Film Review: Black Angel (1946)

Release Date: August 2nd, 1946
Directed by: Roy William Neill
Written by: Roy Chanslor
Based on: The Black Angel by Cornell Woolrich
Music by: Frank Skinner
Cast: Dan Duryea, June Vincent, Peter Lorre, Broderick Crawford, Constance Dowling

Universal Pictures, 81 Minutes

Review:

“Now may I have the box and the letter? Remember Catherine… you promised me to be a good girl.” – Marko

This is a pretty highly regarded classic noir picture. I had never watched it until now and despite the fanfare for it, I still wasn’t prepared for how good this movie is.

It stars a pair with great, great chemistry: Dan Duryea and June Vincent. They were perfect together in this and it was nice seeing Duryea not play an evil asshole.

The film also stars Peter Lorre in one of his best performances. In fact, this may be my favorite role he’s played after M.

Now the plot is complicated to explain but it all flows really well in the movie itself.

In a nutshell, Dan Duryea’s wife is murdered but the man wrongly arrested for it is June Vincent’s husband. Initially, Vincent suspects Duryea and confronts him in an effort to clear her husband. She discovers that he couldn’t have done it and the two pair up in an effort to find the real killer and to free Vincent’s husband before execution. The man they suspect is Peter Lorre, who owns a swanky nightclub where the pair get a gig as the house musicians.

What’s neat about the film is that it is one hundred percent noir but it has a lot of music in it and the performances by Vincent and Duryea’s characters are fantastic.

From the first frame to the last, the film looks perfect. The cinematography is top notch but the real life within the picture comes from the set design. The world feels real and genuine in a way that wasn’t typical with big studio films of the ’40s.

The shot framing is also really good. One moment that especially comes to mind is the scene where Lorre is opening his safe with Vincent just over his shoulder, watching him dial in his combination.

The opening sequence is also pretty well done in how it uses miniatures and shot transitions. While it’s not perfect, I don’t know how you could do it any better in the era when this film was made.

As good noir films go, this has a big twist and reveal at the end of the film. You don’t really see it coming and it is three parts heart-wrenching and two parts a punch to the gut. Basically, it was effective… damn effective.

I love this film and it’s a classic noir that I’m sure I will revisit again, much sooner than later.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other classic noir pictures like Fallen Angel, The Dark Corner, Phantom Lady, The Blue Dahlia, etc.

Film Review: Too Late for Tears (1949)

Also known as: Killer Bait (reissue title)
Release Date: July 17th, 1949 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Byron Haskin
Written by: Roy Huggins
Based on: Too Late for Tears by Roy Huggins
Music by: R. Dale Butts
Cast: Lizabeth Scott, Don DeFore, Dan Duryea, Arthur Kennedy

Hunt Stromberg Productions, United Artists, 100 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t ever change, Tiger. I don’t think I’d like you with a heart.” – Danny Fuller

This was a film that was lost for decades but was recently restored by The Noir Foundation.

It stars two noir greats: Lizabeth Scott and Dan Duryea.

That being said, the performances are damn good. Lizabeth Scott is, by far, one of my favorite femme fatales and Dan Duryea is just a perfect noir heavy.

The story starts with a couple driving through the Hollywood Hills at night. They stop during an argument and a car speeding by literally throws a bag of money at them. They take the bag, just as another car approaches them, obviously on the hunt for the cash. They get away with the money but the greed overcomes the woman, who spends the rest of the film succumbing to her greed and destroying anything in the way of that greed.

It’s not a greatly conceived plot but it works for the heyday of film-noir.

The film really is carried by the performances of Lizabeth Scott and Dan Duryea. In fact, it suffers a bit once Duryea is killed off.

Still, the cinematography was good and the direction was solid.

This wasn’t the best outing for either star but it was fun seeing them together and their chemistry worked.

Also, it is great seeing films like this restored, after being missing or incomplete for years. I always look forward to seeing films resurrected for modern audiences, whether they are good, bad or somewhere in between.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other film-noir pictures with Lizabeth Scott: Pitfall, Dead Reckoning, Desert Fury, Dark City, The Racket and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.

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.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: The Woman In the Window (1944)

Release Date: November 3rd, 1944
Directed by: Fritz Lang
Written by: Nunnally Johnson
Based on: Once Off Guard by Georges de La Fouchardière
Music by: Arthur Lange
Cast: Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Raymond Massey, Dan Duryea

International Pictures, RKO Radio Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“There are only three ways to deal with a blackmailer. You can pay him and pay him and pay him until you’re penniless. Or you can call the police yourself and let your secret be known to the world. Or you can kill him.” – Richard Wanley

Before the noir classic Scarlett Street, the same team made this movie just a year earlier. In fact, as much as I like Scarlett Street, I would actually have preferred this film to it if not for the lame ending it gave us. It certainly had my attention a lot more than Scarlett Street but due to the time it was made, the morality censors had to make this movie a stupid dream sequence, wiping away the really dark ending that should have capped off the picture without the goofy twist.

I don’t blame Fritz Lang or the stellar cast for the ending though and up until that bizarre moment, The Woman In the Window really is a fantastic film.

Edward G. Robinosn, who has grown to be one of my favorite actors of all-time, has a remarkable chemistry with Joan Bennett. Also, Bennett has great chemistry with Dan Duryea. She works really well with both men and is sort of the glue in these pictures that star all three.

Joan Bennett is also otherworldly alluring in this picture, which may be intentional as the story is a dream and she even plays the part kind of deadpan, like a beautiful specter in the night. She is somehow ghostly emotionless, even while displaying emotion. It is hard to peg her and her character’s motivations. Does she want Robinson to kill the violent man, to free her from him, or was she really just trying to help him survive the attack in her home? You never really understand her point-of-view, which is actually a good thing in this movie. Is she a true femme fatale, clever and manipulative, or is she just a victim of circumstance, a typical damsel in distress?

Getting to the plot itself, it follows Robinson, as he sends his wife and kids off to New York for the summer. Soon after, he meets Joan Bennett next to a painting of her. Robinson seems like a good guy, even though he does go to her apartment for a drink. Once there, he is attacked by an ex-lover and kills him in self-defense. Robinson and Bennett agree to do away with the body and go their separate ways, as they are practically strangers anyway. Robinson then gets pulled into the investigation of the murder, as his best friend is a district attorney. Bennett then gets blackmailed by Dan Duryea’s character, who knows that she has an association with the murdered man. It’s a well layered plot with good twists and turns.

The cinematography is handled by Milton Krasner, who also worked on Lang’s Scarlett Street the following year. There is a real visual and atmospheric consistency between the two pictures. Krasner also worked on other notable film-noir pictures and some of the films from the Universal Monsters franchise. A few of his many credits are: The House of Seven GablesThe Invisible Man ReturnsThe Ghost of FrankensteinThe Invisible Man’s RevengeThe Dark MirrorThe Set-Up and Rawhide.

The Woman In the Window is a fine picture. I hated the ending but I kind of just ignore it and enjoyed the ride up until that point.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Scarlet Street (1945)

Release Date: December 28th, 1945
Directed by: Fritz Lang
Written by: Dudley Nichols
Based on: La Chienne the 1931 novel and play by Georges de La Fouchardière (novel) and André Mouézy-Éon (play)
Music by: Hans J. Salter
Cast: Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea

Walter Wanger Productions, Fritz Lang Productions, Diana Production Company, Universal Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

“If he were mean or vicious or if he’d bawl me out or something, I’d like him better.” – Kitty March

As I have been delving deep into the depths of film-noir, as of late, I had to give this film a shot. It stars three people I like, is directed by a real auteur and is pretty critically acclaimed and considered one of the best films in the film-noir style.

Edward G. Robinson plays Christopher Cross (Chris Cross… get it?), a nice and sensitive man that has been a cashier at a high profile store for twenty-five years. He is in a loveless marriage and is pretty depressed. He was once an aspiring artist but now only paints to fill his hours on Sunday afternoons.

Joan Bennett plays the femme fatale of the picture. She is in love with the criminal schemer, played by Dan Duryea. In fact, this film reunites its three stars and its director from the previous year’s film The Woman In the Window – another beloved film-noir.

Bennett’s Kitty March is seen presumably being mugged. Cross rescues her and the criminal runs off. Unbeknownst to Cross, the criminal is Kitty’s boyfriend, Duryea’s Johnny Prince. March and Prince decide to take advantage of the kind Cross. They discover his talent for painting and Prince steals some of his art, trying to sell them off. When the art community wants to know about the artist, Prince convinces Kitty to pose as the creator of the paintings. Kitty parrots all the things Cross told her about his art and she becomes a local art celebrity in Greenwich Village. All the while, Prince also has Kitty working towards seducing Cross, so they can extort him for money, due to his marriage.

Edward G. Robinson plays Cross as such a softy but it works. He is even seen in several scenes wearing a feminine apron as he prepares dinner. His wife is a shrewd and unlikable woman and Cross waits on her hand and foot while constantly being belittled and emasculated. Robinson’s Cross may be one of the saddest characters in all of film-noir.

Ultimately, Cross is pushed to the limit from all sides and something in him changes, leading to a dark side coming out. However, it is hard not relating to Cross and wanting him to snap back at those who have treated him like garbage.

Scarlet Street is a film with so many layers to it but it all works incredibly well like a perfectly prepared baklava. Plus, all the layers are important in understanding the weight that is coming down on the Cross character.

Fritz Lang told the story with perfection where many other directors would have left the picture a convoluted mess. A lot of credit has to go to the script by Dudley Nichols but it was Lang’s execution that brought everything to life, albeit with help from his talented cast.

Joan Bennett was incredibly alluring, even though you saw how treacherous she was. Duryea was an evil opportunist but still kind of likable, to where you could see how Kitty would fall for him. But the real star of the picture was Edward G. Robinson, who created such a sad and likable victim that you barely remember his work as dastardly characters from his gangster film days.

I loved Scarlet Street and I’m in agreement with the consensus of most critics. It is a stupendous film with an incredible amount of talent in front of and behind the camera.

Rating: 9/10