Film Review: Clash by Night (1952)

Release Date: May 30th, 1952 (limited)
Directed by: Fritz Lang
Written by: Alfred Hayes
Based on: Clash by Night by Clifford Odets
Music by: Roy Webb
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Paul Douglas, Robert Ryan, Marilyn Monroe, Keith Andes, Silvio Minciotti, J. Carrol Naish

Wald/Krasna Productions, RKO Radio Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“What do you want, Joe, my life’s history? Here it is in four words: big ideas, small results.” – Mae Doyle

While I love the hell out of Fritz Lang movies, especially his noir films, as well as just about anything that Barbara Stanwyck has done, this film mostly missed the mark for me.

This also has Marilyn Monroe and Robert Ryan in it too but regardless of the film’s star power, I found it mostly dull and sort of wrecked by Paul Douglas, who had me wanting to kill him by the third act of the picture.

Now I haven’t seen much with Paul Douglas in it, except for the original Angels In the Outfield, but he really started grating on my nerves due to how overly intense he was once he lost his shit due to his wife running around with Robert Ryan behind his back.

Sure, I understand the guy would be pissed but he wrecks the scenes he’s in by acting like a bull in a china shop. That might not be Douglas’ fault though, as Lang probably thought that it was effective, as he was sitting behind the camera directing these scenes. I guess my biggest issue with it is that it pulls you out of the picture and diminishes the great performance by Stanwyck, who felt like she was whispering her lines next to a madman with a bullhorn.

Still, it’s hard not to sympathize with Douglas’ character and maybe that’s just the magic of it all and Fritz Lang got the performance that he wanted out of him. And maybe I didn’t see how effective it was until that final scene that closed out the film, which had a surprisingly pleasant conclusion and made my heart warm for the two leads.

This isn’t the type of noir I fancy the most, however, as I like gritty crime stories. This one is more about a woman that creates human wreckage in her wake but starts to realize that she’s found something she didn’t even know she needed. Unfortunately for her, at least at first, she learns this way too late, after her selfish impulses have caused a lot of damage.

For those who prefer noir pictures that focus more on human romance, this will most assuredly be your cup of tea. It’s hard to deny how great Stanwyck, Ryan, Monroe and J. Carrol Naish are in this. And while this isn’t close to Fritz Lang’s best, you leave the film fairly satisfied with how it all turns out, which is kind of odd and unique for the noir genre.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other classic film-noir pictures of the era, especially those featuring Barbara Stanwyck or Robert Ryan or directed by Fritz Lang.

Film Review: Sudden Fear (1952)

Release Date: August 7th, 1952 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: David Miller
Written by: Lenore J. Coffee, Robert Smith
Based on: Sudden Fear by Edna Sherry
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Joan Crawford, Jack Palance, Gloria Grahame, Bruce Bennett, Virginia Huston, Mike Connors

Joseph Kaufman Productions, RKO Radio Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“I was just wondering what I’d done to deserve you.” – Myra Hudson

It wasn’t until recently that I knew there was a film where Joan Crawford starred opposite of Jack Palance. That thought alone is kind of chilling, just thinking of how intense a film might be with both of them sharing the screen. Add in the always stupendous Gloria Grahame and I knew that I had to check this out.

What we ended up getting is a really well acted and fairly compelling classic film-noir. However, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was a bit underwhelmed by it.

What’s strange, is that it is hard to peg exactly why this didn’t resonate with me more. But I think that comes down to two things.

One, the film is slow. I feel as if they could’ve lobbed off twenty minutes and fine tuned the script quite a bit more but Crawford really liked to draw out her scenes when she was turning the drama up to 11. And she does that quite a bit in this movie but who am I to say it’s too much, as she got another Academy Award nomination for this.

Side note: Jack Palance was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

The second thing that effected this picture was the story. It’s a pretty basic noir plot. Woman marries man, woman is rich, man wants money, man plans to kill woman all while his other woman is assisting him in his heinous plot. And like a proper film-noir, the film has twists. In this one, Crawford finds out about the plot and decides to turn the tables. Ultimately, every main character is a shitty person.

Now this did have serious strengths.

Crawford, Palance and Grahame were all solid, even if I thought Crawford could’ve spent more time getting to the point, as opposed to clocking in more screen time for a visual reaction.

Also, this is meticulously shot with an interesting visual flair to it. One shot that really stood out was a simple one where the camera was inside a closet looking out at the characters. The shot was framed by the clothes and interior walls of the closet, making the characters feel confined and trapped. I’m assuming that was intentional but either way, it added serious weight to that scene.

Overall, this isn’t on par with something as great as Joan Crawford’s Mildred Pierce but it still showcases her skills and allowed audiences to experience her and Palance as an item on the silver screen, which is cool no matter how you want to slice it up.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other classic film-noir, especially those featuring Joan Crawford.

Film Review: Don’t Bother to Knock (1952)

Also known as: Night Without Sleep, Mischief (working titles)
Release Date: July 18th, 1952 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Roy Ward Baker
Written by: Daniel Taradash
Based on: Mischief by Charlotte Armstrong
Music by: Lionel Newman
Cast: Richard Widmark, Marilyn Monroe, Anne Bancroft, Elisha Cook Jr., Jim Backus, Donna Corcoran, Jeanne Cagney, Lurene Tuttle, Verna Felton

20th Century Fox, 76 Minutes

Review:

“You smell like a cooch dancer!” – Eddie Forbes

This is a really interesting film about mental illness. It came out in the 1950s when there wasn’t as much knowledge about the subject but compared to other films from the time, this one is actually really respectful towards mental health. Honestly, Don’t Bother to Knock is probably one of the best movies of its era to actually try and tackle the issue, as it doesn’t make the character struggling with it into a psychotic nutjob.

The film gives top billing to Richard Widmark but the real star of the picture is Marilyn Monroe, who plays a babysitter that mentally breaks down as the story rolls on. I’ve absolutely got to give Monroe props in this role, as she truly comes across as believable and makes you feel for her on a pretty deep level.

In fact, this is one movie that you can point to when people claim that Monroe was just a pretty face. She handled the material with a sort of grace and respect that transcends the picture. And if I’m being straight here, I’ve never been a massive Monroe fan. But her ability to act in this picture was stupendous and it kind of makes me want to reexamine her other roles.

Additionally, Widmark is superb in his role, as are Anne Bancroft, who I wish had more screen time, and the always entertaining character actor Elisha Cook Jr.

This is a sympathetic and intelligently handled picture where the cast figures out something is off with this girl but they ultimately rally around her to give her the help she desperately needs. It’s hard to say what happens to her after the film but you do leave with the feeling that the core characters in this story will be there to help her heal, as opposed to just sending her to an asylum and being done with her uncontrollable antics.

Directed by Roy Ward Baker, who would go on to do a lot of horror and sci-fi pictures, the film is well shot and it shows that the guy had a real skill that his later work might not have showcased nearly as well. While I enjoy the work he did for Hammer and Amicus, the two horror giants of the UK, this may be the best film of his that I’ve seen from an artistic and technical standpoint.

Don’t Bother to Knock has been a film that has been in my Prime Video queue for a long time. I’m glad that I finally got around to giving it a shot, as I was pleasantly surprised by it on just about every level.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other early ’50s film-noir, as well as other early Marilyn Monroe movies.

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.