Film Review: The Unknown (1927)

Also known as: Alonzo the Armless (working title)
Release Date: June 3rd, 1927 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Tod Browning
Written by: Tod Browning, Waldemar Young
Cast: Lon Chaney Sr., Norman Kerry, Joan Crawford, Nick De Ruiz

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 63 Minutes, 49 Minutes (BFI print), 49 Minutes (alternate cut)

Review:

“You are right, Alonzo… brute strength does not mean everything to all women. Alonzo, all my life men have tried to put their beastly hands on me… to paw over me. I have grown so that I shrink with fear when any man even touches me.” – Nanon

Lon Chaney Sr. was really the first iconic horror actor. Some others dabbled in the genre and were in multiple films but none made the impact that Chaney did at the time. He was the original King of Terror.

Even though he often time played facially disfigured characters, he would also modify his body to fit the role. In this film, his face was normal but he worked with his arms bound in a corset for most of the picture, as his character was believed to be armless.

Now there is a twist where you find out that he indeed has his arms but he goes on to get them chopped off for the love of a girl.

The story is dark and twisted and it’s very evil and very primal. It is still hauntingly effective and has aged just about as well as a silent film can.

Chaney plays Alonzo, a circus performer that uses his feet to do a myriad of tricks. The reason for the ruse is because he is wanted for a murder but all that is known about the suspect is that he has a double thumb. To hide this deformity, Alonzo goes through life with his arms bound tightly under his clothing.

He falls in love with Nanon, however, and she has an issue with men’s hands touching her. She feels safe around Alonzo because he has no hands to grab her. After a kiss, Alonzo decides to have his arms removed so that Nanon doesn’t find out his dark secret. Plus, she witnessed a man with a double thumb murder her father.

However, after spending weeks recovering, Alonzo returns to discover that Nanon has overcome her fear and is marrying the circus strongman.

The story is insane but it’s damn good and entertaining. It fits a lot into the short running time.

Also, Nanon is played by a very young Joan Crawford, well before she became a superstar.

The film is well shot and the tone is perfect. This is one of the best Chaney movies and Tod Browning utilized the actor’s talents well. The film builds suspense at the right pace and the big finale is a satisfactory payoff.

I love this movie and it really should be considered a silent horror classic. While it’s not as well known as it should be, it’s pretty exceptional and a spectacular production for its era.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other collaborations between Tod Browning and Lon Chaney Sr.

Film Review: The Threat (1949)

Also known as: Terror
Release Date: December 1st, 1949
Directed by: Felix E. Feist
Written by: Dick Irving Hyland, Hugh King
Music by: Paul Sawtell
Cast: Michael O’Shea, Virginia Grey, Charles McGraw

RKO Radio Pictures, 66 Minutes

Review:

“Remember, I have to live with my conscience.” – Detective Ray Williams

The Threat isn’t a well known film-noir but anything made by RKO in the noir style is always worth a look.

It’s a quick 66 minute film that moves at a rapid pace and is fairly high octane for the era. It really doesn’t relent, due to it’s scant running time and it felt like it was over in the blink of an eye.

The story is about a homicidal maniac who breaks out of prison and starts kidnapping those he deemed responsible for his imprisonment: a cop, a district attorney and a nightclub singer who is believed to be the rat.

The film has a lot of angles and the narrative plays out nicely even if it felt somewhat underwhelming by the end.

As far as the production, it is fairly pedestrian. The acting, directing and cinematography are all pretty average. And even though the setup was really good and got me hooked, that first act of the film is really the high point.

Now I did enjoy Paul Sawtell’s score. But he always provided good music for the films he worked on.

The Threat isn’t very memorable but it isn’t a bad way to spend 66 minutes.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: any crime thriller film-noir from RKO that feels more like a B-movie than a big studio production. That’s not a diss, as some of these films are great.

Trailer located here, as it’s only available on TCM and I can’t embed those videos here. You should fix that, TCM.

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.

TV Review: Cloak & Dagger (2018- )

Original Run: June 7th, 2018 – current
Created by: Joe Pokaski
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Cloak & Dagger by Bill Mantlo, Ed Hannigan
Music by: Mark Isham
Cast: Olivia Holt, Aubrey Joseph, Gloria Reuben, Andrea Roth, J. D. Evermore, Miles Mussenden, Carl Lundstedt, Emma Lahana, Jaime Zevallos

Wandering Rocks Productions, ABC Signature Studios, Marvel, Disney-ABC, Freeform, 10 Episodes (so far), 42-49 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I watched this right after I quit watching Runaways in the middle of its inaugural season. Sadly, this is pretty cringeworthy too and I couldn’t finish it. But at least I got further before my body couldn’t physically hit the “play” button around episode 7 or so.

Cloak & Dagger is lame as hell. Where is the superheroing? 7 episodes into this and they’ve barely explored their powers. This is just teen drama crap that feels more like it belongs in the Twilight franchise than the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where it is supposed to take place.

The acting isn’t terrible but it’s nothing to praise. I mostly like the characters but if I’m being honest, they do not feel like the Tandy Bowen or Tyrone Johnson that I’ve gotten to know in the comics over three decades.

Also, why is this in New Orleans? I mean I love New Orleans but these characters are from New York City and often times cross paths with Spider-Man, Daredevil and other street level heroes of the Big Apple. Honestly, this feels completely separate from the larger universe it is supposed to be a part of.

The writing is slow, dull and I don’t care about the story one friggin’ iota.

The writing is also the biggest source of this show’s cringe. The dialogue is rough, unrefined and sounds like it was written by an intern that won’t get hired by the studio after graduation. Also, this gets pretty sociopolitical, not that that’s a bad thing but the show tends to hit you in the face with Mjolnir when trying to make those statements.

I have no urge to finish this or to watch a second season. I doubt that the show will last much longer and this is just further proof that the MCU is stretching itself way too thin, regardless of each project having its own filmmakers or showrunners. It’s just becoming so tiresome and this put me past the point of exhaustion. I wouldn’t call it “superhero fatigue”, as some people have called this market over saturation of superheroes, I would just call it a lack of the right people to steer these multiple ships.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: Marvel’s Runaways, as both are mind numbingly bad and nearly unwatchable.

Film Review: Follow Me Quietly (1949)

Release Date: July 7th, 1949 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Lillie Hayward, Anthony Mann, Francis Rosenwald
Music by: Leonid Raab, Paul Sawtell
Cast: William Lundigan, Dorothy Patrick, Jeff Corey, Nestor Paiva

RKO Radio Pictures, 60 Minutes

Review:

“I always wanted to throw something out of that window. Ha, I didn’t know it would be me. ” – J.C. McGill

Follow Me Quietly was put out by RKO Radio Pictures, a major studio in its heyday, but it feels more like a noir from one of the Poverty Row studios.

I think part of the reason is that this was definitely a B-movie, it had a very scant running time and didn’t have any big marquee players. It was directed by Richard Fleischer, however, and he was certainly a top director but maybe more so after this picture.

It’s an okay movie but there is nothing about it that sets it apart from the slew of late ’40s film-noir pictures. It’s pretty pedestrian, if I’m being honest, but it still has some interesting stuff within its slim 60 minute running time.

But I guess what captivated me most wasn’t the story or the characters but it was nuances within the film. While it’s a pretty standard police procedural for most of the film, the scenes where people try to identify suspects in the police lineup were really neat. Some of the characters posed with blank faces very similar to the character called The Blank from the 1990 Dick Tracy movie. Maybe that character was inspired by these moments in this film.

I enjoyed the police procedural shtick in this but it also felt ridiculous in how they came to conclusions in a few key spots.

In the end, this was an okay way to spend an hour but other than the strange police lineup proceedings, there’s not much to write home about.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other film-noir pictures of the ’40s from RKO Radio Pictures or some of the stuff from Poverty Row studios.

Comic Review: The Chair

Published: July 30th, 2008
Written by: Peter Simeti
Art by: Kevin Christensen, Peter Simeti

Alterna Comics, 133 Pages

Review:

I’ve wanted to give The Chair a read for awhile. I had the first issue for some time now but I wasn’t able to round up the other ones until more recently, as Alterna has become so popular, as of late, that it took longer than usual to get my latest order. But I’m okay with that, as I want to see this company grow and succeed because they are making comics unlike anyone else, right now.

The Chair is probably the most known of Alterna’s titles. It was written by Peter Simeti, who is the man behind the company and the guy that literally does everything behind the scenes. Also, this was the one Altrerna book (but hopefully not the last) to be adapted into a motion picture and the cherry on top of that is that the film featured Rowdy Roddy Piper in his final acting role.

I wanted to give this a read, as I want to see the movie adaptation. Plus, I enjoyed the bit that I read already. Originally this was a graphic novel but it has since been broken out and re-released as four single issue comics.

The tone is dark, extremely dark. Each panel feels as if it is brooding within its own shadows, as if some evil is lurking in the dark ink, staring back at you. To be honest, the art style, at first, was kind of off putting. It’s incredibly primal, unrefined and gritty to the point that it looks as if it were quickly sketched while in a manic frenzy.

However, the art is just as much a part of the story and as you turn every page, you get pulled further into the narrative and visual style and both are very complimentary of one another. So, at first glance, it’s hard on the eyes but you sort of adjust to the chaos of it and it works. I’m not sure if that was intentional or if it just sort of evolves in your brain that way.

I like that the direction of the story wasn’t as obvious as it seemed in the beginning and how little reveals make this grim reality more clear.

In the end, this was really interesting, surprising and a pretty effective use of the comic book medium.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Alterna releases but the more adult titles. Still this is very much a story that is pretty original and is hard to pair up because of that.

Film Review: The Damned Don’t Cry (1950)

Release Date: April 7th, 1950 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Vincent Sherman
Written by: Harold Medford, Jerome Weidman
Based on: a story by Gertrude Walker
Music by: Daniele Amfitheatrof
Cast: Joan Crawford, David Brian, Steve Cochran, Strother Martin (uncredited)

Warner Bros. Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t talk to me about self-respect. That’s something you tell yourself you got when you got nothing else.” – Ethel Whitehead

The first fifteen minutes of this film sucked me right in. It had a very effective start but then it didn’t let go as it rolled on.

Man, I just really loved Joan Crawford in this. She’s always a treat to see in anything but something about how she played this role felt a little bit more organic and closer to her real personality and charm, as opposed to being the centerpiece in a tightly controlled and meticulously crafted big Hollywood production. Not to say that this wasn’t a tightly controlled and meticulously crafted big Hollywood production but it seemed like she had more room to breathe with her performance. I’d almost say that there was more emphasis on freedom of performance and realism than just trying to make her look gorgeous mixed with a touch of viciousness.

As the story goes on, we see Crawford play out the typical femme fatale shtick. She uses her sex appeal and charm to work her way up the social chain from man to man, not caring much about how she burns them on the way. So it should go without saying that this doesn’t lead towards a happy ending for most of the main players. But there is a dark twist at the end, which surprised me, considering how the morality code in Hollywood worked at the time.

It’s fun watching this story escalate and seeing characters turn into monsters as it progresses, all because of the selfish actions of one broken woman. It’s a movie where likable characters evolve into unlikable ones, even if you initially just see them as victims of Ethel’s (Crawford) toxic antics.

The story moves at a pretty brisk pace and it doesn’t relent from start to finish. The plot has a lot of pieces and clever swerves but it’s crafted well and goes off without a hitch. This had some solid screenwriting work from Harold Medford, as well as Jerome Weidman.

This also had crisp cinematography and obviously the lighting was fine tuned to make Crawford glow but the picture also has a dark and brooding, organic grittiness to it. Sure, a lot of it looks like classic Hollywood and fantastical in its magic but the movie is well balanced between the shiny veneer and the darkness that the veneer is made to distract you from. You see beyond the beautiful and superficial topical layer, right into the abyss that’s waiting to pull all these people down.

This is a top notch film-noir, from a top studio and featuring one of the top stars of the era. I can’t say it enough, Crawford was an absolute gem in this and it’s strange to me that this isn’t one of her better known motion pictures.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Joan Crawford film-noir pictures like Mildred Pierce and Possessed.