Film Review: Odd Man Out (1947)

Release Date: January 30th, 1947 (London premiere)
Directed by: Carol Reed
Written by: R. C. Sherriff
Based on: Odd Man Out by F. L. Green
Music by: William Alwyn
Cast: James Mason, Robert Newton, Cyril Cusack, Kathleen Ryan, F. J. McCormick, William Hartnell, Fay Compton, Denis O’Dea, W. G. Fay, Dan O’Herlihy, Paul Farrell

Two Cities Films, Rank Organisation, 116 Minutes

Review:

“I remember. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I thought as a child, I understood as a child. But when I became a man, I put way childish things. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not charity, I am become a sounding brass or a inkling cymbal. Though I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and though I have all faiths so that I could remove mountains and have not charity… I am nothing.” – Johnny McQueen

For my 2500th film review, I wanted to do something special. Something that I had never seen but that I’ve wanted to watch for quite some time. So I chose a Carol Reed classic, which came out just two years before his magnum opus, The Third Man.

Like The Third Man, this movie has a strong classic film-noir flavor, narratively and aesthetically, and it primarily follows a man traversing the shadowy alleys and corridors of an old European city.

The story is about an escaped convict, played by James Mason, who has been hiding in his girlfriend’s home for six months. On this night, however, he decides to commit a robbery with his old gang. A security guard is killed and the convict ends up getting shot in the shoulder, which leads to him falling out of the escape car during the getaway.

The man hides in a warehouse, as his gang tries to go back and find him. Most of the gang is killed when they are double-crossed by a dame. The convict then tries to make his way back to his girlfriend’s house and meets different people along the way, as he continues to bleed out and desperately needs medical attention.

The film ends rather violently for the time and I guess some of the shots were edited out, as it rubbed the ethics and decency fascists the wrong way. But ultimately, like all things noir at the time, the bad people meet a bad end because balance must be restored to universe.

Like The Third Man, this movie features incredible cinematography, especially in regards to the use of light, shadow and contrast. The film has visual texture and many of the shots are so layered, that they provided the sort of visual depth that wasn’t very common. For an example of this, there is the scene where the tramp comes home, walks up the dilapidated stairs where an opening in the ceiling is dripping water through the center of the composition. Once in his apartment, the shadow from the bird cage spreads over the dark back wall and gives the film that layered depth and feels almost otherworldly.

There are other notable sequences that really show off how talented cinematographer, Robert Krasker, was – the hallucination sequence for instance. This is probably why he was Reed’s choice for The Third Man. Krasker was noted for being influenced by the German Expressionist style, as well as the other visually stunning film-noir pictures of his day.

I can’t put this on the same level as The Third Man but it’s a perfect companion piece to it and if you’re a fan of that movie, you’ll definitely enjoy this one and it will also show you an earlier stage of Carol Reed’s development as a cinematic artist. Everything he employed here, he would employ in his later work.

Rating: 9/10

Film Serial Review: Zorro’s Black Whip (1944)

Release Date: November 16th, 1944 (first chapter)
Directed by: Spencer Gordon Bennet, Wallace Grissel
Written by: Basil Dickey, Jesse Duffy, Grant Nelson, Joseph Poland, Johnston McxCulley (original Zorro novel)
Cast: Linda Stirling, George J. Lewis, Lucien Littlefield, Francis McDonald

Republic Pictures, 182 Minutes (total over 12 chapters)

Review:

Zorro’s Black Whip is pretty unusual, as Republic Pictures didn’t have the rights to use the Zorro character in a film but they could still use the name. So with that, they created this serial where the Zorro-esque hero is named The Black Whip and is, in fact, a dame!

The story also takes place in Idaho, a far departure from southern California, even though that’s where this would’ve been filmed.

I like the heroine and thought that Linda Stirling did a pretty decent job as a female version of Zorro with a different name. 

The rest of the cast was about as good as film serial casts go. No one really stood out other than the lead.

The story was a bit all over the place and I thought that the chapter cliffhangers were fairly weak and mundane. Honestly, in a lot of ways, the writing and the situations were incredibly derivative for the genre style.

Still, this did have some spirit for something that was a gender-swapped generic ripoff of a popular hero.

In the end, this is very far from being the best representation of “Zorro” but it’s also not dreadful. I doubt I’ll ever watch it again, though.

Rating: 4.5/10

Film Review: The House of the Seven Gables (1940)

Release Date: February 29th, 1940 (Chicago premiere)
Directed by: Joe May
Written by: Lester Cole
Based on: The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Music by: Frank Skinner
Cast: George Sanders, Vincent Price, Margaret Lindsay, Dick Foran, Nan Grey, Cecil Kellaway, Alan Napier

Universal Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

I’ve always wanted to see this movie but it’s just evaded me over the years. It was streaming on something I have, though, so I figured it was as good of a time as any to finally check it out.

Man, Vincent Price is super young in this. The only other film that I have seen where he’s actually younger is The Invisible Man Returns, which is from January of the same year. He’s also invisible throughout that picture.

This story isn’t a horror film despite Price’s penchant for those roles. Although, some in this wealthy family believe that there is a family curse and thus, make some pretty heinous and drastic decisions based off of that fear.

The family, falling on some fairly hard times, is contemplating selling their mansion. This pits the two brothers against each other. The villainous one of the two, believes that there is a fortune hidden in the house and that with it, he can survive, living life at the pampered level he’s accustomed to. With that, he frames his nice brother, played by Vincent Price, for the murder of their father. In prison, years later, Price’s Clifford meets Matthew, who is part of the family that “cursed” Clifford’s. The two actually become friends and devise a plan to clear Clifford’s name and to expose what his dastardly brother did to him and the family, since his imprisonment.

Surprisingly, a lot happens in this movie that it is just shy of 90 minutes. It’s well paced, doesn’t waste a moment and you really like the virtuous, honest characters in this. You want to see the villain get what’s coming. Plus, the performances are solid and even for still being in his twenties, Price showed great promise, here.

I ended up liking this more than I thought I would. I didn’t expect it to be bad but it was a short, dramatic film with a young Price lacking the mileage he had by the time he became a horror icon with 1953’s House of Wax.

Rating: 6.75/10

Film Review: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

Release Date: January 14th, 1948 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: John Huston
Written by: John Huston
Based on: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre by B. Traven
Music by: Max Steiner
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt, Bruce Bennett, Robert Blake (uncredited), John Huston (uncredited)

Warner Bros., 126 Minutes

Review:

“Ah, as long as there’s no find, the noble brotherhood will last but when the piles of gold begin to grow… that’s when the trouble starts.” – Howard

As big of a fan of Humphrey Bogart as I am, I hadn’t seen The Treasure of the Sierra Madre in probably two decades. A friend I suggested it to was talking to me about it after he had watched it and I realized that some of the details were gone from my brain. So, I had to revisit it immediately, as it’s a picture I loved growing up.

Seeing it now, I have an even deeper appreciation for it. While I’m not the best pre-spaghetti era western aficionado, I now realize the impact this must have had, as it’s so realistic and gritty that it has a much harder edge than the typical westerns that predate it. Sure, John Wayne movies had grit and balls but the earliest ones were still kind of clean, crisp and for lack of a better word: staged.

Part of me thinks that if I were a kid in the late ’40s, this would’ve been my favorite movie, as it had legit chutzpah.

Being that Bogart is in this, great acting should be expected. However, it goes beyond Bogart and this gave me a real appreciation for Tim Holt and Walter Huston, who is actually the father of this film’s director, the legendary John Huston.

I also love that Bogart plays a really complex character, especially for this time in cinema’s history. He’s not some overly heroic archetype. Instead, he’s a severely flawed character, as are the other core players. In fact, this movie shows how these guys are sort of at odds throughout the film, as mistrust develops on top of individual greed.

Ultimately, they get in over their head and have bigger problems than each other. I don’t want to ruin the end but each of the three primary characters have wonderful character arcs from start-to-finish.

Additionally, this is a beautiful looking picture that has incredible scope. The wilderness is vast and this movie capitalizes off of that by giving us great shots and sequences that showcase how big the wide open west was.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is an all-time classic in the long history of motion pictures. It’s one of the best films of its decade, one of Bogart’s best and it further cemented John Huston as one of the greatest American directors that ever lived.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other Humphrey Bogart movies of the ’40s and ’50s but also adventure films and westerns of the era.

Film Review: The File On Thelma Jordon (1949)

Release Date: November 4th, 1949 (London premiere)
Directed by: Robert Siodmak
Written by: Ketti Frings, Marty Holland
Music by: Victor Young
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Wendell Corey, Paul Kelly

Wallis-Hazen, Paramount Pictures, 100 Minutes

Review:

“I wish so much crime didn’t take place after dark. It’s so unnerving.” – Thelma Jordan

I guess the coolest thing about The File On Thelma Jordan is that it brought prominent classic film-noir director, Robert Siodmak, together with classic film-noir star, Barbara Stanwyck. Seeing the finished product, their joint effort at making something solid doesn’t disappoint.

While I can’t say that this is either Siodmak’s or Stanwyck’s best, they still brought their A-game and made a compelling picture out of a fairly redundant and derivative noir story.

The plot sees an assistant D.A. fall for a woman with some dark things in her past. He uses his power to get her off of a murder charge but ultimately finds out that she isn’t so innocent and her devious husband is still waiting in the shadows, ready to pull her away again, as he’s also tied into this plot. However, the femme fatale does realize she has feelings for the assistant D.A. she strung along and she does something drastic to salvage whatever she can.

Barbara Stanwyck is powerful as hell in this and she commands every scene, almost overshadowing everyone else in the picture. However, she’s not as devious and dark as she was in the masterpiece that made her a real star, Double Indemnity. Still, she never disappoints and she certainly doesn’t in this.

In fact, the only thing that hurts the film, somewhat, is that I felt like she didn’t have a true equal to play off of. Sure, Wendell Corey and Paul Kelly are both very good but neither of them seem to have the chemistry with Stanwyck that Double Indemnity‘s Fred MacMurray had.

From a visual standpoint, this looks just as good as you would expect if you’re familiar with Robert Siodmak’s work in film-noir. Superb lighting, perfect use of shadow and just crisp and pristine, all around.

Also, Siodmak typically gets the very best out of his actors. I think his job, in that regard, may have been too easy in the case of Stanwyck. She’s just a dynamo.

The File On Thelma Jordan is a neat movie to check out if you love classic noir, Stanwyck or the directorial style of Siodmak.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other film-noir pictures by Robert Siodmak, as well as those starring Barbara Stanwyck.

Film Review: Boomerang! (1947)

Also known as: The Perfect Case (working title)
Release Date: January 26th, 1947 (London premiere)
Directed by: Elia Kazan
Written by: Richard Murphy
Based on: The Perfect Case 1945 article in The Reader’s Digest by Anthony Abbot
Music by: David Buttolph
Cast: Dana Andrews, Jane Wyatt, Lee J. Cobb, Cara Williams, Arthur Kennedy, Sam Levene, Ed Begley Sr.

Twentieth Century Fox, 88 Minutes

Review:

“McDonald, I just made one mistake. I should have known by now that there’s one thing you can’t beat in politics, and that’s a completely honest man.” – T.M. Wade

Out of all the film-noir directors of the ’40s and ’50s, I’ve always held Elia Kazan’s visual style in pretty high regard. His movies, especially in the noir genre, always have this pristine visual look. They’re crisp, utilize great set and costume design with damn near perfect lighting and a mastery of that high contrast noir aesthetic. Granted, he also does all this more subtly than some of the directors that went more extreme with it.

Kazan’s pictures just seem to have a really good balance, boasting a certain style without overdoing it. In fact, you almost don’t notice it at first but as his pictures roll on, you find yourself a bit mesmerized by them.

Boomerang! is one that I haven’t seen in a really long time but it was one of my granmum’s favorites, as she had it on multiple times when I’d go to her house after school as a kid. Well, at least in the non-summer months when the Cubs weren’t on WGN.

The film is based on a true story where an innocent man was accused of murder by an incompetent police force and had to rely on a smart prosecutor to clear his name and save him from a fate he didn’t deserve.

Now this isn’t in my upper echelon of noir classics but it’s still a good movie with very good acting, especially on the part of Dana Andrews, who plays the prosecutor, as well as Lee J. Cobb, who plays the police chief. I also really enjoyed Jane Wyatt in this for obvious reasons but she definitely holds her own in the acting department, as well, and this made me wish that she had become a bigger star, especially in pictures of the noir style. I also didn’t realize, until today, that she played Spock’s mother in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

For the most part, the story is compelling but if I’m being honest, it is a bit paint-by-numbers and it’s fairly predictable and doesn’t throw any shocking patented noir curveballs at you.

Still, this is a good example of a standard film-noir. Especially in regards to those that deal with the legal system, as opposed to just schemers doing something dirty and paying the price for it.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other film-noir pictures of the ’40s and ’50s, especially those by Elia Kazan.

Film Review: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Also known as: The Greatest Gift (working title), Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life (complete title)
Release Date: December 20th, 1946 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Frank Capra
Written by: Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra
Based on: The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Smith
Music by: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers, Beulah Bondi, Ward Bond, Frank Faylen, Gloria Grahame

Liberty Films, 130 Minutes, 118 Minutes (DVD cut)

Review:

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” – Clarence

Maybe I’m a jerk for never having seen this motion picture in its entirety until now. I had seen all of the iconic scenes over the years and thought that I knew the film well enough but I was wrong. This wasn’t some lame, old-timey, feel good, cookie cutter Christmas movie. This is, in fact, a f’n masterpiece and I have to consider it one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Christmas movie of all-time.

I think that I had just heard the hype for decades and I imagined that it would be impossible to live up to it. I had also seen the important bits and heard so many people talk about it my entire life that I almost felt like I didn’t need to experience it. But this year, I thought that giving it a shot was long overdue and since I love both James Stewart and Donna Reed, I hit “play” on my HBO Max app.

This was a long, great story that covers the entirety of a man’s life. In that regard, it reminded me of another masterpiece, Citizen Kane. However, this has a very different tone and it showcases a great man, feeling down and out, nearly committing suicide, as he witnesses what life would have been like for others, had he not existed and touched them over the years.

It’s a film with a real lesson in it and I think it truly applies to everyone regardless of their situation. We’ve all had really bad strings of luck and most have probably thought really bad thoughts about their own mortality at one point or another. This film kind of centers you and makes you realize that there is much more at stake than our own singular lives.

This works so damn well too because James Stewart is one of the greatest actors that ever walked the Earth. I also have to give a lot of credit to Donna Reed, as well as Lionel Barrymore. But ultimately, I think that the real creative and driving force behind this film was its great director, Frank Capra. And after seeing this, this is possibly my favorite Capra picture. I’ll need to revisit more to be sure, however.

The lesson I learned in watching this, which I’ve learned before but I have a thick skull, is that you should never assume you know something unless you’ve fully experienced it. Maybe I thought the world had spoiled the movie for me but honestly, even knowing the end result didn’t diminish the impact that this film had on me after finally seeing it in its entirety without interruption.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other classic family Christmas movies from way back in the day.

Film Review: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

Also known as: The Brain of Frankenstein (working title)
Release Date: June 15th, 1948
Directed by: Charles Barton
Written by: John Grant, Robert Lees, Frederic I. Rinaldo
Based on: characters by Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Curt Siodmak, H.G. Wells
Music by: Frank Skinner
Cast: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Lon Chaney Jr., Bela Lugosi, Glenn Strange, Lenore Aubert, Jane Randolph, Frank Ferguson, Charles Bradstreet, Vincent Price (voice, uncredited cameo)

Universal International Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“Young people making the most of life – while it lasts.” – Dr. Lejos/Dracula

I’m actually surprised that I hadn’t yet reviewed any of the Universal Monsters pictures with Abbot and Costello in them. I have an immense love of both things and having them come together, which they did a handful of times, was really cool.

Overall, this one was always my favorite but I like all of them.

In this one, we don’t just get Frankenstein’s Monster, we also get Dracula, the Wolf Man and a little cameo by the Invisible Man. With that, we also got Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr. and a voice cameo by the legendary Vincent Price.

Unfortunately, Boris Karloff didn’t come back to play Frankenstein’s Monster but we did get Glenn Strange, who had already played the monster twice before this and who is really underappreciated in that role.

The only problem with this is one that doesn’t actually effect the film itself but instead, effects the ones that followed. You see, they blew their nut really early by cramming a ton of monsters into this one, so the following movies felt a bit underwhelming after the precedent this one set. But honestly, it’s why this particular one is the best of the lot.

Abbot and Costello are both hilarious per usual and their camaraderie was so solid by this point that they could’ve entertained in their sleep.

All in all, this was a really good horror comedy that took the best parts of two very different things and merged them together very well, not diminishing the performances of the two comedic legends or the coolness of the classic monsters and the legends who played them.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Abbot and Costello monster movies.

Film Review: Born to Kill (1947)

Also known as: Deadlier Than the Male (working title, Australia), Lady of Deceit (UK alternative title)
Release Date: April 30th, 1947 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Robert Wise
Written by: Eve Greene, Richard Macaulay
Based on: Deadlier Than the Male by James Gunn
Music by: Paul Sawtell
Cast: Lawrence Tierney, Claire Trevor, Walter Slezak, Phillip Terry, Audrey Long, Elisha Cook Jr.

RKO Radio Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“You’re the coldest iceberg of a woman I ever saw, and the rottenest inside. I’ve seen plenty, too. I wouldn’t trade places with you if they sliced me into little pieces.” – Mrs. Kraft

Since I’m not posting enough to truly celebrate the month of Noirvember, my noir-centric reviews have been pretty nil, as of late. But I wanted to slip in one of the film’s I haven’t seen that’s been in my queue for far too long.

1947’s Born to Kill teams up Lawrence Tierney and Claire Trevor, which on paper seems like quite the duo. It also adds in the always entertaining Walter Slezak and superb character actor/cinematic weasel Elisha Cook Jr.

Needless to say, this has a well-rounded cast and it’s also directed by Robert Wise, who had a very long and successful career making pictures in just about every genre.

Weirdly, this one just didn’t hit the mark for me like I hoped it would.

Now there are some really good scenes, like the one linked below, which shows Elisha Cook Jr. being a total bastard, but ultimately, this story felt a bit clunky and I wasn’t that engaged by it.

Also, Tierney and Trevor didn’t seem to mesh together as well as I had hoped.

Still, Wise’s direction was generally good, at least from the visual side of things. The cinematography was great and Wise’s ability to capture visually appealing magic lived up to expectations but everything else kind of fell flat.

That being said, I mostly enjoyed this and didn’t find it to be a waste of time but sometimes, even with a lot of good pieces, things just don’t click in the right way.

A lot of noir lovers do like this film and my take on it may exist in contrast to most but this just didn’t give me what I needed.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other classic film-noir pictures of the time, especially those starring Lawrence Tierney.

Film Review: Grand Central Murder (1942)

Release Date: May, 1942
Directed by: S. Sylvan Simon
Written by: Peter Ruric
Based on: Grand Central Murder by Sue MacVeigh
Music by: David Snell
Cast: Van Heflin, Patricia Dane, Sam Levene, Cecilia Parker, Virginia Grey, Tom Conway

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 73 Minutes

Review:

“Where were you raised? Didn’t anyone ever tell you its bad luck to whistle in a dressing room?” – Mida King, “I’m sorry miss, I… I was raised in a cattle boat, where folks whistle when they feel like it, including the cows!” – Whistling Messenger

Grand Central Murder is an example of a very early noir picture just before the style really started to take shape. It’s also a comedy and because of that, isn’t a straight crime picture but more of a tongue-in-cheek, amusing take on the evolving crime genre.

This sits just between the super popular gangster films that ruled the ’30s and the noir boom that happened in the mid-’40s. It also stars Van Heflin, who might just be the perfect guy to be featured front and center in a film that works as a bridge during this stylistic shift.

While I liked the amusing bits, I think that this would’ve been a much better and actually, really good, crime picture had it played it straight.

What I did like about this movie is that it doesn’t waste time and it moves at a brisk pace getting from point-to-point without trying to pad itself out with a bunch of filler. Even with the comedic moments, the film still flows like a steady river and picks up the right sort of momentum, leading into the climax.

Like a typical noir picture, it has a mystery that comes with some swerves. But I thought that the reveal and the solving of the crime was well done, especially in a time where this picture couldn’t be influenced by all of the other films like it. For the most part, those films didn’t exist yet.

Granted, I can’t necessarily call it an intelligent film but it’s more than competent and it certainly entertained this noir buff for 73 minutes.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other very early film-noir pictures.