Tag Archives: Edmond O’Brien

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The Hitch-Hiker (1953) 3.43/5 (2)

 

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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.

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White Heat (1949) 4.33/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Good – 87.6
Genre: Crime
Duration: 114  mins
Director: Raoul Walsh
Stars: James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O’Brien

“If I turned my back long enough for Big Ed to put a hole in it, there’d be a hole in it.” Raoul Walsh was behind the camera but this firecracker of a film is all about a 50 year old James Cagney proving that he was only reaching his peak. Cagney is insatiable as he eats up the scenery in one of the most charismatic and intimidating of all screen performances. He plays wanted felon Cody Jarrett, the leader of a ruff-neck gang of thieves who only cares about one thing: his mother, an iron willed woman who is as devious and vicious as he is. He ain’t a nice guy, in fact he’s outright mean but you cannot help but weigh in behind him as he and his gang stay one step ahead of the police. Only the introduction of Edmond O’Brien’s character as the police’s inside man keeps the audience on the moral high ground and the dynamic he strikes up with Cagney is perfect. Margaret Wycherly is great as Ma Jarrett and Virginia Mayo scores well as Jarrett’s wife but all fall in the shadow of Cagney’s whirlwind performance which inevitably builds towards one of the most explosive endings in movie history. “Made it, Ma! Top of the World!”

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The Killers (1946) 4.62/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Good – 84.6
Genre: Film-Noir
Duration: 97 mins
Director: Robert Siodmak
Screenplay: Anthony Veiller, John Huston, Richard Brooks
Stars: Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Edmond O’Brien, Sam Levene

The original adaptation of Hemmingway’s novel is arguably the best with all the defining touches of the great film noir from the complex plot to the deep staging of low lit interiors. Burt Lancaster plays the former boxer who is killed at the beginning of the film, the reasons for which are told in a series of flashbacks as his insurance company’s investigator (Edmond O’Brien) attempts to put the pieces of the puzzle together. As is typical for the genre, a scheming femme fatal is at the centre of the mystery and in this case it’s the infamous Kitty Collins played wonderfully by an icy Ava Gardner. The film is a little weak in explaining the insurance man’s persistence in investigating a case with such a small pay-out, but O’Brien’s every-man charm is at its best here and with just enough edge to carry the audience beyond any such questions. In his first ever role, Lancaster showed all the charisma that was to define his career and is the perfect rube for Gardener’s treacherous self-server. However, the Killers is all about atmosphere, dialogue, and plot and on those notes, director Robert Siodmak, Hemingway, and writers Anthony Veiller, John Huston, and Richard Brooks (the former two unaccredited) are chiefly responsible for this film’s success. The Killers is both a pleasure to look at and to listen to with the central heist sequence being the best example of this not to mention counting as one of the genre’s best set-pieces. A methodically expansive crane shot narrated in news bulletin style acts as a release valve for all the suspense of the twisting plot up until that point and, as a day-time shot, it contrasts perfectly with the exquisite nighttime shots wherein the characters attempt to illuminate the mystery at the centre of the story. True class.

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Seven Days in May (1964) 4.75/5 (4)

 

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Rating: The Good – 86.7
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 118 mins
Director: John Frankenheimer
Stars: Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Fredric March, Martin Balsam

John Frankenheimer was a director of some renown but given the consistent quality of his work across a variety of genres and throughout five decades, he really should be better appreciated. That he made three of the very best films of the 1960’s in the space of three years is an emphatic testament to this. In 1962, he gave us perhaps the greatest Cold War thriller, The Manchurian Candidate, and two years later (right before he gave us The Train), he followed it up with one of the few films that could actually rival The Manchurian Candidate for that mantle.

Seven Days in May is a sweeping hair raiser that follows the efforts of the President of the United States, his closest advisors, and a Colonel in the Pentagon to investigate and expose a possible high-level military conspiracy, the aim of which, is to overthrow the government for its left wing stance on US-Soviet disarmament. That the conspiracy seems to be led by a people’s hero, a four star General with strong right wing tendencies and a megalomania complex, makes matters all the more tricky as the investigation requires negotiating their way through fanatically loyal military brass and equally right leaning members of Congress.

The plot (adapted from Fletcher Kneble and Charles W. Bailey II’s novel) is rich with intrigue and impeccably set up against Frankenheimer’s equally clean black and white canvas, a canvas that is further embellished with a luscious balancing of key and fill lighting. It’s speared forward primarily through its beefy dialogue which is strengthened all the more because a host of that era’s great scene-stealers are responsible for its delivery. Kirk Douglas is his usual mix of professionalism and presence as the honourable Colonel who cannot tolerate what he sees as an overreach by his superiors. Frederic March gets to the core of his character’s presidential predicament showing just enough strength and vulnerability. As you’d expect, Martin Balsam, Edmond O’Brien, and George Macready add substantially to the tone of the film as the presidents’ team who head out to investigate the different elements of the mystery.

However, it’s probably fair to say that Burt Lancaster’s power-mad General dominates this movie. Lancaster had an ability to be truly intimidating when he wanted, as his portrayal of J.J. Hunsecker in Sweet Smell of Success demonstrated, and the controlled menace he shows in this film is scintillating. If there’s one regret regarding his turn in Seven Days in May, it’s that he never got to share the screen with Ava Gardner again (his co-star from The Killers – his breakthrough movie which also starred O’Brien) who plays the jilted lover and potential threat to his reputation. In truth, the scope of the film doesn’t really allow for such an indulgence but cinephiles would’ve liked it!

There’s a controlled but persistent energy to this film as the action skips relentlessly and with a knife-edge like tension between the White House, The Pentagon, aircraft carriers, military bases, Congress, and dark alleys. The result is a movie that is the very definition of a thriller. Moreover, graced as it is with pure class from the acting, writing, directing, and Jerry Goldsmith’s low key but suitably paranoid score and that it also taps a subject that kept audiences of its time in a state of dull fear, it’s easily one of the most arresting thrillers too.

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D.O.A. (1950) 4/5 (10)

 

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Rating: The Good – 83
Genre: Film-Noir
Duration: 107 mins
Director: Rudolph Maté
Stars: Edmond O’Brien, Pamela Britton, Luther Adler

Edmond O’Brien stars in this classic film-noir about a lawyer (Frank Bigelow) who discovers he has been fatally poisoned while on a weekend trip to San Francisco. Refusing to check himself into hospital and await the inevitable, he sets about identifying his poisoner and uncovers a wider plot involving a former client and some gangsters. D.O.A. is a masterfully constructed noir built perfectly around a thrilling concept. Shot in a hazy black and white and with some feint touches of innovation to give one the sense of disorientation and haste, Rudolph Maté plunges us into the desperate world of his central protagonist. Furthermore, his clever and very effective use of sound in the early stages of the film, particularly during the jazz club sequence, not only adds a great sense of fun to the movie, but nicely sets both the audience and Bigelow up for the strangeness of what’s to follow. O’Brien is as ever terrific in the role and he adds just enough wrinkles to his typically lively personality to give us an authentic sense of Bigelow’s predicament. Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene’s screenplay is tight and at all times clever and together with Maté’s direction, it runs us through hoops for the best part of an hour so that we are prevented from disengaging from a character who is doomed to fate from the first scene. There are many great examples of this genre and while many are better remembered than D.O.A, not many are better made. Moreover, D.O.A is a poster film for the techniques, sentiments, and style that defined that genre as a whole. Lastly, as this film has slipped into the public domain, you can find the link to the entire film above.

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