when the arrival of a group of machine-gun wielding Arab terrorists throws the whole area into turmoil and leaves them separated in circumstances that convince Robin that his father has been killed. Actually, Peter has survived and from a concealed position, sees enough to know that the attack was set up by his friend and colleague, Ben Childress (John Cassavetes) who he shoots at and wounds in the left arm. In fear of his life, Peter rapidly escapes and Robin, who possesses psychic powers, is kidnapped by Childress and taken back to a secret location in Chicago, Illinois.
One year later, Peter is in Chicago searching desperately for his son and simultaneously trying to avoid a group of armed men who are constantly tailing him. These men work for a shady government outfit that's doing experiments on young psychics with a view to using them to carry out some special and probably top secret duties for the government. A couple of contacts that Peter makes in Chicago soon prove useful in identifying another teenager with similar powers to Robin. At this time, Gillian Bellaver (Amy Irving) had only just become aware of how strong her telekinetic powers had become and subsequently decided to enrol in an establishment called the "Paragon Institute for Psychic Research" which is located in a large mansion in the city. This turns out to be the place where Robin had been taken to when he was kidnapped and also the clinic in which he had since been subjected to numerous scientific experiments which had made him completely unstable and difficult to manage.
On one occasion when Gillian is in the company of the Institute's director, Dr Jim McKeever (Charles Durning), she launches into a vision of what had happened at some earlier time when, in an attempt to escape from McKeever, Robin had become violent and fell through an upstairs window. This incident makes her interested in the young man with whom she had created a psychic link and also determined to find out what had happened to him. The combined efforts of Gillian and Peter eventually bring matters to a head but what happens when Peter finally meets up with his son proves to be sensational, tragic and not what either of them would have wanted or expected.
Typically, Brian De Palma's bold visual style, use of interesting viewpoints and skilful direction of action sequences are all evident throughout this lively thriller but there are also a whole series of other high spots such as the staging of the terrorist attack which generates genuine shock on first viewing, Gillian's vision of Robin's escape from the Institute and the sensational climax which includes some exceptional special effects. Also typical of De Palma is his use of a series of Hitchcock motifs such as, doubles (Robin and Gillian), use of disguise (during Peter's escape from his pursuers in Chicago) and the chaos and lunacy represented by the fairground (in this case an indoor amusement park).
Kirk Douglas, in a role that suits his talents, is incredibly intense and determined-looking as a man who's been betrayed by a long-standing friend and colleague and who's also driven to find his son without any delay. John Cassavetes makes a terrific villain and Amy Irving also does particularly well in conveying her character's interesting combination of strength, vulnerability and bewilderment when she discovers the extent of her exceptional powers.
Whilst "The Fury" isn't De Palma's greatest movie, It's certainly entertaining, never dull and full of the types of special moments that are such a constant feature of his work.
Dead Ringers (1988)
When Hubris Prevails, Tragedy Follows
Based on Bari Wood and Jack Geasland's novel "Twins" which was inspired by the careers of New York City gynaecologists Stewart and Cyril Marcus, "Dead Ringers" tells the story of Elliot and Beverly Mantle who are both played by Jeremy Irons. As precocious youngsters in 1954, these identical twins already showed an unusual and intense interest in gynaecology and in 1967, when they attended medical school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, invented a surgical instrument that was so well received that it quickly brought them fame, fortune and the wherewithal to establish a highly successful female fertility clinic in Toronto, Canada. Sadly, however, being so widely praised and recognised as being brilliant from such a young age, created in the twins the kind of hubris that led them to believe that they were above having to conform to the normal rules of their profession and this, in turn, became one of the factors that contributed to their eventual downfall.
Although no-one can tell the twins apart and they clearly share a psychic bond, they have very different personalities with Elliot being outgoing and confident and Beverly being more introverted and withdrawn. In certain ways these differences suit their purposes as Elliot generally acts as the public face of their business whereas Beverly focuses more on the practice's important research work. Their physical similarities also prove convenient when they routinely both play roles in the treatment of certain patients who are kept under the impression that they're consistently being treated by the same doctor and even more unethically, when they have affairs with patients who have been seduced by Elliot and then passed on to Beverly when Elliot's interest in them has waned.
In 1988, famous actress Claire Niveau (Genevieve Bujold) becomes a patient at the Mantle Clinic because she's unable to conceive and is treated by Elliot who seduces her before passing her on to Beverly. Claire is naturally outraged when she realises that she's been the victim of such a disgusting deception but despite this, carries on her relationship with Beverly who, by this time, has fallen in love with her and no longer wants to participate in some of Elliot's games surrounding these affairs. The rift that this causes between the twins is painful and induces Beverly to join Claire in her practice of abusing prescription drugs. Beverly's anguish increases when a period of enforced separation from Claire follows due to her acting commitments. His increased consumption of drugs leads to him suffering from delusions that some of his patents are mutants and his insistence on continuing to work when his judgement is so obviously impaired, leads to him unintentionally causing serious injuries to one of his patients and the consequences of this become so far-reaching that there's nothing that either twin can do to rectify the situation.
The Mantles are extraordinary characters who have so much going for them because, as well as being brilliant gynaecologists, they've also got the advantages that come with being essentially two parts of the same entity and enjoying the special levels of understanding that go along with that condition. It's deeply ironic therefore, that their tragic downfall should be attributable in many ways to those very factors that made them so privileged. Jeremy Irons' remarkable portrayals of both twins are so incredibly skilful, subtle and accomplished that they leave a lasting impression on anyone who's seen this movie and Genevieve Bujold also makes Claire's strengths and vulnerabilities come to life very believably in her top class performance.
The serious nature of this story creates the need for it to be presented in a fairly measured style and this is accomplished perfectly by the way in which the movie's directed and the ways in which both its score and cinematography combine so successfully to add to the special atmosphere within which the Mantles' tragedy is played out. "Dead Ringers" is ultimately an exceptional movie that will continue to remain in the memories of anyone who's seen it regardless of how much or how little they actually enjoyed the experience.
Second Chance (1953)
Danger, Romance & Escaping The Past
The real-life 1951 Sugarloaf cable car accident in Rio de Janeiro provided the main inspiration for this enjoyable thriller which, unusually for a film noir, was a Technicolor, 3-D production that also featured stereophonic sound. Its story about a couple who fall in love whilst also trying to escape from their pasts and earn a second chance for a better future, ambles along without creating too much excitement until the eventful cable car incident which provides the movie with its tense, dangerous and very well-directed finale.
Having recently dumped her lover, gangster's moll Clare Shepperd (Linda Darnell) is on the run and trying to get as far away as possible from notorious mobster Vic Spilato who has ordered his hit man, Cappy Gordon (Jack Palance), to bump her off to ensure that she can't turn State's evidence and spill the beans on everything she knows about his criminal business. Cappy is a cold-blooded killer who, as soon as he arrives in Mexico, shoots and kills Spilato's bookkeeper who the gangster believes has betrayed him.
In a small town called San Cristobal, Clare (who uses the surname "Sinclair") catches sight of Cappy and as part of her efforts to avoid him, stops off at a local bullfight arena where she watches American boxer Russ Lambert (Robert Mitchum) take on a local fighter called Rivera (Abel Fernandez). She's very impressed by the victorious American and soon pressures one of her connections in the town to play cupid. Before she's able to meet Russ, however, Cappy catches up with her but instead of just completing his contract, tells Clare that he's in love with her and offers to spare her life if she'll agree to go off with him. Clare though, manages to escape and goes on to keep her rendezvous with Russ.
The couple decide to use the nearby cable car service to travel up to the beautiful village called La Cumbre, which is located high up on a mountain top. There they attend a fiesta where a jealous husband murders his wife and Cappy, who's still tailing Clare, again attempts to persuade her to leave the village with him instead of Russ. Clare, who pretends to play ball with Cappy, spends the night at the local hotel with Russ before, next day, they start their way back to San Cristobal on the 1.00pm cable car service out of the village. With Cappy and the fiesta murderer among the other passengers on board, their journey begins routinely but suddenly becomes very dangerous when one of the overhead cables breaks and the car is left dangling precariously high above the rocky valley below. The spectacular action that follows includes acts of heroism, cowardice and violence as everyone tries to bring their plight to a successful conclusion.
Robert Mitchum is well cast as the talented and heroic pugilist whose career in the States had gone south when he'd accidentally killed an opponent in the ring and Linda Darnell is good as Clare. Jack Palance is terrific as he brings some real bite and venom to his role as the villain of the piece and Sandro Giglio is a real star as the cable car conductor who's well versed in his company's rules, has a huge sense of responsibility and whose larger-than-life antics are often heroic as well as being hilarious to watch.
From its rather routine beginning, "Second Chance" ultimately develops into something far better and more entertaining than initially seems likely.
The Double (2011)
Distrust, Dual Identities & Deeply Conflicted Characters
This story of distrust, dual identities and deeply conflicted characters is essentially a routine spy thriller that punches above its weight because of the presence of a couple of actors (Richard Gere and Martin Sheen) who add some gravitas to the proceedings. Its twisted plot is played out in an atmosphere that becomes increasingly sinister and surprisingly concludes in a way that, although rather grim, provides unexpected benefits for its two main protagonists.
After a U.S. Senator is mysteriously assassinated, CIA Director Tom Highland (Martin Sheen) swiftly takes charge of the investigation which he soon decides would benefit from the expertise that retired operative Paul Shepherdson (Richard Gere) could provide. Paul is duly invited to a joint CIA / FBI briefing where rookie FBI Agent Ben Geary (Topher Grace) provides what he believes is strong evidence that the killing was carried out by a Soviet assassin codenamed Cassius, who'd been inactive for the last 20 years. Paul, who'd spent his entire CIA career pursuing the Russian killer, says that this theory, which was based on the method by which the Senator was killed, is nonsense because he personally killed Cassius many year earlier. Furthermore, he asserts that the assassination is far more likely to be the work of a copycat killer.
Paul becomes irritated when ex-Harvard man Ben, who had written his thesis on Cassius, claims to know absolutely everything about the Russian and by association, Paul's previous exploits when he was employed by the CIA. Despite this, Paul teams up with Ben when he's ordered to do so and the two men begin their investigation by visiting one of Cassius' team of assassins known as "The Cassius Seven" who were all given CIA code names taken from the group of Romans that killed Julius Caesar.
The brusque and badly scarred Brutus (Stephen Moyer) who'd been languishing in prison for a long time, only provides a limited amount of information but is rewarded by the investigators who give him a radio before leaving. Shortly after, Brutus swallows the radio batteries and apparently in great pain, is taken to a hospital for treatment. There, he spits out the batteries and makes a run for it. Surprisingly, when he reaches the basement of the building, he's met by Paul who confesses that he's Cassius and promptly kills Brutus by his trademark method of slitting his victim's throat by using a thin wire that neatly uncoils from his wristwatch. A revelation of this magnitude, made so early in the movie, seems to remove the likelihood of any real mystery from the remainder of the story but what happens between Ben and Paul in the action that follows, promotes increasing levels of distrust on both sides that lead to even bigger surprises and a violent conclusion that's both ironic and mildly amusing.
"The Double" is well-paced and features some entertaining action but lacks the on-going kind of tension that's normally associated with espionage thrillers. More interesting is the dynamic between the world-weary Paul who has considerably more respect for empirical knowledge rather than the kind that's acquired by academic endeavour and Ben, who like Paul, is deeply conflicted because he's driven by his instincts to take one course of action but for important personal reasons feels that he can't.
Richard Gere's portrayal of Cassius is impressive because of the very subtle ways in which he conveys every aspect of his complex character's feelings and motivations as he almost singlehandedly makes this movie considerably better than it would otherwise have been.
2 Guns (2013)
Bullets, Banter & Betrayals
"2 Guns" begins like a routine 1980s buddy movie with two criminals planning a bank robbery and swapping a series of witty remarks. It's soon revealed, however, that there's more to these men than meets the eye and the adventure that they get themselves into, quickly develops into an immensely entertaining, fast-paced and action-packed romp in which bullets, banter and betrayals all feature strongly.
Bobby Trench (Denzel Washington) and Michael "Stig" Stigman (Mark Wahlberg) had previously been taken in for questioning by the U.S. border patrol after trying unsuccessfully to complete a large cocaine deal with Mexican drug lord Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos). During the interview with Bobby, it was revealed that he's actually a DEA agent who's been trying to infiltrate Greco's drug cartel but in view of recent developments, his involvement with the operation is terminated. After the two men are released, Bobby goes along with Stig's plan to rob a bank in Tres Cruces because he knows Greco launders his money there and (although he isn't authorised to do so), intends to turn in his partner after the robbery and use the loot as evidence to bring Greco to justice.
The bank heist goes well but instead of the $3 million that they expected to collect, their actual haul amounts to $43.125 million. After a clean getaway, they stop in the desert and just as Bobby is about to arrest his partner, Stig shoots him in the shoulder, takes the money and rapidly absconds. It transpires that Stig is actually a Naval Intelligence Officer who was working on a special operation to steal the cartel's money to finance other future operations aimed at bringing down a series of other cartels. Stig then becomes disillusioned when his corrupt boss Lieutenant Commander Harold Quince (James Marsden) takes the money for himself and sets Stig up to be killed.
It soon comes to light that the stolen money belonged to the CIA and their psychopathic enforcer Earl (Bill Paxton) uses some vicious questioning techniques in the course of pursuing his enquiries, which amongst other things, lead him into killing Bobby's DEA boss and framing Bobby for the crime. This leaves both Bobby and Stig cut loose from the organisations that they'd worked for and being pursued by people who are out to kill them. They then take the logical course of action by joining forces to put matters right and take revenge on those who had wronged them.
Based on a "Boom! Studios" series of graphic novels written by Steven Grant, "2 Guns" boasts a nicely twisted plot, plenty of sharp dialogue and a whole collection of characters who are totally untrustworthy. Bobby and Stig had both intended to double-cross each other before their real identities were revealed, Stig was betrayed by two of his superior officers and Bobby's ex-lover, DEA Agent Deb Rees (Paula Patton) has a fling with him despite still being in a relationship with someone else and also puts his life in danger by not following through on an agreed plan of action that was linked to the Tres Cruces bank heist. With its collection of thoroughly disreputable characters and the seriously corrupt activities carried out by the DEA, CIA and Navy, "2 Guns" is an inherently cynical piece of work that's given a great deal of charm thanks to the presence of its two charismatic stars.
Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg work so well together that everything they do and say seems to be entirely natural and highly entertaining. They're also supported by a very talented supporting cast within which Bill Paxton and Edward James Olmos are absolutely outstanding.
Importantly, for this king of movie, its action sequences are all exceptionally well directed with good use made of overhead shots and great panache being displayed in its exciting climax which uses explosions, shootouts and flying bank-notes to good effect. Whilst "2 Guns" may not be a classic, it's certainly a lot of fun and could never be accused of short-changing its audience.
The Strange Woman (1946)
"Evil Withers In Its Own Fire"
Set in Bangor, Maine in 1824, this torrid tale of a femme fatale who goes from rags to riches and is instrumental in the deaths of three men, is full of incident, intrigue and scheming on a grand scale. In fact, so much treachery takes place during the running time of this movie that it projects the same powerful sense of purpose that characterizes the actions of the evil, cruel and highly ambitious woman whose story it tells.
As a child, Jenny Hager (Jo Ann Marlowe) is first seen playing by the local river where she thoroughly enjoys watching how distressed her friend Ephraim Poster (Christopher Severn) gets after he's been pushed into the water. As he's terrified of water and can't swim, she adds to her pleasure by holding him down as he thrashes about trying to get out of the river until she sees Judge Saladine (Alan Napier) approaching and immediately jumps into the river and pulls Ephraim out to safety. She then glows in the praise that she receives for her apparent act of bravery and through her following actions, shows how intensely ambitious she is, even at this early stage of her life.
As a beautiful young woman, Jenny (Hedy Lamarr) lives with her widowed father Tim (Dennis Hoey) who's the town drunk but she's also determined to marry the middle-aged local storekeeper and timber merchant Isaiah Poster (Gene Lockhart) because he's rich enough to give her the type of lifestyle that she craves. One night, after her father beats her for having flirted with a sailor, Jenny runs for help to Isaiah's house where his housekeeper tends to her wounds and she's given shelter for the night. Isaiah, who's a widower and the father of Jenny's one-time sweetheart Ephraim (Louis Hayward) has a discussion with a couple of the town elders about how best to protect Jenny from her abusive father and skilfully clears the way to make it socially acceptable for him to marry her and very soon afterwards, he does.
Jenny then secretly writes to Ephraim who's away in college to encourage him to come home as she wants to reignite their relationship. When he returns, Isaiah tries to discourage his son from staying and the weak-willed Ephraim is undecided about what he should do. When Isaiah becomes ill, Jenny cares for him but also flirts outrageously with Ephraim and hopes desperately that her husband won't survive his illness. When Isaiah does recover and has to make a trip on business to one of his timber camps, Ephraim is instructed to accompany him. Jenny, who's now desperate to dispose of her husband, entices Ephraim to murder his father so that they can be together. During their dangerous journey by canoe, Isaiah and Ephraim get thrown out of the vessel and although Ephraim survives the ordeal, Isaiah is drowned.
When Ephraim returns home, Jenny accuses him of being a murderer and a coward and refuses to let him in. In his despair, Ephraim becomes an inveterate drunk, falls into a squalid way of life and tells anyone who'll listen about the extent of Jenny's wickedness. For her part, Jenny inherits her husband's wealth, his mansion and his business which she appoints his handsome foreman John Evered (George Sanders) to run. John is her best friend's fiancé but it isn't long before she seduces him and they later get married. At this point, Jenny has achieved what she'd always wanted in terms of wealth and through her various charitable works, has also gained the respect of the local townsfolk. However, instead of the happiness that she imagines might follow, an unexpected tragedy and a visit to Bangor by an evangelist preacher become turning points in her life and her world starts to unravel uncontrollably.
Hedy Lamarr, who was one of the producers of this movie, selected her childhood friend Edgar G Ulmer to direct it and the result was a production that became significant to both their careers for different reasons. In Ulmer's case, it gave him the opportunity to work for the first time on a movie with a respectable budget and for Lamarr, it provided her with the opportunity to turn out what most people considered to be her best-ever acting performance. She certainly appears to relish playing the sociopathic Jenny and gives the role tremendous drive as well as a lot of credibility as she portrays Jenny's various behaviours so well. The remainder of the cast members are also good in their roles despite the fact that George Sanders is a strange choice to play a lumberjack.
"The Strange Woman" is very atmospheric, beautifully photographed and well directed. It was adapted from a novel by Ben Ames Williams who interestingly also wrote the novel on which "Leave Her To Heaven" (1945) was based.
Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982)
Cracking "The Carlotta Conspiracy"
This affectionate and very humorous homage to classic film noir is technically impressive because of the skill with which it integrates vintage footage and dialogue into a newly-written story that's presented in the style of a 1940s detective thriller. Predictably, its convoluted plot features a down on his luck private eye, a glamorous client and numerous suspicious-looking characters that are difficult to read. There's also a lot of drinking and smoking involved and of course, extensive use of the types of camera angles and lighting techniques that were such an intrinsic part of the whole noir style. Similarly, the costumes and musical score blend in perfectly with the clips from the classic films thanks to the considerable expertise of the legendary Edith Head and Miklos Rozsa and the screenwriters also do a terrific job of making the dialogue from the old movies fit incredibly naturally into the new story.
L.A. Private Eye Rigby Reardon (Steve Martin) is between jobs and reading his newspaper one day when the attractive Juliet Forrest (Rachel Ward) visits his office and hires him to investigate the reported death of her father, Dr John Hay Forrest (George Gaynes) who, according to the headline in Rigby's newspaper, was a noted scientist, philanthropist and cheese-maker. Juliet suspects that her father's been murdered and doesn't believe the story about him being involved in a car accident. She thinks that he may have been the victim of a conspiracy and gives Rigby a portion of a dollar bill with Carlotta written on it. Using a key supplied by Juliet, Rigby gains access to Doctor Forrest's place where he finds a couple of lists headed "Friends of Carlotta" and "Enemies of Carlotta" together with a signed photograph of nightclub singer Kitty Collins (Ava Gardner). Rigby is suddenly confronted by a hit man called "the exterminator" (Alan Ladd) who shoots him in the arm and makes off with the lists. After making his way to Juliet's residence where she sucks the bullet out of his arm, he then continues his investigation.
With the help of some information provided by Juliet, Rigby locates Kitty Collins and then follows a series of leads that bring him into contact with a whole series of characters played by such noir luminaries as Barbara Stanwyck, Ray Milland, Burt Lancaster, Veronica Lake, Fred MacMurray and many others. Rigby's most significant breakthrough arrives when he discovers that Carlotta is actually the name of an island off the coast of Peru and that Dr. Forrest had, in fact, unwittingly been drawn into a contract with a group of Nazi conspirators who wanted to use one of his special cheese recipes to enable them to achieve their own evil objectives. Despite effectively having solved the mystery surrounding Dr. Forrest's disappearance by this stage, Rigby still has to clear some further significant hurdles before his investigation into the Carlotta conspiracy is finally and satisfactorily completed.
Steve Martin's highly-entertaining brand of humour is evident throughout everything that happens but like his performance, is skilfully calibrated to ensure that its wackiness never overwhelms the action or the movie's wonderful sense of style. The high quality of the acting and the general tone of the performances are also impressively consistent and the rapport between Martin and Rachel Ward also adds to the fun as well as providing another layer of enjoyment.
At the time of its initial release, this movie wasn't a commercial success as, no doubt, it wouldn't have appealed to anyone who didn't like black and white films or who had little or no knowledge of the old classics or the stars that featured in them. However, for film buffs in general and film noir fans in particular, "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" is a lot of fun to watch and bearing in mind the technical limitations which prevailed at the time when it was made, a work of considerable quality.
Four Brothers (2005)
A Motor City Revenge Thriller
After a 62-year-old woman is gunned down during a convenience store robbery, her four adopted sons return to their old home for the funeral and soon become determined to hunt down whoever was responsible. The action sequences that follow are well-staged, violent and exciting to watch and the force that drives these men on so powerfully is the intense loyalty and respect that they feel for the only woman who was prepared to take them in and give them a home at a time in their lives when nobody else would.
Evelyn Mercer (Fionnula Flanagan) was the kind-hearted woman who had fostered countless children in Detroit, Michigan before passing them on to their respective adoptive parents. However, four of the boys that she fostered were such troublemakers that they became impossible to place and so she adopted them herself. After her death, the four men who share the same sense of loyalty to their "mother" and each other, reunite and quickly discover that she had, in fact, been murdered and that the local police are inept and certainly not determined enough to bring the culprits to justice. In these circumstances, Bobby (Mark Wahlberg), Angel (Tyrese Gibson), Jeremiah (Andre Benjamin) and Jack (Garrett Hedlund) take matters into their own hands.
As the oldest brother, ex-con Bobby, who's tough and volatile, takes the lead in everything they do. Angel is a womanizing ex-serviceman, Jeremiah has become a businessman with a family of his own and Jack, who was very badly treated before being fostered, has dreams of becoming a rock singer. The brothers soon catch up with the two guys who held up the convenience store and simply execute them when they prove to be unhelpful in identifying who ordered the hit on their mother. Their further investigations reveal that Evelyn had been betrayed by a corrupt cop when he'd informed local crime boss Victor Sweet (Chiwetel Ejiofor) that she'd sought the help of the police to put matters right after Jeremiah had been criminally ripped off by Sweet during a lucrative property deal. This information then gives the brothers' mission added impetus and leads inexorably to a confrontation between Bobby and Victor Sweet during which their differences are finally resolved.
"Four Brothers" is an unpretentious revenge thriller that champions vigilantism and appeals to its audience purely on a visceral level. Its combination of sentimentality and moments of extreme violence inevitably make its pacing problematic but overall, it entertains because of the quality of its action scenes, the brothers' camaraderie (which is so well portrayed) and its great soundtrack which contributes strongly to a distinct 1970s' vibe. The quality of the acting is also generally good with the portrayals of the four brothers and good cop Lieutenant Green (Terrence Howard) making the strongest impressions.
711 Ocean Drive (1950)
A Movie That No Film Noir Fan Should Overlook
At the time of its release, this fine crime thriller was both an expose of the involvement of organised crime syndicates in the gambling rackets and an account of the rise and fall of a top mobster. The whole production is fast-moving, strong on realism and culminates in an exciting and spectacular climax at the Hoover Dam (which was then known as Boulder Dam). The mobster's story is unusual because of his untypical background and the fact that it's his technical knowledge that initially propels him to the status of being a crime boss. Furthermore, it's also interesting to watch the very natural and plausible ways in which he gradually transforms from being an ordinary working class guy into a ruthless, unprincipled criminal who's powerfully motivated by greed.
Telephone company engineer Mal Granger (Edmond O'Brien) gets on well with his co-workers and enjoys placing bets on horse races. His lack of success at betting leaves him out of pocket and one day his bookie and good friend Chippie Evans (Sammy White) suggests that he might do better by using his technical expertise for the benefit of a private company that would pay him far more than the modest income he receives from his current employer. This leads to Mal being introduced to Vince Walters (Barry Kelley) who runs a racing wire service and being hired after he outlines a number of efficiency improvements that he could make for the benefit of the business. Mal enthusiastically makes a whole range of changes that quickly increase its profits and enable Vince to develop his long-term plan to expand the service to cover all of California.
When Mal isn't rewarded financially for the huge difference that he's made to the profitability of Vince's business, he makes it clear just how easily he could reverse the process and Vince reluctantly agrees to make him a partner. Another benefit that Mal enjoys in his new surroundings is his friendship with fellow employee Trudy Maxwell (Dorothy Patrick).
Vince Walters is an intimidating character who puts enormous financial pressures on the bookies who are dependant on his wire service for the success of their businesses. One day, after pressing one of these bookies to the limit and even threatening his family, the bookie shoots and kills him and this leads to Mal taking full control of the operation. This change also, however, brings him under the scrutiny of Los Angeles Gangster Squad Detective Pete Wright (Howard St. John) who had for some time suspected that the business was a cover for some criminal activities.
A more significant and damaging development then follows after Mal is approached by Larry Mason (Don Porter) on behalf of Carl Stephans (Otto Kruger) who's the head of the East Coast crime syndicate. They make him a generous offer to take over his business and compensate him handsomely by making him a partner in their outfit. The complications that follow lead to Mal getting involved in infidelity, murders and blackmail in a sequence of events that bring about a rapid decline in his fortunes that he's completely unable to control.
"711 Ocean Drive" is a top class documentary-style film noir that doesn't enjoy the level of recognition that it deserves. Its story is far more original and interesting than many similar movies and the quality of its screenplay, cinematography and acting performances is really impressive. Edmond O'Brien conveys Mal Granger's drive, enthusiasm and initial optimism brilliantly and his whole descent into the dark side is extremely convincing.in what must be one of the best performances of his career. This is definitely a movie that no film noir fan should overlook.
The Limey (1999)
"You're Not From Around Here, Are You?"
Unusually, the main antagonists in this revenge thriller and both about 60 years old and are introduced on-screen by songs sung by groups who had their first hits in the 1960s. "The Seeker" by The Who is playing when English ex-con Dave Wilson (Terence Stamp) is first seen as he arrives in L.A. to investigate the suspicious death of his daughter (Jenny) and the first appearance of record producer Terry Valentine (Peter Fonda) is heralded by The Hollies' "King Midas in Reverse". The use of these songs signal that the main conflict at the heart of this story is between a truth seeker and his daughter's ex-lover who, according to the song, is "not the guy to run with" as he'll "break you and destroy you....given time". Techniques such as this and the way in which Wilson is provided with a convincing back story by cleverly integrating clips from Ken Loach's 1967 movie "Poor Cow", are just a couple of examples of how imaginatively, relevant information is imparted in this stylish movie.
Soon after his arrival in California, Wilson turns up at the home of Eduardo Roel (Luis Guzman) who had sent him a newspaper report of the car accident in which Jenny (Melissa George) had allegedly been killed. Eduardo, who'd been a friend of Jenny's, gives Wilson some useful details of what she was doing and who she was associated with just before her death. He also puts Wilson in touch with another of Jenny's friends, an acting coach called Elaine (Lesley Ann Warren) who provides further information and Wilson soon comes to the conclusion that Valentine was probably responsible for Jenny's death.
In an attempt to trace Valentine, Wilson breaks into a warehouse that's being used by a group of drug dealers and demands some information but after being beaten up and thrown out of the building, he simply composes himself and goes back in and shoots and kills five of its six occupants. Using information that he's found in the warehouse, Wilson and Eduardo gatecrash a party at Valentine's beautiful mansion in the Hollywood Hills and try to find evidence of Jenny having been there. After Wilson kills one of Valentine's security men by throwing him off an elevated platform that houses a swimming pool and steals a portrait of Jenny from the mansion, he and Eduardo have to make a swift getaway during which they manage successfully to shake off the attentions of Valentine's head of security, Jim Avery (Barry Newman).
Avery responds to this setback by hiring a hit-man to dispose of Wilson but the planned hit never materialises because of the intervention of a group of DEA officers who are investigating Valentine's association with the drug trade and his involvement in money laundering. The events that follow then lead to a climactic shootout at Valentine's home in Big Sur and Wilson finally getting to the truth of what happened to his daughter in a conclusion that doesn't play out in the way that most people would predict.
"The Limey" is essentially a routine revenge story that's made considerably more entertaining because of its inspired use of flashbacks, flash-forwards, images of imagined actions, offbeat camera angles and highly creative editing techniques. All of this is so well done that the end product is stimulating to watch and consistently avoids any confusion or lack of clarity.
Wilson is a charmless career criminal whose pain, anger and sense of loss at the passing of his daughter are overwhelming, as is his regret about mostly being an absent father because he'd spent so much of his adult life in prison. Despite all this, his consistent use of old-school Cockney slang makes a lot of what he says totally incomprehensible to most people he meets and provides a number of funny situations that bring to mind that old saying about Britain and America being "two nations divided by a common language".
Terence Stamp conveys his character's intensity, determination and single-mindedness very powerfully and there are also strong supporting performances from Luis Guzman and Peter Fonda.
Grifters In A Fix
An accomplished gang of grifters realise that they're in a fix when they con an accountant out of $150,000 and then discover that the money actually belonged to a local crime lord. After the accountant and one of the gang members turn up dead, the rest of the gang realise that the only way that they can save their skins is to compensate their victim by carrying out an even bigger caper and that's when the fun begins, as they have to move fast and use all of their ingenuity to placate the ruthless Winston "The King" King (Dustin Hoffman) who's in no mood to tolerate any mistakes or delays.
King's demand is for the gang to scam a crooked banker called Morgan Price (Robert Forster) who just happens to be one of his long-term rivals and also for one of his henchmen called Lupus (Franky G) to accompany the gang throughout so that he can keep an eye on what they're doing. Gang leader Jake Vig (Edward Burns) soon formulates a plan to relieve Price of $5,000,000 and recruits a pickpocket called Lily (Rachel Weisz) who'll have a key role in the con. The other gang members, Gordo (Paul Giamatti) and Miles (Brian Van Holt) then join Jake, Lupus and Lily in some clever antics through which they bring one of Morgan Price's vice presidents on board and he agrees to wire the money to Gordo in Belize.
Everything seems nicely set up until Jake hears that Federal Agent Gunther Butan (Andy Garcia) is on his tail and the presence of this man who, for years, has been obsessed with bringing him to justice, makes him decide to abandon the whole scam. This leads to Lily leaving the gang and everything seeming to be falling apart. However, everything's not quite as it seems.
Whilst "Confidence" doesn't break any new ground, it's certainly fast moving, full of surprises and lots of fun to watch. It's really well written with an intricate plot that's nicely twisted, an interesting collection of characters and plenty of lively, quick-fire dialogue. Its star-studded cast add a great deal of colour and vitality to the proceedings and visually it's top class.
The standout performances come from Edward Burns who's convincingly smooth, confident and smart, as the gang leader, Dustin Hoffman who's repulsive and menacing as the sadistic crime lord and Andy Garcia as the scruffy Federal Agent who has temper management issues. Rachel Weisz is terrific as Lily and the rest of the supporting players are also consistently good in their roles.
Although this is a very typical movie about people on the grift, it's so well done that anyone who enjoys the kind of crime capers that involve shills, marks and ropers, certainly won't be disappointed with this offering.
The Phenix City Story (1955)
Fast-Moving, Hard-Hitting & Extremely Powerful
Set in 1954, this fact-based story about a city that had been controlled by organised crime for the best part of a century is fast-moving, hard-hitting and extremely powerful. The sheer scale of the criminality and corruption involved is staggering and the plight of the ordinary citizens who are served by politicians and police officers who take their orders and regular payments from the crime syndicate is shown in the clearest and most forceful style possible. This kind of realism is, in fact, one of the hallmarks of this fine movie that pulls no punches in depicting the appalling depravity of those in power and the levels of intimidation and suffering that were routinely endured by the ordinary people of Phenix City, Alabama.
For as long as anyone could remember, Phenix City's main industry had been vice in the form of gambling, prostitution and drunkenness and the production of the loaded dice, marked cards and fixed slot machines that ensured that there was never any chance of any gamblers profiting from their visits to "The Poppy Club" on 14th Street. The proprietor of this establishment was local crime boss Rhett Tanner (Edward Andrews) who habitually assumed an affable manner in his dealings with the locals who he intimidated and exploited so successfully.
Well-respected lawyer, Albert L Patterson (John McIntire) grew up in the city and although he disapproves of the racketeering, doesn't think that there's anything that he could possibly do to change the situation. For this reason, he's always avoided taking sides in the matter and the most recent example of this had happened when he'd turned down his old friend Tanner's invitation to work for the syndicate. Albert is thrilled when his son and fellow lawyer, John (Richard Kiley) returns from his Army service in Germany where he'd been prosecuting war criminals and both men look forward to the prospect of John and his family settling down in Phenix City.
One evening, John travels into the city with Ed Gage (Truman Smith) and Hugh Britton (George Mitchell), who are both members of the citizens' committee that has been formed to try to close down Tanner's activities and after they all get attacked by a group of thugs who work for the crime boss, John pursues the leader into "The Poppy Club" where they engage in a fist-fight that ends when Clem Wilson (John Larch) is knocked unconscious. Being sharply aware of how much danger John is now in, Zeke Ward (James Edwards) who's a janitor at the club and Fred Gage (Biff McGuire) who's a customer, help him to escape safely. This incident makes John determined to clean up the city and after the mob murder Zeke's daughter and threaten John's family, Albert also becomes convinced that he should join the struggle.
Albert bravely decides to stand as a candidate to be the next State Attorney General because this would enable him to harness the power of the entire state to bring about the changes that are needed in Phenix City. After Clem Wilson kills Fred, Fred's girlfriend Ellie Rhodes (Kathryn Grant Crosby) who works as a blackjack dealer at "The Poppy Club", uses her position to gain and pass on to John, any information that might be useful to his struggle to bring down Rhett Tanner and his cronies. The courageous citizens who stand up to the mob are eventually rewarded when the imposition of martial law finally brings an end to the mob's influence and power but this achievement comes at a high price in terms of the number of people who lose their lives in the process.
In common with numerous other makers of documentary-style film noir movies of this period, director Phil Karlson was influenced by the Italian Neo-realists and so shot the action on location in Phenix City and cast a number of non-professional locals in some of the smaller roles or as extras. Despite being made on an obviously small budget, the events depicted make a great impact with the murder of a child, cops who allow gangsters to kill with impunity and election rigging on a grand scale all providing particularly shocking images. Karlson also brings out some excellent performances from his cast with John McIntire particularly impressive as the level-headed, elderly lawyer who's both pragmatic and courageous at different times.
The least enjoyable part of this movie is its 13 minute prologue which is tedious to watch and means absolutely nothing to anyone who has no prior knowledge of the story that's about to be told or its various characters. Fortunately, what follows the prologue is a big improvement and much more entertaining.
From Idealism To Disillusion
Although it was the joint-winner of the Palme D'Or at the 1961 Cannes Film Festival, "Viridiana" also achieved a certain amount of notoriety because it was considered by the Vatican to be blasphemous and was banned in Spain for 26 years. Its story describes the circumstances that lead to a young nun losing her idealism, her commitment to the Catholic Church and her naivete about various aspects of the real world and human nature itself. The experiences that she goes through, in a relatively short space of time, affect her profoundly and change her life forever.
Viridiana (Silvia Pinal) is the young nun who, shortly before taking her final vows, is ordered by her mother superior to visit her rich uncle, Don Jaime (Fernando Rey). Although they hadn't had any contact for years, Don Jaime had consistently provided for Viridiana and so she dutifully follows her instructions and goes to visit her benefactor at his rather run-down rural estate.
Don Jaime soon tells her how closely she resembles his late wife who died of a heart attack on their wedding night and on one of the subsequent nights, asks her to wear his late wife's wedding dress. Although she's uncomfortable about complying with this request, she reluctantly agrees because she feels she owes him something. Things get even creepier however, when she's told that he'd like to marry her and Don Jaime's loyal servant Ramona (Margarita Lozano) drugs her coffee before Don Jaime carries her unconscious to a bedroom with the intention of raping her. He doesn't actually go through with the act but next day tells her that she's been changed forever and she decides to leave immediately. She doesn't get very far though, before being summoned back to the estate because Don Jaime has committed suicide.
Don Jaime's illegitimate son Jorge (Francisco Rabal) and Viridiana become the joint beneficiaries of the estate and after Jorge moves into the mansion with his mistress Lucia (Victoria Zinny), Viridiana also decides to stay there and gathers up a group of local beggars that she invites to live in one of the buildings on the estate in return for doing some work. Lucia soon leaves when she recognises that Jorge has designs on Viridiana and a little while later, he and Ramona have a fling. When the joint owners of the estate have to leave briefly to attend to some business, the beggars take advantage by breaking into the mansion and feasting and drinking heavily before vandalising the place. When they return home, Viridiana is assaulted by a couple of the beggars and soon becomes totally disillusioned by everything that's happened and finally reconciles herself to living in, what she now recognises as, the real world.
Luis Bunuel who directed and co-wrote this movie, asserts throughout that lust, greed, corruption and cruelty are fundamental to the real world and that idealism and charity are futile and will always be exploited. Despite the deeply cynical nature of this message, "Viridiana" is made palatable and extremely enjoyable to watch because of the way in which its story works on more than one level and also features significant amounts of black humour. Its most famous scene arrives when the partying beggars appear to spontaneously recreate Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper" in a tableau that drew criticism from the Vatican for being blasphemous.
"Viridiana" is an undeniably thought-provoking piece and its entire cast does a good job of making all of the characters interesting and memorable for a variety of reasons.
City of Industry (1997)
A Gripping Tale Of Betrayal & Revenge
This violent crime drama features a diamond heist, an act of betrayal and a protracted search for revenge. Its plot is hardly original but what makes it so compelling is its exciting action sequences, its interesting characters and its no-nonsense style which is perfectly complemented by dialogue that's believably tough, terse and to the point. None of the main characters are actually good people and so the audience find themselves taking sides with an anti-hero who, as well as being a brutal thug and killer, does at least have some sort of code by which he operates.
Retired thief Roy Egan (Harvey Keitel) is persuaded by his younger brother Lee (Timothy Hutton) to join him for one last job which should pay off handsomely for both of them. Lee and his two buddies, Jorge Montana (Wade Dominguez) and Skip Kovich (Stephen Dorff), had planned a diamond heist and together the four men rob a jewellery store in Palm Springs and after making a successful getaway, meet up again at a trailer park. While the gang consider what they're going to do with the precious gems, the unpredictable Skip suddenly produces his gun and shoots Lee and Jorge dead before chasing after Roy who runs off at great speed from the trailer and disappears into the distance. Skip sets the trailer on fire and takes off with the loot.
When it's safe to do so, Roy emerges from his hideout and makes his way to Los Angeles where he starts to make enquiries about Skip's whereabouts. When he calls by at Jorge's house, he breaks the news of Jorge's death to his wife Rachel (Famke Janssen) who, understandably, isn't in any mood to help Roy with his mission. Skip is deeply in debt to a loan-shark named Harvey (Elliott Gould) and when he hears that Roy is pursuing him, makes a deal with Harvey to pay him a large sum of money (as well as his loan repayment in full) if he will use his Chinese mob connections to eliminate the threat that Roy is obviously going to pose to his future well being. Harvey goes for the deal and when a couple of Chinese mobsters catch up with Roy, they beat him up badly before he kills both men and is eventually found unconscious and seriously injured in Rachel's garden.
This time around, Rachel proves to be more helpful when she gives Roy Jorge's address book and shows him the location of the money laundering business where Skip's money is being held. These two pieces of information then prove to be critical to Roy eventually being able to complete his mission and show his appreciation for Rachel's input in a most unexpected way.
The action in "City of Industry" unfolds at an exhilarating pace and a couple of incidents (the killing of the two gang-members and the disappearance of Rachel's car from outside a hospital) are cleverly presented to maximise the shock value of what happens. Some of the action sequences (e.g. the exploding of a propane gas tank and what happens after a car is flipped over at speed) are particularly well executed and the atmosphere of the piece remains decidedly grim and hard-edged throughout.
The quality of the cast in this movie is absolutely top class with Harvey Keitel predictably standing out. One scene in which he (without any dialogue) expresses all the anger, frustration and pain that he feels following his brother's death is extremely powerful and the intensity with which he conveys his character's obsessive need for revenge is equally strong. This unpretentious movie is gripping and despite its numerous merits remains just as underappreciated now as it was when it was first released.
Screaming Mimi (1958)
A Wonderfully Off-Beat Movie That Now Enjoys Cult Status
Based on a novel by Fredric Brown, this psychological thriller tells the story of a young woman whose life goes out of control after she becomes the victim of a terrifying attack by a knife-wielding madman. Her initial trauma is exacerbated by an unorthodox psychiatrist whose treatment not only causes her condition to deteriorate into a psychosis but also leads her into seriously aberrant behaviour that's linked to a statuette that she associates with her life-changing ordeal. The statuette in question is known as "Screaming Mimi".
One day, Virginia Wilson (Anita Ekberg), a New Orleans dancer who's vacationing at her stepbrother's home at Laguna Beach, California, runs straight from the beach to an outdoor shower cubicle where, almost immediately, she gets attacked by an escapee from a local sanitarium who, after killing her dog "Rusty", advances towards her brandishing a large knife. On hearing her screams, Virginia's stepbrother, Charlie Weston (Romney Brent), produces his rifle and shoots and kills her assailant.
Virginia is so traumatized that Charlie takes her to the nearby "Highland Sanitarium" where she's put into the care of a psychiatrist called Dr Greenwood (Harry Townes) who soon becomes infatuated by her and also becomes more and more controlling as her treatment progresses. After about six months, recognising that she's becoming increasingly anxious to be discharged, Greenwood gives up his job and in an effort to ensure that they both leave their past lives behind them, takes her to a city where, acting as her manager, he secures employment for her as an exotic dancer at the "El Madhouse" nightclub. By this stage, Greenwood and Virginia are generally known as Bill Green and Yolanda Lange.
Yolanda's tremendously popular in her new role and Bill Sweeney (Philip Carey), a newspaper columnist who reports on the city's nightlife for "The Daily Times", is introduced to her by the club's proprietor Joann Masters (Gypsy Rose Lee). Sweeney, who was captivated by Yolanda's dancing, finds her irresistible and also becomes intrigued by a statuette that he notices in her dressing room. Her insanely jealous manager quickly intervenes, however, to bring her meeting with this handsome man to an abrupt end.
Later that night, Yolanda again gets assaulted by another knife-wielding attacker and remembering a similar assault in which a woman called Lola Lake was murdered, Sweeney searches through some of his newspaper's records and finds a photograph of Ms Lake's body and notices that lying beside it is a statuette that's identical to the one he'd seen in Yolanda's dressing room. Intrigued, he then decides to investigate further to solve the mystery surrounding the attacks and to determine what significance, if any, the statuettes had to the crimes.
In order to be believable as someone who's so incredibly attractive to so many people, it was vital to the success of this movie that whoever was chosen to play Virginia should have exactly the right qualities and it's hard to imagine that anyone could have fitted the bill any better than Anita Ekberg whose looks were absolutely stunning and who also had the ability to affect a king of vagueness which conveyed just how detached her character was from reality.
The other outstanding feature of this movie is its cinematography which is strikingly good throughout. In scenes involving Virginia and Dr Greenwood, the contrast between her innocence and his dubious motives is emphasised by him often being enveloped in shadow whilst she's seen in the light and there's also a knockout scene in which a neon light outside an upstairs room intermittently lights two small areas (one in which the couple are lying down together and the other in which Yolanda's dog "Devil" is lying peacefully).
"Screaming Mimi" is a bizarre movie that features a whole assortment of off-centre characters and a main protagonist whose mental state is extremely unstable. Virginia, who ironically exchanges one madhouse for another, is at her most composed when she regularly mesmerizes the patrons of the "El Madhouse" with her dance routines that obviously appeal strongly to everyone in an audience that comprises people of differing ages and sexual orientations. The intensity of the voyeurism that's seen whenever she performs her bondage-themed dances is extraordinary and the club's singing bartender and dancing waiters are absurdly funny. "Screaming Mimi" is wonderfully off-beat and full of eccentricities and these qualities, no doubt, contributed strongly to the cult status that this movie now enjoys.
Cold in July (2014)
Well-Acted, Edgy & Totally Unpredictable
An extraordinary feature of this edgy thriller is that no-one who starts watching it could possibly predict how its plot is going to develop. After a relatively straightforward opening that seems to herald a routine revenge drama, audience expectations are suddenly jarred when an accidental discovery made by one of the characters, reveals the first indication of what's later discovered to be police corruption on a grand scale. This opens the door to a vigilante enterprise that involves murder, torture, changed relationships, snuff movies and the activities of the "Dixie Mafia" etc.
Set in East Texas in 1989, "Cold In July" is a character-driven piece that's rich in atmosphere, incredibly tense at times but also intriguing, entertaining and enjoyable to watch because of its many surprises, its moments of unexpected humour and the contributions of its highly talented cast.
The peace of Richard Dane's (Michael C Hall) home (where he lives with his wife and young son) is disturbed one night by a suspicious sound and after nervously loading his gun, Richard goes to investigate. On finding an intruder in his living room and being startled when a clock strikes, he unintentionally shoots and kills the apparent burglar. Richard is a mild-mannered man who remains shaken by what's happened despite the assurances of local Sheriff Ray Price (Nick Damici). who tells him that he has nothing to reproach himself for as it was clearly a case of self-defence and the man he killed was a known felon.
Richard, who can't get the incident out of his mind, watches the intruder's funeral from a distance and is surprised when he's approached by Ben Russell (Sam Shepard) who introduces himself as the intruder's father. Ben's an intimidating man who's just been released from prison on parole and some remarks that he makes, suggest that he's planning to take his revenge and has Richard's young son Jordan (Brogan Hall) in his sights. Terrified, Richard seeks help from the local police who initially don't take the threat seriously but when they do, soon take Russell out of circulation, much to the relief of Richard and his family.
A little while later, Richard has to visit the police station to complete some paperwork and when he sees a wanted poster for the criminal who broke into his house and notices that the photograph on it doesn't resemble the man he killed. realises that something is very wrong. Uncharacteristically, he then embarks on a course of action that leads to a series of disturbing discoveries that radically change his relationship with Ben and brings him into contact with a colourful private detective named Jim Bob Luke (Don Johnson) whose involvement leads to further discoveries about a number of issues that are either directly or indirectly linked to the activities of the Dixie Mafia. The three men's further investigations then lead to some distressing discoveries, further bloodshed and the movie's disturbingly brutal conclusion.
"Cold In July" is a movie that looks great and features some gorgeous night-time scenes. It's recreation of the period in which it's set is impeccable and the whole drama is well-directed. The mood is suitably tense until the point where Jim Bob joins the action and the three men start to work together. Although all the performances are consistently strong, Don Johnson's stands out primarily because of his character's flamboyance but also because of the impact his arrival has on the whole atmosphere of what follows.
The Hustler (1961)
Making It To The Top
Many people possess a talent but don't necessarily make it to the top. "The Hustler" is about a pool shark who, having realised that he falls into this category, enters into a Faustian pact in order to give himself the best possible chance of achieving his ambition to be recognised as the best pool player in the United States. As with all such deals, he soon discovers that any success he achieves comes at a very high price.
Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) is the arrogant, young pool player who, under the guidance of his long-term partner and mentor, Charlie Burns (Myron McCormick), travels across country from Oakland, California to New York to challenge the country's undefeated champion and prove his own superiority. Eddie is very successful at ripping off the unsuspecting locals that he cons into playing him at the various pool halls and bars that he stops off at during his journey but is also aware that playing Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) at the Ames pool hall in New York will present a far greater challenge.
When Eddie meets Fats, their encounter soon develops into a marathon in which, after some initial losses, Eddie finds himself $18,000 ahead. At one point, Fats arranges for his manager Bert Gordon (George C Scott) to attend and Bert quickly sums Eddie up as a loser. This opinion is vindicated when Eddie becomes the architect of his own defeat and completes the match totally exhausted and almost broke. Following this, Eddie ends his partnership with Charlie and spends the night at a local bus station where he meets Sarah Packard (Piper Laurie). She's a depressed alcoholic with a pronounced limp and a chequered past but recognises in Eddie, someone who's just as lonely and desperate as she is and they soon begin an affair which develops into a loving relationship.
Eddie goes back to small-time hustling but one night, after humiliating an opponent by showing off, ends up with both his thumbs broken by a group of thugs who take exception to his behaviour. This convinces him that his only chance of getting back on his feet and ultimately being able to make another, more successful challenge against Minnesota Fats, is to take up Bert Gordon's offer to manage him. What Eddie doesn't realise is just how costly his deal with Bert will turn out to be.
Based on Walter Tevis' 1959 novel, this well-written cinema classic features strong characters who are brought to life brilliantly in a whole series of exceptional acting performances, four of which (Paul Newman, Piper Laurie, George C Scott & Jackie Gleason) deservedly received Oscar nominations. Fast Eddie's development from an immature, swaggering raw talent to a player with the necessary character and good judgement to be a winner is fascinating and sometimes painful to watch and although his journey is never much fun, it's certainly memorable, full of incident and makes some interesting points that are just as valid today as they were at the time when this movie was made.
Cast a Dark Shadow (1955)
Murder, Manipulation & Freudian Hang-Ups
This tale of a handsome young man who marries older ladies for their money and then has no compunction about resorting to murder, is more than a modern Bluebeard story as it also hints that his conduct is, at least partly, attributable to the existence of a number of psychological disorders. One character in the story who researches his background, soon concludes that he's actually "an unbalanced mess" and issues relating to class, repressed homosexuality and a mother whose style of nurturing produced a weak, dependent man who avoids responsibility, are all suggested at various points in the action.
Although he doesn't work for a living or have any private source of income, Edward Bare (Dirk Bogarde) enjoys a comfortable lifestyle with his wealthy and considerably older wife Monica (Mona Washbourne). They live together in a large country house where their relationship resembles that of a mother and son as she habitually infantilizes him by calling him Teddy, regularly picks him up on his poor manners and makes remarks like "you clever boy" when he does things that meet with her approval. For Edward's part, he calls his "Mummy figure" "Mony" continually plies her with fine old brandy and is attentive to her every need.
Monica decides to make a change to her will because she wants to ensure that Teddy's well provided for if anything should happen to her. Her snooty solicitor, Phillip Mortimer (Robert Flemying), who regards Edward as a lower-class chancer, advises her against her proposed course of action and says that she should instead leave her fortune to her rich sister in Kingston, Jamaica, who she hasn't seen for 20 years. Monica, however, is adamant about what she wants to do and arranges for Phillip to call by on the following day for her to sign the necessary documents. Edward becomes concerned when he discovers what's going on and due to a misunderstanding, thinks that the change that Monica's planning will militate against his interests and so murders her before the change can be made.
As Edward had staged Monica's death to look like an accident and coached his gullible housekeeper, Emmie (Kathleen Harrison) to say the right things at the Coroner's Court, a verdict of "accidental death" is returned but Edward is left virtually penniless as he only inherits the house he lives in and a run-down beach property. After borrowing money from a friend, he visits a seaside resort where he meets up with another rich widow who he befriends and subsequently marries but soon finds himself faced with a major challenge if he is to profit financially from his marriage to Freda Jeffries (Margaret Lockwood), as she's nowhere near as malleable as his previous wife.
Margaret Lockwood makes a huge impact as the self-assured, worldly-wise, publican's widow who was left well-off following the sale of her husband's business and is not the type to let anyone manipulate her. She's convincingly as hard as nails and straight-talking in her exchanges with her character's new husband and when a new woman called Charlotte Young (Kay Walsh) appears on the scene, expresses her character's jealousy very forcefully. There's more to Charlotte than meets the eye and because she's also rich, she also gets targeted by Edward. Kay Walsh is effectively enigmatic and cool in her interesting role as a woman who's very different to both Monica and Freda and ultimately has a strong influence on how the story plays out.
Robert Flemying is terrific as Monica's insufferably snobbish solicitor who holds Edward in utter contempt and on more then one occasion avoids kissing Freda's hand when it's offered. Dirk Bogarde also demonstrates his considerable acting skills by expressing the emotions that Edward's faking and the ones he's genuinely feeling at the same time and also judiciously using facial expressions that hint at his character's disturbed state of mind.
This Bluebeard story (which like the famous French folk tale, even features a "forbidden room") is thoroughly entertaining, very well acted and much better that its recognised status in the film noir canon would suggest.
Gangster Squad (2013)
Looks Good But Far Too Predictable
This crime thriller tells the story of a group of vigilante cops who are assigned to the task of bringing down gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) and all the criminal rackets that he runs. The movie looks really good, moves at a brisk pace and does a marvellous job of recreating the L.A. of the 1940s. What's less pleasing, however, is that after its initial set-up, the plot becomes ultra predictable with characters that are one-dimensional and action that turns out to be little more than a sequence of one violent attack or shootout after another. The car chases and shootouts are well choreographed but inevitably become increasingly meaningless in a drama that's alarmingly short on substance or any real suspense.
In 1949, Los Angeles is firmly in the grip of vicious crime boss Mickey Cohen whose drugs, prostitution and gambling rackets are all prospering due to the protection that he enjoys from the large number of cops, judges and politicians that he has on his payroll and the ruthlessness with which he clamps down on any competitors who may emerge. He's also extremely volatile and deals harshly with any mistakes made by his gang members. In this climate, Police Chief Bill Porter (Nick Nolte) recognises that it's almost impossible to make any meaningful progress in getting rid of Cohen by conventional methods and so decides to set up a small squad of men to operate outside of the rules and simply do whatever's necessary to bring down Cohen's business for good.
Porter selects incorruptible war veteran Sergeant John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) to lead the squad and he, with the help of his pregnant wife Connie (Mireille Enos), chooses five other trusted LAPD officers to complete his team. Squad member Detective Conwell Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi) is adept at wire tapping and this soon proves to be useful when, with the use of information that they gain from a bug planted in Cohen's house, the squad score successes in disrupting Cohen's wire betting operation and raiding his businesses. Playboy and fellow war veteran Sergeant Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) becomes an unenthusiastic member of the squad and soon courts danger when he starts an affair with Grace Faraday (Emma Stone) who's euphemistically described as Cohen's "etiquette tutor".
The remaining members of the squad are sharpshooter Detective Max Kennard (Robert Patrick), his Mexican sidekick Detective Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena) who's an ace driver and uniformed cop Colman Harris (Anthony Mackie) who's an expert knife-thrower. These men all use their skills well at various points and keep making progress until a fist fight between O'Mara and Cohen brings the story and Cohen's reign to a violent conclusion.
One of this movie's outstanding assets is its all-star cast who do well to make its comic-strip characters come to life despite having to deliver some uninspired dialogue and navigate an embarrassing number of cliched situations. In this context Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and Sean Penn all excel. "Gangster Squad" is strong in terms of its costumes, set design and atmosphere but also completely devoid of any twists, multi-layered characters or indeed anything that hasn't been seen or done numerous times before.
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Stranger Than Fiction
In order to be taken seriously, fiction has to operate within certain parameters that don't apply to fact-based stories and it's for this reason that the bizarre developments and incompetent criminals in "Dog Day Afternoon" actually become sources of fascination and amusement rather than incredulity and ridicule. The result is a drama that's utterly engrossing as well as being funny, tense and unpredictable. It's also, however, a character study of its complex main protagonist and a commentary on various aspects of public and media behaviour that also have the potential to affect the course of the events that they're watching.
On a hot summer afternoon in New York City, gang leader Sonny Wortzik (Al Pacino) and his accomplices Sal (John Cazale) and Stevie (Gary Springer) enter the "First Brooklyn Bank" just before closing time with the intention of robbing the place. Almost immediately, Stevie gets cold feet and leaves and Sonny and Sal hold the bank staff at gunpoint as they put their plan into action. They realise they've made a big mistake when they discover that there's very little cash in the vault and as a consolation, steal some travellers' cheques instead. Sonny, who had previously worked in a bank, knew that to cover their tracks, they'd need to destroy the bank's register and so he burns the documents in a waste-bin behind one of the counters. When people across the street see smoke escaping through a vent, the authorities get notified and the entire area is rapidly swamped with 250 armed cops, a street full of police cars and a police helicopter patrolling overhead. Everyone in the bank quickly realises that they've been propelled into a siege situation and Sonny receives a phone call from Detective Sergeant Moretti (Charles Durning) who attempts to bring the incident to a swift and peaceful conclusion.
Sonny starts to feel pressured by being responsible for his nine hostages and trying to devise a way to escape his predicament without any assistance from Sal who's not-too-bright at the best of times. Sonny readily releases the bank's asthmatic security guard when Moretti asks for a hostage to be released as a sign of good faith and tries to be attentive to the needs of his other hostages. Events escalate further when a large crowd gathers outside and the whole proceedings start to be transmitted live on TV. The crowd become sympathetic to Sonny and cheer when he comes out to negotiate with Moretti and he also becomes a media star after being interviewed on TV.
As the siege continues, it's revealed that Sonny is unemployed, divorced from the woman he married and attempted the bank robbery to pay for the gender-reassignment surgery that his current "wife" Leon (Chris Sarandon) is planning to undergo. He also promises that more hostages will be released if a plane can be provided to take him and Sal out of the country. The police agree to this demand but the tone of the negotiations changes markedly when Moretti stands aside for the FBI to take the lead in what follows.
As a study of human behaviour, this movie anticipates the popularity of reality TV shows, illustrates to how people respond to anyone (even a loser) who can work a crowd and illustrates how fickle public support can be by some of the chants that are directed at Sonny after it becomes known that he's bisexual.
This low budget "truth is stranger than fiction" tale is graced by consistently good performances from its entire cast and understandably became a huge box office success because of its offbeat story, its relatable characters and the sheer intensity that Al Pacino brought to his memorable portrayal of a basically decent guy who makes some very stupid decisions. The whole production is also brilliantly directed in a way that's unobtrusive and skilfully changes the atmosphere whenever the need arises.
The Mob (1951)
Gritty, Fast-Moving & Well-Written
Based on Ferguson Findley's novel "Waterfront", this crime thriller about an undercover police investigation is gritty, fast-moving and well-written with some wonderfully sharp dialogue and a well constructed plot that features interesting characters and plenty of surprises. It also doesn't pull any punches in the way that it depicts the hard and often violent conditions experienced by the longshoremen who have to work on a city's waterfront where corruption and rackets are rife.
Off-duty Detective Sergeant Johnny Damico (Broderick Crawford) is walking home one rainy night when he witnesses a shooting by a man who produces a police badge and identifies himself as a Lieutenant from another precinct before rushing off to call for assistance. Damico initially tries to help the victim but when the shooter doesn't return, becomes suspicious and telephones his own precinct to report the incident. Damico gets reprimanded for being taken in by the killer and threatened with the loss of his pension. His senior officer, Lieutenant Banks (Otto Hulett) explains that the murder victim was due to testify before a grand jury investigating crime on the waterfront and the shooter is believed to be the man in charge of the waterfronts rackets.
Damico is offered the chance to redeem himself by going undercover as a dock worker so that he can investigate how the rackets work and identify the top man. The tough cop readily accepts the offer and an article that's placed in a local newspaper to announce that he's been suspended from duty is accompanied by a photograph of someone else. He's also given a new identity as Tim Flynn, a New Orleans petty criminal who's looking for work on the docks. Damico rents a room at "The Royal" hotel on the waterfront and soon befriends a longshoreman named Tom Clancy (Richard Kiley) and the hotel bartender, Smoothie (Matt Crowley).
Damico witnesses rackets such as workers being compelled to donate to a phony collection for an allegedly-injured co-worker in order to be given two days work and having gained the impression that someone called Castro is influential on the waterfront, uses his boss' name to get work and is given a job driving a forklift. Culio (Frank DeKova), the driver that he replaces, gets very resentful and soon after Damico (aka Flynn) comes in for some unwelcome attention from the seemingly crooked Joe Castro (Ernest Borgnine) and his henchman Gunner (Neville Brand). Things soon get worse however, after he gets framed for Culio's murder and brutalised by a corrupt police detective before eventually discovering the real identity of the waterfront's crime boss.
"The Mob" is intriguing because so many things in it are not as they seem and that old film noir motif, "characters with unreliable identities" is exploited to the full. Broderick Crawford, who is equally convincing as Damico and Flynn, is a perfect choice for his dual role and this is vital to the success of the film because he's so central to everything that happens Considering its status as a minor film noir, most people will probably find it far more entertaining than they expect it to be.
Midnight Run (1988)
Outrageously Entertaining & Lots Of Fun
Action-packed comedy thrillers that featured mismatched buddies were at the height of their popularity in the 1980s and "Midnight Run" (1988) is a marvellous example of just how entertaining such movies can be. With its tremendous pace, edgy characters and exceptionally well-written screenplay, the action and laughs are delivered at breathtaking speed but never at the expense of character development or logic. Its story about a couple of adversaries who, despite their natural inclinations become good friends, is fascinating to watch, peppered with sharp dialogue and often laugh-out-loud funny. What's also skilful, however, is the ways in which the backgrounds and beliefs of the two men are gradually revealed without ever impeding the speedy progress of the adventure that they go through together.
Bounty hunter Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro) is an embittered ex-cop who thinks he's hit pay dirt when bail bondsman Eddie Moscone (Joe Pantoliano) offers him a fee of $100,000 to bring a bail jumper back to L.A. within five days. The criminal concerned is an accountant called Jonathan "The Duke" Mardukas (Charles Grodin) who embezzled $15 million from Chicago mobster Jimmy Serrano (Dennis Farina) and Jack is told that the job will be a "midnight run" (i.e. extremely easy to do). Initially, Jack's mission goes smoothly when he finds "The Duke" in New York City and "arrests" him using the ID he'd earlier stolen from FBI Agent Alonzo Mosely (Yaphet Kotto) who had tried to warn him off the job. His first problem then arises when the two men get thrown off their plane to L.A. after "The Duke" claims that he's afraid of flying and fakes a panic attack. This means that they have to continue their trip across the country using a variety of different forms of transport with all the inconvenience and delays that such action inevitably involves.
Bail had been set at $450,000 for "The Duke" and Eddie Moscone, knowing that a loss of this magnitude would put him out of business, is desperate to ensure that his man is returned to L.A. on time. When he learns that Jack and "The Duke" have missed their plane out of New York, he tries to cover himself by hiring a second bounty hunter called Marvin Dorfler (John Ashton). Every telephone call that Eddie receives is tapped by the FBI men who are sitting in a van across the street from his office and his slimy office assistant Jerry Geisler (Jack Kehoe) also routinely informs Serrano's people about every development that takes place. As the FBI want to apprehend "The Duke" to get him to testify against Serrano and the mobster wants to eliminate the man who stole his money, Jack and his prisoner soon find that their cross-country trip becomes very dangerous as they're constantly being chased by the FBI, Serrano's gang and Marvin Dorfler.
Despite getting caught up in in a series of life-threatening situations such as a major shoot-out at a bus terminal in Chicago and a dangerous car chase in Arizona, Jack and "The Duke" gradually get to like and respect each other and know that, in other circumstances, they could have become the best of friends.
As Jack Walsh, Robert De Niro shows the toughness and single-mindedness of a no-nonsense bounty hunter and the bitterness of an honest cop who found himself out of step with his colleagues in the corrupt Chicago Police Department when he refused to be bought off by Serrano and was left with no option other than to hand in his badge. The loss of his job led to the breakdown of his marriage and separation from the daughter he loves but despite the emotional legacy of all that, he still retains enough humanity and decency to feel uncomfortable about taking his captive back to a situation that'll culminate in his certain death.
Charles Grodin is mild-mannered, cool and very logical as the accountant who, when he discovered he was working for the mob, gave most of the money he'd embezzled to charity and in the process made himself a target for assassination by people whose reach doesn't end at the prison gates. He's a constant irritant to his captor, initially because of his nagging about diet, smoking etc. and his professional advice against Jack's ambition to become a restaurateur. Remarkably though, his compelling arguments and natural charm win Jack over.
"Midnight Run" is an excellent movie in which everything works brilliantly because it's so well written, directed and acted with action and comedy that makes it outrageously entertaining and lots of fun.
Friendship, Debts & Loyalty
This fascinating insight into addiction illustrates how a couple of compulsive gamblers suffer in different ways because of their shared obsession with playing high-stakes poker. The sheer excitement and danger that they derive from this endeavour is something that they can't replicate in any other part of their lives and so it becomes the most important thing that they live for and everything and everyone else that they care about, ultimately, has to take a back seat.
As part of his plan to become a world champion, brilliant poker player and law student Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) had attempted to build up enough money to play in the World Series in Las Vegas by playing against Russian mobster and underground club owner, Teddy KGB (John Malkovich). However, after losing everything he had (which amounted to $30,000), he took on a job as a truck driver and promised his live-in girlfriend Jo (Gretchen Mol) that he'd give up gambling for good and concentrate on his law studies.
When his old gambling partner and best friend, Lester "Worm" Murphy (Edward Norton) gets released from prison, Mike goes to meet him and almost immediately gets back into the gambling scene. This action costs him his relationship with Jo and leads to him having to give up his law studies. Mike feels tremendously indebted to Worm because his refusal to rat on his friend when he was imprisoned saved Mike from having to serve time. Knowing that Worm ran up some debts before his incarceration, Mike arranges for him to use $2,000 of his credit at "The Chesterfield Club" to help him win some money to make his repayments. After winning $8,000, Worm takes the money but also doesn't pay back the $2,000 credit that Mike had extended him. Later that night, at a strip club, Worm is approached by a repulsive thug called Grama (Michael Rispoli) who explains that he's bought out all of Worm's pre-prison debts amounting to $25,000 and now wants his money back. After trying to stall Grama, Worm gets badly beaten up, relieved of his $10,000 and given five days to pay off the remaining $15,000.
Although they're both victims of the same addiction, Mike and Worm have very different attitudes to playing poker. Mike, who's adept at reading faces and identifying tells, knows that it's not a game of luck and genuinely tries to win by being more skilful than his opponents. Worm, on the other hand, is an inveterate cheat who hustles at every opportunity and takes a philosophical attitude to the regular beatings that he suffers as a consequence. When the two friends work together to try to win back enough cash to pay off Grama within the set time limit, their efforts are undermined by Worm's reckless behaviour and Mike is left with only one option to set things straight and this, ironically, brings him back into a high-stakes game which he can't afford to lose, against Teddy KGB.
Featuring a group of well drawn characters and set in an interesting subculture, this tale of friendship, debts and loyalty is gripping right from the start. Its jazzy score and wonderful cinematography make it very atmospheric and its slang terms e.g. "three stacks of high society" ($30,000) and "juice" (interest payable on a loan), add colour and authenticity to the action. Impressively, it's also full of strong performances.
As a basically decent guy who loses a lot because of his addiction, Matt Damon is very believable and Edward Norton is both funny and irritating as the totally untrustworthy Worm who consistently puts himself and Mike into deeper and deeper trouble. John Turturro as Joey Knish provides the movie's best supporting performance as a cautious gambler who tries to help Mike to make better decisions and there are also notable contributions from Martin Landau and the ultra-eccentric John Malkovich.
The Red House (1947)
The Dark Secrets of Ox Head Wood
The uneasy atmosphere that prevails throughout this creepy psychological thriller provides an early indication that although it's set in a peaceful rural environment and features seemingly conventional characters, "The Red House" is actually a story about dark secrets, complicated relationships and the kind of mental instability that's caused by years of living with extreme fear and overwhelming feelings of guilt. Director/Screenwriter Delmer Daves, who adapted George Agnew Chamberlain's novel for the screen, does a superb job of establishing the sombre mood and on-going sense of danger that make this movie both suspenseful and very compelling to watch.
Teenage schoolgirl Meg (Allene Roberts) who was adopted as a 2-year-old by reclusive farmer Pete Morgan (Edward G Robinson) and his sister Ellen (Judith Anderson), recognises that age and disability are making it increasingly difficult for Pete to run the farm on his own and persuades him to hire her High School friend Nath Storm (Lon McCallister) to help out with some of the evening chores. When Nath completes his jobs and decides to go home through the neighbouring wood, Pete becomes angry and warns him against the idea saying that the woods are filled with mysterious screams at night and even contain a haunted house. The strong-willed Nath takes no notice but after entering the woods soon becomes freaked out and returns to the farm. On a later occasion, he again attempts to go home through the woods but again returns to the farm after having been struck over the head by a heavy object.
The mysteries of Ox Head Wood become a source of fascination for Nath and Meg who together with Nath's girlfriend Tibby Rinton (Julie London) start to spend their Sundays exploring the area. This leads to numerous problems as Meg falls for Nath and she and Tibby both become jealous of each other. Pete, who had always doted on Meg becomes more uncomfortable with her obvious interest in Nath and even threatens her with a beating if she re-enters the wood and the whole situation quickly makes it untenable for Nath to carry on working at the farm. Furthermore, no-one else is aware that Pete has hired a young woodman called Teller (Rory Calhoun) to keep all trespassers out of the woods. He's a tough, handsome but not very bright young guy who, as well as adding to the romantic complications by getting involved with Tibby, displays poor judgement when using his gun and unintentionally causes injuries to both Ellen and Meg.
Despite all the problems they encounter, Nath and Meg's determination to uncover the secrets of Ox Head Wood and the haunted red house remain strong and eventually lead to Meg discovering the truth about her parents and the circumstances under which she was adopted by Pete and Ellen.
In a particularly memorable performance, Edward G Robinson skilfully captures the various facets of Pete Morgan's character and makes the numerous transitions he goes through seem entirely credible. Whether he's the kindly father-figure, the angry man who threatens anyone who doesn't obey his orders or the tormented, guilt-ridden and fearful guy who becomes mentally unstable, Robinson is never less than convincing.
Judith Anderson is a strong presence throughout as Pete's devoted sister who gave up her own chances of happiness in order to support and protect her brother and Allene Roberts, Julie London and Rory Calhoun stand out amongst the very talented supporting cast.
"The Red House" has an intriguing plot, boasts some great acting performances and is notable for its eerie atmosphere which is greatly enhanced by Miklos Rozsa's fine score and Bert Glennon's top class cinematography.