Film Review: Swamp Diamonds (1956)

Also known as: Swamp Women (original title), Femmes Gangsters (France, Belgium), Cruel Swamp (reissue title)
Release Date: April 1st, 1956 (Coshocton, Ohio)
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: David Stern
Music by: Willis Holman
Cast: Beverly Garland, Carole Mathews, Mike Connors, Marie Windsor, Jil Jarmyn, Susan Cummings

Bernard Woolner Productions, 84 Minutes

Review:

“[digging for diamonds] Ouch! I busted the only nail I had left!” – Billie

Out of all the Roger Corman films that I’ve seen, this might be my least favorite.

I actually think that it would have benefited more from being in black and white instead of color. Mainly, because ’50s Corman films have a certain look to them, which this film is missing, and because the color in this looks terrible. Maybe it looked better in the ’50s before age did its number on the surviving prints but there isn’t a version of this that I’ve checked out that looks good.

Out of the Corman flicks featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, I really disliked The Gunslinger but this one is worse. Strangely, they both star Beverly Garland but that shouldn’t be a knock against her, as I typically like her in movies and television shows. Frankly, this is just a bad script with pretty bad acting and extremely bad dialogue.

Despite the poor writing, most of the bad acting falls on the director: Roger Corman.

This came out very early in Corman’s career, however, and I don’t feel as if he really found his footing as the man behind the camera. He was the master of filming movies at a rapid pace and putting out as many films as humanly possible. Swamp Diamonds is a clear example of the fact that he hadn’t quite mastered his tried and true formula yet.

While the acting in Corman movies was never great, excluding his movies with Vincent Price, Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda, it would get better and work well within the style of his pictures.

I think that the idea for the plot was okay and this has some exploitation vibes to it, which I dig, but the execution was poor and everything seems off.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other Roger Corman movies of the era, as well as other schlock-y D-movie crime films of the ’50s.

Film Review: Salem’s Lot (1979)

Also known as: Salem’s Lot: The Movie (cable TV title), Blood Thirst (video title), Phantasma 2 (Spain), Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot (Netherlands), Salem’s Lot: The Miniseries (Germany)
Release Dates: November 17th, 1979, November 24th, 1979
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Paul Monash
Based on: Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
Music by: Harry Sukman
Cast: David Soul, James Mason, Lance Kerwin, Bonnie Bedelia, Lew Ayres, Ed Flanders, Fred Willard, Elisha Cook Jr., Marie Windsor

Warner Bros. Television, CBS, 184 Minutes (uncut), 183 Minutes (DVD), 200 Minutes (TV), 112 Minutes (theatrical version)

Review:

“You’ll enjoy Mr. Barlow. And he’ll enjoy you.” – Straker

The last time I watched this wonderful film/TV miniseries was just before the 2004 remake came out. So it’s been a really long time and because of that, I guess I forgot how incredibly fantastic this was.

While I’ve never read the book, I know about what changes they made in this adaptation and frankly, I’m fine with all the major tweaks.

For one, the vampire is not some Eastern European dandy of the Bela Lugosi variety. Instead, Tobe Hooper gave us a vampire that is more reminiscent of Count Orlok from the 1922 film Nosferatu. And the late ’70s were a great time for vampire movies, especially lovers of F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu between this picture and the Nosferatu remake by Werner Herzog.

Another change that was made is that the final confrontation with the heroes and the vampire took place in the creepy basement of the vampire’s house, as opposed to one of the heroes’ homes. The vampire house was truly a character all its own in this film and it made this movie a mixture of classic vampire fiction and a traditional haunted house story.

What’s really great about the finale, is that the house that was created for the film is absolutely terrifying and enchanting all at the same time. The set designers created an incredibly creepy mansion for the final showdown and it truly brought the dread onscreen to a whole other level. A level that this film couldn’t have reached had they kept the story true to Stephen King’s novel.

The vampire mansion is just one part of this movie’s mesmerizing atmosphere, though.

All the scenes that feature some sort of supernatural element take on a strange life of their own. The scenes where the vampire children come to the windows and float into the rooms at night with fog billowing in are f’n incredible!

Honestly, for its time and maybe all-time, Salem’s Lot takes the cake for creating a perfect ambiance for a horror picture on the small screen. Honestly, I’d love to see this on the big screen, if it is ever showing somewhere near me.

The vampire kids at the window was so well done that it became a bit of a trope following this film. It was used in other movies like The Lost Boys and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Plus, this film has a moment where a character is impaled by deer antlers mounted on the wall. This would go on to be seen in other movies as well.

Additionally, this would inspire vampire movies in other regards. Fright Night borrows from Salem’s Lot in different ways. That film even has a big finale in the vampire’s home and while it isn’t as incredible as the finale of Salem’s Lot, it is still a great sequence that is a nice homage to it. Fright Night is a classic in its own right, which also spawned a sequel, a remake and sequel to the remake. I even heard a rumor that it may be turned into a television show in the future.

But while this film would go on to inspire countless others, Tobe Hooper, the director, also had his own homages to other films in this, primarily the work of Alfred Hitchcock and his masterpiece Psycho. The vampire mansion has a very similar appearance to the house on the hill above Bates Motel. Hooper also employed similar shots.

For a TV movie, this also has some pretty good acting but no one else quite kills it like James Mason. He absolutely owns every frame of celluloid in which he appears. I’ve always loved Mason but seeing him truly get to ham it up while being terrifying was so damn cool. And honestly, Mason looked like he was loving this film, as he was so committed to the role that he breathed life into it that no other actor probably could have.

Salem’s Lot is a bonafide classic and pretty close to perfect. My only complaint about it is the running time. The film does feel a bit slow in parts but it was a two-part miniseries and had a lot of characters and subplots. In fact, those were all greatly trimmed down from the original novel and some characters were combined to simplify the story. But honestly, I’m still okay with the final result and I wouldn’t trim much, as almost every scene featuring the main characters feels necessary.

In the end, I love this movie; more so than I remembered. I’m glad that I revisited it after all these years and I feel like it’s a film that I will go back to fairly often now that I’ve been reminded as to just how damn good it is.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu remake, as well as other vampire films of the ’70s and 2000s Shadow of the Vampire.

Film Review: The Sniper (1952)

Release Date: May 9th, 1952 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Edward Dmytryk
Written by: Harry Brown, Edna Anhalt, Edward Anhalt
Music by: George Antheil
Cast: Adolphe Menjou, Arthur Franz, Gerald Mohr, Marie Windsor, Richard Kiley, Ralph Peters (uncredited), Karen Sharpe (uncredited)

Stanley Kramer Productions, Columbia Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“You know how much coffee I’ve had today? 17 cups. The Brazilians ought to give me a medal.” – ER Doctor

Up until this was featured on Noir Alley, I had never heard of The Sniper. But man, this film was pretty damn remarkable. It will also have to go on my eventually updated list Top 100 Classic Film-Noir Pictures of All-Time. This is a film that will be pretty high up on that list.

For a movie released in 1952, this was pretty darn realistic and had a serious grit to it that put it at a different level than most film-noirs, which typically have a hefty amount of grit already. The subject matter was pretty heavy, even by today’s standards and I was surprised by what they were able to get away with in this.

Additionally, the film is scary, as it deals with a mentally deranged man that hates women to the point that he shoots and kills them from rooftops throughout the city. But this doesn’t feel like exploitation, it is well made, well crafted and spends enough time dealing with the mental state of the character that it has some real depth and meaning.

There are a lot of narrative paths this film can take you down. People today might see it as toxic masculinity run rampant, some may see it as a critique on a justice system that is broken, others may see this as an exploration of mental health and mania and some might even see this just as simple exploitation.

Regardless of how one views The Sniper, it asks a lot of questions and explores a lot of this territory pretty bluntly. But this is why it sticks out among the run of the mill film-noirs of the classic era.

The level of violence was pretty high but even though you see heinous acts committed on celluloid, it’s similar to Texas Chain Saw Massacre in that a lot of the violence happens in your mind, as it fills in the blanks. An example of this is when our killer shoots a woman and she smashes into glass, headfirst. There’s no gunshot wound or blood but your mind interprets it as more shocking than it actually was within the shot.

Edward Dmytryk did a damn fine job directing this motion picture. He had noir experience with Crossfire and Murder, My Sweet but this eclipses those films, in my opinion. And frankly, those films were damn good too.

The Sniper is highly unsettling but it has aged tremendously, as it is still unsettling and it’s narrative still works in 2018, two-thirds of a century later.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: Other film-noir pictures directed by Edward Dmytryk: Crossfire and Murder, My Sweet, as well as other noirs like Murder by ContractHe Walked by Night and Gun Crazy.

Film Review: The Narrow Margin (1952)

Also known as: The Target (working title)
Release Date: April 25th, 1952 (Cincinnati premiere)
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Earl Felton, Martin Goldsmith, Jack Leonard
Music by: uncredited stock music
Cast: Charles McGraw, Marie Windsor, Jacqueline White

RKO Radio Pictures, 71 Minutes

Review:

“[opening her compartment door in the morning and seeing Brown strap on his gun] What’re you gonna do, go out and shoot us some breakfast?” – Mrs. Neall

When talking about film-noir with others, The Narrow Margin has always been highly recommended as something worth watching. I finally got around to checking it out and it exceeded any expectations I had for it.

To start, it’s a short movie at just 71 minutes but that’s fairly common with classic noirs of the ’40s and ’50s. Also, it mostly all takes place in a confined space: the interior of a train.

The plot is about a cop that has to transport the wife of a mob boss on a train to the where she is going in an effort to testify against her vile husband. The cop must protect her from the possibility of mob hitmen who could be gunning for her. Well, they are gunning for her and they also try to bribe him into stepping out of their way.

This film is a real nail biter and incredibly suspenseful. It does a lot for its scant running time and it makes great use of its environment.

Frankly, this may be one of, if not the best, suspenseful train movie ever made. Everything feels cramped and the film even goes as far as including a fat character to make its point. The fat guy isn’t used in a disrespectful way but just to show that there isn’t a lot of room for moving around. Since this picture moves around in the confines of the train a lot, there had to be some natural roadblocks.

This is well shot, well directed, well executed and features maybe the best performance that Charles McGraw ever gave. He was stellar in this, as the cop trying his damnedest to protect himself and the woman he’s guarding while doing things by the book and not succumbing to the lucrative offers made by the mob.

I loved this movie and it is definitely something I’ll revisit again.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Other film-noir pictures like On Dangerous GroundCrossfireThe Set-Up and Angel Face.

Film Review: The Killing (1956)

Also known as: Bed of Fear, Clean Break, Day of Violence (working titles)
Release Date: May 19th, 1956 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick, Jim Thompson
Based on: Clean Break by Lionel White
Music by: Gerald Fried
Cast: Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Vince Edwards, Elisha Cook Jr., Marie Windsor, Joe Turkel

Harris-Kubrick Pictures Corporation, United Artists, 85 Minutes

Review:

“You like money. You’ve got a great big dollar sign there where most women have a heart.” – Johnny Clay

The Killing is one of the really early films in auteur director Stanley Kubrick’s long and storied oeuvre. It came out less than a year after his previous film and first attempt at film-noir, Killer’s Kiss. With similar titles and coming out around the same time, the two films may confuse people looking back into Kubrick’s filmography. Also, Killer’s Kiss and The Killing are both noir pictures and presented in silvery black and white.

The Killing is the superior of the two pictures, however, and Killer’s Kiss feels like more of a practice run leading up to this damn fine motion picture, which boasts the star power of well known noir actors Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray and Elisha Cook Jr. Plus, Marie Windsor is perfection in her role.

The plot of this film is about a high stakes heist at a horse track. A team is assembled, a greedy femme fatale enters the mix and we get scheming, violence and chaos. And it is all capped off by the immense talent of Kubrick behind the camera and a stellar and more than capable cast in front of the camera.

The truth is, The Killing, as great as it is, has always been overshadowed by Kubrick’s more famous pictures: 2001: A Space OdysseyThe ShiningA Clockwork OrangeDr. StrangeloveLolitaFull Metal Jacket, etc. The Killing is a top notch crime thriller and true to the film-noir style, even coming out late in the style’s classic run through the 1940s and 1950s. It is one of the best heist pictures ever made and like John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle, it helped create a lot of tropes used in heist pictures since its time.

Being a fan of Elisha Cook Jr. for years, I especially love this film because he gets a really meaty and pivotal role. He is one of the top character actors of his day, was in more noir pictures than I can count and even went on to some well-known westerns and popped up in a few Vincent Price horror movies. He really gets to display his acting chops in this and it is nice to see the guy’s range, as he was a more capable actor than one being relegated to playing background characters and bit players.

The Killing was an incredibly important film in the career of Stanley Kubrick, as it lead to bigger things. He would go on to do Paths of Glory and Spartacus and eventually start making more artistic films that changed the filmmaking landscape forever. The Killing was a big part of Kubrick’s evolution and thus, the evolution of motion pictures in general.

Rating: 9/10