Archive for the ‘crime’ Tag
“This damned burg’s getting me. If I don’t get away soon I’ll be going blood-simple like the natives.”
RED HARVEST by Dashiell Hammett
Commit a crime, and the earth is made of glass. Commit a crime, and it seems as if a coat of snow fell on the ground, such as reveals in the woods the track of every partridge and fox and squirrel and mole. You cannot recall the spoken word, you cannot wipe out the foot-track, you cannot draw up the ladder, so as to leave no inlet or clew. Some damning circumstance always transpires. The laws and substances of nature — water, snow, wind, gravitation — become penalties to the thief.
COMPENSATION by Ralph Waldo Emerson
What if there’s a crime and no one’s sure who committed the crime or what the crime is? What if you think you know who committed the crime, but you’re wrong? What if you can’t find your windbreaker anywhere? Also, what if you failed Conversation 101?
The owner of a dingy bar in Texas, Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya) suspects his wife, Abby (Frances McDormand) is cheating. He hires lowlife private detective, Loren Visser (the excellent M. Emmett Walsh) to tail her and confirm his suspicions. Abby may or may not have cheated in the past, but on her way out of town she gets chummy with Ray (John Getz), a bartender in Marty’s saloon. Marty can’t live with the knowledge of his wife’s infidelity so he decides to do something permanent about it and asks Visser to help. He may have hired the wrong guy.
Dark, moody, and atmospheric, BLOOD SIMPLE moves at a steady pace and always moves forward. The plot isn’t complicated. Filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen don’t go off on tangents which allows them to focus on the four main characters and what they think is going on. That’s the point, after all. The audience knows the entire story, but each character sees only his or her part in it. With limited information, they make poor decisions. They’re not crazy or irrational, but miscommunication or lack of any communication at all leads each of the main players to make bad decisions that compound each problem and dig them deeper into trouble. It’s like a high-stakes version of the telephone game, except in BLOOD SIMPLE, that innocent exercise of passing, “Dasher and Dancer are my favorite reindeer.” on as “Ashes cause cancer. Want a beer?” becomes dangerous confusion about a possible murder.
The characters, handicapped by limited access to the whole story, talk to one another, but their conversations muddy rather than clarify and people walk away from each exchange with less information than they started with. Only the audience is privy to the entire thing. This causes tension and a desire to yell at the screen. It also makes it hard to look away.
Shot in Austin, Texas with a small budget that Joel and Ethan Coen collected door-to-door, BLOOD SIMPLE looks and sounds more expensive than it should. Barry Sonnenfeld’s shadow-filled cinematography along with skillful editing by Roderick Jaynes and Don Wiegman lift the film’s quality above the usual mid-eighties thriller. Creative visual effects and a fantastic Carter Burwell score will stick with you, as will the trademark Coen gore. This was the Coen brothers’ first feature film and Burwell’s first film score, but you’d never know it. Their clear vision ties a simple plot, a small cast, and spare sets together to make an inventive neo-noir classic.
The cast, led by Frances McDormand, all excel at restraint. There’s so much left unsaid in every conversation, the script must have consisted largely of stage directions. That said, McDormand, Getz, Walsh, and Hedaya are all wonderful character actors who can say a lot without words. McDormand’s character, Abby, even mentions the lack of chit chat. After she says to Ray that he’s quiet like Marty, she explains, “When he doesn’t say things, they’re usually nasty. When you don’t, they’re usually nice.” That’s sweet and all, but if Ray could just finish a sentence… The dialogue we get is choice. When Visser warns Marty to keep their association to himself, Marty says,” I wasn’t about to tell anyone. This is an illicit romance–we’ve got to trust each other to be discreet. For richer, for poorer.” Visser comes back with,” Don’t say that. Your marriages don’t work out so hot.” The whole film is an exercise in understatement and it’s a subtle, brutal treat.
This piece appeared originally in the Brattle Film Notes.
Rose Sandigate (Googie Withers) lives a drab, joyless life. Married to dull, but decent George (Edward Chapman), Rose keeps house for her husband, his two nearly grown daughters from a previous marriage, and their small son. She’s worn out from rationing, slum-living, and her uneventful life in the East End of London.
“There’s another dead bishop on the landing!”
One Sunday, while preparing Sunday dinner, Rose finds escaped-convict Tommy Swann (John McCallum) hiding in her family’s air-raid shelter. Tommy was serving a prison sentence for a violent robbery committed years before on the day he was to have married Rose. He begs Rose to hide him until nightfall when he’ll make his escape. She tries to resist, but still loves him so she promises to keep him safely locked away in her bedroom for the day. As her husband and children go about their Sunday routines, Rose becomes more tense. She knows she should turn him in, but she loved him once. As the day progresses, Tommy tries to seduce Rose and his attention brings back thoughts she hadn’t entertained in years. Rose is torn. Should she give Tommy over to the police or chuck it all and go on the run with him?
To complicate matters further, Rose’s stepdaughters, Vi (Susan Shaw) and Doris (Patricia Plunkett) are old enough to feel claustrophobic in her home and Vi, the elder of the two, can barely contain her resentment. As it gets closer to nightfall, Rose can’t take the pressure and starts picking fights with everyone in the family. The bickering reaches a fever pitch on a usually calm Sunday afternoon.
“A noise? Nah. Must be your imagination.”
All the time Rose agonizes about having a convict under her bed, the law, led by Detective Sergeant Fothergill (Jack Warner) combs the streets for Tommy. Fothergill knows Tommy’s old criminal associates might have a line on where he’s holed up so he presses them for information. This adds to the overall feeling of pressure in the film. During Fothergill’s investigation we get to see the melting pot neighborhood where all this drama takes place. As the camera pans through the busy market, we hear a smattering of Yiddish among the English-speakers. It’s a working-class mix of different cultures with a lot of personality.
Must be a special on eel pie.
It Always Rains on Sunday, listed as a crime drama or film noir, also resembles some French films of the 1930s. Films like Pépé le Moko, directed by Julien Duvivier and Le Règle du Jeu (Rules of the Game), directed by Jean Renoir, show people on the fringes of society living in despair. These films in the subset of poetic realism often have a cynical point of view and at least one character resigned to his own sad fate. The characters hope for love or fortune or something grand, but are often beaten down by a series of misfortunes or a set of rules they didn’t make. Though not technically of that French genre, this film shares composer Georges Auric with many of the films of poetic realism. The style of It Always Rains on Sunday influenced many of the British kitchen-sink dramas of the 1950s and 60s like Look Back in Anger (1956) and A Taste of Honey (1961). These films departed from the usual upper-crust British films by showing working class people stuck in dead-end jobs and living in squalor and dealt more frankly with sex, race, and poverty than films had up to that point.
Poor is Hell.
Michael Balcon produced It Always Rains on Sunday and many other films for Ealing Studios. He also produced for Gainsborough Pictures, Gaumont British, and MGM British Studios and had a huge influence on British cinema. Director, Robert Hamer helmed this and Kind Hearts and Coronets for the studio. Ealing specialized in comedies and some of the locations look like those in the comedies The Ladykillers and The Lavender Hill Mob. Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe filmed It Always Rains on Sunday along with The Great Gatsby (1974), Rollerball (1975), and about eighty other films while collecting a basket full of Academy Award and BAFTA nominations and wins.
Such a pretty shot.
Fleshing out the story are some terrific British character actors. Hermione Baddeley, Alfie Bass, Sydney Tafler, and Nigel Stock all play the kind of small parts that make any film more realistic.
“It was a wombat, I tell ya!”
Watch It Always Rains on Sunday for the slice-of-life drama, the dingy, authentic atmosphere, and for the marvelous performance by Googie Withers. In the time it takes to make a Sunday roast, Withers unravels internally without going all Mystic River Sean Penn on us. She shows us just enough. It’s a restrained and artful take on what could easily have been melodrama. Withers also has great chemistry with John McCallum, who she later married so you know the steam is real. If you’re in the mood for a little gem of a film that’s a little bit noir and a little bit day-in-the-life, check out It Always Rains on Sunday.
Notes: Googie Withers and John McCallum were married for 62 years!
Googie means Little Pigeon and was a nickname her nanny gave the actress as a child.
Question: How do you know you’re watching a John Waters film?
Answer: When the film opens with a carnival barker luring unsuspecting victims into a tent full of fetishists so he can rob them, you’re in a John Waters film.
Mr. David hawks the Cavalcade of Perversions.
Yup. Lady Divine (Divine) and her cohorts put cigarettes out on each other, sniff a topless woman’s armpits and eat vomit. Then, when the square suburbanites can take no more, Divine brandishes a revolver, robs the crowd, and shoots any dissenters, cackling all the while.
“Say what again.”
After the robbery, the gang flees and we discover that Mr. David (David Lochary), the barker and lover of Lady Divine, has fallen for another woman. David keeps the affair a secret because Lady Divine threatens to tell the police he was in on the Tate murders. It IS 1970. Lady Divine, gets word of David’s betrayal and vows to kill him.
Edith Massey drops a dime on Mr. David.
On her way to commit murder, two lowlifes accost her and drag her into an alley. Dazed from the attack, Lady Divine runs into a toddler dressed as the Pope who leads her to a church. Lady Divine prays for guidance. As she kneels in prayer, she meets Mink Stole who clearly has eyes for her. It’s a John Waters film so the two women have sex in a pew using a rosary. Now Lady Divine has an accomplice. The two lovers head to Lady Divine’s apartment to snuff Mr. David.
Lady Divine walks with a tiny Pope.
Mr. David and his oversexed lover await the pair in Lady Divine’s apartment where they’ve accidentally killed Divine’s ever-topless daughter. Now there’s no turning back. There’s a nutty bloodbath with one survivor. As Lady Divine lies on the sofa surrounded by the bodies of her enemies and crowing about crimes to come, a huge lobster crawls into her living room and rapes her. I never thought I’d write that sentence. Anyway, stuff, like a crucifixion, happens after that, but who cares? A giant lobster rapes Divine. Needless to say, the scene catches you off guard.
“Quick! Get the drawn butter!”
John Waters wrote, directed, produced, and shot MULTIPLE MANIACS in his native Baltimore. During his introduction to the film at the Provincetown International Film Festival in June of 2016, he said he filmed the Cavalcade of Perversion on his parents’ front lawn. Waters cast friends Edith Massey, Mink Stole, Pat Moran, David Lochary, and Divine in lead roles. Friendship trumped acting ability, but that’s not important. This is not so much a film as a happening. It is also, as film critic J. Hoberman notes, John Waters most overtly Catholic film. Janus/Criterion just restored the film and it looks great. It’s also weirdly entertaining. Everyone is crazily over the top and the whole film is a riot. I watched MULTIPLE MANIACS for the first time in a full theatre with John Waters in attendance and the place went nuts. It’s vile, disgusting, and fun to watch.
Rating: 4 Lobsters
Until you watch HIS KIND OF WOMAN, you might not realize Vincent Price is the star. You might believe the credits and think you’re watching a Robert Mitchum/Jane Russell vehicle full of mobsters who crack wise and a beauty who sings a little.
“Is that a gun in your pocket?”
After all, up to this point, Vincent Price spent a lot of time in costume dramas or as the guy who didn’t get the girl. Gene Tierney threw him over for Dana Andrews in LAURA even after she was dead and she dumped him again the next year for Cornel Wilde in LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN. I’m not sure Hollywood knew what to do with the erudite actor. Handsome, articulate, and athletic, Vincent looked the part of the leading man, but had more to give. You might say he was too smart for his own good.
“Snatch this revolver from my hand, Grasshopper.”
Male ingenue parts don’t show off your sense of humor much so studios plugged him into the role of the witty, yet evil count. A few films, like SHOCK (1946) allowed him to show more range, but it wasn’t until Roger Corman’s Edgar Allen Poe phase in the 1960s that Vincent was really allowed to shine. The exception to that is HIS KIND OF WOMAN. Vincent Price sinks his teeth into the Mark Cardigan role.
“This is going to be fun.”
Don’t get me wrong. Mitchum and Russell steam up your glasses in this film, but what brings me back to John Farrow’s 1951 crime thriller again and again is the wonderfully over-the-top performance by Vincent Price as Mark Cardigan, the biggest movie star who ever swashed a buckle.
“Did you close the garage?”
Cardigan travels from Hollywood to gorgeous, mid-century Morro’s Lodge in Baja California, Mexico to hunt and fish and woo his mistress, Lenore Brent (Jane Russell). His sporting ways do little to impress Lenore; she starts warming up to Dan Milner (Robert Mitchum). He’s in sunny Mexico for a mysterious, dangerous reason, which becomes clearer and uglier as the story progresses and we get to know the dastardly Nick Ferraro (Raymond Burr). Nick’s a mobster deported by the U.S. government who wants to get back into the states. How does a famous and recognizable hoodlum get past customs, and where does the Nazi doctor fit in? Nick plans to use Dan—and I don’t mean he wants to borrow Dan’s passport. Dan, a teetotaler, still manages to intoxicate Lenore and the two begin a sexy little romance. I’ll admit: it’s fun to watch. Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell have terrific chemistry. That said, I still can’t watch this film without wishing it had more Vincent.
“My GODZILLA was the best! Say it!”
As Mark Cardigan, Vincent, full of boyish charm, tries to get his friend excited about hunting with him, but encounters only sarcasm. He has all this fancy hunting and fishing gear, but no one wants to play. He’s sure Dan will be a sport, but he has mind on other things.
Mark Cardigan: “What about tomorrow morning?
Dan Milner: “All right, what about it?”
Mark Cardigan: “The hunting. I’ve got all the equipment you need. How about me rootin’ you out about five.”
Dan Milner: “Five?”
Lenore Brent: “He shoots them as they crawl out of bed.”
“Wanna kill some stuff?”
Despite their best efforts, neither Lenore nor Dan can dampen Mark’s enthusiasm and off he goes to his favorite blind quoting Shakespeare. It’s that bigger-than-life, booming attitude that makes me smile every time I watch HIS KIND OF WOMAN. A combination of Errol Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks, and Ronald Coleman, Mark Cardigan has all the conceit of a matinee idol with some intelligence and a little humility to balance it out. Mark mentions the danger ahead of them and Dan promises that if his friend dies in battle, he’ll be sure to give him a big sendoff.
Dan: “Well, if you do get killed, I’ll make sure you get a first-rate funeral in Hollywood at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.”
Mark: “I’ve already had it. My last picture died there.”
The interplay between Mark and the other characters continues throughout the film. Actually, he doesn’t need anyone to play off. He spends a good portion of the film soliloquizing. What separates this film from others depicting actors forced to face reality is how Mark handles it. He accepts the challenge and the risk gleefully as if he thinks he’s still on stage 6. On his way to fight the gangsters, Mark arms himself and then stops to don a black cape. Fabulous! History abounds with films about self-absorbed actors blurring the line between fantasy and reality, but this is more fun than profound. Part of the reason may be that when Mark looks deeply into his soul, he likes what he sees there. His long-winded speeches about battles and heroes aren’t just for show. Deep down he wants to believe every word and surprises even himself when the bullets start flying. It’s thrilling and joyous and fun.
“It’s 14 against 2.”
“We’ll take ’em.”
“How do you know?
“Bad guys can’t shoot.”
HIS KIND OF WOMAN has a romance with great chemistry, a twisted bad guy with a taste for torture, a Nazi, and a brilliant, but bored actor dying to prove himself to himself.
I can’t picture another actor who could do the part justice as well as Vincent Price. He has the energy, athleticism, timing, and eloquence to pull it off. Who else could wax poetic while trussing a duck?
OK. Maybe this guy.
Without delving too deeply into plot summation, I’ll say HIS KIND OF WOMAN packs a lot into two hours. There’s a love story, a mobster attempting to foil immigration, a CASABLANCA-like sub-plot with Jim Backus sitting in for Claude Rains, and a Nazi. As Joe Bob Briggs says, “…too much plot getting in the way of the story.” Fortunately, the writers, Frank Fenton and Jack Leonard along with the talented cast can handle it. I think this film’s success lies in the philosophy expressed by Jim Backus’ stockbroker when discussing movies in general. “People don’t go to movies to see how miserable the world is. They go there to eat popcorn and be happy.” Preston Sturges couldn’t have said it so well.
American artist Jeff Farrell (Kerwin Matthews) stumbles into an isolated village in the Camargue region of southern France and meets Annette Beynat (Liliane Brousse). There’s obvious chemistry between them, but Annette gets blocked by her stepmother, the sexy Eve Beynat (Nadia Gray). Eve’s still married to Annette’s dad, but he’s out of town so Eve makes a play for Jeff. She’s very subtle. After Eve and Jeff go horseback riding, she takes off her blouse and asks him to towel her off.
“Jeff? Are we still on for tonigh…oh.”
It works. Soon, they’re making the beast with two backs all over the place and Annette’s left out in the cold. There’s just one little problem. Eve still has that pesky husband. I said he was out of town, right? Well, he is. He’s in an asylum for the criminally insane for using an acetylene torch to kill the guy who raped Annette years earlier.
“Just a little off the eyes.”
And you thought ONE LIFE TO LIVE was complicated. Eve says her husband has all his marbles. He just went a bit overboard (a bit) and if Jeff helps him escape from the sanitarium, he’ll leave the country and start a new life leaving Eve and Jeff to do the horizontal mambo as much as they want. Sounds logical, right? Jeff, blinded by lust, says he’d love to help a torch-wielding maniac (TITLE-DRINK!) out of the booby hatch and can we do that toweling-off thing again, honey? Anyway, cool asylum-escaping ensues, but things go a little twisty. Will Jeff do crimey stuff? Will Eve’s husband find his matches? Will Annette get a little action? Will Eve take Jeff horseback riding again? Please?
“An adjustment et voilà! Ready for your close-up!”
Writer Jimmy Sangster loved LES DIABOLIQUES. He set MANIAC and SCREAM OF FEAR in France and added a bunch of plot twists in both. He also cast women in lead roles and made them strong and smart. Eve’s a real multi-tasker too. She runs a tavern while hatching an escape plot and seducing a young stranger. Way to go, Eve! Sangster writes realistic dialogue and the plot hums along nicely. Director Michael Carreras and cinematographer Wilkie Cooper keep the mood tense and the atmosphere noirish. There are some terrific night shots around the inn and later, they film a nifty climax in a cavernous quarry.
“This is the biggest version of Don’t Break the Ice I’ve ever seen.”
This film is a hoot. Despite the over-the-top elements of the story, it’s all very natural. It’s naturally gruesome, but MANIAC was made by Hammer so they have to have a soupcon of gore. It’s in the contract. I had fun watching this one. The cast, screenplay, location, and complexity combine to make it a fun watch and Sinbad, uh, Kerwin is a cutie.
“Anybody else see a Cyclops?”
Harry Fordyce (Peter Cushing!) manages a London bank. His micro-managing and general fastidiousness put him at odds with his staff who he belittles every chance he gets.
When Colonel Gore Hepburn (Andre Morrell) from the bank’s insurance company arrives to inspect its security protocols, Fordyce sets out to impress him with his efficiency. The thing is, the colonel is not from the insurance company and he has a cunning plan.
Yes, THAT cunning!
Without giving the game away, I can say that CASH ON DEMAND’s director, Quentin Lawrence, knows how to build tension. What starts out as a slice-of-life drama about a tight-lipped bank manager abusing his staff switches quickly to a race against time to save a family. In the morning, Fordyce runs roughshod over his subordinates. In the afternoon, he scurries to save his family, his job, and his freedom. Writers David T. Chantler and Lewis Greifer adapted Jacques Gillies’ play for the big screen. That this film started as a play makes sense. It takes place in three sets, but could easily be done in two or even one. The excitement comes, not from action, but from acting and a terrific script.
“Where’s my stake?”
Cushing is brilliant as the mercurial Fordyce who finally feels what it’s like to be under the thumb of a person who has the power of life and death over him. His transition from haughty to harried develops by degrees and we see his metamorphosis in the few hours the film documents. Morrell’s Gore Hepburn is fabulous. He’s sublimely at home ordering Fordyce around and making points with the staff while his devious plan moves along swimmingly. What a wonderful pair to watch. Richard Vernon made an impression too. He plays Pearson, Fordyce’s number two who, because of a small error which was fixed quickly, might lose this position and any hope of finding another. The entire cast does a wonderful job.
“Did you steal that thumbtack?”
CASH ON DEMAND is another great Hammer non-horror. I know Hammer is better known for vampires and busty maidens, but as I watch these smaller, less lavish thrillers, I wonder why they didn’t make more. They’re wonderful. I’m going to be sorry when I’ve seen them all.
On July 20, 1969, engineers at NASA realized a decades-old dream and landed the first manned mission to the lunar surface. As 500 million people watched, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. Less than three weeks later, on August 9, another group realized their dream when they broke into the home being rented by Roman Polanski and his wife, Sharon Tate, and massacred five people.
Outside the scene of the Tate murders, 10500 Cielo Drive, Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles.
The reasons for those murders and two more on August 11 were not typical ones. Sharon Tate and Voityck Frykowski didn’t welch on a bet. Abigail Folger and Jay Sebring didn’t steal from the wrong people. Steven Parent wasn’t running around with the wife of a jealous man. Rosemary and Leno LaBianca didn’t get caught in a drug deal gone bad. Their killers didn’t get caught mid-burglary and decide to off the witnesses. No, what keeps us talking about the murders in Los Angeles that August is the bizarre motive and the even more bizarre people who thought it up.
Vincent Bugliosi, the District Attorney of Los Angeles County at the time, prosecuted members of the Manson family for the seven murders and wrote, along with Curt Gentry, the brilliant true crime book, Helter Skelter about his experience. The made-for-television movie of the same name doesn’t stray far from the book and that’s a good thing. The book is a marvel of true crime/legal reporting. The film leaves out some details. It would have to or it would be ten hours long. In his book, Bugliosi spends a lot of time discussing his methods and the legal particulars of the case.
George DiCenzo and Vincent Bugliosi
Director Tom Gries (WILL PENNY) keeps the story moving forward and makes you want to learn more. George DiCenzo has the authority to play Bugliosi and I when I think of Charles Manson, I picture Steve Railsback. He IS Manson. It’s–if you’ll pardon the expression–witchy.
“I said no olives!”
I remember seeing this on TV when it first aired. This was the time when everyone watched whatever big TV movie was on that week. Everybody talked about it. I know I couldn’t look away. Hearing Charles Manson’s theory for the first time was chilling. It was almost as frightening to realize that this scary little man could convince a group of lost people to kill total strangers for no reason. Highly recommended.
One man’s family.