Film Review: So Dark the Night (1946)

Release Date: October 10th, 1946
Directed by: Joseph H. Lewis
Written by: Dwight V. Babcock, Martin Berkeley, Aubrey Wisberg
Music by: Hugo Friedhofer
Cast: Steven Geray, Micheline Cheirel, Brother Theodore

Columbia Pictures, 71 Minutes

Review:

“I knew it was too good to be true. That much happiness just wasn’t meant for me.” – Henri Cassin

This was a film-noir that I didn’t know much about before going into it. I also wasn’t familiar with the majority of the cast, other than Brother Theodore, who has a pretty minor role.

I came across this on the Criterion Channel, as they have a collection devoted to Columbia Pictures film-noir movies. A cool collection because I haven’t seen a lot of the Columbia noir films, as they weren’t as prominent in the style as RKO or Warner Bros.

The story here takes place in France but it stars actors speaking in English with a bit of a French accent. The narrative itself is pretty shaky and while it does gets you invested into the plot, early on, it all falls apart when the big reveal comes towards the end.

This, like many noir pictures, has a twist. That twist falls flat though, as it doesn’t make a lot of sense and its sort of forced on you and throws some science-y, psychiatric nonsense at you that you just have to accept, as its not really based in any sort of actual fact and is just manufactured out of the writers’ shoddy assumptions.

Additionally, while this is noir and filmed and presented in that style, it’s very pedestrian looking and doesn’t offer much noir allure. It lacks in regards to its cinematography, with basic lighting, shot framing and camera work.

However, this is directed by Joseph H. Lewis who would go on to make one of the greatest film-noirs of all-time: Gun Crazy.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: My Name Is Julia Ross, Drive a Crooked Road and Nightfall.

Film Review: My Name Is Julia Ross (1945)

Also known as: The Woman In Red (working title)
Release Date: November 8th, 1945 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Joseph H. Lewis
Written by: Muriel Roy Bolton
Based on: The Woman In Red by Anthony Gilbert
Music by: Mischa Bakaleinikoff
Cast: Nina Foch, Dame May Whitty, George Macready, Roland Varno, Anita Sharp-Bolster, Doris Lloyd, Joy Harington

Columbia Pictures, 65 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t huddle way over there in the corner. You should sit closer so that people can see what a handsome couple we are!” – Ralph Hughes

The Criterion Channel finally launched, which is great after the void left behind by FilmStruck being shut down last November. With that, they featured a collection of films called “Columbia Noir”. This got me excited, as I haven’t seen much of Columbia Pictures’ noir films. The first in that collection was this one, a film I hadn’t heard of before.

Overall, this is a b-picture with a scant running time. That was pretty typical of some noir features from the time, as the crime genre was at an all-time high and studios were throwing together as many films on the cheap as possible. Sometimes these became hits and sometimes they floundered but with lesser known stars and thin budgets, they were quick and easy to produce without much financial risk.

It’s pretty apparent from the opening bell that this film-noir is a cheapy but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It had pretty good production value, at least on the surface. The filmmakers got a solid bang for their buck in regards to how the film looks on screen.

Now the cinematography and lighting aren’t memorable but they are better than what was the standard for b-movie noirs.

The film stars Nina Foch, who isn’t known very well, but she did hold her own and came off as convincing. The acting was better than average, here, and the director did a fine job of making the players shine within this little picture.

This isn’t a very exciting noir, though. In fact, it’s pretty forgettable.

The story is about a young woman who gets hired by an employment agency run by a nosy, rich widow. The woman moves into the widow’s home but then wakes up in another house entirely. It’s an interesting setup and provides a good framework for a solid mystery but nothing really hits in the right way.

The film is probably most notable for being director Joseph H. Lewis’ first film-noir picture. He would go on to direct The Falcon In San Francisco, So Dark the Night, The Undercover Man, the incredible Gun Crazy, A Lady Without a Passport, Cry of the Hunted and The Big Combo.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other film-noir pictures by Columbia: So Dark the Night, Nightfall and Pushover.

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