Film Review: Scene of the Crime (1949)

Release Date: July 28th, 1949 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Roy Rowland
Written by: Charles Schnee
Based on: the article Smashing the Bookie Gang Marauders by John Barltow Martin
Music by: Andre Previn
Cast: Van Johnson, Arlene Dahl, Gloria DeHaven, Tom Drake

Loew’s Inc., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 94 Minutes

Review:

“I’m no Humphrey Bogart. He gets slugged and he’s ready for action; I get slugged and I’m ready for pickling.” – P.J. Pontiac

I like Van Johnson. Seeing him in a film-noir is a treat. Although, this was his only one, as MGM put him back into comedies and musicals because they didn’t feel that the public could buy Johnson as a harder, more serious character. Honestly, I don’t think that he’s unconvincing here but this really isn’t his normal forte.

Additionally, being that this was put out by MGM, was a rare thing, as they didn’t really care about making crime pictures like a lot of the other studios. However, in 1949, after a change of the guard, MGM went crime heavy and thus, created some memorable films that embody the noir style.

While this fits within the stlye, it is less noir and more like a simple police crime drama. It lacks the gravitas of most noir pictures and the ride isn’t as turbulent or shocking. But it was still a good attempt at MGM trying to contribute to a trend that they tried to work around for the majority of the ’40s.

This film deals with a detective investigating the death of a fellow detective, who was apparently working security for a bookie on the side. He uncovers that something larger is afoot, as all the bookies in town are being robbed. He must traverse through the noir styled twists and turns of the criminal underworld while trying to balance his personal life.

I thought that the film was pretty average overall. It’s far from incredible and hardly memorable in a vast sea of 1940s film-noir and crime dramas but it was still entertaining and engaging.

The acting was mostly good, the direction was above par but the cinematography and look of the film were pretty standard.

Still, it was cool seeing a great talent like Van Johnson get to stretch his legs and do something else for 94 minutes.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: He Walked by NightRaw DealSide Street and T-Men.

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: Act of Violence (1949)

Release Date: January 22nd, 1949 (New York City)
Directed by: Fred Zinnemann
Written by: Collier Young, Robert L. Richards
Music by: Bronislau Kaper
Cast: Van Heflin, Robert Ryan, Janet Leigh, Mary Astor, Phyllis Thaxter

Loew’s Inc., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 82 Minutes

Review:

“Sure, I was in the hospital, but I didn’t go crazy. I kept myself sane. You know how? I kept saying to myself: Joe, you’re the only one alive that knows what he did. You’re the one that’s got to find him, Joe. I kept remembering. I kept thinking back to that prison camp. One of them lasted to the morning. By then, you couldn’t tell his voice belonged to a man. He sounded like a dog that got hit by a truck and left him in the street.” – Joe Parkson

The more I watch of Van Heflin, the more he becomes one of my all-time favorite actors. The first few times I saw him, I wasn’t too keen on the roles he had. He always seemed to be a sort of scuzzy character. But since my first few experiences, I’ve seen him play a whole myriad of character types and he just lures me in. Act of Violence is one of my favorite performances I’ve seen of his. And really, I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed Robert Ryan and Janet Leigh here, as well.

In this noir tale, we see ex-POW Frank Enley (Heflin) being honored as a war hero. At home, he is just a young family man just trying to live a normal life. However, a strange character (Ryan) starts showing up and pursuing him. The mysterious man even tries to murder Enley while he is fishing on a lake. Enley gets wind of something awry and is pretty sure he’s in trouble. A car starts stalking Enley and his wife (Leigh) by parking in front of their house. As the tale progresses, we learn that there is something dark that Enley is hiding and maybe this mysterious stranger isn’t actually the bad guy.

This is a simple and straightforward noir without a lot of extra twists and turns. The story has some layers to it but not so much that it is difficult to recall all the details as more present themselves. Some classic noir pictures got bogged down in swerves and overly elaborate details, Act of Violence is actually refreshing in that it does not.

Ultimately, this is a film about a cowardly man redeeming himself through a last act of heroism. You think its a basic revenge story but it isn’t, it’s deeper and more genuine than that.

Van Heflin and Robert Ryan were great opposites in this and both men also had great exchanges with Janet Leigh. The acting is very good for all the main parties involved.

Act of Violence is a better movie than I expected it to be. The scene on the lake was suspenseful and actually pretty breathtaking from a visual standpoint. It is a good mixture of nice cinematography, a good story and talented actors.

Film Review: Red Light (1949)

Also known as: Mr. Gideon (working title)
Release Date: September 30th, 1949
Directed by: Roy Del Ruth
Written by: George Callahan, Charles Grayson
Based on: This Guy Gideon by Don ‘Red’ Barry
Music by: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: George Raft, Virginia Mayo, Raymond Burr, Harry Morgan

Roy Del Ruth Productions, United Artists, 83 Minutes

Review:

“You know, Johnny, when you play solitaire you can only beat yourself.” – Strecker

There is just something about seeing Raymond Burr play an evil man. Sure, he was exceptional as the heroic lawyer on Perry Mason but slightly earlier in his career, Burr was typically a heavy in film-noir. This is one of those films and really, Burr is once again great as a villainous rogue.

The film also stars George Raft and Virginia Mayo, right on the heels of her iconic performance opposite of James Cagney in White Heat. In fact, the film was marketed using her image in a way that channels her character from White Heat, even though her character here is nothing like the poster implies.

The story sees a bookkeeper named Nick Cherney (Burr) sent to prison for embezzling from Torno’s (Raft) trucking company. Four years later, Cherney hires another inmate to murder Torno’s brother Jess, giving Cherney an alibi in his quest for revenge, as he isn’t yet released from prison. Being that this is a film-noir, things obviously go sideways, backwards and every which way but forward.

Overall, Red Light is a pretty enjoyable movie. The plot is good and the cinematography is pretty well done. The dark scene in the apartment where a man is shot is well captured. The highlight however, is the sequence in the truck yard at night, where one of the characters ends up crushed to death by a trailer. It’s a pretty cold and gruesome moment, even though the censors wouldn’t allow for gore at the time.

I liked Red Light a lot. While it isn’t in the upper echelon of classic film-noir, it is certainly a better than average picture with solid execution from all parties involved.

Film Review: Thieves’ Highway (1949)

Release Date: October 10th, 1949
Directed by: Jules Dassin
Written by: A. I. Bezzerides
Based on: Thieves’ Market by A. I. Bezzerides
Music by: Alfred Newman
Cast: Richard Conte, Valentina Cortese, Lee J. Cobb, Barbara Lawrence

20th Century Fox, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Do you know what it takes to get an apple so you can sink your beautiful teeth in it? You gotta stuff rags up tailpipes, farmers gotta get gypped, you jack up trucks with the back of your neck, universals conk out…” – Nico ‘Nick’ Garcos

Who knew that a film-noir about apples could be so entertaining?

Okay, the film has more going on than just apples but they play a big part, as an angry war veteran wants revenge for what a gangster-like produce tyrant did to his father: robbing him and crippling him.

Jules Dassin is becoming a director whose work I really appreciate after seeing this, as well as Brute ForceNaked City and Night and the City, all film-noir pictures that could be considered classics. I still haven’t seen Rififi but it’s high on my list.

The film stars Richard Conte, an actor I have enjoyed in several films. You also get a solid performance by Lee J. Cobb, who plays the evil and amoral produce king.

All in all, this is a pretty good picture and it had me engaged from start to finish. I didn’t know what to expect but it was a film that was high up on a lot of people’s top film-noir lists. Would it crack my top twenty? Probably not and I’d say that it’s my least favorite of the Dassin noirs I’ve seen but Dassin is still quite accomplished behind the camera and delivered a one-of-a-kind noir tale.

Apparently, Dana Andrews and Victor Mature were both announced as the film’s lead during different points of pre-production. Ultimately, Conte got the role, which I feel was the best choice, even though I like those other guys. Conte made this his role and it’s hard to see the character of Garcos performed differently. The character was very much Conte and while the man has a charismatic coolness and toughness like those other guys, his is a unique kind of cool.

Thieves’ Highway is solid, through and through. There’s nothing here to really disappoint a film-noir aficionado.

Film Review: Criss Cross (1949)

Release Date: January 19th, 1949 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Robert Siodmak
Written by: Daniel Fuchs
Based on: Criss Cross by Don Tracy
Music by: Miklós Rózsa
Cast: Burt Lancaster, Yvonne De Carlo, Dan Duryea, Stephen McNally, Alan Napier

Universal Pictures, 84 Minutes

Review:

“I should have been a better friend. I shoulda stopped you. I shoulda grabbed you by the neck, I shoulda kicked your teeth in. I’m sorry Steve.” – Det. Lt. Pete Ramirez

Working my way through a lot of film-noir for the month of Noirvember, this is one of the ones that really stands out. In fact, Criss Cross could be a top five noir for me.

Burt Lancaster plays Steve Thompson. He is perfectly cast for this film, as he literally lives in every scene where he is on screen. He’s handsome, he’s tough, he’s clever and there is just an air about the guy that glows through the celluloid.

Then you have Dan Duryea, who is just so good at playing stylish slime balls. While I enjoyed Duryea’s work in Fritz Lang’s Woman In the Window and Scarlet Street, both opposite of Joan Bennett and Edward G. Robinson, his villainous Slim Dundee, in this film, takes the cake. He’s an awful bastard in this and he’s spectacular.

Yvonne De Carlo is enchanting and viscous as Steve’s ex-wife and forced lover of Slim. She plays a hardened woman yet still a damsel in distress… or is that just her angle? While she had to compete with two powerful and charismatic men in this film, she held her own and felt at home in this picture.

The film starts with a powerful theme, as soon as the credits roll. You immediately get dragged in and watching the behind-the-scenes machinations of how the armored truck driver job works, is fascinating. The director, the great Robert Siodmak, and the cinematographer, the veteran Franz Planer, did a fantastic job showing this world in a visual sense. Plus, there are just some great shots in this film, particularly when the armored truck arrives at the plant for the big setup and we get a nice bird’s eye tracking shot of the truck traversing between the buildings.

Criss Cross is a true film-noir in every sense. It’s got the lead that falls for a textbook femme fatale, gets in over his head because of the girl, does some dirt and despite his unfortunate circumstances, has to face the music for his actions.

This isn’t a great film because it has a perfect noir narrative, many noir pictures hit the right narrative notes. In the case of Criss Cross, it has a great cast, a great director and cinematographer with great eyes, it’s great technically and everything just sort of comes together like magic.

Criss Cross is one of the best film-noirs of the classic era.

Film Review: The Window (1949)

Also known as: The Boy Cried Murder (working title)
Release Date: May 17th, 1949 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Ted Tetzlaff, Fred Fleck (assistant)
Written by: Mel Dinelli, Cornell Woolrich
Based on: The Boy Cried Murder by Cornell Woolrich
Music by: Roy Webb
Cast: Barbara Hale, Arthur Kennedy, Paul Stewart, Ruth Roman, Bobby Driscoll

RKO Radio Pictures, 73 Minutes

Review:

“Pop? If you see a thing with your own eyes, it can’t be a dream, can it?” – Tommy Woodry

I can’t believe that guy punched a kid in the face in the back of that taxi! But then again, he was planning to murder the boy anyway.

The Window is a film that I have never heard of until I saw it being featured on TCM’s Noir Alley. I decided to read up on it before seeing it. It didn’t immediately get me excited, as it was a film-noir primarily starring a young boy. Kids typically can’t carry the weight of a picture on their back but the young Bobby Driscoll was absolute magic in this. Truthfully, The Window exceeded my lack of expectations and proved to be a damn fine film.

This is essentially the noir version of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. In fact, the book it was based on was called The Boy Cried Murder.

In this tale, a young boy named Tommy likes to tell tall tales and always finds himself in trouble because of it. Early in the film, the landlord comes to the family’s apartment to show it to prospective tenants, as Tommy told a lie about the family moving and it got back to the landlord. So when Tommy actually witnesses a real murder, while camping out on the fire escape due to a heatwave, his parents don’t believe him. He tells the police, they also don’t believe him. Tommy’s mother then makes Tommy go to the murderers’ apartment to apologize. This tips off the killers to Tommy’s knowledge of their crime and thus, makes Tommy their next target.

This is a film that builds suspense so strong that it is hard to turn away. The film is well constructed and the narrative execution is close to perfection. The stellar performance by the young Bobby Driscoll is the glue that holds this together. Paul Stewart’s evil Joe Kellerson is absolutely chilling and the scene where he breaks into Tommy’s house, when the boy is all alone, is legitimately scary. Kids in the 1940s had to be terrified.

Man, this movie is fantastic. It has shot up my list of favorite film-noir pictures. It is just so different from the norm, took a real risk by putting a child in the forefront but that risk paid off tremendously.

Unfortunately, Bobby Driscoll only had one more hit after this, 1950’s Treasure Island, but his performance here lead to the Academy giving him a miniature Oscar to recognize his great acting skill.