Film Review: The Sniper (1952)

Release Date: May 9th, 1952 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Edward Dmytryk
Written by: Harry Brown, Edna Anhalt, Edward Anhalt
Music by: George Antheil
Cast: Adolphe Menjou, Arthur Franz, Gerald Mohr, Marie Windsor, Richard Kiley, Ralph Peters (uncredited), Karen Sharpe (uncredited)

Stanley Kramer Productions, Columbia Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“You know how much coffee I’ve had today? 17 cups. The Brazilians ought to give me a medal.” – ER Doctor

Up until this was featured on Noir Alley, I had never heard of The Sniper. But man, this film was pretty damn remarkable. It will also have to go on my eventually updated list Top 100 Classic Film-Noir Pictures of All-Time. This is a film that will be pretty high up on that list.

For a movie released in 1952, this was pretty darn realistic and had a serious grit to it that put it at a different level than most film-noirs, which typically have a hefty amount of grit already. The subject matter was pretty heavy, even by today’s standards and I was surprised by what they were able to get away with in this.

Additionally, the film is scary, as it deals with a mentally deranged man that hates women to the point that he shoots and kills them from rooftops throughout the city. But this doesn’t feel like exploitation, it is well made, well crafted and spends enough time dealing with the mental state of the character that it has some real depth and meaning.

There are a lot of narrative paths this film can take you down. People today might see it as toxic masculinity run rampant, some may see it as a critique on a justice system that is broken, others may see this as an exploration of mental health and mania and some might even see this just as simple exploitation.

Regardless of how one views The Sniper, it asks a lot of questions and explores a lot of this territory pretty bluntly. But this is why it sticks out among the run of the mill film-noirs of the classic era.

The level of violence was pretty high but even though you see heinous acts committed on celluloid, it’s similar to Texas Chain Saw Massacre in that a lot of the violence happens in your mind, as it fills in the blanks. An example of this is when our killer shoots a woman and she smashes into glass, headfirst. There’s no gunshot wound or blood but your mind interprets it as more shocking than it actually was within the shot.

Edward Dmytryk did a damn fine job directing this motion picture. He had noir experience with Crossfire and Murder, My Sweet but this eclipses those films, in my opinion. And frankly, those films were damn good too.

The Sniper is highly unsettling but it has aged tremendously, as it is still unsettling and it’s narrative still works in 2018, two-thirds of a century later.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: Other film-noir pictures directed by Edward Dmytryk: Crossfire and Murder, My Sweet, as well as other noirs like Murder by ContractHe Walked by Night and Gun Crazy.

Film Review: The Narrow Margin (1952)

Also known as: The Target (working title)
Release Date: April 25th, 1952 (Cincinnati premiere)
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Earl Felton, Martin Goldsmith, Jack Leonard
Music by: uncredited stock music
Cast: Charles McGraw, Marie Windsor, Jacqueline White

RKO Radio Pictures, 71 Minutes

Review:

“[opening her compartment door in the morning and seeing Brown strap on his gun] What’re you gonna do, go out and shoot us some breakfast?” – Mrs. Neall

When talking about film-noir with others, The Narrow Margin has always been highly recommended as something worth watching. I finally got around to checking it out and it exceeded any expectations I had for it.

To start, it’s a short movie at just 71 minutes but that’s fairly common with classic noirs of the ’40s and ’50s. Also, it mostly all takes place in a confined space: the interior of a train.

The plot is about a cop that has to transport the wife of a mob boss on a train to the where she is going in an effort to testify against her vile husband. The cop must protect her from the possibility of mob hitmen who could be gunning for her. Well, they are gunning for her and they also try to bribe him into stepping out of their way.

This film is a real nail biter and incredibly suspenseful. It does a lot for its scant running time and it makes great use of its environment.

Frankly, this may be one of, if not the best, suspenseful train movie ever made. Everything feels cramped and the film even goes as far as including a fat character to make its point. The fat guy isn’t used in a disrespectful way but just to show that there isn’t a lot of room for moving around. Since this picture moves around in the confines of the train a lot, there had to be some natural roadblocks.

This is well shot, well directed, well executed and features maybe the best performance that Charles McGraw ever gave. He was stellar in this, as the cop trying his damnedest to protect himself and the woman he’s guarding while doing things by the book and not succumbing to the lucrative offers made by the mob.

I loved this movie and it is definitely something I’ll revisit again.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Other film-noir pictures like On Dangerous GroundCrossfireThe Set-Up and Angel Face.

Film Review: Road to Bali (1952)

Also known as: The Road to Hollywood (working title)
Release Date: November 19th, 1952 (premiere)
Directed by: Hal Walker
Written by: Frank Butler, Hal Kanter, William Morrow
Music by: Joseph J. Lilley
Cast: Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Carolyn Jones, Humphrey Bogart (cameo), Jerry Lewis (cameo), Dean Martin (cameo), Jane Russell (cameo)

Paramount Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“He’s gonna sing, folks. Now’s the time to go out and get the popcorn.” – Harold Gridley

Bing Crosby and Bob Hope made seven Road to… movies. This was the sixth one and the only one filmed and released in Technicolor. It actually benefited from the process, as this is an incredibly exotic looking picture with a strong Tiki aesthetic in the height of the Tiki loving era in America.

I had seen bits and pieces of all these movies when I was a kid because my mum and granmum used to watch Bob Hope movies all the time. I always loved the look of this picture, mainly because I’ve always had a love for everything Tiki.

Crosby and Hope were always really fun together and by this point, they were so familiar with one another that everything they did was incredibly natural. They were a great and iconic duo and this film is one of the times that they were at their absolute best.

I don’t like musicals. I’m not a fan of musical numbers advancing plot. I don’t mind music heavy movies, typically I love them. Just musicals have never worked for my brain, I guess. Still, I like the musical numbers here and while some are used to advance plot, most of the numbers work organically. In the opening, the musical number is actually Crosby and Hope performing on stage. These stage sequences are better than the ones where the picture follows a more traditional musical style.

Road to Bali sees Crosby and Hope take a treasure diving job on a tropical island in the Pacific. They both fall for the same girl and spend the movie competing to try and win her heart. The movie is lighthearted and energetic and these two have a magnetic charisma. Dorothy Lamour also added a lot to the picture, as the apple of these boys’ eyes.

This a a beautiful but kitschy looking film that should make any Tikiphile smile.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The other Road pictures with Hope and Crosby. For the Tiki aesthetic and also featuring Dorothy Lamour, check out Donovan’s Reef, which also features John Wayne, Lee Marvin and Cesar Romero.

Film Review: Kansas City Confidential (1952)

Also known as: The Secret Four (UK)
Release Date: November 11th, 1952
Directed by: Phil Karlson
Written by: George Bruce, Harry Essex, Rowland Brown, Harold Greene
Music by: Paul Sawtell
Cast: John Payne, Coleen Gray, Lee Van Cleef, Jack Elam

Associated Players and Producers, Edward Small Productions, United Artists, 99 Minutes

Review:

“What makes a two-bit heel like you think a heater would give him an edge over me? ” – Tim Foster

Kansas City Confidential is a pretty intense and fun film-noir. It also has two of my favorite western stars in it: Lee Van Cleef and Jack Elam. The film is directed by Phil Karlson and is considered by many to be his best.

While the big crime in the film takes place in Kansas City, a big portion of the film goes down to Mexico. You see, an ex-con trying to go straight, is framed for a million dollar armored car robbery. When the real criminals go to Mexico, the ex-con follows in order to expose them and clear his name.

The story is pretty good and it has a lot of interesting twists and turns that make it a good textbook noir, as far as the scheming plot goes. Most of the characters are despicable and you’re always waiting for one of them to turn on the others. Lee Van Cleef is especially good and always does a villainous role justice, as he slithers in and out of the scenes like a snake ready to strike at anything that moves. His facial expressions and body language in this are so predatory, it really shows that he is an actor better than the roles he was getting at this point in his career.

John Payne was good as the lead but he always seemed to be overshadowed by the villains on screen, as they all had a really dark and powerful charisma.

I loved that this film felt larger than most noirs, which seem very confined and small. This was vast and open and really stepped outside of the box.

The film did really well upon release for Edward Small Productions, who responded by turning this into a series with followups New York Confidential and Chicago Confidential. Those were not directed by Karlson, however. Even the more modern neo-noir L.A. Confidential was an homage to this film in title.

Karlson would go on to do The Phenix City Story, which was a sort of spiritual sequel to this. He also dabbled in more film-noir and would go on to do The Silencers, the first of Dean Martin’s spy parody films, and the original Walking Tall with Joe Don Baker.

Kansas City Confidential is a fine motion picture. If you are a fan of film-noir and haven’t seen this one, you should probably check it out.

Film Serial Review: Radar Men From the Moon (1952)

Release Date: Januray 9th, 1952 (first chapter)
Directed by: Fred C. Brannon
Written by: Ronald Davidson
Music by: Stanley Wilson
Cast: George Wallace, Aline Towne, Roy Barcroft

Republic Pictures, 167 Minutes total (12 episodes), 100 Minutes (film edit)

radar-men-from-the-moonReview:

This is the serial that introduced the world to Commando Cody, Sky Marshall of the Universe. He would later have a sequel actually titled Commando Cody: Sky Marshall of the Universe.

Commando Cody serials are often times confused with others but there are only two official Cody serials. It sometimes gets confused with Zombies of the Stratosphere, which originally was intended to be the first Cody follow-up but was changed during production. It is also confused with King of the Rocket Men for its similar character but that serial predates Radar Men by three years. Some people also think that Disney’s 1991 film The Rocketeer is a re-imagining of the Cody character but it is actually based off of a comic book series. Granted, that series was inspired by Republic Pictures’ multiple rocket men characters. It is also worth mentioning that George Lucas, a fan of these types of serials, named a Clone Trooper with a rocket backpack in Star Wars Commander Cody. This Cody served under the command of Obi-Wan Kenobi during the Clone Wars and is featured heavily in Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith.

I was first introduced to this serial when it was split up over the course of the first nationally televised season of Mystery Science theater 3000. Just like the serial format it was originally released in, it played as shorts before the movies featured on the show.

Radar Men From the Moon is pretty standard fare from Republic Pictures. It has the look and feel of their other serials at the time. However, the rocket-powered hero is just cool as hell. Sure, this wasn’t the first rocket man but Commando Cody is the most iconic and his serials were better than the others, in my opinion.

George Wallace was a good choice to play Cody, which makes it somewhat disheartening that he wasn’t in the only sequel. The rest of the cast was good but serials are more about the action than actual acting prowess.

The cliffhangers from chapter-to-chapter are pretty repetitive, especially within the context of the genre, but they really only serve to conclude chapters and to not actually make you think the hero is dead. Everyone knows they will survive.

Overall, Radar Men From the Moon is fairly exciting. It went on to inspire other filmmakers and studios. I wouldn’t be surprised if the character was resurrected, at some point. Hollywood loves recycling itself, so who’s to say.

 

Film Review: Scaramouche (1952)

Release Date: June 27th, 1952 (USA)
Directed by: George Sidney
Written by: Ronald Millar, George Froeschel
Based on: Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini
Music by: Victor Young
Cast: Stewart Granger, Eleanor Parker, Janet Leigh, Mel Ferrer

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 115 Minutes

scaramoucheReview:

Scaramouche was a pretty well-renowned film in its day. However, it isn’t one that you hear a lot about anymore. When looking back on those old swashbuckling movies, people tend to remember those that starred Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power: two giant names in film history. Many don’t seem to remember Stewart Granger in his role as Andre Moreau, a sword-wielding French revolutionary that disguises himself as the clownish Scaramouche.

The film is based on Rafael Sabatini’s book of the same name. It was one of many Sabatini works that was adapted for film. Actually, it is the second Scaramouche picture, as there was a silent version released in 1923.

This is one of the top swashbuckling films of all-time. It is kind of cool that it flies under the radar, waiting to be discovered by those who are curious about the genre.

The film is beautiful, from the French countryside to the opulent interiors. The wardrobe is magnificent and the attention to detail was astounding. The final duel at the end, is one of the most visually pleasing sword fights I have ever seen on film. Not to mention that the fight choreography was some of the best, up to the point of this movie’s release.

Granger was great as Moreau and Mel Ferrer was equally enjoyable as the villain, Noel, Marquis de Maynes. The contrast in character between their personality, style and beliefs created a solid dichotomy that made their hatred for one another very believable. They were a great on-screen pair.

Eleanor Parker and Janet Leigh were both good as the female leads of the picture. The rest of the supporting cast also carried their weight.

It is unfortunate that good swashbuckling pictures like this aren’t made anymore. Sure, we have those Disney Pirates of the Caribbean films but they’re more over-the-top fantasy blockbusters that have more in common with modern summer movies than swashbucklers of old.

Scaramouche isn’t just a great movie, it is a reflection of a time when films like it could exist without computer generated bells and whistles. It is a much simpler film than the modern action-adventure outing, yet it is just as exciting.