Film Review: 711 Ocean Drive (1950)

Also known as: Blood Money (working title)
Release Date: July 1st, 1950
Directed by: Jospeh M. Newman
Written by: Richard English, Francis Swann
Music by: Sol Kaplan
Cast: Edmond O’Brien, Joanne Dru, Otto Kruger

Frank Seltzer Productions, Essaness Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

“Time wounds all heels.” – Mal Granger

711 Ocean Drive was showcased on TCM’s Noir Alley a few years ago but it happened to air on a weekend that I was traveling, so I missed it. It’s since been in my Prime Video queue for a really long time but I finally got around to checking it out.

The film stars Edmond O’Brien, who is always dynamite in these sort of pictures. He’s no different here, as he commands the screen every time he walks into frame.

However, Otto Kruger also has an incredibly powerful presence here but when didn’t he?

Both of these guys are the things that make this picture work as well as it does and frankly, they kept me captivated and at full attention even if I thought that the script was kind of weak.

I like the premise about a telephone repair man finding a way to intercept horse racing results. However, even for the time, the premise and how it’s done in the film seems pretty far-fetched. If horse racing results are delayed from the east coast to the west coast, couldn’t mobsters just get other mobsters on the phone from across the country and get them to read them off the results as they happen, live? Landline telephones pretty much worked like they do now. So while I liked the idea behind the premise, it doesn’t feel wholly fleshed out in any sort of logical way. And if it was this way back then, I need to build a time machine to show these halfwits how it’s done.

Anyway, I’m being nitpicky.

That setup is there just to get the story moving, right?

Facetiousness aside, looking past that issue, I do mostly like the movie once it gets rolling. It’s well acted, as I’ve stated but it has a hardness to it. Hell, we see a greedy, double crossing shitbird get murdered by a car crushing him into a pier railing! That’s some hardcore stuff for 1950!

In the end, this movie is more good than bad, I guess. It just ultimately left me underwhelmed and baffled.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other noir films like The Miami Story, Johnny Allegro, The Killer That Stalked New York and Escape In the Fog.

Film Review: Shield for Murder (1954)

Release Date: August 27th, 1954 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Edmond O’Brien, Howard W. Koch
Written by: Richard Alan Simmons, John C. Higgins
Based on: Shield for Murder by William P. McGivern
Music by: Paul Dunlap
Cast: Edmond O’Brien, Marla English, John Agar, Emile Meyer, Carolyn Jones, Claude Atkins

Camden Productions Inc., Aubrey Schenck Productions, United Artists, 82 Minutes

Review:

“[to police reporter] Write his story good.” – Capt. Gunnarson

Man, what a dark and gritty movie, even for 1950s film-noir standards. I’m a fan of Edmond O’Brien and other crime movies he’s starred in have had a sort of harshness to them but this might take the cake.

This one follows O’Brien as he plays veteran cop Barney Nolan. It’s the story of a good cop turned bad but the film starts with him murdering a bookmaker and stealing $25,000 from him only to tell the other cops that he was forced to shoot the man because he escaped custody. While his colleagues believe him, a reporter thinks the story sounds fishy.

Everything escalates from the pretty brutal opening and you know it’s just a matter of time before things catch up to Nolan but as the story progresses, he becomes more and more unhinged.

This is pretty action picked and as high octane as a 1950s film could be. What I really liked about it was some of the settings, as this wasn’t just some cookie cutter noir that just saw cops and criminals fighting in the streets. There is an incredible shootout scene in a public pool full of lots of bystanders, as well as other location shoots that just have unique looks to them.

Additionally, one scene that really makes this film quite memorable involves Carolyn Jones, before Addams Family fame and while she was platinum blonde. In that sequence, Nolan meets her at a bar, she’s flirtatious but he soon finds out that she’s been abused. The scene ends with Nolan violently and excessively pistol whipping two men in front of a terrified Jones. It’s pretty raw stuff for 1954 but it adds an exclamation point onto the self-destruction of the Nolan character and the escalation of the plot.

In the end, Nolan has to pay for his crimes and he does. The final scene is well shot and it felt like a great final moment reminiscent of Cagney’s end in White Heat, except instead of fire we get gunfire.

All in all, this was solid, intense, well paced and superbly acted by its main players.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Undertow, Manhandled, Down Three Dark Streets and Behind Green Lights.

Film Review: White Heat (1949)

Release Date: September 2nd, 1949 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Raoul Walsh
Written by: Ivan Goff, Ben Roberts
Based on: White Heat by Virginia Kellogg
Music by: Max Steiner
Cast: James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O’Brien, Margaret Wycherly, Steve Cochran

Warner Bros., 114 Minutes

Review:

“Made it, Ma! Top of the world!” – Cody Jarrett

White Heat takes the gangster genre that made James Cagney famous and marries it to the film-noir style of the 1940s with absolute perfection. Sure, there are a lot of noir movies with gangsters in them but none quite hit the perfect note like this motion picture, a true triumph for all parties involved in its creation and execution.

Having just revisited this after several years, I can’t think of any other actors that could have captured their characters as well as the top three billed stars here.

James Cagney, as great as he was before this, has never been better as a sadistic gangster. It’s as if everything before this movie was training, prepping him for the role of a lifetime and while this might not be his most famous picture, it is my personal favorite and it also comes with the most famous line he ever spoke. He was scary, calculating and had this sort of reptilian body language that kept you on edge, not knowing what and how he was going to react to anything.

Virginia Mayo was an incredible femme fatale in this and while she may at first seem pretty text book, she just has this extra edge to her that pushes her to the forefront of the noir style, as one of the absolute best women to ever exude evilness on the silver screen.

Edmond O’Brien hit all the right notes as the undercover cop sent into prison to infiltrate the gang of Cagney’s Cody Jarrett. He was convincing on both sides of the coin, as a noble cop and a loyal gangster, winning over Jarrett’s trust.

While Raoul Walsh is a stupendous director, he had great help from the script by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts. While I haven’t read the original Virginia Kellogg novel, the duo of Goff and Roberts really crafted a script that moved at a great pace and had several layers worked in, adding more luster and depth to the narrative, as well as fantastic dialogue and intense action scenes that were better than what was the Hollywood norm in the late ’40s. I love the whole sequence towards the end with the police radio cars and the cops using the big map to pinpoint Jarrett’s location before the big finale.

Walsh also benefited for having the right people for the right job in regards to the cinematography. He had Sidney Hickox at his side, who by 1949 already boasted over three decades worth of cinematography experience. Coming into White Heat, he already had some solid credits to his name with his work on To Have and Have NotThe Big SleepAll Through the Night and Dark Passage. Being one of the top visual architects of the noir style, Hickox’s work here was no different. The scenes in Jarrett’s jail cell, the prison factory and the big finale all look majestic and are clear examples of how visually magical Hollywood was at the time.

I also can’t ignore the score of Max Steiner, one of the heavyweights of the era. He worked in mellow and melodic tunes in the lighter scenes but went with some real intensity with the bigger action sequences. Steiner could generate a lot of musical flare and his work here added more tension to the biggest scenes in the movie.

White Heat is pretty much a perfect film that has aged incredibly well and is fast paced enough that it will probably resonate with the attention deficit audiences of today, assuming they can put their phones down for more than fifteen seconds. This comes in at just under two hours but it uses that time well and is actually a great character study of Cagney’s Jarrett character, his ticks and his skewed world view.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: Cagney’s original claim to fame Public Enemy, as well as Angels With Dirty Faces, ‘G’ MenThe Asphalt JungleThe Big Heat and Smart Money.

Film Review: The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

Also known as: The Difference, The Persuader (both working titles)
Release Date: March 23rd, 1953 (Boston premiere)
Directed by: Ida Lupino
Written by: Ida Lupino, Collier Young
Music by: Leith Stevens
Cast: Edmond O’Brien, Frank Lovejoy, William Talman

The Filmakers Inc., RKO Radio Pictures, 71 Minutes

Review:

“You stink, Myers! You smell! Just like your clothes! Sure, you’ll make it to Guaymas, but they’ll catch up with you and put you out of your misery. You haven’t got a chance. You haven’t got a thing except that gun! You’d better hang onto it because without it, you’re finished! ” – Roy Collins

The Hitch-Hiker has the distinction of being the only classic film-noir directed by a woman. That woman was Ida Lupino, who went from being a very good actress to a pretty great director in a time when women weren’t often found behind the camera.

The movie is based on the crime spree of murderer Billy Cook, a psychotic who murdered six people on a 22 day rampage between Missouri and California that started the day before New Year’s Eve in 1950.

The character based off of Cook is renamed Emmett Myers and is played by William Talman in what is his most iconic role other than his 212 episode stint on Perry Mason as District Attorney Hamilton Burger. He is a sadistic killer and like a cat, likes to play with his victims before putting them down. In this film, we see him breakdown his captives over time.

In the story, two nice fishermen pickup a hitchhiker, Myers, and the rest is history. Myers bosses them around, plays games with them that force them into mortal danger and really doesn’t have much use for them other than his own amusement over their emasculation. This is a pretty deep movie for its time and it does things that weren’t common in motion pictures in the early 1950s. Being that this was directed by a woman is more intriguing. But it certainly wasn’t a statement about breaking men down in general, as the two who were victimized were nice, innocent people and it was the evil psychotic that pushed them to the limit. This was actually a film that tried to show what it was like to be held against your will by a psycho nut with a gun.

The acting and chemistry between the three leads was stellar and Lupino pulled great performances out of Talman, Edmond O’Brien and Frank Lovejoy. There were a few other characters in the movie but these three were the focal point and had to put this production on their backs.

The Hitch-Hiker is a darker and much better film than I expected it to be. It shows how well versed and comfortable Lupino was as a director in a male dominated industry. She lead her male cast towards creating something that was much better than a run of the mill film-noir.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: DetourThe Prowler

Film Review: The Killers (1946)

Also known as: Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers, A Man Alone
Release Date: August 28th, 1946
Directed by: Robert Siodmak
Written by: Richard Brooks, Anthony Veiller, John Huston (uncredited)
Based on: Scribners Magazine short story The Killers by Ernest Hemingway
Music by: Miklós Rózsa
Cast: Burt Lancaster, Ava Garner, Edmond O’Brien, Sam Levene

Mark Hellinger Productions, Universal Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“If there’s one thing in this world I hate, it’s a double-crossing dame.” – Big Jim Colfax

In the 1940s, Robert Siodmak made some of the most memorable film-noir motion pictures. The Killers is considered to not just be one of Siodmak’s best but one of the best films of the noir style and of the decade.

The Killers is really high up on a lot of the noir lists I have looked at from top critics, blogs, books and magazines. I thoroughly enjoyed it but I wouldn’t say that it was my favorite Siodmak noir, as of now, that honor goes to Criss Cross. However, I still haven’t seen Phantom Lady or The Dark Mirror yet.

I have enjoyed Siodmak’s work for a long time but as a kid it was primarily in the form of Son of Dracula and The Crimson Pirate. I was much more into horror and swashbuckling back then but my experience with those films had me enthused when I realized that the guy who directed both of those films, had a handful of noir movies wedged between them.

This film stars Burt Lancaster, a regular of Siodmak. This was also his debut on the big screen and for a first time performance, Lancaster knocks it out of the park. He was teamed with film-noir regulars Edmond O’Brien and Sam Levene. However, it was his scenes with the elegant and fascinating Ava Gardner that helped to set this guy’s career on a long and fruitful career that saw four Academy Award nominations and a win for his part in Elmer Gantry.

The Killers is based on a short story by Ernest Hemingway. However, the Hemingway story only really comprises the first twenty minutes or so of the movie, which shows the contract killers arrive and murder Burt Lancaster’s “Swede” Anderson. Where the film begins to follow Edmond O’Brien’s Jim Reardon, as he investigates the murder, the plot is wholly original and works as an expansion on Hemingway’s story. It was said, by Hemingway’s biographer, that The Killers “was the first film from any of his works that Ernest could genuinely admire.” John Huston, also an accomplished film-noir director, contributed to the script. He wasn’t originally credited for his contribution due to his contract with rival studio, Warner Bros.

With crime dramas running rampant in the 1940s, this is one that wasn’t a cliché on celluloid. While I love film-noir and I honestly have a hard time trying to find truly bad ones, sometimes the rehash of tropes, over and over and over again, can get mundane. The Killers, like Siodmak’s Criss Cross, is one of the films that lifts the cinematic style to a higher level. Plus, with a score composed by Miklós Rózsa, you can expect a lot of energy, excitement and a real soul within the film.

I love The Killers, it is hard to deny its greatness between the solid direction, iconic performances and its pristine look.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: D.O.A. (1950)

Release Date: April 21st, 1950
Directed by: Rudolph Maté
Written by: Russell Rouse, Clarence Greene
Music by: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Edmond O’Brien, Pamela Britton, Luther Adler, Beverly Garland (as Beverly Campbell), Neville Brand, Lynn Baggett, William Ching, Henry Hart, Laurette Luez

Harry Popkin Productions, Cardinal Pictures, United Artists, 84 Minutes

Review:

“Do you realize what you’re saying? Well, you’re telling me that I’m dead.” – Frank Bigelow

This film-noir came out at the tail end of the genre’s immense popularity. In fact, it came out just before Sunset Boulevard, which is the movie that many film historians and noir purists consider to be the final curtain call on the genre’s run. Obviously, there were many noir pictures after 1950 but it would never again reach the heights it did in the 1940s.

Despite the hundreds of noir films before it, D.O.A. still feels like a really fresh take on the style.

I can’t recall any other film (before this, anyway) dealing with a man in a race against time to expose his killer before the poison in his body finally puts the nail in his coffin. This story has been recreated many times since 1950 but it was unique for the time and really, it made this picture a fast paced nail biter.

The movie is quite short but that’s okay. It moves at a good speed, is exciting from beginning to end and doesn’t waste time on filler or window dressing. This is a true action film before action films really existed.

Edmund O’Brien carried this entire picture on his back and he did a damn fine job. He was believable as the already murdered man, trying to solve the mystery surrounding his fatal condition.

Some of the acting was a bit over the top but to be honest, it fit the tone of this high octane action noir. Add in the fact that this film also had a genuine grittiness to it, due to being shot on real city streets. Location shooting still wasn’t a regular practice for this sort of picture. The action shots capturing the motion of O’Brien running or the vehicles chasing him was downright impressive.

D.O.A. is a solid motion picture that presents an authentic film-noir visual style while mixing in a true sense of realism by taking this out of closed studio sets and putting it on the streets. It moves at breakneck speed and never lets up.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

Release Date: April 22nd, 1962
Directed by: John Ford
Written by: James Warner Bellah, Willis Goldbeck
Based on: a short story by Dorothy M. Johnson
Music by: Cyril J. Mockridge, Alfred Newman
Cast: John Wayne, James Stewart, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin, Edmond O’Brien, Andy Devine, Woody Strode, John Qualen, Jeanette Nolan, Ken Murrary, John Carradine, Lee Van Cleef

Paramount Pictures, 123 Minutes

the_man_who_shot_liberty_valanceReview:

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is regarded as one of John Wayne’s best westerns. It is hard to argue against that point because truthfully, I think just about every John Wayne western is one of his best, as making bad films was something he never seemed to do. Okay, maybe there are a few.

In this movie, he’s teamed up with legends James Stewart and Lee Marvin, as well as Lee Van Cleef and John Carradine in minor roles. That’s a lot of bad asses to share one screen and it is almost like an Expendables film for its era, except for the fact that it’s actually a good movie.

This is one of my favorites when it comes to the role John Wayne plays. As usual, he is the suave manly man but this time he plays somewhat of a protector to James Stewart’s pacifist lawyer character. This is one of my favorite James Stewart performances, outside of his work with Hitchcock, and he almost steals this picture away from John Wayne. Lee Marvin is also at the top of his game here, as he plays a classic black-wearing western villain that you can’t not love to hate.

This film has a lot of layers to it and it isn’t just a straightforward cookie cutter western film. That is why it stands above most of the westerns of that time. There are a handful of John Wayne films I like better but not by much. This is a stupendous movie and it shows off the acting mastery of three greats.

There is a bigger message with this movie than just being a shoot ’em up affair or a typical western revenge flick. There are multiple social commentary threads running through this film and they are all well executed and presented. While light-hearted at times, this film also comes with a very dark vibe, as the evil and corruption that must be overcome feel very real and very threatening.