Archive for the ‘noir’ Tag

Undercurrent (1946)   6 comments

posterunder

Spinster Ann Hamilton (Katharine Hepburn) lives with her scientist father, Dink (Edmund Gwenn) in the country.  She busies herself helping with her father’s experiments and keeping house for him.  She’s a practical woman who harbors no fantasies about romance and marriage and is content to live her quiet, country life.  Then she meets Alan Garroway (Robert Taylor).  The millionaire industrialist visits the Hamiltons to buy Dink’s explosive formula and start production.  Charming, handsome, and confident, Alan sweeps Ann off her feet and after a whirlwind romance, the two marry.  The End.  Cut!  Print!  Teehee, just kidding.

hitch

Wrong film, bub.

Alan takes Ann out of her comfortable domestic life and thrusts her into his jet-setting, sophisticated one.  The newlyweds arrive at their Washington, D.C. digs where Alan has arranged a party to welcome Ann.  It’s a black tie affair and Ann has only her traveling dress to wear.  She’s frumpy and nervous and clearly out of place in a room full of professional party-goers.  Determined to avoid another embarrassing scene and to make Alan proud of her, Ann buys a new wardrobe and tries to be the good Washington hostess.  Under Alan’s tasteful supervision, Ann learns how to charm the witty urbanites in Alan’s circle.  The couple appear to be well on the way to a long, happy marriage when Ann hears, for the first time, that Alan has a brother.  Ann asks about the mystery brother only to find that he ran off with no forwarding address and a large part of the company’s funds.  When Ann tries to question him further, Alan lashes out at her.  Realizing her husband is in pain, Ann relents and decides to try her best to comfort Alan and make him forget his heartbreak.

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Next, the couple go to the Garroway family home in tony, equestrian Middleburg, Virginia.  As Ann begins to acclimate herself to her new surroundings, she senses unease.  People talk around the issue which centers around Alan’s wayward brother, Michael.  No one will answer Ann’s questions and Alan’s hair trigger temper makes Ann increasingly concerned about the stability of her husband.  She catches him in a series of lies, but Alan explains it away.  This assuages Ann’s fears and on a trip to San Francisco Alan is called away.  Ann takes the opportunity to explore his brother Michael’s old ranch north of the city to learn more about him.  As she tours the house and grounds, which look as if they were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, she gets a picture of Michael which differs significantly from the one Alan described to her.  Alan reacts violently to Ann’s visit to the ranch.  After a guitar-tossing outburst, Alan finally calms down and brings her, coldly back to Washington.

animal-house-guitar-smash-o

Yeah, not this film either.

Alan and Ann overhear a conversation which convinces Ann that to Alan she’s less of a wife and more of a project.  She realizes her transformation from frumpy to fabulous was no accident.  “You knew I wouldn’t look smart.  You could have waited for me to meet your friends.  The truth is if no one saw the before, you wouldn’t get credit for the after.”  In that one statement, Ann says what she’s been fearing almost from the beginning.  Now Ann doubts her husband and her marriage.  As long as she keeps that doubt to herself, she’ll have time to figure things out, but like the big innocent goof that she is, Ann tells Alan everything.  Immediately things go from curious to downright scary as Ann discovers the true nature of her husband.

wedding

Ann, run!

Directed by Vincent Minnelli with great, moody cinematography by Karl Freund, UNDERCURRENT boasts an impressive cast of lead and character actors including Marjorie Main, Jayne Meadows, and Robert Mitchum in a small, but pivotal role.  Based on a magazine story “You Were There” by Thelma Strabel, UNDERCURRENT did well at the box office.  It was Robert Taylor’s first screen role after returning from WWII and filmgoers came out in droves to see him and the rest of the stellar cast.  I’ve always liked this film.  Katharine Hepburn plays an unusually pliable woman in UNDERCURRENT and watching her transform from strong, but naïve to intimidated to self-assured to terrified keeps you guessing.  Robert Taylor does sociopathic well, and Robert Mitchum…  Well, Robert Mitchum can do anything he wants on screen (and probably off) and it works a treat.  I recommend UNDERCURRENT for trying something a little different with its stars.  It’s a fun noir/drama/love story/thriller.  It can also be used to propel a small, sea-going vessel.  Well, maybe not.

khep

I wrote this for #TheGreatKHBlogathon for Margaret Perry of margaretperry.org

Thank you for hosting!!!

Shock (1946) 31 Days of Horror   Leave a comment

ShockMoviePoster

While waiting for her husband to return from the war, Janet (Anabel Shaw) looks out her hotel window and sees a man bludgeon his wife to death. Her husband Paul (Frank Latimore) arrives at the hotel to find his wife in a catatonic state. The hotel doctor (They used to have those.) recommends a specialist. Enter a youthful Vincent Price who decides Janet needs urgent care.

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This ought to do it.

He transfers her to his private psychiatric hospital in the country where Janet can get the help she needs. Soon Janet feels great so she goes home with her husband and they have babies and a house in the suburbs. The End. Not so fast, bub. It seems Dr. Cross (Price) and his favorite nurse, Elaine (Lynn Bari) have more than a passing interest in Janet’s case and each other (wink wink). They want her to remain catatonic, go mad, or die to keep her from telling anyone what she saw. Janet lies drugged and unable to defend herself as her husband and the police race to get to the real story before things head even farther south.

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Claus von Bulow’s role model.

Director Alfred Werker (He Walked By Night, Walk East on Beacon!) must have run a tight ship. In a compact 70 minutes, he tells a compelling and often harrowing tale of murder, lust, and conscience. Eugene Ling and Martin Berkeley wrote a taut screenplay based on Albert deMond’s story. Between their script and Werker’s direction, there’s not a wasted moment. Music by David Botolph (House of Wax, Kiss of Death) sets the tone for this noirish thriller. Though not technically a horror, the idea of being at the mercy of a doctor sworn to help, yet determined to harm seems pretty scary to me.

shock

I wrote this for the cinemashame.wordpress.com 31 Days of Horror Challenge. Check out @cinemashame and @30hertzrumble on twitter and thirtyhertzrumble.com for more horror stories. I’m @echidnabot on twitter.

shame

Miller’s Crossing (1990)   2 comments

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Never has the expression honor among thieves played a larger part in a modern film than in this Coen brothers’ Prohibition era gangster film. Gabriel Byrne stars as Tom Reagan, right hand man to Albert Finney’s crime boss, Leo. Tom, a brilliant strategist in the crime world’s chess game has long had Leo’s ear and his back. He also has Leo’s girl, Verna (Marcia Gay Harden) and this Lancelot/Guinevere affair threatens to undermine King Leo’s reign.

finney gat

The story begins in a Godfather-like scene with mobster Johnny Caspar (Jon Polito) asking Leo to rub out John Turturro’s Bernie Bernbaum, a bookie with a knack for angering the wrong people. Leo refuses because although Bernie is a thorn in his side, he’s also Verna’s brother. Tom advises Leo to give up Bernie and when he won’t a mob war starts. Tom ends up on Leo’s bad side and despite his loyalty, Tom is cut loose. Caspar snaps him up and Tom seems to have switched sides. Caspar takes over Leo’s businesses and prospers as Tom plants seeds of distrust about Caspar’s main henchmen Eddie Dane (J.E. Freeman) thus eroding Caspar’s gang from within and proving his loyalty to Leo.
Based on the Dashiell Hammett novels Red Harvest and The Glass Key, Miller’s Crossing is a love letter to 1940s film noir and the snappy dialogue prevalent in novels by Hammett, Chandler, Thompson, and Cain. At one point Tom is asked if he knows the mayor. He says, “I oughta. I voted for him six times last May.” The costumes by Richard Hornung, sets by Nancy Haigh and cinematography by Barry Sonnenfeld along with Carter Burwell’s spare and perfect score give the film a 1940s feel. Supporting roles by Steve Buscemi, Mike Starr, Frances McDormand, Michael Jeter, and Olek Krupa add depth to the already stellar cast and the direction by Joel and Ethan Coen just works. The scene with hit men approaching Leo to the strains of Danny Boy is as beautiful as grand opera and as violent as anything Peckinpah ever directed. Poetry. I liked Miller’s Crossing a lot. It has a flawed hero devoted to an equally flawed father figure and crime. Combine that with the Coens usual gang of quirky characters and great dialogue and you have an entertaining and almost Shakespearean story. I cheered for Tom and Leo. I booed for Bernie and Caspar. I hung on every word of dialogue and after watching the film for just under two hours, I wondered where the time went. Here’s another example of the sharp dialogue.
“Come on Tommy, wake up.”
“I am awake.”
“Your eyes are closed.”
“Who you gonna believe?”

How can you not love this film?

I watched this as part of a year-long project created by @007hertzrumble. A bunch of people get to watch and write about films which for some reason eluded them. Check out @cinemashame and cinemashame.wordpress.com to read others’ discoveries.

byrne

Detour (1945)   2 comments

detour

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

stranger-title-still

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.

thestranger2

Asphalt Jungle (1950)   2 comments

asphalt 

Heist films intrigue me. Each element; the gathering of a team, the planning, the execution, and the aftermath work together to create a complex story. The Asphalt Jungle has it all. A criminal mastermind plans a diamond heist which should set up the gang for life. Almost immediately things go awry. Crooked cops, stoolies, dance hall dames, and a jaded lawyer make John Huston’s tale of a left-handed form of human endeavor so fun to watch. Sterling Hayden plays the low-key muscle who’s really a stand-up guy and Jean Hagen does a wonderful job as a b-girl carrying a torch for him. Look for Brad Dexter as, wait for it, a badass, and Marilyn Monroe in one of her first real roles.

sterling

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