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: 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.

Film Review: The Gangster (1947)

Also known as: Low Company (reissue title)
Release Date: November 25th, 1947
Directed by: Gordon Wiles
Written by: Daniel Fuchs
Based on: Low Company by Daniel Fuchs
Music by: Louis Gruenberg
Cast: Barry Sullivan, Belita, Joan Lorring, Akim Tamiroff, John Ireland, Sheldon Leonard, Elisha Cook Jr., Charles McGraw, Shelley Winters

King Brothers Productions, Allied Artists Pictures, 84 Minutes

Review:

“Your wife called. What should I tell her?” – Shorty, “Tell her I dropped dead.” – Nick Jammey

The Gangster came out at a time when Hollywood was over gangster pictures. Even though it defied the big studio trends and was also put out by a studio on Poverty Row, it was still a pretty solid success and very much taps into the film-noir style.

What’s most interesting about this film is it’s production value. King Brothers didn’t believe in building expensive or elaborate sets. They also didn’t want to waste money on location shoots. Almost everything was built with light wood and cardboard on the cheap. This gives the film an otherworldly look though. It feels more like a dream sequence or a stage show production with confined sets. It’s sort of magical in this way and even with these frugal tactics, it still looks good.

One thing I like is that there is a high chiaoscuro style in a lot of scenes due to how walls and ceilings were painted. There are multiple shots of a black and white checkered or striped background, which make the actors pop off the screen in the foreground. The use of lighting is fantastic and the high contrast look with heavy shadows protects the look of the set, keeping imperfections in the dark.

For a Poverty Row production, this also has some good acting. Not only that but it has small roles for a lot of notable stars. Shelley Winters, Elisha Cook Jr., John Ireland, Charles McGraw and Akim Tamiroff all show up in some form. There are other familiar faces, as well.

The Gangster is a film that wasn’t on my radar until now, thanks to TCM’s Noir Alley. I was glad to see it and it’s a film that I will have to slide somewhere into my Top 100 Film-Noir list.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: DesperateScene of the Crime and White Heat.

Film Review: Desperate (1947)

Also known as: Desesperado (Brazil, Spain, Portugal)
Release Date: June 20th, 1947
Directed by: Anthony Mann
Written by: Harry Essex, Dorothy Atlas, Anthony Mann
Music by: Paul Sawtell
Cast: Steve Brodie, Audrey Long, Raymond Burr, Jason Robards Sr.

RKO Radio Pictures, 73 Minutes

Review:

“Out of every seven guys who go to the chair, six go yelling, “I’m innocent!”” – Det. Lt. Louie Ferrari

I’ve said it before (a lot more than once) and I’ll say it again (and again), I love Raymond Burr. I especially love him when he plays a slimy, evil bastard. Add in Anthony Mann as director and you’ve got a solid film-noir with real gravitas.

This was put out by RKO Radio Pictures, the real house of noir. This is one of those quickly shot, cheaply shot, B-movie pictures but RKO had a real knack for making these pictures work. And while RKO certainly wasn’t a B-studio, they could still be quick, frugal and turn out quality while pinching pennies.

Steve Brodie and Audrey Long are both kind of lovable in this and it sucks seeing them being pulled into Burr’s evil orbit, turning their lives upside down.

The story sees a truck driver get used to haul some illegal goods. The driver (Brodie), isn’t aware of what’s happening and quickly finds himself in a situation where everything goes wrong and a cop ends up dead. Burr plays a heavy that makes the driver and his wife’s life a living hell. At one point, Burr threatens to mutilate her if Brodie doesn’t play ball with him.

This is dark and desperate, pun intended. It’s a film that really show’s America’s darker underbelly in the post-war years. It’s like the big swampy beast crawled out of the muck and rolled over, exposing that underbelly for all to see.

This has good cinematography and an almost enchanting beauty to its darkness. All of this is of course accented by a nice musical score from Paul Sawtell. The film and it’s atmosphere was like a snake as it slowly slithers along but is always ready to strike with a lot of energy.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Other Anthony Mann film-noir movies: Raw Deal, He Walked by Night, T-Men and Side Street. For Raymond Burr noir pictures: Please Murder Me!, Pitfall, Crime of Passion, The Blue Gardenia and Red Light.

Film Review: Dark Passage (1947)

Release Date: September 5th, 1947 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Delmer Daves
Written by: Delmer Daves, David Goodis
Music by: Franz Waxman
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Bruce Bennett, Agnes Moorehead

Warner Bros., 106 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve cried myself to sleep at night because of you. She’s got you now. She wants you very badly doesn’t she? She’s willing to run away with you and keep on running and ruin everything for herself. But she wouldn’t care because she’d be with you and that’s what she wants. Well she doesn’t have you now. She’ll never have you. Nobody will ever have you! And that’s the way I want it! You’re nothing but an escaped convict. Nobody knows what you wrote down. They’ll believe me! They’ll believe me!” – Madge Rapf

All of the films that star both Bogart and Bacall are damn good but this may be the best of the four. In my opinion, and I really love Key Largo, this is the cream of the crop.

Dark Passage is a spectacular film and one of the greatest film-noir pictures I have ever seen. I had seen it before but it’s been quite awhile and when I did, I didn’t have the broader understanding of the cinematic style that I have now. Looking at it within the context of the other top noir films, this movie is pretty close to the top of the heap and I should probably adjust my Top 100 Film-Noir list after revisiting this.

What’s surprising about this film is that the first act is played from a first person point-of-view, as we never get to see Bogart’s face. We get his voice and follow him as he escapes prison and tries to get to San Francisco and we see his first meeting with Bacall through his eyes. Then in the second act of the film, we lose the first person perspective and see Bogart with his head wrapped up, as his character has gotten a surgery to change his physical appearance. This almost has an Invisible Man vibe to it. It isn’t until we get to the second half of the film, leading into the third act, that we get to see Bogart’s actual face. It was incredibly rare for a major studio to allow a top star like Bogart to have their visage obscured for such a big chunk of a movie.

Bogart plays Vincent Parry, a man who was convicted of murdering his wife. He escapes prison in an effort to prove his innocence and meets Bacall’s Irene Jansen, who wants to help him set the record straight.

As I point out in almost every review of every classic noir I cover, this thing has a lot of twists and turns. It’s typical of the style but this is hardly anything derivative, even if the premise sounds recycled. You’re never really sure why Irene sought out Vincent and why she wants to help him. There are some revelations, as the film rolls on, but this is a real rollercoaster.

Not to spoil anything, but there is a really brutal scene where a woman gets tossed out a window. It isn’t very violent, as this is a film from 1947, but it had a surprising harshness to it that is shocking for a film from this era. It totally catches you off guard and the camera actually gives you a good bird’s-eye-view shot of her body plummeting towards the sidewalk below.

Bogart and Bacall were both at the top of their game in this movie. Their chemistry was definitely apparent and unparalleled when compared to their work with any other actors. Not to say that Bogey and Bacall weren’t always on their A game, they were. There is just something extra magical about them being together on the screen though.

I absolutely love this movie. Dark Passage should be one of those silver screen classics that gets a nice theatrical re-release. Get on it Flashback Cinema or Fathom Events!

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: The other films that pair Bogart and Bacall: To Have and to Have NotThe Big Sleep and Key Largo. Also, The Maltese Falcon.

Film Review: Black Narcissus (1947)

Release Date: April 24th, 1947 (London premiere)
Directed by: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Written by: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Based on: Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden
Music by: Brian Easdale
Cast: Deborah Kerr, Kathleen Byron, David Farrar, Flora Robson, Sabu, Jean Simmons

General Film Distributors, Universal-International, 100 Minutes

Review:

“Remember, the superior of all is the servant of all.” – Mother Dorothea

I’ve heard about Black Narcissus throughout the years, as it was a milestone film in cinematographer Jack Cardiff’s career. He won an Academy Award for this film, as did Art Director Alfred Junge, who was another guy at the top of his game when this was made.

The film is a magnificent piece of moving and living art. Cardiff’s cinematography is absolutely incredible in this film but it goes hand in hand with Junge’s attention to detail, style and the world he helped craft in order for Cardiff to capture real magic. From a visual standpoint, this movie is a prefect example of how two artists, deeply and genuinely on the same page, occupying the same space, can plant a seed that blossoms into a mesmerizing and perfect flower.

Black Narcissus, is hands down, one of the best looking films I have ever seen.

The rest of the film is pretty good but the look of this world that everyone is acting in, overshadows the rest of the picture. Not to say that the acting or the story were bad, they were much better than decent and the subject matter was very interesting but I just couldn’t stop myself from getting lost in the enticing and magnetic allure of the glamorous environment.

The story deals with a group of young Anglican nuns who open up a school and hospital in the Himalayas, close to Darjeeling. They are confronted with an unfamiliar culture and have to deal with the feeling of extreme isolation. This isolation leads to major challenges and tests for the nuns. One nun succumbs to the sexual sensuality she feels for a local British man, which then leads to a severe nervous breakdown.

The highlight of the film from an acting standpoint, at least for me, was seeing Indian actor Sabu in a role where he is older than what I’m familiar with. Growing up, I was a fan of his childhood films Jungle BookElephant BoyArabian Nights and The Thief of Bagdad. All old school classics that my grandma always had in rotation on her television when I was young.

Black Narcissus is a film that fans of art direction and cinematography have to at least see once in their lives. I’m sure it is something I will revisit again, just because the visuals are one of my favorite things about motion pictures. The matte paintings alone are incredible. It is amazing what top craftsman could accomplish, more than half a century before CGI became the norm.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Other films where the cinematography is handled by Jack Cardiff, most notably The Red Shoes and Stairway to Heaven.

Film Review: Crossfire (1947)

Release Date: July 22nd, 1947 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Edward Dmytryk
Written by: John Paxton
Based on: The Brick Foxhole by Richard Brooks
Music by: Roy Webb
Cast: Robert Young, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Gloria Grahame, Sam Levene, Jacqueline White

RKO Radio Pictures, 86 Minutes

Review:

“My grandfather was killed just because he was an Irish Catholic. Hating is always the same, always senseless. One day it kills Irish Catholics, the next day Jews, the next day Protestants, the next day Quakers. It’s hard to stop. It can end up killing people who wear striped neckties.” – Police Captain Finlay

Crossfire is a pretty unique film-noir, as it is a very socially progressive movie for its time. The main crime in the film surrounds the murder of a Jewish man and it is discovered that the murder was inspired by bigotry and hatred. This was pretty heavy stuff for 1947 but kudos to RKO Pictures, Edward Dmytryk and John Paxton for putting this picture together. No, not the John Paxton that helped lead the Chicago Bulls to many NBA championships in the 1990s, he spelled his name “Paxson”. This John Paxton was a screenwriter that breathed life into film-noirs like Cornered and Murder, My Sweet.

This film also stars the three Roberts of film-noir: Young, Mitchum and Ryan. Okay, Young wasn’t in a lot of noir but Mitchum and Ryan lived in the genre. Plus, you also have Gloria Grahame, one of the queens of noir. Sam Levene also pops up in this but I feel like he is in almost every noir picture of the 1940s and 1950s. Then again, Elisha Cook Jr. probably has him beat.

Crossfire, despite its star power and its interesting premise, isn’t as good as I had hoped it would be. It’s not a bad movie but it just sort of exists and plays out without a lot of real suspense or tension.

The Academy thought it was pretty damn good though, as it was nominated for five Oscars. Plus, it won the award for Best Social Film at Cannes that year. But awards are typically political statements, even in the 1940s, and the people who hand out awards have always had a bias towards socially conscious cinema. From an accolades perspective, Crossfire greatly benefited from its subject matter.

I don’t mean to sound like I am in any way bashing the picture. It just wasn’t Oscar worthy, in my opinion. Especially in a year where we had Kiss of DeathThe Lady From ShanghaiNightmare AlleyBrute Force and Out of the Past. And those are just some of the film-noirs that I would rank higher not to mention all the other great films from other genres.

The three Roberts all put in solid performances though, as did Grahame. Edward Dmytryk is also a very good director. This is a very good film but when one has to compare it to what else was coming out at the time, it just isn’t on the same level as the films I mentioned in the previous paragraph.

If you love film-noir and any of the actors in this movie, it is still worth your time. I liked the picture and I would certainly watch it again but probably as part of a double feature or marathon.

Rating: 7/10