This is it: my final report for 2016. I hope you’ll find something good to watch (or to avoid watching, as the case may be) from the list below. If you missed Part I, you can find it here.
The Unsuspected (1947) Michael Curtiz
Borrowed from K.D. (1:43)
Previously discussed here
The Clay Pigeon (1949) Richard Fleischer
The amnesia-ridden returning soldier was a fairly common theme in film noir (two of the best being Somewhere in the Night and The Crooked Way) and The Clay Pigeon is another in that sub-category, filled with paranoia, betrayal, confusion and what we would today call post-traumatic stress.
You’d think Jim Fletcher (Bill Williams) awakening from a coma in a San Diego hospital would be cause for celebration, but everyone around him wishes he were back in his coma or worse. It seems – unbeknownst to him – that Jim was a traitor in the war, allowing his soldier buddy Mark to be tortured and killed by the Japanese. Jim seeks out Mark’s widow Martha (Barbara Hale) to find out the truth, to fill in the gaps of what he can’t remember. He finds that something bigger than himself is at work here… Good suspense, especially early on, definitely worth a look.
The Major (2013) Yuri Bykov
Olive DVD – library (1:39)
In Russian with English subtitles
The Major certainly deserves more consideration than I’m going to give it here, but to be honest, I just don’t think I can sit through it again. This was certainly not a good choice for holiday viewing, but when the library holds come in, I try to deal with them as quickly as possible. I don’t exactly regret watching The Major when I did, but if I had it to do all over again, I’d probably watch it during one of those blistering summer days.
The plot: a policeman (Denis Svhedov, above) in a small, remote Russian town gets a phone call that his wife is about to give birth at a hospital in another town. Driving far too fast, he accidentally kills a young boy trying to cross the highway while his mother watches the entire tragedy unfold. The policeman phones a friend (Yuri Bykov, the director) who promises to fix everything. This one act (the calling of the friend more so than the accident itself) begins a whole chain of events that seems to emerge from a postmodern nightmare, a hellish situation that goes far beyond the horrors of most film noir or neo-noir films. Really, really bleak stuff. Yet the characters are fascinating to watch as they deal with (or don’t deal with) their moral responsibilities in the midst of corruption, hypocrisy, betrayal and selfishness.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) Gareth Edwards
Regal Waugh Chapel Stadium 12 (2:13)
Rogue One is still new enough that I don’t want to get into too much of the story, but I will say the film (a sort-of stand-alone in the Star Wars saga) holds a lot of pleasant surprises but also many frustrating moments. The film is darker than any Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back and for awhile I thought Edwards and the writers were going to take some exciting chances. In some ways they did, but the film suffers from too many characters, not enough development, and some missed opportunities. Yet the last half hour of the film is more than worth the price of admission. Did I like it more than The Force Awakens? Yes. Will I see it again? Probably.
Sorcerer (1977) William Friedkin
Warner Blu-ray (2:01)
Previously discussed here
For the Love of Spock (Doc. 2016) Adam Nimoy
Netflix streaming (1:51)
For the Love of Spock might have been a better documentary if Leonard Nimoy’s son Adam hadn’t directed it, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as heartfelt. Adam Nimoy doesn’t shy away from some of the personal demons associated with life with his famous dad, but that also causes some loss of objectivity. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate what Adam has done: I certainly do. The film is a wonderful look not only at Leonard Nimoy’s career as Spock in the Star Trek franchises, but also other aspects of Nimoy’s life and work.
Drunken Angel (1948) Akira Kurosawa
Legendary director Kurosawa’s first of many collaborations with actor Toshiro Mifune is a wonderful Japanese film noir about Dr. Sanada (Takashi Shimura, above right), an alcoholic doctor in postwar Tokyo who treats a young hood named Matsunaga (Mifune, above left) for a gunshot wound to the hand. Sanada’s real concern is that Matsunaga has TB. The doc urges Matsunaga to stop drinking and smoking, but the hoodlum refuses to give up the yakuza lifestyle.
I’ve only scratched the surface of a film that’s as much about relationships as noir, touching also on the filthiness of postwar Tokyo, crime, and the economics of poverty. Drunken Angel is only Kurosawa’s seventh film, but already you can see that you’re watching a master at work.
Wait Until Dark (1967) Terence Young (3x)
Warner DVD – library (1:48)
Audrey Hepburn plays Susy, a young blind woman living in a New York City apartment whose husband (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) has brought home a doll given to him by a young woman on a flight from Montreal to New York. Neither Suzy nor her husband (who is absent for most of the film) know that the doll is filled with heroin and that a violent criminal named Roat (Alan Arkin) and his two conspirators (Richard Crenna and Jack Weston) are seeking the doll. The trio concoct an elaborate con to infiltrate the apartment and find the doll, hopefully without Susy knowing (certainly not seeing) what’s going on.
This is the third time I’ve seen the film, but the first as an adult. I remember watching it on TV as a kid and probably several years later as a teenager. I’m usually reluctant to watch films based on plays, as this is, but while the bulk of the movie takes place inside an apartment, director Terence Young knows how to keep things interesting, mostly through the use of character surveillance. Much of the film still holds up and is certainly worth discovering or rediscovering.
City of Fear (1959) Irving Lerner
Columbia Film Noir Volume II DVD – library (1:21)
As unlikely as it may seem, an escaped convict (Vince Edwards, right) has gotten his hands on a container of Cobalt-60, a substance lethal enough to kill everyone in Los Angeles. The only problem is the con thinks the canister is filled with heroin he can sell. Director Irving Lerner (who worked with Edwards one year earlier – and more successfully – in Murder by Contract) tries to make paranoia go a long way, but even at 81 minutes, it’s hard to make the story stretch out to a feature-length film. Jerry Goldsmith’s score is the highlight here, but it sometimes goes from brilliantly effective to hilariously overdone. If you’re looking for paranoia noir, better to stick with Kiss Me Deadly (1955) or even Panic in the Streets (1950).
The Nice Guys (2016) Shane Black
Library DVD (1:56)
The Nice Guys is another in a long list of super-hyped movies that’s good, but nowhere near as good as you’ve been led to believe. This neo-noir/action/comedy/mystery set in 1977 has a lot going for it, perhaps too much: costumes, period design, music, etc. I never would’ve put Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling together as anything, much less a pair of Los Angeles private detectives looking for a teenage girl, but it works more often than it doesn’t. Ultimately, however, they come across as caricatures, which is maybe Black’s intention, which is okay; this is primarily a comedy after all, right?
Clocking in at nearly two hours, The Nice Guys is simply too long and the jokes and gags can’t maintain the pace, so what do we get? Lots of cartoonish action and fighting to fill in the gaps. (I know, that’s Black’s bread and butter, so I’m not too surprised.) Far and away the most interesting character (and performance) in the film comes from Angourie Rice as the 13-year-old daughter of Ryan Gosling’s character. I keep asking myself if I would’ve given the movie this high a rating had it not been a neo-noir (even a comedy neo-noir) film. Probably not.
That’s going to do it for my final report for 2016. See you when the calendar flips over in a few hours. Happy New Year, everyone!
Photos: Streamline: The FilmStruck Blog, Rock Films, The Atlantic, JoBlo, Projected Perspectives, Drafthouse, World Music, Roger Ebert