Johnny Eager (1941) Mervyn LeRoy
Warner DVD – interlibrary loan (1:47)
Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950) Gordon Douglas
DVD – library (1:42)
Solid and brutal Cagney performance as a prison escapee who rubs shoulders with corrupt cops and crooked lawyers. The film is often compared (less favorably) to another Cagney film White Heat (1949). If I’m not mistaken, this was Cagney’s last true gangster movie.
The Lodger (1944) John Brahm
Noir City DC (1:24)
The Long Goodbye (1973) Robert Altman
Kino Lorber DVD – library (1:55)
Although I saw a few of them several years ago, I’m slowly beginning to explore the films of Robert Altman. Being a fan of film noir, I’m not sure why I shied away from Altman’s The Long Goodbye for so many years, but I finally decided to watch it this month. Raymond Chandler’s private detective Philip Marlowe has been realized by many actors over the years including Humphrey Bogart, Dick Powell, Robert Montgomery, Robert Mitchum, Powers Booth, and others. Elliott Gould doesn’t quite fit my idea of Marlowe, but this is Altman we’re talking about, it’s the 70s, and with that combination, pretty much anything goes.
Since this is Altman, I was surprised the film is as conventional as it is. The basic story is somewhat retained from the novel: Marlowe agrees to drive his friend Terry Lennox (Jim Bouton) to Tijuana, then comes back to LA to find the cops waiting for him; it seems Lennox killed his wife before asking Marlowe for a ride and Marlowe is now an accessory. Marlowe’s thrown in the cooler, then released when the cops tell him that Lennox committed suicide in Mexico. But Marlowe doesn’t buy it.
Hardcore fans of Chandler’s novels may find Altman’s vision of Marlowe too different from their expectations. In particular, they may not like screenwriter Leigh Brackett’s departure from the novel’s original ending. (Brackett is a woefully underappreciated writer of fiction – particularly science fiction – and screenplays including The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo and a little film you might’ve heard of called The Empire Strikes Back.)
Is Altman’s version a mockery of the detective genre? A satire? An homage? All three? These questions are interesting to consider, but in order to ask them, you’ll need to watch the movie. So please do.
Los tallos amargos (1956) Fernando Ayala
Noir City 14 San Francisco, Castro Theater (1:30)
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.
Nightfall (1957) Jacques Tourneur
Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics II DVD – library (1:23)
The Petrified Forest (1936) Archie Mayo
TCM Greatest Classic Gangsters – Humphrey Bogart DVD (1:22)
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.
Shield for Murder (1954) Howard W. Koch, Edmond O’Brien
Amazon streaming (1:22)
Shield for Murder isn’t bad, but it’s also not great. Edmond O’Brien (one of my favorite actors) plays Lieutenant Barney Nolan, a crooked cop who kills a bookie and steals $25,000 from him. Nolan convinces his friend and partner (John Agar), the police captain (Emile Meyer [below right], who you’ve just gotta love in all his crime pictures), and his girlfriend (Marla English) that he’s on the level. He could probably get away with it, but the dead bookie’s boss sends a couple of PIs (Claude Akins and Larry Ryle) to get to the truth of the matter.
The film’s not bad. The pacing is pretty good and the performances adequate, but Edmond O’Brien isn’t exactly the type of guy you enjoy seeing going bad or going postal with rage, which he does a lot in the film. There’s also a shoot-out at a public swimming pool that’s completely ridiculous, but there’s also a nice appearance by Carolyn Jones.
Specter of the Rose (1946) Ben Hecht
Noir City DC (1:30)
The Spiral Staircase (1946) Robert Siodmak
Fremantle Home Entertainment DVD – UK (1:23)
Nifty film noir/psychological thriller about a mute young woman named Helenv(Dorothy McGuire) working as a live-in companion for a wealthy invalid (Ethel Barrymore) in early 20th century New England. A serial killer is on the loose, but Helen refuses to leave, despite warnings from everyone she knows. Mood and atmosphere are wonderful, as only Siodmak could pull off. U.S. editions on DVD are hard to find; I had to get a more affordable copy from the UK. This is a film that desperately needs a domestic Blu-ray release (and an Eddie Muller commentary wouldn’t hurt, either).
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) Lewis Milestone
Mill Creek Crime Wave DVD box set (1:55)
Nearly two decades after the death of her rich aunt, Martha Ivers (Barbara Stanwyck) has married Walter (Kirk Douglas), a district attorney whom Martha doesn’t love, but the marriage is one of convenience. Martha’s former friend Sam (Van Heflin) drifts into town, meets a sultry woman named Toni (Lizabeth Scott), who’s on parole, and tries to convince Martha to use her influence to keep Toni out of the joint. Nice film noir that tiptoes along that thin line separating noir from melodrama, but the cast is out of sight. Although uncredited, Byron Haskin directed at least part of the film since Lewis Milestone was away from the film for a considerable time adding his support to a set decorators’ strike. Although available on Blu-ray from Film Chest, the reviews are not good. This is another excellent noir that deserves a better restoration.
This Gun for Hire (1942) Frank Tuttle
DVD – interlibrary loan (1:21)
Highly influential Alan Ladd/Veronica Lake noir that I would love to see get a Blu-ray release. Ladd’s character Raven became something of a blueprint for noir protagonists. The film isn’t perfect and is rarely discussed in conversations of the “greatest” film noir titles, but you can definitely see many noir motifs and structures taking shape here. The film also includes one of my favorite actors, Laird Cregar.
To Have and Have Not (1944) Howard Hawks
TCM Greatest Classic Film Legends – Bogie & Bacall DVD (1:40)
Much more to say about this one as well, this first (and probably the best) pairing of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, which eventually led to their marriage. (He was 45, she was 19, but hey, who’s counting?) For all practical purposes, this is something of a retread of Casablanca, with Bogart playing a boat-for-hire captain who takes would-be fishermen out for a bit of fun. Things change when Bogart gets involved with members of the French Resistance. A retread it might be, but the film stands just fine on its own and the Bogie/Bacall team was never better. Screenplay by Jules Furthman and a guy who knew a little bit about writing, William Faulkner.