Film Review: Nora Prentiss (1947)

Also known as: The Sentence (working title)
Release Date: February 7th, 1947 (Philadelphia premiere)
Directed by: Vincent Sherman
Written by: N. Richard Nash, Paul Webster, Jack Sobell
Music by: Franz Waxman
Cast: Ann Sheridan, Kent Smith, Bruce Bennett, Robert Alda

Warner Bros., 111 Minutes

Review:

“I’m writing a paper on ailments of the heart.” – Doctor Richard Talbot, “A paper? I could write a book!” – Nora Prentiss

This is a classic film-noir that has been on my list for a long time. I had never seen it because it has never streamed anywhere that I’m aware of and I subscribe to a ton of these services. But it was finally featured on TCM’s Noir Alley, which seems long overdue, based off of all the great things I’ve heard about this movie from noir experts.

I’d have to say that it pretty much lived up to the hype. It’s not one of my all-time favorites but it was a well-crafted story with one of those really dark endings that sort of makes your heart sink.

Sure, the main guy, Kent Smith’s Talbot, is a bit of a shithead, as he fakes his own death to escape his wife and children so that he can run off with Nora, but by the end of the journey, you feel his remorse and his shame and when he makes the decision to be executed, to save his family from even more pain, it’s some pretty heavy stuff.

Additionally, all the emotion throughout this film is built up so well because of how convincing Ann Sheridan and Kent Smith were. They had solid chemistry, felt like genuine characters and this movie feels a bit ahead of its time, as these characters don’t come across as typical archetypes. Nora Prentiss may be a mistress but she’s not a femme fatale causing wreckage for her own personal gain. She’s a woman, caught up in emotion that ends up experiencing a great loss as the result of her and Talbot’s careless and selfish actions.

The film was directed by Vincent Sherman, who also directed other classic film-noirs: The Unfaithful, Backfire, The Damned Don’t Cry, Harriet Craig, Affair In Trinidad and The Garment Jungle. But he’s also the director of one of my favorite Errol Flynn swashbuckling pictures: Adventures of Don Juan.

If anything, this film has made me want to go down the rabbit hole of Sherman’s oeuvre. It was carefully crafted, well executed and had more dramatic flair and heart than a typical noir movie.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other film-noir pictures like The Unfaithful, The Breaking Point and Backfire.

Film Review: So Dark the Night (1946)

Release Date: October 10th, 1946
Directed by: Joseph H. Lewis
Written by: Dwight V. Babcock, Martin Berkeley, Aubrey Wisberg
Music by: Hugo Friedhofer
Cast: Steven Geray, Micheline Cheirel, Brother Theodore

Columbia Pictures, 71 Minutes

Review:

“I knew it was too good to be true. That much happiness just wasn’t meant for me.” – Henri Cassin

This was a film-noir that I didn’t know much about before going into it. I also wasn’t familiar with the majority of the cast, other than Brother Theodore, who has a pretty minor role.

I came across this on the Criterion Channel, as they have a collection devoted to Columbia Pictures film-noir movies. A cool collection because I haven’t seen a lot of the Columbia noir films, as they weren’t as prominent in the style as RKO or Warner Bros.

The story here takes place in France but it stars actors speaking in English with a bit of a French accent. The narrative itself is pretty shaky and while it does gets you invested into the plot, early on, it all falls apart when the big reveal comes towards the end.

This, like many noir pictures, has a twist. That twist falls flat though, as it doesn’t make a lot of sense and its sort of forced on you and throws some science-y, psychiatric nonsense at you that you just have to accept, as its not really based in any sort of actual fact and is just manufactured out of the writers’ shoddy assumptions.

Additionally, while this is noir and filmed and presented in that style, it’s very pedestrian looking and doesn’t offer much noir allure. It lacks in regards to its cinematography, with basic lighting, shot framing and camera work.

However, this is directed by Joseph H. Lewis who would go on to make one of the greatest film-noirs of all-time: Gun Crazy.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: My Name Is Julia Ross, Drive a Crooked Road and Nightfall.

Film Review: My Name Is Julia Ross (1945)

Also known as: The Woman In Red (working title)
Release Date: November 8th, 1945 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Joseph H. Lewis
Written by: Muriel Roy Bolton
Based on: The Woman In Red by Anthony Gilbert
Music by: Mischa Bakaleinikoff
Cast: Nina Foch, Dame May Whitty, George Macready, Roland Varno, Anita Sharp-Bolster, Doris Lloyd, Joy Harington

Columbia Pictures, 65 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t huddle way over there in the corner. You should sit closer so that people can see what a handsome couple we are!” – Ralph Hughes

The Criterion Channel finally launched, which is great after the void left behind by FilmStruck being shut down last November. With that, they featured a collection of films called “Columbia Noir”. This got me excited, as I haven’t seen much of Columbia Pictures’ noir films. The first in that collection was this one, a film I hadn’t heard of before.

Overall, this is a b-picture with a scant running time. That was pretty typical of some noir features from the time, as the crime genre was at an all-time high and studios were throwing together as many films on the cheap as possible. Sometimes these became hits and sometimes they floundered but with lesser known stars and thin budgets, they were quick and easy to produce without much financial risk.

It’s pretty apparent from the opening bell that this film-noir is a cheapy but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It had pretty good production value, at least on the surface. The filmmakers got a solid bang for their buck in regards to how the film looks on screen.

Now the cinematography and lighting aren’t memorable but they are better than what was the standard for b-movie noirs.

The film stars Nina Foch, who isn’t known very well, but she did hold her own and came off as convincing. The acting was better than average, here, and the director did a fine job of making the players shine within this little picture.

This isn’t a very exciting noir, though. In fact, it’s pretty forgettable.

The story is about a young woman who gets hired by an employment agency run by a nosy, rich widow. The woman moves into the widow’s home but then wakes up in another house entirely. It’s an interesting setup and provides a good framework for a solid mystery but nothing really hits in the right way.

The film is probably most notable for being director Joseph H. Lewis’ first film-noir picture. He would go on to direct The Falcon In San Francisco, So Dark the Night, The Undercover Man, the incredible Gun Crazy, A Lady Without a Passport, Cry of the Hunted and The Big Combo.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other film-noir pictures by Columbia: So Dark the Night, Nightfall and Pushover.

Film Review: Nobody Lives Forever (1946)

Release Date: November 1st, 1946
Directed by: Jean Negulesco
Written by: W.R. Burnett
Based on: Nobody Lives Forver by W.R. Burnett
Music by: Adolph Deutsch
Cast: John Garfield, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Walter Brennan, Faye Emerson

Warner Bros., 100 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t wanna get rough with you unless I have to!” – Nick Blake

This film starts out as a very gritty film-noir crime tale. But it actually evolves into something with a real sweetness to it once the two leads, John Garfield and Geraldine Fitzgerald, come into contact with one another and romance blooms. Granted, this is not a romance film, in the traditional sense.

It also has a solid femme fatale, played by the incredibly alluring Faye Emerson.

This picture is well acted from top to bottom and as much as I love Garfield, Fitzgerald and Emerson, there is a real scene stealer in George Coulouris. Man, this guy just takes over each scene where he appears.

The story follows a con man and former World War II soldier that wants to go straight. However, as noirs go, he has to pull off one more job before he can attempt to live a normal life. And also as noirs go, there are twists and turns and this last job isn’t going to be an easy one. Especially when a woman gets caught up in the middle of it all and melts his heart. It also doesn’t help that his ex-girlfriend shows up to throw a wrench in the machine.

The film is written by W.R. Burnett, a man who wrote solid films like Little Caesar, Scarface, High Sierra, The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Asphalt Jungle, The Racket and Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. Burnett always seemed to write things that I thoroughly enjoyed and this picture was no different. It’s well paced, has layers, surprises and doesn’t get bogged down by being too typical for a noir.

The cinematography is superb but it’s really the set design that gives this film its visual life. Everything either looks opulent and pristine or it looks lush and robust. Even the dim and gritty looking finale of the film has a set with character.

Not to spoil anything but its nice that this film doesn’t end in complete tragedy and that the protagonists go on to live the life that they want. Sometimes that’s nice in a noir, as it certainly isn’t the standard. Here, it just works and by film’s end, I was glad that these two endearing characters weren’t fodder for the bullets of the law. Maybe that’s because despite some of his shady actions, Garfield’s character still had a good moral center and never got wrapped up in the femme fatale’s tentacles and instead, chose the good woman.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: High Sierra, Humoresque, Three Strangers and He Ran All the Way.

Film Review: Border Incident (1949)

Also known as: Border Patrol, Wetbacks (working titles)
Release Date: October 28th, 1949
Directed by: Anthony Mann
Written by: John C. Higgins, George Zuckerman
Music by: Andre Previn
Cast: Ricardo Montalban, George Murphy, Howard Da Silva, James Mitchell, Charles McGraw

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 94 Minutes

Review:

“What is cheaper than time, señor? Everybody has the same amount.” – Zopilote

This isn’t my favorite film-noir by Anthony Mann but it is still a quality film that rivals his other ones.

A very young Ricardo Montalban is the star here, and man, he shines like a supernova and really carries this badass movie on his shoulders.

What’s unique about this, is that it takes place on the Mexican border and was mostly filmed in the wilderness in the desert areas of Southern California and the northern portion of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. The location shooting made this majestic and added some gravitas to the already heavy and serious proceedings.

The plot is about a gang that smuggles Mexican farm workers across the border into California. The gang ends up killing the immigrants, which leads to federal investigators going undercover to destroy the gang. With typical noir twists, the agents end up having to fight the gang leader for their own survival.

Montalban and George Murphy were both superb as the agents seeking justice, while Howard Da Silva was a perfect, sinister heavy, out for their blood.

The film is certainly intense and it has a gritty realism to it, even for its time, where many big studio motion pictures had a lot of visual luster and prestige. But Mann was perfect at achieving his vision in a time where his stylistic choices weren’t common.

Border Incident has stupendous cinematography and lighting. Mann was a master of mise-en-scène and this motion picture is just further proof of that. The use of natural lighting was especially impressive in the outdoor scenes. Mann knew how to manufacture doom and gloom, visually.

I really liked this film and I believe that is the last of Mann’s noir pictures for me to review. That’s kind of sad and I put this one off for awhile because of that.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Anthony Mann film-noir pictures: T-Men, Desperate, He Walked by Night, Raw Deal and Side Street.

Film Review: Lady In the Lake (1946)

Release Date: December 19th, 1946 (London)
Directed by: Robert Montgomery
Written by: Steve Fisher
Based on: The Lady In the Lake by Raymond Chandler
Music by: David Snell
Cast: Robert Montgomery, Audrey Totter, Lloyd Nolan, Tom Tully, Leon Ames, Jayne Meadows

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 105 Minutes

Review:

“Do you fall in love with all of your clients?” – Adrienne, “Only the ones in skirts.” – Marlowe

There were a lot of Philip Marlowe movies in the 1940s. This one was probably the most unique though, in that it was filmed in a first-person perspective, as we see the whole movie through the eyes of the famous private dick.

I don’t think that this is the first time that a movie was filmed entirely in first-person perspective but it’s the only film-noir that I’ve seen presented that way, at least in its entirety.

The technique was gimmicky but it helped to market the movie in a way that told the audience that they got to solve the case alongside Philip Marlowe: seeing and hearing everything the famous P.I. does.

If anything, the gimmick worked to hold your attention quite well, especially when you were being directly addressed by the beautiful Audrey Totter, as well as her personal assistant who shows up briefly. In any event, it was an interesting perspective to view a classic film-noir tale through.

Apart from that, the movie doesn’t offer up much flourish, stylistically. It’s a clean and well produced picture but it doesn’t have anything that really stands out in regards to its cinematography, lighting or overall visual aesthetic.

It is well acted, though, and the film is entertaining. There are the typical plot twists and noir tropes but I’d say that it is one of the weaker Marlowe movies of its day. It certainly isn’t on the level of Murder, My Sweet or The Big Sleep but its a fun movie for fans of Robert Montgomery and the Philip Marlowe character.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Philip Marlowe film adaptations from the 1940s: Time to Kill, The Falcon Takes Over, Murder, My Sweet, The Big Sleep, and The Brasher Doubloon.

Film Review: Dead Reckoning (1947)

Also known as: John Cromwell’s Dead Reckoning (complete title)
Release Date: January 18th, 1947 (San Francisco premiere)
Directed by: John Cromwell
Written by: Steve Fisher, Oliver H.P. Garrett, Gerald Drayson Adams, Sidney Biddell
Music by: Marlin Skiles
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Lizabeth Scott

Columbia Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“I hated every part of her but I couldn’t figure her out yet. I wanted to see her the way Johnny had. I wanted to hear that song of hers with Johnny’s ears. Maybe she was alright. And maybe Christmas comes in July. But I didn’t believe it.” – Captain Warren ‘Rip’ Murdock

I’ve wanted to see this motion picture for quite some time. It stars my favorite leading man, my favorite leading lady and it’s considered a film-noir classic.

Dead Reckoning was also directed by John Cromwell, who only did a handful of noir pictures but still had quite a lengthy career behind the camera.

I enjoyed this film quite a bit but if I’m being completely honest, it was a bit underwhelming. Sure, Bogart and Scott were both absolutely dynamite and had a great, dynamic chemistry but the film was just lacking in energy.

It’s not boring, it’s just a bit slow and it takes awhile to get moving. It features a decent scheme but nothing quite as remarkable as some of the top tier film-noirs of the day.

Had this film starred some other actors, it would be pretty forgettable. It’s kept afloat because of the charisma of its two leads.

There’s nothing special about the cinematography, the lighting, the set design or the camera work. Everything looks and feels pretty standard for the day. As I said, noir wasn’t a big chunk of the director’s lengthy filmography and everything here just felt like a clean, crisp, major studio production. I love RKO Radio Pictures because they were a master of the style, where Columbia, the studio that made this film, spent more time making larger, more publicly accessible spectacles for general audiences.

Bogart was a Warner Bros. guy and that was a studio that had a better grasp on the film-noir style, which is why his other noir pictures are much better, in my opinion. Scott was actually borrowed from Paramount for this film, where she was in some solid noir movies. Columbia originally intended for their biggest star, Rita Heyworth, to be in this but she was tied up working on The Lady From Shanghai with husband Orson Welles. Good thing for Columbia, that noir film was a true classic.

I really don’t want to sound like I’m bashing this film or Columbia, it just noticeably lacks when compared to the other films featuring its stars.

Dead Reckoning is still worth watching if you are a fan of Bogart, Scott, Cromwell or film-noir in general. It’s certainly a better than the average film in the style, even if it doesn’t live up to the hype I built up in my mind.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other film-noir pictures starring Humphrey Bogart and Lizabeth Scott.