The Transdimensional Edward G. Robinson

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Maybe I think about movies too much… A few nights ago I dreamed I was watching a movie in which Edward G. Robinson could levitate, fly, and travel between dimensions. This wasn’t the Edward G. Robinson who played mob boss Rico Bandello in Little Caesar (1931) or the raging Pete Morgan from The Red House (1947) or even the relentless insurance investigator Barton Keyes of Double Indemnity (1944). This was simply Robinson as an average Joe, neither dangerous nor a dandelion, a guy mostly content with his lot in life. If I had to pick a role like the Robinson in my dream, it would be Chris Cross from Scarlet Street (1945), only without the nagging wife (Rosalind Ivan) or the femme fatale (Joan Bennett). And with the ability to levitate, fly, and travel interdimensionally.

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Noir City 16: Day 3, 1944 – Destiny and Flesh and Fantasy

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The films on Sunday’s double feature share an odd history. Destiny was originally intended to be the first installment of an anthology film (also known as omnibus or package films) called For All We Know (eventually retitled Flesh and Fantasy), directed by Julien Duvivier. Duvivier, a major figure in French cinema, had previously made an anthology film in 1942 called Tales of Manhattan starring Charles Boyer. That film contained six episodes* involving a cursed black formal tailcoat and how it affects the people who wear it.

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The Sea Wolf (1941) Michael Curtiz

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The Sea Wolf (1941)
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Produced by Hal B. Wallis, Jack L. Warner, Henry Blanke
Screenplay by Robert Rossen, based on the novel by Jack London
Music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Cinematography by Sol Polito
Warner Archive Blu-ray (1:40)

The recent Blu-ray release of The Sea Wolf deserves at the very least a parade down the streets of Hollywood, or the 21st century equivalent: a potpourri of tweets, shares, postings, and good old fashioned word-of-mouth praise. Not only have the fine folks at Warner Archive given us a beautiful 4K scan of the film, they’ve also restored 14 minutes of missing footage cut from the film’s 1947 re-release. And let’s not forget that this release also provides us with yet another example of the greatness of director Michael Curtiz.

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Noirvember 2017, Episode 18: Tight Spot (1955)

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Tight Spot (1955) Phil Karlson
Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics III DVD (1:37)

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It seems odd that a play which ran for only 21 performances on Broadway would get the green light for a movie starring Ginger Rogers and Edward G. Robinson, but that’s what happened with Tight Spot. Based on the 1953 play Dead Pigeon by Lenard Kantor, Tight Spot is another “protect the witness long enough for her to testify” movie, this time with a female prison inmate and former model Sherry Conley (Ginger Rogers) willing to expose mobster Benjamin Costain (Lorne Greene) in front of a jury.

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Noirvember 2016, Episode 20: The Stranger (1946)

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The Stranger (1946) Orson Welles (2x)
(1:35)
Kino Lorber Blu-ray

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A member of the UN War Crimes Commission named Wilson (Edward G. Robinson) is convinced that WWII Nazi war criminal Franz Kindler (Orson Welles) is hiding out in America. Wilson sends Kindler’s former right-hand-man Meinike (Konstantin Shayne) to find Kindler with Wilson following closely behind. Meanwhile, Kindler has a new identity: a prep school teacher named Charles Rankin. Rankin is well-respected and is about to marry a young woman named Mary (Loretta Young), the daughter of a Supreme Court Justice (Philip Merivale).

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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

Scarlet Street (1945) Fritz Lang

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Scarlet Street (1945)
Directed by Fritz Lang
Screenplay by Dudley Nichols, based upon La Chienne, a novel by Georges de La Fouchardière and a play by André Mouézy-Éon
Produced by Fritz Lang and Walter Wanger
Cinematography by Milton Krasner
Edited by Arthur Hilton
Music by Hans J. Salter
Universal Studios
Mill Creek Crime Wave box set DVD (1:43)

The most powerful moment in Scarlet Street occurs near the end of the film when the meek, clueless Christopher Cross (Edward G. Robinson) realizes he’s been duped by the woman he thinks is in love with him, Kitty Marsh (Joan Bennett). That scene is also one of the greatest in film noir because it shows us the essence of noir in microcosm: the dumb, disillusioned everyman who’s been played for a sucker, realizing too late that everything he’s done in pursuit of his dream amounts to absolutely nothing.

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