Rating: The Good – 75.9 Genre: Film-Noir Duration: 91 mins Director: William Keighley Stars: Mark Stevens, Richard Widmark, Lloyd Nolan
Thrilling undercover detective noir that sees Mark Stevens’ FBI agent infiltrate Richard Widmark’s methodical gang of thieves and murderers only to find himself in a highly organised underworld where every recruit is screened and validated through illicit access to confidential police files. Joseph McDonald (he who shot My Darling Clementine) brings an irresistible neon glow to the damp and murky streets of the fictitious Central City that ranks with the seminal look of that noir classic Murder My Sweet. Director William Keighley utilises every bit of it too as he frames many a dramatic moment around that glitzy grey world. Perhaps even more remarkable is Harry Kleiner’s script that, when enacted through McDonald’s lens and Keighley’s conceptualisation, was to become a major influence on everyone from Scorsese to David Chase. And it’s the inimitable Widmark who is chiefly responsible for its most potent realisations. As the quirky kingpin with a serious distaste for draughts and colds, Widmark’s “Alec Stiles” was to personify a new kind of American mobster whose intelligent yet impatient control over his gang led to many a violent reprimand and foreshadowed that of Goodfellas‘ Jimmy Conway and later on, one Tony Soprano. As the thorn in his side, Stevens is actually quite strong given that he could sometimes fall flat in the lead. Even if one is left with the impression that a more substantial actor would’ve made more of the role, it remains a playful turn as the streetwise detective and nicely complements the sophistication of Stiles’ clever helmsmanship. Where this piece of crime fiction falls short of the classics, however, is in its hokey championing of the FBI as a glowing beacon of honesty in the criminal justice apparatus. It was a feature of a peculiar type of movie being made at the time where the cooperation of the justice system in providing locations and on-set advice seemed to be repaid with an unabashed adulation.
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 – 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.
Film-noir was always much more than just hard boiled detectives going up against vicious criminals. It’s about volatile personalities following their dark and natural trajectories to an increasingly inevitable collision point. Night in the City is one of the purest examples of such. Richard Widmark stars as Harry Fabian, “an artist without an art”, who spends his nights crawling through the underbelly of London’s nightlife looking for the next big thing. When he thinks he’s found it, he drags everyone from his devoted girlfriend (the always radiant Gene Tierney) to his bloated boss into a scheme which will make or break him.
Widmark is outstanding in a difficult role which required the audience to dislike him yet simultaneously root for him while the supporting cast, one and all, give their characters colourful flourishes which make them instantly memorable. Tierney is unfortunately a little underused but steps up admirably when she’s needed. Jo Eisinger’s screenplay (adapted from Gerald Kersh’s novel) catches the cold cynicism of the darker characters with every uttered syllable and Jules Dassin gives post-war London a style and verve rarely achieved yet brilliantly uses the still rubble-laden areas to frame Fabian’s lower moments, particularly his ultimate descent.
Night and the City is one of the great film noirs built around the tension of one man’s desperation and the uncomfortable but unstoppable inertia of that despair. In short, it encapsulates what the genre is about.
Rating: The Good – 74.5 Genre: Film-Noir Duration: 98 mins Director: Henry Hathaway Stars: Victor Mature, Richard Widmark, Brian Donlevy
A lesser addition to the film noir catalogue that succeeds due to the malicious presence of one of cinema’s nastiest villains. Victor Mature stars as a jewellery thief who goes on one last job to provide for his family and gets nabbed by the police in the process. As they dangle deal after deal in his face, he turns them down in the belief his family are being looked after. When he hears otherwise, he goes to work for the D.A. (Brian Donlevy) in a bid to help bring Richard Widmark’s deranged Tommy Udo to justice. There’s a tidy premise to this wrapped up in a couple of worthy subplots concerning Mature’s private life but it’s let down by a frustratingly weak central performance. Mature struggles flatly to carry the film and worse still, the director Henry Hathaway doesn’t know how to handle it. As such, the film looses cohesion with every passing scene. Hathaway enjoyed filming on location where possible and while it adds to the gritty atmosphere, the lack of contained sets occasional exasperates this lack of cohesion. The story becomes ponderous with the only reprieve coming with the intermittent appearances of Widmark’s insane Tommy Udo. Udo has gone down in cinema history as one of its most disturbing villains and there’s no doubting the shocking nature of his darkest deeds in this film nor the unflinching manner in which Hathaway shot them. The key ingredient of course is Widmark, who used his debut appearance on the silver screen to blistering effect. With a vicious glint in his eye and that degenerate snigger, it’s an altogether creepy turn that captures the more nuanced insecurities that go hand in hand with over the top violence. This naturally makes him more scary because the character becomes all the more real and plausible. Widmark would go on to gift us a host of dangerous characters (good and bad), all of which were built on a similarly rich psychological base but this was the performance that lit the fire. For that reason alone we should all be grateful for Kiss of Death, and it’s that reason primarily why this is still an essential watch for all noir fans.
Rating: The Good – 76.5 Genre: Film-Noir Duration: 106 mins Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz Stars: Sidney Poitier, Richard Widmark, Linda Darnell
“Ain’t that asking a lot? Trying to be better than them when we get killed for trying to prove we’re as good.” Sidney Poitier made one of the more impressive screen debuts in this taut racial thriller about a young black doctor who is targeted by the psychotically racist and criminal brother of a patient who dies under his care. There’s much to admire here beyond the highly engaging story of the lonely fight against racism in 1950’s America. Joseph L. Mankiewicz’ script gets to the heart of prejudice through the inclusion of various characters whose differing backgrounds, education, and/or intelligence shine a light on the factors that affect tolerance. It even manages to parallel racial and class prejudice with one another in a sophisticated nod to their mutual dependencies. There are a couple of artificial interchanges among the secondary characters in an effort to paint the wider social attitudes towards blacks and lower class whites. However, the premium lines are reserved for the leads and they eat them up. Richard Widmark bristles with hate as he puts in yet another seminal bad guy turn as the nasty racist and he was so effective that he apparently apologised profusely to his future life long friend Poitier after every scene. Linda Darnell captures the nuances of her character’s more complex circumstances while Stephen McNally scores well as the colour blind head doctor. Poitier, for his part, exhibits all the interesting energy that was to define his best roles and adds much humanity to the film while retaining the anger of the oppressed righteous. Mankiewicz shoots the film with a cultured touch and ensures the tension of the dramatic scenes spills out into some extraordinary set pieces, the pinnacle of which, is a stunningly lit and framed race riot. Without reaching the level of a piercing social analysis, No Way Out is an impressive attempt to build a thriller out of an honest examination into the phenomenon. It works a treat and counts as one of the more all round solid movies of the 1950’s.
Rating: The Good – 81 Genre: Thriller Duration: 96mins Director: Elia Kazan Stars: Richard Widmark, Paul Douglas, Barbara Bel
Richard Widmark takes on a rare ‘straight down the line’ good guy role in this highly engaging tale of a plague outbreak in New Orleans and a frantic manhunt to capture the criminals who are spreading it. Widmark stars as the Public Health Medical Officer who discovers the disease on the body of a murder victim and must then convince the authorities to orchestrate a secret manhunt so that a mass panic and ensuing spread of the disease by the public is averted. Unfortunately, the murderers, led by the fearsome small time operator Jack Palance, assume the police are chasing some loot that the victim had stashed and begin their own search, causing a small outbreak as they go.
Widmark always had an edge to his game that made him well suited to play the meaner and more heartless characters but that same edge made him a very unique lead. This comes across very well as the underpaid public health officer whose passion for saving the city boils over into often self-defeating impatience with the bureaucratic procedure he faces along the way. The relationship he strikes up with Paul Douglas’ initially suspicious police captain is a focal feature of the film given how the captain’s trust is imperative to an expeditious search and there’s much satisfaction to be had watching the two sparky characters develop a mutual respect for the other’s commitment. Jack Palance is pure strychnine as the paranoid hood full of self-serving duplicity and murderous spite. He’s given us an array of great villains over the years but this easily ranks with his most entertaining.
Panic in the Streets bears all the signifying flourishes of the great Elia Kazan films. The sets are textured and richly lit with the sounds and sultry music of the city streets intermittently spilling over into the dramatic space. This gives the story a personality of its own and one that’s uniquely tailored to the tones and cadences of New Orleans. That a breakneck pursuit is playing out against the city’s languid vibes adds a delicious contrast and even mystique to the film and helps to ramp up the tension when needed. Case in point is that enthralling chase sequence at the climax of the film in which a sweaty diseased Palance streaks mayhem through the harbour area with Widmark, Douglas, and half the police force in chase. Ultimately, it’s this scintillating energy that defines Panic in the Streets but don’t underestimate the level of class that the cast and director bring to the quieter moments. Highly recommended.
Coma is an entertaining medical thriller in which Genevieve Bujold plays a doctor who begins to suspect foul play in her hospital when a number of surgeries leave the patients permanently comatose. As he later did with ER, Michael Crichton brings a level of technical authenticity to the script which helps to elevate the dramatic tension and Bujold responds with a strong vulnerability that helps the movie to engage on a more emotional level too. Michael Douglas offers strong support as Bujold’s politically motivated colleague and partner and there’s a nice chemistry between the two. Best of all, however, is the great Richard Widmark who gives a pitch perfect turn as the erudite head of the hospital whom all the doctors cower before. The whole thing plays out with the ease of those great 70′s thrillers which makes it a hugely compelling and satisfying watch. However, Coma ultimately pushes the boundaries of believability so far (in terms of premise and the actions of its characters) that regardless how engaging it is, a “guilty pleasure” (Ugly) warning must be attached.
Judgement at Nuremberg is a intensely complex analysis of the post-WWII tribunals which sharpened to a focused point societies’ discussion of the guilt and blame regarding the German people of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Rather than merely piggybacking this discussion, Judgment at Nuremberg immerses itself in it and the result is as engaging and integral a film as has been produced by Hollywood.
The great Spencer Tracy headlines as a judge who is flown into Nuremberg some time after the sensational trials of military and political commanders have ended, to preside over the lower profile trials wherein the judges of The Third Reich are being tried for dereliction of their duty to uphold the law. Burt Lancaster plays the most distinguished of these judges and perhaps the one who feels most deeply about his role, however indirect, in the atrocities of the concentration camps and “final solution”. Maximilian Schnell stars as his tenacious legal representative in the trials while Richard Widmark plays the US army’s prosecuting attorney whose fanatical desire to see the entire country punished has left him little pity or tolerance for the complexities of the issue.
Everyone involved gives thoughtful performances with Lancaster’s being much more understated than usual (though he does bubble over into melodrama at least once) and Tracy’s being as pitch perfect as usual. The cast each do their bit to harness the powerful emotion of the context and channel it intelligently so that it resonates with the audience’s awareness as opposed to merely reverberating with them on an instinctual level. The greatest complexity dealt with here are the intertwined issues of culpability and self-justification and the manner in which it is teased out and presented to the audience in the ultimate scene is utterly sublime in both its subtlety and clarity.
There are so many standout moments in this movie (some harrowing, some eminently dramatic) that it’s difficult to pick a true high-point but Widmark’s opening salvo against the defence is as damning an indictment of the Nazi collaborators as any the medium has offered. It is truly one of the most arresting moments in film and that Widmark is responsible for it and not Tracy is perhaps nearly as surprising. True class.
Cold war drama starring Sidney Poitier as a journalist commissioned to do a story on the US Bedford, a destroyer which under the stern leadership of its task master captain has made a name for itself as a crack soviet sub-hunter. The film begins with Poitier being helicoptered on board in the middle of a dangerous pursuit along with the ship’s new doctor played by Martin Balsam. They soon learn that the only law on this ship is the captain’s and that his fanaticism has bred an elite but tightly wound crew. As Poitier gets to know his man and as Balsam attempts to fit in with the ship’s ultra-modern methods, the Bedford gets embroiled in a dangerous game with its latest quarry, a soviet sub which has illegally entered Greenland’s waters.
Poitier and Balsam are their usual tremendous selves but The Bedford Incident is all about Richard Widmark’s emphatic turn as the insatiable but paranoid Captain Finlander. Through James Poe’s taut screenplay and Widmark’s presence, his character sets the tone so completely that nearly every scene, even when he’s not present, is coloured by him. Echoes of Herman Melville’s Ahab ring louder and louder as Finlander provokes and threatens the soviet sub up and down the coast of Greenland to the increasing dismay and fear of the ship’s recent arrivals and eventually the crew itself.
The Bedford Incident is a cracking high tension representative of an always intriguing genre. The action is much more contained than the traditional WWII naval drama. This is partly due to the fact that the production had less help from the US military in terms of equipment and vehicle provision but mostly because the terseness of the story called for it. This is a film about obsession and the futile attempts of those observing to make sense of it or even stop it. It doesn’t crawl inside the head of the compelled captain but like Moby Dick, it examines it from the point of view of the incredulous onlookers. In this manner, The Bedford Incident becomes a streamlined reflection of the wider anxieties of the times as the governments of two superpowers went head to head in a dangerously deadlocked cold combat to the exasperation of the watching world.
The hermetic tension created to serve these ends works perfectly on a cinematic level too as it hones the already chilling subject matter to a fine point. It’s not the most technically accomplished war film as most of the action is shot in a studio but it makes clever use of what it does offer. However, even if it didn’t, the quality of the drama and the pay-off of its remarkable ending would easily negate such concerns.