Film Review: No Questions Asked (1951)

Release Date: June 15th, 1951
Directed by: Harold F. Kress
Written by: Sidney Sheldon, Berne Giler
Music by: Leith Stevens
Cast: Barry Sullivan, Arlene Dahl, George Murphy, Jean Hagen

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 80 Minutes

Review:

I caught this film on an episode of TCM’s Noir Alley. While I’m an avid fan of film-noir, this isn’t a film that I knew about until Eddie Muller featured it on his show.

The film follows Steve, a young lawyer for an insurance company. Steve asks his boss for a raise but isn’t able to persuade him. As he’s leaving his boss’ office, he hears that the boss is willing to pay a hefty sum for the return of some stolen property, “no questions asked” on how it’s done, because the large sum is still less than it would cost to pay the claim.

Steve convinces his boss to give him the task but he attracts the attention of gangsters, who think that they can use Steve for similar situations. Being that this is noir, things take a turn for the worse. What we end up getting is a film that examines insurance scams and fraud, told through a noir tale featuring doublecrosses and twists.

Unlike other film-noir pictures, that had a grit to them, No Questions Asked feels like it is more visually refined, which is probably due to it being produced by MGM. However, the more glossy and refined appearance of the film makes it feel less like a noir than it should. Granted, MGM did produce proper looking noir, several in fact.

Barry Sullivan was decent as Steve but it’s hard to care for him, as he pines over Arlene Dahl – a high maintenance gal that doesn’t really care about him, and doesn’t jump all over the chance to be with Jean Hagen, who is smitten with him. Plus, he’s looking to make an easy buck in a dishonest way; not because he needs the money to live but because he wants to wow the woman that rejected him and general greed takes over.

The film is decently acted but not well acted. It seemed as if some people were really into their roles while others dialed it in. Maybe the director was just dialing it in too, as he accepted the unbalanced performances.

This is mostly a forgettable noir. We’ve seen films about insurance fraud before and some that were done much better. Sure, this is a different type of scam than say the one in Double Indemnity but one can’t watch this and not make some comparisons to the narrative of both films. Double Indeminity is also a bonafide classic, though.

No Questions Asked is a decent time killer but if you need to get your noir fix, there are dozens of films superior to this one.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Loophole, also with Barry Sullivan.

Film Review: The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

Release Date: June 1st, 1950
Directed by: John Huston
Written by: Ben Maddow, John Huston
Based on: The Asphalt Jungle by W.R. Burnett
Music by: Miklós Rózsa
Cast: Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Jean Hagen, James Whitmore, Sam Jaffe, John McIntire, Marilyn Monroe, Anthony Caruso, Strother Martin (uncredited)

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 112 Minutes

Review:

“One way or another, we all work for our vice.” – Doc Riedenschneider

John Huston was a true maestro of film-noir. Sure, he made some other great films but there was just something special about his work on The Maltese FalconKey Largo and this, the grittiest and ballsiest of his noir pictures.

The Asphalt Jungle is a heist movie but it is so much more than that. However, the heist itself is a stellar sequence that probably went on to inspire just about every good cinematic heist after it. It takes its time, builds suspense and created a lot of the tropes associated with the heist genre.

The film also makes an immediate impact, thanks to the powerful opening theme by Miklós Rózsa, who really knew how to set the tone with all the film-noir movies he scored. The music is great throughout the entire picture and creates the type of mood needed to audibly enhance this gritty and tense film.

The cinematography was handled by Harold Rosson and was done in great contrast to his opulent and colorful fantasy world seen in The Wizard of Oz. And like Oz, this film got Rosson an Academy Award nomination. However, he was no stranger to nominations, as he also received the same honors for Boom TownThirty Seconds Over Tokyo and The Bad Seed. Before all those nominations, however, he was awarded an Honorary Oscar for his color cinematography in 1936’s The Garden of Allah, which was only the fifth film in history to be photographed in Three-strip Technicolor.

Needless to say, Rosson was an accomplished cinematographer, ahead of his time, and he captured things on this film, along with Huston’s direction, that showcased a real technical prowess and an ability to create more dynamic scenes with less shots and more natural and fluid motion between characters and their environments.

Sterling Hayden has a strong presence and we get to spend some time with Jean Hagen and a young Marilyn Monroe, who was on the verge of superstardom. Character actor Strother Martin even pops up in this.

This is an incredible film-noir to look at. It takes risks but it really is art in the highest sense in how it all comes together: a perfect storm and an amazingly woven tapestry. There are a lot of interesting characters, twist and turns and there aren’t any real faults to pick apart.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: Side Street (1950)

Release Date: March 23rd, 1950
Directed by: Anthony Mann
Written by: Sydney Boehm
Music by: Lennie Hayton
Cast: Farley Granger, Cathy O’Donnell, James Craig, Jean Hagen, Charles McGraw

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 83 Minutes

Review:

“New York City: an architectural jungle where fabulous wealth and the deepest squalor live side by side. New York is the busiest, the loneliest, the kindest, and the cruelest of cities – a murder a day, every day of the year and each murder will wind up on my desk.” – Captain Walter Anderson

This wasn’t the first time that Farley Granger and Cathy O’Donnell played a couple. They first worked together in 1948’s They Live by Night, which had a similar plot, as Granger in both of these films, is a fairly decent guy that makes a bad decision that gets him in over his head, while O’Donnell just wants to live a simple life with her man.

In this film, Granger plays Joe Norson. O’Donnell is his wife Ellen. Joe is a father-to-be and he and his wife are struggling financially. Unfortunately, Joe gives in to temptation and steals money from a lawyer’s office. The lawyer and the money has ties to the seedy underground, which puts Joe in a lot of danger, as he is on the run from gangsters and the law.

The film is directed by Anthony Mann. While he would be most remembered for the westerns he directed in the 1950s, his 1940s film-noir pictures were also pretty good. Before this, he directed T-MenRaw Deal and Border Incident. One thing that you get with a Mann picture is a profound understanding and execution of mise en scène. His films, even in the early days, featured breathtaking cinematography. He knew how to capture mood, tone and real grittiness. He was also innovative in shooting action, something that Side Street has a good amount of, especially the car chase during the grand finale of the movie.

Farley Granger is perfect as these sort of kindhearted but foolish noir heroes. And maybe “hero” isn’t the right word, due to his early actions, but his end game is always something virtuous and he puts himself out there in an effort to get justice or to provide for those he loves. He’s not a selfish thug or a morally driven “by the book” sort of guy. Granger seems to like these roles where he is in the middle, where he isn’t innocent but his intentions are noble.

Cathy O’Donnell is always believable and perfect alongside Granger. She isn’t what one would consider film-noir gorgeous, she is just young and pretty and more like the girl next door. She always feels frail and innocent but somehow musters up genuine courage and stands by her man in the worst of situations.

The cast also includes Jean Hagen, who isn’t around long but made a big impact in this. In fact, her performance here, led to being cast in another classic noir, John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle.

Side Street is a bit underrated, in my opinion, as it offers up some great scenes, great acting and pulls you into this world emotionally. You want to see Joe succeed and to get out of his perilous situation, even if it was his own fault. The film is also magnificently shot and presented. The chase scene through real city streets was definitely a high point and set this film on a different level in regards to how it achieved its dynamic action.

Rating: 8/10