Film Review: M (1951)

Release Date: March, 1951
Directed by: Joseph Losey
Written by: Norman Reilly Raine, Leo Katcher, Waldo Salt (additional dialogue)
Music by: Michel Michelet
Cast: David Wayne, Howard Da Silva, Luther Adler, Raymond Burr, Jim Backus

Superior Pictures, Columbia Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Ordinarily you look for a dame or a bankbook, get a victim with known enemies, what do we got? Some missing shoes. What’re we looking for? A man with a twisted mind. Could be anybody.” – Inspector Carney

M is a film that never needed a remake. Fritz Lang’s 1931 original is a perfect film and even though it pre-dates film-noir by a decade, it is one of the absolute best films in that style. In fact, it’s a stylistic bridge between German Expressionism and the classic film-noir look of 1940s Hollywood.

However, the original M was a German film and its dialogue was in the German language. So with Hollywood being Hollywood, it was only a matter of time before there had to be an American adaptation.

This certainly pales in comparison to its German counterpart but it is still a very, very good classic film-noir.

One thing that gives this some real merit is in the cinematography and the shot framing. There are incredible shots in this film. The use of the City of Los Angeles, primarily the Bunker Hill neighborhood, is superb. Many of the shots have lots of depth and texture. The shot where the child killer and the little girl are running down the stairs is haunting and then there’s this other great shot of a guy sitting on a crooked bench on a hill with the city behind him, as the camera is positioned to shoot directly down the street in the background. Props to whoever scouted out some of these locations, as the city really is a character in this film. It’s also a real time capsule to a bygone era because Bunker Hill no longer exists and it was well represented in this picture.

Additionally, the shots within the Bradbury Building, which was used in a lot of movies, probably most famously Blade Runner, look fantastic. The Bradbury Building is almost always the star whenever it’s used and even though it is used sparingly in this film, man, does it really feel alive in this.

The acting is also great. The evil child killer in the film is played by David Wayne, who I mostly know as the Mad Hatter from the ’60s Batman TV show. Now his performance is nowhere near the level of Peter Lorre’s, who played the same role in the original German version, but he is convincing as hell and pretty damn stellar in this. His speech at the end is incredible and emotional. I also really enjoyed Howard Da Silva, Raymond Burr and Jim Backus.

To be frank, this is not a movie that probably needed to be made but it justifies its own existence and is still a superb motion picture. That being said, the original M is, in my opinion, impossible to top. But this finds a way to stand on its own two feet and it was well crafted and better than it deserved to be.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the original, superior 1931 Fritz Lang version of M, The Prowler and Footsteps In the Night.

Film Review: The Sleeping Tiger (1954)

Release Date: June 21st, 1954 (London premiere)
Directed by: Joseph Losey
Written by: Derek Frye
Based on: The Sleeping Tiger by Maurice Moiseiwitsch
Music by: Malcolm Arnold
Cast: Alexis Smith, Alexander Knox, Dirk Bogarde

Anglo-Amalgamated Film, 89 Minutes

Review:

“What do you think of him, Glenda? Is he worth saving?” – Dr. Clive Esmond

I haven’t seen a lot of British film-noir, so I figured that I’d give The Sleeping Tiger a shot. Plus, it had a pretty decent rating on IMDb and looked to mostly have positive reviews.

The film’s plot seemed interesting. It’s about a thug that tries to rob a psychiatrist. He fails miserably but the doctor gives him a choice: get arrested or live with the doctor, as he tries to reform the criminal. The thug picks the latter. The doctor’s wife initially hates the arrangement but before you know it, she’s cheating on her husband with the bad boy. Obviously, we then get some hardcore film-noir drama and the thriller aspect of the film comes alive.

Unfortunately, this picture just didn’t resonate with me. It was pretty drab and drawn out and just didn’t excite. I thought the premise was good; the film just didn’t deliver.

The acting was okay but nothing special, the cinematography was average, everything was just sort of bland.

The final moments of the film were fairly good and would have been a good ending to a good noir but I just didn’t care about the weight of it all, as everything leading up to it fell flat.

Joseph Losey, the director, was actually American but he moved to London after Hollywood blacklisted him for being a communist. He had made other film-noir pictures but the only one I’ve seen is The Prowler with Van Heflin. I heard that his remake of Fritz Lang’s M is pretty good though.

Sadly, this film just didn’t do a thing for me but that doesn’t mean I’m not interesting in checking out more of Losey’s work.

Rating: 5/10

Film Review: The Prowler (1951)

Release Date: May 25th, 1951
Directed by: Joseph Losey
Written by: Dalton Trumbo (uncredited), Hugo Butler (a front for Trumbo), Robert Thoeren, Hans Wilhelm
Music by: Lyn Murray
Cast: Van Heflin, Evelyn Keyes

Horizon Pictures, United Artists, 92 Minutes

Review:

“I didn’t do it, Susan. I’ll swear that by the only thing I ever really loved and that’s you.” – Webb Garwood

The Prowler is a film-noir with a strange twist, the femme fatale isn’t femme at all, it’s actually a man and a jerk cop to be exact.

In this picture, a woman calls the police because she notices a peeping tom outside her window. The cops show up and one of them is immediately infatuated with the woman, who just happens to be married to a rich radio personality that is never home at night because he has a show to do. The cop starts showing up every night and seduces the woman into falling in love with him. All the while, the cop is planning to murder the woman’s husband, marry her and get the money from the dead man’s insurance policy.

This is typical noir type stuff but the evil puppet master is not a woman this time. Maybe one could argue that this was the first socially progressive film-noir. It didn’t seem to be playing off of the fear that women having power over men would lead to evil. I’m not sure if the twist was intentional or if the writers didn’t really put that much thought into it. Still, it provides a unique story nonetheless.

Ultimately, the film is incredibly effective. For one, it is really unpredictable and goes in unforeseeable directions. Even if you are thinking the worst, it swerves in ways that are still shocking. It’s a pretty nasty film for what it is. It has a certain grit that just feels dirty, even for a film-noir.

The camerawork is quite stellar and the outdoor expanse in the final act of the film is well captured and presented. The overall production design and interior sets are equally impressive. The house of the woman, where the bulk of this picture takes place in the first half, is both attractive and alluring while also being cold and haunting. It is like an opulently dressed void that reflects luxury and emptiness.

The sexual misconduct of the main characters isn’t anything new in a film-noir but somehow the actors are able to make it feel dirtier than what the audience is used to. You don’t immediately see the cop as a figure of evil but there is still an underlying sinister edge to his words and actions. Van Heflin is just as much a macho seducer as he is a conniving creeper.

There are a lot of interesting layers to the picture, most of them dark. But it really stands out amongst a sea of film-noir. I’m not saying it is one of the best pictures in the genre but it is a different experience than what one would expect and it did catch me by surprise.

Rating: 8/10