Film Review: Black Angel (1946)

Release Date: August 2nd, 1946
Directed by: Roy William Neill
Written by: Roy Chanslor
Based on: The Black Angel by Cornell Woolrich
Music by: Frank Skinner
Cast: Dan Duryea, June Vincent, Peter Lorre, Broderick Crawford, Constance Dowling

Universal Pictures, 81 Minutes

Review:

“Now may I have the box and the letter? Remember Catherine… you promised me to be a good girl.” – Marko

This is a pretty highly regarded classic noir picture. I had never watched it until now and despite the fanfare for it, I still wasn’t prepared for how good this movie is.

It stars a pair with great, great chemistry: Dan Duryea and June Vincent. They were perfect together in this and it was nice seeing Duryea not play an evil asshole.

The film also stars Peter Lorre in one of his best performances. In fact, this may be my favorite role he’s played after M.

Now the plot is complicated to explain but it all flows really well in the movie itself.

In a nutshell, Dan Duryea’s wife is murdered but the man wrongly arrested for it is June Vincent’s husband. Initially, Vincent suspects Duryea and confronts him in an effort to clear her husband. She discovers that he couldn’t have done it and the two pair up in an effort to find the real killer and to free Vincent’s husband before execution. The man they suspect is Peter Lorre, who owns a swanky nightclub where the pair get a gig as the house musicians.

What’s neat about the film is that it is one hundred percent noir but it has a lot of music in it and the performances by Vincent and Duryea’s characters are fantastic.

From the first frame to the last, the film looks perfect. The cinematography is top notch but the real life within the picture comes from the set design. The world feels real and genuine in a way that wasn’t typical with big studio films of the ’40s.

The shot framing is also really good. One moment that especially comes to mind is the scene where Lorre is opening his safe with Vincent just over his shoulder, watching him dial in his combination.

The opening sequence is also pretty well done in how it uses miniatures and shot transitions. While it’s not perfect, I don’t know how you could do it any better in the era when this film was made.

As good noir films go, this has a big twist and reveal at the end of the film. You don’t really see it coming and it is three parts heart-wrenching and two parts a punch to the gut. Basically, it was effective… damn effective.

I love this film and it’s a classic noir that I’m sure I will revisit again, much sooner than later.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other classic noir pictures like Fallen Angel, The Dark Corner, Phantom Lady, The Blue Dahlia, etc.

Film Review: The Blue Dahlia (1946)

Release Date: April 16th, 1946 (Baltimore premiere)
Directed by: George Marshall
Written by: Raymond Chandler
Music by: Victor Young (uncredited)
Cast: Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, William Bendix, Howard Da Silva, Doris Dowling

Paramount Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Just don’t get too complicated, Eddie. When a man gets too complicated, he’s unhappy. And when he’s unhappy, his luck runs out.” – Leo

While not the first film to pair up Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, this is probably the most famous one and the one that is considered the best. Although, I’d say that I like This Gun For Hire quite a bit more. I still haven’t seen their earliest film, The Glass Key, but I plan to watch it within the week.

The plot of the film revolves around an ex-serviceman, Johnny, who is wanted for the murder of his wife, who he had a severe falling out with once returning home from World War II. He finds out that she killed their son while driving drunk and that she has been having an affair with the owner of the Blue Dahlia nightclub. During their argument, Johnny pulls a gun on his wife but doesn’t use it. However, a witness saw this so when she is killed after Johnny leaves, he is the prime suspect.

In typical noir fashion, the rest of the film follows Johnny trying to clear his name while also trying to discover who the killer is.

The film is written by Raymond Chandler, who is probably known more for the film adaptations of his crime novels than his actual screenwriting but the story here is on par with his others and the dialogue is pretty well written. But it’s the talents of Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, as well as the smaller parts of Doris Dowling and Howard Da Silva that gave the script real life. But I also can’t discount George Marshall’s direction.

The cinematography is decent but nothing extraordinary. Paramount made good looking noir pictures but they lack the visual panache of the noirs put out by RKO. But no one knew what film-noir was when they were making these films and the cinematography feels more like the crew sticking to Paramount’s tightly controlled standard than actually trying to give this some artistic flourish.

The Blue Dahlia is a beloved film for most noir lovers. I definitely enjoyed it but I can’t really put it in the upper echelon of the style’s best pictures.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other film-noir pictures pairing Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd.

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: 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: 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: Crack-Up (1946)

Also known as: Galveston (working title)
Release Date: September 6th, 1946
Directed by: Irving Reis, James Anderson (assistant)
Written by: John Paxton, Ben Bengal, Ray Spencer
Based on: Madman’s Holiday by Frederic Brown
Music by: Leigh Harline
Cast: Pat O’Brien, Claire Trevor, Herbert Marshall, Ray Collins

RKO Radio Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Wouldn’t it be smarter to go to Cochrane and get this thing out in the open?” – Terry Cordell, “About as smart as cutting my throat to get some fresh air.” – George Steele

I had never heard of Crack-Up until it was featured on TCM’s Noir Alley.

While not a great noir, it was certainly intense and it kept you glued to your seat, as things escalated and layers of this mystery started to be peeled back.

It stars Pat O’Brien and Claire Trevor, both of whom did quite good in this. I’ve always liked Trevor’s work, especially in noir.

The film was directed by Irving Reis, who wasn’t usually behind the camera on noir pictures and was more famous for directing films like The Bachelor and the Bobby-SoxerThe Gay Falcon, The Big Street and The Four Poster. He also didn’t have a terribly long career when compared to other well-known directors of his day but he did have a real knack for framing shots superbly and for utilizing the tools around him.

While this film does grab you quickly, it starts to taper off a bit towards the end, as it inches towards its climax. It wasn’t a big issue for me but it lost some momentum and probably could have been more effective at around 75 minutes with the final act fine tuned more.

For the time, the lighting effects were solid and I love the scene where O’Brien is watching another approaching train that he fears is going to collide with the one he’s riding on.

I loved the use of trains in the film, as well as setting some scenes in a museum while also critiquing art critics. I’m not sure if that was done in defense of art that challenges tradition or if this film wasn’t that smart. Regardless, it was interesting to see.

With lots of suspense, this is a better than average thriller that is maybe a bit too unknown and probably underrated.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other RKO Radio Pictures film-noirs of the era.

Film Review: Humoresque (1946)

Release Date: December 25th, 1946 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Jean Negulesco
Written by: Clifford Odets, Zachary Gold
Based on: Humoresque: A Laugh On Life with a Tear Behind It by Fannie Hurst
Music by: Franz Waxman
Cast: Joan Crawford, John Garfield, Oscar Levant, J. Carrol Naish, Joan Chandler

Warner Bros., 125 Minutes

Review:

“Tell me, Mrs. Wright, does your husband interfere with your marriage?” – Sid Jeffers

I wasn’t sure what to think about this film going into it, as I didn’t know much about it. It pops up on a lot of film-noir lists but if I’m being honest, it’s barely film-noir.

At its core, Humoresque is a romantic drama with a nice musical touch to it, as John Garfield’s character is a well renowned violinist, whose musical career is central to the plot.

The film stars Joan Crawford as an alcoholic socialite mess that is enamored with Garfield’s violin skills to the point that she pretty much starts managing his career.

As the film rolls on, she falls in love with him and we get a bunch of turbulence that ultimately ends pretty darkly.

I think the noir aspects of the film are the cinematography and the twists and turns of the plot. Even though this is focused on romance and business instead of crime and murder, it does have strong similarities to the noir style.

Plus, Crawford dabbled in film-noir quite a bit and this fits better with her noir work than many of her other films.

The acting was absolutely stellar and Crawford was exceptional from your first glance at her up until that powerful final moment.

This isn’t really my cup of tea but I still enjoyed it for the performances, the music and the visual style. It’s certainly a very well made motion picture and I can understand why it’s beloved by some classic film aficionados.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Joan Crawford noir-esque pictures: The Damned Don’t Cry, Mildred Pierce and Possessed.