Archive for the ‘1940s’ Tag

Detour (1945)   2 comments


happy detour

Piano player Al Roberts (Tom Neal) loves singer Sue Harvey (Claudia Drake) but they’ve both grown tired of their thankless gig in a small New York nightclub. Sue gets a chance to go west and make it big in Hollywood. Roberts soon follows, hitch-hiking across the country to see her. The trip drags along until he meets Charles Haskell, Jr., a rich man in a big car who’s tired of doing all the driving. Roberts’ happiness turns to dread when Haskell dies accidentally. He fears the police will accuse him of murder so he hides the body and drives on. Later, he picks up hitch-hiker Vera, played by Ann Savage, and assumes the dead man’s name. Vera, who had met the man earlier, knows Roberts is lying and blackmails him into continuing on to Los Angeles and stealing his identity permanently in order to gain a large inheritance. Meanwhile, all Roberts wants is to get to L.A. to see his girl. As Roberts and Vera get closer to her ignominious goal, their mutual hatred rises to the surface and she, too dies accidentally. Now Roberts roams the country aimlessly, shut off forever from decent society and the woman he loves.

detour car

Detour captures perfectly the noir belief that nice guys do finish last. Despite Al Roberts implied goodness and his sincere love for Sue, the gods conspire to foil him at every turn. Just taking a ride from a stranger has sealed his fate. The performances by Tom Neal and Ann Savage illustrate the fatalistic view of the film. Resolved to his dismal future his voice-over narrates. ”That’s life. Whichever way you turn, Fate sticks out a foot to trip you.”
Filmed by Edgar G. Ulmer on a budget of only $30,000, Detour has attained a cult following thanks to its stark viewpoint and spare acting. The movie became the first Hollywood noir inducted into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1992

sad detour

Posted May 13, 2014 by Kerry Fristoe in Reviews

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The Stranger (1946)   Leave a comment


A small New England town after World War II provides the backdrop for murder and betrayal as a Nazi war criminal evades capture and settles there. Posing as a history professor at an elite boys’ school, Orson Welles thinks he has it made until a former minion arrives in town with FBI agent Edward G. Robinson at his heels. Welles must silence his former cohort and elude Robinson all while proving to new bride Loretta Young that the agent’s allegations are false. Welles, influenced by German impressionist cinema and his own aesthetic directed The Stranger using shadows and camera angles to express confusion, fear, and anxiety in his characters. The idyllic New England village with its general store and bucolic scenery serve to heighten the suspense and disbelief that such evil could lurk beneath its picture-perfect setting.
The Stranger seldom makes it onto top noir lists but it should. Welles does menacing rather well and Robinson’s quirky, but smart Mr. Wilson is fun to watch.


The House on 92nd Street (1945)   Leave a comment

house on 92

A stiff police/FBI procedural, The House on 92nd Street (1945) chronicles the search for a Nazi spy ring operating in the U.S. prior to WWII. Someone is smuggling parts of the formula for Process 97 (the Atomic Bomb) out of a top secret facility and the FBI, led by Agent Briggs (Lloyd Nolan) wants to find out how. The bureau has recruited Bill Dietrich (William Eythe), a German national, also recruited by German intelligence, to infiltrate the ring, pass information to the FBI, and identify the ring’s leader. Known only as Mr. Christopher, the Nazi leader has thus far eluded detection and his identity remains a secret until the end of the film. Dietrich, faked CV in hand, presents himself to the front men for the spies as a radio engineer who will pass intel to and from Hamburg. Directed by Henry Hathaway, The House on 92nd Street also stars Leo G. Carroll, Signe Hasso, and Gene Lockhart. Though not as exciting as The Naked City or He Walked by Night, or even 13 rue Madeleine, 92nd Street tells an interesting story efficiently and the actors, especially Hasso, Carroll, and Lockhart acquit themselves well.

92 street

Rope (1948)   Leave a comment

Alfred Hitchcock exchanges his usual cinematic style for a more playlike one as he puts his own spin on the Leopold and Loeb thrill killings in Rope. John Dall and Farley Granger star as Brandon and Phillip, sons of privilege, who decide that killing a classmate they deem inferior and getting away with it is proof of their intellectual superiority.

“We’re better than you.”

The film opens with the camera moving from a placid street scene and into the students’ palatial flat, closing in on Brandon and Phillip strangling their victim with the eponymous weapon. The two have a drink and discuss their evening plans. As Robert Mitchum says in Out of the Past, the pair are “a little cold around the heart”.

“Oh, you wanted a Windsor knot?”

They don’t stop with their ghastly crime. To further reinforce the belief in their Nietzschean Übermensch status, they hold a cocktail party on the day of the murder and invite the victim’s parents. They even serve dinner on a chest containing the body. Sweet.

The corpse makes it tasty.

Based on the real life Leopold and Loeb murder case of 1924 in which two wealthy University of Chicago students kidnapped and murdered 14-year-old Bobby Franks just to prove they could, Rope begins during the murder and follows Brandon and Phillip as they prepare for the party, bicker, and attempt to hide their crime. Filmed on a single set using long uninterrupted shots of up to ten minutes at a time, Rope breaks a few established rules of cinema to great effect. As the evening progresses, the killers’ facades of control erode and the apartment seems to shrink. That sense of claustrophobia grows as Brandon and Phillip feel cornered by their former teacher and idol Rupert Cadell (Jimmy Stewart). At first Rupert appears to be cut from the same cloth as the killers, but as Rupert observes the pair, the audience sees his suspicion and anxiety. It’s fun to watch Rupert inveigle his way into the guests thoughts and the hosts insecurities.

“The something of something.”

Since we know what happened to Leopold and Loeb, we can guess as to the fate of Brandon and Phillip, but it’s still a good time and the dialogue, written by Hume Cronyn and an uncredited Ben Hecht, is witty and dark.

“To murder!”

I love Rope and despite or perhaps because of the film’s divergence from the director’s usual path, it’s my favorite Hitchcock.

Hitchcock always won at Rock-Paper-Scissors.

Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di biciclette) (1948)   Leave a comment


Set in post-war Rome, Bicycle Thieves tells the story of Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani), his wife, Maria (Lianella Carell), and their son, Bruno (Enzo Staiola) as they struggle to get by in the ruined city. The film begins with a mob of job seekers gathered outside a government office waiting for work—any kind of work. The clerk offers Antonio a job with one condition; he must have a bicycle. He takes the job then has to come up with the money to retrieve his from the repair shop. His wife hocks their bed sheets for the money to pay for the bike and the two ride home happy. The next day, Antonio sets off for his new job and the promise of a change in his family’s fortune. As Antonio works hanging posters, a gang of thieves steal his bike. He chases the thief, but loses him in the crowded streets. Antonio reports the crime to the police who clearly don’t care and make no effort to help him. He enlists the help of his friends, led by Baiocco (Gino Saltamerenda), and together the group of men and young Bruno walk the bicycle market where Baiocco says the thieves will attempt to sell Antonio’s bicycle parts. They come up empty and Antonio and Bruno go alone to another market. There Antonio sees the thief, but loses him again. He finds an associate of the thief and follows him to a church-run mission where, after making a scene during the service, Antonio gets the address of the thief. Antonio and Bruno go to the thief’s neighborhood, but have to fight off the neighborhood toughs to escape and even a sympathetic policeman cannot help him. Exhausted and desperate, Antonio makes a final attempt to save his job and his family and possibly lose himself.

Throughout the film we see De Sica making political and social statements about bureaucracy, government, politics, and the nature of man. He doesn’t hit you over the head with them a la Oliver Stone though. He shows the anonymity of bureaucracy using shots of a large wall of shelves holding bed sheets sold by the poor to buy food or in Antonio’s case, a bicycle. Behind the policeman in the station we see a group of identical cubbies holding papers. Each file, a crime with a victim they probably can’t or won’t help. There’s also an election going on during the few days the story takes place with politicians speaking philosophically on social issues while people starve. Bicycle Thieves, directed by Vittorio De Sica won’t exactly cheer you up, but it’s a beautifully made film with subtle performances from all its leads and a lovely score by Alessandro Cicognini (Summertime, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape).

Lamberto Maggiorani (Umberto D., Women Without Names) has little dialogue, but he’s on screen for the entire film and every feeling shows on his chiseled features. You see every possible emotion on his face. His love for his wife and children, his hope for their future, his sadness and fear at this loss on top of all his other losses, and finally his anger and desperation all play on his face like a film on a screen. Enzo Staiola (The Barefoot Contessa, La Ragazza dal Pigiama Giallo) as Bruno also astounds with the subtlety of his acting. That such a young child could project such emotion amazed me. De Sica cast mostly non-professional actors in Bicycle Thieves, claiming he wanted authentic, and not trained emotions conveyed to the audience. It works. An engaging story, lovely and realistic performances, and a beautiful score make for a wonderful and touching film. I’m glad I saw it.

I wrote this piece for the site.

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