Film Review: Invasion U.S.A. (1952)

Release Date: December 10th, 1952
Directed by: Alfred E. Green
Written by: Robert Smith, Franz Schulz
Based on: a story by Robert Smith, Franz Spencer
Music by: Albert Glasser
Cast: Gerald Mohr, Peggie Castle, Dan O’Herlihy, Edward G. Robinson Jr.

American Pictures, Mutual Productions of the West, Columbia Pictures, 73 Minutes

Review:

“For every atom bomb dropped on our country, we have taken three to the enemy’s heartland and we have huge stocks of atomic weapons in reserve.” – The President

I already reviewed a film called Invasion U.S.A., but that one was a far superior ’80s Chuck Norris film put out by the best action studio of all-time The Cannon Group. I think that one is really a remake in name only of this film but they have the same general premise of the United States being invaded by a foreign power.

Mostly, this is a crappy film. But in its defense, it’s actually not that boring and some of it is interesting.

I like the premise and these sort of stories are always intriguing to me, as the United States, generally, feels like a place that is safe from foreign harm. The idea of the whole country being invaded seems insane and it is but that doesn’t mean it’s not an intriguing concept. It’s just that no one has made a great film about it.

The best parts of this film aren’t the bits that show actual invasion, instead, they are the simple scenes, like the ones in the bar with patrons having conversations about communism and war. While the dialogue isn’t good and the acting and directing leave a lot to be desired, it’s interesting to hear different viewpoints from the time, expressed and discussed.

Invasion U.S.A. sort of exists as a time capsule in how it captures the sentiment of different Americans from the 1950s, post-World War II and just as communism was becoming the enemy of the day.

There were a lot of paranoia films in this decade and this one is no different. Just instead of giant atomic monsters and science run amok, this channels fear around the idea that your safe haven might not be as safe as you perceive it. That’s unsettling however you want to present it.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: the far superior sort of remake, 1985’s Invasion U.S.A., also another film with a similar plot, 1984’s Red Dawn.

Film Review: Scandal Sheet (1952)

Also known as: The Dark Page (working title)
Release Date: January 16th, 1952 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Phil Karlson
Written by: Eugene Lind, James Poe, Ted Sherdeman
Based on: The Dark Page by Samuel Fuller
Music by: George Duning
Cast: Broderick Crawford, Donna Reed, John Derek, Rosemary DeCamp, Strother Martin (uncredited)

Edward Small Productions, Motion Picture Investors, Columbia Pictures, 82 Minutes

Review:

“Very rare items. Pictures of a dame with her mouth shut.” – Steve McCleary

Scandal Sheet is a lesser known film-noir from the classic era but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t quality.

The film does start out a bit slow and I didn’t know anything about the story. But once the plot really starts to unfold, it is hard to turn away.

The story is about a newspaper man that has converted a paper into a popular tabloid. But you soon find out that this man has a past when his ex-wife shows up to confront him. This confrontation leads to the woman’s murder. The reporter that the newspaper man is mentoring decides to crack the case. As the film progresses and clues turn into evidence, the vile newspaper man has to decide between his freedom and the life of the reporter he cares for.

While the film doesn’t have the most famous cast. it does have Donna Reed. She is the shining beacon of talent amongst the group. That’s not to say that the other players aren’t capable, they certainly are, but Reed’s charisma and charm really shine through. Her presence is almost distracting looking at this through a modern lens. In 1952, however, she was in good company with veteran Broderick Crawford and John Derek, even though his career wasn’t as prolific.

This is pretty well shot and executed. However, there’s not a whole lot of visual allure that makes this stand out like some of the more famous noir pictures. It’s still a fine movie that was shot and captured pretty competently, though.

I’d say that this is definitely a better than average film-noir but it’s nowhere near the upper echelon.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other lesser known but good film-noirs: Shockproof, D.O.A., Side Street and The Prowler.

Film Review: Beware, My Lovely (1952)

Also known as: Attention, mon amour (Belgium), Day Without End (script title), The Man, The Ragged Edge, One False Move (working titles)
Release Date: August 29th, 1952
Directed by: Harry Horner
Written by: Mel Dinelli
Based on: The Man by Mel Dinelli
Music by: Leith Stevens
Cast: Ida Lupino, Robert Ryan, Taylor Holmes

The Filmakers, RKO Radio Pictures, 77 Minutes

Review:

“Well, aren’t you the bundle of nerves! Listen, you. I don’t see many men around polishing floors. It’s a woman’s job. Who do you think you are? Seems to me there’s better ways for a man to make a living.” – Ruth Williams

Beware, My Lovely isn’t really a Christmas movie but it does take place around Christmas and was featured on TCM’s Noir Alley the day before Christmas Eve.

It’s a short and very confined film-noir starring two noir heavyweights: Ida Lupino and Robert Ryan.

The story is pretty simple. Ryan plays a man that is dealing from a form of multiple personality disorder. He killed his former boss but doesn’t even remember that. He starts to work for Ida Lupino’s character and lives in her home. Another tenant leaves the house for a short trip and Ryan and Lupino are left alone in this confined space. Ryan starts to slip into his darker personality and holds Lupino hostage within her own home. The majority of the film is Ryan and Lupino playing off of each other and really, this is the strongest element of the film.

This movie works because the performances from Lupino and Ryan are damn good. The chemistry is perfect between the two and even though you want Lupino to escape, you also kind of hope that she can help Ryan, despite his despicable actions throughout the story.

One thing that may rub some viewers the wrong way, is that the ending is very abrupt and there is no definitive resolution. You can assume what will happen next but it is left somewhat open ended.

The direction was decent, the cinematography was fairly average and the score wasn’t very strong but none of that seemed to matter once the film was completely focused on Lupino and Ryan and their tense situation.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other noir pictures featuring Ida Lupino or Robert Ryan.

Film Review: Talk About a Stranger (1952)

Also known as: The Stranger in the House (working title), The Enemy (script title)
Release Date: April 18th, 1952
Directed by: David Bradley
Written by: Margaret Fitts
Based on: The Enemy by Charlotte Armstrong
Music by: David Buttolph
Cast: George Murphy, Nancy Davis, Billy Gray, Lewis Stone, Kurt Kasznar

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 65 Minutes

Review:

“Something doesn’t stand up. A guy like Matlock who lives like a pig and dresses like a hobo, drives a nicer car than I do and has a $500 watch!” – Talmadge

Talk About a Stranger is a little known film-noir that was made on a fairly scant budget but still lost money due to it not performing very well at the box office. It was washed away and forgotten about over time but it was recently featured on TCM’s Noir Alley, which is where I saw it.

The story stars a young boy, Billy Gray, who plays Bud Fontaine. He meets a new neighbor, who he instantly dislikes and starts to blame for everything wrong that happens in the story. Eventually, Bud discovers his new dog is dead and it looks as if the animal was poisoned. He immediately blames the new neighbor, Matlock.

Bud gets more and more unhinged as the film rolls on. He wants to believe that Matlock is an evil man so badly that he acts out, becoming a little terror obsessed with exposing the quiet recluse that just wants to be left alone.

Eventually, we find out Matlock’s true story which is sad and heartbreaking. The boy realizes his folly and this at least ends with a happy ending for everyone. Matlock even gives the boy a puppy to help him heal and to show that he’s not angry with the little hellion.

Billy Gray was best known as another character named Bud on the hit TV show Father Knows Best. He was also in the classic sci-fi film The Day the Earth Stood Still. He was the son of actress Beatrice Gray, who would bring Billy to set with her a lot. Billy then got into acting at a very young age.

His performance here is quite good. He gets annoying but it’s the role he’s playing and not his actual performance.

The story is pretty good and it almost had a bit of The ‘Burbs feel to it. Granted, it’s not a comedy and the neighbor doesn’t end up being the bad guy but it deals with similar issues in how it delves into paranoia surrounding a new and mysterious neighbor.

This isn’t a memorable film but it was still entertaining and it flew by rather quickly at just 65 minutes.

Sadly, there isn’t a trailer online that I can link below per usual.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: another film-noir staring a young kid, The Window.

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.