Film Review: Dishonored Lady (1947)

Also known as: Sins of Madeline (US reissue title)
Release Date: May 16th, 1947
Directed by: Robert Stevenson
Written by: Edmund H. North
Based on: Dishonored Lady by Edward Sheldon, Margaret Ayer Barnes
Music by: Carmen Dragon
Cast: Hedy Lamarr, Dennis O’Keefe, John Loder, Margaret Hamilton

Hunt Stromberg Productions, Mars Film Corporation, United Artists, 85 Minutes

Review:

“I only earn $100 a week and you know I can’t live on that.” – Freddie

The high point of any Hedy Lamarr movie is Hedy Lamarr. She’s a better actress than she was given credit for during her time but at least she left behind a great legacy and has stood the test of time, as an old school starlet that is probably more beloved by film aficionados now than she was back in her heyday.

Beyond acting, she was also a film producer and an inventor. In fact, she was a genius and one of her inventions was an early version of FHSS (Frequency-hopping spread spectrum).

In Dishonored Lady, she might be at her best. Granted, I like the film The Strange Woman more but here, she really transcends the film and it is hard not to fall head over heels for her character, Madeline.

In this film, she finds herself in a terrible situation where her past comes back to haunt her after changing her identity and finding a new love. Needless to say, this is a story with a lot of layers and some pretty dastardly characters.

Overall, though, I think the picture itself is pretty weak. Lamarr’s performance is great, as is the always enjoyable Dennis O’Keefe. The narrative just feels somewhat disjointed and the pacing is a bit wonky.

Additionally, this isn’t a great looking film-noir when compared to the others from the classic era. It’s shot pretty straightforward and doesn’t have too much artistic flourish.

Still, this is a mostly enjoyable picture and it really showcases how good Lamarr was in her prime.

Also, the film features Margaret Hamilton in a supporting role and it’s always cool seeing the Wicked Witch of the West pop up in other things.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other noir films of the ’40s and ’50s, specifically those with Hedy Lamarr like The Conspirators, The Strange Woman, A Lady Without Passport and The Female Animal.

Film Review: Woman On the Run (1950)

Release Date: October 12th, 1950 (Boston premiere)
Directed by: Norman Foster
Written by: Alan Campbell, Norman Foster, Ross Hunter (dialogue)
Based on: Man On the Run by Sylvia Tate
Music by: Arthur Lange, Emil Newman
Cast: Ann Sheridan, Dennis O’Keefe, Robert Keith

Fidelity Pictures Corporation, Universal Pictures, 77 Minutes

Review:

“Frank’s condition isn’t any worse than tons of men that strain their hearts running in track meets in the misguided belief that they were building up their bodies.” – Dr. Arthur Hohler

I didn’t know much about this movie until it was featured on TCM’s Noir Alley. But apparently the Film Noir Foundation restored it almost two decades ago and then about ten years ago, that print was lost in a fire. Then, more recently, a negative print of the film was found in London and it was restored for a second time.

It’s a pretty unique and energetic film-noir that really is carried by the charm of Ann Sheridan. But in addition to that, she’s paired up well with both Dennis O’Keefe and Robert Keith. She is usually playing off of one actor or the other from scene to scene but man, the dialogue exchanges between Sheridan and both of the top billed men is really entertaining stuff.

Plus, the writing is witty and clever and Sheridan’s charisma is only enhanced by the strong dialogue and unique situations she finds herself in.

Really, all parties involved are top notch in this movie and while I can’t quite call this a film-noir masterpiece, I think this is better than several of the films that are looked at in much higher regard than this nearly lost gem.

Originally, it was supposed to be filmed in New Orleans but due to the movie being produced by a new, upstart studio and the budgetary concerns that come with that, it was shot in San Francisco. But this actually benefits the film, as it really captures noir era San Francisco in a beautiful way. Although, with so many film-noirs being filmed in San Francisco, a New Orleans setting could have made this a bit more unique.

Additionally, this picture feels like a moving painting. Since it spends a good amount of time looking at art, within the film, it’s kind of neat to see the motion picture have the same sort of majestic allure as a beautiful painting. The lighting, cinematography and shot framing are incredible, especially in the big finale at the amusement park.

That being said, the amusement park stuff is stupendous. I love the sequence with Sheridan on the roller coaster even if it looks hokey and dated almost 70 years later.

In fact, as much as I like this film, it’s the big finale that really takes things to another level and cements this as a real worthwhile and enjoyable classic film-noir.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Too Late for Tears, Please Murder Me!, The Man Who Cheated HImself and Impact.

Film Review: Raw Deal (1948)

Release Date: May 26th, 1948
Directed by: Anthony Mann
Written by: Leopold Atlas, John C. Higgins, Arnold B. Armstrong, Audrey Ashley
Music by: Paul Sawtell
Cast: Dennis O’Keefe, Claire Trevor, Marsha Hunt, Raymond Burr

Edward Small Productions, Reliance Pictures, 79 Minutes

Review:

“What do you know about anything? You probably had your bread buttered on both sides since the day you were born. Safe. Safe on first, second, third, and home.” – Joseph Emmett Sullivan

I checked out Raw Deal on TCM’s Noir Alley. However, I’ve known about it for a little while. It was covered and discussed in several books I’ve read about film-noir and every writer that mentioned it gave it a lot of praise. I was glad to see it in the Noir Alley lineup, as I wanted to check it out myself.

The film stars Dennis O’Keefe, Claire Trevor and Marsha Hunt. The three find themselves in a love triangle, as the two women are on the lam with O’Keefe’s Joseph. Trevor plays Pat while Hunt plays Ann. Pat helps Sullivan escape prison. However, unbeknownst to her, at the time, he doesn’t have romantic feelings for her. Instead, his heart is with a social worker, Ann. Sullivan escapes in an effort to get revenge on the brutish mobster Rick Coyle (played by Raymond Burr). However, Coyle has his own plans for Sullivan.

Burr’s Coyle is exceptionally brutal, as the film’s heavy. In one scene, he throws a flaming bowl into the face of a woman. The scene was edited to show the flaming bowl flying into the face of the audience from a first-person point-of-view, which was quite savage for a 1940s picture. After seeing this movie, I have a newfound respect for Burr, as he can play an evil mob boss just as well as a nice, do-gooder lawyer.

O’Keefe and Trevor put in good performances but the sweet and innocent Hunt really pulls you in. When she has to commit an unspeakable act, your heart goes out to her, as she’s a good person pulled into a dark web and forced to participate in the proceedings that seem so much larger than her and more barbarous than anything she should have to experience.

The thing that really brings this motion picture to the next level is the cinematography by John Alton. The man did some superb work with this film and it is the best looking film-noir I have seen. I wouldn’t say that it surpasses Citizen Kane, which isn’t really a noir, but it gets close to that level. In fact, it surpasses The Third Man, which I never thought another film from this era could do, as that film is so visually satisfying.

The film has several spectacular looking scenes. The one, for me, that really stands out is when Joseph and Pat are on the ship, about to escape the country, when Pat finally confesses a dark secret. The scene shows a side profile of Pat’s face, close-up, as it is layered over the backdrop of a plain wall and a plain clock. It is how this moment is captured that truly shows the difference between a great cinematographer and an average one. The shadows, the stark contrast, the chiaroscuro effect pushed to the extreme – it creates a real sense of darkness, despair and a small glimmer of hope that Pat will overcome whatever wickedness is in her heart and do the right thing. It is one of the best looking scenes ever shot on celluloid. Not to take anything away from Claire Trevor but this is an example of great cinematography backing up an actor’s performance and making it grander than it would have otherwise been.

There are so many great scenes like the one I just described but that one stood out the most. The film makes great use of fog and environment to enhance the effect of the noir visual style. This is a near masterpiece, overall, but it is a true masterpiece in regards to the cinematography.

Raw Deal isn’t the best film-noir but it could very well be the best looking true noir. It is certainly the best looking out of all the films I have seen in the style. That doesn’t mean that I won’t delve deeper into the noir barrel and eventually pull out something better. But out of the few dozen of these pictures I’ve seen, this one takes the cinematography cake.

Rating: 9.25/10

Film Review: T-Men (1947)

Release Date: December 15th, 1947
Directed by: Anthony Mann
Written by: John C. Higgins, Virginia Kellogg
Music by: Paul Sawtell
Cast: Dennis O’Keefe, Mary Meade, Alfred Ryder, Charles McGraw, June Lockhart

Edward Small Productions, Bryan Foy Productions, Eagle-Lion Films, 92 Minutes

Review:

“At last they were ready. They met on Belle Isle to quiz each other for the most important examination of their lives. They had to know all the answers. Failure to do so would mean a bad grade later on in the shape of a bullet or an ice pick.” – Narrator

This is the third out of the four Anthony Mann film-noir pictures that I’ve watched in the last month or so. T-Men is the most unique out of Mann’s noir thrillers and it is also the first movie he directed.

This is a pretty fine effort for a directorial debut. It is raw, gritty and its semidocumentary style makes it feel as real as fiction could get in the 1940s. The films sort of just lingers over you, like a brooding storm cloud where suspense builds and is waiting for that perfect moment to strike like lightning.

John Alton handled the cinematography on this film and he has always been noted for having a very strong visual style, especially in regards to noir. He would go on to work with Mann again in Raw Deal, which is one of the most visually stunning film-noir pictures of all-time. Alton took a similar approach in this film but it doesn’t have the extreme chiaroscuro look as Raw Deal. It does dabble in chiaroscuro but I think he wanted this to match up with the semidocumentary vibe and kept things pretty real looking and less fantastical.

Dennis O’Keefe really carried this picture on his back and he did a fine job with it, which is also probably why he continued to work with Anthony Mann. He was also a major part of Raw Deal. And really, without Mann establishing the relationships he did with O’Keefe and Alton, on this film, Raw Deal might not have been the  exceptional film that it turned out to be.

T-Men is not Raw Deal and it doesn’t shine quite as brightly but it still shines.

It follows two men who work for the Treasury Department. They go undercover in Detroit and Los Angeles in an attempt to stop a major counterfeiting ring. The agents infiltrate the gang but one has to stand idly by, as his partner is killed by gang members.

This is a pretty intense film and it has a very serious tone, even compared to other noir movies. It isn’t real but it just feels genuine in ways that other noir pictures don’t.

T-Men is a very good picture and a great directorial debut. It isn’t my favorite film-noir or even my favorite film by Anthony Mann, however, but it definitely deserves to be recognized for being unique and for paving the way for Mann and his great career.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: The Leopard Man (1943)

Release Date: May 8th, 1943
Directed by: Jacques Tourneur
Written by: Ardel Wray, Edward Dein
Based on: Black Alibi by Cornell Woolrich
Music by: Roy Webb
Cast: Dennis O’Keefe, Jean Brooks, Margo

RKO Radio Pictures, 66 Minutes

Review:

“You don’t get the idea, mister. These cops banging those pans, flashing those lights, they’re gonna scare that poor cat of mine. Cats are funny, mister. They don’t want to hurt you, but if you scare them they go crazy. These cops, they don’t know what they’re doing.” – Charlie How-Come

I’ve been working my way through Val Lewton’s horror films for RKO. He produced some of the coolest scary movies of the 1940s and The Leopard Man is a pretty solid film that was directed by one of his best collaborators, Jacques Tourneur. Mark Robson, who would also direct some of Lewton’s productions, worked on this picture as its editor.

The film stars Dennis O’Keefe, who would go on to work in film-noir throughout the decade. He is joined by the mesmerizing Jean Brooks, who completely owned the screen in another Lewton production, the horror film-noir The Seventh Victim. She had a very strong presence in this and an enchanting aura about her. It’s surprising to me, actually, that she never went on to be a megastar in the era of film-noir.

Like Tourneur’s other films under Lewton, this is a picture where the audience has to often times rely on their own imagination. This is a classic suspense horror picture, through and through. It’s the things that aren’t seen that are the most scary. For instance, when the first victim dies, you witness this from the other side of a locked door, hearing her bloodcurdling screams, until they abruptly stop and a pool of blood starts pouring into the house from under the door.

Additionally, when another victim is attacked in a graveyard, much is left to the viewer’s imagination. You see the victim’s reaction and a branch violently shake before the attack. But it is done in a way that is more effective than seeing the monster attack on screen. And for the twist ending of this film, it is actually necessary to obscure the killer and allow the mind to fill in the blanks.

The plot of the film is pretty simple. A showman rents a black leopard to spruce up the act of one of his top ladies. The leopard is frightened and runs off, escaping into the small desert town. Shortly after, a girl is mauled outside the front door to her house, as her mother and little brother listen in horror. Some other killings happen while the police are trying to find the leopard, who is blamed for the deaths. As the story progresses, we learn that it might not be the leopard that is killing these people after all.

The big reveal at the end is pretty predictable but it doesn’t make the film any less effective. Plus, you’re never really sure what’s happening and why. The “why” is as big of a question as the “who”. While the answers might not be totally satisfying, everything leading up to the mystery being solved is pretty well structured and executed.

Tourneur and Lewton made another horror movie in the same visual style as the noir pictures that would come to dominate the 1940s. There’s a bit of a German Expressionist influence in the lighting and the use of shadows for contrast and a chiaroscuro presentation.

The Leopard Man is a much smarter horror picture than what was the norm for the 1940s but this would become Val Lewton’s specialty and even if they weren’t as big as Universal’s horror franchises in terms of popularity, they were better than most of those pictures in quality.

Rating: 7/10