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The Scarlet Hour (1956)
Noir by the numbers
Desperate housewife wants to run off with her lover, and to get the much-needed cash they rip off a couple of jewel thieves. The jealous husband gets wise to their scheme and tries to beat his wife into submission. In the scuffle his gun goes off, killing the wife-beater. Welcome to Noir Country. This movie starts off promisingly enough, but ultimately disappoints. The main problem are the two leads, who just aren't engaging enough to root for. Especially Tom Tryon as the hapless lover is just not up to it, being weak-willed and spineless from the get-go. Me, i would not organize a kids party with this drip, let alone a jewelry heist. Carol Ohmart is a shade better, but again fails to engage much sympathy. In fact the best performances are by Elaine Stritch and Scott Marlowe as the fun-loving friends of the estranged couple. David Lewis is also suitably menacing as the brains behind the robbery gone wrong. A lot of possible suspense is also prevented by the fact that, as in most 50's thrillers, the police is always just one step behind the culprits. So it's just a matter of time before everybody gets their rightful punishment. ( Phew, that's a relief!) If you're a noir addict like me you might give this one a once-over, but probably once will be more than enough.
The Satan Bug (1965)
Bug gets bogged down
So many ingredients for an exciting movie, but most of them get wasted in this one. An extremist pacifist ( apparently that is possible) gets hold of a virus that could kill all mankind. OK, that's one way to attain world peace, i guess. But why would the US government develop a virus that will kill all life on earth, including life in the US of A? In exchange for the virus the rabid peacenik wants the government to close down the research lab that made the virus, or people will get killed in great quantities. (I thought he was a pacifist?) Instead of giving in to this demand, which can so easily be subverted ( just build it somewhere else) government agents start to track down the culprit. The hero of this movie is supposed to be special agent Lee Barrett, but instead of building up his character we get a lot of crosstalk between other officials, none of which helps the plot along. Worse than that, the actor playing Barrett has the stiff-jawed charisma of a showroom dummy, and gets paired up with a female sidekick that has literally nothing of any importance to say or do. Add to that the flat camera-work, the lazy acting of most of the crew and numerous plot twists that make no sense and you're left with a frustrating and confusing would- be thriller. To give an example: two villains start to shoot at Out Hero holding the deadly virus in a flask, just to show they mean business. Yeah, wise move. In another scene two guys pretend to arrest the villain, only they turn out to be his accomplices. Huh? And why does the helicopter pilot get so enraged with the hero that he starts fighting with him in mid-flight, leaving the helicopter to the forces of gravity? I could go on naming such absurdities, but i won't. If you want to see them for yourself, check this movie out. Otherwise, any episode of, say Mission Impossible will make more sense and provide more thrills than this lazy effort.
Tonight or Never (1931)
In that case:never
Being a sucker for classic comedies, i really wanted to like this. But it's never a good sign when you start watching the clock instead of the movie. Isn't a comedy supposed to have jokes in it? Do we really need that much time to set up the plot? Ah yes the plot: opera diva can only become truly great after she has found Love. So thinking a night with a handsome gigolo will do the trick and get her booked at the Met, she gives in to her passions. And by golly it works! But then guilt creeps in... I'l stop here so as not to spoil the plot for those who are not discouraged by my review. (It's your own time to waste) Being mercifully short at 82 minutes, it really felt like it lasted quite a bit longer. It has period charm, Swanson and Douglas make a nice enough couple, but the material is too slight to make this into an enjoyable movie.
The Frogmen (1951)
Tepid WWII drama that never catches fire and tries to impress with overlong action sequences. Well, i say action: if you think that endless scenes of frogmen diving off a boat is thrilling, this is the movie for you. They probably thought that getting the technical details right would make up for the lack of drama. As if we care that the details are factually accurate, i guess. What is the Big Drama here? Well, the diver boys don't really like their new C.O. cause his P.R.-skills are sub-par. Oh, and their former commander was like a cross between Flash Gordon and John Wayne. And would you believe that their new boss, played with unconcealed indifference by Richard Widmark, actually gets miffed when they pull a prank that gets one of them shot and jeopardizes the mission? What a spoilsport! No fun, that guy, so they collectively ask for transfer. (In the middle of a war?) These guys sure have their priorities mixed up. It might have made more sense to have had Dana Andrews and Richard Widmark switch roles. Why use a volatile actor like Widmark and a laconic performer like Andrews and not let them play to their strengths? To see Widmark do one of his famous tantrums would have made it worth watching, now it's just a waste of time and talent.
The Medusa Touch (1978)
Touch of evil
The premise seems promising enough for an enjoyable thriller. Man is capable of causing disasters purely by psychic means. Think Uri Geller, but instead of bending spoons he brings down airplanes. OK, where do we go with this? Well, the director never really solves that problem. We get to see how from a young age the man finished off anybody who got under his skin, even his nagging parents. ( BTW in a particularly clumsily directed scene. We even get to see the dummies drop down the cliff.) However, at first nobody believes in his evil powers. And that's really all the movie consists of. Most of the screen time is taken up by the authorities s-l-o-w-l-y becoming convinced that he really is evil. By which time it's too late to stop him. It's just not nearly enough to make for a scary movie, certainly not for viewers over-saturated by apocalyptic action scenes. There's no drive, no central dilemma to resolve, things just meander along to their violent climax, which comes off as a major anti-climax. As Hitchcock pointed out, you can show the bomb ticking away, but you musn't make it go off. Aside from that, Ventura and Burton, both brilliant actors, never go head to head, because Burton spends most of the movie bandaged up in a hospital bed. How's that for suspense? So many ingredients for a good thriller, but what's served up is a bland dish.
Posture Pals (1952)
Posture, kids, posture!
Creepy slice of 50's conformity forced on innocent school kids. Well...innocent? One girl looks like a young Baby Jane, and the boys look like they would beat you up for your school money, or simply for slouching. Wanna have a life worth living? Then keep you back straight! That about sums up the cheerful message of this unintentionally hilarious short. But hey, look at school kids nowadays. Don't you just hate that sloppy look and who cares-posture? Well, that's what you get for not taking shorts like this seriously. We were warned, but we simply didn't listen. More fool us. BTW all the boys who took part in this picture later became important men of science, politics and industry. The girls became bored housewives with a drinking problem, but great posture.
Time Table (1956)
Nifty little noir
It's remarkable how many actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood began or ended their careers making crime pictures ( or horror movies). Mark Stevens is a case in point. He began promisingly enough with the stylish noir The Dark Corner in 1946 and basically ended it with Timetable ten years later. Was he a classic Marlowesque private eye in the first one, in Timetable the rigors of maintaining a Hollywood career have visibly and morally taken their toll. Directed by Stevens himself, all the glamour of the classic noir is drained from both the look of the film as from the protagonists. Stevens has the look of a man who has seen too much and has basically given up hope that his life will change for the better. Even his last desperate attempt to turn his life around seems doomed from the start. Which is not helped by the strict moral code of the day that is constantly underlined, namely that Crime Doesn't Pay. The plot is a little convoluted, but then that's not what we watch these movies for. Stylistically it has little going for it,and small effort was made to avoid a stage-bound look. But the performances are adequate enough and especially Stevens is totally convincing as the world-weary protagonist. For noir fans this one is certainly worth a look.
The Hunter (1980)
They called him The Hunter
If this wasn't Steve McQueen's last movie it would have been forgotten by now. Not that it's all that bad; if you think McQueen was the coolest actor that ever walked the earth you might even like it. Those that disagree probably regard it as a one man movie and colossal ego-trip. This is McQueen's movie from start to end credits. None of his co-actors gets anything worthwhile to do or say, more than emphasize what a swell guy Ralph "Papa" Thorson is. He even goes to maternity classes with his wife; now that's true love. The movie has no central plot, just a series of car chases and gunfights. Oh and something about a nut case out to kill Papa is supposed to create some suspense. Not really, since you know he's no match for Our Hero. ( Who for some inexplicable reason is unable to properly park a car one moment, and the next performs the most amazing steering stunts. Which is real cute cause you see, McQueen was a famously great driver and so it's real funny to see him struggling to park his car without bumping into other vehicles.)
Do i hate this movie? No i actually quite like it, because McQueen can do little wrong for me, even in a mediocre movie. But it would have been more satisfying to have been able to say he ended on a high note.
The Damned Don't Cry (1950)
This is a Crawford star vehicle from start to finish; the only scene she isn't in is the short opening. After five minutes sans Crawford she from then on dominates every scene, every shot, every dialogue. Which gets a bit grating if you don't think she's the most riveting performer in cinema history. At least her great rival Bette Davis had the nerve to act opposite other great actors. Joan's co-actors here are all nonentities, bland scene fillers who get out of her way to let her emote and flutter those famous eyelashes. And suffer. Oh how she suffers! From her poor beginnings as a drudge slaving in the kitchen, seeing her only son dying under a speeding lorry; this poor woman is spared nothing. Fortunately she has her stunning (well.....) looks to help her get ahead ( men are constantly raving about her throughout the movie; it was probably in her contract). The men she meets are either pathetic weaklings or violent misogynists. Saintly Joan endures and suffers, and her public loved her for it. Personally the Crawford Cult is a complete mystery to me, and this movie a total, hammed-up ego trip. Girl Power? Star Power, more like.
The Good, The Bad and the Wary
Great cast, good story, famous director....boy, this is gonna be one fine movie. You'd think. And you'd be....well, disappointed. What exactly went wrong here? For one thing, both direction and camera-work are average at best. Every scene is shot head on, without any crosscutting or editing to focus the action and increase tension. Any studio hack could have made this. The actors also have no highs or lows in their portrayal of their characters. Widmark is especially low-key, and for half the movie he's just there, and doesn't really pick up the pace for the other half. Fonda and Quinn don't create much fireworks either. Malone is the only one in continual overdrive, but to no avail. These guys will not be riled. This movie just simmers along and ultimately fizzles out. Thank the saints for the Italians for reviving the comatose genre in the Sixties.
Maigret tend un piège (1958)
Maigret fume une pipe
Watching this movie you understand why young French filmmakers of that time were desperate to develop a new movie language. It's a prime example of what they derisively called "Cinema du Papa", as in stuffy and dated. Indeed this movie might as well have been made in 1938 instead of 1958. It's set-bound, slow-moving and talky, with stock characters and predictable plot twists. The atmosphere it evokes is hardly that of a bustling metropolis, more a provincial backwater with outdated attitudes towards women and artists. It seems to aim at an audience who weren't at all interested in jazz or existentialism, and who still saw Picasso as a third-rate con artist. Women should take care of their husbands, like Mrs. Maigret, ready to supply him with his pipe and slippers and serve his soup. And real men should choose manly professions, like butcher, or they can turn out pathetic mummy's boys. Or worse.....Less critical viewers may enjoy this as a pleasant policier from a bygone age with a competent performance by the legendary Jean Gabin. Me for one am glad the New Wave of French filmmakers was already waiting in the wings to clear out the cobwebs.
The MacKintosh Man (1973)
Much ado about nothing
It's hard to believe that so much combined talent results in such a poor movie. Did the John Huston of Maltese Falcon and Sierra Madre really direct this turkey? And the magnificent Paul Newman consented to act (well, barely) in this snooze fest? It starts to make more sense when you know Huston and cast made this purely for contractual reasons. And boy, does it show.....Nobody's even faintly trying to create any suspense. Everybody involved seems to be sleepwalking through the thin plot until the predictable ending. There is absolutely nothing that stands out about this film. It's not even bad enough to be interesting, just dull beyond belief. Only recommended to cure insomniacs.
The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947)
Painting by numbers
Wow, Bogart and Stanwyck, two of noir's biggest icons in the same movie! This can't fail to thrill....You'd think. Think again.Hard to believe anybody thought this overcooked potboiler was a good vehicle for two of Hollywood's biggest stars. No wonder they kept it on the shelf for two years. None of the story makes much sense, and you keep waiting for a surprising twist, but it never comes. Sort of Bluebeard meets Dorian Gray, with some Gaslight touches thrown in. If only they'd given it the full Gothic treatment it sort of might have worked. As a suburban murder drama it doesn't cut the mustard. Predictable from start to the ludicrous finish, in which Bogart goes way over the top. And Stanwyck as a whimpering housewife? Dear oh dear.Avoid;There are better ways to waste your time.
Clash by Night (1952)
Strife by day
Although available in Warner Bros Film Noir Classics collection this is not a noir movie by any stretch of that term. Both Stanwyck and Ryan have appeared in noirs and Fritz Lang has made some classics of the genre, but this is solid melodrama. For me there were several reasons for liking and disliking this movie: Pro: Stanwyck and Ryan are outstanding as usual, Marilyn Monroe pleasant and performing well enough, the dialogs are frequently sharp and revealing and Lang's directing make it almost feel noirish. Contra: Paul Douglas' performance is way, way over the top and his character too good for this wicked world. The other supporting actors would also be more at home in a Frank Capra feel-good story. Also you constantly wait for the movie to catch fire, but it just sizzles along to a disappointing ending. Conclusion: worthwhile, but don't get your expectations up too high. And please don't call it noir.
Tight Spot (1955)
I saw this movie years ago and remembered it as quite good. Boy, how memories can deceive you! Right from the kickoff i didn't buy Ginger Rogers as having ever been in a police station, never mind a prison. Her tough gal act is totally phony and hokey. Besides that, she talks, and talks and talks some more.......she never quits yapping for more than three seconds. She doesn't just chew the scenery, she devours the entire set. The other actors look on forlornly, and the cop protecting her looks as though he'd rather blast some holes in her. I can sympathize with that sentiment. And poor Edward G. Robinson is totally wasted here. I love Ginger Rogers in the right kind of movies: musicals or comedies were her forte, but this is a casting disaster and a total star ego trip. So unless you absolutely want to see every movie she's ever been in, i'd give it a miss. I wish i had.
No Way Out (1950)
Brave racial drama
If you like your noir hardboiled and action filled, this may not be the movie for you. But if you can handle a frank and at times abrasive drama about racism and it's social consequences this movie has a lot to offer. At times the good intentions of the director and cast threaten to overshadow the storyline, but there's much to praise about the performances. Especially the antagonism between Poitier and Widmark makes sparks fly,and you keep wondering how this movie ever got made in the first place. Widmark's racism is crude and offensive and would never be put on a movie screen today. When you consider this was made in 1950, it's truly amazing this movie was even considered for production.Hardly a feel-good movie, it failed miserably at the box office. The usual explanation in such cases is that the movie was ahead of it's time, and in this case that's more than true. This is not a movie for couch potatoes, you need to keep your brain switched on for this one, but if you do, you will see a rich, rewarding movie.
Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950)
Cagney does Cagney
So you liked White Heat, with psychotic mamma's boy Cody Jarret going way over the top? Well, here's one just like it, only without any pretense at psychological probing of Cagney's character. Ralph Cotter is just plain evil, that's all there is to him. Unfortunately any comparison with White Heat shows up the deficiencies of this movie. There's simply no real reason to be all that interested in any of the characters. They rob and steal, scheme and cheat, but there's no real drive to their actions. You keep wondering why you should spend any time with these nasty people; even Cagney lacks that vicious charm he usually gives to these gangster roles.If you can watch Cagney do anything you may like this movie, for me it held too little appeal.
Funeral in Berlin (1966)
The name's Palmer, Harry Palmer
At first glance you'd never guess this movie was produced by Harry Saltzmann, the co-producer of that other spy series. (James something-or-other......oh well, it'll come back to me.) This movie has no car chases, nifty gadgets, few ladies and a unrelentingly glum look. Still, i'd trade in all post-Connery-Bonds (that's the one!) for this low-key but effective Cold War thriller. Basically, Bond is for kids, Palmer for adults, who can deal with a plot that makes sense without resorting to cheap gags and exploding helicopters. Caine is pitch perfect as the cynical but loyal Palmer, who always looks after number One but still gets the job done. Do his superiors appreciate him? Do they heck! Ain't that almost like in real life?
It's hard to resist making puns about the title, but i will. Instead i will use this space to explain why this is not a Noir movie, but a tepid murder mystery. "Pray tell us, oh Wise One!" Right then, are you sitting comfortably? Then i'll begin. Noir stories are all about moral ambiguity and moral choices. People doing the wrong things knowingly but still they can't help themselves. Or they can, but don't. Does this apply to this movie? Only if the O'Brien character had turned out to have betrayed his army buddy, or the cute nurse to have been in cahoots with the killer. Instead we are supposed to be wondering who the killer is, even if it's blindingly obvious as soon as he's on screen. "Excuse me sir, but why exactly are you in this story? You seem to serve no purpose whatsoever. "Ha! How wrong can you be!" And why didn't they make O'Brien the lead? And why, when so many superior noirs are gathering dust, was this put on DVD? Now that's a crime.
Please Murder Me! (1956)
Please Murder Me She Wrote
Rather tepid noirish courtroom drama that is mainly saved from forgettability by Raymond Burr's performance. As for Angela Lansbury, well.....let's just say unfortunately she's not the victim. In truth the real victim is the viewer for having to sit through a more than usually tedious courtroom scene that d-r-a-g-s along for about a third of the movie. After that things kinda pick up, but not quite enough to save the movie. The final plot twist is a real stretch of anyone's credulity, and most movie fans will not be overly surprised. I'm sure many noir addicts will want to see this just because of Burr's presence, and hey there are far worse movies to waste your time with. But why not watch a better movie instead?
When Strangers Marry (1944)
Bargain basement noir with some nice touches, but ultimately disappointing. Director Castle simply tries to be too clever and too faux artistique for such a modest melodrama. It's obvious he'd seen movies like Stranger on the Third Floor ( a moody masterpiece) and thought he'd figured out the recipe. He guessed wrong: the plot is riddled with holes, the lighting and camera-work, essential to make noir movies really work, are shoddy and bleak. The sets look like cardboard cutouts that could collapse at any moment, and some actors fumble their lines or deliver them as if they're John Barrymore. On the plus side Mitchum is his good solid self, but he just doesn't get the chance to be as charming or menacing as he should be. Kim Hunter is engaging, but she only gets to play a lovesick newlywed for the entire movie, even when the story clearly demands a change of mood. Even when she suspects her hubby of being a serial killer, she keeps staring longingly into his eyes and even helps him escape from the police. The things we do for Love! The surprise twist at the end is just too predictable to forgiveall these faults, and the ending.....surely when they're on the rooftop together the killer will.....? Nah, just let the cops nab him posting a letter. That Castle just didn't get it; no wonder he turned to effect-heavy horror flicks. Noir addicts may want to give this one a look, but probably not more than once.
Highway 301 (1950)
This is a Public Service picture thinly disguised as a crime movie, and a very poor one too. You know you're in trouble when three, count 'em three governors get to pound the message home that Crime Does Not Pay. Except in politics, i guess.Man, those HUAC hearings must have really scared Jack Warner silly to produce such lame law and order tripe as this movie. It's clear from the get-go that these gangsters are basically two-bit crooks, cowards who hit women and on a one way trip to the death house. Movies like this are only of interest as a scary example of Fifties government propaganda. "Kids, these guys may look cool, but look how mean and stupid they are. I'm sure you'd all much rather be a stuffed shirt like the clever cops who are way smarter than those no-good goons. Now eat your greens and go do your homework!" I'm sure J. Edgar "What's the Mafia?" Hoover gave this his Seal of Approval. Forgettable and frightening Fifties fare.
The Shanghai Gesture (1941)
Empty Fortune Cookie
Josef von Sternberg ( in truth just plain Joe Sternberg, which speaks volumes about the man) was a director who went for style over substance in all of his movies. In this case it's all style and barely any substance. You're expected to be so engrossed with all the exotic characters he has assembled and the sheer decadence of an oriental gambling den to overlook the fact that there is hardly any storyline to hang on to. The only direction he seems to have given to his actors is "Look outlandish and say your lines as if they were pure poetry". Victor Mature just hangs around the casino looking handsome, as does Gene Tierney, never a great actress but in this case it's not entirely her fault. Some witty dialog could have helped, but the script is downright dull and predictable. The camera-work is indifferent and consists mostly of sweeping shots of gambling tables and people sitting at the bar. What there is of story and intrigue is packed into the last ten minutes of the movie but by that time no revelation however shocking could have turned this into even a halfway decent movie. A visit to your local Chinese takeaway is a true exotic adventure compared to this half-baked chop suey of a movie.
Marital strife? Kill your wife.
On their fifth wedding anniversary a man and wife find out their marriage is a big mistake, and he's convinced her sister is in love with him. If only he wasn't already married.....Since this is a thriller he does the logical thing and pushes his wife off a mountain cliff. But then he gets signs that she may still be alive. Is he losing his mind or is he just a sloppy killer? The whole movie hinges on the fact that the viewer must choose either option as being true. Unless there's a third option, and just about anybody who has ever seen or read a mystery story will figure out soon enough what that is. Oh yes, Sydney Greenstreet's character is a psychiatrist, now what on earth would that have to do with any of this? I wonder...... Apart from the rather obvious plot there's isn't much suspense to make this an effective thriller.Bogart's character seems more annoyed than scared by any of the strange goings-on, like finding his dead wife's jewelry in her safe. And when he finds out his wife's sister rejects him, so the whole murder was in vain he's more unpleasantly surprised than shocked. The ending can't really come as a surprise to anyone. This movie is not without merit, and Bogart and Greenstreet are worth seeing in any movie, but i had higher hopes for this.
Fabulous but flawed
This movie has been widely and justly praised as a sinister chiller but instead of heaping more praises on it i wish to throw a few rocks in the pond. First of all the movie lacks the visual flair of Dmytryk's American films like Murder My Sweet and Crossfire. Film Noir is both style and substance, and in this case the visual style is somewhat threadbare. Probably a lack of funds is to blame. A bigger problem is the lack of increasing suspense as the story unfolds. Even the American hostage displays the imperturbable stiff-upper- lip attitude the British are so famous for. He seems resigned to his fate and no murderer could have wished for a more complacent victim. Give him a few books and a dry martini and he'll be fine. OK, to have him ranting and screaming for the entire movie would have become tiresome, but a bit more emotion and mental interplay between murderer and victim would have increased this viewers involvement. Now it's more a game of wits between gentlemen. The biggest flaw however is the amazingly sloppy ending. No, not the surprise the victim prepared for his murderer; that's a splendid story twist. It's the fact that apparently Scotland Yard's investigative methods rely purely on chance and coincidence. Not the dog but a stray cat turns out to be the real savior. All i can say is, and i can't stress this enough: if you plan to murder somebody, for goodness sake,don't leave your garage door unlocked! It's a shame the ending is such a dud, but still it doesn't spoil an excellent thriller. A bit more script doctoring could have resulted in a genuine masterpiece. Still, some prefer rough diamonds over polished pearls,and this is a true gem.