We’re halfway through March but this post just scratches the surface. Much more to come!
Eddie Muller: The Czar of Noir Steps from the Shadows (NF 2010) John Stanley
Creatures at Large/Star66 Productions/Film Noir Foundation (0:58)
Previously discussed here
L’inhumaine (1924) Marcel L’Herbier
Flicker Alley Blu-ray (2:02)
Previously discussed here
The Keep (1983) Michael Mann
Amazon streaming (1:36)
Based on the 1981 F. Paul Wilson novel of the same name (which I really enjoyed) comes the film version from 1983 (which I really didn’t enjoy much). I’ve wanted to see the film for years and now… I have. Sort of. Apparently Michael Mann assembled a 3+ hour version of the film that probably works better than the 96-minute version currently streaming on Amazon, which is a structural mess.
The story concerns a group of Nazi soldiers who have occupied a keep in the Carpathian Mountains in Romania in 1941. Mysteriously, Nazi soldiers turn up dead each morning and the Nazi leadership believes the locals are responsible. But, as we know, there’s something supernatural going on.
The Keep contains some great talent, including Jürgen Prochnow, Ian McKellen, Scott Glenn and Gabriel Byrne, and some good individual scenes, but so much of the film doesn’t work. I think the main problem is the editing, which probably leaves out much of the information we need to understand what’s going on. Some of the scenes and dialogue are laughably bad and although the soundtrack by Tangerine Dream worked wonderfully in Mann’s Thief (1981), here it does not.
From what I’ve heard, Mann is blocking the release of the film on DVD and Blu-ray and I believe there could also be some music rights issues. So if you want to see The Keep (in its shortened version), catch it on Amazon streaming before it goes away. Better yet, stick to the F. Paul Wilson novel.
Yet you will find people who love the film. Shock Till You Drop has an interesting defense of the film here.
Double Indemnity (1944) Billy Wilder (3 and 4x)
Universal Blu-ray (1:50)
Previously discussed here as part of our Great Movies series at the Severna Park Library
The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001) 2x Joel Coen (Ethan Coen, uncredited)
Universal Blu-ray (1:56)
The Man Who Wasn’t There is not the Coen’s best film, but it’s probably in my Top 3 from their entire output. I think most people weren’t too jazzed about a black-and-white film noir with Billy Bob Thornton playing a chain-smoking barber in the sleepy town of Santa Rosa, California in 1949. It’s a place barber Ed Crane (Thornton) looks and acts like he just doesn’t belong in and that, in a nutshell, is the whole point of the film. If you want to call that a spoiler, it really isn’t much of one, but then again, maybe it is. The film’s last line is not only one of my all-time favorites, it also explains everything.
The Man Who Wasn’t There also stars Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins, Scarlett Johansson, Tony Shalhoub, Coen mainstay Jon Polito, and James Gandolfini. Not a bad line-up. And did I mention the Roger Deakins cinematography? And from the “I’ll Bet You Didn’t Know” department: for this film, Joel Coen shared the 2001 Best Director Award at the Cannes Film Festival with David Lynch for Mulholland Drive. Let that sink in for a minute.
Sexy Beast (2001) Jonathan Glazer
Fox Searchlight DVD (1:28)
Gary “Gal” Dove (Ray Winstone) has had a good run as a safe-cracker, so good that he and his wife DeeDee (Amanda Redman) can afford to retire from London bank jobs and relax at their Spanish villa. All is well until an old associate named Don Logan (Ben Kingsley) demands that Gal pull one more heist for London crime boss Teddy Bass (Ian McShane). If you’re a fan of classic film noir, you’ll recognize this as the basic set-up for Out of the Past (1947), but the similarities pretty much end there. Kingsley proves that he can take on any role and crazily intense Don Logan is one of his finest performances. An enormously effective neo noir – I’m sorry that it took me 15 years to finally see it.
Champagne for Caesar (1950) Richard Whorf
Image Entertainment DVD (1:39)
Ronald Colman (above right) plays Beauregard Bottomley (no lie!), a voracious reader who decides to go on a game show called Masquerade for Money, which allows contestants to answer questions and double their money if they keep answering the questions correctly. (The starting money for the initial question is $5.) Bottomley keeps answering questions correctly each week and the show’s sponsor, the Milady Soap Company, fears Bottomley will never miss a question, thus bankrupting the company. The owner of the company, Burnbridge Waters (Vincent Price) is desperate to stop Bottomley and seeks to do so by… Well, it wouldn’t be fair for me to tell you.
Champagne for Caesar is charming, often funny, but sometimes a little too silly and about 10 minutes too long, but certainly engaging with good (but light) work from Colman, Price, and Celeste Holm.
I Confess (1953) Alfred Hitchcock
Warner DVD (1:31)
Alfred Hitchcock’s I Confess is normally dismissed as a slip by the master, a slight entry in his oeuvre, or an experiment that didn’t work, all of which are probably reasons why I’d never seen it before now. None of those statements are accurate. I Confess is unjustly relegated to the dustheap by many fans, and while I don’t think it belongs in any discussion of Hitchcock’s masterpieces, it’s very good.
Montgomery Clift (above) plays Father Michael Logan, a Catholic priest in Quebec City. Logan’s caretaker and housekeeper Otto Keller (O.E. Hasse) makes a confession to Father Logan, but not a typical confession: it’s a confession of murder and Keller knows that priests must keep confessions in strict confidence, meaning that Logan can’t tell the police. But the Father has another secret – a personal one – that he also can’t reveal.
I want to revisit I Confess later this year, hopefully after picking up the new Warner Archive Blu-ray, but I think the reason many people dismiss the film is that in many ways it doesn’t look or act like other Hitchcock films. I believe this to be – apart from Vertigo – Hitchcock’s most personal film, something of a departure and something he really never returned to again. It is a film you should not miss.
More next time.