Rating: The Good – 75.5 Genre: Film-Noir Duration: 71 mins Director: Ida Lupino Stars: Edmond O’Brien, Frank Lovejoy, William Talman
Edmond O’Brien and Frank Lovejoy play two buddies whose fishing trip takes a nasty turn when they pick up William Talman’s murderous hitchhiker. As one of the first women to step behind a camera in Hollywood, Ida Lupino blazed a cinematic trail by penning and directing this relentless film-noir and the fact that it was loosely based on a real story of the time makes the drama all the more chilling. O’Brien and Lovejoy are terrific in different ways and give their characters a believable chemistry. Talmam on the other hand is truly intimidating as the sadistic serial killer with far too many points to prove. It’s the characterisations that make this story so telling with the final scene being particularly perceptive. Lupino does as well behind the camera as she builds an increasingly uncomfortable tension with every passing frame until that breathless finale. The Hitch-Hiker is dark cinema even for the heyday of film-noir but its textbook construction and acting make it just as compelling.
Rating: The Good – 71.4 Genre: Crime, Drama Duration: 92 mins Director: Phil Karlson Stars: Richard Conte, Dianne Foster, Kathryn Grant
A modest forerunner to mob classics such as The Godfather and Goodfellas, The Brothers Rico is a compelling crime drama centring on Richard Conte’s Florida business man and former accountant to “the organisation” who is brought back into the fold when his brothers go on the run from the big boss. In place of shootouts, The Brothers Rico falls on the more subjective side to organised crime as Conte attempts to balance his duty to his former employers with his family’s future. In a prescient piece of social commentary, the expansion of the family (he and his wife are adopting a son while his brother and his wife are expecting one) acts as a personal contrast to the semblance of family attributed to by the mob to themselves. And the more Conte begins to appreciate the former, the more the veil drops on the latter. For an actor that skirted so close to stardom as he did, this is one of the few wholly dramatic roles Conte got to sink his teeth into and he’s gives it plenty of nuance. Diane Foster is equally interesting as his wife while James Darren excels as the younger brother on the lamb. Most memorable perhaps is Larry Gates who puts in a quietly formidable turn as the crafty boss Sid Kubick. Phil Karlson adequately directed the movie but one wonders what a stronger director would’ve brought to the table for the movie’s style lacks the personality of both Georges Simenon’s story and Dalton Trumbo’s screenplay. The film’s close skips a couple of beats too in a not too subtle attempt to reel a rather dark tale into warmer waters. Again, more commitment here to the essence of the story and The Brothers Rico would probably be more than a footnote in the history of mob cinema.
Rating: The Good – 77.5 Genre: Film-Noir Duration: 73 mins Director: André de Toth Stars: Gene Nelson, Sterling Hayden, Charles Bronson
Another top class crime thriller from the annals noir, this one coming courtesy of maverick director André de Toth, who fought tooth and nail with Jack Warner so that Sterling Hayden could take on the role the latter wanted for a certain Humphrey Bogart. Hayden stars as the cynical detective on the tail of two escaped prisoners who are forcing an ex-con gone straight and his wife to help them in a bank robbery. Ted de Corsia is the brains of the nasty outfit, a young Charles Bronson is the volatile brawn and a host of other gnarly faces of the time (including an even spacier than usual Timothy Carey) provide the backup. Needless to say, Hayden chews the scenery about as much as does the toothpick sticking out his mouth in place of the cigarettes the doctor has banned. There’s rarely been a more grizzled character actor so well suited to gritty street noir but he tempers that nicely here with a veiled compassion for the two victims at the centre of the tale. Relatively unknown at the time, Gene Nelson and Phyllis Kirk are genuinely excellent as that couple and provide the perfect platform to connect both sides of the law. Crane Wilbur’s hard bitten screenplay simply oozes class and funnelled as it is through de Toth’s focused momentum, it gives the movie a palpable energy. Choosing to shoot on location in LA, de Toth dresses his film in that priceless atmosphere that was an unfortunately rare feature of the majority of studio shot thrillers of the day. From the first person perspective of the daytime driving sequences to the fleeting shadows of the nighttime encounters, he turns Crime Wave into the cinéma vérité masterclass of the LA noir.
Rating: The Good – 74.8 Genre: Film-Noir Duration: 93 mins Director: John Sturges Stars: Ricardo Montalban, Sally Forrest, Bruce Bennett
One of the earliest police procedurals, this wonderful little thriller focuses on the attempts of a detective to solve a Jane Doe case using the help of forensic medicine expert. Ricardo Montalban puts in a composed shift as the young detective and manages to work much of the charm he’d be later renowned for into a personality driven by perfectionism and the anguish of potentially being wrong. Bruce Bennett is slightly more languid as the learned expert who instructs the police on the science behind the clues. Forensics was still in its infancy at the time Mystery Street was made so one could’ve forgiven director John Sturges and co. for framing the movie entirely around the investigation but it’s to their credit that they made a proper drama of the characters and plot. As the investigation develops multiple strands, each is fleshed out by some memorable personalities. Jan Sterling makes a relatively brief appearance as the soon to be victim but sets a brass tone for the more heartless side to the story. The perennially eccentric Elsa Lanchester is delightfully untrustworthy as her greedy landlord while Betsy Blaire, as her kind neighbour, is a ray of sunshine in those otherwise murky digs. And then you have Sally Forrest almost stealing the show as the desperate wife of the man who the police have mistaken for the killer. Such casting provides a solid base to what was happening on the other side of the camera and, in fact, it’s perhaps the technical side to the film that most impresses what with its sly plot and Richard Brooks’ equally cynical dialogue dripping from the tongues of the good and bad alike. Bringing it all together is a pre-prime Sturges exhibiting the controlled energy of his later work but with a welcomed levity. Of course, having the great John Alton shooting the film is no small bonus and the lighting and use of perspective throughout is of surprising quality for a small feature, not to mention, a genuine treat. All in all, there’s little fault to be found here, just a cracking good story shot with plenty of class.
Rating: The Good – 77.8 Genre: Western Duration: 122 mins Director: Edward Dmytryk Stars: Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Anthony Quinn
Terrific western about the scared townsfolk of Warlock who unofficially hire a feared gunman and his disturbingly protective assistant to marshal a gang of cut throats. However, when a outlaw turned hero is formally instated as sheriff, the question of who’s in charge becomes a defining feature of the town’s battle with the outlaws. Some films work simply on the basis of their writing and there’s little doubt that the intriguing characterisation and dialogue on display here would probably make a success out of Warlock even if it didn’t possess a truly outstanding cast, all of whom, act their chaps off. With Richard Widmark headlining as the modestly capable sheriff, his nuanced likability offers a warm contrast to the more interesting dynamic shared between Henry Fonda’s expert gunslinger and Anthony Quinn’s grisly defender. The latter are immense with Fonda in particular relishing the darker meat to his role with one of the genre’s better turns. Quinn is the unknown factor and his slippery personality keeps the audience firmly hooked. Based on Oakley Hall’s novel and adapted by Robert Alan Arthur, Warlock is rich in thematic depth without getting too aloof from the genre’s more modest origins while the always excellent Edward Dmytryk solidly balances the unintuitively related subplots and serves up some intense showdowns as he goes. We could’ve stood to have seen more of Widmark and of his attempt to make a life in the town but Dmytryk clearly saw it as a trade-off worth making.
Rating: The Good – 85.2 Genre: Film-Noir Duration: 111 mins Director: Billy Wilder Stars: Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Robert Arthur
Billy Wilder shows that film-noir can be done just as well outside the traditional confines of murky streets and shadowy cities by giving us a dry and dusty noir that has all the punch of the more famed classics. Kirk Douglas is the professionally exiled newspaper man who takes up with a small town paper hoping for a big story that’ll propel him back into favour with the big city papers. And when a cave-in traps an average schmuck who had been looting a local Indian burial chamber, he seizes his chance with both hands. There’s just one problem: the schmuck may be rescued too soon for the story to get enough traction. Using all his wiles to co-opt the sheriff and rescuers, the driven reporter orchestrates a slower rescue while, outside the cave, the public interest reaches fever pitch.
Ace in the Hole makes for a rather picturesque film even if you don’t immediately notice it. The sun bleached New Mexican landscape contrasted with the dust and darkness of the cave harnesses the mood of Wilder’s perceptive screenplay to create a rather impressive canvas for his critique of media sensationalism. Chomping down on some outright seminal dialogue, Douglas is arguably in the form of his career and his boisterous presence is the centre of the film. As the money craving wife of the trapped man, Jan Sterling is a streak of caustic self-regard, an underrated triumph in the femme fatale stakes. But Ace in the Hole remains a vehicle for Douglas and his director. The latter peppers more languid moments of contemplation with a litany of amusing carnival type set pieces involving grandiose crane shots and wide contrasts. All framed around Douglas’ arch manipulator buzzing about somewhere within. And on top of all this, they go and give us one of the great noir endings too.
Rating: The Good – 82.8 Genre: Film-Noir Duration: 100mins Director: Lewis Gilbert Stars: Laurence Harvey, Gloria Grahame, Richard Basehart
Lesser seen Brit noir starring a host of big names from both sides of the Atlantic and embodying all the mood and tension of the genre. Laurence Harvey is the gentleman of leisure who, after being cut off by his older wealthier wife, begins manipulating three desperate figures who he finds commiserating down the local pub into committing a dangerous post-office robbery. John Ireland is an American air force officer who has grown weary of chasing his unfaithful wife (a British-sounding [well, sort off] Gloria Grahame), Richard Basehart is a former US soldier stranded in England with his pregnant wife (a young Joan Collins) who herself is being tormented by her overbearing mother, and Stanley Baker is the ex-boxer prevented from earning a living after his no-good brother-in-law made off with his savings. With so many subplots and characters, director Lewis Gilbert, who was more famous for his later Bond movies, could’ve made a mess of this one but, armed with his and Vernon Harris’ sharp screenplay and a healthy appreciation for the aesthetic of the genre, he crafts a pitch perfect thriller and towards which, each of the subplots contribute equally. Of course, the cast are critical too and they are to a man/woman bang on form. Even Basehart and Ireland who could often be a little dull encourage much in the way of the audience’s sympathy while Baker provides a stoic force to combat Harvey’s sardonic deceiver. Grahame is a little wasted and her accent is off-putting enough question the wisdom of making her character British at all. It’s not like the film is lacking in that regard as it’s defined by London’s post-war murkiness, so much so, that it stands behind only the likes of Jules Dassin’s Night and the City in terms of quality and effectiveness. And like that little masterpiece, this one also ties up in a neat little package so that the intersection of the multiple subplots coheres poignantly with the spirit of the genre.
Rating: The Good – 87.6 Genre: Film-Noir Duration: 86 mins Director: Joseph H. Lewis Stars: John Dall, Peggy Cummins, Berry Kroeger
One of the all time great films noir, Gun Crazy or “Deadly is the Female”, as it’s also known, stars John Dall and Peggy Cummins as a husband and wife sharpshooter, turned stick-up team who, piece by piece, unfold a romantic tragedy across the American Midwest. Joseph H. Lewis’s masterpiece was revolutionary for myriad reasons but most notable among the trails it blazed were the technical innovations of the movie’s shooting and its unflinching account of a homicidal woman and her guilt ridden husband. Lewis improvised a number of unique methods with which to stage and capture the various heist sequences including an early use of insert cars and modified camera cars. A solitary process shot that captures the couple’s dreamlike honeymoon is all we get in the way of rear projection, a magnificently symbolic contrast to the down and gritty life of crime that was to follow. In addition to such technical mastery, Lewis brings all his know-how to bear on the movie’s aesthetic, rendering this one of the more beautifully shot noirs. A relative abundance of daylight sequences would appear to belie the genre’s more typical remit but they serve here as a conceptual contrast as powerful as any amount of shadow or key lit faces (though there’s plenty of those too). What stirs most effectively however is the simple tale of desire and morality that’s spun at the film’s core. Cummins’ Laurie cuts a sinister strip through the film and while Cummins is more than adequate in the role, it’s (then blacklisted) Dalton Trumbo’s writing that largely plumbs her murky depths. Dall’s is the more tragic character and an extended introduction of him and his childhood makes him resoundingly sympathetic before we ever lay eyes on the actor himself. Armed with some heart wrenching dialogue and thrillingly shot set pieces, Gun Crazy ever develops a subtle power as it moves through the reels, so much so that its wonderfully staged finale will linger as long in memory as the outlaw mythology it so deftly taps.
Rating: The Good – 74.4 Genre: War, Drama Duration: 134 mins Director: Leslie Norman Stars: John Mills, Richard Attenborough, Bernard Lee
An oft forgotten WWII movie dramatising the large scale evacuation of retreating Allied troops from the French countryside and ultimately the port of Dunkirk. We all know the story – a country awakens to the reality that another continental war is on its doorsteps only to rally and demonstrate its grit as hundreds of fishermen and private boat owners sail their own crafts into the war zone to pick up the battered troops from the beaches.
The incident became a banner call for the Allied resistance and it’s surprising we’ve seen so few attempts to capture it on film. That said, Leslie Norman’s treatment is a fitting testament given its balanced and comprehensive approach. We see the operation from most relevant perspectives. John Mills’ corporal and his ragtag squad are in retreat through a countryside crawling with German infantry and stalked by their Stukas (dive-bombers) above. Richard Attenborough is the business owner who reluctantly agrees to offer his recreational boat up to the Navy only to fully commit to the evacuation once he sees the tattered troops getting off the boats. As the film moves between its settings, we get a richer flavour to the time and place behind the story than we might otherwise have got if the story focused on one of them alone.
Mills is eminently watchable as usual as the reluctant commander while Attenborough and fellow boat owner Bernard Lee are terrific as the two civilians embodying the contradicting attitudes to the war as it morphed from its “phoney” stage to the stark reality of what the troops on the continent were experiencing. The beach sequences are ably handled and given impressive scope by Norman. Especially impressive is the manner in which David Devine and W.P. Lipscomb’s screenplay teases out the different social, military, and political perspectives both on the ground amongst the troops and back in England from the army headquarters to the public houses. A nicely nuanced piece of war cinema if ever there was one.
Rating: The Good – 74.4 Genre: Film-Noir Duration: 103 mins Director: William Wyler Stars: Kirk Douglas, Eleanor Parker, William Bendix
“You must have been kissed in your cradle by a vulture.” Kirk Douglas puts in a tour de force performance as a morally conflicted detective who allows his near fanatical dedication to bringing criminals to justice to excuse his hard edged and even violent treatment of anyone even suspected of misdeeds. This wasn’t an easy role to pull off but Douglas handles it with ease as he keeps the audience both rooting for him and appalled at him in equal measure throughout.
The assorted characters who make their way into his precinct during the course of the single day in which the drama is set are each fascinating in their own right and played perfectly by the ensemble cast. William Bendix scores especially well as Douglas’ caring partner, a more rewarding role to the tough guy persona he was normally govern to play. Robert Wyler and Philip Yordan’s screenplay is a real treat to the ears, littered with wonderfully cutting turns off phrase and some insightful character construction. Director William Wyler contributes strongly too, allowing the tension to build up softly in the background giving the drama an increasingly taught feel which peaks right at the end. However, this movie is all about Douglas who at the time was at the height of his powers and in practically every scene demonstrated just that.
Rating: The Good – 84.4 Genre: Film-Noir Duration: 80 mins Director: Samuel Fuller Stars: Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, Thelma Ritter
Samuel Fuller’s dark and classic noir has pickpocket Richard Windmark playing two sides against the middle when he unwittingly grifts a wallet containing a secret military microfilm that was being sold to the Russians. Fuller sets a nice tone to the movie early on while his tight screenplay gives Dwight Taylor’s story a brisk momentum. The slick but warm dialogue adds much depth to the story and softly resonates against Leigh Harline’s sultry score. Widmark is a fine lead and has all the gritty edge of a Bogart or a Ladd. However, the show stealer is undoubtedly Thelma Ritter’s streetwise Moe who gives the movie its most charming and emotional component. She owns the screen when she’s on it and in her final scene in the movie, she gives the audience a peerless piece of acting that will live long in memory. Pickup on South Street pulls no punches either and there are some rough scenes of violence that wouldn’t make it into many of today’s Hollywood movies. Ultimately, though it all adds wonderfully to the noir atmosphere.
This inspired meditation on class, morality, passion, and duty is Akira Kurosawa’s finest hour behind the camera and possibly Mifune’s finest hour in front of it. As funny as it is touching, there’s not a single aspect of this film that could’ve been improved upon and it offers more than perhaps any other. Watch how Kurosawa wonderfully counterbalances the necessarily languid scenes where the characters are waiting for the battles to commence with the shocking brutality of those battles one they begin. As incredible as Toshiro Mifune is he’s equalled by Takashi Shimura’s simmering portrayal of the head samurai which is one of most quietly powerful pieces of acting ever captured by a camera. With every rub of his shaven head Shimura expounds kindness, generosity of spirit, and a keen sense of leadership and in doing so, his performance as much as any other aspect of the film reflects the soul of this poingent masterpiece. Timeless.