Noir City DC starts today, so I thought I’d post everything that I’ve seen so far this month before the festival gets started. I hope to report on the festival as it happens, so stay tuned. Like last month, many of these entries will be very abbreviated.
River (TV 2015) Created by Abi Morgan
Previously discussed here
The Drop (2014) Michaël R. Roskam
20th Century Fox DVD – library (1:47)
Previously discussed here
Gloria (1980) John Cassavetes
The Great Movies – Severna Park Library (2:01)
Julia, my co-host for our Great Movies series at the library, picked and introduced this film, one I’d always wanted to see but never had before that night. She started by saying that if he were alive, John Cassavetes would not appreciate the fact that we were showing this film. Apparently Cassavetes wrote the screenplay, but never intended to direct it. But then Cassavetes’s wife Gena Rowlands got the lead role and asked Cassavetes to direct. I think things turned out quite well. (As a slight aside, Julia had wanted to show A Woman Under the Influence, but that film is unfortunately not part of our licensing agreement. Maybe someday…)
A family in a South Bronx apartment complex has been targeted by the mob. Before the mobsters arrive to carry out a hit on the family, Jack Dawn (Buck Henry), a mob accountant who has been talking to the FBI, pushes his son Phil (John Adames, in his only screen performance) into the arms of their neighbor Gloria Swenson (Rowlands). Gloria wants nothing to do with the kid, but what can she do? It turns out she can do quite a lot; she was a former mobster’s girlfriend and knows a thing or two.
I really enjoyed the film even if Cassavetes dismissed it. Rowlands is great (as always) and should be celebrated much more than she is. Also look for noir tough-guy Lawrence Tierney in a cameo as a bartender.
The Man Who Cheated Himself (1950) Felix E. Feist
Amazon streaming (1:21)
Lois Frazer (Jane Wyatt) is divorcing her husband Howard (Harlan Warde), but that doesn’t stop her from murdering him with his own gun. (I guess she just couldn’t wait…) Plus she murders him in the presence of her current boyfriend Ed Cullen (Lee J. Cobb), who happens to be… That’s right, a homicide cop. Cullen has to try to hush everything up, especially his own involvement, which is a little challenging when he has to investigate the crime himself. Ratchet things up just a bit more by adding Cullen’s brother Andy (John Dall) as a neophyte homicide detective who’s getting a little too close to the truth.
The Man Who Cheated Himself is a nice little noir, but Amazon should be ashamed for cheating its viewers to such an awful streaming product. The streaming version contains several bumps and jumps (not the fault of the streaming itself, but the source material) and one of the worst video transfers I’ve ever seen, maybe the worst. This is a terrible way to watch this movie. If you can find another alternative, it’s certainly worth a look.
It Came from Outer Space (1953) Jack Arnold
Universal Blu-ray (Best Buy Exclusive) (1:21)
Nifty little sf flick that was originally (and probably effectively) shown in 3D. (The new Best Buy Exclusive edition contains both 3D and 2D versions.) When amateur astronomer John Putnam (Richard Carlson) and his fiancee Ellen (Barbara Rush) witness a meteorite crash in the Arizona desert, Putnam gets close to the site, discovering an alien ship moments before a landslide covers it up. No one believes Putnam’s story, even after strange things start happening around the small Arizona town.
It Came from Outer Space is a fun, mostly effective sf film that points towards paranoia-fueled films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the like. Although I watched the film in 2D, there are plenty of nice 3D effects going on. Both video and audio are quite good and the disc also offers some nice extras, which I have only skimmed: an audio commentary by film historian Tom Weaver, and a documentary on several sf films called The Universe According to Universal. If the Best Buy Exclusive deal is still going on ($7.99), you should pick it up. This is a steal.
Murder by Contract (1958) Irving Lerner
Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics I DVD (1:21)
In one of the supplements (really the only supplement) on the Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics I DVD, Martin Scorsese talks about how Murder by Contract was influential on his film education, having seen it at age 14 or 15. It’s a odd film for many reasons. First, it stars Vince Edwards (center), whom I (and no doubt countless others) will always associate with the protagonist in the TV show Ben Casey. It also has something of a European feel, at least for the first several minutes, supported by a Perry Botkin guitar soundtrack that makes you think we’re walking along the Seine. Things get a little wacky as the film starts turning into something of a comedy with Hershel Bernardi (left) and Phillip Pine (right) as goons hired to make sure Edwards carries out an important hit.
Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows (doc. 2007) Kent Jones
supplement on the Criterion Blu-ray release of Cat People (1:17)
A good documentary (narrated by Martin Scorsese), probably a little more subdued and mysterious than the 2005 documentary Shadows in the Dark: The Val Lewton Legacy (available in The Val Lewton Horror Collection DVD boxed set). Both are worth your time.
Three Days of the Condor (1975) Sydney Pollack (3x)
Universal Blu-ray (1:58)
I can’t stop watching Three Days of the Condor even though its weaknesses (especially the romantic angle with Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway) often drive me crazy. A very 70s espionage/conspiracy theory movie that in many ways hasn’t aged well, but I still enjoy it. How can you not love a movie about a guy who reads books for a living running for his life?
The Third Man (1949) Carol Reed (3x)
StudioCanal (UK) Blu-ray (1:48)
When you think about it, it’s really a miracle each time a movie gets made. There are so many people responsible, so many moving (and sometimes non-moving) parts, it’s really a wonder when a film is completed and in the can. Even more so when all the assembled parts seem magical as they do here with The Third Man. Last year’s new 4K restoration from StudioCanal looks and sounds incredible. (I just had to fork it over for the 4-disc collector’s edition and am glad I did.)
Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982) Carl Reiner (3x)
Universal DVD – library (1:28)
I still enjoy watching this comedy/homage to film noir although the jokes come across as tired the more I watch it. Yet this time I think I appreciated more fully the technical aspects of integrating classic film noir clips into a (then) modern black-and-white production. Although the differences are obvious (and often glaring), the effort is appreciated. I am, however, embarrassed to say that I have yet to see two of the films represented here: Johnny Eager (1941) and I Walk Alone (1947). I hope to correct those oversights soon.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984) W.D. Richter
20th Century Fox DVD – library (1:42)
Oddly enough, I had never seen this film before this morning. I think it went immediately from the theaters to HBO, where I saw ads for it over and over, but never watched it, thinking it would be absolute garbage. The film is certainly not for everyone, but it hit on all cylinders (or most all cylinders) with me. Describing it would be both a waste of time and an exercise in futility. Just watch it, let it happen, and enjoy with weirdness, the 80s vibe, and the strange humor. (It also might help if you’re slightly blitzed.) I will definitely be exploring the different options of purchasing this film on Blu-ray. (If anyone has any thoughts on the Arrow UK release vs. the Shout Factory release, please let me know.)
That’s it for now. On to Noir City DC…
Photos: Cliff’s Oscar Quest, Reel SF, High-Def Digest, Shangols, Pop Matters, Cinema 1544, BlouinArtInfo, Trash Can Dance, Alien Bee