Film Review: The Big Clock (1948)

Release Date: March 18th, 1948 (Detroit premiere)
Directed by: John Farrow
Written by: Jonathan Latimer
Based on: The Big Clock by Kenneth Fearing
Music by: Victor Young
Cast: Ray Milland, Charles Laughton, Maureen O’Sullivan, George Macready, Rita Johnson, Elsa Lanchester

Paramount Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“White clocks, yellow clocks, brown clocks, blue clocks. Oh, Miss York, where are the green clocks of yesteryear?” – George Stroud

This is one of those noir films that many consider to be one of the top. I hadn’t seen it until now but I’m using the month of Noirvember to work through a lot of the films I’ve missed in the noir style.

Being that this stars Ray Milland also made me bump this one up on my list.

For the most part, this was pretty standard fare as far as noir pictures go. Milland gave it a little extra flourish, as did Elsa Lanchester in the few bits she was in.

I also thought that the setting was unique, especially how they used the big clock within the film itself. But this also used clocks as a motif throughout the entire picture. Which makes sense, as it was a race against time and it featured big business where time is money.

The story was decent but there wasn’t much in it that I found surprising. In fact, there really isn’t a mystery to solve or any shocking plot twists. The audience knows what’s happening and it is really just a journey about a man trying to clear his name and finger the true villain.

I thought that most of the film was just okay. The minutes before the big finale is where it actually kind of picks up. The story’s villain does end up dying a pretty terrible but fitting death and I did find that satisfying.

The Big Clock was solid and quite competent on nearly every level. It just didn’t tap into that dark, noir part of my brain as much as I would’ve liked.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other classic noir pictures like Nocturne, This Gun for Hire, Thieves’ Highway, Criss Cross, Trapped and Clash by Night.

Film Review: Last of the Wild Horses (1948)

Release Date: December 27th, 1948
Directed by: Robert L. Lippert
Written by: Jack Harvey
Music by: Albert Glasser
Cast: James Ellison, Mary Beth Hughes, Jane Frazee

Robert L. Lippert Productions, Grestwood Pictures, 84 Minutes

Review:

“There oughta be a law against a man carrying concealed weapons. You boys get tempted too easy.” – Duke Barnum

It’s possible that this is the worst western film I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen a ton of terrible ones.

It’s drab, uninteresting and the plot is disjointed and quite a mess. Granted, my issues with the plot could also be due to being so bored to tears that my brain kept tuning out. And really, the only thing that got me through this picture was the commentary provided by the cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

The story is about a rancher who is accused of trying to force smaller ranchers out of business. Even for 1940s standards, there are a lot of interesting directions this plot could go. But it just moves along at a snail’s pace and doesn’t throw anything compelling at the viewer.

If there are any positives to speak about, it’s the scenery. This was primarily shot in the wilderness of Oregon and the actors are immersed in natural beauty. However, that being said, for the most part, the natural world isn’t well shot. You get wide vistas but the angles and general cinematography are pretty amateurish.

The biggest thing working against this movie is that a lot of it takes place in a courtroom. I’ve never seen a trial cowboy movie. Now I have seen cowboys in courtrooms but it’s usually a quick scene to give context to a plot. I’m not interested in Perry Mason Meets Bonanza brought to us by a cast and crew with ten percent of the talent.

The Last of the Wild Horses should probably only be watched by the hardcore MST3K completist.

Rating: 1/10
Pairs well with: watching a GIF of a tumbleweed for 84 minutes.

Film Review: The Hunted (1948)

Release Date: April 7th, 1948
Directed by: Jack Bernhard
Written by: Steve Fisher
Music by: Edward J. Kay
Cast: Preston Foster, Belita, Pierre Watkin, Edna Holland

Allied Artists Pictures, 84 Minutes

Review:

“You know something, Johnny? It’s been four years since I’ve been kissed.” – Laura Mead

The Hunted was not a major studio film-noir picture but it was still a pretty engaging story where even if the acting wasn’t the greatest, the characters still lured you in.

While Preston Foster gets top billing here, the most interesting cast member is Belita. For those unaware, she was a talented figure skater from the United Kingdom. She dabbled in acting for a bit and actually was cast in three film-noir pictures during her film career. While she didn’t have the typical Hollywood femme fatale look, she was still stunning in her own way and had more of an athletic build, which worked for her character here, as ice skating was a part of this story.

The film flows pretty quickly and it’s relatively short when compared to bigger budget noir pictures. Most of the B-movie noirs had scant running times, which is actually something I like about them. It allows them to move swiftly, cut out the frills and gives them a bit more grit and realism. This film is exactly what I just described. While the best noirs are like a fine wine, films like this are more like a shot of whiskey.

The Hunted feels dirty and organic when seen next to a film like Laura. With that, Belita feels more real, as well.

The plot follows a cop that discovers that his girlfriend may be involved in a jewelry robbery. He arrests her, even though she claims she was framed. She gets out years later but then gets mixed up in a murder. The detective believes that she may have been involved in the murder but as noir pictures go, he struggles between his own moral code and his dame.

Now the story isn’t all that complex or original but it doesn’t need to be. Noir films were a dime a dozen in the late 1940s and the cream of the crop often times rose to their heights because of atmosphere. This isn’t the cream of the crop but the atmosphere is still effective and elicits emotional investment into the film and its characters. This is no Laura or Double Indemnity but it is a much better movie than most of the Poverty Row studios’ attempts at high octane crime pictures. Plus, this even makes time for a Belita figure skating performance. Although, that does feel a bit out of place.

The Hunted is a nice way to kill 84 minutes. It isn’t a great example of film-noir but for fans of the style, it’s certainly worth a look.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: the other two film-noir pictures starring figure skater Belita: Suspense and The Gangster.

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: 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: The Naked City (1948)

Also known as: Homicide (working title)
Release Date: March 4th, 1948
Directed by: Jules Dassin
Written by: Albert Maltz, Malvin Wald
Music by: Miklós Rózsa, Frank Skinner
Cast: Barry Fitzgerald, Howard Duff, Dorothy Hart, Don Taylor

Mark Hellinger Productions, Universal Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.” – Narrator

The Naked City is a really important film in history for how it popularized the police procedural story in fiction. It’s not the first but it is the most popular of the procedural films at the time. The genre style was alive in the literature of the time but it hadn’t quite taken off in film before this picture. Plus, this sort of marries the police procedural drama with film-noir.

Directed by noir giant Jules Dassin, who was also behind the camera on Brute ForceThieves’ HighwayNight and the City and Rififi, this is probably his best known picture. In fact, it’s popularity spun off into a television series. It even went on to inspire some DLC content for the 2011 video game L.A. Noire, seven decades later.

The movie is partially told in a semidocumentary style, similar to noir pictures like T-Men and He Walked by Night. This helped with the police procedural narrative and kept things feeling pretty authenitc and real, well as authentic and real as a Hollywood picture could be at that time.

In this film, we follow around a veteran cop and a young cop, as they try and solve the murder of a young model. We go through all their procedures and see how they use their intuition, science and detective skills to catch the killer.

While this is probably the most highly regarded of Dassin’s films, it’s not my favorite. I actually prefer Brute Force and Night and the City more. I also think that Thieves’ Highway is on par with this, if not slightly better because of how good the performances were. The Naked City is still darn good, however.

The cinematography is exceptional, especially in regards to how New York City was shot. I was really impressed with the scene where the two men ride the construction elevator up the side of a building, as the backdrop of the city behind them drops. There is a lot of energy just from how certain things in this film were captured when it would have been much easier for Dassin and his cinematographer, William H. Daniels, to have shot things much simpler or on closed sets. They really brought New York City alive, though. In the end, they won the Academy Award for Black and White Cinematography.

The Naked City is a pivotal film in history because it popularized a narrative style that might even be at its strongest now, in the 2010s. How many procedural cop shows are there now? Many of them have been on for over a decade and had spin-offs and spin-offs of their spin-offs.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Other Dassin film-noirs: Brute ForceNight and the City, Thieves’ Highway, etc. Also T-Men and He Walked by Night.

Film Review: He Walked by Night (1948)

Release Date: November 24th, 1948 (Los Angeles)
Directed by: Alfred L. Werker, Anthony Mann (uncredited)
Written by: John C. Higgins, Crane Wilbur
Music by: Leonid Raab
Cast: Richard Basehart, Scott Brady, Roy Roberts, Jack Webb, Whit Bissell

Eagle-Lion FIlms, 79 Minutes

Review:

“And so the tedious quest went on. Sergeant Brennan wore out his shoes and his patience going from police station to police station, checking photos until his eyes were blurry. For police work is not all glamour and excitement and glory. There are days and days of routine, of tedious probing, of tireless searching. Fruitless days. Days when nothing goes right, when it seems as if no one could ever think his way through the maze of baffling trails a criminal leaves. But the answer to that is persistence and the hope that sooner or later something will turn up, some tiny lead that can grow into a warm trail and point to the cracking of a case.” – Narrator

This is a really gritty picture and it has a semidocumentary feel to it. For those who have seen T-Men, you probably can’t help making comparisons between the two. While Alfred L. Werker was billed as the director, this feels an awful lot like Anthony Mann’s T-Men. Strangely enough, he also directed this but wasn’t given credit for it. Honestly, it feels like it is wholly his film.

The film also benefits from the cinematography of John Alton, who worked on several pictures with Mann, most notably, the aforementioned T-Men, as well as his stupendous work in Raw Deal.

Also like T-Men, the story is based off of real life events. In the case of this picture, it is a fictional retelling of the story of Erwin “Machine-Gun” Walker, a former cop and war veteran that started a crime spree in Los Angeles that included burglaries, robberies and shootouts. In this film, names have been changed and so have some of the details. The criminal is named Roy and he is most wanted fro being a cop killer.

Richard Basehart was believable as the criminal and he carried this picture on his back. The actors who played the cops were also good and so was the shop owner who had an association with Basehart’s Roy. Basehart just takes over the screen whenever he is present. He’s clever, ruthless and calculated. Basehart conveys these qualities with ease and his presence is like a dark and intimidating cloud over the proceedings, ready to rain down hell.

The action in this film is stupendous and displays more energy than what was the norm in the 1940s. The final chase scene through the Los Angeles sewers is beautiful and draws parallels to the finale of the 1949 film The Third Man. The moment where Roy slides on his belly across the asphalt, escaping into a storm drain is amazing and unlike anything I’ve seen before this picture’s time of release. The moment where the dying cop uses his car to smash into Roy’s, to prevent his escape, is another great action shot unlike anything from this era or before. This is a rather violent film for its time but nothing is really downplayed or understated.

He Walked by Night is one of the best classic film-noir movies ever made. It is short and quick but it doesn’t need to be anything more than what it was. It made its point, gave us something that truly felt real and was unapologetic about it in an era where censors had a tight grip on the film industry.

Rating: 9.75/10