Vids I Dig 131: Razörfist: Film Noirchives: ‘Murder, My Sweet’

 

From The Rageaholic/Razörfist’s YouTube description: A wisecracking detective. A bombshell blonde femme fatale. Missing jewelry. A mysterious murder. It’s getting awfully noir in here.

Film Review: Donovan’s Reef (1963)

Release Date: June 12th, 1963 (Philadelphia premiere)
Directed by: John Ford
Written by: James Edward Grant, Frank S. Nugent
Music by: Cyril Mockridge
Cast: John Wayne, Lee Marvin, Jack Warden, Elizabeth Allen, Jacqueline Malouf, Cesar Romero, Dorothy Lamour, Mike Mazurki, Patrick Wayne, Dick Foran

Paramount Pictures, 109 Minutes

Review:

“Well, there is our Mike Donovan. Three children and not one marriage. Oh, I do not say that he’s the first man to put the cart before the horse, but three carts and no horse? Huh?” – Marquis Andre de Lage

John Ford and John Wayne made a lot of really good movies together. Some of them had Lee Marvin in them too. Well, this is one of them but sadly, it is the last of them.

This also has Jack Warden and Cesar Romero in it too though, as well as Elizabeth Allen, Dorothy Lamour, Mike Mazurki, Patrick Wayne and Dick Foran. Plus, it is shot in beautiful and luscious Hawaii at the height of the Tiki subculture’s popularity in America.

Donovan’s Reef is a really good and lighthearted movie. It’s a lot more playful than what Ford and Wayne collaborations typically were. Sure, they’d have some tiny comedic moments but this is really a straight up romantic comedy that just so happens to have a male lead with real gravitas.

The thing is, I love seeing Wayne be funny and playful and kind of hamming it up. He doesn’t lose his machismo and if anything, it’s that machismo that makes his lighter roles work so well. For instance, Rooster Cogburn isn’t remotely close to the quality of its predecessor True Grit but Wayne is so damn good in it, playing opposite of Katharine Hepburn in an “odd couple” sort of situation. This is like that in the way that Wayne isn’t afraid to step outside of being the quintessential badass of his era.

I also love Lee Marvin’s character in this and the rest of the cast is damn good too. Cesar Romero was friggin’ delightful. And the young Jacqueline Malouf was perfect and sweet in her role. I truly enjoyed Elizabeth Allen’s role in this though, as she was the perfect pairing for Wayne’s wit and for the romantic stuff. She was the typical “rich white lady thrown into an exotic culture” archetype but she evolved beyond that and gave the role a lot of personality.

This is a beautiful film to look at. Hawaii is majestic and it is on full display in this movie.

Donovan’s Reef was actually much better than I thought it would be and I’m glad I checked it out. It’s definitely something I’ll probably revisit many times in the future.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Other Ford and Wayne collaborations. For the Tiki aesthetic, The Road to Bali which also features Dorothy Lamour. Also, Diamond Head, which was also filmed in Hawaii and features Elizabeth Allen.

Film Review: Night and the City (1950)

Release Date: June 9th, 1950 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Jules Dassin
Written by: Austin Dempster, William E. Watts
Based on: Night and the City by Gerald Kersh
Music by: Franz Waxman
Cast: Richard Widmark, Gene Tierney, Googie Withers, Herbert Lom, Stanislaus Zbyszko, Mike Mazurki

20th Century Fox, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Harry. Harry. You could have been anything. Anything. You had brains… ambition. You worked harder than any 10 men. But the wrong things. Always the wrong things… ” – Mary Bristol

I was glad that I got to catch this on a recent episode of TCM’s Noir Alley. I wasn’t really familiar with Jules Dassin’s work until recently, while delving deep into the vast ocean that is film-noir.

This film, among the seemingly endless noir-scape, stands out, stands strong and hell, it’s got professional wrestling in it: giving Mike Mazurki a character close to who he actually was and providing a great role for wrestling legend (and former world champion) Stanislaus Zbyszko of the famous Zbyszko wrestling family.

The film primarily stars Richard Widmark and man is he a friggin’ entertaining weasel in this. He is also accompanied by one of the queens of film-noir, Gene Tierney. Unfortunately, she isn’t in this film as much as I would have liked because she is truly an enchantress of the silver screen.

Night and the City follows Widmark’s Harry Fabian, a hustling con man type that is always looking for a way to get to the top, regardless of who he has to screw over in the process. Obviously, he’s a man in over his head, barking up all the wrong trees while digging his own eventual grave. When he starts a scheme involving professional wrestlers, he is in deeper water than he can even fathom.

The film takes place in London and was filmed there due to director Jules Dassin moving to the UK after being blacklisted over communist fears. His career still flourished, even if he had to escape Hollywood and Night and the City is a great example of how the director didn’t miss a beat, despite his misfortune during the McCarthy era witch hunts.

Widmark’s performance is tremendous as he traverses through all the twists and turns in the film’s plot. He has a charm and an insane enthusiasm that almost feels like the gangster version of the comic book Joker before he fell into that vat of acid. Hell, he could have been a great Jack Napier and Joker had they made a Batman film in the 1950s with a serious tone.

The highlight of this film for me was seeing the two wrestling legends square off: Mazurki and Zbyszko. Their physical fight in the film was pretty damn realistic and grueling as hell to witness. It was well shot, well executed and certainly effective.

The cinematography was handled by Max Greene, who had a lot of experience with his work on dozens of films before this. His visuals were accompanied by the great music of Franz Waxman. With Dassin’s direction, we had a Holy Trinity of cinematic masters combining their best efforts on a film that should probably be better remembered than it is, at least outside of film-noir fan circles.

Rating: 8.25/10

Film Review: Nightmare Alley (1947)

Release Date: October 9th, 1947
Directed by: Edmund Goulding
Written by: Jules Furthman
Based on: Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham
Music by: Cyril J. Mockridge
Cast: Tyrone Power, Joan Blondell, Coleen Gray, Helen Walker, Mike Mazurki

20th Century Fox, 110 Minutes

Review:

“Wait a minute mister, you’re not talking to one of your chumps. You’re talking to your wife! You’re talking to somebody who knows you red, white and blue. And you can’t fool me anymore.” – Molly

A film-noir starring Tyrone Power? Okay, you’ve got my attention and that’s all it took!

I love film-noir but before my love affair with that cinematic style, I was a huge fan of classic swashbuckling movies. Many of the greatest Hollywood swashbucklers starred the charismatic and ruggedly beautiful Tyrone Power. If there was ever a guy I’d go gay for, Tyrone Power is probably it.

You can’t deny the man’s charm, his presence and the fact that he oozes with coolness and masculinity. Plus, he is a guy that has a lot of fun in his roles. Here, he is mostly serious and less playful than he was as Zorro or as Jamie Waring in The Black Swan (the 1940s swashbuckler not the creepy Natalie Portman ballerina movie from a few years back).

What makes this such a unique experience is that it’s a noir that takes place at a carnival. Well, large portions of the film. It’s like The Maltese Falcon meets Freaks. Okay, it’s not that extreme and there aren’t really any “freaks” in the movie. There’s just a “geek” but that is a pretty important archetype, as you will see by the end of the film.

Tyrone Power plays a con man named Stan. Stan finds himself at a traveling carnival where he witnesses the crafty “psychic” Zeena, who uses an elaborate code with her showman husband, in an effort to name objects her husband displays from onlookers, while she is blindfolded. Power obsesses over the trick and must discover the secret of the code. He kills Zeena’s husband, albeit accidentally, and uses the opportunity to romance her in an effort to be her next partner. She eventually lets him in on her crafty carnival scheme. Stan, all the while, has been romancing the younger Molly, and when the two are exposed, they are forced out of the carnival community. Stan uses this to his advantage though, as he travels to Chicago and uses the carnival trick to make himself a superstar. Of course, this is noir, and there can be no real happy ending for Stan and his cons.

As much as I love Tyrone Power for that playfulness I mentioned earlier, he has never been better than this, where his playfulness is put on the back burner. Sure, he was great alongside the legendary Orson Welles in Prince of Foxes, but he was still his typical fun and charming character and even got to swashbuckle a little in that film. Here, in Nightmare Alley, he truly shows who he is, as an actor, when he is able to shed the baggage of what Hollywood thought he should be.

While this film wasn’t an immediate success, it is now considered a classic and for good reason. It is the best I have ever seen Tyrone Power, period. And the creation of this movie was all in Power’s hands. You see, he bought the rights to the novel and decided to star in this because he wanted to break being typecast as swashbucklers. 20th Century Fox obliged him and he got to have his movie made. While it didn’t work out commercially, upon release, in the years since, it worked to Tyrone Power’s advantage as later generations have something to look at to see how accomplished the man was on screen and that he had a range beyond the majority of the roles he was pushed into.

Truthfully, Nightmare Alley is really a top ten film-noir. There are only a few films better than it in the noir style. But there are hundreds, if not thousands, that are nowhere near as good.

Nightmare Alley is the high point of Tyrone Power’s career, from an acting perspective. At least, I haven’t come across anything greater, at this point, but I have watched a ton of Power’s films. He took a risk with this but it paid off, in the long term. After actors come and go, it’s that legacy that they leave behind that lives on for generations. This is the peak of Tyrone Power’s incredible legacy, as an actor.

Rating: 8.5/10

Film Review: Murder, My Sweet (1944)

Also known as: Farewell, My Lovely (UK)
Release Date: December 9th, 1944
Directed by: Edward Dmytryk
Written by: John Paxton
Based on: Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler
Music by: Roy Webb
Cast: Dick Powell, Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley, Otto Kruger, Mike Mazurki

RKO Radio Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“She was a charming middle-aged lady with a face like a bucket of mud. I gave her a drink. She was a gal who’d take a drink, if she had to knock you down to get the bottle.” – Philip Marlowe

I watched this Philip Marlowe picture back-to-back with The Big Sleep in an effort to compare the two Marlowe pictures and the two Marlowes: Dick Powell and Humphrey Bogart. Plus, both films had the distinction of being remade three decades later with Robert Mitchum playing Marlowe in both of those movies.

Murder, My Sweet is a really good motion picture. It isn’t quite as good as The Big Sleep, though. But this definitely fits in with the style and tone of an RKO noir movie. Some people prefer this to The Big Sleep but it’s hard to top Bogart for me, especially as a private detective. Although, Powell feels more like Philip Marlowe from a literary standpoint.

Claire Trevor is pretty good in this and I liked her chemistry with Powell, even if it pales in comparison to Bogart and Bacall. The acting was top notch and these two brought their best to the table and delivered. I really enjoyed Anne Shirley the most, however. She was cute and quirky and just a lot of fun on screen.

One really cool thing about this film were the visual effects every time Marlowe got knocked unconscious. A liquid black pool would come into the frame and wash away the scene. There was also a good amount of visual flair used in the hallucination sequences. I was surprised to see how trippy this movie was, especially for something from the 1940s. It predates yet reminds me of some of the trippy sequences from Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe films of the 1960s.

I also love the dialogue in this film. It is a quintessential film-noir in that regard. Powell and Trevor just trade quick witty jabs back and forth, in what is a true display of that savvy and savory noir conversational style.

Otto Kruger also makes a good villainous character. In my opinion, he steals the scenes he’s in. He just has a presence and an air about him that is pretty uncanny. Mike Mazurki plays Moose Malloy, the film’s heavy and the muscle of Kruger’s Amthor. The physical exchange between Powell, Mazurki and Kruger is one of the best of the classic noir era.

Murder, My Sweet is a solid and fun picture. Noir films aren’t typically fun, most are dark and brooding, but this injects a lightheartedness into the style. It isn’t as heavy as other films like it and since I’ve been watching a lot of noir, as of late, this was a nice break from the moodier tone that’s typical of the style.

Rating: 8/10