Noirvember 2017, Episode 22: White Heat (1949)

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White Heat (1949) Raoul Walsh
Ultimate Gangsters Collection Blu-ray (1:54)

James Cagney stars as Cody Jarrett, psychotic leader of a gang of robbers, but there’s much more to the role and the film. Jarrett is vicious, murdering people without thinking twice, even discarding his own people if they’re injured and unable to help themselves.

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Noirvember 2017, Episode 17: Manhandled (1949)

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Manhandled (1949) Lewis R. Foster
TCM (1:37)

Writer Alton Bennet (Alan Napier) confides to his therapist Dr. Redmond (Harold Vermilyea) that he’s having nightmares of killing his wife Ruth (Irene Harvey), who just happens to own a very impressive collection of jewelry. Sure enough, Mrs. Bennet turns up dead and, of course, Alton is the leading suspect, but Detective Lieutenant Bill Dawson (Art Smith) thinks Alton is innocent.

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Noirvember 2017, Episode 9: Shockproof (1949)

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Shockproof (1949) Douglas Sirk
Filmstruck (1:19)

Mention the name Douglas Sirk to classic movie fans and they’ll come up with certain words that evoke the director’s work, particularly the word “melodrama.” Do the same with Samuel Fuller  and you might evoke the words “controversial,” “aggressive,” or “violent.” Sirk suggests high production values in his films; Fuller, low-budget. It seems almost unthinkable that the two would work together on a project, but it happened with Shockproof, written by Fuller and Helen Deutsch and directed by Sirk.

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Noirvember 2016, Episode 8: House of Strangers (1949)

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House of Strangers (1949) Joseph L. Mankiewicz
(1:41)
Fox Film Noir DVD – interlibrary loan

“Always looking for a new way to get hurt from a new man. Get smart. There hasn’t been a new man since Adam.”

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House of Strangers may be more Italian family drama than noir, but man, what a family drama… Edward G. Robinson is a Lower East Side banker named Gino Monetti who has four sons, three of whom he has badgered and verbally abused all their lives. Eldest son Joe (Luther Adler, below left), would-be boxer Pietro (Paul Valentine, seated), and Tony (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., center) all hate their father so much that when Gino stands trial for corruption practices in banking, only Gino’s lawyer son Max (Richard Conte) stands in his corner. But there’s a price – a big one – that Max pays for his loyalty.

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All of this is told as one long flashback once Max returns to see his brothers after spending seven years in prison. He’s bitter, biting and abrasive, and until the flashback starts, we aren’t sure why. We learn about the entire family, but mostly about Gino and Max: Gino as a father (an awful one) and Max as he becomes romantically involved with Irene (Susan Hayward), one of his clients, despite the fact that he’s engaged to a nice Italian girl named Maria (Debra Paget).

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The film is filled with smart dialogue, especially between Richard Conte and Susan Hayward and the two have a dangerous current of electricity going throughout the film. (The opening line of this review is just one example of their verbal exchanges.) Their story is compelling enough, but watching Robinson is always a treat and here is just another showcase from one of the great (and still largely unsung) actors of 20th century American films. Robinson commands every scene he’s in as Gino commands everyone in his family, disregarding the consequences of his business and family decisions.

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There are few sympathetic characters and fewer bright futures for anyone in this film, thus earning its film noir status despite the scales coming down heavily on the family drama side of the scales. There’s a scene late in the film where Max looks at Joe with intense hatred. I’m not sure what the gesture means (maybe it’s something from Italian culture), but Max places part of his fist in his mouth and violently yanks it down in Joe’s direction. It’s an entirely wordless moment, but it couldn’t have contained more venom if Max had thrown a cobra at Joe.

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The French company ESC recently released a Region B Blu-ray of the film. As far as I know, this is the only Blu-ray edition available. Let’s hope we see a Region A Blu-ray of the film soon. It certainly deserves one.

4/5

Photos: imdb, Movie Mine, Rare Film

Noirvember 2016, Episode 3: Caught (1949)

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Caught (1949) Max Ophüls
(1:28)
Olive Films DVD (library)

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Barbara Bel Geddes (left) plays a model/car hop named Leonora, a young woman who’s more interested in the good life than anything else. She ends up marrying a millionaire named Smith Ohlrig (Think about that name for a minute), played by film noir stalwart Robert Ryan (right). After awhile, she grows tired of “the good life” and finds a job as a receptionist for a doctor (James Mason in his first Hollywood film) working in a poor neighborhood. Leonora begins to fall for the doctor, but there’s a complication…

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Thieves’ Highway (1949) Noirvember 2015: Episode 26

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Thieves’ Highway (1949) Jules Dassin
(1:20)
Criterion Collection DVD (library)

War veteran Nick Garcos (Richard Conte, above left) returns home to discover that his father (Morris Camovsky) has lost both legs in a truck accident while working for a cheating San Francisco produce dealer named Mike Figlia (Lee J. Cobb, above center). Nick swears he’s going to get the money Figlia owes his dad – and probably get even with Figlia as well. But Nick’s dad was so broke, he was forced to sell his truck to a man named Ed Kinney (Millard Mitchell, below right).

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Nick tracks down Kinney, who turns out to be a seedy guy who doesn’t want to pay what he still owes on the truck. Nick reluctantly strikes a deal with Kinney: the two men will go into business together to deliver the first crop of apples to San Francisco. But things get complicated and Nick sees signs that Kinney isn’t a guy to be trusted.

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Too Late for Tears (1949) Noirvember 2015: Episode 16

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Too Late for Tears (1949) Byron Haskin
(1:39)
Open Culture

Alan Palmer (Arthur Kennedy) and his wife Jane (Lizabeth Scott, above) are driving through the Hollywood Hills on their way to a party. Along the way, another car nearly hits them, unnerving the Palmers until they discover the driver of the other car has thrown something into their car: a satchel. Can you guess what’s in the satchel? Money, and lots of it. $60,000 worth. (In today’s dollars, that would equal nearly $600,000.) Once Alan opens the bag and Jane sees the money, her face lights up in a way that’s both beatific and hellish. Her life is never going to be the same.

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