Movies Watched in February 2015 Part II

Part II features more film noir, two Oscar-winning films from this year, a nominee from a few years ago, and more. Enjoy!


Private Hell 36 (1954) Don Siegel
Amazon Instant Video

Previously discussed here



Birdman (2014) Alejandro González Iñárritu
Fox Searchlight
Amazon Instant Video (rental)

I can’t say that Birdman deserved to win Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, since I’ve only seen two of the other nominated films, but I can say that the film worked for me, especially as an examination of how we all long to be remembered for something beyond the work we did 20 or more years ago. The film speaks to a fundamental human need and a seeking for something   we haven’t yet achieved. That may be something as simple as basic recognition for a job well done or something more substantial, like affirmation of a career or an entire life.

You don’t have to look very far to see a plethora of debates about why Birdman should or shouldn’t have won. (One critic called its Oscar win the biggest Best Picture tragedy in 20 years. Dude, c’mon… a tragedy? Really?) I’m more interested in the elements and construction of the film, in particular the cinematography, which has received much attention. (Just Google “Birdman cinematography” and you’ll likely find some fascinating stuff. Of course, you’ll find some junk as well.) I probably won’t buy Birdman, but I definitely plan to watch it again.



Raw Deal (1948) Anthony Mann
Reliance Pictures
Amazon Instant Video

Previously discussed here



Pitfall (1948) André De Toth
Amazon Instant Video

John Forbes (Dick Powell) has a good job with an insurance company, a loving wife (Jane Wyatt) and a young son. Even though he’s not quite there in years, Forbes is experiencing a mid-life crisis, longing for adventure, excitement, something a bit dangerous. He finds all of that in the form of Mona Stevens (Lizabeth Scott), whom he’s investigating; apparently Mona’s boss embezzled some expensive merchandise which was given to her as gifts.

Ah, but Forbes isn’t the only one stricken with Mona; MacDonald (Raymond Burr) – a private detective who works for the same insurance company as Forbes – has also fallen under Mona’s spell, but in a much different (and deadlier) way.

Pitfall contains some wonderful performances and De Toth creates a dark nightmare element that still resonates today. One of the underlying themes of the film is that of men returning from WWII becoming discontented with normal, routine lives. A more prominent theme is that of marital infidelity, which is examined with a frankness I wasn’t expecting from a 1948 film. Pitfall is a film I would love to see given the Blu-ray treatment soon.



Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) Alfonso Cuarón
DVD (borrowed from my friend SK)

My wife and I continue to enjoy the Harry Potter films. This may be my favorite of the first three movies. Although Michael Gambon does a fine job as Dumbledore, I certainly miss Richard Harris.



Crime in the Streets (1956) Don Siegel
Film Noir Classic Collection Vol. 5 DVD

Although Crime in the Streets is included in the Warner Home Video release Film Noir Classic Collection: Volume Five, it’s really not a film noir, but rather a movie about juvenile delinquency.

James Whitmore plays Ben Wagner, a New York City social worker who tries to reach members of a local street gang led by a boy named Frankie (John Cassavetes, in his first important film role). Frankie’s a bundle of TNT ready to explode after a neighborhood man named McAllister insults him in public. Most of the film chronicles Wagner’s efforts to keep Frankie from murdering McAllister. Although directed by one of my favorite directors, Don Siegel, I found the film somewhat pedantic and dated. Still, Siegel gets good performances from the cast, especially Virginia Gregg as Frankie’s mother. Also notable is a very young Sal Mineo as the “baby” of the gang.

John Cassavetes, of course, went on to become one of America’s greatest (and too little-discussed) directors, dying far too young at the age of 59 in 1989.



Whiplash (2014) Damien Chazelle
Amazon Instant Video (rental)  

I have been thinking about this film ever since I saw it over a week ago. I hope to post my thoughts here soon, but I imagine I’ll need to view it again before doing so. Having been both a music student and a music teacher, I can relate to this movie in so many ways. Again, more on this one later. If you haven’t seen it, do so. The Oscar-winning performance of J.K. Simmons is just one of many reasons to see it.



The Narrow Margin (1952) Richard Fleischer
Warner Archive DVD

If you’re a film noir lover and want to convert others, The Narrow Margin may just be the best movie to give them. It contains several noir components, but is also a fine thriller in its own right. LAPD Detective Walter Brown (Charles McGraw) and his partner are assigned to travel to Chicago to escort a mob boss’s widow (Marie Windsor) to appear before a Los Angeles grand jury. Only some people in the criminal underworld aren’t very excited about that prospect. Early in the film (so this isn’t really a spoiler), Brown’s partner is killed, leaving Brown as the widow’s only means of protection. But once he gets her safely on the train, the trouble’s just beginning…

The Narrow Margin is not only a fine noir thriller, but one of the best train films of all time. Marie Windsor, a frequent noir actress, is always worth watching and is wickedly good in this one. Highly recommended.



My Week with Marilyn (2011) Simon Curtis
Anchor Bay Blu-ray

I’d like to thank Leonard Maltin and Baron Vaughn for recommending this film on their podcast Maltin on Movies. Although it was nominated for two Oscars (Michelle Williams for Best Actress, Kenneth Branagh for Best Supporting Actor, neither winning), My Week with Marilyn should’ve been nominated for more. It features fine performances by Judi Dench, Emma Watson, Julia Ormond, Dougray Scott, and more, but the performance of Eddie Redmayne (this year’s Best Actor winner for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything) could certainly have earned a nomination. The set design, costumes, cinematography, and music are all top-notch.

Based on a memoir by filmmaker Colin Clark, My Week with Marilyn is far more than a Marilyn Monroe biopic. In fact, the film is more about one small  segment of her life and how she affected those around her (for good or ill). Although in 2015 we’re inundated with news on celebrities, this film shows us a time when it was so easy to become attracted to and infatuated with movie stars, all the more so when they’re mere inches away from you. If you’re just looking for a good, entertaining movie, you can’t go wrong with this one.


(Photos: More Noir , Collider, iPhotoscrap, Mystery File, Wikipedia, Film PostersWanted in RomeMovie Poster ExchangeMovie Poster Artwork Finder)

5 thoughts on “Movies Watched in February 2015 Part II

  1. Pingback: Noir City DC 2016 – Part V: The Narrow Margin (1952) Richard Fleischer | Journeys in Darkness and Light

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