Film Review: While the City Sleeps (1956)

Also known as: New Is Made at Night (working title)
Release Date: April 19th, 1956 (London premiere)
Directed by: Fritz Lang
Written by: Casey Robinson
Based on: The Bloody Spur by Charles Einstein
Music by: Herschel Burke Gilbert
Cast: Dana Andrews, Rhonda Fleming, George Sanders, Vincent Price, Howard Duff, Thomas Mitchell, Sally Forrest, John Drew Barrymore, Ida Lupino, James Craig, Robert Warwick, Mae Marsh, Leonard Carey

Bert E. Friedlob Productions, RKO Radio Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“What a beautiful nightgown; and it’s a shortie!” – Ed Mobely

I love Fritz Lang’s work, especially in regards to the noir narrative and visual style. And while noir films were waning in popularity by 1956, Lang still managed to make a pretty good one with this picture.

The film is about a serial killer that is terrorizing the city. All the while, a media tycoon dies and leaves the business to a son he despises. The son, played by Vincent Price, doesn’t know much about running a news company, so he creates a new “second-in-command” position. He holds a contest between the company’s best investigative journalists to catch the killer. The one who does will be given the new position and some lucrative perks.

The movie has a weird but interesting premise and all the core actors in this do a good job with the material.

One thing Lang does exceptionally well in his films is how he builds up tension and suspense. He does a fantastic job in this one, as well.

I think the serial killer stuff is also a bit darker and more gruesome feeling than other serial killer movies before this. But going all the way back to 1931’s M, Fritz Lang showed that he didn’t shy away from the darkness and was able to really push the envelope in spite of the limitations of what was deemed acceptable at the time.

This movie is full of characters that are entertaining and fun to watch. However, there is still this haunting presence looming over everything.

Ultimately, this isn’t Fritz Lang’s best noir picture but it also solidifies the fact that the guy never made a bad or even mediocre one.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: Boomerang! (1947)

Also known as: The Perfect Case (working title)
Release Date: January 26th, 1947 (London premiere)
Directed by: Elia Kazan
Written by: Richard Murphy
Based on: The Perfect Case 1945 article in The Reader’s Digest by Anthony Abbot
Music by: David Buttolph
Cast: Dana Andrews, Jane Wyatt, Lee J. Cobb, Cara Williams, Arthur Kennedy, Sam Levene, Ed Begley Sr.

Twentieth Century Fox, 88 Minutes

Review:

“McDonald, I just made one mistake. I should have known by now that there’s one thing you can’t beat in politics, and that’s a completely honest man.” – T.M. Wade

Out of all the film-noir directors of the ’40s and ’50s, I’ve always held Elia Kazan’s visual style in pretty high regard. His movies, especially in the noir genre, always have this pristine visual look. They’re crisp, utilize great set and costume design with damn near perfect lighting and a mastery of that high contrast noir aesthetic. Granted, he also does all this more subtly than some of the directors that went more extreme with it.

Kazan’s pictures just seem to have a really good balance, boasting a certain style without overdoing it. In fact, you almost don’t notice it at first but as his pictures roll on, you find yourself a bit mesmerized by them.

Boomerang! is one that I haven’t seen in a really long time but it was one of my granmum’s favorites, as she had it on multiple times when I’d go to her house after school as a kid. Well, at least in the non-summer months when the Cubs weren’t on WGN.

The film is based on a true story where an innocent man was accused of murder by an incompetent police force and had to rely on a smart prosecutor to clear his name and save him from a fate he didn’t deserve.

Now this isn’t in my upper echelon of noir classics but it’s still a good movie with very good acting, especially on the part of Dana Andrews, who plays the prosecutor, as well as Lee J. Cobb, who plays the police chief. I also really enjoyed Jane Wyatt in this for obvious reasons but she definitely holds her own in the acting department, as well, and this made me wish that she had become a bigger star, especially in pictures of the noir style. I also didn’t realize, until today, that she played Spock’s mother in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

For the most part, the story is compelling but if I’m being honest, it is a bit paint-by-numbers and it’s fairly predictable and doesn’t throw any shocking patented noir curveballs at you.

Still, this is a good example of a standard film-noir. Especially in regards to those that deal with the legal system, as opposed to just schemers doing something dirty and paying the price for it.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other film-noir pictures of the ’40s and ’50s, especially those by Elia Kazan.

Film Review: Fallen Angel (1945)

Release Date: October 26th, 1945
Directed by: Otto Preminger
Written by: Harry Kleiner, Marty Holland
Music by: David Raksin
Cast: Alice Faye, Dana Andrews, Linda Darnell, Charles Bickford, Anne Revere, Bruce Cabot, John Carradine, Percy Kilbride

20th Century Fox, 98 Minutes

Review:

“Then love alone can make the fallen angel rise. For only two together can enter Paradise.” – June Mills, quoting a book

Fallen Angel is another film-noir that re-teams Dana Andrews with director Otto Preminger. While it isn’t quite the picture that Laura was, it is still a much better than decent noir outing that greatly benefits from the inclusion of Linda Darnell and Alice Faye. John Carradine even makes an appearance as a famous fortune teller.

The plot of this one is pretty interesting but not too different from a typical noir scenario, except it does have a fairly happy ending.

Dana Andrews plays Eric Stanton, a drifter with bad luck that gets stranded in Walton, CA because he doesn’t have the bus fare to make it all the way to San Francisco. In a diner in Walton, Stanton falls in love with the waitress Stella (Darnell), as does every man that sees her. Trying to win her over and marry her, as the movie rolls on, Stanton works his cunning and attracts the wealthy June (Faye). He leads June to believe that he loves her and the two are quickly married. Stanton plans on ending the marriage and taking half of her fortune, so that he can impress and marry Stella. Of course, as these things go, there are twists and turns and some surprises.

Otto Preminger got the very best out of his actors, even if he was sometimes cruel to Linda Darnell. Somehow, his cruelty got great performances out of her and even though she legitimately feared the man, the two worked together on several pictures for the sake of their art and creating magic together. I can imagine that it was probably very similar to how Stanley Kubrick would work Shelley Duvall into a manic frenzy in order to get real reactions out of her in The Shining.

Fallen Angel feels a bit confined, at times, with tight and cozy sets but it adds to the film tonally. Even when the characters are outside, like the scenes with the beach in the background, things are always dreary and somber. As the picture moves on, the tale gets very dark but it is a noir where there is actually a light at the end of the tunnel and the despicable main character actually finds his right place in the world and becomes somewhat heroic. The ending feels as if the tight confining grip has now released itself over these characters and the world they were living in.

Preminger did a fine job managing the narrative and the style of the picture, which greatly enhanced the film as a whole and worked in a truly symbiotic way.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Laura (1944)

Release Date: October 11th, 1944
Directed by: Otto Preminger
Written by: Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein, Betty Reinhardt, Ring Lardner Jr. (uncredited)
Based on: Laura by Vera Caspary
Music by: David Raksin
Cast: Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price, Judith Anderson

20th Century Fox, 88 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t use a pen. I write with a goose quill dipped in venom.” – Waldo Lydecker

I was talking to my mum about noir pictures and she told me that this was one of her favorites. We actually came to talk about it while also discussing Vincent Price, a favorite actor of mine. Wanting to work my way through Otto Preminger’s films, this has been in my queue on the Criterion Channel for a bit. So I decided to check it out and because I also like the rest of the cast, especially Dana Andrews.

The fact that I hadn’t seen this yet, is surprising. Granted, my mum may have had it on when I was a kid and I was too busy killing Optimus Prime with my Megatron figure for the 142nd time.

Also, all I knew of Otto Preminger, back then, was that he was one of the three actors to play Mr. Freeze on the 1960s Batman television show. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered he was an accomplished director and a real auteur.

Laura is quite exceptional and a great example of Preminger’s style. It has alluring camerawork and amazing tracking shots. It also utilizes some quick edits, such as a sweeping tracking shot going from one subject to another and then cutting right back to the first subject. While this isn’t a big deal by today’s standards, it was a pretty unique and nontraditional approach to shooting, at the time. But film-noirs were very experimental and tried a lot of new things, Preminger being one of the directors that really led the charge.

Like a typical noir, the film uses a high contrast but the lavish interiors of most of the sets keeps things less dark and gritty than many other pictures in the genre. Granted, the narrative and tone are dark but it exists in contrast to the opulence and elegance that lives on the screen and captures the saucy New Yorkers that populate this mystery tale.

The film also employs a small cast and everyone plays their part to perfection. It was really cool seeing a young Vincent Price in this but the film was really carried by the strong performances from Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney and Clifton Webb.

Andrews was the debonair and clever detective and I think he would’ve made a perfect Batman in the 1940s. Tierney really owned her role as the title character and did a fine job of luring in the males of the picture. Webb, however, was the real meat and potatoes of the picture. I loved his character and he was a real cantankerous fussy pot, for lack of a more fitting description.

This was a great film-noir with a lot of layers to it. It has a major shocking twist that really flipped the film on its head in the best way possible. Preminger created a visual and narrative treasure, a film that is a great monument to the noir style, even if the picture takes some of its own liberties that propel it away from a few specific genre tropes.

Rating: 9.25/10