Film Review: Make Mine Music (1946)

Also known as: Swing Street (working title)
Release Date: April 20th, 1946 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Jack Kinney, Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton, Luske, Joshua Meador, Robert Cormack
Written by: James Bordrero, Homer Brightman, Erwin Graham, Eric Gurney, T. Hee, Sylvia Holland, Dick Huemer, Dick Kelsey, Dick Kinney, Jesse Marsh, Tom Oreb, Cap Palmer, Erdman Penner, Harry Reeves, Dick Shaw, John Walbridge, Roy Williams
Music by: Eliot Daniel, Ken Darby, Charles Wolcott, Oliver Wallace, Edward Plumb
Cast: Nelson Eddy, Dinah Shore, Benny Goodman, The Andrews Sisters, Jerry Colonna, Sterling Holloway, Andy Russell, David Lichine, Tania Riabouchinskaya, The Pied Pipers, The King’s Men, The Ken Darby Chorus

Walt Disney Animation Studios, RKO Radio Pictures, 75 Minutes, 68 Minutes (DVD cut)

Review:

“And you, faithful little friend, don’t be too sad, because miracles never really die. And somewhere in wherever heaven is reserved for creatures of the deep, Willie is still singing, in a hundred voices, each more golden than before, and he’ll go on singing in a voice so cheery forever.” – Narrator

Overall, this is probably the weakest of the Disney package/anthology films. That’s also probably why it’s the only one not on Disney+. I was able to find all the segments (and in order) on a YouTube playlist.

This one is comprised of more than a half dozen musical numbers of varying lengths and done in varying animation styles with different genres of music.

This isn’t bad and it’s fairly entertaining but it lacks any sort of cohesion and just feels more like what watching an hour or so of MTV could’ve been like in the 1940s had music video channels existed that far back.

The animation is good and this is a nice looking production but comparing it to something as glorious and perfect as Fantasia really exposes its flaws and lack of production value.

To be fair, however, Disney was stretched thin in the ’40s between making World War II propaganda films while also trying to put out stuff like this to keep the studio from completely moving away from entertainment during wartime.

Make Mine Music is interesting more for what it is and its place in history than it is for its actual content. By the time this did come out, World War II was over but while it was being made, the war was still a reality.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Disney’s other 1940s package/anthology films.

Film Review: The Dark Mirror (1946)

Release Date: October 18th, 1946 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Robert Siodmak
Written by: Nunnally Johnson, Vladimir Pozner
Music by: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Olivia de Havilland, Lew Ayres, Thomas Mitchell

International Pictures, Nunnally Johnson Productions, 85 Minutes

Review:

“Not even nature can duplicate character, not even in twins.” – Dr. Scott Elliott

For a B-movie film-noir, this motion picture is quite impressive. While I love a lot of B-movie noirs, there are many more that are just mediocre or outright shit. But I think that this film’s quality has a lot to do with its director, noir veteran Robert Siodmak, as well as its star, the great Olivia de Havilland, who won an Academy Award the same year for her role in To Each His Own.

Watching this film, I was kind of reminded of Brian De Palma’s Sisters from 1972. Both films deal with a good twin and a killer twin that tries to frame (or destroy) their better half.

The films are very different but I can see where De Palma may haven taken some cues from this picture. But honestly, which young filmmaker wouldn’t between the great split performance by its leading lady, as well as the visionary style of its director, a true auteur and master of the noir genre and visual storytelling.

This is a superbly acted film and not just by de Havilland, who plays two roles, but also by its top two male stars, Lew Ayres and Thomas Mitchell.

Everyone in this film is believable and pretty close to perfect. Siodmak got truly great performances out of the three top stars and they had immense chemistry.

I also love how this was shot and for a film from the mid-’40s, Siodmak did a stupendous job in the composite shots that feature both of the twins on the screen at the same time. These sequences go off without a hitch or any visual or audible hints that may wreck what you see on the screen. There’s no obvious Patty Duke Show trickery.

The film’s story is also really good. It pulls you in and you’re never really sure which sister you’re seeing from scene to scene. While the ending and the darker sister’s plot is kind of obvious, you still don’t fully know how it will conclude and whether or not tragedy will befall the good sister or the decent male characters that just want to help them.

That being said, the picture builds up suspense well. The movie does a great job of not coming off as too formulaic or cliche while telling a good, compelling tale that leaves you unsure till the final scene.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other classic film-noir pictures that were directed by Robert Siodmak.

Film Review: Gilda (1946)

Release Date: March 14th, 1946 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Charles Vidor
Written by: Jo Eisinger, Marion Parsonnet, Ben Hecht (uncredited), E.A. Ellington
Music by: M.W. Stoloff, Marlin Skiles
Cast: Rita Hayworth, Glenn Ford, George Macready, Joseph Calleia

Columbia Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“Hate is a very exciting emotion. Haven’t you noticed? Very exciting. I hate you too, Johnny. I hate you so much I think I’m going to die from it. Darling… [they kiss passionately] I think I’m going to die from it.” – Gilda

Out of all the film-noir classics I’ve watched and reviewed over the last few years, Gilda was low on my radar, even if it is beloved by many and considered a top noir.

I’m not sure why I wasn’t in a rush to see this one, as I like Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford, but I do tend to be more attracted to intense crime thriller noir.

This does have a crime thriller element, more than I anticipated, actually, but it is mostly focused on drama and romance, as two ex-lovers who are still in love try their damnedest to try and hurt each other.

There really isn’t a likable character in this film, if you look past the charm and beauty of Hayworth. She acts shitty, Glenn Ford acts shitty and no one else is that great either.

I have to say, though, I was surprised by a rather shocking twist at the very end. I didn’t see it coming and it was jarring in a good way. However, that twist was quickly dealt with and a solid swerve immediately went out with a somewhat underwhelming whimper.

Directed by Charles Vidor, the film’s overall composition looked splendid.

This boasts great cinematography even for the high standard that was set during the height of film-noir. It’s a superb looking picture with magnificent shot framing, incredible lighting and a lush tropical setting that feels both lived in and opulent.

I was mostly pleasantly surprised by this. Sure, it may have been a bit slow, here and there, but it makes up for the lack of narrative energy in how energetic the performances are by the two leads.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other classic noir pictures like Laura, The Lady From Shanghai, The Killers and The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Film Review: Behind Green Lights (1946)

Release Date: February 15th, 1946
Directed by: Otto Brower
Written by: Charles G. Booth, Scott Darling
Cast: Carole Landis, William Gargan

Twentieth Century Fox, 64 Minutes

Review:

“Gosh. I hope I don’t pull any boners.” – Johnny Williams

I wanted to show some love to some lesser known film-noir pictures here, in the month of Noirvember. What’s cool about these mostly forgotten noir flicks is that there are literally hundreds of them for free on YouTube.

The story starts when a police lieutenant finds a corpse with bullet holes in a car sitting in front of the police station. An investigation starts and we learn that there was some sort of political motivation to the killing.

The first few minutes of the film were intriguing and a decent setup. However, the rest of the movie was a slog to get through. Mostly, it was dull, kind of uneventful despite a decent paced plot progression and it lacked the panache of the classic film-noir style.

Even though this was made by Paramount, it felt cheap, rushed and it was obvious that it was made with the intention of slapping it on a double bill with a better picture.

Now that doesn’t necessarily mean that a movie has to be bad and this isn’t bad. It’s just sort of meh.

Often times, the B-pictures on the double bill actually exceed the A-pictures they are paired with. Now I’m not sure what this film was paired up with, as there surprisingly isn’t a lot of information on it.

I can’t quite call this a waste of time but there are probably two-hundred noir pictures I’d recommend before it.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other lesser known noir pictures like Blonde Ice, Inner Sanctum, Please Murder Me! and The Pretender.

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.