Film Review: Conflict (1945)

Also known as: The Pentacle (working title)
Release Date: June 15th, 1945 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Curtis Bernhardt
Written by: Arthur T. Horman, Dwight Taylor
Based on: The Pentacle by Robert Siodmak, Alfred Neumann
Music by: Frederick Hollander
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Alexis Smith, Sydney Greenstreet

Warner Bros., 86 Minutes

Review:

“It’s funny how virtuous a man can be when he’s helpless.” – Kathryn Mason

Humphrey Bogart is a bad guy. No, seriously. He is pure evil in this film and that alone is worth the price of admission. This rugged, usually lovely, manly man that wooed all the ladies and some of the guys is a complete and total bastard in this. And that is why I had to see this film.

Now the reasoning behind this is pretty interesting. Despite the success of The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, the head of Warner Bros. refused to see Bogart as a sexy leading man. The women wanted him, the men wanted to be him but his boss just wasn’t buying into it. Luckily, this didn’t stop Bogart from being Bogart going forward.

This film was also very close to home for the actor, as he and his wife at the time were known around town as the “Battling Bogarts” for their very public spats. A lot of this film’s narrative lines up with things in Bogart’s personal life, except Bogart obviously didn’t murder his wife like his character in this film. But it was said that Bogie had a really hard time making this film and was miserable having to act out a role that was too close for his personal comfort at the time.

This film was originally supposed to come out in 1943, just before film-noir exploded and it could have been a trend setter for that style. However, a lawsuit delayed this film’s release until 1945, which was also better for Bogart, as by that time he had already gotten a divorce and was happily remarried.

All things considered, Bogart’s scenes in this were superb and he didn’t show signs of his inner turmoil on screen. He was able to play this evil bastard yet still had scenes where he had to convincingly seem like a good guy.

While this film isn’t a horror movie, it had moments that felt like it was. The scenes that took place on the mountain road were chilling to the bone. When Bogart appears in the shadows and walks towards his wife, who is in her car, he does so in such a predatory way that is reminiscent of some of the greatest horror icons of all-time: Lugosi, Karloff, Rathbone, Price, Cushing and Lee.

Conflict is a marvelous film that may be a step below great but it is certainly effective and does a great job telling its story and churning up the right kind of emotions from scene to scene.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The Two Mrs. CarrollsDead ReckoningThe Big Shot and Dark Passage.

Film Review: The Letter (1940)

Release Date: November 14th, 1940 (San Francisco premiere)
Directed by: William Wyler
Written by: Howard E. Koch
Based on: The Letter by W. Somerset Maugham
Music by: Max Steiner
Cast: Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall, James Stephenson, Gale Sondergaard

Warner Bros., 95 Minutes

Review:

“With all my heart, I still love the man I killed.” – Leslie

Man, oh man… I love the opening scene of this movie. It’s so damn good that it immediately pulls you right into this film from the get-go.

Also, I can’t believe that this is the first Bette Davis movie I am reviewing. I’ve seen so much of her stuff over the years but I guess this is the first film I’ve checked out over the last 18 months during this blog’s existence. So I should probably play some catch up and have a Bette Davis mini marathon in the immediate future.

The popular opinion about film-noir is that it was born with The Maltese Falcon in 1941, a year after this film came out. However, The Letter is very much film-noir. But there are many noir-esque films that predate 1941. Fritz Lang’s M came out in 1931 and you can’t tell me it’s not film-noir at its core.

So maybe William Wyler, this film’s director, was a bit ahead of the curve when it came to Hollywood trends. According to Eddie Muller of TCM’s Noir Alley, Wyler was the Steven Spielberg of his day and a real artist and king behind the camera. It shouldn’t be shocking that he was ahead of his time and quite possibly contributed to the genesis of film-noir.

The film is superbly acted, especially where Bette Davis is concerned. However, Gale Sondergaard’s Mrs. Hammond is the real scene stealer. Man, she just has an intense presence whenever she appears on screen and the fact that she was able to do this opposite of Davis is damned impressive. She didn’t even have to say anything, she just had to stand there, ominous and brooding over the scene around her.

The plot sees Davis’ Leslie Crosbie murder a man in the opening scene. Quite viciously for 1940, mind you. As the plot rolls on we learn that she killed him in self-defense. However, a blackmailer knows that she’s hiding something. This film then spirals down with twists and turns typical of the noir style.

What really makes this film alluring and sort of majestic is the setting. This takes place in Malaysia. It’s a tropical setting with an almost proto-Tiki aesthetic to it. The film just looks and feels exotic and isn’t your typical setting for a film of this style.

The shots of the plantation home and property, especially the opening and closing shots are incredible. The cinematography was handled by Tony Gaudio and he nailed it. This is quite easily one of the best looking motion pictures of the early 1940s.

The Letter is solid, through and through. And it is rare that you get to see Bette Davis share scenes with someone as commanding and intimidating as her.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Dark WatersThe Little FoxesJezebel and Dark Victory.

Film Review: Key Largo (1948)

Also known as: Gangster In Key Largo (Austria, Germany), Huracán de pasiones (Spanish title)
Release Date: July 15th, 1948 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: John Huston
Written by: Richard Brooks, John Huston
Based on: Key Largo by Maxwell Anderson
Music by: Max Steiner
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor

Warner Bros., 101 Minutes

Review:

“Hey Curly, what all happens in a hurricane?” – Ralphie, “The wind blows so hard the ocean gets up on its hind legs and walks right across the land.” – Curly

Contrary to popular belief, not all men are created equal. Reason being, there was once a man named Humphrey Bogart.

Bogart had a rare talent and that talent saw him transcend the screen. He was a superstar before anyone was even called that. He had charisma, a rugged charm and was a man’s man that many men tried to emulate and most women wanted to be with. And the best way to enjoy “Bogie” was in roles like this one.

The fact that Bogart is even in a movie, pretty much makes it a classic. Now add in his favorite leading lady, Lauren Bacall, one of the greatest on screen gangsters of all-time, Edward G. Robinson, and throw in veterans Lionel Barrymore and Claire Trevor (who won an Academy Award for this film) and you’ve got the star power of a supernova.

Did I mention that this was directed by John Huston, a true master behind the camera?

The plot is simple but it is an effective setup to one of the most tense Bogart movies of all-time.

Bogart plays Frank McCloud. He travels to a hotel in Key Largo to pay his respects to the family (Bacall and Barrymore) of a soldier that died while serving under him. Once there, he and the widow get a bit smitten with each other but at the same time, it is revealed that the other guests are gangsters. The head gangster is played by Edward G. Robinson. On top of that, a hurricane strikes Key Largo, trapping Bogart, Bacall, Barrymore and the gangsters in the hotel. Robinson’s Johnny Rocco was exiled to Cuba years earlier and is still very dangerous.

There are a lot of intense moments in the film and every time that Bogart and Robinson are opposite each other in a scene, it is bone chilling. There is one really tense moment where Robinson goes off for a few minutes while getting a shave at the same time. The added element of the shave just added more tension to the moment and this was one of the greatest scenes I’ve ever seen from the great Robinson.

A lot of this was shot on location in the Florida Keys and those scenes came off remarkably well, adding to the exotic allure of the picture. Add in the great cinematography by Karl Freund and you’ve got an otherworldly, majestic looking film.

John Huston shot this film meticulously and it shows. At the same time, he had the benefit of having one of the greatest casts ever assembled.

And despite the greatness of Bogart, Robinson, Bacall and Barrymore in this picture, Claire Trevor stole every scene that she was in. She was certainly worthy of her Academy Award for this picture.

Key Largo is a damn fine motion picture. It is one of the best film-noirs of all-time and one of the best films of its era. All the big stars here had long, storied careers but this is a highlight for all of them and director John Huston.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: The other films that pair Bogart and Bacall: To Have and to Have NotThe Big Sleep and Dark Passage. Also, The Maltese Falcon.

Film Review: The Clay Pigeon (1949)

Release Date: March 3rd, 1949 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Carl Foreman
Music by: Paul Sawtell
Cast: Bill Williams, Barbara Hale, Richard Quine

RKO Radio Pictures, 63 Minutes

Review:

I’ve heard a lot of praise in noir circles about The Clay Pigeon. However, I found it to be pretty dry and run of the mill.

The story is about an ex-POW that wakes up from a coma to discover that he’s been accused of murder. Confused and uncertain about this discovery, he escapes from the Navy hospital to search for his best friend, who was also a POW that was with him.

For me, a lot of the script seemed like it was a bit nonsensical and that certain things were too convenient and that the writing was a bit lazy. However, this was a 63 minute B-movie simply used to beef up a double bill. For RKO Pictures, it was probably an afterthought and not as lot of care was given to it.

Also, the acting is very bland and there just isn’t much excitement or energy in the film.

Still, this is Richard Fleischer’s first foray into film-noir. It’s not a bad attempt and it is watchable but it definitely doesn’t measure up to his far superior film-noir, The Narrow Margin.

I don’t know, there just isn’t much I can say about this. It’s not terrible but it just sort of exists. At least it led to better pictures for Fleischer.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Other Richard Fleischer film-noirs: Armored Car RobberyHis Kind of Woman and The Narrow Margin.

Film Review: Hollow Triumph (1948)

Also known as: The Scar (working title), The Man Who Murdered Himself (reissue title)
Release Date: August 18th, 1948 (Reading, PA premiere)
Directed by: Steve Sekely
Written by: Daniel Fuchs
Based on: Hollow Triumph by Murray Forbes
Music by: Sol Kaplan
Cast: Paul Henreid, Joan Bennett

Bryan Foy Productions, Eagle-Lion Films, 83 Minutes

Review:

“It’s a bitter little world full of sad surprises, and you don’t let anyone hurt you.” – Evelyn Hahn

Hollow Triumph came out at the height of film-noir but it wasn’t a major studio release. It came out form one of those Poverty Row film houses, the UK based Eagle-Lion Films.

Although, in regards to noir, Eagle-Lion had an incredible track record and made some of the best movies in the style: Raw DealHe Walked by Night and the semidocumentary styled T-Men.

Hollow Triumph, also known as Scar and The Man Who Murdered Himself, had the benefit of casting Joan Bennett, who already starred in the Fritz Lang film-noir classics The Woman In the Window and Scarlet Street. This film also got John Alton to handle its cinematography, he would go on to handle the cinematography for Raw Deal, just after this, and that is a film that is highly regarded for its visual look. Even though this isn’t Raw Deal, the film still looks magnificent.

John Muller (Paul Henreid) is a medical school dropout but he is also a savvy criminal. He orchestrates a holdup but things go awry. Evil gambler Rocky Stansyck puts Muller in his crosshairs but Muller is able to take on a new identity as a psychiatrist that looks an awful lot like him. There are some typical film-noir swerves and a lot of irony thrown into the mix.

While the story plays out well and is decently constructed, there are a lot of things in the film that seem way too convenient. If you can get passed that, you’ll find the film enjoyable and entertaining.

This is a better than decent thriller. The acting is pretty good and I have always liked Joan Bennett but that could be due to my adoration of Dario Argento’s Suspiria, three decades after this. Regardless, Bennett always has a strong presence that sort of commands attention and draws you in. Her role here is no different.

I was glad that this was featured on TCM’s Noir Alley because it may have been quite some time until I discovered this on my own. There are a lot of film-noir pictures out there and even though I’ve seen well over a hundred of them, I still uncover ones worthy of more recognition than they have. This is one of those movies.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Other similar films from Eagle-Lion: T-MenRaw Deal and He Walked by Night.

Film Review: Saboteur (1942)

Release Date: April 22nd, 1942 (Washington D.C. premiere)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Peter Viertel, Joan Harrison, Dorothy Parker
Music by: Frank Skinner
Cast: Robert Cummings, Priscilla Lane, Otto Kruger, Norman Lloyd

Frank Lloyd Productions, Paramount Pictures, 109 Minutes

Review:

“Very pretty speech – youthful, passionate, idealistic. Need I remind you that you are the fugitive from justice, not I. I’m a prominent citizen, widely respected. You are an obscure workman wanted for committing an extremely unpopular crime. Now which of us do you think the police will believe?” – Charles Tobin

I love that Starz has a ton of Alfred Hitchcock stuff up, right now. It allows me to delve into some of his lesser known pictures from a time when he wasn’t yet seen as a true auteur.

Saboteur is a spy thriller film-noir that follows an aircraft factory worker that goes on the run after being wrongly accused of sabotage, which also resulted in the death of his best friend.

Barry Kane (played by Robert Cummings) travels from Los Angeles to New York City in an effort to clear his name and expose the real saboteurs who are led by Charles Tobin (played by Otto Kruger), a respectable member of society but really a pro-fascist sympathizer.

Ultimately, this is a thrilling road movie that sees our hero encounter a lot of people that are willing to help him and do him harm. But it is all about the great final sequence, which takes place on the Statue of Liberty and will certainly make you think of the Mt. Rushmore sequence from North by Northwest.

While not my favorite Hitchcock film, it is hard to deny the great craftsmanship that went into this. It is superbly directed, the acting is good and the cinematography by Joseph A. Valentine is very pristine. It doesn’t have the same visual style that would become standard with noir but this also came out at the very early stages of the classic noir era. So it doesn’t use a high chiaroscuro style but it still utilizes contrast well. I absolutely love the shot from the opening credits scene.

In retrospect, and I’m not sure how people saw this in 1942, the film feels like a really good B-movie with a mostly B-movie cast. The budget, due to some of the larger sequences in the film, make it feel grander than something simple and low budget but it just has that sort of B-movie style but with a layer of quality that is very much Hitchcock.

The final sequence is great though and really, the highlight of the picture for me.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Other Hitchcock films of the era: Shadow of a Doubt, Suspicion, Foreign Correspondent and Lifeboat.

Film Review: The Mad Monster (1942)

Release Date: May 8th, 1942 (premiere)
Directed by: Sam Newfield
Written by: Fred Myton
Music by: David Chudnow
Cast: Johnny Downs, George Zucco, Anne Nagel, Reginald Barlow

Producers Releasing Corporation, 77 Minutes

Review:

“Gentlemen, I wish you were here to see the proof of my claim that the transfusion of blood between different species is possible. Perhaps you will change your mind one day soon when Petro tears at your throat.” – Dr. Lorenzo Cameron

More often than not a studio from Poverty Row would remind the world why they were a studio on Poverty Row. It’s not to say that they were incapable of quality, they made some good stuff now and again, but when you don’t have the finances or the nice studio to compete with the big dogs in the old Hollywood era, every project was an attempt to make chicken salad with chicken shit.

The Mad Monster looks and feels like a Poverty Row film. It’s poorly filmed with bad sound, bad camera work, bad acting and a script that didn’t need refinement, it just needed to be thrown out.

I’d imagine that this gem of awfulness would have been completely forgotten by this point, had it not been featured in the first nationally televised season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Because of that, it found new life and will always exist, as that show’s die hard fans won’t let anything die.

It should go without saying that the effects are terrible, the acting is dog shit and the monster is cheesier than a Philly steak sandwich buried under Velveeta nachos. But there is an endearing quality to it because of those things.

Sadly, the film is pretty damn boring for the most part and relies on the same small swamp set over and over. The film feels confined, cheap and barely has any redeeming qualities other than the fact that a monster was created by a transfusion of a dog’s blood into a man’s body.

So as is customary with movies like this, I have to run it through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 3 Stool: Like a sausage but with cracks on its surface.”

Rating: 2.25/10
Pairs well with: The Monster MakerThe Corpse Vanishes and The Vampire Bat