Film Review: The Man Who Cheated Himself (1950)

Also known as: The Gun (working title)
Release Date: December 26th, 1950
Directed by: Felix E. Feist
Written by: Seton I. Miller, Philip MacDonald
Music by: Louis Forbes
Cast: Lee J. Cobb, Jane Wyatt, John Dall

Jack M. Warner Productions, 20th Century Fox, 81 Minutes

Review:

“This is my first time out. How am I doin’?” – Andy Cullen, “All right, kid. Do any better, and I’ll be out of a job.” – Police Lt. Ed Cullen

The Man Who Cheated Himself is a neat little film-noir that stars the always domineering Lee J. Cobb in a rare role where he isn’t shouting a lot.

It also stars Jane Wyatt, who just feels completely out of place as the femme fatale type, as she is most synonymous for playing the mother in Father Knows Best. It also stars John Dall, who I loved in Gun Crazy and Rope, as well as a very young Lisa Howard before she went on to be a controversial news figure that committed suicide at 35 years-old.

Unfortunately, this is a film suffering from multiple personality disorder.

It is pretty dull and comes off as uneventful, even though there are things happening. This film just lacks excitement and energy. I’m not sure if that’s because Lee J. Cobb was told to play this role a bit more chill than he normally does or if he was bored doing it and didn’t give us a boisterous performance. When I watch a film with Cobb, I expect a certain panache and he just didn’t have it here.

Additionally, everything is just sort of dry. This isn’t a new story and really, just borrows heavily from several films within the classic film-noir style. There isn’t much to set this apart and to make it stand out among its peers.

However, the final scene at Fort Point (under the Golden Gate Bridge) was an incredibly well shot sequence that built immense suspense and had me at the edge of my seat. But it builds such great tension and then falls flat, as the bad guys get caught in the most anticlimactic way possible. This sequence must have made a fan out of Alfred Hitchock though, as he used the same location in his classic picture Vertigo.

I probably expected more out of this film than it had to give. I like Cobb, I thought his performance in 12 Angry Men was incredible but even great actors have duds from time to time.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: Other old school film-noirs: RoadblockQuicksand!Pitfall, Please Murder Me!Too Late For TearsShock, etc.

Film Review: Gun Crazy (1950)

Also known as: Deadly Is the Female (UK)
Release Date: January 20th, 1950
Directed by: Joseph H. Lewis
Written by: Dalton Trumbo, MacKinlay Kantor
Based on: Saturday Evening Post story Gun Crazy by MacKinlay Kantor
Music by: Victor Young
Cast: Peggy Cummins, John Dall, Russ Tamblyn

King Brothers Productions, United Artists, 87 Minutes

Review:

“We go together, Annie. I don’t know why. Maybe like guns and ammunition go together.” – Bart

As I have been looking at older noir and crime pictures, I have come across a few films that are sort of prototypes to Bonnie and Clyde. This may be the best example of a proto-B&C movie though. In fact, I like it more than Bonnie and Clyde.

To put it bluntly, this film is absolutely amazing! While it doesn’t top out on most critics’ top film-noir lists, this is one of the best movies I have seen in the style and I actually watched it twice over the course of a night, once with friends having a noir marathon and again, by myself, to give it my full attention. This may actually be the coolest film-noir that I have seen but then again, I’ve always had a sweet spot for a good Bonnie and Clyde type story.

The thing that really makes this work for me is the utter realism of everything that is happening on the screen. Instead of posting a trailer, I had to post a sequence of the film at the bottom of this review. Reason being, I wanted to showcase how great the action and the cinematography is. There are great long takes that are captured in real time, adding a level of gritty authenticity to the major heist in the picture, as well as some other key scenes.

Gun Crazy is a sexy movie in a time when sexiness on celluloid was something very different. Peggy Cummins was not a typical femme fatale, she was a femme fatale that was a gun toting badass of the highest caliber. Sure, she murdered people because fear was a trigger that made her shoot but she was just damn good at it and truly felt unstable and dangerous in the hottest way. The way she gets out of the car and handles the cop during the big heist is great. Plus, she wears pants because doing dirt and robbing a meat packing plant’s payroll isn’t as easy to do in a dress. Nowadays, women wearing pants to work is normal but the movie made a point to have her boss make a stink about it in the film.

The unique thing about this picture, is that the male lead, John Dall’s Bart, is an amazing marksman but he’s a pacifist that abhors violence and killing. He just has an obsession with guns because it is the only thing that makes him feel whole. Shooting is his talent and when he meets Peggy Cummins’ Annie Laurie Starr, a carnival sharpshooter, he can’t help but fall head over heels in love with her. It’s hard for the male audience of this film to not be pulled in by her majestic allure and badass style.

With the title of the film and with the opening sequence, which follows adolescent Bart breaking into a hardware store to steal a pistol, you’d probably assume that this was an anti-gun movie. It really isn’t. Back in the 1940s, people weren’t so freaked out by firearms and it was an accepted part of American culture. It is more about the unhealthiness of mania and obsession. Bart obsesses over guns, not to hurt people or to commit crimes but because they make him comfortable. It is that mania and obsession that leads him down a bad path and not the gun itself. Granted, you could also direct blame at the femme fatale and her trigger happy ways.

This film has uncanny cinematography and not just in the long take sequences but in the attention to small detail with lighting and shadow. The closing shot of the film is pretty breathtaking, as is the opening sequence of young Bart staring into the storefront window, eyeing a pistol while the rain pours down between the window and the dark buildings in the background.

Maybe the extra gravitas that this film has is due to it being written by Dalton Trumbo, one of the most accomplished writers of his day, who was unfortunately blacklisted in Hollywood due to the insanity of McCarthyism and the unconstitutional witch hunts it birthed.

Gun Crazy is exceptional; it is a masterpiece of the highest caliber. It is a perfect storm of everything going right in front of and behind the camera. I didn’t expect to be blown away by it but I was hooked from the film’s opening scene to that tragic ending that one would expect from a true noir.

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: Rope (1948)

Release Date: August 26th, 1948 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Hume Cronyn, Arthur Laurents
Based on: Rope by Patrick Hamilton
Music by: Leo F. Forbstein, David Buttolph, Francis Poulenc
Cast: James Stewart, John Dall, Farley Granger, Joan Chandler, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Constance Collier, Douglas Dick, Edith Evanson

Transatlantic Pictures, Warner Bros., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 80 Minutes

Review:

Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope is a film I am on the fence with. Generally, I like the picture but it has some issues, mostly with the narrative, that bothered me.

It certainly isn’t as refined and near perfect as Rear WindowNorth By NorthwestPsychoVertigo or The Birds but it does display some of the same stylistic approaches and tropes of those films. Rope also predates the youngest of those films by six years.

My real issue with the narrative is that the overall plot is just kind of silly. To surmise, two Ivy League students murder their friend in an apartment. Their motive is to commit the perfect murder with no real motive because without a motive, they can’t be discovered. It is also revealed that the two boys have strong elitist attitudes in which they believe that they exist in society on a level above all others. Therefore, any sort of suspicion against them, in their minds, is impossible.

The murderous boys then hide the body in a trunk and cover it with a table cloth where they plan to hide it, as party guests are on their way to the apartment. The rest of the movie deals with philosophical discussions about social classes mixed in with the realization that the murder victim is late to the party and that he’s a responsible person and always on time. This makes James Stewart’s Rupert Cadell, a housemaster at the boys’ school, very concerned and later, suspicious.

As the film moves on, one of the boys acts so blatantly guilty and strange that it is a dead giveaway that something happened. It is almost too convenient how much the boy gives away and points the finger at himself. As the party goes on, the boy stupidly provides clues and eventually loses his grip completely. While leaving the party, Cadell is mistakenly given the victim’s hat and thus, he knows something is definitely awry.

Ultimately, the story is really just a device to examine some philosophical points. Rope gives us some good debates in regards to social classes and morality and how the two interact. It also leads us to a point where Cadell’s words and lessons to the young students come back to haunt him in a way he never theorized. Rope is essentially a film about how words can take on very different meanings in the minds of other people. In the case of this film, those people happen to be evil.

From a technical standpoint, the film is comprised of a series of long takes and the entire film takes place in one confined space: the apartment of one of the killers. The film is comprised of just 11 takes over its 80 minutes, two of those takes being ten minutes long: the length of a reel of film at the time. A few of the edits are very noticeable for their deliberate attempt at cleverness but they feel a bit hokey, most notably the cut where the camera zooms into a suit jacket only to cut as the suit jacket then moves away from the camera. Ultimately, I feel as if this was more of an experiment in style for Hitchcock.

Rope is a compelling picture in regards to its philosophical tones but it falls short of Hitchcock’s later films. That isn’t to say that it isn’t a fairly fabulous movie, it is. Unfortunately, it seems like a rough cut of what could have been a much better picture.

I tend to hold Alfred Hitchcock to a specific standard; Rope just falls short of that standard.